‘What will my child become?’ My differences were thought of as less ‘cool.’ I was the target of bullying, both verbal and physical.’: Man with cerebral palsy says ‘you are more than the struggles you face’

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“I know for some, the terms disabled and disability are controversial. Some are proud of it, and others? Well, they despise it. Me? I wear it like I do my name. I can’t change as a whole, but I get to choose what I do with it and for me, that’s a pretty powerful tool.

See, my diagnosis itself, Cerebral Palsy, and the very nature of the two words used together in a sentence alone, (medically speaking) say I am ‘Permanently Disabled,’ which at first glance brings a certain sadness to those who read those words in correlation with one another. Realistically, the condition itself on the surface doesn’t leave much in the way of hope either, as the mere mention of Cerebral Palsy is grim, being the standard hopes of a ‘normal life’ are almost instantly eradicated and replaced by the fears of how bad will it become. The unnerving wait-and-see game begins. The standard question of, ‘what will my child become?’ turns into, ‘what struggles will they face?’

Courtesy of Jeff VanDyke

Specifically, for myself, I obviously cannot walk or stand at all, nor is it likely I ever will be able to. My speech is occasionally slurred, and I have constant pain throughout the day, as my body isn’t able to be used in the manner we were designed for, which creates fatigue, ongoing damage, loss of muscle in certain areas, etc. Basically, I’m often caught in the mental tug of war of what I want to do as opposed to what my body will allow me to do.I was two when I was first diagnosed. When I was elementary school-aged, I was aware I was different, but little kids are much more accepting than teenagers and adults are, so disability didn’t become an issue a social issue till much later. Typically, if you are willing to answer a child’s curious questions, they’ll often compare it to something in their own lives and accept the answer as satisfactory.

Courtesy of Jeff VanDyke

However, once I made my way to middle school and high school, things became a struggle. My differences were thought of as less cool difference and more of a hindrance. I became the target of continuous bullying, both verbal and sometimes physical. All of this eventually led to a steep fall in my self-confidence, frequent bouts with anxiety (I was later officially diagnosed with an anxiety disorder), and ultimately struggling with suicidal thoughts.

Eventually, I was able to combat such negative self-talk by turning completely to artwork and working up the courage to seek out counseling to get help with managing some of the struggles I’ve faced throughout my life. All of this, coupled with my journey, eventually led to my desire to pursue a job, which started as a volunteer position, led to an internship, and now an actual position as a Graphic Designer for a nonprofit Center for Independent Living, where I am not only able to exercise my creativity but lean on my past experiences to help spread a positive message surrounding life with a disability. My hope is to not only make an immediate impact on my current listeners but hopefully begin to chip away at the stigma surrounding life with a disability to create a better tomorrow.

Courtesy of Jeff VanDyke

With all that said, I do not view my struggle as a curse and I am, in fact, extremely lucky. Despite all the difficulties I have and what I cannot do, I’ve trained myself to focus more on what I can do and the gifts I have been given. The mental capacity to think, speak, and see life for myself — as well as an opportunity to prove life with a disability or any other struggle for that matter — is not a definition of who you are or what you can become. You are more than your diagnosis or struggle you’re up against.

Courtesy of Jeff VanDyke

You, too, have infinite potential at your fingertips. My advice to anyone who’s ever been judged because of something that makes you different (whether it be a disability or otherwise): You are more than the struggles you may face past or present, the scars on your body and in your heart. Don’t tell a story of shame, but serve as a mark signifying your survival and the bullying you have endured. You didn’t deserve it. Never let anyone tell you otherwise. You are here on this Earth because you deserve to live. Your existence matters to all of us.”

Courtesy of Jeff VanDyke

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jeff VanDyke. of West Michigan. You can follow his journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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