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How I'm Living My 'A for Awesome' Life With Cerebral Palsy

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If upon being born, a person received a letter grade, an “A for Awesome life, B for Better life, C for Comfortable life,” I got a D right of the bat, a “D for Diagnosis.” You see when I was born, I came a few weeks early and surprised my parents in the middle of the night. Luckily, my parents both have very clear heads and got us to the emergency room in time. But in the process my umbilical cord became kinked like a garden hose, which makes it hard for me to say umbilical cord. My diagnosis from this birth trauma was cerebral palsy. As I grew, I developed a pronounced speech impediment and coordination deficits.

My parents started me off right.  They told me, “Jason, you are the best.” As a young kid, who was I to disagree with their assessment? I went through my days being the best me I could be.

However, around the time I transferred schools and entered fourth grade, I began comparing myself to the other kids. I noticed that in gym class, while the other boys were playing the games with ease, I was catching balls with my forehead, my stomach, my glasses and my nose. It was painful and humiliating.

As I started to compare myself to the other kids, I also began to think how unfair this all was. I mean I didn’t have a choice. The seeds of my diagnosis were part of my life even before I had a chance to cry my first tear.

As the years went on I compared myself to other kids more and more, and felt worse and worse about who I was.  Eventually, I imagined I was the worst kid in the world. I attempted suicide in seventh grade, desperate to be free of such pain and humiliation. Fortunately, a voice within me said, “This is not the way.”

I called for help.  In that moment, I made the biggest choice of my life.  The choice to live.

Years went on. Life improved. I made it through high school and then college. I learned to compensate and adapt to my diagnosis. I learned to make due with the D given to me by life. Still, my heart was sad because I didn’t think I was capable of ever being a person I was truly proud of.  I thought I was doomed never to feel I merited an “A for awesome life.”

So I did a thing, which looking back on it makes no sense. I decided to go for a pipe dream, a pipe dream of becoming a professional speaker. What? With a pronounced speech impediment, who was I kidding? Would people even be able to understand me?

But 10 years later I’m traveling the country speaking to audiences.  In fact, I’m excited to give my first TEDx talk in Texas in a few weeks.

This has not been an easy road by any means.  I still have doubts.  I still struggle to market myself as effectively as I would would like.  Some days, I still wonder why this all is so hard. Some days, I want to give up and find an easier job.

But none of that takes away from the fact that I’m doing it! My pipe dream has turned into my reality.

What I’ve discovered from this crazy, unlikely journey is that feeling like I’m getting an “A for Awesome Life” doesn’t mean that my voice and coordination must magically become “normal.”

I say in my book “Awkwardly Awesome: Embracing My Imperfect Best,” “I’ve learned there are so many ways to heal ourselves and expand our lives.”

Today, my “A for Awesome Life” means choosing to go for my dreams and using my voice and coordination in the most powerful way I know.

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Photo by contributor.

Originally published: August 17, 2017
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