“You’re turning eighteen, you know. Have you thought of the things you’ve done with your life? Don’t you think it’s time we get you a life?” Recently, I had coffee with a friend. He looked at me from head to foot in mid-conversation, and made this comment. As always, he managed to drive me into deep thought. After much contemplation, I now realize how much I have truly gone through. I also realize the reason for this paper: I want to tell you about my life. I want to prove to you that people like me, who are afflicted with cerebral palsy should not be demeaned, but rather looked up to for how they face the challenges life brings forth.
I remember that day. I was a baby and my eyes didn’t move. They refused to follow the finger my aunt moved back and forth. I just lay there, unmoving. My family didn’t really give much thought to it until a few months later when I began to be extremely dependent on others when it came to simple things like getting up from a fall. Right then, they knew something was wrong. I was taken to the hospital a few weeks after, and true enough I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a condition that caused me to walk on tip-toe and my legs to look like sticks due to weak muscles.
The hospital became my second home. By the time I was three, I had grown immune to the stale smell of disease and death that greeted patients at hospital entrances. I sat in wheelchairs and was a patient to three different doctors and physical therapists. Physical therapy was, and still is to this day a gruesome routine that I didn’t look forward to. Those sessions lasted for three hours, starting off with cold ultrasound gel being smeared slowly on my thigh muscles, slowly progressing into the limb-twisting that drove me into screams of excruciating pain, and then finally ending with attempts at “walking normally” with steel bars for support. Soon after, the doctors discovered that physical therapy alone was not enough, and recommended orthopedic surgery.
I underwent seven surgeries in three different countries: the Philippines, Thailand, and Greece. Although these surgeries gave me the opportunity to see the world, they were not at all full of pleasantries. To this day, I remember how each surgery went: being laid on the cold operating table, feeling as though my body was a pincushion as needles were forced into me. I shrieked at the sight of blood and nurses tried to calm me down, talking to me in languages I didn’t understand. Soon, my vision blurred, my eyes shut and I couldn’t open them. A tube made its way down my throat, and soon I was going, going, gone. Hours later, I woke up groggy, and the sleepless nights in the children’s ward started. Tears clouded my eyes as I stared at the ceiling or the walls covered with Disney characters grinning annoyingly at me as I was under the mercy of painkillers that didn’t even seem to work.
As I got older, I began to question why things were the way they were for me. I began to raise questions why a certain child in my class could do things that I couldn’t. My early years of schooling were the most challenging ones to face. Like me, the other children didn’t realize how it was like to be in the situation I was in. Bullying and name-calling was common in the schools I attended. “Slowpoke” and “snail” are only some of the few names I was called by. Sometimes, children would even go as far as “crazy” and “*******”. They mimicked the way I walked and called my attention, asking me who it was they were pretending to be. Often times, I did what I was told to do at home and stood up for myself, firing back with a witty, sharp remark. Other times, I chose to ignore them instead.
On the first days of all my Physical Education courses, I’d try to blend in with my classmates hoping that the teacher wouldn’t notice that I was incapable of doing the routines. I tried to get away with it, to no avail. As soon as I got found out, I was tasked to watch everyone else’s belongings, clear up scattered basketballs, or score a game I really had no knowledge of each meeting. I remember how it felt like to be a benchwarmer, while all the others were doing warm-ups or playing sports. I didn’t look at their faces much, instead I closed my eyes and listened as their laughs echoed their enjoyment into the air. That, or I looked down at their feet, watching them jump, listening to the thumps as their shoes hit the ground again. They made it look so easy.
During dance rehearsals, I’d stare down at my own shoes, dirtied and scratched from constant dragging. I’d feel a sharp, imagined pain in my stick-thin legs, and imagine them moving to the music they’d be dancing to. Gently. Tap. Tap. Tap.
While I admit that I felt a lot of resentment towards this disability in the past, I now find that there isn’t really much to resent about it. I have grown so much as a person through this disability. It has become part of who I am and how others define me. It is true that I have missed out on a lot of the things teenagers my age have gone through, but how this disability has enabled me to see life actually happen, to discover life’s true essence, and most of all, touch the lives of people I have encountered in the past and those I continue to encounter, makes me feel as though I have not missed out on anything at all.
As I end this essay, I’d like to leave two challenges. If you happen to afflicted with cerebral palsy or any other disability, I challenge you to be proud and fight. Do not let others look down on you. People will demean you, if you choose to demean yourself. Do not wallow in self-pity. Instead, strive to turn your misfortune around. Touch lives of the people you meet. Inspire.
On the other hand, if you do not have to struggle with any disability at all, I challenge you even more. Do not take your “normalcy” for granted. Do not look down on people with disabilities; instead aim to broaden your understanding of how it’s like to live life in their shoes. Everyday, realize how lucky you are to have what you have. I ask you the same question my friend asked me in the coffee shop that afternoon: Have you thought of the things you’ve done with your life?
(an essay I wrote in English class, Sophomore Year College, one of my more personal writings)