7 Everyday Chores That Became a Gift to Me After My Dystonia Diagnosis


For three decades, I had limited use of my arms and legs due to spastic diplegia cerebral palsy. The idea of completing simple tasks baffled me. As I’d swing at recess, I’d watch my classmates chase one another, kick a football without falling on their faces or jump rope. I’d wonder, “How do they do that?

Later, as a mom, I would hear parents complain about their long list of chores and I’d think to myself, “I would give anything to be a more involved parent.” Five years ago, I got a new diagnosis (dopa responsive dystonia), new medication and a new lease on life. These days, I still hear parents complain about their long list of chores, but now I think, “I’m so glad I can do those things and be grateful for each and everyone of them.” 

That’s why I decided to make a list of what many people think of as nuisances but that I consider a wonderful gift.

1. I can put clean sheets on a bed. This once incredibly frustrating job took me so long that I rarely did it myself. Instead, my mom would come do it for me.

2. I can bake cupcakes, cookies, homemade bread and bars. (Yes, I’ve gained a few pounds since my correct diagnosis.) My cakes always looked pathetic and would never be served to company. Now, I bake and decorate cakes from scratch and am often asked, “What bakery did you get this from?”

3. I can drive my daughters to basketball practice, Girl Scouts, school, orthodontist appointments, doctor appointments, church classes, friends’ houses, etc. And I can walk them into each one of these places. Yes, it’s more time-consuming, but I’m able to build friendships with other moms now. The days of feeling alone are gone.

4. I can do more forms of exercise. I had been going to the gym since I was 14. It was something that I had to do to maintain muscle mass, and I was fortunate that my mom was always willing to drive me, even as an adult. Now, I can meet up with friends to walk and even attend yoga classes at the gym. Yoga is one of my favorites because I love to challenge myself and see how I continue to improve. Every class puts a smile on my face as I think to myself, “This would have been impossible before.”

5. I can tuck my son into bed at night. Because I couldn’t do this with my daughters, I felt like a failure as a mother. Now, when I kiss my toddler’s forehead before leaving his room, I tear up thinking, “How did I get so lucky do be able to do this every single night?”

6. I can complete household chores. Before my new life, I could only do one chore a day, and I felt like my house was never clean unless my mom came to help or my husband did it. Being able to clean a toilet without being afraid of falling face-first into the bowl is a relief. Being able to load the dishwasher without pain surging through my toes is a gift. And being able to wash the clothes my kids are physically capable of getting dirty while playing outside is a blessing. 

7. I can go grocery shopping and run other errands. I always had to be driven to the store and then helped onto my mobility scooter to complete the chore that most dread to do. Being a young woman riding up and down the aisles caused plenty of stares and sympathy smiles that I never got used to.

My list could go on and on. I am beyond grateful for my newfound mobility, and it doesn’t bother me that I still have days where my balance is an issue or the knots in my back seem unbearable. I still love each and every day because I have something many people don’t have — my independence. 

So, please, take a look at my list and ask yourself, “Do I ever complain about cooking for my family, running errands on a daily basis or cleaning the house?” If the answer is yes, remind yourself that those annoyances are something that others pray for. I know this because I used to be one of them.

Follow this journey on JeanAbbott.com.

September is Dystonia Awareness Month. To learn more about this neurological movement disorder, contact the Dystonia Medical Research FoundationTo sign the White House petition to have September formally recognized as Dystonia Awareness month, click here


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