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The Kind of Hug That Makes Me Sad as a Person With Cerebral Palsy

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I am 29 years old and have cerebral palsy. It’s obvious I look and move differently than others, and for most, this is all they see. Because of my physical differences, many people feel sorry for me so they hug me, or they hug me because they don’t know what to say. I know this is just human nature, but I really wish more people would take the time to get to know the person behind the cerebral palsy. They would learn I am a strong, positive person who simply wants what everyone else does: to be cared for because of who I am on the inside, not out of sympathy for my appearance on the outside.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a silly fool who turns down hugs from women (it’s mostly women who hug me), but, after all these years, I know when it’s real or fake. Sometimes it isn’t even about me. Some do it to make themselves feel better by acknowledging someone who they think needs sympathy or else they might feel guilty ignoring me because of my challenges.

Dustin Estabrook.2-001

The truth of the matter is I am more challenged than the average person. Over the years, I had a ton of operations, been in a wheelchair, used a walker, been bullied and have often been excluded. I’ve had to persevere and overcome a lot. I’ve had to learn how to do many things most people take for granted. Every day brings new challenges, and I am grateful for all of them. They made me the strong person I am today. The last thing I want is pity.

As a person who is so much more than cerebral palsy, sympathy hugs make me sad. They don’t bother me as much as they used to, but they remind me that a lot of people still only see my disorder and not the depth I have as a thinking person with feelings. I don’t need this reminder. I live it every day. What I need to know is that I am a valued person beyond cerebral palsy…and I am. I am smart, funny, caring, thoughtful, patient, understanding…it’s a long list of qualities. Sometimes it seems that no matter how much better I get every day, physically and mentally, many people still see me as someone to feel sorry for.

Every day I work my tail off to be the best person I can be. The people who see this person are the ones who give me a genuine hello and goodbye hug; the hug that really makes an impact on me because it shows me that I matter to them. They see past the cerebral palsy and embrace me as a fully functioning, worthy person.

You can’t put a price on genuine interest and care like this. I give it to everyone I meet so when I get it in return, it makes my heart sing. The people who hug me with their words as well as their arms see all of me, not just cerebral palsy. Genuine people who treat me as an equal are the gold nuggets in my life!

Originally published: October 29, 2015
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