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  • Tasha Schuh

Claiming Your Own Independence

Recently I received a private message to my Facebook page from a woman who has cerebral palsy. She was frustrated because she felt as though her peers had defined who she is based on this disorder; treating her as less intelligent or not worthy of their time because of her disability. Likewise, she believed her parents put too much emphasis on her disability, making decisions for her and stifling her independence.

She ended her message by asking for my advice: “How do I get others to notice my personal qualities (inner beauty, kindness, helpfulness, etc.) and appreciate them and listen to what I have to say, rather than ignoring me and passing me off as someone who is ‘handicapped’?”

It’s a difficult question and one that I’ve been asked before, which is why I wanted to use this opportunity to share about my experience here. Hopefully others who are feeling inferior or otherwise insignificant can align with their inner power and self-confidence through my story.

I learned shortly after my accident that I needed to be my own advocate and stand up for what I needed and wanted. For some strange reason, people felt compelled to pat my head (sounds strange, I know, but it happened a lot!). That was the first thing that needed to stop.

In my case, my mom was my biggest motivator and empowered me to take baby steps, even when I didn’t want to. Small things such as calling the local car repair shop to get my van in for a tune-up or managing my own bills really grew into handling bigger responsibilities as time went on. And while my parents were always my biggest supporters they didn’t always agree with my decisions. They were not 100% on board when I decided to build my own home in 2007 but, as an adult, it was my decision and if it wouldn’t have worked out then I would have had to deal with the consequences.

And that’s the key… you can’t have it both ways. Independence means not just making decisions, but also taking responsibility for the consequences that result from those decisions. That will sometimes mean paying a late fee if you forget to pay a bill, missing out on an opportunity you didn’t see coming, or wasting time having to go back to redo something.

And here’s the thing, regardless of whether we have physical challenges or not, we all make mistakes and part of being an adult is making them right and not let others clean up our messes.

Bottom line: We teach people how to treat us. If we act independently, we’ll be treated as such. Over time, the confidence and self-worth that comes from being independent, speaking up and acting like a grown-up will begin to spill over into other areas of your life. You will feel stronger and people will begin to see you through different eyes; as more capable, intelligent and empowered.

So, if you really want things to change my advice is to delicately take a stand. Muster up the courage you need to stake your claim on your independence. It might take time, and that’s okay. Just don’t lose sight of the end goal… the life you were meant to live!

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