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My Struggle With Anxiety as a Person With Cerebral Palsy

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I have cerebral palsy, a condition caused by brain damage at birth. Growing up my parents were open and honest about my condition and I knew it was permanent. It wasn’t like I went to bed every night thinking “tomorrow I might be better.” However, I did think that as a adult I would be able to deal with my CP better and it wouldn’t impact my life so much. My parents always encouraged me to do my best, but were also realistic about my abilities. Dad always taught me that the easiest thing in the world was to give up, so I’d never give up without giving 110 percent. At times I think he regretted telling me this.

I still remember the first time I was aware the my disability would be a part of me forever. I was at Girls Brigade. I was washing up, and I suddenly became aware that cerebral palsy would always be a part of my life, and it would always affect me. It was the first time I thought about my life with a disability in this way. I remember crying, talking a lot to my friend, and then it was time to go home. For about a week I didn’t talk to anyone, until my mum found me crying one night. After talking to Mum that night, I felt much better.

Growing up, I found it very hard to deal with my cerebral palsy. I would feel frustration and anxiety at the effect my condition had on me. The situation I have described above was the one of the ones that affected me the most, but there have been many situations when I felt frustrated and anxious. Unfortunately these feelings proved difficult to manage, and they have had a significant effect on my life. I am still working to manage these emotions, but I am making progress. Just because I was born with my condition, it doesn’t mean I’m 100 percent comfortable with it.

Over the years making and keeping friends was difficult. I think I struggled more with the emotional effects of my cerebral palsy than the physical. I would get very frustrated at not being able to do what my friends could do. During my last year at school, many people in my class were learning to drive and I didn’t know if I’d be able to. After completing my GCSEs, I went into the college’s sixth form. This was something many people didn’t believe I could do. It felt like I was constantly asked if I could do the course, was it too much for me, what my parents wanted, in spite  of the fact that cerebral palsy doesn’t affect my learning. This was another situation where my cerebral palsy was reminding me how it could affect my life.

I have come to realize cerebral palsy can have its difficulties, but it can also have its positives. In the words of my first head teacher, it has made me “stubbornly independent.” I like to find my own way of doing things. However, my view of independence has changed. I used to think that to be independent was to do everything myself just the same as everyone else. I now realize that sometimes I need to do things differently. In the past if my friends were going for a walk, I would try to walk, get tired and get left behind. At the time I had a large stroller instead of a wheelchair, so if I couldn’t walk one of my friends had to push me.

When I was at high school in years 10-11 I realized I needed more help. Being in year 10 and 11 can be stressful at the best of times, but I was struggling to accept my disability. During this time many people didn’t understand my disability and would say hurtful and inappropriate things. I was even told by a teaching assistant “if I didn’t write, I wouldn’t get better!” Clearly she had no understanding of cerebral palsy.

Having people I could talk to, people who listened was vital to me learning to accept myself. People who could say “I understand this is difficult, but you are doing great,” or “you have achieved so much; I know you can keep going.” I didn’t expect answers and quick fixes; they just don’t happen in real life.

I wish I could write about how I have accepted cerebral palsy as just another part of me like the color of my hair, but I haven’t found it that easy. Even now as a 28-year-old I find it hard to deal with the impact of my disability. I find I get anxious about things most people just seem to deal with. My anxiety makes me feel scared, worried and angry all at the same time. I have missed out on or spoiled events due to becoming anxious. I refuse to give up and continue to try to find ways to manage my anxiety. But only this week I allowed my anxiety to take over. I felt it made me look immature and selfish; those around me seemed confused, even angry. I came home feeling that I’d let myself down. How can I be so sorry, yet not be able to control these feelings?

I feel I have conflicting expectations between what an average 28-year-old should be doing and what I can do. I will continue to seek help, attend courses and push my safety zone, to strive to manage things better. I still have occasions when the anxiety catches me off guard; all I can do is keep trying to control my emotions. I wage a constant internal fight between wanting to be independent and knowing I need some help. I’m afraid I don’t have all the answers, but I know I cannot let anxiety win. I may fail, show myself in a less than favorable light, but I know I can be much better.

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Thinkstock image by Archv.

Originally published: October 11, 2017
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