My physical disabilities do not equal intellectual ones

The title of this post feels uncomfortably like a public service announcement. A few experiences these last few weeks tell me that, sadly, that’s exactly what is needed.

It took me my whole 30 years to accept that I must help myself in any way that will make living with cerebral palsy easier.

I am between physiotherapists at the moment and my muscles are feeling the strain. I booked an appointment at a clinic in the same building where Squidge enjoys gymnastics so I left her with her dad (and my shoes) in the gymnasium and went up to the appointment.

I was asked to explain my reasons for seeking regular physio and cited the cerebral palsy.

I explained that I needed someone to physically help me stretch because my husband couldn’t bear the brunt alongside every day life.

“Can you not wear shoes? Where are your shoes.”

“My daughter’s playing downstairs with her dad.” I explained.

“You have a daughter?!”

The surprise was not kept from her voice. It hurt.

“Yes…” I said, nodding slowly.

“It’s just, I’ve only met one woman with cerebral palsy but she couldn’t speak or care for herself.”

I felt a familiar dread creep over me. The need for people out there to see every disabled person as the same. Except, I didn’t expect to have to explain to a professional the range of cerebral palsy, the different types.

She also asked about my studies. I don’t know why it seemed relevant, but she was polite enough so I genuinely believe she was simply curious. But I have never appreciated being an object of curiousity in this world. It’s just not necessary. After all, I’d been astute enough to make the appointment for myself, to recognise that physiotherapy is important to my maintenance. When I reported that I’m currently studying for my degree, another look of surprise came over her face as she congratulated me.

I do think she was trying to be sincere, but it is so easy to stray into patronising. And I wasn’t there to be patronised, just wanted someone to help me stretch. But she didn’t seem to understand when I explained that very little movement would translate to my left side. The response over and over was:

“Well, try!”

It was at that point that I absolutely knew this was not the professional to help me. I intend to make other plans.


It also took me my full 30 years to admit that a walker would help with my mobility and confidence. I still hate that I am in a place where I need to use it, but I certainly appreciate its presence more and more. I very rarely go further than the end of my street for some milk without conceding I will need the walker for support.

This weekend, I was walking to the library in town, my laptop bag strapped into the seat of the walker so that I had all my study material. There’s a pelican crossing halfway down the hill. I will always stop and wait for “the green man”. In her vulnerability, I fully expect Squidge to stop and wait. In recognising my own vulnerability as a disabled woman, I now appreciate that I must lead by example and do the same. I must not endanger myself. I have been reminding myself that a walker is a sign of such vulnerabilities. Anybody that sees me can rightly assume I have some difficulties.

So imagine my surprise when a driver with a learner plate on stopped at the lights, honked his horn at me and impatiently waved me across.

I stood fast. Firstly, as someone who is an anxious driver anyway, I would never insist that another driver, or indeed a pedestrian should move on my say so, much less as a learner! Out on the road, your life is in your own hands, you make your own decisions. So I made my own choice, knowing that the crossing signals backed me up and it wasn’t safe to go.

I wondered, what made this learner driver think that his course of action was helpful, or even appropriate?

The only conclusion I was able to draw was a sad one. Seeing a young woman with a walker didn’t signal to him that I might in fact have difficulties crossing the road in good time before the signals. What it in fact signalled to him, was that I did not know how or when to cross without his indication. But his action was not driven by concern for a vulnerable woman, it was driven by his own impatience and the assumption he knew better than I did, even though he clearly didn’t both to check the pedestrian signals I governed my movements by.

I struggle to walk. That realisation is hard enough. As I get older, I am more and more things I am not comfortable with. I am slower, more tired, more dependent. But one thing I am not as a result of having cerebral palsy, is intelletually disabled. Some CP warriors do have these disabilities, but some is not all. We are not all the same, our challenges are different.

I am perfectly able to be outside my home alone, to cross the road safely at a time of my choosing, to attract a marriage partner and to make the decision to have children. It is no-one’s place but mine to make any other assumption.

It really does concern me that in this day and age, any of my life actions have the power to confound and confuse others.

I was a person before I acquired any of my disabilities. I so wish that people felt more able to see the person I am before making judgements about what I am able to do.

The Dangers of “That’s life!”

Today is World Mental Health Day. When we have to recognise a potentially fragile and neglected part of ourselves or someone we love, or barely know at all, and promise to do better at nurturing and protecting ourselves because we agree that we deserve it.

This is the exact thing I swore to work on this year. To be honest and raw and to let myself feel my own strength and feel deserving of each happiness.

It can be so hard knowing who to trust with the everchanging state of our mental health, especially when we’re not to grips with it ourselves.

Even now, all these months later, I can barely get past the recognition of “I don’t feel well.”

They are just 4 words. And yet they are just 2 words out there that I have heard with alarming frequency recently. Two words that can keep me from ever being honest with you, when I might most need your help. They stop me trusting you.

“That’s life.”

Many things Are. Life.

Births. Marital squabbles. Your Amazon parcel being delivered 10 doors down. The car breaking down.

All normal things I accept are happening to all of us every day.

But please, I beg you, never brush off anybody’s concerns with a “That’s life.”

Because if I am feeling brave enough to share with you the worries and fear that keep me from sleeping, or feeling like a fully functioning human, then that fear, it is consuming me. I am losing a battle with darkness and I cannot feel the ground under my feet. I am lost and frightened. I am reaching out to you, for a hand to steady me.

It may be life. But in uttering a word of my concerns, I am acknowledging I cannot cope alone. “That’s life” dismisses the nerve I had to work up and worse, it leaves me alone still in that darkness.

