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Finding Community as a Woman With Mild Cerebral Palsy

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As a woman with mild cerebral palsy, I often feel alone.

I walk through life one unsteady step at a time, virtually unnoticed by passerby.  I carefully observe the way my knee juts back as I attempt to move forward, the way it caresses my right leg as if it were lonely, the way my foot scrapes the ground in indignation, the glaring space my withered calf can never seem to fill.

The world sees my health — my youth, my energy, my mobility, even as they fixate on my peers’ physical limitations.  I am greeted with smiles as my friends are met with stares, praised for my capabilities as my friends are doubted. No one can see my pain, the days I struggle to maintain my balance, the moments I am too exhausted to stand.  I hold a twisted sense of privilege: the ability to for my humanity to be taken seriously while my disability is invalidated. In its rarity, my privilege is isolating, leaving me to wonder if anyone in the world truly understands.

Where is my community?

I cry as I ruminate over the challenges that, in my tear-tinted worldview, seem to only affect me.  Deep in my heart, I believe that someone, no matter how distant, must understand the struggle of feeling invisible in two worlds, set apart from their own community.  But then as my sobs fade to stray teardrops, I remember.

I remember the women whose legs bend like mine, their feet popped, their weight gracefully shifted to one side, impeccably posed to conceal their muscular weakness.  I remember the little girls who run with ease, unaware of struggle, living as if they know no limitations, but who take each stair with both feet as they fight against their own bodies.  I remember the women everywhere who silently fight through physical and emotional pain, making peace with their limitations, taking life minute by minute, gradually resolving the lifelong trauma of years of harsh words and misunderstanding, and I discover that I have found my community.

It no longer matters that they may not understand my invisible struggles against a world that refuses to acknowledge me as one of them.  It no longer matters that their challenges are more apparent than mine. Our souls are inextricably connected, bonded by the sweet sensation of shared emotions, similar experiences and deep understanding. Our community is an irreplaceable kinship, a collection of hearts searching for understanding and acceptance.

As a woman with mild cerebral palsy, I often feel alone, but as I recall the impenetrable bonds I’ve built over muscular weakness and spiritual strength, I instantaneously rediscover my community.

This story originally appeared on Project Wednesday.

Getty image by Toxitz.

Originally published: October 30, 2018
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