Ever since I (admittedly) watched the Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why, I started to evaluate my life a bit. Side note: it was indeed not the smartest idea to watch the show’s second season while on vacation. Don’t ask me why I watched it then, because I honestly don’t know.
But, anyways, the show made me think of 13 reasons to want to live. My life is significantly influenced by my physical disability, cerebral palsy (CP for short).
Complications from my birth caused my CP. My mom suffered from an amniotic fluid embolism, which caused to seize during labor and ultimately killed her. Doctors performed a C-section to get me out of her. I didn’t receive enough oxygen during my first few minutes of life, which caused damaged to my brain. CP affects each person differently, and for me, it affects my motor skills, mobility, and speech. To be specific, I have spastic quad CP, which means it affects all four of my limbs. But, I have relatively good control of my limbs—the main issue is that my muscles and tendons get tight and stiff.
Most people with CP also have cognitive problems, but that’s not the case with me. I use a motorized chair for traveling long distances, although I can walk without any assistance or devices. There’s honestly nothing I can’t do; it just takes me a little more time than the average person.
When strangers look at me, most of them pity me. They believe that being in a wheelchair, especially as a young person, is the worst thing ever as if it’s a life sentence. However, often I pity them. CP allows me to see life from a different perspective, and it has taught me to appreciate the small things in life. I feel like I have a greater appreciation and love for life because of the life lessons CP teaches me on a daily basis.
Here are 13 reasons why I never, ever let my CP get me down…
1. Just like my race and gender, my disability is a part of my identity.
I honestly couldn’t imagine life without cerebral palsy. It is a facet of my identity that has shaped me into the person I am today. I don’t think I’d have as much drive, empathy, and appreciation as I do now if I hadn’t grown up with a disability. Just like I’ve gone through life as a female, an Asian-American, a daughter of immigrants, and a sister, living with a disability has shaped my life in the same way my other identities have. I would fundamentally not be the same person I am today if I didn’t have CP.
2. Having a disability often helps me find out who my real friends are relatively quick.
I’ve been learning this lesson ever since I was in middle school. Generally speaking, people are afraid of intolerable of difference. That’s why the various -isms exist (i.e., sexism, racism, ableism). And, I’ve been “friends,” loosely labeling, with people who ended up not accepting my disability and the hassles it comes with. So, from various experiences, I’ve developed a knack for recognizing the friends who are in it for the long run. I cannot adequately express my tremendous gratitude for my real friends who accept me as I am.
3. I am quicker to smile on a sunny day.
I’m not that much of an optimistic person, but I’m not that pessimistic either. I’m very much aware that anything can go wrong at any time. Life has thrown me many curveballs, but nothing will bring me down. I tend to hold onto things that bring me joy, like a sunny day, as long as possible and cherish every moment I have with them. I’m always aware of the fact that nothing stays good forever, so I try to live in the moment.
4. I owe it to my birth-mom to live my best life.
Ultimately, my mother sacrificed her life for me, in the most literal sense. Instead of negatively associating my cerebral palsy to her death, I see the obstacles that I face as her way of teaching me valuable life lessons that no one else could teach me and keeping me grounded on my two left feet. I owe it to her to live the fullest life that I possibly can.
5. My CP gives me the freedom to use my creativity to the fullest.
The world, in its physicality, wasn’t made for people with physical disabilities. Even since the Americans with Disabilities Act passed, the country has been making progress in modifying more places to be accessible, but those improvements have been coming slow. So, often I need to think of creative ways to get myself and my chair to places. Also, I need to brainstorm different methods to do specific tasks, like tying my shoes and unscrewing a corkscrew.
6. I don’t take life for granted.
You probably can sense this by now. I cannot afford to take anything for granted. I am very much aware of the fact that my life is unpredictable, as it had been even at the time of my birth. My CP has not been progressive but like for anyone, bodies age. And, it has been known that for people with physical disabilities, bodies age at an exponentially faster rate than those of non-disabled people. So that’s why I’ve learned to appreciate the things I can do now.
7. I focus on my many abilities, not the ONE disability I have.
There’s nothing I absolutely cannot do. And I never understood the point of just focusing on my one disability. In fact, my CP is the aspect of my life that I think about the least. I do not let my CP define me or prevent me from doing anything I set my mind to undertake. I run 10-mile charity runs, bake and cook pretty good food, take care of my little sister, go grocery shopping, travel solo to new places, go on any and every rollercoaster, etc.
8. CP has made me fearless.
Some folks might equate my fearlessness to being an adrenaline junkie, but I genuinely love living on the edge. To be quite honest, living in NYC in a wheelchair isn’t the safest thing. I didn’t know that I could pop a wheelie with my wheelchair until I’ve gone through the streets of this city, where there are many potholes and cobblestones. But, over the years, I’ve learned a safer way to pop a wheelie. Since I’ve already bungee-jumped, next on my list is to go skydiving (okay, maybe I am an adrenaline junkie)!
If I were a fearful person, then I’d probably never go outside, especially since there are so many things that could go wrong. For example, I could be stranded on a subway platform because the elevator is out of service. However, by now I believe in my ability to get out of any situation that may come my way.
9. I make a lot of light-hearted jokes about the circumstances that CP puts me in.
I can walk independently without any assistance or walker. Since some people have no idea that I could walk, they are shocked when they see me out of my chair. It used to bug me that people treated it as if a miracle had happened when they saw me out of my chair for the first time. But, now I treat it as an inside joke; I go away with it. I also have a speech impediment, and some of my friends repeat the thing that they think I said, but they know it’s not what I said. For example, I’d say, “I love Reeses Pieces,” but a friend might hear it as “I love Ray’s penis.” And, then we laugh about how off she was. But, you need to be pretty close to me to do that without it seeming like you’re offending me.
10. My independence is the gift from life that I appreciate the most.
Over the years, independence became a big part of my identity and personhood. It reinforced the belief that I can do anything and everything I want — some things need little adjustments. As a teenager, I didn’t know that living in an NYC apartment alone with a legit career, let alone do everything for myself, was a possibility for me. At times, I need to do a reality check to make sure this is happening, and it’s not just a dream!
11. My intellect often compensates for my lack of physical ability.
Not everyone has an Ivy League degree, let alone two Ivy League degrees. Ever since I was young, I genuinely liked school. Since I couldn’t play sports or move as freely as my peers could, I made school my game, and it was a game I was good at. My intellect and mind saw no limits, and I used the fact that studying and learning were easy for me, to my advantage. I became the first person in my family to earn a master’s degree.
12. I make people see my other characteristics before they see my wheelchair/disability.
The more you get to know me, the more it seems like my disability/wheelchair disappears. You get to see me as a human being, and not a “sick creature.” But, for starters, I put effort into my appearance and personality when I’m out and about. I’ve always had a thing for fashion, so I use that when I’m putting together my outfits. My style is an extension of my personality — bold, confident, and friendly. I want to demystify the notion that people with disabilities are sad/mad, pitiful, and a charity.
13. I have the knowledge and resources to make the world a better place for the next person who is in my shoes (or should I say ‘wheels’?).
I am aware that I am at a position of privilege, even as a woman of color with a disability. For starters, I am a natural-born citizen of America, a country that offers opportunities for people with disabilities. If I were born in my family’s motherland, South Korea, I probably would not have gotten this far in life. Also, two Ivy League degrees open doors to opportunities and networks that are not available to everyone. So, I want to use all the resources and skills I have to make the world more disability-friendly, both in terms of societal and physicality.