Thursday, November 29, 2012

Cripple

Oh, how I hate this word! I hear it tossed around haphazardly all the time. Somebody laughs and points to their friend who is using crutches because of a temporary injury, and says, "Be nice to the cripple," or, "Hey cripple, can I try out your crutches?" And the person on crutches laughs.

Because to them, it's funny. To them, "cripple" is a temporary, transitory label, one that they'll only have to endure for a few weeks at the most. But to me,"cripple" is a label that people will forever be able to apply to me, because my disability isn't going to go away, and it suggests that people who have difficulty walking are somehow inferior to others, like we're damaged goods. So this word catches my breath for a moment as if I have jumped into a pool of ice water.

I remember one afternoon in particular in seventh grade. . .one girl was jealous that I got to ride the elevator, a "privilege" afforded to just a few individuals. One day as we passed each other, she murmured something just loud enough for me to hear: "Cripple."

Whoever said that sticks and stones can break your bones but words can never hurt you was sorely mistaken.

That one word, barely perceived by my ears, sliced me like a knife and embedded itself in my mind, echoing over and over and over, "cripple, cripple, cripple." That one word made me feel worthless. Later, in the privacy of my room, that one word sent me to my knees. That one word buried my face in my pillow, left me sobbing and asking God over and over that age-old question, "Why me?"

Words are power. Use them wisely. 


Stumbo Family Story

Sunday, November 25, 2012

I Am Lucky

I am lucky.

Sometimes, in the back of my mind, a little nagging voice creeps up,
a voice that asks, "Why me?"
"Why do I have to deal with this?"
"Why do I have CP?"
I listen to people complain about running, about gym class, about how their sports practice takes up all their time, and sometimes I wish I could just tell them, "You're lucky."
But then I remember: I am lucky, too.

I can write. I can walk. I can talk. I graduated from high school. I am at an awesome college. I have incredible friends and an amazing family. And because of my CP, I constantly remind myself to remember the little things in life that other people take for granted.

A few mornings ago, I woke up to my dog at the foot of my bed. I sat up, leaned over, and kissed the top of her head. She "laughed," her sleepy eyes sparkling, tipped her head back, and kissed me back, her wet nose pressed against my face.

Thank you God,
for I am lucky.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

May I Ask You a Personal Question?: Talking About CP (Part 3)


I had the accommodation letters safely stowed in my backpack for weeks, waiting there for when I finally mustered up the courage to give them to my professors. I didn't want any accommodations. . . as much as I can, I try to accommodate to the world; I don't want the world to have to accommodate to me. But when I explained this to the disability coordinator, I felt a lecture coming on about how I need to look out for myself more, so I just shut up and signed the letters.

xxx

I fish for the letter in my backpack and walk shakily up to the teacher's desk.
"I'm sorry that it has taken me so long to get this to you," I mumble as I hand it to him.

I don't know why I'm feeling so embarrassed about these letters...I thought I had gotten past this whole "ashamed of having a disability" thing...I guess I just don't want my new professors to see me as the "handicapped girl," because sometimes it's hard for people to look past that label once it's been established.

He smiles at me, barely looks down at the letter as he shuffles it to the bottom of his pile of papers.

"That's okay, I don't think you needed to get this to me! I mean, it's obvious that you're doing just fine in class! You don't need accommodations," he says, smiling again, referencing the perfect scores that I had received on all of the tests thus far.

"Yeah well...," I force a smile. Deep breath, this is it. Why am I so nervous? "They aren't academic accommodations."


Understanding sweeps over his features. "Oh, yeah. What happened to your leg?"


Why do so many people assume that it's "my leg?" It's BOTH of my legs - does it look like only one of my legs is affected? Weird.


"I was born three months early," I say, hoping that will suffice.


He doesn't miss a beat. "Oh, so you got knocked around and stuff?" he says with a laugh, gesturing with his hands.


Well, that's one way of putting it. Way to be blunt. I want this conversation to be over!


"Well, it's actually neurologically-based...but I'm not cognitively affected."


"Obviously not," he responds, and the conversation, thank the Lord, shifts to math.
 

Well, at least CP keeps my life interesting!

Friday, November 16, 2012

May I Ask You a Personal Question?: Talking About CP (Part 2)

(Click here for part 1) 

My foot still hurts. That's life, I guess. I think I sprained my whole foot and not just my toe. I'm trying to stay off it as much as possible so I decided that while I'm lying in bed I might as well write part 2 of the post from two days ago!

Throughout high school, I volunteered as a tour guide at the Audubon Society. I wasn't aware of this at the time, but one of the dads I met while volunteering worked for the local newspaper. To my surprise, a few days later, my mom got a phone call from the newspaper. One of his colleagues wanted to interview me!

I was reluctant at first. I don't really like being in the spotlight. Even starting this blog was a challenge for me. But my mom urged me to do the interview, and when the interviewer found out that I was a triplet, she decided to interview my brothers as well. 

Before the interview, I ran through a bunch of the possible questions in my head and thought about my answers. I was prepared for questions like, "Why did you decide to volunteer at the Audubon Society?" and "What is your favorite part about volunteering there?" And I did get those questions. But I also got a question that I wasn't prepared for.

At one point towards the end of the interview, she said those dreaded words: "May I ask you a personal question?"

Oh. my. God. I don't know about you, but whenever somebody says that to me, my stomach drops and my heart rate quickens. I wanted to say "NO!" with every fiber of my being, but it's almost a rhetorical question, so I felt obligated to say "yes." I already knew what the question was going to be before she even asked it.

I don't remember her exact wording, but what she said was to the effect of, "I noticed you that you have trouble walking. Why is that?"

