by Paul Brailer
If you have never used a wheelchair, braces, or crutches for more than an hour or two, then you probably don't have a clue what it’s like living in the “cripple lane.” Most of my life, I've experienced discouragement from people who did not believe in the strength of my determination or abilities because I am unable to move around without these “tools.”
If you live in the “cripple lane,” then maybe you identify with the heartache and depression from a lack of understanding and emotional support from others. This very thing that I hate, spina bifida, has pushed me to work harder than anyone I know to prove to myself (and others) that I CAN. It’s given me a determination and strength to believe in my own ability to overcome all the obstacles that life throws at me and also to empower others to see their own capabilities.
Life in the crippled lane is hard. It may seem like a lot of fun riding in a wheelchair all day, but it took years to build up the stamina I have today. It took years, not only to build up that physical strength, but also the mental stamina—persistence to keep going and believe I would get better at it. It took years to build determination and strength to achieve what most people don't give a second thought.
It took years to build a positive attitude towards whatever seemed to “happen” to me. All the time, people ask me if I could change one thing about my life, what would it be? I would change nothing. If I change one thing about the life I was given, then that changes who I am as a person. My unique characteristics come from the challenges of my life. My attitude has developed from the circumstances I have overcome and people I have met.
People also ask if I wish I could walk, and my answer is “why fix something that isn't broken?” I believe God uses my disability. I do everything in life that other people do, just a little differently. So from my perspective, adding the ability to walk is pointless. My wheels, braces, and crutches are my legs. My arms add to my strength. My mind is encouraged by my heart and soul. I'm not broken, and, therefore, I certainly do not need to be fixed.
I began to understand all of this when producing a video about the things people said to me over my lifetime. I am exploring the importance of encouraging and talking positively to myself, and listening to those who are supportive and believe in me. I've learned to take advice with a grain of salt. People's negativity is about them and their limited view of reality. I try to use those moments as a tool to push me, but I never want to take negativity from others to heart so much that it dampens my happiness or hinders me from living a full life.