I was getting a manicure a couple of years ago when the woman sitting next to me suggested to me that Botox might be very helpful. She was referring to my right hand. I have Cerebral Palsy which affects the right side of my body. I thanked her and I knew her intentions were sincere. I am sixty years old now and a retired school teacher who taught special needs children and preschoolers. My favorite song has always been the Greatest Love of All by Whitney Houston. This song inspired me to know how important it is from a very young age to love yourself. I believe that the greatest lesson in life is learning to truly embrace yourself, including your differences. This lesson took years of practice. Today, despite what strangers might wrongfully presume is my misfortune, I can truthfully say I am very grateful for my life and appreciate each day to its fullest. Unlike what people may think when they see me I am capable of doing many things. I am able to drive, workout at the gym, swim and cook all by myself. However, I am limited in certain activities, I cannot ski or ride a bike with two-wheels, but I have learned to accept the things I cannot do.
Admittedly, however, my journey was at times very painful and scary. As a blonde little girl I had bulky eye glasses, and by age four I had a brace on my right leg that reached up to my thigh. In addition, I had a brace on my right arm which was kindly decorated by my doctor with glass crystals of different colors and shapes. I was proud of that. I attended the Rudolf Steiner school in Manhattan, where my sister and I took the bus across town to school every day. I was always scared to cross the street because the cars seemed closer than they really were and the noise of the city was overwhelming for me. Luckily, my sister was very protective and would gently guide me across the street.
Every day when I arrived to school my first challenge was to climb five flights of stairs to my classroom. It was a slow and agonizing experience because my braces seemed to get tighter with each step. And rather than feeling a sense of relief at my accomplishment once I reached the top, my greatest provocation were the bullies that were waiting for me. Throughout the day girls in my class, grade 1-4, would suddenly appear with taunting jeers and insults that would lead me to tears. Fortunately, I had some true friends that supported me as I endured this ongoing emotional pain. My greatest defender, however, was my sister who in woodworking class threw a chisel at my assailants and was sent to the Principals office.
The importance of my family’s support was crucial. At the end of each school day my mother would have cookies and milk waiting for me. I would inform her of what a horrible day I had because of the nonstop teasing and she would listen. This pattern of being bullied continued for a number of years until the age of ten.
One day I woke up and realized that I had been indulging in self-pity and giving my power away for a very long time. I decided that today was the day I was going to take my power back. I got to school and was immediately confronted by my attackers. I reacted calmly, and responded softly yet confidently, “Go ahead and tease me, but I don’t care anymore!” After that day not only did the teasing and bullying stop, but to my amazement I unexpectedly received letters of apology from the girls even expressing remorse at what they had done. It was the first step in finally realizing that I had the power to steer my own ship on the long journey of discovering who I am.
Today I am still growing and learning more about myself. I have many teachers in my life such as my loving family, my husband and daughter. I have even reconnected with some of those close friends who stood by me as a little girl at Rudolf Steiner.
Most importantly, what I have taken away from these experiences is that the greatest love of all is to love yourself and to always move forward in self-discovery.