If I Could Talk to My Younger Self Growing Up With Cerebral Palsy
Sometimes I imagine what it would be like if I had the opportunity to speak with a younger version of myself. I wonder what I would say. I wonder what advice I would give to my 7-year-old self growing up with cerebral palsy, the little girl with the nervous smile who has yet to go through three intense surgeries and many, many years of physical therapy. I wonder how it would feel to talk with someone who I knew so well, but yet couldn’t completely relate to since she hadn’t yet gone through all the pain she would experience in her future. I wonder…
I’m sitting on a bench in a small park I don’t recognize. There is a playground with swings and a play set, which are all just a few feet from where I’m sitting. Kids are playing in every available space in the park, but I feel like I’m a thousand miles away from their voices. It’s not until I hear her bubbly laugh that I know where I am. As I look over at the play set, she climbs out of the tube slide, practically
falling right out into the sand because she’s laughing so hard. A moment later, her eyes lock with mine, and I know. The girl with the nervous smile, bubbly laugh and bright blue eyes is the younger me. However, it’s not until I look down a second later to see the braces on her feet that I’m certain my
assumption is correct. Even though my stomach feels like it’s flipped inside out, I get up from where I’m sitting and walk towards the younger me.
“Hi, can I play with you?” I ask.
She looks up at me with the hugest grin on her face. “Yes, but only if we sit right here in the sand. I don’t really want to get up.”
“That’s perfectly fine, Amelia,” I say, as I sit down in the sand beside her.
She is focused on putting her arms as far down into the sand as she can, so it takes her a moment to realize what I said. “Wait, how did you know my name?”
“Because I’m you. I’m you at 24 years old. We are the same person.”
Young Amelia looks at me quizzically for a second, and then asks, “Does this mean we can be
I can’t help but laugh as I remember what I was like when I was younger. Even at the age of 7, I wanted acceptance. More than anything, I wanted friends. Though those two things are something I still find myself longing for, it was intensified when I was younger. It was often the only thing I could think about since, it held such a strong connection to being just like the other kids, the “normal” kids.
I find myself staring with amazement at my younger self, wondering where to even begin.
“You have a wonderful best friend waiting in your future. In fact, there are many, many friends who will be in your life. However, the one I’m referring to, she’s everything you’ve ever hoped for in a best friend.”
“Why can’t she be here now?” Young Amelia asks.
“She hasn’t met you yet. She won’t come into your life until you’re 16, but I promise you, she’s the kind of best friend you have always wanted.”
Instead of concentrating on playing in the sand, I now have the attention of my younger self. She looks up at my face with curiosity, so I continue.
“You’ve got a long road ahead of you, and it’s not something anyone is going to able to prepare you for. It’s going to be incredibly hard. However, trust me when I say that you can get through it. It’s going to feel close to impossible some days, especially when the pain gets really bad, but I promise you’ll get through it.”
Young Amelia looks down at the braces on her feet and touches the plastic ever so lightly with her
fingertips. “I’m scared,” she whispers softly.
“I know,” I say. “It’s OK to be scared.”
“You’ll get stronger,” I tell her. “It may seem overwhelming now, but eventually it becomes like second nature. You’ll fall, time and time again. But you know what’s amazing about you?”
Young Amelia looks at me expectantly, but I know her nervousness lies just below the surface.
“You get back up…every time,” I say.
“Why? Why do I have to keep trying?” she asks.
“Because it’s the only way you can move forward. It’s the only way you can be independent.”
Even though I see Young Amelia roll her eyes at me, I know my words are having an impact on her because she takes my hand and squeezes it. As her fingers link with mine, I am overcome with love
for the little girl who has yet to know the intense pain she will face. I have to look away from her before she realizes I’m crying. As I wipe away my tears, I look off into the distance to see the sun setting behind the trees.
“I have to go soon,” Young Amelia says.
I nod, unable to say anything. I don’t know if I’ll be able to walk away. However, I say the one thing I’ve wanted to tell her all along.
“I love you. So so much,” I say, letting the tears fall and knowing that Younger Amelia doesn’t grasp the magnitude of this moment. I would save her from all this pain if I were able to. However, deep down, I know I can’t do that. She has to go through it. She has to go through it if she wants to become me.
She hugs my legs tightly, and the warmth of her small body against my own makes me smile.
“I’m so happy that I get to be you when I get older,” she says.
She turns to go, and as I watch her walk away from me, her last words weigh heavily on my mind. Though she may want desperately to be me, I know I need to remember to be her as well. I know
that little girl is still within me, and she is showing me just as much love as I wanted to be sure to show her.
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