Thursday, September 26, 2013

Why I Take the Stairs


When I was two years old, I was given a walker. I was never supposed to be able to walk without one, according to my physical therapist.

Except I did.

I threw that walker down, outright refusing to use it. I couldn't stand still without collapsing, without my knees buckling, but I was determined. With a lot of persistence and a fair amount of M&M's, I learned how to manipulate my wobbly legs. And never again did I touch that walker.

"Can-Do Girl"...that's what my parents called me, because when I was asked if I needed help, I usually replied, "I can do it."

I am still that girl in college. Sometimes I wonder if I am independent to a fault; I struggle to find the balance between being as independent as possible and asking for help when I need it.

Several times already, some of the boys on campus whom I don't even know have offered to carry my backpack.

"I'm all set, thanks, but thank you for the offer; I really appreciate that," I say, and I am unaware of the words tumbling out of my mouth, the refusal that came before I fully processed the offer. I can't even remember the last time I accepted help.

And then there are the people who see me about to use a staircase, and their faces turn to panic as they try to direct me to an elevator.

"I am all set, but thank you," I say again, feeling like a broken record. "I always take the stairs."

And the panic turns to confusion, then surprise.

One of my professors wondered yesterday why I walk all the way across campus to my class.

Can't you just get a ride? she asked.

Yes. But cerebral palsy has taught me that the easy way out is very rarely the best way; we never know what we'll be able to accomplish when we push our abilities to the limit...I can walk. I can manage my backpack. I can climb three flights of stairs. If I can do it, I will.

Just because there's an elevator doesn't mean we have to use it. I am no longer a wispy-haired two-year-old throwing down a walker, but my spirit is every bit as fierce.

I've been told that I can't. I've had my knees collapse out from under me with no warning. I've experienced the frustration that comes from having a brain that can't always tell my body what I want it to do. I know what it is like to struggle with every step. I know what it is like to feel broken.

I know what it is like, so I don't take my abilities for granted.

That is why I take the stairs.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Little Girl

I thought I'd start at the beginning today...

Once there was a little girl who had cerebral palsy. She came home from school one day in tears..."The other kids stare at me, mom," she said.

"They are staring at your strength," her mom said.

And the little girl believed her mom. The next time somebody stared, she smiled. She knew. She knew they were staring at her strength.

And whenever she fell, she remembered the the words of her dad.
"You can do anything that anyone else can do," he said. "It just takes you longer and you'll have to try harder."

She carried those words with her everywhere, knowing that she could do anything...the strength of her spirit could overcome the weakness of her legs.

When the little girl was six years old, she met a little boy. The little boy had ADHD, so his brain worked differently too. But just like the little girl, he was perfect just the way he was.

The little girl and the little boy became friends. When the little girl would fall and scrape her elbows during recess, the little boy would wipe her tears, take her hand and walk her to the nurse. And when the other children ran around outside, the little boy sat with the little girl and together they imagined a world where animals talked....different was okay in this world.

Once, another child said something mean to the little girl about her wobbly legs. She was about to dissolve into tears until she saw the little boy come up behind her. He stood up for her. 

And in gym class, when the little girl couldn't participate because of her wobbly legs, he sat out too, and they played together.

Sometimes the little boy had trouble spelling words and doing math because the letters and numbers would get all mixed up in his head. So the little girl sat with him and showed him how.

One day, the teacher's aide scolded her. "He is slowing you down," the aide said. "Don't help him anymore."

But the little girl knew. He waited for her on the playground, and she waited for him in the classroom. They helped each other. So, in whispers, she continued to teach him how to use his numbers and letters.

The little boy and the little girl were in the same class for five years...for five years, he helped her on the playground and she helped him in the classroom.

Today, the little boy and the little girl aren't so little anymore, but they are still friends. And the little girl who isn't so little anymore will never forget the words of her parents and the kindness of the little boy....she always carries these gifts with her and looks to them whenever she feels lost.

When people stare, she remembers her mother's wordsthey are staring at your strengthand she stands a little straighter. When she feels like she can't do something, she remembers her father's wordsyou can do anythingand she tries again. And when she feels alone, she remembers the little boy who took her hand when she fell, the little boy who kept her company and who was there to stand up for her when she needed him.

All she has to do is remember, and suddenly the world is beautiful again.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Where do I go from here?

I'm a planner. I've always been a planner. I like to know what I'm fighting for, what I'm working towards. I don't like unknowns.

And I still don't know what I want to do with my life.

I'm intending to major in Behavioral Neuroscience (undeclared at the moment), and eventually I would love to do something related to healthcare, especially if this something involves people with special needs.

Last summer I shadowed a pediatric occupational therapist, and I am seriously considering this as a potential career...it bridges my passion for people with special needs, my fascination with physiology, and my desire to have a positive impact on the world.

But then the doubt creeps in...what if I can't handle the physical aspects of OT, like standing for prolonged periods of time? Or, worse, what if people judge me by my gait, and assume that I am not capable of performing my job?

I'm trying to make sense of my feelings....on one hand, I feel doubtful and afraid and lost. On the other hand, I know that I can transcend my CP. I know that no matter what I decide to pursue, the insight that my disability has brought me will be with me always. No one can take that away from me.

And if you're reading this and thinking, "What a mess of a post!," I know. It's Friday night and it has been a long, long week. I'm not even trying to make this into something coherent; I'll probably read it tomorrow morning and wonder if someone spiked the water in the dining hall! ;-) (Sorry in advance for any typos!)

But I needed to write something. I needed to untangle some of the thoughts that have been turning in my mind. And after last week's post, I felt like I owed you guys a little something more. I'm okay. I'm more than okay. College is exhausting and demanding and stressful, but it's also filled with ice cream sundaes and weekend movie nights and friends who slip hilarious notes under the door.

So that's about it for now. There are so many unknowns in my life right now and that scares me but there's also something inherently awesome about having choices. I don't know where I'm going to end up, but I'm going to try to push aside self-doubt and enjoy the journey as much as I can.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Trying to Stay Strong

School started up again about a week ago, but I feel like I've been here for an eternity. There is so much I love about college...my friends are beyond amazing, my classes are challenging, and I do enjoy having some independence.

But I'm not going to lie; it's tough. I feel like so many people see the way I stumble over my own feet, see the exhaustion in my face, see me struggling to make my way through a crowd, and they assume that I'm weak.

Why do people assume that people with disabilities are weak?

I feel like it takes so much strength to get through just one day. I have to navigate a world that wasn't built for me, a world of curbs and endless staircases and hills, and sometimes I wonder if I'm strong enough. I find myself rushing to class, breathless, yet I am slower than even the people walking at a leisurely pace. And then, sometimes after I've finally arrived, all of the seats have been taken and everyone stares and my feet ache terribly and I'm left standing in the back with shaking legs, wondering if my knees will give out.

And sometimes I wonder, too, if my spirit will give out. I had a particularly challenging day today, and I was walking to class today in a torrential downpour. My determination was warring with my burning legs, my shoes and socks were soaked, and I just kept telling myself, "One more step, one more step..."

That's my life right now...one more step, one more step, one more step. But each step is physically and emotionally draining. Nearly in tears, I messaged my mom...I don't know if I can do this.

"This is the story of your life," my mom wrote back, "And you always rise to the occasion."

So for now I'm just looking for that strength in my spirit to make up for the weakness in my legs. I feel like I'm falling, falling, falling, trying to accomplish the impossible. I know that I can do this...paradoxically, disability has shown me that we as human beings are capable of so, so much...I just need to find that strength.