Why My Cerebral Palsy Is a Gift I Wouldn't Exchange

I was born with an incredible gift — a gift for which I never asked. A gift that has transformed my life, invoking in me a strong sense of purpose and drive. A gift that has caused me heartache, but has also cultivated an enduring sense of self and an inextinguishable feeling of pride.

Cerebral palsy.

Some insist I am in a state of denial.  How can a medical condition that has caused me great pain be such a precious gift?

For the majority of my life, I wondered how my disability could ever be perceived as a gift, but after years of mistakenly regarding my cerebral palsy as solely heart-wrenching and painful, I have discovered the truth — that above all else, living with cerebral palsy has forged my character, strengthened my resolve and provided me with a powerful sense of belonging, self-love and purpose.  In this respect, cerebral palsy is the most fulfilling, beautiful gift I have ever received, as it has shaped my worldview, molded my values and sculpted the course of my life.

Living with cerebral palsy has instilled in me the value of hard work and determination. From a young age, I learned that a strong work ethic bears bountiful rewards.  Although the process of accepting that I needed to work harder than my able-bodied peers to accomplish physical tasks was emotionally taxing, the constant emphasis on effort inherent in living with cerebral palsy provided me with the powerful sense of resolve I have carried into all aspects of my life. Had I never realized the strength of my motivation through my life with cerebral palsy, I not only would be experiencing more extensive physical difficulties, but I likely would not be intent on pursuing law school to become a criminal prosecution attorney, and I never would have graduated college a full year early with highest honors.

Living with cerebral palsy has taught me that everyone, regardless of background, deserves to be treated with respect, kindness, empathy and love — especially in the face of difficulty. Grappling with the largely invisible challenges of mild cerebral palsy and listening to others’ stories has revealed to me that everyone faces personal difficulties — many of which remain unseen — and in the face of struggle, every person should be unconditionally loved, accepted and embraced. I strive to provide those who fight to be accepted by society with the same acceptance I seek, because I have experienced the pain of feeling marginalized and misunderstood due to my disability — and I intend to begin to create a world in which no one else feels ostracized, underestimated or unappreciated.

Living with cerebral palsy has provided me with the opportunity to forge instantaneous, powerful connections with those in the disability community — ties that can never be severed. I have found a profound sense of comfort in the deep, intimate kinship I feel with others who live with disabilities.  Connecting with those who have disabilities has revealed to me that I am never as alone as I feel. Watching others with cerebral palsy wholeheartedly embrace their challenges has modeled for me that disability is an identity to love and celebrate — an identity in which to take pride. I am immensely thankful to be part of the disability community, as the sense of connection, belonging and unconditional acceptance it has provided me has paved the way for self-acceptance and instilled in me the courage to share my story.

Living with cerebral palsy has revealed to me that true, long-lasting friendship is rooted in acceptance and vulnerability. I spent the majority of my life reluctant to disclose my cerebral palsy to my friends, out of fear that it would permanently alter my friendships, but my decision to remain honest about my physical challenges has been met with pure acceptance and love. The vulnerability of sharing my experiences with cerebral palsy with others has strengthened my friendships, forging deep, rich connections — bonds that can never be broken. Not only has my life with cerebral palsy led me to discover the importance of seeking out friends who value acceptance and respect, but it has also elucidated that vulnerability is one of the greatest strengths in friendship.

Living with cerebral palsy has allowed me to love and appreciate my body in its entirety. For years, I internalized the rampant ableism projected from both society and the media, which led me to believe I could only feel beautiful, confident and comfortable with my body if I were able-bodied. Through sharing my story and taking pride in my identity as a woman with a disability, however, I have come to realize that my body, though perpetually tense, is strong, capable and resilient. By viewing my disabled body through a lens of ability — a lens of love — I have successfully dispelled years of internalized ableism, instead internalizing the truth I have long understood but had rarely seen in myself — true beauty transcends physical ability. Embracing all aspects of my cerebral palsy — from the slightly unsteady way I move to the surgical scars I will bear forever — has not only positively transformed my body image, but it has also sparked an unceasing self-love — a love so vehement it will last for the rest of my life.

Living with cerebral palsy has provided me with a powerful sense of purpose and direction. When I first decided to publicly share my experiences with cerebral palsy, I knew I had the opportunity to utilize my words to advocate for those with disabilities — a chance I could not waste. Although I was initially reluctant to place my identity as a person with a disability at the forefront of my life, sharing my life with cerebral palsy with the wider world has revealed my passion, my purpose in life — to advocate for the disability community by educating and informing others.  I now understand that I was gifted with cerebral palsy so I could use my written voice to become a fierce advocate for those who live with disabilities — and on my most difficult days, I remember the fulfilling path my disability has paved for my life. Viewing my cerebral palsy as an opportunity — rather than as a detriment — has instilled in me a sense of direction, allowing me to utilize my talents to effectively advocate for the disability community.

I was born with an incredible gift — a gift I will carry for the rest of my life. A gift that has provided me all I seek — community and care, drive and determination, passion and purpose, strength and self-love.  A gift I never wish to exchange.

Cerebral palsy.

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