Saturday, October 6th, was World Cerebral Palsy Day. It allowed me to pause and think about what having cerebral palsy means to me. Attempting to answer this question in one single blog post seems impossible and insanely daunting, but I’m going to at the very least, launch the conversation.
I found out about my diagnosis accidentally, when I was eight years old. I noticed that after every physical therapy appointment, my therapist would circle the phrase “cerebral palsy” on my check out sheet. I asked her, “Is that what I have?” and she said yes.
In retrospect, I don’t think I was fully equipped to process that information and what it truly meant, being a child. Still, I always suspected that I wasn’t like every other kid around me. Every other kid didn’t have to go to physical therapy, have major orthopedic surgeries, have a hard time running in gym class, or have to use a walker, stroller, or later, crutches.
I suppose my innocence at the time allowed me to hold onto my confidence, and I was able to thrive even after I found out about the CP. I eventually owned my story, and possessed authority over it. I distinctly remember sitting my friends in a circle and telling them the circumstances of my birth in the only way I understood it–”I was born early…”
Naturally, when I started my teenage years, thus entering puberty and becoming extremely self conscious about my body and body image, my perception of my disability and how I chose to deal with it began to shift. I started to care more. In school, I hated gym class and found it pointless; I grew extremely embarrassed when I lost my balance and fell instead of trying to joke about it; I started to resist physical therapy instead of embracing it….the list went on and on.
Suddenly having cerebral palsy became something to mourn, something to feel bad about, a rock in my pocket that I felt anywhere I went. I was an impressionable teenager, trying to figure myself out and where my disability fit into the picture. It wasn’t until I solidified what type of person I wanted to be that CP began to truly fit into my life. I then acknowledged that being disabled was a reality I could not escape, no matter how many times I tried to and failed.
Beyond accepting this reality, it took a tremendous amount of work and self reflection for me to realize that cerebral palsy is only a small part of my story; that it makes me tough, resilient and brave, certainly worth loving, and has turned me into someone I am proud of.