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Why Cerebral Palsy Is My Greatest Blessing

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It was a blazing summer afternoon on the day I was born, as my mother has told me — and not only due to her blood pressure skyrocketing.

My birth story is an adventure in itself, and even in my first few moments of life I was given obstacles to overcome. I was born on July 5, 2002 at 6:03 p.m. delivered by a C-section due to prematurity and fetal health concerns. Minutes after coming into this world, the doctors had realized something was peculiar, and rushed me to the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) as quickly as possible. My parents, who were confused about why this was happening, were informed later that I had a disruption in my lungs due to an incident during my birth known as vocal cord paralysis.

The first few weeks of my life turned into a constant routine of daily checkups and intensive watch, as well as being hooked up to ventilators and feeding tubes to supply my system with nutrients and air to survive. This experience was mentally draining on my loved ones, as they could not even hold me or be close to me regularly due to risk of infection, and I wish I could have taken all their pain away. Doctors told my parents that I would never function as a “normal” human being and have poor speech or no form of speaking at all.

I proved them wrong.

The next few years of my life were moving in a positive direction. I continued to improve my speech and had only minor delays being able to form conversations with others, excluding the wheezing sound I acquired as a symptom of VCP. Then my parents started to notice something else.

I had recently turned 2 and was still unable to take my first steps or use my leg muscles properly, as my right foot started to turn in and my left was unable to move. Shortly after, my parents did some research and decided to take me to be examined for early intervention, where they diagnosed me with a mild case of cerebral palsy called spastic hemiplegia, informed my parents that I would never be able to walk and prepared them for the harsh reality.

History repeated itself. I proved the doctors wrong again and took my first steps at the ripe age of 6 in front of my daycare staff. I even have it on video.

As the next few years went by, I started my education where they accommodated my disability by building elevators and accessible restroom stalls, for which I am incredibly grateful even though at the time, I did not understand what was going on. All I thought was “now I have a walker and get to go on a ride every day.”

Even with the accommodations and opportunities, my ability to form friendships and engage in daily activities with my peers was a daily challenge, a gift many others took for granted.

I found a love for literature and writing at an early age and would always dive into a book, but as I started to understand my surroundings I realized I was being treated differently than others. During my elementary education I was required to have an aide constantly by my side in case anything happened. At first I was ecstatic, and thought I had a friend to talk to all day and hang out with, but I came to discover it was part of what limited me from growing as a person. Looking back on those years, I came to the realization that my disability was not my limitation. People who defined me as my disability were.

As I grew, my aide and mentors would isolate me from my peers, apparently concerned that I would cause more issues or push myself too far. It seemed like they did not want to expose my classmates to differences. All I craved for the longest time was to be a part of my class and accepted like everyone else, to be treated as an individual.

The most frustrating aspect of all this was the way others’ stereotypes held me back. I constantly pushed through and proved science wrong. I could function well. I wasn’t paralyzed — and yet, I was. I was paralyzed from expressing my opinions, using my voice and making mistakes. My voice was gone, but I could still speak. My decisions and voice were in the hands of adults whose minds were clouded by misconceptions while thinking they understood the hardships. They would get praised for their work and having the patience to deal with me.

I am not angry at the teachers for not believing in me. I am not angry at my peers who looked down on me; it’s what they were taught to do. I am not mad at the doctors for the incident. And I am not mad at my parents for disregarding my voice at times and sometimes trying to fix me or correct my symptoms. I understand it is hard for them to let go, but my disability is a part of me, and sometimes little comments they make hurt deeply.

I am mad at our society as it preaches equality and fairness in treatment of others, but in reality brings people down. There are times where I imagine an alternate universe and wonder if anything could have played out differently if I did not have a disability. Would I be happier?

Some people look at someone with a disability as a chore or a burden. I used to look at myself that way, and truth is sometimes I still do. People tell me “you should be grateful you do not have it worse.” I truly am thankful for my circumstances, but that does not mean the emotional and physical pain I feel hurts less.

I have the ability to see my disability from a different perspective. I know for a fact that I would not be the the person I am today without being given my disability. I would not have learned empathy and selflessness; I care for the well being of others deeply because of my experiences. My disability is my greatest blessing.

I have wanted to tell my story for so long, but never found the courage to until this very moment due to fear of rejection and judgment for putting myself out there so personally online. My main goal by sharing my story is to provide a source of hope and understanding to people who may be experiencing self-doubt about their condition (physical or mental), or who are misinformed about disability.

I hope you take away a valuable lesson and realize we’re all human, and having an illness or disability does not make us any less of an individual. You are worth every heartbeat in your chest and are here for a reason. You have promise and progress to bring into this world. No matter what people may think of you, live for yourself and your passions. Your disability does not define you.

Originally published: December 28, 2018
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