22 lessons in 22 years

22 lessons in 22 years
Posted on Wed 18 Aug 2021

Hannah Diviney is an author, activist and client of CPA. She will be writing a regular column for CPA exploring her journey with cerebral palsy and activism – you can read the first blog post here.


Hi friends
It’s August, which means a new column from me, full of things to make you laugh, make you think and hopefully feel a bit like a warm hug in these crazy lockdown times… I hope everyone’s going OK, staying safe and hanging in there. To me, August has always felt like something of a new beginning, I guess because it’s my birthday month and I like the idea of being able to draw my own line around things and start fresh on my own time.

This year, I’m turning 22, which if the rumours are to be believed, will mean I’m happy, free, confused and lonely at the same time. On top of that, I think this might be my biggest year professionally and personally for reasons I can’t tell you yet, but I promise all will be revealed soon! In the meantime, after a lot of reflecting, trial and error, highs and lows, I wanted to share with you all (in no particular order) 22 things I’ve learned in 22 years.


#1: Breathe

You’re looking at this being like ‘Well, duh, Hannah, OF COURSE you learned how to breathe… You’ve made it this far. But for me, as a person living with anxiety, breathing means grounding myself. Taking a minute to stem the flood that can come with a panic attack. Giving my body and brain a chance to rearm.


#2: Listening to your body + resting is never a weakness

This is a really hard one to learn and it’s something that I’m constantly reminding myself because I grew up wanting to be and do everything that my able-bodied sisters, peers and friends wanted to do. I wanted people to forget I was disabled, which is super damaging (and a whole other column maybe next month???) and meant I ignored what my body needed. I just didn’t want to miss out. Even though I NOW understand, that by not resting and taking care of myself, I actually risk missing out on more.


#3: No one else can tell you how best to manage your disability and everything that comes with it. You have to do what works for you.

You’ve probably figured this out by now, but there’s no manual for how best to manage a disability. So many people will tell you what you need to do and make demands of your time and energy in your best interest. As a kid, my family and I received all sorts of messages from physios, OT’s, speechies, psychologists, doctors, surgeons - the list goes on. It can be very overwhelming and I want you to know that you don’t have to tie yourself in knots trying to do it all. Do what works for you, is comfortable and realistic. And also understand that not every treatment you try is going to work exactly the way you want it to, because even though they have all the knowledge, specialists and therapists are only human.


#4: I’m not allowed to hold the popcorn at the movies!

All I’ll say is, don’t sit me right near the cinema speakers with a full box of popcorn and a startle reflex that goes off at the smallest sound/movement/change in voice etc. It will not end well!


#5: If you don’t ask, the answer can never be yes

Learning this has changed everything. It’s made me brave enough to climb mountains, start a petition to Disney and be part of a team launching a successful  global publication platform from scratch. It’s meant I’ve made requests I would’ve never thought possible, until I remembered I have nothing to lose. And sure, they might say no. Rejection is pretty painful and common. But just for a second, let yourself think about what it would look like if they said yes.

#6: It’s good to be nervous. It means that you care

This is still the best advice I’ve ever gotten, and I return to it every time I’m nervous, which, believe it or not, is actually quite a lot. Seriously, it happens every time I publish any piece of writing (including this one), do any speaking or media appearances. But it’s exactly how I keep myself in check – if ever I’m not nervous, that means it’s time to worry.


#7: Criticism/pushback means it’s working so let that fuel you

There will always be people who don’t understand what you’re doing or who you are. Some people might just not like it. But you cannot let that stop you. If people are pushing back at you, that means you’ve left the echo chamber of people who will always support you no matter what, and that you’ve moved to actively making an impact. The more eyes that find me and my work, the more likely it is that some of those will be haters. But I just use that to keep me motivated and prove them wrong. Besides, there’s always the ‘Block’ button.


#8: Dance it out

Seriously. It’s an instant mood-booster, a really fun way to exercise and life’s just better when it has a soundtrack.


#9: If something makes you happy and it’s not hurting anyone else, it can’t be uncool.

Joy, excitement, passion, and fun can be hard things to come by in this world. So, if you find them doing ANYTHING, hold on tight. Who cares what everyone else thinks?


#10: If you need help, ask

Sometimes, it’s hard to be a human and that’s OK. What’s not OK is struggling alone. Asking for help/support/comfort/care is not a weakness, but actually a huge strength. I’ve been through lots of times where I wasn’t OK, but I made it through those because I put my hand up and got the help I needed, and deserved.


#11: Real friends will always meet you where you are but won’t be afraid to tell it to you straight

I’m going to be honest. I’ve always struggled with making friends and resisting the urge to make parts of myself smaller so that I fit in with other people. But the truest and most real friends I’ve found are the ones who would never ask me to do that. Who get excited when I’m succeeding and cry with me when I’m not. They’re the kind of people who I could ring at any time and they’d answer the phone, no matter how long it’s been since we last talked and I love them for it. They’re also the kind of people who won’t hesitate to kick my butt if I need it.


#12: Tell people you love them

I know SO many people say this in so many ways and it’s a real cliché to have on a list like this but it’s true. You have to tell people you love them when you can, because there will come a day when you can’t. And if telling people is hard for you, show them. Make them a playlist. Bake for them. Send them a text when something makes you think of them. There are many ways to say ‘I love you’ and each of them is incredibly valuable.


