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Look Beyond My 'Wrapping' to See the Gift of My Cerebral Palsy

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Sometimes I describe cerebral palsy as feeling like a “bad” Christmas or birthday present wrapping job. It’s the gift that’s left in the corner because the wrapping job isn’t as “pretty” as it is on the rest of the gifts. The thing is, though, you will never know what is under the “wrapping” if you don’t open the “gift.” After all, as the saying goes, “The best things come last.” 

That is how it can feel when you have cerebral palsy. You might enter a room with a limp, a wheelchair, or a person to assist you. But if you think that what you see is what you get, you’re missing out. As someone with cerebral palsy, I’ve been on both sides of the coin. I never want people to see me as a “poorly wrapped” present; I want people to see what is “under the wrapping.” There was also a time in my life that I was not proud of — when I met others with cerebral palsy, all I saw was the “wrapping.”

I always thought if people only saw what was on the outside, they were ignorant. People who didn’t want to learn about what was underneath my cerebral palsy made me feel like I was “less than” others. When others find out that you have something that makes you “different” from them, they may want to be your “savior” or your voice. When people do this, it makes me feel worse about myself. When people are closed-minded to people with cerebral palsy, they are not just closing their minds on us, but they’re often showing how they see life too. When others only look at our “wrapping,” we might think about how negative they are and wonder if we can change their minds or just go with the flow. 

I have learned that as much as I try to change people’s opinions about cerebral palsy, trying to change everyone’s views isn’t worth my time. There are just some people out there who might not change their views — no matter how hard you try. I spent most of my younger years trying to change people’s thoughts about cerebral palsy. But even if I can’t change everyone’s minds, I know I’ve made a difference in people’s lives in my 43 years. Most of the time, though, speaking up was worth it because I was able to set the next generation up to have everything I had to fight for.

There are many types of cerebral palsy. If you meet one person with a particular type of cerebral palsy, you might assume that the next person you meet with cerebral palsy will be exactly the same. The truth is, cerebral palsy is such a unique disability, and it doesn’t follow a pattern. You can even meet two people with the same type of cerebral palsy, but they might have different experiences.

The hardest thing about living with cerebral palsy can be knowing that people might only see you as that “wrapping” and not the gift inside — to the point where you may start to question if you’re just your cerebral palsy. To help me with that feeling, I will stand in front of a mirror and look at myself. It’s not just about looking at my physical appearance — I also look at what is underneath. The beautiful gift inside of the “wrapping” is what makes you who you are, and it’s often what you want people to see too. But if you can’t see anything but your own “wrapping,” can others see past it?

When I started to look at myself in the mirror, it was very emotional for me. The first few times I did this, I would cry. After doing this many times, though, my reaction changed. Once I broke down the wall within me, I realized what I saw and felt was me. For me, looking in a mirror felt a little vain at first because I don’t look in the mirror all the time, but over time, I got over the awkwardness. There is no time limit for how long you stay in front of the mirror — it is all about what makes you feel the most comfortable.

There are many reasons to look beyond your “wrapping” in the mirror, but the most important one might be to get comfortable seeing what other people see in you. Ask yourself why your loved ones see your awesomeness, and you just might see it too. 

Getty image by ninelutsk.

Originally published: March 7, 2022
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