Living Life With Cerebral Palsy on My Own Terms
Like many other disabilities, cerebral palsy often comes with a certain level of chronic pain. Over the last 34 years, I’ve found many ways to cope with the different levels of pain I face each day. One day the pain might be in my feet, one day it may be in my legs, knees or back. It’s very unpredictable. Thankfully, as far back as I can remember I have always had a very high tolerance for pain. It has never consistently set me back to where it really made me depressed or put me behind the rest of the world. Yes, many people with a disability are seen as a step or two behind, but I assure you that is a matter of perspective more than anything. In this article, I hope to touch on how I learned to enjoy my own company without totally sacrificing what life has to offer.
For the first 10 years of my life, I spent a lot of time immobile due to casts and operations and countless hours of rehabilitation. I can’t say I had a whole lot of friends outside of my family. Despite my family’s best effort to keep me involved, I often found myself doing my own thing. Instead of being outside playing wiffleball and swimming, I was inside playing video games or watching movies. As a young kid, I often found myself wanting to be like the superheroes I watched and played as in video games and movies. I told myself I was going to change the world just like my “heroes.” Someday I’d be different in a good way.
As an adult, I now realize that superheroes and idols aren’t necessarily fictional characters, but perhaps those around us who help us be better people. Not all heroes wear capes. I’m not going to sit here and tell you I’m a superhero… I will arguably never be anyone’s hero. But I can tell you that my mindset has changed. I have noticed that I am slowing down no matter how hard I fight it. I do, however, enjoy my own company on most days. Reflection is a powerful tool. I started writing these articles in the silence of my best friend’s living room months ago, not knowing what the outcome might be. If nothing else, it was an outlet for me to clear my head and make my time productive.
I still have days where my friends go and do things I would like to participate in, but I just don’t feel up for it. This is often just as disappointing for them as it is for me, but there are no hard feelings on either side. Years ago, I sometimes felt socially awkward almost to the point of being a burden to the people I hang out with because I walk slowly or didn’t have the stamina to spend an entire day at an amusement park. But over the years, I’ve watched some amazing things happen. I’ve built a small circle of friends who often adapt or change plans based on what I can do instead of waiting for me to adapt to their lifestyle. This gives me more confidence to go out and enjoy the simpler things in life.
I can grit through the pain a little more often knowing I don’t have to worry about holding my friends back or being too tired of having to do too many stairs, for that matter. I’ve surrounded myself with some lifelong friends who I know will be willing to do whatever it takes to make memories together. Some people will tell you that it’s a testament to my determination to live life on my own terms, however, I assure you it says more about the people I am privileged to surround myself with on a daily basis.
You may be sitting there saying, “I don’t have friends like that. I can’t build those types of relationships.” While I admit I am very fortunate to be in the position I am in, I urge you to do your best to get out there despite your fears and show the world and the people around you what you have to offer. You will find that the more you venture outside of your comfort zone, the easier it will be to build these relationships and enrich your own life in the process. The world needs to see more of us “disabled” individuals out there doing normal everyday things, and in time they will see that we are not socially awkward or broken. And we will be able to break down those particular barriers one person at a time.
Getty image by vvvita.