Not Quite Ready

Leaving my hometown for college was a large step. Taking the risk of living somewhere different from a place of comfort. Because, living with cerebral palsy becomes more simplistic when surroundings are familiar. Having an understanding of the physical environment of each day. The knowledge of familiarity helps with the unpredictability of executing physical tasks. Though, even when operating within repeated areas, tasks have their challenges. Relationships have been similar in that regard. Maintaining predictability in the people inside my life was helpful. Understanding how they most likely would be treating me reduced fear. Even though that treatment might not have produced the desired outcome. In a world not created for someone with my disability. Any kind of predictability can be advantageous. As there has always been instability with my physical movements. When departing for college, the wrench was thrown in the way of physical consistency. The change would call for learning a whole new manner of physical tasks. When tasks performed previously with relative ease, would provide challenge. Items like the bathroom size and configuration would impact my ability to succeed. With all of the new physical challenges entering my life. Completely dislodging from my social network back home didn’t feel smart. Maintaining stability in some possible areas seemed important to succeeding. While new people made their way into my sphere. Keeping older connections helped retain an aspect of continuity. Both propelling me forward and holding onto the reins.

Returning home most every weekend elevated the sense of stability. Doing so from the aspect of physical and social life. Providing a respite from the pressures of navigating my new independent life. Having added challenges with my disability. Home provided the ease of using areas inherently familiar. Seeming to provide the opportunity of muscle memory. The understanding of moving through my childhood home was fully engrained. Due to using the same glasses and plates for most of life. Knowing how to maintain balance when removing them from kitchen cabinets. Home erased the concern of filling a glass with liquid and providing it balance. Because, I understood how full the glasses could safely become for me to handle. My childhood home lacked the large cafeteria tables to navigate. Much of the furniture had been resting in similar places for years. Allowing my body movements around the objects with the ease of having been familiar. While simultaneously having become expertly knowledgeable about interacting with these things in space. Giving the management of my cerebral palsy less stress while home. The apprehension was able to leave my body for a short time. With the ability of knowing what to expect. It went much beyond movements required around the kitchen. Or, carrying food down into the living room, around tables, chairs, or sofas. The comfort was felt in simple things like getting ready in the morning. Taking clothing out of drawers and getting dressed. Many movements have added challenge with cerebral palsy as part of the body.

Spending time in comfortable surroundings was rejuvenating. Giving me the chance to recharge motivation. I was beginning to enjoy the challenges of spending time away from home. Gaining an independence not seeming possible until that time. A major struggle of having cerebral palsy throughout my life. The recurring theme of discomfort with independence. Finding many times, of feeling the independence might not be deserved. With the acceptance of going away to college, the challenge independence was surrounding all of my time. On the journey of each week, something new would be found. A task would come into life having not been dealt with prior. Instead of turning to someone for help. Often these situations required myself stepping up to handle them. There might not be time for shying away with fear. The challenges taught me how to slow everything down in my body. Reminding myself it was okay for tasks to require more effort and take more time. Rather than relying on someone else to take over the operation. Someone typically developed who could execute the task with better pace. My attitude was turning into someone who wanted to figure out if the tasks could be completed. Breaking down whatever was being ask into smaller steps. Steps that were more manageable and when combined, met the desired outcome. Attempting to relieve the anxiety often coming with being overwhelmed. I was learning to take things slow. Turing something overwhelming into achievable, even with cerebral palsy challenges. The faith in my ability was climbing with each week.

The changing perceptions were also helping in my social life. When self-worth seems to begin an ascend, social interactions can follow. Finding myself with an ability to take on more independence felt exhilarating. Promoting an overall feeling of endless possibilities. No longer self-reflecting as simply the person with the disability. As requiring extra support with every step of life. Even while finding there may always be things requiring some amount of help. The number of physical tasks requiring extra help were less than I had anticipated. Providing the emotion of some huge weight being lifted from my shoulders. I was discovering real possibility for a life of contribution. For the first time in years, the interaction with people around me was welcomed. The fear of talking to people who weren’t known began to dissipate. Throughout time with cerebral palsy, gravitating specifically to people I knew was my practice. They tended to understand my disability without making CP into anything awkward. They knew my gait was different, my speech was different, and my hands struggled with handling objects. Remaining inside the same social circles was my chosen place. But, now everything was being looked upon through a uniquely different lens. If my physical independence had become surprising, awarding elevated self-worth, maybe my social interactions would follow suit. The space was opening to add new people into my life. The excitement of each new day could be felt.

Many new people were being found through the first experience away from home. Kind hearted individuals living in the dorms where I also spent my down time. Cerebral palsy felt accepted by many people around my life. Friends would have other friends join our dinner table seemingly each night. A fresh face would sit down with us hoping to feel welcome. Instead of shying away from them. Sizing up someone new, trying to predict their reaction to my disability. While becoming extremely fearful of being judged. Those emotions seemed nowhere to be found. Being void of that fear allowed me to engage without the hesitation of prior moments. There was surprise in the way my interactions were being conducted. Even shock on the part of myself. The desire for myself to interact became palpable. Wanting to meet more and more people to interact with. Hoping to get to know their stories, as they had gathered at school from all around. Those feelings of excitement would have never come to pass without taking the risk. Taking the risk of moving away from the comfort of living in my hometown. Cerebral palsy was such a large part of my thinking during the time. Wondering if being away from home could be handled with my physical challenges. To my surprise, the experience went even better than could have been expected. Even adding unforeseen opportunities to improve cerebral palsy challenges.

