For someone with a physical disability, the word independence can be very interesting and can mean a lot of different things.
For me personally, independence is a word that's really only been a part of my life for about four years or so. I went straight from living at home (and being an only child at that) to college, back home and then to moving in with my boyfriend at the time. I was very used to people helping me with things or just having people around in general. I love my parents, and I know it couldn't have been easy raising a disabled child. There's definitely no manual for it, but as a result, I was overprotected growing up. But, I became the most dependent when I was with my ex-boyfriend. I grew to not want to do anything without him, including doing something simple like going to Target or the grocery store. I just became completely reliant on him. So when we broke up, to say I was both dazed and confused (excuse the ‘80s movie pun) would be an understatement. I really had to learn how to start doing things on my own for the first time. I'm happy to say, I love going to Target by myself now.
In the last couple of years, I've really started to think more and more about this idea of independence. I've realized that I've become pretty stubborn in my not wanting help from other people. There are definitely times when I will happily accept the arm of someone I'm dating or one of my amazing friends to help me get up a curb, but most times, I just want to try to do it myself. The same goes for going up stairs, getting in and out of a car, or getting off the ground after I've fallen. Over the years, I've learned to adapt and come up with ways to overcome these types of situations. Stairs with no railing at a baseball game? I'll try to grab onto the chairs as I go up (if you’ve ever been to Angel Stadium, you know this is impossible with the gargantuan size of the steps). A storefront with no handicap ramp for me to walk up? I'll lean on my car to help me up the curb. I'm sure I've probably come across as cold before because I wouldn't accept someone's help, but my not wanting to accept help doesn't come from a place of "leave me alone." It comes from a place of "I need to do this for myself."
The reality for me, and I know for a lot of us, is that there are things in my life that I'm just never going to be able to do without some form of help, and I think for the most part I've accepted that. But that makes me even more passionate about trying to do everything else I’m able to do on my own as much as possible. I can't tell you what a rush I get from just flying somewhere by myself or being able to lift my own suitcase onto the conveyor belt at the security checkpoint. Tonight for example, I went up the stairs in the back of my house (there's no railing) without having to grab onto my knee or the wall or anything (I don't even accept my own help sometimes!), and it gave me a little extra pep in my step.
I know that I'm never going to be fully independent, and that I have to be willing to ask and accept help when I need it. But, I want to do things like travel to a different country on my own, and I don’t want to let the fact that sometimes I might need help stop me. I feel like these are things I need to do for myself and for my own spiritual and personal growth. When you're born with a physical disability, I think it's natural to want to try to overcome it as much as possible. And I think it's even more important and natural to be able to focus on what you can do rather than what you can't do. Independence isn’t just about being able to do physical things on your own. It’s so much more than that. It’s about doing what you love and doing those things that you can do for no one else but yourself. So here’s to the inner independence in all of us!