Elizabeth Stewart

When asked to write this piece I found it exceptionally difficult to see myself or my story as inspirational so this is a new perspective for me. But as I am putting things on paper this is what I would like to share.


Growing up with cerebral palsy in an environment where there was no one to really identify with made it difficult to establish my own normality. So I grew up spending most of my time trying to be normal and fit in. This was fairly ironic as I am anything but normal. As far back as I can remember it was instilled in me that I would one day have to provide for myself. The option of it being someone else’s job to look after me was very far removed from my reality and never an option.


From a small child wanting to wear roller-skates to my decision to become a teacher I have always been met with scepticism. I have spent a large amount of my time proving people wrong. If the scepticism was meant to deter me it had the opposite effect entirely. It fuelled my determination to succeed, if only to prove the impossible possible. Each obstacle enhanced my belief in myself and strengthened my spirituality.


I learnt it was important to be more like others and less like me if I were to fit in. I succeeded. I became a teacher, got married and had children.


However, sometimes when you think that you have figured everything out and you appear to have a handle on situations, life throws you a curve ball. In my case it was a stroke. After the stroke the full extent of my disability came to the fore. Where before I had a slight limp and my hand was only mildly affected, I lost function in both. I also lost my ability to speak clearly and concisely. I did what I do best. I adapted. All the while those around me continued to struggle to come to terms with the situation.


I choose to accept circumstances as they are rather than dwell on what I was capable of before. Admittedly this has not been an immediate reaction. I am indebted to my children who, from the onset, accepted who I now was and in turn allowed me to do the same. The stroke has allowed me to embrace my new uniqueness. Instead of feeling ashamed of what has made me different to everyone else I have learnt to take pride in my individuality. I would never have done this in the past.


I have never lost my passion for teaching or for discovering my sense of self. I feel rather that I now know who I am and I am more at ease with myself. My goal of passing on knowledge and broadening horizons has always been the same but I have had to adapt my thinking and learn to let go of the conventional and listen more to that little voice inside my head that says don’t give up when everything else around me has.


I still feel like I have something to give and while my body may have given up my belief that my voice can still be heard is something I hold onto. I use it to motivate me especially on days when I think ‘what’s the point’. I like to think that this unexpected detour in my road has not been in vain. I hold onto the hope that maybe in my own small way I can contribute and make a difference. Attitude is everything.


I would like to teach my children that whatever challenges you face in your life it is up to you to decide how you confront them, learn from them and find something positive to take from them. It’s your choice.


I don’t believe that my story is different from many others. The difference may only be that I have chosen to share mine with you. I am naïve and idealistic enough to believe that like Martin Luther King or Helen Keller (who had such conviction within themselves and their beliefs) it only takes one individual to stand up, be counted and make a difference. This is what truly motivates me.


Perhaps if we all made a positive difference in our own unique way we would feel more connected to each other and less afraid to be imperfect.


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