Hey TeenCP, Katy here…I am here to introduce our first TeenCP Guest Blogger, so please welcome Annie Nason and read on! Interested in sharing your story? Click “Contact Us” and tell me your thoughts! Thanks–K
Hey everyone, I’m Annie! I’m 17 years old and my form of Cerebral Palsy is Spastic Monoplegia. I’m so very lucky to say that CP has spared me so much, as it is very mild and only affects my left side (predominantly my lower body, but I also have some trouble with my left hand). My body is uneven, and this has led to mild scoliosis and some back troubles over the past few years. Of course, I’ve had a limp for as long as I can remember, and my left leg has always been shorter and less developed than my right. Throughout my childhood, I wore a brace, did therapy (physical and occupational) and also some minor treatments here and there, but that was basically it. If I was taught one thing as a kid, it was to count my blessings every single day. CP has never gotten in the way of me doing what makes me the happiest and that is truly a blessing within itself. I have loved the stage probably since I was about 4. When I was little I would sit at home and sing along while movie musicals played on repeat in our VCR, (bet you can’t guess my favorite….) and begged my parents to keep taking me to Broadway shows every chance we had. On top of that, I started training vocally and performing all around my hometown (which I’ve been doing for the past 5 years). There is something about the energy and the magic of performing that always lights me up inside.
Theater didn’t get “real” from an intensity standpoint until high school. Actually, I found TeenCP last fall at the beginning of my junior year, and at that time I wasn’t all that happy about how I’d finished the show the year before. I had been so wrapped up in how my leg looked to the audience and was so scared it made me different from everyone else up there. “Can they tell I have a limp?” was the question that constantly ran circles in my head. I was having lots of psych outs. Hyper focusing on it just sucked that great feeling of performing right out of me, and I was scared I wouldn’t be able to get it back. Honestly, I was regretting a lot….and I knew my attitude about my CP, (how I doubted myself and worried about it onstage) had the most to do with it. I guess I was driven over the edge one day when some guys started making jokes about how “gimpy” I was right to my face. To tell you the truth the first thing I did was laugh with them, and they thought that was even funnier (so I guess it worked) but then I went home and cried. That night, I found TeenCP out of the combination of wanting a new perspective and a little bit of empathy too. After reading posts for an hour I loved how real it was and it was an amazing comfort knowing that there were people just like me! I also learned that it was okay to embrace my CP and I knew that’s just what I wanted to do because it was time to change-both in life and on stage. And at the start of this year’s musical I had a new chance. At 17, I would be taken on quite the journey to find peace with myself and my left leg.
Physically, it is rare for CP to ever hold me back while I’m performing. Yes, there have been times when choreography has been changed just because of me, and I hate the reason behind it being, “Annie couldn’t do it!” In the end though, I have 2 options, let them change choreography or….fall. I guess like anything else, it stings for a minute but then I move on, because in the scheme of life changing one turn in a dance is not a huge deal and I’m lucky that people have my back. I could run away from theatre out of being afraid it’s going to get too hard, but then I would only be hurting myself. I could never imagine living without the rush that I get whenever I’m onstage and that’s what keeps me going. Of course, there has been a fair share of tough days here and there. One week, I spent every rehearsal with a bag of ice on my “bad” hip because the difference in my legs all of a sudden crept up on me again. And these are the days when my CP frustrates me mostly because I know I could give so much more if it didn’t get in the way. I just do the best that I can-and if that means dancing while holding an ice bag on my hip, I will. Actually, by this point the show was getting scary close and I was on the verge of PACKING myself in ice to make it feel better. I will not give up! CP has blessed me with too much to say “This hurts, so I can’t do it!” Occasionally, when I’m at rehearsal I’ll have a flashback of sitting in the same hospital waiting room with kids whose CP was so much more severe than mine. Now, our lives are totally different. So as I’m up there onstage, I’ll dance whatever number we happen to be doing just with them in mind. Because really, if I can’t remember where I have come from and how lucky I truly am, then I don’t deserve the life that Cerebral Palsy has given me.
