Today, March 25 is National Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day. To put it simply, CP is a form of brain damage that most often occurs before birth. Symptoms tend to show up during infancy or even before birth. This form of brain damage essentially affects your muscle tone and causes walking and other forms of movement to be difficult. While I did have to Google and read a little bit to give you an exact definition of the condition, I have plenty of experience with it as I have lived with Cerebral Palsy my entire life. CP affects people in different ways. For me personally, my walking and motor coordination is what’s affected my life the most. I feel that having this handicap has taught me different things I don’t think I could’ve learned had I not had it. Here’s four of them that I feel are most important:
1. There’s more than one way to do things
This is a lesson I’m still technically learning, but it’s one that has applied to virtually every area of my life. Growing up, I always wanted to do things like everyone else. I never saw myself as disabled. That was because I was blessed to have a family who never treated me as such. I was taught from an early age that I can be capable of anything I’d like to do. I would get frustrated easily when I would be trying to do things the same way as others around me and couldn’t. Through perservance and a lot of experimentation, I eventually figured out alternate ways to take on certain tasks that were still just as efficient as the way “normal” people did them. The best example of this is music. Because my motor coordination isn’t that great, I’ve had to figure out alternate ways to play different instruments. For all you musicians reading this, there’s something you’ll notice about my mandolin playing if you watch closely. I don’t use all the fingers on my fretting hand to hit certain notes or chords. I’ve got two that can move around real easy, the others are stiff as a board. Because of this I can’t make full chord formations like everyone else. I’ve literally had to make up my own chords on a lot of songs. As unconvential as it is, it’s really worked well for me. I haven’t gotten any complaints from fellow musicians I’ve played with. My point with all this is, don’t let anyone try and tell you there’s only way to accomplish something. There’s many routes you can take to achieve a goal.
2. Less is more
This is a lesson that to me is somewhat connected to the last lesson I mentioned. It’s one that I feel everyone should apply to their lives. When I was learning to play music, I found that I wasn’t able to play all the fancy things that my musical heroes did on their instruments because of my motor limitations. I eventually realized that I didn’t have to do that in order to be a good musician. The thing I really needed to focus on was the melody, which is the key ingredient to any musical composition. If I could at least do that, I would have the satisfication of being able to make good music. This lesson eventually carried over to other areas of my life. In my opinion we live in a society that preaches more more, more. Instead of focusing on the things we have accomplished, we’re always trying to improve every facet of our being by setting out to do more things and making ourselves climb to greater heights. I am certainly guilty of this no doubt. Overtime I’ve learned that it’s okay not to have done everything in the world. I personally think it’s healthy to be grateful for the things you have acheived rather than constantly strive for more than you’re actually capable of. No matter how much you have or haven’t accomplished, that shouldn’t stop you from living a good and full life.
3. Things take time
I think just about every disabled person out there can relate to this one. Because of my CP my physical development has been much slower compared to my peers. Case in point, I wasn’t able to fully dress myself, comb my hair or brush my teeth until just a month before I began my freshman year of college. I did not take my first independent shower until I was 20 years old. I think accomplishing these things at a later period of my life has allowed me to not take those simple tasks for granted. Because of how many years it took me to be able to do these things, I’m able to appreciate them at a much deeper level than those around me.
4. It’s okay to ask for help
This has taken me many years to learn and it’s something I’m still having to remind myself of almost daily. Because of my upbringing and just my personality in general, I have viewed myself as a strong willed person who is capable of doing things independently. I’ve had to really learn how to advocate for myself and it’s something that I’m continually getting better at. I’ve also had to learn how to ask for help beyond a physical standpoint. When I was in high school, the reality of my condition hit me like a ton of bricks. For the next several years I had bouts of depression and anxiety. My mother often encouraged me to see a counselor, but I always refused to do so. In my mind if you had to go talk to a counselor to sort out your issues, that would classify you as a weak person. I didn’t want to be seen as that. I wanted to be seen as an individual who overcame obstacles day in and day out and always had a positive attitude, which truthfully was not accurate. Toward the end of my time in college, I finally decided that I needed the help that I had been rejecting. It was then that I realized that it’s okay to reach out and be vulnerable. Asking for help doesn’t make you weak like I thought. Instead it makes you a much stronger person at the end of the day.
I’m sure as I continue to go through life. I’ll have even more lessons I’ll be learning. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if I’ll have to write an updated version of this post in about a year or two. It is my hope that those who read this post can apply the different lessons I’ve learned to theirs in some form. Disabled or not, you can live a full life and accomplish your goals if you put your mind to it and work hard at it. It’s cliché I know, but it’s a formula that’s been working me for the past 23 years. It can work for you too!