Finding Power in Numbers as a Person With Cerebral Palsy
I was born three months premature and weighed under two pounds, so it’s no surprise that my parents were warned of every possible complication — she may not survive, she may never walk, she may be deaf or blind. It was just too soon to tell.
I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy that proved to be very manageable, and I reached the appropriate physical developmental milestones without issue — albeit a little later than my peers.
Although my marks in gym class relied solely on my gym teachers’ ability to forgive my athletic ineptitude and grade me on effort and heart instead, growing up, most people couldn’t tell that I have cerebral palsy. I had to speak about it so rarely, that there were times when I almost forgot about it. I grew accustomed to mentioning it casually at doctor’s appointments and to those who needed to know for one reason or another, but that changed when I had to rely on a cane, then a wheelchair for the first time in my mid-20s.
Since I do not need a mobility device all of the time (though I use a cane as needed, I haven’t used a wheelchair in nearly six years), talking about disability is still foreign to me. Mobility issues allow me to see some of the shortcomings that disabled people must contend with within society, but my most pressing concern has less to do with how society labels me and more to do with how I think of myself. Sometimes, I question my limitations as if I expect that I’ll magically overcome them.
It should be noted that I am much harder on myself than anyone else. For example, if a friend of mine told me that they couldn’t do something because of a personal limitation, I would take their word as gospel. In fact, I would do everything I could to help them find a way to restructure the situation to suit their needs, but when I am faced with a task that I can’t complete because of the hardships I face because of cerebral palsy, I question it and try to push through.
Why do I do that?
As someone who used to be physically able, I can’t tell if I’m unable to accept my personal limitations because I’m still unaccustomed to having them; if I am insecure about having physical limitations; if I am holding out hope that I will discover a diet or physical therapy regimen that will help me lessen the limitations; or a combination of all of these things.
Living with a disability is a fact of life for so many of us, but I can’t help but wonder if I am who I am because I have cerebral palsy or in spite of it? (Perhaps it doesn’t matter either way.)
I think that’s why The Mighty website is so compelling; disability is so unique to the individual that its real power is unleashed when tens of thousands of individuals come together as one, bravely embracing certain vulnerabilities to gain strength of a different kind.
I may not know how much or how little cerebral palsy informs my identity, but I do know that there is strength in numbers, as each and every story, comment, account, and article gives others the necessary support to consider what could be, to discover a different way, and to challenge the preconceived notions they may not have known they had.
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Getty image by Isuzek.