How Writing About My Cerebral Palsy Gave Me Confidence

When I returned to Passaic County Community College (PCCC), I didn’t know what I wanted in life. I felt like I was driving a car without a clear destination. Though I returned to college, I felt lost. I lost faith in people, in life and even in myself. All I knew was that I wanted to obtain a college degree.

I found my meaning and purpose when I met Professor Mark Hillringhouse, who helped me to realize I am a writer. He encouraged me and challenged me, first with poems, then with translation exercises. He motivated me to look inside myself and start writing from within.

Juana Ortiz and Mark Hillringhouse
Juana and her mentor, Mark.

Writing about myself helped me to become aware of the wounds I had carried with me all my life. They were not visible, but kept hidden within my unconscious mind and my soul. They were very difficult to heal, because nobody could see them. I wasn’t aware of how much the wounds were affecting me until I wrote about them.

Cerebral Palsy

I learned how to ignore others who laughed.

“Mama, yo no quiere ser una carga”
(“Mama, I do not want to be a burden”)

I would say to myself.

“Papi, yo no quiere ser un extraterrestre.”
(“Daddy, I do not want to be an alien.”)

I never wanted my parents to suffer

Because of me. I wanted love

Not sorrow. My body curves

Like a sea creature.

My legs bend behind me, my mouth

Always opens in the shape of the letter O.

I am a toddler slower than a turtle.

I am a clown the kids on the street always laugh at,

But I could never laugh at myself.

I wanted to keep my poetry secret for a couple of reasons. First, my self-esteem was low. I felt insecure about people and about myself. I had been discouraged by a number of people at different stages of my life, and the effects of their negative criticisms were still within me. Second, going through all those evaluations that mostly highlighted my weaknesses caused me to distrust others, sometimes even Professor Hillringhouse. When he first seemed impressed with my writing, I wasn’t sure if he meant it, or was just trying to make me feel better.

At home, I sat in front of the computer, went back in time, and started typing. All those emotions that I had not revealed came to the surface, and I had the courage to let them all out. I was following my mentor’s instructions by describing a situation and then explaining how I felt about it at that time.

I wrote about my experiences as an immigrant, spending four years without seeing my father, living with cerebral palsy, and lacking formal education. The most painful was to write about my physical appearance and the way I had been teased by other children, excluded from so many things and pitied by strangers. Moving to a new country… attending school for the first time… making friends.

I had never revealed some experiences to anyone until I started creating poems. It was much easier to express certain parts of myself through poetry. This was the moment when writing became a form of therapy to start healing my turmoil from the past, even from the turmoil of writing itself.

I realized the big difference between academic and therapeutic writing. One was about the pressure to follow rules and get good grades. The other was a way to release my feelings, emotions and thoughts. Every time I practiced therapeutic writing, I experienced a sensation of freedom I had never felt before.

Writing about my life has helped me to have a better understanding of who I am as a human being, not as a person with a disability. Through writing, I learned that it is OK
to release my pain and my emotions, because they are part of my life experience. For years, I was afraid of expressing how tough it can be to live with cerebral palsy, but I’m not afraid anymore. Even though living with a disability is still sometimes very difficult, I now have the tools to help me get through the challenges. I can sit in front of the computer or grab a paper and pen to write about my feelings.

I hope many readers can identify with my story, because most of us have some type of wound from the past that we don’t want others to know about. Therefore, I am encouraging everyone to start writing. Write about anything that is bothering you. Write about how you feel. Your subject can be as simple as what annoyed you today at work, or what made you smile when you were walking your dog. In the beginning, you might feel uncomfortable, but after a while, you will most likely start feeling relief. Writing can help you deal with all the pain or frustration that you hold inside and see yourself more clearly.

In my book, “I Made It,” I talk in depth about how therapeutic writing has helped to increase my self-confidence and belief in my ability as a writer, instead of my disability. The book is available at and on Amazon.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one unexpected source of comfort when it comes to your (or a loved one’s) disability and/or disease? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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