Tag Archives: struggles

Finding Determination Through Fear.

19 Oct

A few days ago I was talking with a friend of mine, and he asked me to explain my absolute worst fear in life. Though some classic answers popped into my head, like ending up alone and losing the people I love, I knew my absolute worst fear. I tried to say it, but couldn’t. I felt like I was about to cry. However, after a period of silence stretched over us like a blanket, I finally spoke.

“I’m afraid of the day when I’ll no longer be able to walk.”

I spent my entire childhood learning to walk so I could be as independent as possible, despite my Cerebral Palsy. Before my intense operations, I learned to walk in my own way, my knees knocking together as I put one foot in front of the other. During the years I spent on a t-ball team, I loved the feeling of running to first base. Even though I typically got out before making it to first base, I ran with all my heart just like everyone else on my team. I ran in my own way, but it never stopped me from trying.

After my first operation at the age of 10, I had to completely relearn to walk after having my femurs straightened out and kept in place with rods. One year later, when I got the hardware removed that was placed during my first operation, I had to relearn to walk yet again. See, not walking was never even an option for me. I wanted to be like the other kids my age, and to do that, I had to be able to walk. I had to be as normal as I possibly could. Even when I was faced with physical pain that made me want to curl into myself and give up all together, I kept going. Every day, I literally walked towards my own independence, one step at a time.

Because I spent so much of my life struggling, and ultimately succeeding, to walk, the thought of reaching the day when I’ll no longer be able to walk is completely terrifying. In so many ways, when I reach that day, it will feel like a kind of giving up. Though I plan to walk for as many more years as I can, I am scared of the day when the pain will just be too much, when walking will be putting too much strain on my body. It’s especially frightening because I know how much physical pain I’m in on a daily basis currently. The realization that I am in so much physical pain and I’m only 21 is terrifying. Trying to imagine my level of pain when I reach age 30 is nearly impossible.

That is one great thing about fear though. It has the ability to help us find the determination and strength we didn’t know we had. Yes, my worst fear is seeing the day when I will no longer be able to walk. However, I’m not there yet. I am a long way off from that day. Today, I am able to walk and do the things I love, despite being in pain. Today, I am able to push through the pain, because the result…the view at the top of the mountain…is worth it. The happiness, joy, and pure bliss of the destination weighs so much more than the pain of the journey.

The fear lingers in the back of my mind, the fear of knowing one day I won’t be able to get to the top of Max Patch, my absolute favorite place in the world. However, the fear also gives me the strength and determination I need to continue doing what I love. Yes, one day I may not be able to walk because of the amount of pain I am in. But I’m not there yet. I’ve still got plenty of fight within me.

At the top of Max Patch (October 2013)

At the top of Max Patch (October 2013)

Own your story.

20 Apr

Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.-Brene Brown

When I came across this Brene Brown quote a few days ago, I couldn’t help but realize how much it applied to my certain circumstances. Not just the overall situation of living with Cerebral Palsy, but the more recent circumstances of realizing that I must now face the emotions which resulted from my recent return to physical therapy. Though it would be so much easier to resist thinking about the emotions and memories that returning to physical therapy brought up for me, I know that I must face them if I’m going to be able to move forward.

Throughout my life, I have heard people tell me how awesome it is that I don’t let my CP define me. According to my CP doctor, I “make it look easy.” Though I do understand that most people are trying to compliment me, it’s also hard for me to believe them in the full sense of the phrase. Though I don’t ever introduce myself as “the girl with CP,” I often wonder if that’s what others are thinking, specifically people I have just met. Overall, I try not to let myself focus too much on all of the difficulties it brings, because if I did that, how the heck would I still be able to find joy in the little things? However, at the same time, my CP affects me on a daily basis. Every day is hard, and every day I am reminded of how different I am from those around me. At the same time, I am reminded of how far I’ve come, and that’s where “owning my story” comes in.

Though I began writing my memoir in order to help myself come to terms with what I’ve faced and to help others in similar situations, I have also just wanted to shed a light on just how many of us are struggling in ways people may not truly understand. Putting all the benefits and support aside, “owning my story” through writing about it and essentially saying “Yes, this is who I am, and I am damn proud” has been the most frightening, scariest, most frustrating and overall hardest thing I’ve ever done. In all actuality, it sucks, but it’s helping me. Truthfully, it reminds me of the idea that you’ve got to hit rock bottom before you can truly understand your own strength. It’s cliché, but it’s also true. In many ways though, I feel as if trudging through this first draft of my memoir is similar to hitting rock bottom, over and over again.

