My name is Julia Brouwers. I'm 24 years old, I live in a small city close to Amsterdam, The Netherlands. I am trying to create more awareness for people with disabilities. I recently wrote a small post about having a disability in the business world and it unexpectedly has been viewed over 1.38 million times. This showed me the need there is to be more open about the struggles there may be when you’re not like everyone else and want to apply for a job, for example. I would like to share more about my personal story and hopefully inspire others by doing so.
A bit more about my story:
When I was 12 and 13 years old, I became the Dutch National Youth Champion for Relay Swimming. It was my dream to one day go to the Olympics. It was my vision and main goal. I trained hard for it, until one day my legs gave out. I couldn’t feel them anymore. This happened exactly two weeks before the National Championships began. I had no idea what had happened to me and felt nothing but frustration and sadness.
After that moment, I spent seven years trying to figure out what was wrong with my body. Seven years of ups and downs, good periods and bad periods, wheelchairs and walkers. Surgeries and recoveries. False diagnosis and many doctors’ visits. Psychologists and coaches. Ups and downs. Lots of support and losing friends. Insecurities and strength. And especially being in a lot of pain, always.
After these seven years I finally got my diagnosis: Hypermobile EDS. Honestly, I was so happy when I first got diagnosed. I finally did not have to doubt myself anymore. In the years of my search I really started to think there was something wrong with me mentally, that I made up my pain. I used to hate my body for the pain it gives me daily. I can finally say that, with every day that passes, I come more to terms with it.
That didn't happen overnight, however. I still struggle a lot with the good and bad days. But overall, I try my best to find a new purpose through it all. Being an athlete in my youth has taught me the strength to never give up. So that's what I try to do, never give up.
Ever since I got diagnosed, I try to reflect on my life and on what I find important, in order to live the life, I want to be living. Even though it's completely different from what I had ever imagined for myself. Not every day goes as planned, but I still try to put everything in perspective and focus on the things that make me happy.
Two years ago, I decided to do volunteering work in Ghana, I went there all by myself with my walker and wheelchair. Very scary and risky, of course. Doctors advised me to stay home but I felt like the disease had already taken so much from me. I wanted to help other people that were in a much worse situation than I am. It helped me to gain perspective (which I felt I needed) and has now allowed me to feel more grateful for my own life. To realise how privileged, I already am.
The pain teaches me a lot as well. For me, focusing on myself and the things and people I value are helping me through it. I might never be at those Olympics. On the other hand, in the meantime, I did become aware of what life really means to me, at such young age. That's the real win for me.
I am excited to be writing about my story more often here on the page. And to be working together with Frank Creations to make a change.
Want to read more? Check out: @Julia.brouwers on Instagram or www.juliabrouwers.com
Photos by ©️ Désirée Hofland Photography.