Hello, all! It is such an honor and a privilege to be writing to you all today as a guest blogger! I want to take some time to introduce myself and share a little bit of my story as a means to hopefully bring some encouragement!
My name is Chad Van De Griek, I am 24 years old and I live in Nashville, TN! I was born with Cerebral Palsy, which mainly impacts my legs and left arm. As a result, I use a manual wheelchair on a daily basis to help with mobility and independence. Of course, while my disability is a big part of my life, it isn’t my only defining factor! There is so much more to me than just my wheelchair! However, I didn’t always think this way.
For much of my childhood, I was under the impression that my disability was holding me back. In my mind, Cerebral Palsy was the thing that was keeping me from being everything I dreamed of being. I did anything and everything I could in hopes to eventually be seen as “normal” by those around me. I was embarrassed at the fact that I had to use a reverse walker, or had to wear AFOs, or even at the amount of upper body strength that I possessed at a young age. All of those things made me different. All of those things made me feel insecure, and I projected those insecurities on everyone around me. I assumed my disability was all that people saw because it was the only thing I noticed when I looked in the mirror.
Things began to change when I entered my teenage years. I started playing wheelchair basketball and, as I fell in love with the sport, I started to gain more confidence in who I was and became more comfortable in my own skin. I began to see that my disability wasn’t actually holding me back as much as I had initially thought. No, it didn’t make life very easy at times, but perhaps CP wasn’t the dream-crusher that I always assumed it to be. I could still be the follower of Jesus, the student, the athlete, and the vocal leader that I had always dreamt of being, even with CP.
As I transitioned from high school to college, many of these same self-doubts and insecurities came flooding back. Sure, it was one thing to live with confidence when in the comfortable confines of home, but college felt like a whole new ballgame. I had to learn how to live life independently on a college campus and it was a major struggle at first! There was a ton of pain and tears involved. I honestly didn’t think I would make it through four years of schooling. But despite my numerous doubts and moments where quitting seemed to be the best option, I was patient with myself, I took it all one proverbial step at a time, and did the best I could with what I had. It wasn’t easy, but I eventually grew more and more comfortable living as a college student and achieved my goal of obtaining a college degree!
But, even as I sit here and write these words over two years removed from my college graduation, I find myself having to learn and relearn many of those same life lessons. This current season of post-graduation life and trying to figure out what I truly want to do with my life has been extremely difficult in many ways and quite a bit longer than I had initially hoped. I have really struggled with job searching over the past year or so, along with an incredible amount of fear and nervousness when trying to get more comfortable independently driving with hand controls. These struggles have made it hard to have confidence in my ability to eventually become a mature and independent adult that is able to live by myself or have a family of my own one day. But in the midst of these present difficulties, fears, and unmet expectations, I have had to remind myself to, just like in college, be patient, take everything one step at a time, and do the best I can with what I have.
Like I said back at the beginning, my ultimate goal is to use my story to encourage those who may be reading it today. For those in the reading audience that have a disability themselves, I hope that my words would be a reminder that life isn’t always easy. There are (and will continue to be) a lot of obstacles that come our way, and that’s ok. When encountering these inevitable obstacles, be patient with yourself, give yourself grace, take everything one step at a time, and do the best you can with what you have. And for those in the reading audience who are loved ones of those with disabilities, my encouragement would be to always be willing to instill confidence in your loved ones and constantly point out and affirm the strengths and passions that they have. Speaking from my own experience, people who have done this in my life have made a gigantic impact that I am forever thankful for.
Thank you all for reading my words! I appreciate this opportunity so very much!