The title of this post is a quote from the trainer I have been working with. For the fifteen months we have been working together the quote has been used many times. During my upbringing my parents loved to use the phrase “don’t quit.” Today I have a framed poem in my home entitled “Don’t Quit.” The poem talks about going through trials and tribulations, by never giving up we often succeed. Life with cerebral palsy requires many of these small phrases to help when things become discouraging. There have been many times throughout my life when I just wanted to give up. It seems we all run into walls sometimes, seemingly too tall for us to scale. For the longest time I could hear my mother’s voice telling me “don’t quit.” Thankfully I had other people around reminding me to continue with the effort. The issue seems to be while the phrase “don’t quit,” has a positive message it can be interpreted as coming from a negative origin.
Much of my life with cerebral palsy has been about finding the courage to never give up. Many things have been difficult to do. Sometimes I won’t be able to accomplish a task with my first pass. It may take three or four attempts for me to accomplish a goal. At times I do things differently than people who don’t have a disability. I find another way to manipulate a tool or use a fork and knife. If I’m unable to pick up a glass of water, I find a way to slide it toward me and use a straw. When I think of the words “don’t quit.” These ideas come to mind. If I can’t complete a task like everyone else, maybe there is another way to go about the task. The words remind me not to get discouraged and continue thinking outside the box. Don’t give up, just look for another way.
As my life has developed, sticking with a “don’t quit,” mantra hasn’t always been easy. There have been many occasions I have just given up. Sometimes for someone with a physical disability it’s easy to watch an able bodied person perform a task and think “there is no way I can do that.” The thought is a slippery slope into a victim mentality, in which I begin feeling sorry for myself because I was born different. It is one of the major thought patterns I’ve learned to stay away from, even if it doesn’t always work. A major blessing in my life is having people around to push me out of a victim mentality funk. It reminds me of being younger, standing on a cliff over water or ready to hop onto a water slide. My mind telling me I’m not a good swimmer as fear creeps in. When I hit the cold water, my muscle may tense and I won’t be able to move and swim. In those moments there always seemed to be a buddy in the water. He would encourage me to jump, reminding me he would be right there if anything went wrong. More often then not I’d jump, hit the water with enthusiasm, swim to safety without assistance and be dying to jump again.
It doesn’t always work to give something difficult one more try. For a long time, I would continue to “not quit,” but learned sometimes the thought can lead to more frustration. I would be left completely demoralized when I couldn’t perform certain physical tasks. Being taught “don’t quit,” I would continue to try again and again. My life seemed this way for years and left me feeling worse and worse. It was at a point where my self-esteem was tied into whether I could complete physical tasks like an able bodied person. It was the definition of a no-win situation until somehow I began to find a way out. There slowly became no shame in admitting I couldn’t accomplish some physical tasks no matter how hard I tried. The adjustment to asking for help has been a slow process. It has taken acceptance of the limitations cerebral palsy causes along with gaining the courage and humility to simply ask for help when I can’t succeed on my own.
While “don’t quit,” can leave me feeling negative when I don’t succeed. Fifteen months ago I was given another saying that made more sense. “There’s only one way to find out!” seems to take away negative consequences. In my mind it means, let’s give this thing a try. If we can’t make it work after a couple tries, it’s no big deal, we’ll find another way. The “other way” may simply be asking for help after I’ve tried something on my own. It leads to feeling much less shame when I’m unable to succeed. My trainer gave me the quote not long after we began working together. With cerebral palsy there have been many things he wanted me to try that I balked at. Out of my mouth would come the statement “I don’t think I can do that,” or better still “there’s no way I can lift that much!” He would often return calmly with “well, I guess there’s only one way to find out.” It has always motivated me to at least give it a try. More often than not I could perform the movement or lift the heavier weight. I have found myself taking the quote out of the gym and applying it to many situations in life.
Cerebral palsy will always be a challenging aspect of my journey. Situations arise on a daily basis requiring extra thought and motivation. It’s often easiest in moments of challenge to just give up. It can be blamed on the manner in which I entered the world maybe I just got unlucky. Still there will always be a large part of me that just doesn’t want to give up. I’m blessed to have been raised by parents who wanted me to try everything at least once. Somewhere the wires became crossed and “don’t quit” meant I had to try until I succeeded like an able bodied person. It was unrealistic, but gave me the fighting spirit I’m incredibly thankful for. Sometimes when we get lost it just takes a tweaking of the message to breathe life into us again. “There’s only one way to find out” has been a new mantra, making me feel again that the joy is in the effort. If it doesn’t work out all is not lost. You can always try again from a different angle.