There is no doubt cerebral palsy effects my self-esteem. It’s challenging to look and feel different from most people. I’m probably not the only person who struggles with the feeling of being different. Many of us look around comparing ourselves to others. It may not be a disability for you, but something entirely different that ways on your mind, pulling at your ability to feel the best about yourself. I have no idea what those things might be for you, but it seems they could result in negative feelings. The emotional ups and downs of being visually different take a toll. Most days of my life have been spent feeling inadequate, so I seem too spend much of my time alone. If I’m not required to look around at others maybe I’m not required to fight the negative emotions of being different. However, living a life in solitude with feelings of inadequacy is no fun. It would be seemingly easy to simply shut the world out. I’ve chosen to write this blog, which has required little human interaction. Allowing me to stay home instead of wander out into the world and battle my visible signs of perceived inadequacy.
The issue becomes, that’s probably not the best way to live. Any psychological text book or self help guide will likely explain the importance of human interaction. Social interaction is a critical part of overall happiness. Our positive relationships help us live longer and fuller lives, while reducing the negative impact of stress. Even as an introverted person human interaction is critical. So, I try to interact with the people I encounter each day. Some days I will experience shyness and it can be difficult to even say a simple hello. On those days, I tend to think about how people react to my cerebral palsy, even more insecurely how they will react to my slurred speech. The way I speak has often caused feelings of anxiety. Sometimes people who interact with me for the first time seem thrown off by my speech pattern. They may not understand me even when I’m attempting to annunciate clearly. I can experience random looks and seemingly be treated as less-than or intellectually inhibited. Situations like these are often unpredictable and cause fear. Thankfully I experience them less as I get older, but the thoughts still cause hesitation when I think of saying hello to a stranger.
The world isn’t as glum as my anxious feelings can make it out to be. Often the reception I experience from those I encounter is positive. I’ve found if I interact with someone new a second or third time, the encounters gradually improve. There seems to be a relaxing that occurs after a short period of time. It’s difficult to know if I’m the person becoming more comfortable or if someone interacting with me is adjusting to the effect of cerebral palsy. CP causes me to look and sound different and these differences may be startling to some at first. It is incumbent on me to have patience along with confidence in myself, giving new acquaintances the chance to adjust. Usually after the shock of my differences wears off I find a new friend. Still with other people it may just be a passing hello, or a nod of recognition with those I see consistently. Sometimes we are never made aware of how we effect those around us.
We all seem to be effected by social interaction in one form or another. There are countless ways we communicate with the world around us beyond speaking. Our tone of voice can fluctuate, our body language is different depending on the situation, and our facial expressions can point out our feelings. The label of inspirational has always been a difficult characteristic to make peace with. It’s defined as the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something… I’ve found it rare for people to walk up and let someone know they are inspirational. Throughout my life it has happened on random occasions. However, in the last week it has happened four different times. I know what you’re probably thinking and no, I didn’t change my cologne, hair gel, shampoo, or deodorant, so we can rule that out. Two people at the gym, who I’ve said hi to in passing, paid me the compliment of being inspired and motivated by my diligence. Then two other friends echoed the sentiment in separate conversations.
Life has had many conversations about the way we effect other people. Often it seems we work at things without recognition for them. We don’t have our name in the credit line of a movie, television show, on a book, or in a magazine. It can lead us to think we aren’t making a difference or leaving a legacy to outlast the time spent on earth. But, we seem to forget about the people who interact with us each day. Maybe today you were walking down the street and smiled at someone who looked a little down, or better yet said hello. There is seemingly no way of knowing what they might be going through, but you could have made their day infinitely better just by taking the time to smile. You may never see them again and it’s likely they will never get the chance to let you know what the smile meant, but it could have meant a lot. I believe we effect people in many ways that we may never fully understand and so many times we do it just by going about our daily lives.
It is always humbling to be noticed for something positive. Cerebral palsy often leaves me feeling I’m being notices for my differences. While I think of being noticed for differences as negative, being noticed for being different can be positive. The journey I’m on is about overcoming differences and I feel those differences each day. Many times, the differences take a negative toll on my internal thoughts. There are times however, where I feel proud of the disability I have. Times, I find CP to be a gift rather than a hindrance. There are few compliments that make me feel better than being called inspirational. It causes a feeling that all the work I put into my journey with cerebral palsy is helping someone. If simply going to the gym provides motivation for people I may never speak to, that makes cerebral palsy a gift. I’m humbled to have the ability to help those I don’t even know. Maybe I’m lucky enough to be helping you too.