I grew up in a religious family and I attended church and private religious school. I lost my faith when I was fourteen (I don’t care to elaborate because it’s a painful story) and since then have tried to rely not on God or any other spiritual being or element, but on myself and on others and to be grounded to the earth and this life rather than concerned with what is beyond it. I consider myself an atheist and I hope I will simply disappear after I die.
If I were still religious, I could believe that God gave me a disability because he knew I could handle it and he knew it would ultimately make me a strong, determined, persistent, and resilient person. I also would have accepted it as part of life and my identity rather than working to overcome it. I would have simply just ‘lived in it’ as many people do. I don’t believe it’s wrong or weak to live in it and accept it rather than to work to overcome it, but I have spent my life working to overcome my impairment rather than to accept it. Even before I knew that I could get better, I never accepted my disability and wanted to be free of it. I worked to make my body the best that it could be. I never integrated myself into a disabled community, I never actively sought out people with disabilities to befriend, and I did my best among other able-bodied people in the hope of being like them. I never wanted to accept my cerebral palsy as part of myself. I saw it as a defect, a weakness, a failing, and a curse.
I used to pray for certain things to happen rather than for strength, patience, tolerance, and acceptance. There are some times when I want to pray for strength or stillness, but I don’t because I have convinced myself that prayer would make me a weak person. I remind myself to be self-reliant and strong when I feel the need to pray. I know that prayer or faith do not make me weak, but I feel weak in those moments where I consider praying.
Someone once asked me what was wrong with my leg so that he could pray for me. I didn’t say it – because I didn’t think to at the time – but he wouldn’t have had to know what was wrong with me in order to pray for me. He could have just prayed that I found peace, stillness, and strength despite having an obvious impairment.
A couple of years ago, a close friend of mine was pregnant with a very sick baby. I asked friends of mine whom I knew were religious to pray for her and for the health of the baby. I knew it would mean a lot to her and her family, and I knew that my friends who believed in God would pray for her. I did everything I could to support her and her husband while she was pregnant; her baby had hydrocephalus, which I also had when I was born. I told them about the work I had done to rewire and retrain my brain, and I hoped that it would give them hope and strength to know that there were therapies and treatments available for their daughter that focused on neurologic recovery and, ultimately, healing. My friend had her baby and is giving her the best care possible to give her the best life she can. Though I did not involve God or faith in the support I gave them, I sent them all the love and strength I had in my heart. They knew what my body was like before I knew I could get better and they had seen me change as a result of therapy. It gave them hope that the same could be true for their little girl.
I believe in goodness but not in God. I believe in treating others well and living a good life and being a good person. I do not believe that God is necessary in life for a person to be good and do good things. My journey to cure myself has taught me even more about the importance of reliability, accountability, responsibility, and integrity, all of which stem wholly from the self rather than external forces and influences. My work to overcome my disability has taught me about consequences and shown me the effect my behavior and choices have on other people. It has made me more aware of my place among them rather than separate from them.