When People Compare Their Clumsiness to My Cerebral Palsy

In my 20 years of life, I have broken bones on seven different occasions. When other kids grew out of the age of skinned knees, I continued sporting bumps and bruises. I wish I could say I had some adventurous stories to accompany these injuries. From falling off my bed at 6 years old to tripping on the pavement on the outside of my apartment building, I have managed to injure myself by doing the most mundane of tasks. Friends joke good-naturedly about how much of a “klutz” I am or worse, they utter “Oh, I understand. I’m so clumsy too.”

But I am not just clumsy. I’m not just a klutz.

I have mild hypotonic cerebral palsy. My muscles’ weakness causes balance issues resulting in countless falls over the course of my life. However, my mobility and balance issues are mild enough that I don’t require any assistive devices such as a cane, walker, or wheelchair. With the exception of needing a plate in my elbow to repair a fracture, I have never required a cerebral palsy-related surgery. I have some fine motor skill deficits, but it has never seriously hindered any of my aspirations. It did take me three months to train my hands to efficiently put on the three pairs of plastic gloves that are required for my job, but that’s a story for another time.

Since my CP is relatively mild, many people without neurological or motor issues try to compare themselves to me. Many people who don’t know about my condition, and even some who do, will compare their experiences to mine. After hearing about my latest fall, they will talk about how they’re “also a klutz.” While their intentions are good, this can be incredibly belittling to my experience. When one of my sorority sisters talks about “also being clumsy,” I can’t help but wonder if she also walked on her tip toes for the first 12 years of life until being taught through years of physical therapy how to walk with my heels first. When one of my classmate says that they are also “accident prone,” I can’t help but wonder if he says a small prayer to whatever deity is up there and holds on to the railing for dear life when trying to walk down the marble stairs on campus.

This may seem petty or ranting, but these comparisons are some of the most frustrating things people say about my CP. Yes, empathy is good, but sometimes comparing your experience to mine minimizes all I have gone through and will go through. Sometimes it’s better to just listen and let me vent a little.

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Thinkstock photo by Maor Weintraub.

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