When I Pass as 'Normal' With Mild Cerebral Palsy
I have very mild cerebral palsy. It’s so mild that I often forget about it and think I’m passing as “normal” (read “able-bodied”) but then someone will say something to me that makes me realize “Oh, I’m different.” Like when a guy in the street catcalled me and then when I ignored him he remarked to his friend, “She can’t even walk properly.” That was a shock. I thought I was just walking home from work like an able-bodied person. Then there was the time I realized why people often stare at my legs. It’s because I have awesome legs (I do), right? Well, maybe not.
I don’t know if I’m really unaware of myself, but I didn’t realize I limped until a doctor asked me why I was limping when I walked into her office at age 19. I knew my legs were slightly different lengths, but my parents never made a big deal out of it. I don’t limp because my legs hurt, it’s just the way I walk (apparently). I’ve never watched myself walk down the road, so I just assumed I was like everyone else. Now I’m in my 30s people seem to make more comments about the way I walk, leading me to worry it’s becoming more noticeable. When people ask me why I walk the way I do, I am tempted to ask them the same question. Or if they ask why I walk funny, I want to ask why they speak funny or why their hair is the way it is. We are all different — this is the way I walk, please get over it. Just because I walk differently from some other people, there is no need to stare.
Since these incidents I have realized that I too am guilty of looking at others who may be different, even for just a second longer. I am trying to not do that anymore, because I know how it feels to be “seen” when you just want to be anonymous. However, living with a mild disability that is almost invisible can also bring annoyances because you’re too invisible — like when you take the lift/elevator and people look you up and down and question why you can’t take the stairs, or when you really need a seat on the train but you’re too scared to ask, and you don’t look disabled enough to be offered one automatically. If I am offered one, I gladly take it but then again worry my CP is becoming more noticeable, and also that everyone is staring at me. Am I more deserving of this seat than an older person? Less deserving than a pregnant person? Lots of confusing thoughts happen to me daily!
I suppose I am lucky because I can masquerade as both able-bodied and disabled, but it can be tiring living in two spheres. I think this will change as I get older as well, as I find myself dealing with more pain and less flexibility. Sometimes I look forward to the future of looking more disabled because it means although life will be more difficult, at least I will be more visibly in need of a seat on the train!
Getty image by Delgachov.