Identity: Pride Over Pity

“Our true self is being who we are, the many parts of that soul”
Lailah Gifty Akita

          Today, I realized that the most unexpected of encounters can leave the longest lasting impressions- these impressions, these lessons, will remain with me throughout the course of my life and I believe will make me a better person in the end. Yesterday morning, I had to do my most favorite task in the world, (insert sarcasm here) shopping! We’re not going to discuss why I loathe shopping, or how odd it is that a female can’t stand it, but believe me when I say there are about a million other things I’d rather do! Getting back to the point, aside from the obvious, shopping is often a big trigger for me in terms of stress. Though logically I know I should not feel that way, I often feel overwhelmed in public situations like these because I worry about what people think of me: can they see my scars? Do they wonder why I am walking with a cane? Is anyone going to stare? I am completely aware that these fears, insecurities are my own and that people are simply too busy with their own lives to be concerned about me, but no one said that fears were rational.
Having made my purchases I waited outside for my Grandfather. while he finished his shopping at another store. As I was standing there waiting, I was approached by a woman exiting the store.
“Are you okay?”

It took me a moment to realize she was speaking to me. Self-consciously I shifted, smiled and told her that I was quite alright and that I hoped she had a good day. She walked away, for a second, before turning back and asked what was wrong. She motioned towards my cane and lowered her hands towards my legs. I wore a shorter dress yesterday in celebration of Vermont’s summer weather, (Thanks VT.) which did not hide the scars from the eight pin sites of the External Fixator. Choosing the shortest and easiest answer, I simply stated that I have Cerebral Palsy. She suddenly looked at me as though I had just told her that her puppy had passed. She quickly stumbled over her words, apologizing that she had asked. Normally, I would have let this exchange pass, but she seemed to be in no hurry, so I took the time to explain something to her. Yes I am a person with disabilities and it is a large part of my identity, but it is not the sole part. I respected the question that past her lips next, an honest one that I’m sure some individuals wonder but are not brave enough to ask.

“Is it frustrating? Do you ever find yourself being angered by your condition?” YIKES! Talk about a loaded question, right?

          Choosing honesty, I admit that at times it is incredibly frustrating, certain aspects of it. Have I ever been mad because of my conditions? Sure! Ask my family, my friends, those on campus that helped me pick up the pieces of two VP Shunt malfunctions, less than six weeks apart, beginning five days into my semester. Beyond those obvious emotions though, I am proud. I am proud of the lessons I have learned throughout my life that have been a direct result of my conditions. I am happy to have a certain perspective on the world that was afforded to me because I had to see the world through a different lens. I have a better, deeper understanding of who I am as a whole, because I had to look to myself, beyond the conditions that could have defined me- put me in a box that I wouldn’t have broken out of. I learned to find my identity, within and out of my disabilities. Admittedly, this is an ongoing process. I am certainly in better standing (no pun intended) than I was years ago.
As I mature, I continue to understand who I am as a whole. While experiences help to mold us, quintessentially, who we are at heart will not change. This realization has helped me accept the realities of my disabilities. Beyond that though, that lesson is universally understood and can be applied. Yes, some individuals will not see beyond external factors. Others will have a harder time accepting that. At the end of the day however, if you can look in the mirror and accept and love the individual looking back at you, you have gained more than you can imagine! I know who I am. I understand who Ashlee is. There are many parts of my identity and yes, my disabilities are certainly a part of that, but as I explained yesterday, no one thing defines who we are.

There are some aspects we choose, others we accept and those that are thrust upon us. Discover and understand those many pieces, how they fit together and make up the bigger picture and I promise you, peace will follow!