I know what you all must be thinking: Who is this tiny person who looks no older than a teenager? How can she impart any wisdom or have something worthwhile to say? Trust me, I’m wondering the same. But here I am to remind you that all good things come in small packages and that sometimes, those packages are accompanied by wheels.
And like always, the elephant in the room ends up being my wheelchair and how I got here.
So how did I get here? Don’t worry about needing tissues because there is no tragic story. My story is not that of a tragedy – it is that of a challenge. And like every challenge, it had to be overcome…either all at once or bit by bit. It begins when I was born with a disease called Muscular dystrophy, which means a condition marked by progressive weakening of the muscles. Simply put, it means that I need support with every task such as waking up from bed in the morning to brushing my teeth or changing clothes. But I wasn’t always like this – I looked absolutely normal like every other kid and I could walk. With a limp and maybe not as fast, but I had my mobility. Of course, I couldn’t participate in the same activities as my peers like playing football or running, so even as a child, I had to accustom myself to the things I can and cannot do. I may not have looked different but I was. And you know what? My childhood really was one of the most confusing times of my life, with the feeling of being vulnerable just never going away. I kept wondering why I couldn’t do the things everyone else could do, and I just couldn’t wrap my head around that fact as a child. Confusion and vulnerability eventually evolved into self-pity and resentment as I grew older. I’d be lying if I said society didn’t make it harder for me. With very little self-confidence, to begin with, it would take less than a second for me to crawl back into this dark hole I was living in. Words – they can be like swords and unfortunately I always ended being stuck with the endpoint of it. Expressions of concerns and sympathies, rather than encouragement and support were all that I received. People waltzing into my life and very vocally expressing their concerns about my future. None of which was needed, by the way. But that is the bitter pill I had to swallow besides the problems I already had, and so I did.
The thing about Muscular Dystrophy is that you’re always in for surprises until you’ve reached a point where your growth stops – usually the age of 18.
At the age of twelve, my medical condition worsened as a result of which I lost my mobility.
My world was shaken and the resultant earthquake was something I felt would bury my life in a mountain of rubble that I would not be able to get out of when the doctors told me that my muscles have become too weak now and I had developed a condition called scoliosis (which in layman terms is the exaggerated curvature of the spinal cord) due to which I’ll be wheelchair-bound for the rest of my life. It felt that I was at the starting point of the race of life again. When I sat in the wheelchair for the first time, I cried. I felt like everyone would look at me differently and I’d become more of a misfit than I already was. I still remember – When I went out on the wheelchair for the first time I felt like instead of looking at me everyone was looking at my wheelchair. It took me years and a lot of getting used to until I made the best decision – the decision to move forward instead of running back in my hole.
And I am here today, stronger than I was back then. And there is a reason for my strength. Of course, friends and family are undoubtedly a HUGE part of the equation. Support is always a phone call away and these pillars of strength always stand strong for me. But there was something else- A long time ago when I was at this lowest point I met a soldier who had lost both his legs in a bomb blast at war. He changed my life. Not his bullet, not his gun. His words did. He told me “No matter how big disease is, if you can fight it in your mind, you can win. It’s all about thinking positive, having faith, and willpower. “ I know, it sounds like those inspirational quotes you would read on your social media timeline. But to me, these words were a gleaming ray of hope that I felt God had sent to illuminate the dark pit I viewed my life to be. It was that day when I decided that I’ll stop running around, looking for miracles because my miracle was within myself.
What did these words really do for me? They reminded me that I’m in charge of what I choose in life and I chose to be positive. Is it easy now? No, but I work on it every day.
It also made me realize that I can fight a physical affliction with a mental weapon. Words do have the power to change you, to break you, or heal you. Trust me, they do. And that what I thought was my worst nightmare was actually a blessing in disguise. The wheelchair didn’t make me insecure but it made me more secure. You might wonder how, right? How can something that reminds you of your limits make you secure? Well, it makes me feel secure because I choose to let it. I choose mind over matter. I choose to embrace that I am different and that I could never have been who I am today, without the help of this baby *point at your wheelie*. It didn’t shatter my self-confidence but it strengthened it. It helped me discover that there is much more to me than my legs or the fact that that I’m wheelchair-bound. And I have so much to be grateful for. My wheels became my wings.
