Dear Cerebral Palsy,
Hey there, friend. I can’t believe It’s been 21 years. Starting from the days in the NICU, now in my third year of college and here you are, always sticking to my left side. Years of stretching, physical therapy, injections, leg casts, and braces, were all focused around helping improve the strength, flexibility and gait. But I would have never thought that having you with me physically would lead me on such an incredible path of self-actualization. I consider myself really lucky; not everyone comes to understand what place a chronic condition can hold in their lives. At 17, I felt shadowed by you. But now at 21, you make my life brighter! So I felt the need to say thanks… for everything.
Thank you for helping me understand my body, my challenges, and my personal goals. Without you, I would have never learned the values of compassion, courage and perseverance. CP is the one thing in my life that has been with me through every endeavor, and I truly believe that this is what has given such a deeper meaning to many of life’s experiences. While I can only speak based from personal experiences, I do not consider you as a disability. Yes, I understand that Cerebral Palsy technically fits into this category, but for me it’s a stretch (no pun intended). I rarely need to take advantage of, let alone qualify for accommodations. And let’s get one thing straight…I am not “differently-abled” as some campaigns like to call it, and I definitely do not “suffer from Cerebral Palsy” When things don’t feel comfortable for my body, I adapt. And yes, I’m weary about asking for help. But I’ve learned to speak up for myself! No one knows my body better than I do! I’ve come to terms with the fact that I may be better off avoiding ice skates, that stilettos probably won’t find a place in my closet, and that I’m going to fall over cracks in the sidewalk every now and again. Patience is important. And of course, making make my entrance into the world 7 weeks early, I’ve never exactly been the patient type! Thanks for teaching me how to take life one day at a time.
Sure, I have days I wake up with my leg muscles so tight and fatigued that I’m convinced I’m an 81-year-old trapped in a 21 year old’s body. Adding any kind of cold weather or uneven terrain to that equation takes the discomfort to a whole other level. My condition will never change, but my symptoms often do! Everyone says it’s unhealthy to stretch to the point of pain, but just extending my legs out can be agonizing sometimes. And I’ll never forget my senior year of high school, having bags of ice wrapped around my leg daily because of the regular muscle spasms. Senior year comes with so many expectations, but it felt as though my body was betraying me. As a teenager, I was guilty of letting a lot of negativity go to my head, and for a while, I couldn’t fathom the thought of having Cerebral Palsy for the rest of my life. Performing on my high school stage didn’t make any of this easier either. I often felt like my best wasn’t good enough, and I know a lot of those feelings stemmed from a deep place as a little girl. I crossed paths with more than one choreographer who have flat-out said that my C.P. got in the way of them being able to teach me. But the last time I checked, my leg doesn’t affect my ability to understand how hurtful words can be. Not everyone is going to be open-minded, and that’s okay. Thanks for allowing me to experience pain, criticism, and even rejection. I can’t control what people think about my abilities, but I can control my attitude. In living with CP (or any chronic condition for that matter) perspective is key. I don’t want to look back on my life knowing I woke up every morning frustrated by my body. Every person is in control of how they feel, regardless of what life throws at them. It’s a choice. I’m glad I choose optimism.
Thank you for helping me realize how incredible my parents are. From day one, their unconditional love and encouragement has served as my saving grace. My mom, the woman who always reminded me that living with a big heart will take me farther than any physical ability. She devoted many hours to making sure I was able to complete my home program of Physical Therapy with incredible patience, even on the days where I would grumble and whine. My Dad, the guy who always reminded me to face my challenges with hustle and heart, and who comforted me through painful procedures, telling me to was okay to howl as doctors injected the back of my leg. Mom and Dad were the first to console me as I awoke from each of my five surgeries, and made sure chocolate milkshakes soon followed! Together, they have pushed to give me the best life possible, insisting nothing took precedence over getting my education, and making sure that I stayed on a mainstream track in school where I belonged. Decisions like these are ones that have helped me reach my full potential in life. From day one, they have taught me and given me more than any other two people on the planet, and I love them so very much.
Most of all, thank you for helping make my dreams come true. This May will mark two years since my tendon release surgery. To be honest, an operation didn’t phase me at all-I was excited! I will never forget the morning I stood up from my hospital bed and began my trek down the hall. With every step, it was as if all my doubts were disappearing behind me. It’s so hard to explain the joy I felt in that moment. My soul was happier than I ever knew it could be. I am incredibly thankful that my surgery became all I’ve ever wanted. The way I walk will never truly be perfect, but in a way, it has become perfect to me. To know the feeling of dream come true is indescribable and gave me the confidence to pursue other dreams as well. I didn’t think my surgery could be topped by anything, but when I got the news from Chicken Soup for the Soul that they were publishing my piece in their book, Think Possible, I was more excited than ever!! Being able to share my story with the world about being a seventeen year old performer with CP (and a major side of insecurity) was eye-opening and a real honor. Over the past few years, you have transformed from my biggest insecurity into my greatest gift. And I know that I am not alone. I have had the ability to form instant bonds with people who know what it’s like to live with CP. Together we’re unstoppable! I want to be a part of spreading hope that living with a chronic medical condition can, in fact, be a blessing in disguise. My dear CP, If I know one thing for sure, it’s that I wouldn’t be the person I am today without you…literally always on my side.