LIVING WITH CP
ATTENDING A REGULAR SCHOOL
In 1970, I was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around my neck; thus, oxygen was cut off from my brain for a period of
time. (Basically, cerebral palsy is caused by brain damage before, during or shortly after birth.) The doctor wasn't at the
hospital when my mother went into labor, so she was given shots to delay the labor until he arrived. We're not sure if that
had anything to do with the cord getting around my neck, but I've recently learned that others with CP also has had delayed
births, which is an interesting coincidence.
My family didn't really know I had cerebral palsy until I was approximately
six months old. At that time, no one knew to what extent my disability would be or if I would have a mental disability as
well as physical. Fortunately, my mental abilities weren't affected at all, but I believe many people wrongly assume I'm mentally
challenged just because I'm physically disabled. The extent of my CP is somewhere between mild and severe (more on the severe
side), and it affects my balance, motor skills and speech. Therefore, I'm unable to walk, use my hands well, and my speech
is difficult to understand.
When I was two or three years old, I started going to a day care center for the handicapped.
There, I received physical therapy daily, and all the experts thought I would walk one day. I've always wondered if I had
tried harder to do my exercises as I was growing up, would I be walking today? I did try hard before I started going to school,
but then I began concentrating more on my academic abilities. Besides, doing schoolwork took up most of my time, and I needed
some time to just enjoy myself.
My intelligence was evaluated while I was still attending the day care center, so
they decided to mainstream me in a regular school. I started in the first grade part-time -- I spent half of the day at school
and the other half at the center. I began going full-time in the second grade. My favorite part about that first year was
learning how to read. I also enjoyed being with kids without special needs, and fortunately, my classmates were wonderful
because they always treated me like an equal and never made fun of me. I only remember two incidents when I was made fun of
in school, but those individuals weren't in my class. I learned later they had mental and emotional problems of their own,
so that explained their behavior.
After I got internet access and started reading about others with disabilities,
I was surprised most of them didn't have many good experiences in school like I did. Don't misunderstand -- I had my share
of unpleasant experiences, and at one point, I hated school and wanted to quit. It was difficult having an adult aide with
me all day because it felt like, at times, that I had a teacher looking over my shoulder. This is probably why I put so much
pressure on myself to make good grades, and I made all A's and B's and only one C throughout elementary and high school.
I could tell many bad things which happened during my school years, but I've always been more of a positive person, so
I remember more of the good experiences. My parents always treated me like a normal child as much as possible, so that's why
I think I never dwelled on whether I was being treated unfairly because of my disability. As I look back now, I can see some
instances where I was discriminated against because I was handicapped. For example, I didn't get to go on many school trips
since it was difficult to get me and my wheelchair on and off the bus. I was among the first physically challenged students
in my county to attend regular school, so the school facilities weren't handicapped accessible. In high school, two strong
boys had to roll me outside, up and down a steep hill, so that I could get to my classes which were on different floors. (I
didn't mind at all being helped by my male classmates though!)
I believe my sense of humor has helped me make it
through many obstacles caused by CP. I'm able to laugh at how I've had to overcome some of these barriers like typing my homework
with my nose on an electric typewriter. (I typed like that until I graduated from high school and got a computer with assistive
software which enabled me to use a joystick to type on an on-screen keyboard.) I have received many compliments about my sense
of humor, and I think that makes people feel more comfortable to be around me. Many people who aren't around the disabled
often seemed not to know how they should act or treat me, but once they see I like to laugh and talk like anyone else, they
usually relax and started treating me like a normal person. I love when people start teasing me about something because that's
a sign they feel comfortable with me and know I can take a joke.
My sense of humor and good attitude may have been
why I was so well liked by my classmates and teachers. Although I always felt accepted by my peers, my physical limitations
and speech impairment prevented me from forming close friendships. That was why I was so shocked and honored when my classmates
voted me an "Outstanding Senior" and "Most Memorable!" The principal also presented me with a special
"Spirit of the Class" award at the end of my senior year, and I was the only one who received this honor. I received
more surprises at my high school graduation starting with the principal using me as an example to help the other graduates
to remember to be the best they can be. Then, the audience gave me a standing ovation when I walked across the stage (with
the help of two junior marshals) to receive my diploma. I'll never forget that night, and I think it inspired me to try to
do something meaningful with my life!
After I graduated high school, everything changed for me. Although people encouraged me to go to college, I decided it would
be too difficult because of the extent of disability. I was content for a while not having to do schoolwork anymore and just
being able to do whatever I pleased at home. My classmates were going on to college, getting jobs and getting married, and
I spent my days at my grandparents' while my parents worked, where I mostly read and watched TV. People said I had it made,
but I felt life was passing me by. This was a difficult time for me, but no one knew because I kept these feelings locked
inside of me.
