Tag Archives: self-acceptance

The Grey Areas of My Body Image

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Let’s talk about everybody’s favorite topic: body image. I hope that you could sense my sarcasm in that statement, so please know that I am being so sarcastic there! Body image is by far one of my least favorite topics to discuss. But it needs to be discussed. If you have found your way to this blog, you may be a parent to a disabled child, you may have a disability yourself, or you know me personally and want to see what I have to say. I would like to discuss the topic of body image when you have a disability. It is not as black and white as you think.

First off, I would like to make it clear that I think having a physical disability is one of the most beautiful gifts in my life. It forces me to think differently every day because I frequently have to adapt to my surroundings, and it has given me the ability to be a great empathizer. My physical disability connects me to so many wonderful people, and it is truly an honor when people reach out to me and tell me that I have influenced them in a positive way, or that they have discovered hope for their disability through my writings. I cannot completely express how humbling and amazing these connections are, and I hope that nobody is ever shy to reach out to me. You can always reach out to me. I appreciate it more than you will ever know.

I accept my physical disability for what it is. I know that I cannot change it or who I am, and I do not want to. I do not get caught up in the negativity anymore of completely despising my body. But, I still have days when my sub-conscience overrules my being and I believe that nobody else will accept me for who I am.

Let me introduce myself. My name is Jessica Paciello, and I am a soon-to-be 21 year old currently attending college to become a pediatric physical therapist. According to medical definitions, I am also physically disabled. I was born in May 1995, and I was immediately diagnosed with congenital hydrocephalus at birth. My diagnosis of mild hemiplegic cerebral palsy, which is definitely the greater and more challenging of my two evils, would follow eighteen months later. However, at two days old, I did have to undergo brain surgery to implant a shunt that drains from my brain’s ventricles, down my neck, all the way through my stomach, and into my abdomen. Basically in laymen’s terms, I had too much “water” (cerebrospinal fluids) on my brain, and that can cause serious health complications if the problem is not surgically corrected. When I inform people that I have undergone brain surgery, they freak out. That’s understandable, but on the scale of neurosurgical procedures, shunt surgery is so common and it is one of the easiest brain surgeries. I was never scared of it, and I am still not. The brain is the most intriguing organ to me. In fact, if I was not physically disabled, my dream job would be to become a neurosurgeon. Anyway, I want to give you a little bit of background about me so you can understand that growing up, I took viewing my body in a positive way in strides. However, I really am not ashamed about being disabled. I fully understand that every single person on this planet has their own unique story, and my story just includes a lot of medical talk and doctors’ visits.

Fast forward eighteen months after my birth, and the words “cerebral palsy” were discussed for the first time. Doctors explained my formal diagnosis of “left-sided hemiplegic cerebral palsy” to my parents. This is still in conjunction with my hydrocephalus. Neither diagnosis goes away with time. They will both stick around with me for the rest of my life. Hemiplegic cerebral palsy means the left side of my body, specifically my arm, leg, and trunk are significantly weaker than the right side of my body. I have full mobility in the right side of my body. Some activities that are harder for me to accomplish because of my CP include: typing (I am almost always solely typing with only my right hand), wiggling my left toes, and I walk with a little bit of a limp. Oh! And it sounds silly, but I cannot properly form a “peace sign” or “thumbs up” with my left hand. Sometimes, the littlest tasks like those frustrate me so much. I have rejected dinner dates with guys before as “first dates” because I cannot properly cut my food at restaurants in “normal” fashion. I cannot hold a knife in my left hand and cut my food. If you have ever asked me to grab a bite to eat before, I am so sorry that I laughed in your face. It is just a defense mechanism because restaurants are such a source of anxiety for me.

There are many more challenges I face because of my CP, but those few are the first that come to my mind right now. Growing up, I understood that because of my disability, my body had a “good side” and a “bad side”. There have been so many times when I had overcompensated for my “bad side” and I just did not want to use my left side at all. As a teenager, I felt very self-conscious about my disability, and I felt very alone because of it. I am the middle child and I have two sisters. I always compared myself to them, and I always knew I looked like the odd one out because of my physical conditions. Now at 20 years old, I actively try to change my pattern of negative thinking about my body, but I would be lying if I said that is always so easy. I am opening up about this issue because I know that I am not alone in the struggle of worrying about body image. Summer is just around the corner, and I just want to press fast-forward through this season because it means the scars on my body will be more visible to people. I know that my scars are overall a sign of strength that show all that I have overcome, but there are still so many days when I just want to hide from the world because I feel like it is not accepted. I trace my fingers down my skin, and there are more scars than I can count. I have avoided going out and being as social as I want to be in college because sometimes I still cannot shake the feeling of how down I get about my body, and during these times all I want to wear is loose baggy clothes so my arm and leg are hidden and not highlighted.