Despite the frustrations of “owning my story,” it’s my way of being the voice of so many others who aren’t able to express what it’s like living with a disability. If writing my memoir means I can give a voice to a few of those people, then I will plunge into the darkness of it. Just because there are people who aren’t able to express the emotions connected with what they have experienced doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have a chance to still be heard. If anything, all of those people deserve it a little bit more. After all, every one of us has so much to learn from each of the people we come into contact with, so why not start by owning the experiences we’ve faced, no matter how scary and painful?

NaNoWriMo (Day 1): Different kinds of love.

1 Nov

My parents are very different people. I guess you could call them polar opposites in a lot of ways. However, they compliment each other, and I also know that without them being very different, I would have had an even harder time dealing with the struggles related to my Cerebral Palsy throughout my childhood. In connection with my parents being very different, they also have very different ways in which they show love. I like to think that I got lucky and am able to show others how I feel through how each of my parents behaved (and still do behave) towards me regarding love.

My mom has always showed affection through tough love. During my childhood years, I couldn’t understand that this was even a form of love. The toughness hurt. It made me cry. Most days, it made me feel like I wasn’t good enough. Especially concerning the exercises that I had to do in order to get stronger and be more independent, my mom was the pusher. The goal was to get me to be more independent, and in my mind, I felt like that is all she could really see. For much of my life, I didn’t want a tough love mom. I wanted a mom who would show me she loved me in the obvious ways. I wanted a mom who would see me in pain and instantly hug me and rock me, continually telling me that it would all be okay. I wanted a mom who would welcome me into her arms, welcome me into the place that I fit and would always belong. I didn’t understand how my mom could push me to complete all the really painful exercises and not even be phased when the tears began to fall. I didn’t understand why she didn’t tell me she loved me more often. For much of my life, I doubted my mom’s love for me. Since we were often butting heads, I couldn’t allow myself to see the ways in which my mom was showing me love. I just knew that I was in pain, and instead of making it stop, she was making it worse. In my mind, that was so far from love. Though my mom was pushing me so that I could be a more independent person and fight through what was bringing me down, I couldn’t see that. All I knew was that what I did end up doing never seemed to be good enough. As soon as I completed one exercise, using all my strength to push through the really painful parts, there was another exercise to do…and another after that…and another after that. It was a never-ending stream of pain and tears, and at the center was my mom, telling me to bend my knee up just one more time.

My dad was the complete opposite. He has always been incredibly sympathetic and has always showed his love for me in ways that I could relate to. For instance, I remember the first few weeks I was home after my first surgery. Throughout those weeks, I was in an incredible amount of pain, which often made it really difficult for me to sleep at night. Therefore, I’d call out for my dad, and even though it would take some time for him to hear me, eventually he’d come to my room. In those moments, there was nothing he could do to ease my pain except give me some pain medication. However, the ability for him to just sit at my bedside and brush my hair with his fingers was enough. Though I was still hurting, it was obvious that all he wanted to do was take away my pain. I could tell from how he looked at me that it was so hard for him to not be able to do anything. However, in those moments, his love for me was obvious. The simple fact that he just came to sit beside my bed through my tears said so much. Even if he never said anything to me, I could feel the love that was held in those moments.

My dad has always been an incredibly empathetic person, and I know that’s where I get my ability to empathize with others and relate to the pain that other people have felt, though I may have not felt that specific kind of pain myself. Though my dad has always been empathetic, that doesn’t take away the fact that for my entire life, I have longed to have someone to understand my pain. I’ve wanted someone to be able to come up to me and say, “I know exactly how you feel.” However, in a situation such as mine, that’s not an easy thing to find. My dad’s love for me has filled many of the gaps that a person who knew my pain normally would. Though he doesn’t know what my pain has felt like it, he (as well as my mom) lived through it with me. They were with me every day, watching as I went through unimaginable pain that they couldn’t take away no matter how much they longed to do just that. Also, since I’ve always been incredibly close with my dad, he’s grown to understand many of the parts of myself that I don’t show to many people. Since we’re so similar, he probably knows me better than anyone else. In so many different ways, we understand each other, and my ability to be incredibly open and honest with my dad has allowed us to have the kind of parent-child relationship that I know many people wish they could have.

