I was diagnosed with spastic diplegia cerebral palsy at the age of two after my parents became concerned that I wasn't walking. Cerebral palsy is a brain injury or impairment that affects the muscles or a person's ability to control them. For me, it means I have partial paralysis. Doctors told my parents I wouldn't have a normal life, that I would never walk and I needed to be placed in special needs classes and speech therapy.
The muscles on my left side were very weak. I had trouble walking and sometimes even standing. My leg and arm would give out on me and I would fall or drop whatever I was holding. I spent months of my childhood in the hospital where doctors and therapists helped my family and I work through treatment plans for my diagnosis.
I let cerebral palsy get the best of me. I felt like it stopped me from having a normal life. I used to feel so ashamed and hurt that I couldn't roller skate or participate in gym class like the rest of my friends.
For 15 years, I wore an ankle foot orthosis (AFO) which was a brace that helped me to walk better on my own. I would color coordinate the Velcro straps so they matched my Reebok Classics that I had in many colors. Eventually I was strong enough to walk without it, although even now as an adult my body can be weak. I've had setbacks after suffering from a few strokes. I still fall and get injured.
Still, I've gotten used to the many things that someone without cerebral palsy would never have to think about. Getting out the bed in the morning is a challenge because my body has been still and my muscles have tightened up more than they already are, which makes it hard to move. Walking up stairs is hard because it can be difficult to lift my leg, causing me to fall both up and down the staircase. Sometimes there is no railing or the steps are so steep that I have to crawl or scoot. Even things I enjoy, like traveling, are a struggle because sitting in a car for long periods of time is painful. I'm stiff and can't move.
But I'm living life. I work with an amazing group of youth. I'm heavily involved in church, I travel a lot, I'm a social media manager and I have my own food blog. One thing that definitely changed was my confidence level. I used to be really insecure and shy because I thought my cerebral palsy was embarrassing. As I got older and started learning more about it and talking to people about some of my hardships, I realized I can still enjoy life. I can get married, have children, travel (which I do a lot) and shop for shoes. Sure, I need a strap over my ankle and I can't do stilettos, but I still love my shoes. Now I'm even meeting with parents of children that have cerebral palsy to share my story with them and let them know what their children are capable of.
The truth is, cerebral palsy has given me a reason to live, to be different and be unique. It took years, but it happened. I realized we are all made differently, we all have a purpose in life and mine is to show others that just because you are different doesn't mean you can't be great. As I always say, "Cerebral palsy is my superpower."
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