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What I Learned From People Staring as I Dance in My Wheelchair

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Dating and relationships are something that many people want in life. But with a disability such as cerebral palsy, dating can seem an astronomically difficult task. I have athetoid spastic cerebral palsy which can lead to some challenges socially and romantically. However, at a young age, I set a goal to have a happy marriage, and I don’t give up on my goals.

Last night, I remembered how difficult it can be to be single and have cerebral palsy. My husband and I went to dinner and dancing. With two children and jobs, finding time to have a date night isn’t easy. Prior to having a second child, we used to go dancing every weekend. I forgot about the self-conscious feelings that can flood through you when you’re the only one in a wheelchair at a popular, crowded bar.

My friend from middle school is now a lead singer in a band, and he played at a local bar in town. As I drove my wheelchair to get closer to the stage, I felt aware of the stares. I shook it off. My husband and I picked a spot to watch and not be in the way. Before the band played, my eyes searched the room. I saw some awkward people and those trying too hard to impress others. People walked past me giving the sympathetic look, the annoyed look at my chair being there, confused looks and surprised looks. I saw some pointing and whispering as they looked in my direction.

I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me. All I ever want is to fit in socially, like most of us with cerebral palsy do. I tried to get myself together as I gave my husband a smile. I didn’t want to ruin the night because of my self-conscious feelings. When the band started playing, I scanned the room again and saw a guy to the right of the stage. I pinned him as stuck-up, but you know what? I was wrong.

As the night went on, I started to move my wheelchair to the music. I actually love dancing, and I do the best I can without standing. I always feel self-conscious when I start dancing, because I know many have never seen or thought someone in a wheelchair can dance. Usually, I dive right in, but since it has been a while, I started slowly.

To my surprise, the guy I had thought was going to be snobby danced to the right of me. My husband danced on the left. The first set went well as I loosened up. I dance by moving my motorized wheelchair, or with my body as I sit. I usually do a combination, depending on the space and song. Even though I still noticed the stares, they didn’t matter as much.

The band took a break before the second set, and we rested with drinks. I told my husband that people drive me crazy because they give me “the look.” He told me to not worry about what others think. He said that when I stop concentrating on my cerebral palsy and just have fun, others will do the same. Ironically, a girl came up to Jeff and said what a cute couple we were and she enjoyed watching us dance. As she walked away, we both laughed, and I heeded his advice.

After I stopped focusing on my cerebral palsy and just had fun dancing, I suddenly wasn’t dancing alone. I was dancing with my husband and two other guys. We were all having a great time, just people having fun and being in the moment.

Later on, one of the guys asked Jeff what our relationship was, and Jeff said we were married. The guy apologized if he was dancing with me inappropriately, and told Jeff that he was lucky to have me!

Sometimes we hold ourselves back by overthinking our own limitations. We have cerebral palsy, but behind every spasm, speech impediment and wheelchair is a person. Show others that person and things will easily fall into place with the right person.

This story was originally published on Cerebral Palsy News Today.

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Originally published: November 3, 2016
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