In much of my teenage years, during the times that I was going through intense physical therapy but also beginning to become my own person, I began to doubt my parents’ love for me. Though I have no doubt that my parents had told me they loved me countless times before, I feel like my own low self-esteem impacts the way I imagine others feel towards me. Though that may seem sad, I think it’s something that any of us who are different struggle with. In a childhood that is filled with a great deal of emotional and physical pain, where is the love? How can we feel like others love us if they are pushing us to do things that are incredibly physically painful? Isn’t love supposed to be a warm feeling? Isn’t it supposed to be the kind of emotion that has no boundaries or limits and is able to lift us out of the hardest times in our lives? Doesn’t love conquer all? Regarding my ability to doubt that others love me, I have realized that I have always been one of those people who needs reassurance, which I feel like is another trait I get from my dad. Therefore, even though I have friends and family who may tell me they love me on a regular basis, I often wonder when I will allow myself to believe them. I wonder how long it will take to stop doubting how much they care. I wonder…I wonder…I wonder.

Though my parents showed their love to me in very different ways, they’ve always complimented each other. If I had 2 parents who demonstrated tough love or 2 parents who were incredibly soft, caring and empathetic, I wouldn’t have been able to make it through my struggles. Though sometimes it’s still hard that my parents show love in 2 very different ways, it’s helped me define my own definition of love. It’s also helped me understand that since my parents have two very different personalities, the way they show affection is definition, and that’s just the way it is. However, it’s helped me see that there isn’t just one way to show someone who you care about them or love them. Though I am only 20 and I still have a lot to learn regarding love, I know that the love I have received from my parents has shaped me into how I show my love to other people. Though I don’t solely demonstrate tough love or solely demonstrate softness and empathy, I know that having a mix of the two is probably the best way to be.

[Word count: 1380 of 50,000]

Tuesday’s Tunes: Taylor Swift.

23 Oct

I absolutely love Taylor Swift, which is one of the things that actually shows my age. However, I’m totally okay with that because I realize that I love Taylor Swift because she’s a typical teenage girl who’s growing up. Therefore, I’m able to relate to her songs (as can every other girl in America who has loved Taylor from the beginning).

People have said that Taylor’s most recent album Red (which was released yesterday) shows how much she has matured in the last few years, especially when you compare the most recent album to the Fearless album (her first album). I completely agree that Taylor has definitely matured. As Taylor has matured, so have the girls (including me) who have loved her since her first album. Therefore, we still love her because we’re able to relate to her even though we’re changing and growing up.

Anyway, as usual, I’m able to relate to pretty much every song on her newest album. However, the song “All Too Well” seems to perfectly describe my current situation regarding love (or the lack thereof) at the moment. Either way, despite the fact that it’s a sad song, I love it because I’m able to put my own situation side by side with what Taylor is saying. As with many other situations in life regarding strong emotions, they are much easier to get through once you realize that there are others who are going through the same thing. Therefore, thank you Taylor. You have helped me (and so many other girls who love you) through some of the hardest times.

The finding place of my words.

20 Oct

“A tough life needs a tough language – and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers – a language powerful enough to say how it is. It isn’t a hiding place. It is a finding place.”

The above quote is from Jeanette Winterson’s memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, and when I came across it this morning while on GoodReads, it really stuck with me. Maybe it’s because I know after reading Jeanette Winterson’s memoir that she had a really tough life. Maybe it’s because I am reminded that even though I persevere and trudge on, I have a tough life. Like Jeanette, I have constantly continued to find myself not in other people or places…but in words.

However, I’m not referring to the idea that literature has acted as my only finding place. Although, I do believe that it all began with literature. At a young age, during the days that I would go inside my closet where I had pillows, blankets and a light, I’d close my closet door and pour over the words. I’d lose myself in the words that I thought only I felt: those words that signified loneliness, being different, feeling pain and not feeling like there was a place that I belonged. Over time, I found myself in those words as I realized that what I was feeling wasn’t just confined to my own situation. I saw myself mirrored in others who, though they didn’t have Cerebral Palsy, still felt some of the same emotions that I struggled with from the very beginning. Even though there aren’t necessarily specific literary characters that I remember feeling especially connected with, it never was about making specific connections. In terms of literature, many of us recognize pieces of ourselves in other characters, and the sense that we are able to relate to them on some level acts as a safety net, a blanket that keeps the cold out, even if only for a moment.

