This story needs no introduction. All it needs is 5 minutes of your time. Time to hopefully stop you amidst your 'busy' tracks, in order to reflect and think.
I was born with a spinal cord defect called Spina Bifida, this literally means split spine in Latin. There are three stages of spina bifida; Occulta (mildest), meningocele and myelomeningocele. Myelomeningocele is the most severe form of Spina Bifida. This is when, most commonly, the bottom vertebrae of the spine haven't formed, creating an opening for the spinal cord to protrude, exposing the nerves and therefore causing great damage to those nerves - causing paralysis, loss of sensation and inability to walk in most patients with this form of Spina Bifida. I was born with myelomeningocele.
To top it off, this also caused hydrocephalus, which is when excess cerebrospinal fluid accumulates in the head caused by impaired circulation and absorption - which may cause the brain to expand and stop the flow of oxygen. When I was born, the doctors warned my parents that, in all probability, I would not be able to walk or have any feelings from the waist down.
By some miracle, here I am today sharing this story - with full ability to walk and more or less great sensation from the waist down, something that in the 21 years of my life none of the doctors who have seen me had ever encountered, or indeed could explain, and believe me I have seen lots of doctors! As much as I am so very grateful for being able to walk and being able to live a normal healthy life, living with spina bifida has made me face many obstacles in my life, emotionally, physically and mentally. In this text I want to briefly bring out how those obstacles have actually helped me cultivate my inner strength, have aided my resolve to progress and find my potential.
Spina Bifida had to go from being my worst enemy to becoming my best friend and that acceptance has opened up so many doors for me. I'd like to emphasise how incredibly crucial our mental well being is to our physical well being, how everything in our body and mind works in harmony if we allow it to.
Living with spina bifida is confusing.
It is anger, pain, doubt and utter confusion. It made me lose touch with my body and mind. It is days of feeling physically out of touch and not knowing why. It is days of shame, of embarrassment and emotional pain. I lost out on most of my teenage life and questioned my existence, doubting myself, questioning life and whether I would ever be healed of that pain. But ironically enough, spina bifida has brought me closer to exploring my inner self.
All those years of shame, questioning and struggle helped me towards an ongoing journey of getting to know my body and my mind on such a deep level, were I began to realise that the two work together and they are not separate. There was no other way than to work hard at this if I ever wanted to live in harmony with my body. I found myself becoming more and more in tune with how my body and it's limitations work, how my emotions and thoughts work - showing me a completely different perspective to the life I inevitably found myself living, and this new approach helped me notice how fragile yet strong we are as a species - how incredibly vast and infinite the world around us is, including our inner world.
My struggle turned into reaching a mental and emotional state I didn't know existed -by leaping out of my 'comfort zone' and pushing myself into a world of self exploration and self love, which in the mindset of my 16 year old self seemed the most challenging thing to do.
For the whole of my teenage life I was numb to my senses, I didn't want to know about what was going on with my body, I shut that part of me out entirely. Consequently, that had a huge negative effect on how my mind and thoughts worked. My whole well-being was in a complete mess. A few years ago, having moved to Barcelona by myself, I realised that in order for me to enjoy my life independently I had to face the cards I was dealt with head on. Through conscious self reflection and days of mindfully discovering my body and being conscious of what I put inside my body - I felt my senses becoming stronger in every way. I truly felt inner strength. Love for myself and the world wasn't on a shallow level, it was heart-felt. the world became this magical place, my body became a vessel of intrinsic beauty and as I began to understand the miracle of life in my own way, of all that we are and all that lies beneath my skin, I realised how utterly perfect it all was, how utterly perfect we all are.
The struggle to overcome my problem suddenly transformed into an opportunity for discovery - discovery of a whole new perspective of myself and the world in which i find myself. I am so grateful for it. It has shown me the beautiful, exciting side to our human experience and our potential on our earth. And as much as I believe that you are influenced by the experiences you have gone through in your life, I also truly believe that you are not a product of your experiences - you have a choice at any given moment in your life to begin again, to deconstruct all that you think you are, all that you think you're destined to be. To alter it, question it and change it throughout the course of your life. I believe that we are not destined to one life and one death. Rather, in the course of our short life we are continuously dying and being reborn again if we allow ourselves to look within, giving way and being open to what we have the potential to become.
This journey has taught me that there is no such thing as 'normality', we all seem to be striving to become a certain kind of 'perfect' and in my eyes we will never reach it, i believe what makes us perfect is purely our imperfections, that is what makes us beautiful, full of life and full of character. We are all unique in our own way and whether we are living with a disability or not we all have gone through some struggle and I truly believe that it is our vulnerabilities that make us beautiful. That is what makes us human. It has taught me that each person has their story and that no matter what cards we have been dealt with we all have incredible potential. A "disability" is not in our control, but rising above it is a choice. It's a choice we all have with our struggles and mine has made me stronger, maybe not physically but mentally and emotionally and it is still an ongoing journey of hard work with rewarding and sometimes unrewarding results but I wouldn't have it any other way.
I hope this message gives you hope and strength to carry on, to lift yourself up, to explore your inner world and the world around you no matter how impossible you think it is. I promise you'll surprise yourself. What lies beyond that conflict is an incredible internal and external world waiting with open arms, yearning to be explored.
I will leave you with this beautiful quote from a Japanese belief 'Wabi Sabi' that I hold very true to life. Wabi Sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities; nothing lasts, nothing is finished, nothing is perfect.
"Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature, of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay and death. It's simple, slow and uncluttered and it reveres authenticity above all. It celebrates cracks and crevices and all the other marks that time, weather and loving leave behind. It reminds us that we are all but transient beings on this planet - that our bodies as well as the material world around us are in the process of returning to the dust from which we came. "
Check out Andrea's beautiful works here.