Cerebral Palsy is often thought of as just a physical disability. As someone who has lived with CP her entire life, it affects every aspect of my life. At times, the physical symptoms are the easiest part of my disability to deal with. When I’m experiencing increased spasticity in my lower limbs, stretching, physical therapy, and Botox injections can provide relief and make moving around easier. I’ve learned to live with the physical discomfort that comes with living with CP.
I will never get used to the social isolation and loneliness that has come with having a disability, though. The physical pain pales in comparison to the isolation and emotional pain I’ve experienced. Physical pain has never led me to questioning my worth daily or wondering why I am here on Earth. Since the pandemic began, many people have felt isolated and lonely. For me, this feeling is nothing new.
In elementary school, I fit in pretty well. However, once I entered middle school, that changed. Middle school was when I became more reserved. By the time I was in high school, I felt like I was living on a different planet than my peers. They were talking about prom and getting their driver’s licenses. I was more concerned about how much fluid I had to drink during the school day or if my aide would be grumpy.
Throughout school, there was always an emphasis on trying to get me to develop friendships with peers. I know there was no ill intent on this, but I think it did me more harm than good. When I graduated from high school I had high hopes that I would make new friends in college. I quickly realized that this was not the case. Sure, I had conversations with my peers in the dining hall and during the weekly meetings for the campus newspaper. However, I still found myself feeling lonely. I am sure that living off-campus didn’t help with this. The hardest part of making friends with people has been that they tend not to stick around. I don’t have anybody from childhood that I still talk to. Being able to have friendships that last for years or even decades is a luxury. I can’t count the number of friends that have left me.
Particularly this January someone who I considered a really good friend, stopped talking to me altogether and misled me into believing that a friend no longer liked me. This stung more than it had before. Fortunately, I’ve been blessed to have a fantastic family. I have been surrounded by loving people my whole life. My aunts, uncles, grandparents, parents, sister, and cousins have always been there for me. I try my best not to take my family for granted because I know that many people aren’t as fortunate as I am to have loving and supportive families.
I have also been fortunate enough to have a small, close-knit group of friends. My friends have always taken my disability in stride. They know that my cerebral palsy will sometimes require them to help me out or call ahead of time to ask critical questions about accessibility before going somewhere. To them, I’m never a burden or extra work or someone to be pitied. I am just a friend of theirs who has CP.
Cerebral Palsy is much more than just a physical disability. Because of ableism and isolation, those with CP can end up feeling lonely. Reach out to disabled people in your life to let them know that you care. It can make their day.