As I began experimenting with my own words and realizing that I too could express the emotions that I was feeling, my own words became my safety net. Even though other literature still had the same effect that it always did in terms of helping me to feel less alone, the discovery that I could use my own words to achieve the same effect was life-changing. Rather than immersing myself in literature that had pieces of myself woven throughout it, I created words that held every aspect of me. Instead of just bits and pieces, I was entirely present within my own words. Within my words, all the emotions were there, waiting to be uncovered. The loneliness, the fear, the pain, the tears, the feeling of being so different that there wasn’t a place that I fit. Within my own words, I made all the emotions visible. As I removed them from the dark places that they had been hiding in for so long, they became even more real. Instead of simply residing in my thoughts, they were given a heart, a way to live and breathe in an environment that was separate from me, and yet was an environment that I had completely created.

Today, not much has changed. If anything, my words have become much more authentic and honest. Instead of beating around the bush in terms of the emotions that I have felt and continue to feel, I have plunged right in. I’ve found myself spending hours sitting in the darkness of my emotions, trying to find the perfect way to give them life. Though uncovering every aspect of my emotions has been one of the hardest things I have ever done, my words continue to act as a finding place. I am the truest I have ever been to myself when I am writing. Because with words, I can’t hide. There’s nothing to hide behind. My words still reside in the place that they always have: inside me. Through giving them life and allowing them to breathe on their own, it’s as if I’m living in two places at once. I’m living my current life, but I’m also living in the words that are written down. If one day in the distant future you see a book by me on the bookshelves, I hope you find me there.

The books that saved me.

2 Oct

Due to Cassie’s most recent post, Dear Fear and Judgement:, I’ve been inspired to discuss the books that have changed my life. I’ve been reading for as long as I have had the ability to hold a book in one hand and a flashlight in the other. After all, all of us who love books know that even when darkness falls, we don’t necessarily put down the books that have grabbed us so strongly out of our reality. Sometimes the arrival of darkness forces us to grab a flashlight, get under the covers and escape into a world that seems just as real as the world in which we are living.

Pippi Longstocking is one of the first books I remember reading from cover to cover countless times. I don’t know if it was the independence Pippi portrayed due to being a nine year-old girl who lived without the constraints of adults or her red hair that she always wore in pigtails that caused me to be so drawn to her. Either way, I remember a particular summer in which Pippi went everywhere that I did. Even when I went on a week-long trip to Edisto beach with my family, Pippi came along for the trip. Though I didn’t take the book with me everywhere, it sat patiently on my nightstand every day, waiting for night to come so that the pages could be turned once more, causing Pippi’s world and my own to collide through something as simple as words.

 

Even though Halfway to the Sky was introduced to me much later than Pippi Longstocking, it was yet another book that became very well-worn in a relatively quick amount of time. Halfway to the Sky tells the story of Dani, a 13-year-old girl who runs away from home in order to escape the recent death of her brother and the break-up of her parents’ marriage. However, Dani doesn’t run just anywhere. She runs to a place that she believes her parents will never find her to do something amazing: hike the entire Appalachian Trail. Even now, I know why I loved this book so much. It involved hiking, which I did a lot of with my family growing up, and it involved the Blue Ridge Mountains, which is a place that I haven’t been able to fully appreciate until coming to live in Asheville last fall. However, Halfway to the Sky created the strong connection I’ve had to the mountains for so long. Even though I have been coming to the mountains ever since I was little, I definitely think that Halfway to the Sky is one of the main reasons that I have felt the desire to fully experience the mountains. There are days that I find myself driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway looking at the overlooks or hiking up to Max Patch Summit, which is an hour above Asheville, just to simply feel the mountain air in my lungs, and ultimately, feel alive.