Some of my high school friends stayed in touch with me through letters for the first couple of years
after we graduated, and I still hear from a few. Naturally, most of us drifted apart, but they helped me feel not so lonely
through that tough transition period. I was pleasantly surprised when one of classmates visited me on my birthday, We've been
friends all through school, but we became better friends from that day because we began visiting each other frequently. We
were best friends, or so I thought. I guess I leaned on her too much because I never really had a best friend before, so I
would call her at least once a week just to chat, but she must have thought I always wanted her to visit because she would
offer to come and see me every time we talked. I was also probably afraid she wouldn't stay in touch with me if I didn't keep
My fears were validated when she told me she and her husband were moving, and she would let me know
her new address and phone number. She never contacted me to give them to me. I was very hurt and angry because I couldn't
understand why she did that after she claimed to be my best friend. A few years later, her sister thought Meg and I could
start e-mailing each other since both of us had gotten internet access since the last time we talked, so I sent my e-mail
address to her so that she could write me first if she wanted to. It took her a while, but she did e-mail me, and she acted
as if nothing had happened between us although we hadn't been in touch for about three years. All these emotions of confusion
and pain were locked inside me during those years, so I wrote her back and told her exactly how I felt. I also apologized
for being a pest by calling all the time since that was probably part of the problem. She replied to that e-mail and said
she had no idea I felt that way because she thought people didn't have to be in touch all the time to be best friends. I agree
with her, but I don't believe that best friends would go for three years without contacting each other. I didn't even received
a Christmas card from her, and I couldn't send her one because I didn't know her address! She apologized for hurting me and
promised that she would stay in touch. We occassionly e-mail each other.
Although I will probably never completely
get over the pain or understand why Meg treated me that way, I think I learned some things through that experience. Now, I
try not to hold on so tight to a friendship because I know that if someone really wants to be my friend, they will stay in
touch with me on their own free will. I'm cautious about trusting people, but I try not to allow this bad experience to harden
my heart towards others who might turn out to be true friends. I'm grateful that I had Meg to lean on during that difficult
period of my life because I really needed a "friend".
Different individuals have helped me through difficult
times, so maybe certain people are meant to be a part of our lives at certain times. I've had bitter feelings towards Meg
during these years, but now I'm trying to let them go because maybe she may have a good reasons for her actions that I don't
know about. I also suppose that it's only natural for some friends to drift apart.
GROWING PAINS & STRIVING TO BECOME A WRITER
During the summer after my high graduation, I started writing about my school days just to have something to do. I worked
on it at my grandparents' on an electric typewriter with my nose. Every time I had a page typed, my grandfather would grab
it to read it. I didn't think much about it at the time, but now I'm proud that he was so interested in it. I can't remember
if I finished the first draft of that article before he died that October, so I don't know if he read it all.
started out being the best year of my life since I received many accolades in school and graduated with praise, but it ended
as the worst. No one in my immediate family had passed away until that year, but my uncle lost his long battle with cancer
a couple of months before my grandfather died of a heart attack. My grandparents' house was/is like my second home since I
have stayed there almost all my life during the times my parents worked or went places where I didn't want to or couldn't
go. (I still stay with my grandmother.) The loss of my grandfather was tramatic for me, as you can imagine.
only have to deal with my sadness, but I was with my grandmother almost every day through her grief. She took Grandfather's
death very hard, so she was in mourning a long time. She had a lot of visitors during this period who hadn't been around me
much, and I noticed how most of them either ignored me or treated me as though I had the intellect of a child. Some would
even talk about me like I wasn't in the room and asked if I understood that my grandfather was dead, or they would say how
pitiful I was. Although I realized they didn't understand CP, their attitude angered me. I would become frustrated when I
tried to explain I had normal intelligence because they couldn't understand me, and that made me appear like a babbling idiot
Let me get back to that article I was writing about my school days. Like I said, I just started writing
because I needed something productive to do, so I didn't have any plans of trying to get it published until I saw a "Triumph
of the Spirit" contest in a women's magazine. Although I didn't know how to submit a manuscript to magazines, I decided
to enter my story in the contest just to see what would happen. I really didn't expect to win, so imagine my shock and excitement
when I learned my article was among the winning manuscripts! It was published in the magazine, and I received $500. The catch
was I had to sell all my rights to the article which isn't wise to do, but I didn't care because I was so thrilled to be a
I can't remember why or when I decided to take an English composition course at the community
college, but my mother would take me a couple of nights a week after she had worked all day. The main focus of this class
was creative writing, and I believe this course improved my writing skills because I had to write several compositions. My
confidence in my writing ability also rose because I made an A in that class. I started taking sociology but found it more
difficult than English, so I quit.
That wasn't the only reason I stopped taking night classes. I have wonderful
parents who have helped me to have as much of a normal life as possible, but I realize that it's not easy taking care of a
disabled child. After Mom worked, she was already tired without taking me to school in the evenings and staying with me for
two or three hours, so I didn't want to put her through that kind of pressure. I learned about correspondent writing courses,
so I used the $500 that I won for my "Triumph of the Spirit" article to enroll in a children's literature correspondence
course. After I finished that one, I took another correspondence course in fiction writing. These type of courses were perfect
for me because I could do the assignments by myself at home.