Image credit: Allie Schmidt
How I Regained Self-Confidence After Becoming Disabled at 26
Allie Schmidt shares her story of feeling more confident after disability
Do you know those people who effortlessly glide through life? They’re the old classmate you follow on Facebook and the colleague you love to hate. They leave you wondering how the cosmos continuously align to offer opportunities to them on a silver platter. Well, I’m Allie Schmidt, and I used to be one of those people.
Growing up, the universe seemed to bless me in a way that didn't seem quite fair compared to the rest of the world.
In high school, I was on the homecoming court three times in a row; made it into the yearbook with the title of “best personality”; and, as a star athlete, set a record for the most home runs ever hit in a single season.
"For me, I could feel what was happening to my body before anybody else could tell..."
In college, I excelled at academics, joining the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and making the Dean's List nearly every year.
All of this to say, life was just kind of... Easy.
Now, don’t get me wrong - in no way did I get everything I wanted. I drank far too much, got rejected from multiple job offers, and had my texts left on read more times than I can count.
But in the grand scheme of things, life was pretty easy on me. Until it wasn’t…
The Day Everything Changed
Life as I knew it changed on June 26th, 2017.
This is the day I found out that I had the early signs of ALS. For the past year, I had been slowly losing strength. I could no longer lift a 10-pound weight at the gym or button my jeans with 100% accuracy.
After multiple tests with a neurologist, it was concluded that my arms were becoming paralyzed and we didn't know if or when it would spread to the rest of my body.
All that was certain was that I was becoming disabled before the rest of the world could see.
"Little did I know that I was on my way to becoming, what I now believe to be, the truest version of myself."
Variations of Disability
Within the disability community, there are countless shades of variability.
For example, some people have congenital disabilities, meaning they were born with them. Others acquire their disability instantaneously, while others may have a slower progression. Some disabilities you seemingly can’t even see at all.
For me, I could feel what was happening to my body before anybody else could tell and confronting the notion that I was living on borrowed time. Soon, I'd no longer be able to drive, wash my hair or hold my future son, unassisted.
Coming to Terms With a New Identity
Back then, I didn’t know how to be anything other than fiercely independent. Growing up with a subordinate mom and combative dad had instilled an, “I can do everything on my own. A.K.A. I don’t need no man!” mentality within me.
I was so used to being a leader that at the time it felt difficult for me to process my newfound disability. For the next three years, I slowly lost more independence each day. I found myself dodging people from my past, developing social anxiety, and becoming a shell of my former self.
A Slow Shift
During the transition to fully identifying as disabled, I mourned my old life.
I no longer had a “fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants” type of spirit for fear that I would encounter a situation where I’d need to ask a stranger for help.
I resisted what I couldn't control. Rather than accepting my new reality, I hung on to what little semblance of the past I still had.
Also, during this time, I was creating clever, at-home hacks to make my life easier. Dreaming of a future career that didn't require me sitting in front of a computer for eight hours a day and brainstorming catchy names for horse feed (I worked at a tractor company).
Little did I know that I was on my way to becoming, what I now believe to be, the truest version of myself.
The Turning Point
There wasn't a decisive moment when I remember feeling comfortable referring to myself as disabled. However, there is one instance that stands out. An instance when I felt a surge of confidence similar to the one I knew years ago.
On a mild, December day in Nashville, Tennessee, my husband and I left our son with his grandparents for the first time since he was born. We opted for a one-night staycation at an Airbnb in our neighborhood where we could finally detach from feeling like parents.
As we walked down the street, we noticed a pop-up, thrift shop at a local bar. The women were beautiful, the guys were trendy and it seemed like everyone was sipping exotic cocktails while racking up the likes on their latest Instagram posts.
This was normally a situation where I would have felt out of place and immediately bolted.
But as I stood there with my paralyzed arms and boring, white t-shirt, I realized that I wasn't intimidated. The fact that most of the clothing was inaccessible to me or that I couldn't pick up my own cocktail didn't matter. I felt comfortable in my newly disabled body.
Just The Beginning
My disability has me facing challenges every single day. Whether it’s figuring out how to cook dinner for my son or brushing my teeth, it is all a challenge.
Each time I tackle one of these challenges I gain a tiny sense of accomplishment. All of these small wins contribute to an overall sense of empowerment. With all this said, done, and learned, I’d like to say if you acquire a disability later in life, it may just be the beginning of a new chapter in your life.