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02/06/2014 03:24 pm ET | Updated Apr 08, 2014

5 Things I've Learned From Having a Disability

Happiness is a choice.
To be happy, one must look inside their soul. You have to want it. You have to realize that you are in control of your emotions, and you are the ultimate creator of your own happiness. All the advice in the world cannot change the way you feel unless you're truly willing to make that change. Regardless of whether we want it or not, life is going to have obstacles, and it's going to be messy at times. When happiness seems like a long shot, there's something you must always remember: You get to decide how you want to handle those hardships because you are the pilot on this journey. You can either feel sorry for yourself and all of your troubles, or you can learn to move on and lead a life of happiness. The choice is up to you, and only you.

It's okay to be weak, sometimes.
Being weak doesn't mean you're giving up, and it certainly doesn't mean you're a failure. Those feelings of vulnerability and helplessness are a part of life, and I'm sure they happen to everyone. Between my long-term hospital stays and one-after-the-other medical problems, I've had plenty of experiences in my life where I've felt physically and mentally weak. I'm actually okay with it though, because I learned to take my moments of weakness and turn them into strengths. In other words, you'll never fully understand how to be strong unless you've experienced what it means to be weak. Despite what many people think, being weak can teach us a valuable lesson. You just have to be willing to pay attention.

Different is the new "normal."
Growing up with a disability, I've always struggled with self-esteem. In middle school and high school, I didn't like the idea of sticking out from the crowd. I was smaller and skinnier, I felt as though my wheelchair took up half the hallway, and I couldn't seem to come to terms with the fact that I wasn't like everyone else. All I wanted was to look and be normal. Fast forward to my 20s now, and I realize I had it all wrong. Fitting in is entirely overrated. I'm unique, and I like that I'm my own individual. My uniqueness is in part of what defines my personality. Besides, there's some sort of mystery to being unique that people are drawn to.

Never take anything for granted.
So often, we hear this saying whether it be from a family member, mentor or friend. Yet, I firmly believe we never understand just how powerful its meaning is until we lose what we have. Having a degenerative muscle disease, I've lost certain mobility like feeding myself and handwriting over the years. And truthfully, a part of me wishes I could go back in time to when I was able, just to savor that sweet taste of independence for one more second; but life doesn't exactly operate like that. So, wake up every morning and be grateful. Instead of focusing on what you don't have in life, focus on what you DO have. Live in the moment, and learn to appreciate every tiny detail of your life, even if it is just being able to hold a pen between two fingers.

Don't judge a book by its cover.
I understand that writing about clichés is somewhat frowned upon, but this one had to be mentioned because it's completely and utterly true. A person's outer appearance should never define who they are as a human being. Being confined to a wheelchair my entire life, I can't even begin to describe the way many people treat me because of my disability. Their assumptions and misjudgments can sometimes be hurtful; so I've always felt the need to validate myself as an individual to everyone. I may be disabled, but that doesn't mean I don't have feelings. With that said, remember that, disability or not, everyone deserves a chance. Instead of jumping to conclusions, take a moment to really get to know a person. You just might be surprised.

This post originally appeared on Alyssa's WordPress blog. To read more of her work, click here.

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