Bio: Chris Windley is a 29-year-old with cerebral palsy who is well-acquainted with the challenges facing children with cerebral palsy. As a child growing up with a disability, he experienced bullying, feelings of isolation and self-doubt. Now a thriving 29-year-old, Chris reflects back on his life with a follow-up letter to his younger self. You can read his first letter here; he wrote it as a 27-year-old to his 10-year-old self.
Dear 14-year-old Chris,
What’s up? I’ve gone through draft after draft of this letter. It’s been a roller coaster emotionally for the past few years for both of us. Thinking back on who I was, and how I’ve changed since then has provided me with a number of lessons I can finally share with you.
I’m experiencing “tangible” evidence of our growth. You know those plans you’re already making of becoming a somewhat mature, sensible adult? The path you set upon to accomplish this goal is working and right for you. Remember: we are all works in progress. There is always something to learn and more room to grow. You’ll soon find out that there are few pleasures in life more rewarding than being aware of one’s own growth.The clarity and joy gained from this kind of realization are beyond words.
Anyways, you’re finally a teenager! Which even for an able-bodied person is most often a nightmarish gauntlet of highs, lows, doubt, embarrassment, exploration, great achievements, and everything else in between. So here I go again, taking another stab at helping you through this frightening, yet exciting time in your life.
Communication is key.
As you are learning in your English classes, dialog is what truly drives a story forward. Your story is no different. I can’t stress how important it is to communicate. Not only with other people, but yourself. If you don’t understand your needs and how you internalize, process and apply said information, it’ll make it very difficult to effectively communicate with people. Strive to be able to accurately express yourself as short and sweet as possible. You’ll thank me later. It’s also okay if you can’t right now. Sometimes, things just take a while to learn.
Trust your instincts.
It doesn’t make much sense, but there are going to be people that generally want nothing to do with you, or worse: will actively try to cause you to fail. Accept this unfortunate fact of life and move on. Don’t think too badly about any of these people. At the same time, don’t convince yourself that people will not accept you. They will. You’re awesome and in hindsight, there’s a number of people that want to be your friend, they just don’t know how to approach you. It’s as simple as that. Teenagers are strange creatures. (No offense.)
I don’t want you to be a cave-dwelling hermit; but explore your feelings and the things you experience. It will help you discover things about yourself that will help you navigate this crazy thing called life. Even better, you will eventually get to the point where you are secure enough with yourself that when a conflict arises, you will be able to think clearly, keep your emotions in check and choose the best course of action to resolve whatever it is.
From time to time, your emotions will get the best of you, and that’s okay. After all, you’re only human. Being aware of yourself and your inner workings will help you through these stressful situations in a much quicker, healthier fashion.Cherish your family.This one is huge. Talk to them more. Tell them how your day has been and share those things you may feel uncomfortable sharing. Regardless of what you think, they really do have your best interests in mind, but they can only go so far without your input. Family doesn’t always mean blood relatives. Some of the closest people in your life are outside of our family, including a sister from another mister.
A poem you write (later) says: “Blood may be thicker than water, but we all need water to survive.” This still rings true to me today. It’s a reminder that while your family is vitally important, you will need to rely on others as well. No one can do anything alone, including you. Success is not a singular journey. It is a collective effort, whether you realize someone else was involved or not. Besides, what’s the point of success if there is no one to share it with?
Start concentrating on the future now.
No pressure! However, preparedness is our best bet to make something of ourselves and be productive members of society. Continue to do well in school. Believe me: the fun you are having now as a teenager is all good and well, but there are a number of awesome things a good education can afford you as an adult. We all have a myriad of talents, so never underestimate yourself or anyone else for that matter. One of the few regrets I have in my life is not concentrating on them more when I was your age. Change that!
Be open to opportunity and possibilities.
I read stories everyday of people with disabilities defying the odds, doing what they love and living life as fully as the next person. You are no different from any of them. There are some added challenges, but like Dad always tells you, “Those with greater facilities have greater responsibilities.” You have great facilities, and more often than not, you will exceed others’ expectations of you.
There are very few reasons for you to close a door or believe something is not possible. At the same time, be realistic. You’re old enough now to realize that you do indeed have limitations (everyone does), but do not be afraid to question and test those limits! A large part of life is spent overcoming obstacles. Get ahead of the game by starting now. Practice makes perfect.
Well, I’m going to sign off here for now. I’ll write again sooner than later. Until next time: stay happy, healthy, humble and honest!