It is ironic how, as a person who has lived with a physical disability since birth, one can become so accustomed to being taken care of his whole life. For a time, it is as if the world, from an individualistic standpoint, consists only of facilities, caregivers, school, and home. This is especially the case for someone like me: a mild-mannered and self-conscious person with spastic dysplasia cerebral palsy, who grew up with a lovingly overprotective mom and dad. My parents had always made it a point to keep me close to them, and vice-versa. Even now there is almost never a time when I am not with them. I am as close to my caregiver parents as a son could ever be, literally and figuratively. In the early childhood part of my life (particularly from infancy to late pre-teen hood), I spent my time in and out of hospitals and care facilities.
I realize how safe it feels to overly rely upon personal caregivers, or people in general who are more able-bodied than the disabled person. It is only too easy for us to put our trust in people who are close to us, whom we depend upon to speak for us or to make decisions for us. When I was a child I suffered from a frail, backward, and awkward disposition, both in my mind and in my body. It is natural for those with disabilities (whether they struggle with physical or mental disabilities) to develop an attitude of learned dependency.
Potentially, as a result of my over-reliance upon my parents for so many years, I have never been able to express my own feelings very well in a verbal manner. I think this reason is why I am frequently frustrated and angry with myself. But I have always had an intuitive and fundamental grasp of the world around me. Self-advocacy, as with community advocacy, depends upon our courage to act upon what we know to be true and just, despite the fear of chastisement. The act of purging oneself of discouraging feelings by exercising the ability to express them freely is, therefore, true and just. Doing so is healthy and wholesome to the entire person.
What I do to begin the process of self-advocating is that I exercise my own right to self-expression. In other words, I focus and apply myself to the things I am good at doing, or that make me feel good. The aspect of maintaining an emotionally healthy state of mind is the key element to self-advocacy, as well as self-determination. For me, the performance of constructive recreational activities allows me to properly direct and to release my excessive nervous or pent-up energy. Due to this self-induced therapy, I feel strong and confident on the inside and outside. But, as with any personal maintenance task, exercising must be performed at consistent and regular intervals in order to achieve positive results. Just as physical exercise improves someone’s physical and oftentimes psychological state of mind, so also does the practice of self-advocacy and self-determination serve well to enhance and improve a person’s quality of life.
Just as the process of building physical endurance does not apply only to gym exercises, so the process of building emotional strength can be accomplished in various ways as well. The fulfillment of self-improvement may also be gained from the self-satisfaction of drawing, building, coloring, or painting something. For me, there is a certain gratification in my being able to create things with purpose and attentiveness to detail. We each must utilize our unique characteristics, to the best of our ability, in order to establish and instill a sense of completeness within ourselves.
We must daily embrace and appreciate those who make a consistent and positive difference in our lives. What is more, we should take a proactive interest in the personal activities which renew us with enthusiasm, meaning, and a sense of purpose and growth. My advice to the person reading this blog is to be the best “you” that you can be. Focus on the distinguishable and positive qualities which make you who you are and embrace those qualities. Find out what your niche, calling, or passion is in your life and remain consistent with that passion. But also remember that it is the little things in life (hobbies, recreational activities, humble & heartfelt moments of enlightenment) which make you happy as well. Up to this point in my life, I have learned that the key to life is positivity. While we may not be able to control all the unfortunate or inconvenient circumstances that happen in our lives, we can always control our responses to those circumstances.
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