Positive affirmation is a funny concept when you have a disability. I frequently get called “pretty” by friends, family, guys, and strangers. I do not say this because I want attention or anything like that, but I need to make a point. I strongly believe at times that because of my physical disability, I am not any of the compliments people call me. It is hard to get out of my head sometimes. I am my biggest critic. I have such a hard time trusting people who say nice things to or about me, and I want to own up to that fact and apologize to any person who has been kind to me and did not receive a proper thanks. I feel imprisoned in my body some days because half of my body works perfectly and the other side does not. It is hard for me to believe that people find that “pretty”. But I really am trying to be more positive every single day of my life. I am trying to be kinder to myself, and kinder to my body. I am trying to be kinder to those who are kind to me and those who do not get frustrated with me, because they truly understand that positive affirmation is so difficult for me to wrap my head around.

Having a physical disability is very much a learning process every single day of your life. You will not magically understand your body and your perceived limitations overnight. I am still learning about my body daily. I want people to know that people with disabilities do not need or want your pity. I do not need pity. I do not want pity. I hope for understanding however, and that also begins with me understanding myself and owning up to my body image issues.

I know it will get better. Again, I am not ashamed of my physical disability. I would not know who I am without it, but I do know from personal experience that it can at the same time lead to confusion every single day. You can like and accept something that is important to you, but at the same time believe that nobody else will understand it fully. Not everything is understood in black and white terms. Life is full of grey areas. I want you to know that it is okay to be confused about your body. It is okay to be frustrated at times. It is okay to be honest. 

They say there is beauty in vulnerability. I hope they are right! XO

Self-Acceptance and Love: Learning to Love My CP

Hi all, Katy here– Meet Kate M., TeenCP’s latest guest blogger who bravely shares her beautiful story of how she rose above her own insecurities and struggles and learned to deal with having Cerebral Palsy. Read on…

My life could have turned out very differently. I was born 29 weeks premature along side my twin sister in November 1989. Both of us sick, and me given an early death sentence not to make it past our second birthday. It could of easily been her writing this right now and telling you this story, but as life would have it, I’m the one writing this.

 

My name is Kate. I’m 23 years old and I was born with spastic cerebral palsy that affects the right side of my body. And I wouldn’t change a thing. You see, throughout my teenage years I was plagued with self-doubt and insecurity. I hated the person I was. I was bullied relentlessly in middle school, told I was ugly, was locked into bathrooms and so on. It got so bad that at the age of 13 I tried to take my own life.

 

As I got older and moved on to high school, those feelings of hatred stayed with me. I wanted more than anything to have a “normal life”, the kind of life that my able-boded friends and sister had. Like all teenagers I went through a rebellious stage: to numb my own pain I experimented with drugs and alcohol to try and fill the love I couldn’t seem to find for myself. I would always end up with the wrong guy with the absolute wrong intentions. I really just wanted someone to love me for exactly the way I am.

 

During this time, I was naturally very ashamed of my own body. I’ve had about 9 operations in my lifetime that have left me with numerous amounts of scars. The most prominent scars being two long scars that go vertically up my legs and the scars from the chest tubes that kept me alive as a baby. I never wore shorts or bikinis for the longest time, always afraid that someone would come up to me and ask me about my scars, or ask what was wrong with me. I even began to ask myself that very same question.

 

After I started college, I gave myself the help I had most most desperately needed.  I began seeing a psychiatrist who formally diagnosed me with depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I remember in one my first sessions, the doctor made me look at myself in the mirror. She asked me to list five things I liked about myself, I looked at myself in the mirror and began to sob: “I don’t see anything”, I told her.

 

I stayed in counseling and therapy, dissecting all of my fears and insecurities in these closed door sessions, until one day I realized that I was ashamed. I was ashamed to say that I have cerebral palsy.

 

What I didn’t realize is that CP is my gift.  It is apart of who I am, it does not define the person that I am. It gives me the ability to view the world and other people in a different way.  The scars left on my body are a gift of life, and wear them with pride now. They are unique, and they are mine.  For years, I hid under a cloud of shame and now I choose to live on the sunnier side. Life is all about the choices you make. I have the ability to walk, talk, and drive my own car. And as long as I have those abilities I’m not going to waste them trying to be anyone but my own person.

 

Learning to have confidence in yourself takes time, and you have to allow yourself to have that that time to figure it out. Find out who your friends are, and get rid of the ones who try to dim your light (again, takes time), find a support network. I have a group of disabled and able-bodied girlfriends who give me massive love and encouragement. Trust me, it might not feel like it, but there are those types of people out there in the world.  They do exist! Getting comfortable in your own skin is a daily battle.

 

The other night I was hanging out on the rooftop  of a bar in the heart of the city I live in. As I was talking to my friends, I suddenly looked up and saw where I was. I said to them: ”isn’t it weird that you can live in one city your entire life (I have), and not realize how beautiful it is?” That’s how I think about my CP now.

 

I wanted to share my story with you guys because I know I’m not alone, and if you are out there and struggling with any of the same issues, know this: it does get better and there is help out there. None of us should be ashamed of the fact that we have CP, it is apart of us. We have to support each other.

 

Follow me on twitter @katethemuse 🙂

 

LOVE.