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How I Faced My Greatest Fear as a Teen With Cerebral Palsy

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I was born with cerebral palsy, low tone, and ataxia due to lack of oxygen at birth. At birth the umbilical cord had a knot and was around my neck. I was without oxygen for seven whole minutes, and was given no hope of survival. At the time of my diagnosis, I was 2 years old, and my parents were told I would be in a wheelchair my whole life. I proved the doctors wrong; at age 9 I began walking independently.

I was the first child to enter my elementary school with a physical disability. Unfortunately, because I was so different from my peers, I had to face ongoing bullying and misunderstanding from others, of all ages, throughout my childhood. This lead me to struggle with self-acceptance and anxiety. Others made fun of the way my disability affects me, especially my speech. As a child and later a teen, I became afraid of speaking to anyone outside my home.

My 9th grade school was the best year of my life. A group of amazing girls befriended me, and it was the first time I felt like any other teenager. I loved my first high school and all my teachers. I was very happy!

Unfortunately, after my 9th grade year my family had to move states due to my dad’s job. I had to leave all the wonderful people I just gained in my life behind. As I tried hard to make the best out of my new home, I ended up falling backwards, becoming the same lost child I was before.

In 10th grade, I was struggling a lot with feeling lost, making friends, and being accepted at my new school. I often sat alone at lunch. Classmates and some students I didn’t even know mocked and laughed at me because of the way I talk, walk, and sometimes jerk. There were some nice kids, but none that would hang out with me outside of school. A lot of my classmates misunderstood my disability and believed I was also mentally disabled. During partner projects at school, I worked alone because most of my peers didn’t think I was smart.

I knew one of the reasons my classmates treated me the way they did was because they didn’t understand my disability. I knew there were other people out there going through the same problems I was. I wanted to change that. So at age 16, I faced my biggest fear and made a choice that changed my life… I uploaded my first YouTube video. I was extremely nervous. I was a shy teenager, who was terrified of any form of public speaking — I would even begin to panic when a teacher called on me! I was afraid of how my classmates would react to my speech. But I was hoping to make a difference.

Soon after, I also began my Facebook page, Charisse Living With Cerebral Palsy. I began to share my life to spread awareness and understanding of disabilities to as many people as I can. I want to show others that people with disabilities may be different on the outside, but inside they are just like everyone else. I also want to show others that people with disabilities can do things other people can do. They just do things in their own unique way.

I didn’t know how many people would watch my videos and follow my page, but little by little I began to have an audience of a hundred, which turned into an audience of thousands.

Today my YouTube channel has over 6,500 subscribers, and my Facebook page has over 10,000 Likes.

I was also nervous about the kind of comments I would get. I began to get tons of supportive comments and started making friends from all over the world. I did receive some very harsh messages and comments. At one point I was cyber-bullied pretty badly. I thought of stopping my videos, but I picked myself back up. I wasn’t going to let anyone stop me or hold me down anymore. A year after beginning my videos, my classmates and the staff at my school began watching my videos. My classmates started understanding and talking to me.

In 2011, I won the Inspirational Award for Madison City. Since then I’ve performed in a play, been a varsity basketball cheerleader, gone to prom, graduated high school, done a voice recording for part of a performance at King’s College in London, been interviewed by many college students for their reports on cerebral palsy and disabilities, spoken to college classes, and made over 100 YouTube videos. My videos are being used in lesson plans at schools in and outside of the US. I won the Youth Leadership Award for the Huntsville area, and later met Governor Bentley and received the Youth Leadership Award from the state of Alabama. I’m reaching for my goals and dreams, and much more!

Throughout my childhood, others made me believe that being different was a horrible thing. But as I got older, I realized you have to be different to make a difference in this world.

When I was 16 and being bullied, I never could have imagined having all these amazing opportunities. No matter who you are, you can shine — you just need to take that first step.

Follow this journey at Charisse Living With Cerebral Palsy.

Originally published: August 28, 2016
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