I don’t often open up about my disability other than to explain what it is and give a brief rundown of how it affects me. I think that’s because it’s always there, and whilst it does impact me on a day-to-day basis I think of myself as a person first and foremost. My disability is a big part of my life, but it’s a factor that - I believe - has no bearing on whether I make a success of it.
I’ve got something called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. It’s a neurological condition that causes chronic pain in both my feet all the time. Living in pain isn’t always easy. In fact it’s draining on so many levels, but I deal with it by focusing on all the things that I can do rather than the things I can’t. I find that this mentality allows me to live life on my terms and achieve all the things I want to achieve.
I was diagnosed with CRPS when I was sixteen after struggling with it for five years. This was a difficult time and if I’m completely honest it crushed my self-esteem. The world places so much value on outward appearance and I… well, I was broken. I didn’t fit within that blanket ideal of physical perfection. I was different, and different can sometimes be a lonely place to be. I worried that people would treat me differently, that they wouldn’t be able to see past my crutches and wheelchair and discover the person beyond. I was petrified that the BIG plans I dreamed about would no longer be achievable. That my life was over before it had even begun.
It was sport that helped change these perceptions about myself. Taking archery up on my fifteenth birthday and finding something I was good at started the long process of repairing my shattered confidence. And getting involved with the Paralympic movement was life-changing. I had this real wake up moment in Beijing 2008 - out there I saw the most incredible athletes achieving spectacular things in spite of their disabilities. It put my problems into perspective and I started to accept myself for who I was rather than who I wanted to be.
Learning to become more confident and develop a stronger sense of self-worth wasn’t easy, but it was the most empowering thing I’ve ever done. Sure, there are things that I find challenging and there’s stuff that I find harder to do because of my disability, but this mentality has allowed me to realise that my potential is limitless, that I am deserving of success and worthy of making meaningful connections with others.
Yes, I have bad days and I hit stumbling blocks, but ultimately my disability has shown me how strong I am mentally. That no matter how big the hurdle in front of you there is always a way around. It’s taught me to be creative, patient, persistent and resilient – skills that I can apply to any dimension of my life.
Today is International Day of Persons With Disabilities, a campaign that raises awareness about the world of disability. And it’s needed. With over 1 billion people living with a disability globally, a movement that advocates equality, empowerment and opportunities for such a traditionally underrepresented group of people is needed.
We can’t always change our circumstances, but we can change the way we see them and learning to develop a positive mindset opens the door to possibilities. Positive thinking isn’t about denying there is a problem – it’s choosing to redirect your attention to the good stuff instead of dwelling on the bad. Challenges can be overcome with the right kind of thinking; it’s about believing that you are a match for any obstacle in your path and pushing until you get through.
The International Day of Persons With Disabilities is also a fantastic platform to raise awareness about disability on a wider level. There’s still a lot of progress to be made to create more inclusive communities and make sure opportunities are available to everybody regardless of their ability or background. For me, inclusion isn’t a tick box but a holistic approach that levels the playing field and leaves nobody behind.
A disability does not stop anybody from living a meaningful life or achieving success in many fields. It doesn’t define who a person is, nor what they are capable of. We all have strengths, we all have weaknesses, and we all require varying degrees of support to achieve our goals. And we can all be UNSTOPPABLE when we get our mindset working for us rather than against us.
Danielle Brown MBE is a double Paralympic gold medallist and the first English disabled athlete to transition to able-bodied sport at the Commonwealth Games. She is also a Professional Keynote Speaker, Training Provider and Coach. Her organisation inspires and empowers people to unlock their potential, overcome adversity and achieve big goals.
Please feel free to reach out to Danielle at firstname.lastname@example.org