Self Awareness

To me, knowing who you are is as important as remembering to breathe.  Self-discovery is a bit of a winding road. You never know when the curve in will cause you to veer and go off the road.  We all experience our fair share of darkness and light. That is almost a given in any life, no matter how ordinary or lavish. It is about creating a delicate balance between the positive and the negative.

Growing up with a disability which requires me to be fully dependent on my wheelchair, I endured many shots to the heart. The distraught feelings I felt being the only person in a wheelchair in my high school had me hiding from myself. I was literally disgusted with myself. Even though deep down, I knew that my disability was not my fault, it still had me in the darkest nook of depression I have ever lived through.  I couldn’t even look in the mirror without crying because I could not bare to see the person staring back at me. I wasn’t me, and I knew that I had to get my life in order before the worst happened, and I decided to leave this Earth on my own accord.

The first positive step in my journey to self-discovery was finding intricate understanding in music.

It is about creating a delicate balance between the positive and the negative.

When I am feeling lost and alone, I tend to lean towards music because it is non-judgmental. Don’t get  me wrong, I do have an amazing family and support system in my tight circle of friends, but music has always been my go to source of comfort.  The band Lifehouse has repeatedly filled my heart with hope that I am not alone. They taught me that struggle is a universal emotion, but everyone’s battle with it is t different.  They essentially taught me to love myself again. I often refer to them as my band aid, as they helped cover up the many scars that almost prevented me from coming up for air. 

I was very young when Lifehouse debuted as a band. In fact, I was only 17. The age where you don’t really understand life and your hormones are a raging fire.  As a consequence of your hormones being all over the place, I like to think that being a little misguided is a norm.  Aside from those feelings, I was so happy that I had found refuge and solace in their music. Even today, they still help me through my most difficult times.  I was finally feeling better about myself, just as I was about to enter college.

I was so excited to begin my college journey. It had been in the back of my mind ever since I was a freshman in high school. I figured that I would have to explain my disability less in college. Maybe by then, the majority of the students were mature enough to handle differences. Fortunately, I was correct. College was one of the best experiences! I received an amazing education, and I was happy with my major.

Figuring out my major as a social work student was the next big milestone in my self-discovery journey. I knew that I wanted to help less fortunate people than myself, and I definitely knew I had space in my heart to pursue this dream and niche.  I was laser focused, making excellent grades and my heart was filled with an abundance of love and self-confidence.

With all of that being said, it is no secret that life does not always go as planned.  I had worked extra hard in my undergraduate years, graduating with a 3.7 and I was on my way to my dream graduate school, The Tulane School of Social Work. It was a very beautiful campus lined with huge oak trees and some of the most ornate and beautiful buildings that were beyond pleasing to the eye!  Even more pleasing than the appearance of the school was its ranking! It was rated among the top 30 schools of social work in the United States at the time. I was so proud of myself for overcoming all of the ugly times to achieve my ultimate dream. I was accepted as a student upon completion of my entrance essay, grades, and all other tidbits required for entrance into school. Elated didn’t even come close to describing my level of excitement!

Being a Louisiana native, New Orleans has always had a special place in my heart. It is so unique, colorful, and diverse. Not to mention how beautiful the city is in general. I was so excited to move there and begin my journey in the heart of the Big Easy! But, like I mentioned before, things do not always go as planned.

Tulane was not at all what I had expected.  The day dream of it was not all correct. Yes, I had some good times there and met some excellent people. However, in comparison to my undergraduate career, it was severely lacking. Also, I was not happy at all with the way I was treated at my internship by my supervisor.  She told me that I was under performing and did not know how to do my job.

As a person with self-esteem issues and long-standing depression, this hurt me very badly. It was like a shot to the heart and the gut. I felt a sense of worthlessness and would have to embark on finding my way all over again.

They say everything happens for a reason. On the very same day I received all the negative feedback, I got an email that told me that my loans were denied for a second semester. I would have to leave the school. When this happened, I was ugly crying and  completely devastated. I felt like all my dreams were crashing down on me!

However, now I see this as a blessing in disguise because now I see that the hardship of having to leave was God’s plan and way of telling me that I was not meant to be a social worker. I admire all social workers and the tireless work that they put into their jobs, but it is not for me.

It was through leaving the social work dream that I learned that writing was the niche for me. During the episodes of hopelessness and boredom, I began to write poetry again. After I had written roughly 30 poems, I came up with the idea of compiling these works into a self-improvement book. I did just that about two years later. I published my first book independently via Blurb Books. Two years later, I expanded my collection, and came up with two -hundred additional poems to publish a second book.

During the writing process, I realized something rather monumental.  I was genuinely happy! I loved the challenge of writing, and just like reading does, it took me away from my reality for a moment in time!

This is when I realized I was and am a writer. Having an identity as a writer makes me happier than I could ever imagine.  This is the “it factor” in discovering my road to self-awareness. Fast forward to today: I am 33 years old, and because of the residual effects of my Cerebral Palsy and the aging process, I am having some physical health issues and chronic pain that prevent me from ever working outside of my home. Even though, payment is not the ultimate goal for me right now, writing is the absolutely perfect line of work for me. Since I am independent, I have no real deadlines and can take my time working on various projects, especially if the pain is too severe on any given day. I love working from my desk at home. It is comfortable and familiar, which is very important to me. I am a blogger and contributing writer for Project Wednesday, The Mighty, HerStory, and Thought Catalog. Even though I do not practice social work directly, I feel like the blessing of my writing can also help people. I have had a tremendous year with my writing in 2017 in terms of visibility and publishing!

Each time a piece is published and shared with the world, I am so happy! You never know if a piece may impact or possibly even alter thinking enough to save a life. The journey to self-awareness has been filled with bumps and bruises, but of course, the sun always comes to greet me in the end, and I am happier right now than I ever been in my entire life!

-Karla Culbertson

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Karla Culbertson is 33 years old from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She is an independent Author who has published 2 poetry books via Blurb Books. She is also a contributing writer on Thought Catalog, The Mighty, and Project Wednesday. Her main goal in life is to promote kindness and loving and to uplift and change lives with her writing. She is wheelchair dependent due to Cerebral Palsy and other chronic pain issues, but she does not let it stop her from enjoying my life!