Today, I can easily say I’ve defied odds by completing my bachelor’s degree, and currently, I am working in one of the most reputable companies in the world. Recently, I’ve launched my own venture by the name of Meraki – Because You Matter, which is a mental health initiative aimed at making people realize that they matter. Honestly, It’s more than what anyone expected out of me and it’s more than what I expected out of myself at one point in time. Big things come in small packages. And while I may seem tiny and fragile, there is more to me than meets the eye. In fact, there is more to everybody than meets the eye.
I must admit, it definitely hasn’t been easy. Worried looks, pitiful glances, blatant stares, and curious expressions. I have pretty much experienced it all.It wasn’t just the physical aspects of the disease that wore me down but also the emotional baggage that came with it.
But now, when I look back and ponder over my life I realise that I’ve come a long way. I believe that nothing is impossible- you just need to figure out a way to do it. My wheelchair may have caged my body but my mind is still free. I still think strongly, feel deeply and live fearlessly. Whether it’s screaming my lungs out at a concert with friends, bicycling on the streets, swimming with the dolphins or riding on an elephant. I’ve done it all and there are plenty of other items on my bucket list that still need to be ticked off. What you need to understand is that no one can limit you or tell you what you can’t do. Fall in love with yourself, your dreams, ambitions and purpose. Find companionship in your work and happiness by lending others a hand. You’re very much capable of doing everything on your own only if you believe in yourself. Don’t let the storms of life define you. Don’t let the people around you define you. Don’t let your shortcomings define you. Define yourself. Trust me, there is no force equal to a young heart determined to rise. Be you, the world will adjust.
What I’ve learned in my twenty-six years of life is that never compare yourself to others and what they have. We all have our own special journey. You are exactly where you’re supposed to be. Everyone has insecurities, even the people you think to be the most beautiful or the smartest. Don’t beat up yourself for them but turn them into your strengths.
I’ve always wondered why I don’t see many wheelchair-bound people when I go out as compared to when I go abroad. And it then hit me- differently-abled individuals are hesitant to come out of their houses because they don’t have wheelchair-friendly places to go to in our country. You know, the common problem for us wheelchair-bound folks really is getting around. Inaccessibility is one of the biggest obstacles to our existence. They prevent us from doing what “normal” people do. So why can’t we make our country accessible? WHY?
Don’t people like me have as much right to go out and live my life as those with no disabilities? Do we not have the right to feel welcomed in public places without feeling more dependent to be carried up or down a flight of stairs than we already are?
Just imagine all the wasted potential. Imagine what huge difference inclusiveness can make.
Next time you are in a cafe or restaurant -be conscious of your privilege as a fully-abled being and ask yourself how accessible something as basic as grabbing a cup of coffee or enjoying a good meal would be for differently-abled people who are not as stubborn/resilient/confident as I am.
Not having a ramp has never stopped me from doing what I want. I make my way up, despite the odds. Ladies and gentlemen, what I’m trying to tell you is that if I can make my way up without a ramp, you can make your way over whatever obstacles you face as well! Don’t let them stop you, don’t let them limit you.
I dream for those like me: not the disabled, the differently-abled. I want every person to turn their disability into their finest ability, their shiniest suit of armor. I want them to be proud of being heroes every day and to have indestructible confidence. I wish to make a school where they learn to unlearn that their disability holds them back or brings them down. I want them to have the courage to dream and dream big. I want them to take inspiration from each others’ experiences and realize their infinite potential. And I want them to experience the happiness that wraps around their souls, the kind of happiness that keeps you afloat even in the deepest and darkest of oceans.
Life is not about making the most of what you have. It is realizing and remembering that you have a lot. Life is not always easy but it’s not always hard either. If we discover the infinite power that God has stored in us all, we begin to lead inspirational lives that help others harness that energy too. I’m just an ordinary girl leading an ordinary life that seems extraordinary to others. If my story can inspire even ONE person, I’ll be beyond content. We all need reminders sometimes that life is beautiful. You are beautiful. You are worth it. So live life, live it and live it to the fullest. Everything that gets taken away from you will be compensated with something better. Have faith. Because feet what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?
I’ll now take you back to the question that occupied your mind in the beginning.
Who is this tiny person who looks no older than a teenager?
I am Amna Raheel, doer of the impossible.