The Ups and Downs of Falling as a Person With Cerebral Palsy

I have more scars and bruises on my body than I can count. The first fall I can remember was when I was 4 years old. I busted my knee open while running across my grandma’s uneven sidewalks. It took over an hour for the bleeding (and my howls) to stop. Sixteen years later, I can still trace the indentations on my knee.

Ask anyone with cerebral palsy who walks — falling is a part of our lives. It hurts, it’s not glamorous, but it’s going to happen. And if there was a way I could catch myself before I fell, trust me, I would. Many people casually ask,“Oh, what did you trip over?” With a shrug, my answer is…“My left foot.” Because my calf and ankle muscles are constantly in contracture, my gait with CP causes my left foot to drag behind me and occasionally catch on the ground.

I don’t usually realize that I caught my foot until I’m about to hit the concrete. Knowing you’re about to go down is one of the worst feelings. It’s the “pit in your stomach, heart skips a beat, everything around me is in slow motion” feeling. After two broken wrists as a kid, the last-ditch effort I can make is to be sure not to fall with my hands forward. If the impact is too much on my palms, bones have a tendency to snap.

After you hit the ground, it’s a whirlwind. Whatever I was carrying is now scattered in front of me. New wounds start burning. And after I pick myself up, all these questions start running through my mind.

Did I stretch today? 

What shoes do I have on?

Are there large cracks in this sidewalk?

Did I rip my jeans again?

How badly am I bleeding?

Do I have Band-Aids with me?

Can I wiggle my wrists back and forth? Yes? Good. Nothing’s broken!

My brain is going a million miles an hour. I’m shaky. I have to remind myself to re-focus. With my cerebral palsy being as mild as it is, I don’t usually have to worry about how it impacts my daily life as a college student. And living a positive life with the condition is very important to me. But when I fall… boom. I’ll keep it real: These are the days when my CP begins to consume my thoughts.

Why am I so tight? 

Why aren’t my muscle injections working perfectly? They’re supposed to be helping!

Now I have to go clean myself up before doing anything else!

I don’t have time for this!

And then, I have to remind myself to B-R-E-A-T-H-E.

It’s OK. 

It’s just another scrape.

Let others help you.

Falling has given me the grace to see a great amount of kindness in people. When I fall away from home, I have to rely on friends to help me clean up my bloody knees and elbows. At my lowest, letting others take care of me is hard, but it has allowed me to really see the best in people, and given me a lot of gratitude. Even strangers have been so genuine, asking if I’m OK at that moment I hit the ground. It reminds me there are still good people out in this world.

In the past few months, I’ve had more falls than usual. Yes, the scars that result are a part of my story. But I can’t say I was thrilled when I looked in he mirror last week and saw a couple of scaly reddish purple ones on my knees. I hated that these marks were messing with the look of a sparkly Christmas Eve ensemble. At the end of the day, though, I have to remind myself that my life doesn’t have to revolve around how many times I scrape my knees.

I can’t do much about falling. But getting back up stronger?

That’s all I know how to do.

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