It’s hard to believe that when I was born, doctors thought I wouldn’t make it out of the hospital alive so they called in a priest to give last rites as I laid there, helpless and near death on a table in the ICU.
I was born three months premature in March of 1994. Over a period of time, my mother learned that I was born with a neurological condition known as Cerebral Palsy, which affects my fine motor skills as well as my ability to walk. As a result of all this, I have been in a wheelchair my entire life.
Growing up with a disability didn’t really affect me until around fifth grade. I started noticing little things that people did: staring incessantly at my wheelchair, laughing and pointing as I passed by. I heard the whispers and the jokes clear as a bell. Despite those little things that irked me, I continued on, and up until middle school. I was pretty much a pro at ignoring the ignorance and immaturity I came across. But alas, all the teasing finally caught up with me. I began to feel a tremendous amount of hatred toward my wheelchair and my Cerebral Palsy.
“So, what’s it like being retarded?”
“Oh my god, she’s so weird. Let’s go sit somewhere else.”
“I can’t shake your hand, I might catch the disease.”
Those were only a few of the hurtful things said to me and at the time, it was all too much to handle. The disdain I felt toward my wheelchair worsened with each passing day.
When I got to high school, the teasing and taunting transitioned to cyber-bullying. People would leave anonymous threats and comments on social media. I let it affect me quite a bit until I realized something important:
Whether I liked it or not, people were always going to talk and/or stare. It was up to me how I would continue to react. I could sit cooped up in my room or I could take action. I thought back to the story of my birth, and how doctors thought I wasn’t going to make it, but I did. I survived. Even though my self-confidence was dismally low, I knew that I was given a second chance at life for a reason and it was up to me to find out just what the reason was. So I started asking my teachers in tenth grade if I could speak to the class and educate them about my disability, answering any questions they might have. As I continued making more and more speeches, my self-confidence skyrocketed. I began to notice something that I had been blind to before.
While my chair may have been the reason for the relentless teasing I endured, it also gave me a platform and a new avenue to travel down, both creatively and professionally. My chair was not just a way of getting around anymore. More importantly, the very thing that I hated about myself became the very thing I celebrated. I was changing the perceptions people had about physical disabilities and spreading the same important message: “It’s okay to be yourself and love who you are. It’s okay to celebrate what makes you unique.”
These past six years have been quite the journey for me. I am now 20-years-old, in college, and dreaming bigger than I ever have before. I have made over 12,000 speeches, I am a disability awareness advocate, and I am currently writing a true-life novel that I hope will inspire others to go after their dreams despite any limitations they may have. When I look back on all the times I wished my chair would disappear, I cringe. Sure, there are definitely some frustrations from time to time, but my chair is the biggest blessing God has given me. It has taught me the value of strength and perseverance, and it has instilled in me a tremendous amount of self-confidence.
Whatever my future holds and wherever I end up, my chair will always be the best and most wonderful gift. Today, I am proud to say that I love my wheelchair and I couldn’t imagine life without it.
Miranda Casanova is a 20-year-old college student studying English at Moorpark College and she hopes to transfer to Stanford University next Fall. She writes a blog called Just Roll With It and also writes for USA Today College. When she’s not working on writing, giving speeches, or going to school, she enjoys having Meryl Streep movie marathons, shopping for anything that has the name Kate Spade on it, and drinking Starbucks iced chai lattes at the park with her grandma. Follow her on Facebook, Tumblr or Instagram @mirandagracecasanova.