Shortly after my first love and I broke up, I wrote a letter to my younger self. At the time, I intended to bury it away somewhere to be forgotten, as it was just meant to be a private way to help myself heal. But every couple months or so, I’ve found myself pulling up the letter again on my computer, reading it over, adding to it, finding comfort in it.
Then, the other day, I learned about #DearMe, an empowerment campaign in honor of International Women’s Day 2015, encouraging women to write letters sharing advice with their younger selves. I feel it’s time to dust off my own letter again and put it out there into the world.
This letter will never be finished. Each year, as I grow older, I plan to read and reread, write and rewrite, hopefully building on what I want 15-year-old Emily to know. And while this letter is deeply personal to me, and I’m specifically sharing it for International Women’s Day, it is my hope that no matter what age you may be or how you identify, these words will resonate with you, reminding you that you are always enough and never alone.
Dear Me (15-year-old Emily),
I know how your eyes scan the room every time you go somewhere new, wondering if today will be the day your gaze settles upon a guy who just might accept you for who you are. I know how you lay awake at night envisioning what the future might be like, if only a guy could accept your disabled body. I know how you think that day will never come.
But the day will come when someone will accept you. He will tell you that you are the most beautiful girl in the world. He will tell you that you can trust him. He will tell you he loves you.
And he will be a wheelchair user too. I know that’s not an option you’ve been considering, but I promise when you open your mind to him, you will feel like he can relate to you in ways no one has ever understood you before.
Then he will leave you. He will break your heart and break your trust instead of breaking your fall. And it will hurt in ways you never imagined.
Don’t let him be the source of your self-worth. For that matter, don’t let anyone be the source of your self-worth. You’ll face rejection for being disabled and you’ll face rejection for being the girl you are. When you’re met with discrimination or a lack of acceptance, don’t just sit there and take it.
Learn to love yourself for all that you are. Gain strength that will be there to keep you going even when life shoots you down. That cannot come from outside you. It will only come from within.
I know these sound like words in the self-help books that made you roll your eyes and laugh as you pulled them from bookstore shelves. Quit laughing and start listening. It will save you a lot of pain in the years down the road.
Please, don’t give any of yourself away before you accept yourself. Learn to embrace your disability as another part of what makes you, you. Learn that just because you’ve got a body with scars and curves and a wheelchair attached to your butt, does not mean you’re not beautiful just as you are – your brain, your body, every part of you.
I won’t lie to you: Life as a disabled woman will continue challenging you to the core at times. Know that even in the hardest moments, you have so much to offer the world. Stop doubting yourself. More importantly, stop believing that you will only be validated and whole when someone looks at you with romance in his eyes.
Remember the pain of heartbreak is an experience not limited to the disabled world, nor is the joy of reaching your dreams. If there’s a day, a week, or a month when it feels like you just don’t fit and nothing is right and everything is wrong, know that you are far from alone in this world.
Focus on finding joy in who you are, on finding your way to a career path that will both fulfill your dreams and give you the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives. Remember how capable you are, no matter what message society may send. When it feels like you’ve been left out of nondisabled life, never forget that your life is no less valid.
I promise write to you again in a few years as I work to gain self-worth, self-acceptance, and pride in being a disabled woman that I wish you’d fight harder for now. But in the mean time, hang in there. You’re going to become a strong woman, and you’re going to be alright.
Love you always,