Once upon a time, I was scared and lonely. A lot of changes were happening in my life. I was eight years old and just coming to terms with my own disability. I realized that I was always going to be this way. I didn't have any friends who really self-identified as a person with a disability and I felt very isolated. No one could understand what I was going through, especially not my able-bodied friends at school. I broke down and cried a lot, with what I now know was a lot of anxiety. I had no disabled role models, no one to look up to, no one to tell me that things were going to be okay, and that I didn't have to feel ashamed to be this way.
My mother realized that I needed a friend like me. So, with her guidance, I traipsed into the still-fairly-mystical world of the Internet and began posting on a messageboard for kids with CP. I stipulated that I was looking for someone with mild CP, because those issues were unique to me and really what I was struggling with at the time - looking so "normal" yet still being different. A few people posted back, but no one I really connected with. And then Fate dropped an amazing gift practically in my lap. A boy with mild CP named Nate replied to my post - he was looking for someone like him, too. We struck up a lengthy correspondence first on the messageboard; then we moved to email. Eventually, I found out that he lived in my state, barely an hour away from me. We had to meet.
The first time I met Nate, I remember us both being really shy. He brought along the science project he had done on CP, where he had various able-bodied people try and accomplish various tasks while "CP-ized" in some way: i.e: fine motor tasks with gloves on, saying the Pledge of Allegiance with their tongues behind their teeth to simulate speech impairment, etc. I thought it was really cool. For the first time, I had someone who knew what it was like to "walk funny" and have difficulty with the simplest tasks. It was that day that my sun began to rise, and my metaphorical "long night" began to end.
Over the years, Nate and I grew closer and closer. He became one of my best friends, and our families became friends as well. We had many adventures together, me, Nate, my sister, and his sister. Nate and I wrote a small "book" about what it's like having CP. We roasted marshmallows together in his backyard and taught each other our favorite computer game tricks. One summer, our two families shared a rustic cabin vacation. When I made my first website, Abilities4u, Nate made t-shirts for the site and helped out in any way he could. Up until I met a few others at age 12, Nate was my only CP friend, and that made him special.
When I was 15, I convinced Nate to come to camp with me, and it changed his life in the same way it changed mine. Although we both branched out and met others with CP along the way, we never stopped being each other's best friends. And when I was 17, a close friendship suddenly blossomed into something more. Nate and I have been dating for about a year and a half and I couldn't be happier. He is the love of my life, and I will never forget that he was there for me during one of the darkest periods of my life.
Along the way, a lot of opportunities came for me through the Internet and social networking. My first website expanded and grew into something more, eventually acquiring a domain name, and helping many disabled kids and their parents, who weren't sure what to do during their dark nights. I gave them advice from personal experience, because I knew all too well what it was like to know nothing. I moved from CPKids onto other boards, like the Ouch! messageboards. I networked with other like-minded crips through Facebook. Almost a year ago, I created my second website, Mosaic Webzine. To this day, the Internet and social networking is how I keep my finger on the pulse of the crip community.
The theme for the December Disability Blog Carnival is "long nights and what we need to get through them". Initially, I had no idea what to write. I thought about writing how my anxiety has caused me many long nights in the past few months, but I couldn't find the words. I posted my dilemma on Facebook and within minutes, Stacey Milburn, better known as cripchick in the disability blogging world, suggested an idea. So this post wouldn't have happened without social networking. I feel so blessed to be a part of a community that has the ability to stay in touch, no matter where we are. I've come a long way from the scared little girl of eight, but my life is so much fuller. None of this would've happened without Nate and CPKids, and I am reminded of that every day. Now I not only have a wonderful boyfriend with CP, but countless others around the world who have come into my life. My sun has truly risen now, and I have come out of those long nights. I hope it never sets.
Me and Nate at our senior prom last June!