I stared at her in silence for a moment, saw her pen poised in the air ready to scribble down my answer. I didn't want her to share my personal life with everyone who reads the local paper, but what choice did I have? This was the question that I wasn't prepared for, and I don't know why it never crossed my mind. 

Quick, think fast! I told myself. And this is what I came up with after a moment of thought:
"I have cerebral palsy, but it doesn't really affect my life too much. I just won't be joining the cross-country team."

And she was satisfied. Some of my teachers at school who read the article came up to me later and said they were inspired by my words. But as I thought about it, I knew that what I had said to that reporter wasn't true. Just something I had told her spur-of-the-moment, given ten seconds to think of an answer to an awkward question.

CP does affect my life. Even though it is fairly mild, it impacts so many facets of my life. I have had surgeries and struggled to walk. I have been told by doctors and therapists that I "can't" do this, that I'll "never" be able to do that. I have been in physical therapy since I was a baby, and going up and down curbs is a triumph for me. I have been judged and stared at by people who don't know me. I have met so many incredible people, and I have learned so many incredible life lessons because of my CP. Whenever I can, I walk to my classes, simply because I CAN walk, and I never take that for granted.

So the next time somebody asked me that question, I said:
"I have CP, but it's been more of a positive force in my life than a negative one. I have learned so much from it, and the life lessons that it has taught me have helped me in all areas of my life."

And when I walked away, I knew that that was how I really felt about CP. Yes, my disability challenges me, and it can be frustrating, but the lessons that it has taught me and the amazing people that it has brought into my life make everything worth it.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Originally I planned to write part 2 of yesterday's post tonight, but that was before today happened.

I stayed up until about 1:30 am last night studying for a math test, thinking that I could sleep in until about 9 because my test didn't start until late morning. Not quite. My roommate's alarm clock woke me up early, and went off continuously every 5 minutes, so I didn't exactly get the restful night's sleep I had planned.

But wait, it gets worse.

I went down to the dining hall to get breakfast and I was about ready to leave when I noticed that one of the dining hall staff members looked upset. I asked her what was wrong and she gave me a hug and started to cry. She explained that she was having a really bad day because someone was angry at her. I tried to comfort her the best I could, and then I realized that I was running late for my math class. Once I was sure she was feeling better, I rushed off to class to take the test.

The test went fine, and I got there in the nick of time, but as I was leaving my class, I fell. One part of having CP is that little things can make you fall. It sounds ridiculous just writing it, but I fell because as I was crossing the street, my heavy books shifted in my backpack and threw me off balance.

I got up as usual and realized that my toe hurt. Really, really hurt. I think I sprained it because I can hardly walk. For most people, a sprained toe might not seem like a big deal, but because I already have problems walking, a sprained toe makes it so much more difficult.

So here I am, in my dorm room, hoping and praying that my toe gets better soon. :( I skipped dinner because I don't want to walk too much on it. I know I'm lucky because it could have been much, much worse (and I have experienced much worse than this...I think I'll save that story for another day!) but I'm just frustrated, hungry, tired, and in pain. Some days I wish I didn't have CP so stupid little things like books shifting around in my backpack wouldn't send me to the pavement.

I want this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day to be over!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

May I Ask You a Personal Question?: Talking About CP (Part 1)

"What happened to you?"
"Why do you walk like that?"
"Are you paralyzed?"
"What happened to your legs?"
"What's wrong with you?" 
"Why do/did you you use crutches?"
"Why can't you walk straight?"

As a person with a disability, I'm no stranger to questions like these. I've been fielding questions about my gait for as long as I can remember. In preschool, I distinctly remember replying that "I got hurt in my mommy's tummy," which probably isn't exactly true, but at that age, that was the extent to which I understood my disability, and my peers were usually satisfied with this answer.

In general, I was comfortable answering these questions, but as I got older, I felt more awkward answering them. They were almost never asked with malicious intent - just curious, innocent questions, but every time somebody asked them, I felt warmth spread to my face, and my muscles tensed.

Writing about my disability has helped me become more accustomed to speaking about it, but it's still something that I struggle with. I think some of my trepidation came about when I reached elementary school, because even as a young child, I remember being conscious of the fact that adults usually avoided the topic with me, almost like it was taboo. I think some of the awkwardness stemmed from my own feelings too, though, because I hated being tagged as "different." I wanted to be like everyone else.

Once I reached middle school, the questions about my disability stopped almost entirely. Sometimes even the lack of questions bothered me (you never can win, can you? haha), because I knew people wondered about my gait but were too afraid to ask. In fact, some of my best friends didn't even know about my CP! Obviously they were aware that I walked differently, but they didn't know why. It's not that I was being secretive or anything, but it's not exactly the easiest conversation to bring up, and if they accept me for who I am regardless, why bother?

What's more, even when I did receive questions, rarely did I answer them by actually saying "cerebral palsy." It's just not a term that I usually say out loud. I've always wondered: does the general population even know what CP is?
 

Click here for part 2 of this post! :)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

CP and Friends

"Does your CP make it difficult for you to make friends?" she asked. 

I was talking to my seventh grade guidance counselor about I-don't-even-know-what, and somehow the end of the conversation turned to this. 

 No, it doesn't. Some people judge me and won't bother to get to know me because of it, but why would I want to be friends with them anyway?
  
I saw the pity cloud her eyes and I knew she didn't understand. But I said what I meant and I meant what I said. 

My friends are amazing. Amazing. Maybe I'm biased, but they are some of the nicest, most authentic people that I've ever met. They don't see me as different from them but they are aware of what I might have trouble with, and they're always willing to offer help if I need it. 

Isn't that what friends are for? :-)

I want to write a post sometime that outlines all of the perks of CP! This is definitely a huge one. . . I attract only non-judgmental people. ;-)