I’ll keep it real-there is my own personal mental game to balancing my CP with theatre, and I do think about this more than I need to. As the show got closer, I would sometimes look out into the 700 seat theater and start obsessing about what was going to happen when all those seats were filled. And if I told you all that I didn’t lose sleep or have a few good cries over this, well, I’d be lying. But getting into 700 people’s heads is impossible and attempting to do this had once led me to lose the magic in what I was doing. Those same mistakes could not be made again. Finally, I decided that I am the person in control of what I do and how I feel onstage. The same day we had previews for the school, and those 700 seats were about to be filled with two of the toughest audiences ever. The night before, I was on the verge of having a complete breakdown while my various sources of encouragement tried to talk me out of my own head. (Seriously, they were so patient!) I don’t exactly know what I was so anxious for, as I had gotten through 4 previews in the past 2 years, but it was just the whole idea of being vulnerable again up there. Letting everything go in front of those people…the ones who knew I walked differently and judged me from my leg, (those guys from last fall kept entering my mind among others) was intimidating! But deep down I knew I was strong enough- and I knew admitting that I was ready for this-to just go up there and let it go, was much more the fear than in performing itself. At the start of the day I was a whole mess of emotions, but I could feel my confidence growing every time we finished another number. By the time we were ready to do the show for the second audience, I honestly felt nothing but empowered and excited. It hit me again that this is what I want to be doing, and it was that love for stage that didn’t fail to carry me through. By the very end the day, I felt more physically and emotionally drained than ever, but I just remember sitting in that rarely quiet theater feeling amazing. Not anyone held power over my confidence anymore, because I realized that it didn’t matter what they thought. I was making myself happy and honestly I know now that that’s the first thing all the right people will see when they look at me onstage. For four months, I hid my uncertainties of “Preview Day” in the back of my mind, and it was until I faced them (for the third year in a row!) that made me realize I can handle so much more then I let myself believe.
To me, both performing and theater have really been a blessing. Knowing that I could escape to rehearsal at the end of the day made things a lot better after someone called me a “gimp” or gave me a weird stare. Letting my CP be a part of my theatre life has provided me with these incredibly deep experiences that I am honored to have had. Over these past three years, things have been far from what I’d first imagined when I was a freshman in high school. I also want to point out that I did not say to myself back when all of this started, “I want theatre to change me!” I think fate let that happen on its own because I have learned so many lessons about life from being on that stage that people with two “normal” legs haven’t, and I will never, EVER forget them. Remember that self-doubt is your absolute enemy, and thinking too hard will only make things so much more complicated. It has taken me a long time (my whole teenage life) to learn that my leg and my limp aren’t worth all my worries and tears but that’s all part of the journey I know I’m meant to be on. Today, it’s the bucket loads of reassurance and the extra hugs that have also played a big part in getting me through. And you’re going to have your hard days, where you wish you could just hide away and have everything about your body be “normal” and “perfect” but that’s okay-you are only human! Progress takes time- Don’t ever give up on yourself! Why? Because YOU ARE STRONG! Trust me, knowing that you can will sometimes be all you need.
With that, my challenge to you is to find a way to let your Cerebral Palsy light you up the way being on stage has done for me. You have the power to do whatever makes you the happiest and to love life, regardless of how the world defines you. CP has given you so much more heart, wisdom and courage than any one of your haters could understand. After I took the stage with my cast mates for the final time this year, one year after my rock bottom, and this time in front of 1500 people, something hit me…that I am no longer fueled by the fear of having something to prove from my CP but from the passion that I have for performing- and that’s the way its supposed to be. I had a few realizations like that over the course of this show but this was probably the deepest of all of them. I didn’t force it, it just came, and it felt beautiful. That night, May 23rd 2012, I left more than just my heart on the stage; I left every single doubt out there too. After I got home I said to myself, “Wow I was having so much fun, running on so much adrenaline, that the way my leg looked never even crossed my mind!” To me, being able to walk away from a show feeling like that is a gift that I will value literally for the rest of my life. A lot of people probably would bet that my perfect world would be living without Cerebral Palsy, but they’re wrong. Everything CP is…-the ups and the downs, the pains and the triumphs, and every little epiphany in between (especially as a teenager) has made my life so much more fulfilling and beautiful
Keep on loving an embracing everything that makes you happy, and remember that your flaws never have or ever will define you<3