I lay in bed, unable to walk, gazing wearily at the sterile, whitewashed walls of the hospital room. My eyes fell on a balloon tied to one of the hospital’s chairs — a royal blue Mylar balloon with a smattering of sunflowers. “Get well soon,” it proclaimed, in bold, cursive lettering.
Get well soon.
I can’t, I thought. I’ll recover, and in a few weeks, I’ll be allowed to walk again. But I’ll never be fixed. I’ll never be cured. I’ll be limping for the rest of my life.
In that moment, as a 10-year-old girl lying in a hospital bed, struggling to cope with a lifelong medical condition, all I saw was adversity — a series of obstacles to surpass, a long road ahead.
Little did I know that just over a decade later, I would turn my adversity into opportunity — an opportunity to not only empower myself, but also to help empower others.
I was born 22 years ago with cerebral palsy — a neurological disorder affecting movement, balance, and posture. Although my disability has long affected me very mildly, I grew up internalizing everything I could not do well. For years, I could not run as quickly as my peers. My hand-eye coordination was weak. My handwriting was sloppy. Due to my constant negativity, my self-image dwindled, and I could not see the world of possibilities concealed within my circumstances.
But beneath layers upon layers of self-loathing, gifts bloomed out of my challenges. I was hard-working. I was determined. I was resilient. I had a compelling story to share, one that could empower others.
It took me over 21 years to fully embrace the gifts my cerebral palsy has provided me, particularly the impact my story could have on others with disabilities. I felt a responsibility to the disability community to share my story — to help others feel less alone — but I wavered. I spent years terrified of the potential repercussions of deciding to open up about my medical condition. I worried I would be treated with pity or derision. So I stayed quiet.
Then, one day, something inside me snapped. I wanted to share. I wanted to be free. I wanted to free others. I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to turn adversity into opportunity.
I have spent the past several months sharing my experiences with cerebral palsy with the world. Using my life story to advocate and educate has not only allowed me to empower myself and embrace my disability identity, but it has also helped others do the same. Since I began sharing my story, I have received countless messages of support and encouragement from family, friends, and strangers. I have embraced the disability community and all it has to offer. Most importantly, I have shown others with disabilities that they are never as alone as they feel, helping them find solace, pride and beauty in living with a disability identity.
I have turned adversity into opportunity.
Your challenges bear down on you, leaving you exhausted. Your greatest hope is that your difficulties will soon subside. But within every struggle lies an opportunity — a chance to learn, to grow, to love yourself fully, to empower others. Seek out the opportunities hidden within your challenges. Use your life, your struggles, and your story to make a difference in the lives of others. Your challenges will empower you, and, in turn, you will empower others — sparking a powerful chain reaction. Use your journey to uplift others and you, too, will turn adversity into opportunity.
Kelly is an avid writer and mental health and disability advocate with a focus on personal growth. She is passionate about using her life experiences to help others. Her ultimate goal is to make a difference in the world — no matter how small. When she is not writing or educating others about life with disability and mental illness, Kelly can be found listening to music and cuddling her cat.