#13: All the words to every Taylor Swift song. Like, ever.

I had to. And it had to be #13. Taylor has saved my life and changed it. She’s brought me friends and nights I’ll never forget. She’s helped me grow as a writer and a person, to have confidence in my voice, to trust that I should not let myself be dismissed, because I am young and female. And honestly, it is one of my biggest and wildest dreams that I get the chance to tell her that and create with her.


#14: There’s nothing quite like the power of a good story

Stories – whether they’re in books, movies, TV or music have always been so magical to me and I think that power comes from the fact that they let me escape. They let me go on adventures and try on new lives, and now as a creator of my own, they give me the chance to try and step inside other people’s heads. Stories have lived as part of what human beings need since the beginning of time, so please let yourself be surrounded by stories and wonder, even and especially when the world is full of heaviness.

#15: To let my imagination run wild, even as an adult

It’s always so interesting to me how many kids, teenagers and adults lose the ability to use and trust their imaginations because they’ve been taught that they are silly, time-wasting and not worth it. That’s a lie. Imagination and play is actually really important for our sanity. In my job, I’m lucky that I get to use mine and play every day in some way or another but I know that’s not the case for everyone. Now, I’m not saying we all have to get down and play with Lego or pretend that the cracks in the pavement are lava, but I am saying: imagine how much happier we’d all be if we kept feeding our imaginations.


#16: You don’t have to ‘share’ everything

In 2021, I feel like we have this weird culture of ‘if you don’t post it on social media, it didn’t happen or it didn’t mean anything to you, or you’re not really friends with that person’. You are allowed to have a life that no one sees. You are allowed to experience something and not take a photo because you were in the moment. You are allowed to take a photo and not post it. You don’t have to always be ‘on’. I’m not, plenty in my life happens (both good and bad) that you guys don’t see and I like it that way.


#17: There’s always going to be that one hair or clothing phase that makes you facepalm

If you know me outside of the Internet, you probably can guess which phase of my life I’m talking about here but for those of you who don’t, it’s The Pixie Cut. The thing that happened to my head, when I donated my ponytail to be used in wigs for cancer patients when I was a teenager and my hairdresser kind of forgot to actually shape my hair once the ponytail was gone. And no, before you ask, I’m not giving you a picture.


#18: ‘No’ is a full sentence

One of the most freeing things to learn as a disabled person is that I don’t have to justify any decisions I make about my health or productivity to anyone else. They’re mine. I know that productivity culture tells us we have to work and work and always say yes to everything but we don’t. We can say no without guilt or explanation. Try it.


#19: Laugh even if no one else gets the joke

So, I don’t know about you guys, but I often use humour as a coping mechanism to offset life’s hard things. Don’t get me wrong, any and all emotions about the stuff you have in your life are valid, and crying is actually extremely healthy (!!!) but if you can find a way to laugh, let it rip. It doesn’t matter if it’s dark humour or jokes that no one else understands. All that matters is that laughing might, even if only for a minute, ease the knots in your chest and give you some space to breathe.


#20: There’s no such thing as a ‘guilty’ pleasure

I hate the phrase ‘guilty pleasure’ Why should we feel bad or embarrassed about the things that bring us joy if they’re not harming anyone else? We shouldn’t. Life’s too short for censoring yourself and hiding parts of who you are to try and look cool. So do me a favour? That music you’re embarrassed to admit you listen to? Turn it up! That TV show you don’t want people to know you watch? Recommend it to a friend. Be your full, glorious self no matter who that turns out to be.


#21: Trust your gut

Back yourself. There are always going to be people who have opinions on the things you do. Who question your decisions or make you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing. Seriously, the worst and most painful failures of my life have come from the times when I ignored my gut. I’m not saying, don’t listen to or take advice from people around you with experience. Of course, take it on board, but at the end of the day, it’s your call.


#22: Stop punishing yourself for the things you can’t do

This one is still very much a ‘work in progress’ but it’s something I’m determined to get the hang of, because I’ve spent years punishing myself and I need to stop. I need a lot of help with self-care. Things like getting dressed, showering, using the bathroom. I can’t cook. I can’t drive. But not being able to do those things doesn’t make me less of a person. It doesn’t make me a burden. It doesn’t mean I’m not worthy of love, or friendship or success. My worth as a disabled person does not and cannot come from how closely I measure up to an able-bodied standard. Because guess what? I’m never going to be able-bodied, so trying to reach those places will just continue to burn up my insides and ultimately destroy me, which funnily enough is really not what I want from my life.

Well, I just told all of you a lot about myself! It actually feels pretty vulnerable to have this piece out in the world because I’m definitely still deep in trying to figure myself and the world out, but I’m so hoping you connect with it. Please feel free to head over to my Instagram @hannahthewildflower or my Twitter @hannah_diviney and tell me which lessons resonated with you the most. I’ll see you back here in September but in the meantime stay safe. x

Dr Madison Paton, an expert in stem cells at the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Research Institute, has been awarded the 2022 White Coats Foundation ‘Power of One’ Grant.

Exciting news — Cerebral Palsy Alliance Research Foundation is launching a new podcast featuring Remarkable participants that highlights the stories behind life-changing science and innovative disability tech.