Why I'm Studying to Be a Physical Therapist With Cerebral Palsy

March is Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month, and I am really excited to get my thoughts out on this topic, as it is something I have wanted to expand on for a long time.

I am a 21-year-old college student who loves a good nap (I mean, who doesn’t?) and anything “Grey’s Anatomy.” I have a pretty average life, and at first glance you may not pick up on the fact that I have cerebral palsy. I have spastic hemiplegic CP on the left side of my body. Sometimes, CP seems to be the worst thing on Earth, if I am having a really off day when my muscles are super tight and even the slightest movement is rough. I don’t think people realize how taxing everyday activities, like typing for example, are on your body. But CP ever so graciously reminds me of this, and I need to find a new way to do things.

I could start to write some really sappy story about my life and different obstacles that have hindered me because of CP. A story that oozes awe-inspiring language and somehow makes you, the reader, feel bad for me. But I am not going to do that at all. It is time we change the narrative of people with disabilities, as if our stories are only ones that can be filled with sorrow. I don’t ever want people to pity me, because like I said already: I have a pretty average life. We all deal with at least one critical event at some point in our lives that shapes us as a person. CP has definitely shaped the way I view the world and everything around me, and it has done so since birth. I know my world as nothing different than what it is now, since CP has always been a part of me.

Cerebral palsy is the reason I am in college pursuing my passion of becoming a physical therapist. Oh, yeah: did I forget to mention that? My name is Jess Paciello. I am a 21-year-old college student. I happen to have cerebral palsy. And there is no way I would trade my circumstances for anything. CP has given me a unique view about life, how to treat others, and most importantly, how to be there for others.

Now I’ll let you in on a secret. As a kid, I hated my physical and occupational therapy sessions. Go figure, right? I should have loved them as a kid with the same level of passion that I do now. And I don’t mean to discount occupational therapists: they are amazing and I did consider it as a career! But for me personally, what really drew me into loving physical therapy was the biomechanics of movement, with walking being one of the main factors. I did not start walking until I was 3 years old. A delay in walking is one tell-tale sign of a CP diagnosis. The motor functions of those of us with CP are delayed, and I think I’ve always been more drawn to the gross motor tasks in my physical therapy sessions than the fine motor tasks of my OT ones.

I have been in OT and PT since I was 18 months old, and I “graduated” from having to go to therapies a while later at 18 years old. Now, it is all up to me. I am in charge of keeping my body running as smoothly as it can. I have basically been my own PT (without a degree yet!) my entire life. I have learned so much about my own body throughout my time as a patient. Now, it is time for me to give back and help others.

I have a long road ahead of me, but it will be no more difficult than anything I have already gone through. I cannot wait to work with children who need physical therapy. The reason why I disliked my therapies a child was because at the time, I felt disconnected. Every single one of my therapists throughout my lifetime were all incredibly knowledgeable, but I so desperately wanted someone to really get what I was going through. I wanted someone like me.

I hope I am making my family proud through my career choice and how I choose to view CP. But most importantly, I am making myself proud with my outlook on life. If one of my future patients and their families starts seeing the potential I know they have, then all of the schooling will 100 percent be worth it. If one of my future patients feels like they are not so alone when it feels like the world is working against them, then I know I did my job right.

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