Before I begin, I want to dedicate this post to anyone who suffers from a disability, whether it is physical, mental, emotional, or whatever. We are more than a label. Trust and believe that every trial is truly a blessing! Stay strong!
I cannot tell you how much I detest/loathe/despise the word disability (or disabled). I’ve never described myself as disabled or having a disability because I feel like it tells people that I’m lacking or inadequate in a certain way and that is simply untrue. Yes, my right arm looks different and I’m unable to do certain things with it but I certainly am not lacking anything (unless we’re talking about a million dollars!), nor am I inadequate in any way. I prefer to use the term adaptive. I have learned to adapt to new surroundings quite easily without feeling incapable and have come up with the most interesting ways to get things done! I love my arm, I didn’t always love it but as I got older I realized that I wouldn’t be who I am today had I not suffered my Brachial Plexus Injury at birth.
So what happened exactly…
When I was born I was basically dead. That’s about as frank as it gets. At birth, I weighed a whopping 9lbs 8oz. Yes, I know, I was a gigantic baby. Yup. I know, my poor mother lol. As I was being born my shoulders got stuck in my mom’s pelvis and I just wouldn’t budge no matter how hard she pushed. In an effort to save me, the doctor began pulling on my right arm. He pulled so hard that he tore and stretched 4 of my 8 cervical nerves and 1 thoracic nerve. These nerves are known as the brachial plexus and control the movement and sensation of the arms.
When I was finally freed I wasn’t breathing and had to be resuscitated twice over the course of my week-long stay in the hospital. The doctors sent me home with my parents with no diagnosis, no resources, and basically said: “whoops, our bad”. Legal battles ensued but to no avail, the doctor was believed to be doing everything he could and further litigation was not pursued (it was 1989 after all and there was no medical definition for the injury back then). So, my mom and dad just moved on and taught me to love my arm, not get offended by questions, and to learn how to explain my injury to people. It wasn’t until 1999 that I began having surgeries to repair the damage and give me some semblance of arm movement that had been lost. After partial bone removal, muscle transfers, and lots of tears I now have an arm that is straighter than it has ever been and can even use my triceps via my latissimus dorsi! So freaking cool!
All in all, it has been a TRYING 27 years. I’ve cried more times than I can count. Been bullied in school. Had professors and bosses openly doubt my abilities to do certain tasks (I work as a biomedical researcher). Despite all of that I never stopped believing in myself and never wondered if I could do something. I just do my best to get it done the best way that I know how. Even though I’ve struggled to come to terms with my injury and the loss that comes along with it, I do believe that it has made me a better person. Here are the 7 ways that I believe that my disability injury has made me a better human being.
I have huge amounts of empathy
- Since I have dealt with bullying, teasing, and doubters, I am an incredibly empathic person. I find it easy to relate to people and be able to understand their struggles. I try to be a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, and most importantly a friend. I needed all of those things when I was growing up and I still do now, so I do my best to be that for other people.
I am driven—almost to a fault
- Whenever you experience having many people doubt your abilities you tend to either fall into the trap of constantly doubting yourself or you become this insanely driven person who will stop at nothing to get what they want. I am the latter, almost to a fault. I have been so blessed in my life. Everything that I have set my mind to do/get, I’ve done. From college to graduate school, to medical school, to finding my husband. I committed myself to achieving those goals and they manifested themselves (after much hard work & prayer). I don’t know any other way to be. I am driven and focused and I find a sense of comfort in that. It serves as a reminder that I’m alive and as long as I’m alive I will grind for the things that I want!
I’m not afraid of trying things that I may fail/suck at
- When you have a disability you can’t go through life being afraid to try new things because if that’s the case you’d rarely leave your house. I know that there are limitations due to my injury but I can’t let my fear of failure keep me from testing the boundaries of my limitations. I went to grad school not fully knowing how I was going to be able to conduct experiments that typically required 2 hands but I went in with an open mind. I found that not only was I able to do the experiments, I was damn good at it and even had some of my colleagues using my lab hacks for their own use! You never know what you can do until you do it!
I am highly cognizant of how I critique people
- I am a sensitive person and because I’ve been teased/ridiculed for my arm I am highly aware of how I criticize other people. I do my best to give my feedback and my advice in a constructive matter that will build them up and not make them feel like I’m tearing them down.
It has tested my faith in many ways
- My faith in God has grown tremendously in the last 20 or so years. There were moments where I didn’t think anything else could be done for my arm and then suddenly I came across a surgeon in Chicago who changed my life forever. I had to remain faithful that my life would be beautiful and that God hadn’t left me out. I had to believe that better days were ahead of me. Now, when I get fearful or anxious I just think about all of the blessings God has given me and it gives me the faith & strength to believe that he’ll do the same thing again and again.
It is a testament to my strength
- Going through life doing everything with one hand takes a whole lotta strength! Physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual strength. When I look back over all of the mountains I had to climb, and trials I had to endure I am able to see my strength and how tough I really am. Whenever I feel like I just can’t keep going I remind myself that I’ve been through some sucky things, I made it, and I will continue to push forward!
It gave rise to my incredible sense of creativity.
- This is by far my favorite characteristic that was born out of my injury, my creativity. Having to do simple things like tying your shoes or putting a bra on with one hand is a surefire way to bring out your thinking cap. I have a gift of thinking outside of the box and finding solutions that other people wouldn’t necessarily think of. This injury has given me a unique vantage point that allows me to see so many different ways to get something done. It’s been my saving grace and one of the main reasons why I have been so successful in life. Never be afraid to think outside of the box and to get things done the best way that you know how.
If you have a disability or have suffered an injury that resulted in a traumatic brain injury, a lost limb, the inability to walk, etc. NEVER feel like you are less than anyone else. Our lots in life may seem like burdens but the truth is that they are blessings that make us stronger and better people!
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