 

It may seem strange that I’ve included The Bell Jar in the books that have saved me due to the fact that it is a very dark and depressing novel. However, I believe that it saved me in the sense of helping me realize that we all have our own inner struggles that we are battling, and therefore we shouldn’t be quick to judge others because we don’t know what they have to face on a daily basis. Also, since The Bell Jar is essentially the autobiography of Sylvia Plath’s plunge into madness, I think this book may have been one of the first examples of my desire to be a counselor. Even though I may not have realized how much I wanted to be a counselor during the time that I was reading The Bell Jar, I know that if I were to read it again now, it would most likely affect me in a completely different way due to my new-found passion for psychology and counseling.

 

John Green’s newest book, The Fault In Our Stars, came out in January of this year, so it is probably the most recent book that has deeply affected me. It is the story of Hazel, a 16 year-old cancer patient, who is forced to attend a support group where she meets and falls in love with 17 year-old Augustus Waters. Even though it would be easiest to say that this book saved me because the writing is simply amazing, that only scratches the surface of how this book has impacted my life. Through reading The Fault In Our Stars, I have learned what it means to love. However, more than that, I have begun to realize that a huge part of allowing yourself to be loved by someone else is by placing yourself in a vulnerable position. The concept of vulnerability has scared me my entire life because in my mind, it places you in a prime position to be emotionally hurt. However, over the past few months, I’ve realized that the road to love involves being vulnerable. It’s scary, but it’s the only way to truly let someone love you fully. The concept of vulnerability also applies to writing as well because the truest and most raw pieces of writing are those in which the writer is completely 100% vulnerable.

Even though these books may not have necessarily saved me, they each have helped me realize something new about myself that has helped me get closer to who I truly am. For as long as I can remember, books have been the one place where I can go to escape. However, I never realized that they’d end up helping me find myself. Yes, I’m the girl who reads all the time, the girl who always has a book with her no matter where she is, the girl who would rather curl up in bed with a book instead of going to a party. Words have taught me about love, strength, hope, pain, and adversity. However, they have also been the way that I have expressed all of those emotions as well, giving me a way to be as authentic as possible. They are something so simple. And yet, for me, words have always been enough.

 

The capacity of the human heart.

10 Sep

The capacity of the human heart never ceases to amaze me….or more precisely, the ability of human emotions to keep us afloat. This time yesterday, my heart was full of sadness for a pet that passed away. However, right now, in this exact moment, I am incredibly happy.

Nothing particularly amazing happened today that lead to this happiness, which is why it feels a bit strange right now. I went to class, spent some time with friends (which included having my first pumpkin spice latte of the fall season, despite it not feeling like fall), and did some errands and schoolwork. See, just an average, run-of-the-mill Monday. Even though I have had moments in my life where a really shitty day is followed by a really amazing day, it doesn’t happen often.

The more I think about how I’ve felt today, the more I am reminded of a particular Elizabeth Gilbert quote about happiness:

Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.

Even though I feel that this quote definitely rings true for today, I also know that part of my happiness is stemming from the little things: being grateful that I got so much schoolwork done yesterday, realizing how lucky I am to have so much love and support from my friends, and the fact that every single day, I get to do what I love. Yes, I’m still in college. My immediate concern is my education, which is how it should be (thankfully, I love school, so it’s a fun adventure rather than a daily drag). However, at the center of my world and the center focus of my heart is my writing. I get to write every single day, and I love that I have that ability. Yes, it is a very simple act. However, it makes me feel completely and utterly alive. Even though that may sound a bit cliché, it’s the truth, and it’s the only way I’m able to express the amazing role that writing plays in my life.

It is because of writing that I am able to share my story with the world. Though that may not seem like a big deal to you, it means everything to me. In short, I grew up with a disability. I grew up going to physical therapy, having intense surgeries, and asking myself on a daily basis why I had to be different from every other kid my age. Even though I have come no closer to answering that question since I have begun writing my memoir, I do know this much. I know that I feel happier after I share a memory or a struggle with all of you. Knowing that there are people out there who are reading my words and who are encouraging me to keep on sharing my story is one of the main reasons why I keep on trudging through my incredibly painful past. However, the other main reason is because it makes my heart happy. Even though that may seem like a funny thought, it’s true.

Therefore, even though yesterday was incredibly hard in an emotional sense, I am grateful to the capacity of my heart to realize who and what make this life worth living.