How These Shoes Helped Me Accept My Cerebral Palsy
Unwinding in my living room as I write this piece, I am feeling wistful. Being a woman in her late 20s, I can safely say, “I’m not a kid anymore!” I have a job, I own a house, I drive a car, and I love an adorable furbaby. As I gaze around my home, I feel proud. “See, Mom and Dad? Your baby is a full-grown adult! I’ve got the bills to prove it!” My gaze moves slowly over each piece of furniture that helped make this house a home. It stops once I spy something next to the couch: a pair of brightly patterned Converse.
I was born with cerebral palsy. I went through a total of seven surgeries before the age of 8. I spent time as a pirate, had non-decorative holes put in my eardrums, and looked like a mummy from the waist down, twice. Every surgery was a risk. Thankfully, the risks paid off. I learned to walk at 3 and a half, with a repeat performance at 7. The world was my oyster.
When I started on my quest toward mobility, I was fitted with braces that rose to my knees. Though the base was contoured to my foot, the back and edges were stiff and squared, making shoe shopping a trial. Thankfully, my mom found a brand that was up to the challenge: Converse. The wide toes, flexible fabric sides, flat arch and tough rubber soles were the perfect solution to my brace woes.
As a result, Converse was my go-to brand during childhood. I stayed with them when my matching knee-high braces became one knee-high and one ankle-high brace. When my knee-high brace suddenly became an ankle-high and the ankle-high became an insert, my attitude changed. I no longer needed to rely on a single shoe brand. I had a freedom I’d never had in regard to my condition. I’d gained the freedom of choice. In my mind, it was time to branch out.
My first venture away from Converse was a hilarious mistake. I grew up in the late 90s and early 2000s when high platform Sketchers were all the rage. My mom, ever-supporting of my independence, let me wear them. She let my physical therapist be the bearer of the reality check. Needless to say, those shoes did not make any more appearances. Not one to be easily deterred, I continued in my quest for new and exciting shoes. Looking back on it now, I think my determination stemmed more from a desperate desire for normalcy than the freedom to choose. I couldn’t control a lot of what was happening with my body, but by God I could control what shoes I wore!
By the time I was a senior in high school, I had gotten more realistic about my footwear needs. I was resigned to choosing less attractive, sensible shoes. Nevertheless, I found myself burning through a pair of shoes every month and a half or so. By the time I reached college, I hated shoe shopping. Whenever I went, I’d have to pass the adorable flats on the display and head for the tennis shoes. For a time, I thought higher quality (cough expensive cough) shoes may be the answer. The results were the same. Those shoes were scuffed within a week and worn down within six to eight weeks.
In the years since I walked away from Converse, I thought every so often about trying them again. Each time I thought about going back, I convinced myself it wasn’t a good idea. “They’re too heavy.” “The white toes make them look like clown shoes.” These thoughts would circle my brain. In reality, I don’t think I wanted to admit I needed to go back to them. Converse were the shoes I wore when my disability was the most difficult, so there were a lot of memories tied into the laces of those shoes.
By the time I hit 27, I’d had enough. I was tired of hating my feet as soon as I stepped into a shoe store. I wanted shoes to be fun and functional, not one or the other. Now I am the proud owner of not just one pair of shoes at a time, but many. I can make my shoes match my clothes again! The lacing helps keep
my feet in place while the funky colors and prints help me express my personality, including my inner kid.
Looking at the pair of rose and polka dot print Converse sitting on my living room floor makes me marvel at how many memories and experiences in my life have been tied to something as common as shoes. It feels as though when I stopped wearing Converse, I was trying to run away from my condition. I fooled myself into thinking I had accepted all that comes with my CP, but if I truly had, why did I try to blend in with what is considered “normal?” I don’t think I fully accepted myself until I stepped back into a pair of Converse, tied the laces, looked into the mirror and smiled.