Cerebral palsy provides physical challenges, but my disability also carries emotional challenges. It is difficult to imagine the struggles my parents experienced in raising a child with CP. They have spoken before about their fruitless search for literature to help me succeed. There is no all-inclusive manual to my knowledge on how to raise a child with cerebral palsy. It becomes more challenging when we consider how widely the effects of CP can vary. There are unique challenges waiting for each parent raising a child who shares this disability. I can’t begin to imagine the emotional roller coaster they must have experienced during my youth. It must have been tough and at times, even the best parents are forced to admit extra help may be beneficial. The first emotional struggle I remember facing along my journey was beginning junior high school. Elementary school had been a relatively easy place for me to function. I received physical therapy, while teachers and classmates assisted in my daily routines. It was a comfortable environment. Junior high school was a whole new world. The first year of junior high launched me into a state of anxiety, fear, and depression. My parents recognized I needed help adjusting to life outside the friendly confines of elementary. They took it upon themselves to find me more specific direction. The help came in the form of a psychologist, who is still a part of my life today.
My journey with cerebral palsy has taught me the importance of predictability. The physical disability I battle possesses many unpredictable characteristic, so when there is predictability in my daily life, working with the symptoms of CP becomes easier. Elementary school has been one of the most predictable time periods of life to this point. For six years, most of my days looked the same. I attended the same school, sat in one classroom each year, and had the same classmates. There was plenty of time for everyone at the school to get to know me and I them. Everyone was familiar with my cerebral palsy and the effect it had. It became rare to see an unfamiliar face. Elementary school seemingly moved at a slow pace helping all of us grow accustom to full school days. While it benefited all students, the slowly changing environment was especially helpful to my challenges. Physical therapy continued to be a part of my life in elementary school. I received help developing my writing and speaking skills. During sixth grade, someone came into the school and helped me develop keyboarding skills. There was a computer at my desk, because typing was easier than writing. All the help of elementary seemed to disappear when I entered junior high school.
The first days of junior high school hit like a ton of bricks. It felt drastically different from elementary school. Moving from one class room to another after each hour could become overwhelming. It was difficult enough to change class rooms in just five minutes, but walking through hallways crowded with students made it feel more intense. I found it difficult to simply keep my balance in those close quarters. There were so many faces I didn’t recognize, some of them looking at me with seemingly judgmental eyes. It felt they were curious about what might be “wrong” with my movements. Thinking about those unfamiliar eyes looking down upon me still brings about feelings of anxiety. Junior high school was the first time I truly felt cerebral palsy made me different.
Due to my cerebral palsy, I was given one study hall period. It was an hour of free time. I was able to use the time to study or just take a breath from the discouraging situations of each day. One of the those discouraging things in my first year of junior high was finding a locker easy enough for me to open. Cerebral palsy has always caused my wrists to be tight and weak. The wrist, it turns out is a key muscle for opening a locker. So, one of the things I was looking forward to surrounding junior high, it began to look like I wouldn’t be able to enjoy. However, after searching for a while we found a locker for me to use. The frustration of junior high and the effect cerebral palsy was having on my life started taking a toll. It was difficult to accept the fact I was different.
The frustration of being different began to manifest itself in counterproductive ways. Fear of going to school each day started controlling my life. I would fake being sick in order to stay home. There were mornings my parents would spend a half hour attempting to reason with me in order to get me in the car for school. At times, I gave into their reasons and rode to school, only to climb out of the car when we reach campus, turn and run down the street away from junior high. My parents would track me down, trying to convince me to go back and try again. The guidance counselor’s office became a place to go when I felt scared and I recall spending time in her office regaining my courage. Still, as time went on my fear and anxiety was only getting worse. We tried rearranging my schedule at different times in an attempt to make things easier. Nothing seemed to be working. Finally, my parent had reached the end of their rope and through a friend of my father found someone for me to talk with.
I can’t remember much about the first time talking to the psychologist. It was weird discussing personal things with a stranger, but he seemed to gain my trust easily. When I look back at the year spent with him, what comes to mind is all the relaxing things we did. We spent much of our time simply talking about cars or walking down the street to get ice cream. Serious topics were discussed and he challenged the perceived rationality over the fear I was feeling, but most of all, I remember the calming effect he had. Through the relaxing activities and conversations, I found a place of safety. Spending more and more time with the psychologist helped me take the feeling of comfort from inside his office out into the world. School slowly became easier to attend and the crowded hallways of people looking at me didn’t ruffle my feathers so much. After working with him for the year, the last couple years of junior high school became some of the best years of my life so far.
Junior high hasn’t been the only time I’ve run into emotional trouble. My parents went through a divorce a couple years later, things became difficult after high school, and again following college. There have been different therapists who have attempted to help along the way after a disagreement occurred between my mom and the psychologist, but at one of the lowest points in my life I agreed to disagree with my mother and called him again. He has always been there to help find my way when I have wandered. Few have taught me more about how to become a better person and because we never reach perfection, I work at becoming better each day. I learned many years ago, there is no shame in admitting I’ve needed a little extra help along the way. I wouldn’t be the man I am today or the man I’m going to become without his patience and good directions.