Oh, my life is changing every day
In every possible way
And oh, my dreams
It’s never quite as it seems
(Never quite as it seems)

Dreams – The Cranberries

Dear Michelle,

It’s the summer of 1993, you’ve just finished your Junior Cert exams, typed on an electric typewriter! The Cranberries, your favourite band are riding high in the charts and little do you know that you are on the cusp of an exciting and at times challenging adventure of self-discovery.

You have focused hugely on getting through your exams but when they are over, you’re going to have some time to develop different skills, namely your independence. For you, independence is so much more important than for your peers, because you live with the physical disability – cerebral palsy. This has meant that you have had to have many interventions like surgery, physiotherapy and occupational therapy and you have had to rely on others to help you walk and stay balanced. But not for much longer! You are about to get your first walking aid and with that freedom and your first real taste of independence. You will start to find your voice. A voice that will ultimately enable you to articulate your needs, wants and desires.

You will also begin to understand the importance of being a key player in the decisions that will shape your life now and in the future. You’ll hear for the first time a phrase that will stay with you particularly on the tough days, that is ‘nothing about us, without us’. The importance of this phrase will become increasingly significant the older you get. Until now decisions about your health and welfare have been made by others and you have often felt silenced but as your authentic voice develops you will want and need to be the person who is best placed to make your own choices, decisions, and mistakes.

Of course, it won’t all be plain sailing. Love will lift you up and tear you apart. Friendships will come and go, many will endure. You won’t always feel positive, you’ll have many times when you struggle, you’ll doubt yourself and you’ll be frustrated. You’ll often have times when you have an ambiguous relationship with your disability. It will be hard to find role models in the media and public life, disabled women who are living ordinary lives and not feted for being inspirational. You’ll have many of the struggles of non-disabled women too. It will take you a long time to feel confident of and comfortable with your own body. Your love of fashion and glamour will grow as your confidence does.

Trust me when I tell you that there will come a time when you’ll see your disability as an integral part of the person you are and be empowered by that. You’ll find solidarity and a stronger voice through your interactions with other disabled women and men. Words like equality and inclusion won’t just be words in a textbook, they’ll develop real meaning and hold a huge importance to you, particularly through the career you’ll go on to develop. 

I’ll finish this letter where I started by quoting the Cranberries on the importance of following your dreams:

I want more, impossible to ignore
Impossible to ignore
(And they’ll come true)
And they’ll come true
Impossible not to do
Impossible not to do  

Michelle, you will go on to follow many of your dreams, you’ll always want more and be ambitious. You’ll regularly challenge expectations, assumptions and barriers. You will ultimately develop a unique insight on life due, in no small part to your experience of living every day with a disability. A part of you that you will learn to be very proud of!

Best of luck!

Michelle

One thought on “Michelle Scanlon – A letter to my sixteen year old self”

  1. I am immensely proud of my wonderful cousin Michelle. She is nothing short of an inspiration to us all. She has such a kind heart, a wonderful sense of humour, a super personality and is beautiful inside and out. I was so lucky to have her as a role model growing up next door, 6 years her junior. She is a doting godmother to my 7 year old son Charlie and my 3 kids have such fun racing her in her scooter and them on theirs! I spent a weekend in Dublin with Michelle years ago and it opened my eyes to living with a disability and the daily struggles she encounters, all with a smile on her face. We love you so much Michelle and are so proud and privileged to have you in our lives. Love always, Emma, Ian, Mollie, Charlie and Emilie, xxx

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