By Guest Blogger Nadia Ibrahim, MA, LGSW
Until the age of 12, I always had this idea that I would wake up one day and my disability would be gone. It’s funny how a young mind works. My family never really talked about the fact that cerebral palsy (CP), usually caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain at birth, would have a lifelong impact on me. We viewed CP as a normal part of life: an additional consideration, not a limitation.
One day in high school, a realization stared back at me as I looked in the mirror: my body and life are not average. Even in the most relaxed state, my arms and legs were stiff, so fitted clothes were difficult to put on. Scoliosis gave my body extra curves, meaning clothes off-the-rack didn’t always fit. Muscle tightness in my feet made wearing most shoes impossible. The only shoes that fit often looked like they had been borrowed from a child. As a result, I spent most of my teenage years hiding in turtlenecks and baggy clothes.
When I entered the workforce, I came to two additional realizations: I had to be a self-advocate, and I had to make some difficult decisions about my personal care and beauty routine. Relying on others for assistance with daily activities meant that I did not have the luxury of spending a lot of time or effort on my appearance. Even though I wasn’t entirely comfortable with how I looked, I had a strong drive to be as independent as possible. Instead of being concerned with how someone else would fix my hair or apply my make-up, it was easier to do as little as possible, and trust that my work ethic and skills were most important in achieving independence and success. I received my first service dog, Tullis, at the age of 27, and quickly learned the importance of self-advocacy. Even though Tullis gave me greater self-confidence when interacting with others, I continued to struggle with my self-image into my 30s.