“I love you.”
“I have CRPS.”
These two phrases are both made up of three tiny words, and both have such powerful effects on others. The first one causes growth, inspires, and creates hope for the future. The second phrase causes others to stare, to underestimate me, to pity me, or try to force me into a box of incapability.
About a month into studying at Wesleyan College, I was entering my dorm room with my friends. My arms were stuffed full of various things such as binders, textbooks and my water bottle. I was faced with three stairs to get to the first floor of the dorm. These frightening, enormous three stairs blocked me from getting to my room where I could just sink into my bed and finally discover relief for my swollen feet. I sighed an exasperated sigh because there was no easier, more accessible way to my dorm room and I was ever so exhausted.
As I placed my right foot onto my staircase I stumbled, and my water bottle shot out the crook of my arm, bounced off the railing and slammed into the door behind me. My friends at the hall entrance door turned around and looked at me. I slowly moved my leg from the first stair, and grudgingly went and picked up my bottle. I trudged back towards the stairs. I lifted my first foot onto the stairs and inhaled a sigh of relief as nothing dropped. I placed my other foot onto that first staircase, and as I did my notebook slipped out from under my arm and flew down the stair to the ground behind me.
My eyes hesitated to glance up, afraid of what my friends were thinking of me. My friend ran to me and picked up my notebook, grabbed my arm and said “I’ll save you. Give me all your stuff. I can just carry it to your room.” My eyes stung from the pain and my lips clenched as I held back my agitated thoughts about how she thought so little of me that she was willing to take everything from me rather than patiently wait for me to get up the three stairs on my own, which I can do.
Just as she was yanking my stuff out of my arms, my other friend who had been on her phone the entire time this was happening walked down the stairs and with a smile handed me back all my stuff. She glared at the other person and calmly and matter-of-factly said, “You can go ahead to your room if you don’t have time to wait.” Christen smiled brightly at me with a twinkle in her eyes and said, “Ugh. I hate these stairs so much.” And so, with each of us using a rail to lean on, we struggled up the stairs together until we reached the top.
We climbed stairs slow as caterpillars freshman year together, while other students stopped and gawked at me. We propped our feet up together, waiting on the swelling in our feet to go down together. She defended me to other students who questioned why I had a person with a disability car tag but looked so “normal.” She instilled confidence in me as a person with a disability. She held me when I cried, comforted me when I felt scared and challenged me when I would say that I couldn’t do something.
As Christen advocated for me on campus with my peers, I began to understand things I had never realized before. My disability cannot prevent me from doing the things I love. I cannot be trapped in this cage called CRPS. I can’t give up simply because others tell me to. I don’t have to allow others to swoop in to “save” me simply because they want to be a hero.
Never underappreciate the Christen in your life. Never underestimate yourself. You can do more than you believe. You can do everything your Christen says you can. You can be greater than you could ever dream. You truly can make a difference in your community. We are people with CRPS and we can do anything.