Having arrived to live on campus in the winter. I moved away from home in the first week of January. The parking situation around the dorm would be an interesting issue to solve. With my junior college campus about fifteen minutes to the north. Driving to and from school would appear to be a good solution. The challenge happened to be the distance from my living quarters to the parking slot of my car. The dorm complex where I lived was perched on a hill overlooking campus. My car would occupy a space in the gravel lot just at the base of that hill. Which would require a relatively steep climb up a winding road in order to arrive at said dorm complex. The walk being required each time I left and arrived home from class. The walk was made in the rain and dark at times. Almost always occurring in solitude with my thoughts. Most often transpiring with some kind of weight in my backpack from books and notebooks. The climb would sometimes be made a couple times in a given day. Depending on my schedule of classes at the junior college. Thinking back on all the obstacles of being away from home. The climb to and from my parked car might have been most challenging. Even with this circumstance being the most challenging. It was probably the most rewarding as well. From the impact of cerebral palsy, walking can be more difficult at times. For the most part, experiencing balance challenges and fatigue more quickly. But, this challenge became exciting to welcome into my life.

Walking up and down the hill most every day. Moving from my room to the car and back again. Seemed to do much for my cerebral palsy challenges. Not only from a physical perspective, but from an emotional one as well. There were plenty of nights when I didn’t want to make the climb. Dreaming there was a spot closer to my destination for the car to rest. The memory so vivid on those day. My mind able to wonder back in time without a hitch. The gravel supported parking lot laid out in front to begin the journey. Knowing when it ended, the asphalt shoulder would begin the steep climb. The painted white line separating my solitary climb from traffic. With aching legs, I remember nights of simply watching the gravel pass under my shoes. Encouraging my legs to simply place one foot in front of the other. Taking the climb back to home base one step at a time. Those moments happened most often in the winter months of my first quarter. When it was usually cold, sometime also dark, and often sprinkled with some rain. My memory sends different pictures of the climbs during the spring months. As becoming more enjoyable. With the turning warm weather, sunbathed gravel and asphalt, while the trees gained their color again. The cerebral palsy was improving with each descend and climb of the hill. My unsteady balance and stability were being challenged. As they were called upon to keep my body upright, supporting the backpack pulling on my balance. The legs were gaining strength and power. Propelling the body up the relatively steep incline with each step. While my emotions experienced the sense of accomplishment from taking on the task. There were good things happening on many fronts of life.

Even with everything trending into positive directions. It remained challenging to completely let go of old habits. Taking the risk of remaining on campus over the weekend wasn’t being exercised. Still choosing to journey home to comfort. Not only the physical comfort of staying in my childhood home. Gaining a reprieve from life in the dormitory. Time removed from the challenges of living and moving with little space. As cerebral palsy makes movement in space more challenged. Especially when moving around close in areas with others. The fluidity required for transitions within close spaces could often be tricky. But, there were also challenges letting go of the social life. The one around my hometown. Those connections having been cultivated through the struggles of early life. Feeling as though they accepted me more thoroughly from the people I was just getting to know. Social fear continued taking a toll on my life. Holding me back from letting go of the past. There was struggle inside trusting the situations happening around myself. Allowing newly forming friendships to completely flourish was being held back. The risk of being hurt remained haunting. So, those positive feeling relationships were being slowed because of fear. The fear of never truly being good enough for the happiness being felt during each week of school. Wondering home at weeks’ end was still a priority. Back into the unhealthy emotions of feeling belittled and used. Because, even with all the evidence against that belief. Occurring each weekday, ninety miles to the north. I wasn’t quite ready to place my faith back in happiness.

My emotions about cerebral palsy have kept me from taking risks. Even today, the physical challenges hold me away from activities. Leaving me wondering if an activity could be too challenging. Believing my lack of stability could lead to more harm with the attempt of something physical. These doubts also creep in while thinking about social situations. Whether there would be acceptance of my disability. Thinking about the possibility or likelihood of being belittled. Possibly dealing with types of judgement when interacting with someone new. The time period rarely reflected upon during those times of doubt, has been this period. One of the scariest risks taken in my life to this point. The first time my life with cerebral palsy was seriously challenged. I distinctly remember my first night in the dormitory. Everything had been moved into my room and the family had begun their journey back home. The fear was so great when thinking about whether this idea would work out. Questions over choosing to live on my own. I sat on the edge of that twin bed and cried. Having no idea if someone with a disability would survive, succeed at college, and make new friends. Over my first two years of attempting. College had been nothing short of a disaster. Fast-forward six months after that cold night in January. My life had become vibrant. Including a solid roommate, new friends, and success in college. That scary risk turned into one of the most exciting times of life.


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