To look at me, you would not know that I was disabled, unless you noticed the difference in the height of my legs. One is shorter and less muscular than the other leg; however, I was one of the lucky ones, as the disease only impacted the right side of my body. During the 1950s, I was incorrectly diagnosed with polio. The reality was that I was born with Cerebral Palsy.
I grew up in an Orthodox Jewish-Sephardic, Syrian home. My parents had closed minded convictions about my illness. They believed it would just go away or I would grow out of it. Quite poor and without health insurance, I was only allowed to visit the doctor around once a year. Our financial situation made medical care difficult. Through 8th grade, I wore expensive custom-made shoes. These were my only shoes, and I only received new ones when my shoe size changed.
My name is Lorys Stiel. This is my Kintsugi Story.
As a young girl, I went to a religious yeshiva. This is a private Jewish school. For nine years, I went to school with seven girls and 23 boys in the same class. I was always the one girl left out. The boys cruelly bullied me. They had nicknames for me that hurt. The girls did not include me in any of their weekend plans. To say that I was lonely is an understatement and yet I didn’t know any better.
My parents did not tell me what was wrong with me. Still, I knew I was not like all the other children. I believe my parents felt that if I was in a normal environment, I would begin to feel like everyone else. This was not the case for me. I could see myself in the mirror and knew my many limitations.
During these lonely years, my only friend was God. He was with me as early as three years old. While growing up, I had the distinct knowledge that my life would be unordinary yet rewarding in the end. I never understood where the concept of God came into my life so powerfully and personally. My parents were religious but not overly so in our home. The only thing that kept me going, my strong connection with God was a lifeline.
When I was 12 years old, I found out what I actually had. I was in 8th grade and at the doctor's office; I snuck a look at the doctor's paperwork. Finally, I had a name to my ailment! This was a crucial moment in my life. I asked the doctor question after question. My parents were in shock that I knew the name for my condition. Somehow, the knowledge of what I had helped me, even though there was no cure.
At that appointment, the doctor gave me some physical therapy exercises to do on my own. My parents did not encourage me to do them. Within a short time, I had stopped. Without their support, I lost my motivation. Today, I am certain that if someone had worked with me on a consistent basis, it would have made a huge difference in my quality of life.
Taking Charge of my Life
During this time, I made the decision to not continue with my education in the Yeshiva. I felt that these classmates who knew me for so many years would never look at me as an ordinary person. I needed a change! I had to leave this hurtful environment. I wanted a fresh start where no one knew me. I had a plan to go to public school. I purposely failed the entry tests to my local Jewish high school. I cried and prayed to God every day to let me lead a new and normal life. The doctor had told my parents I would get worse. I would probably not graduate high school; I was determined to prove them all wrong.
Transforming Life's Trajectory
The summer before I began high school, I began to notice a tremendous change in my physical persona. My right hand stopped shaking. I was stronger. I started to do exercises on my own. With my allowance, I purchased my first pair of sneakers! This was a defining moment for me.
I had a handful of close friends in Long Beach, Long Island where we stayed each summer, including my first cousins who visited often. That fateful summer, I went to day camp which was a true treat! I easily made friends in this new environment. All of the sudden, I went from being cruelly bullied to popularity. Even though I wasn't able to swim or run like the other children, I knew in my heart that my life had taken a turn for the better.
This resulted in an emotional transformation! I was normal, like any other student. I was wearing jeans. Pants were not allowed in the Jewish school I attended. My disability became mostly hidden. On the first day, I met and kept numerous friends. One of these friends introduced me to my husband. With my spirit uplifted, my heart was smiling! I accepted new challenges with enthusiasm. After my freshman year, I was an A student with potential! By my Junior year, I had hundreds of friends, worked part-time, and I had a steady boyfriend. A few special teachers encouraged my growth. They told me I was smart, something I did not believe I was. This new self-esteem catapulted my success in academics.
My parents were worried I would no longer be religious in a secular environment, as most of the students were not spiritual people. I believe it was quite the contrary. I was more determined to be pious and even wanted to inspire my classmates. I wanted to share with them what being Jewish meant to me. Spiritually, I never lost that precious connection with my Jewish heritage or my belief in God. I strongly believed that He was with me at every step and granted me miracles. How else did a shy, quiet, and disabled little girl find a world of hope, love, friends, and adventure?
After high school, I actually went on to college. I graduated with five other students who were Mathematics majors. I made friendships easily. Outgoing and happy, I had more friends than I ever imagined! I had a strong family life, despite it taking years for me to forgive me parents. By not sharing with me what my diagnosis was, they had caused deep damage to our relationship.
Despite this, I had a strong work ethic. Over the years, I appreciated exactly what God had planned for me. I realized many people were in the same predicament that I was in. Through that, I found and find myself helping people day to day in the strangest ways. In my heart, I know God gives me these challenges. I accept them with a renewed passion, because there is a reason for it.
The Path Illuminated by the Darkness
For the past 24 years, I have worked in an educational environment. Who else but someone with a history of bullying can understand what other children are experiencing in this day and age? I like to think I recognize when a child is keeping secrets and is in their own world, just like I was. I am there for a reason, and my life prepared for it.
I am certainly not healed. I cannot drive, swim, ski, run or walk a far distance. I still have Cerebral Palsy and always will. But I am not Cerebral Palsy. CP does not define me. What I did with my life defines me.
Around 13 years ago, God granted me yet another miracle. His name is Mike. He was just beginning his physical therapy career when we hit it off immediately. Mike has a vast amount of knowledge about the body, muscles, and its maximum ability and limitations. With Mike as my trainer, I started working out in his gym. He promised me the world. I was hesitant to trust a stranger, but I knew that if God sends you an emissary, you just need to believe.
When I started, I could not hold a two pound weight in my right hand. Now, I curl with 12 pound weights in each hand. I could not take a step using my right leg without support. Now, I can jump over tires and do Bosu squats. Mike helped me attain these physical abilities. He also showed me that no one can set limitations for people. With perseverance and hard work, almost anything is possible.
Now, I see Mike twice a week. He is my friend, my savior. At 62 years old, it would be easy to think I would accept my limitations. Now more than ever, I am not accepting these boundaries. I am breaking them. Mike is the owner of a gym for autistic children. I am proud to be on his board of directors and train side by side with the children. It reminds me of how far I've come in my incredible journey!
Pain & Forgiveness
I am sure when my mother was alive, she would have agreed with me that both her and my father did wrong by me. By not being open about my condition, they limited me on so many levels. They should have believed I could get better or gotten me help I so desperately needed. Also, it would have been nice to have a mentor, someone I could share my feelings with openly. That was clearly not the case. Despite the loneliness, I still managed to be strong and feel God's presence guiding me at every step of the way.
My name is Lorys Stiel, and I am Kintsugi.
Lorys Stiel continues to inspire with her work on the board of directors at United Spectrum. Today, she continues to work toward pushing accepted boundaries for Cerebral Palsy with her trainer. Leading by example, she shows youth how much is possible with hard work and dedication.
P.S. Lorys is wearing our regular boho dress. Thank you Lorys, this means the world to me!
Please leave your loving comments and if you would like to be interviewed and share your story of hope and resilience, please email me at email@example.com