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Using Words to Redefine My Life With Cerebral Palsy

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I came in like a Miley Cyrus wrecking ball in 1972 in Brooklyn, New York. I was born this way as Lady Gaga proclaims, but I am an example of Pink’s beautiful trauma. They had to wake me up and bring me to life like the Evanescence song says. My parents and I used my cerebral against my palsy to fight my way to success, full-time jobs and independence.

I grew up with “Sesame Street,” “The Incredible Hulk” and “The Facts of Life.” The theme songs also played an important role in my life. I had “sunny days” to come out and play, but also times of “you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry” and more than a healthy serving of “you take the good, you take the bad. You take them both and there you have the facts of life.”

I am an oxymoron. Cerebral palsy is an oxymoron as I continue to manage my life. My brain’s capacity perplexes people because I have the power to solve problems by studying them or creating alternative solutions. One of the earliest solutions I devised was to use my crutches, not to lean on, but as balancing sticks. I created a complicated composition of maneuvers to scale the staircases at school. Dealing with the physical obstacle became easier than dealing with the “stare cases” who judged me for being different. I often looked down or blamed my crutches on a broken leg, because that’s what other kids could understand.

One of the earliest skills I developed turned obstacles into opportunities. One of my earliest memories was being an oversized kid in a stroller. I saw, felt and heard the condescending comments from my neighbors. I wanted to break free from the stroller and be able to move around more freely. And the irony was I had to have an operation and a full body cast before I could walk with more freedom. But sometimes breaks or changes also allow the opportunity for resourceful rehabilitation. I could try new things. I thought athletes on TV get injured and rehabilitate. I can even play with words like gymnastics, rehab-build-lit-rates. Playing word games in my head also gave me a positive, or pose-sit-I’ve distraction (or dis-traction) my body needed during rigorous recovery time.

If I could change the fixed words to mean something else, I can also redefine or add my own spin to things. I began diagramming words like sentences. I also redefined physical therapy to be my own personal training. My crutches became tools for my fanatic physical fitness. My shoulders and arms were already overdeveloped through carrying my own body weight. When I got into the groove of really working out, I forgot when I carried my crutches and when my crutches carried me. To this day, my crutches allow me to navigate my disability on my own terms and in my own way.

If a way to participate didn’t exist, I could also create a hybrid or an alternative. For example, I broadcast kickball and punchball games while leaning against the fence for support during recess. When I was growing up, broadcasters had outrageous catchphrases like Yankees former shortstop Phil Rizzuto and his signature phrase, “Holy Cow!” and Vin Scully’s “How about that?” Of course I didn’t have all the answers. For example, I didn’t broadcast any jump-rope championships and freeze tag did not leave much room for excitement.

I didn’t think about pole vault for the Polish either, since I was the only kid that fit both categories with one pole on each side. But I could swing with both on each side, or I could turn my crutches around and bat with Yankee pride. That is my version of switch hit, and with my crutches, I can walk legit or leg-it! It may be a crooked view, but I like to think the limitations also made my mind go askew. So what, I ask you?

Getty image by Andrey Popov.

Originally published: March 4, 2019
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