Rain makes puddles in my kitchen. That’s life.

Except I’m now not safe in my own home. Which means now that nowhere feels safe and I live in constant fear of slipping or falling, because so long as it’s wet outside, it can’t be fixed.

CP has finally claimed my ability to work. I accept I am made too tired to carry on. That’s life.

Except without my salary, I don’t know if we’ll be able to fix the broken bathroom floor I worry about tripping on, or fixing our patched up electrics.

Worse, without my salary, I don’t know if we’ll be able to afford a much longed for second child.

That’s life right?

Except being a mother has given me the only peace this world, this body has allowed me. It is the only way I hav been able to make sense of myself or stand the pain I live with everyday.

If I cannot do it again, I will be heartbroken and though he’ll never say, so will the man I love more than anything.

It may be life, but it’s so unbearably hard. I would never presume to understand the life any one person lives. We will have experiences in common by virtue of human nature.

But it is so dangerous to presume that this life, anybody’s life is bearable everyday. It is not simply made so because “That’s life.”

Love Letter to my Little One vol. 2

I am big girl, you would say. To me, you will always be my baby. You, baby big girl are my reason for everything, especially right now. I can’t expect you to understand just now, but I think you understand more than I realise. This is a note for the big girl you are becoming, to explain.

Just now, Mummy is broken. The culmination of the emotional trauma of the PIP forms, knowing we are not done and really struggling with the physical stress and deteriation of cerebral palsy have burnt me out. I am exhausted in every way. I have had a nervous breakdown and I am fragile. But I will not be ashamed to call it by its name. Your mental health is so important Squidge, please learn from Mummy never to neglect it.

I have felt depressed and frightened and lost before. But never have I felt so helpless and defeated and stuck. Previously, I would have wished desperately to be someone else, to make these pains in my mind, body and soul go away.

But the reason I am telling you all this, darling girl, is that even at my most vulnerable now, I do not wish that.

Because no matter how unchangeable all my struggles may be, neither my mind or the painful inevitability of my condition deteriorating can affect the fact that I have you.

For all the struggles of this life, it made me your mum. It is my most treasured identity. I understand what is needed from me. I couldn’t want to succeed at anything more. Thank you for giving me that precious anchor in a world that would otherwise consume me.

Your dad and I will not allow it because I have you and the promise of your future to live for. I’m not sure you’ll ever understand what that gives me.

It is so important that you know I am not your responsibility. I am your mum because I made that wonderful choice. You are my motivation. But one day, you will be an even bigger girl and I want you to have the world. Grab it with both hands and shake it in all the ways I never felt able or brave enough to do. You are not to stay and worry. I have your dad for that.

Mummy’s differences are not ever to impact the life you want Squidgelet. I just wanted to tell you that on my darkest days, you got me through. To me, you were remarkable. You were just being you.

“Look Mummy, who’s that?”

Yesterday, I walked with Squidgelet to the end of our street and purchased a walker.

*exhale*

My teenage self is disgusted with me. Scoffs that I have given up.

My 2 year old daughter didn’t bat an eye.

That morning she walked halfway to the library for Rhymetime holding onto the pram. All I had to do was tell her where to hold.

“No let go of pram” she promised me faithfully. There was no question that she would. She understands she needs to listen.

I showed her where to hold the walker. It was exactly the same. I was so proud of her.

I text Kev to say it had been bought. He told me he was proud of me for making such a huge step for my independence even if my pride was hurt and my 14 year old self sulking indefinitely.

“I know it’s a good thing…” I typed, “…but I feel so defeated and defined by it and it breaks my heart.”

It felt unnatural to rely on it, even if I know it’s not for all the time. It felt, rightly or wrongly, like my capabilities came in second after this unsightly lump of metal.

I started to cry, as softly as I could. I couldn’t help it. I was grieving, letting my teenage self let out her disappointment. After all, I never knew this is where I’d be at 30 years old. I don’t know what I could have expected when the medical profession and support services stayed tellingly silent. But I never thought being 30 would look quite like this.

Squidgelet frowned when she saw me wipe my eyes. “Mummy ow?”

“No darling. Mummy not ow. Mummy sad. What would you like to watch? Wiggles?”

She pondered it for a moment. “No Wiggles. Photos.”

All our photos slideshow on our TV.

Looking at me, photo after photo, she asked “Look Mummy, who’s that?”

With her beautiful big heart, Squidgelet distracted me from my tears.

Mummy proud, Squidgelet. Mummy so proud of you.

I am too important

I fell over in the supermarket last week. It was not my fault. This I know – displays should not obstruct aisles to the point of injury.

And yet, as I sat on the floor recovering, flanked by 2 lovely strangers who stayed to check I could get up safely, familiar feelings crept in.

Embarrassment. Vulnerability. Shame.

The dull ache of whiplash and resultant stiff muscles ruled my weekend. I cried all weekend, so overwhelmed by misery.

I hate to feel useless. But I feel it more and more. My confidence, ever fragile, is destroyed by every fall. I am going out less and less. I can feel the independence I wrangled for creeping away from me, each of us withdrawing into ourselves. We’re separate again now, you see.

That’s not OK. I grieve every day. I was never allowed to recognise that process when I was younger. I was supposed to be grateful that I had legs that worked and that wasn’t worse. I have been haunted by “it could have been worse”.

I don’t try and deny that grief anymore. I think that by accepting it and letting myself say with the finesse of a child that it is unfair, I am saying it cannot overwhelm me.

Sometimes it still does, this weekend being a prime example. So overrun with emotions – shame and hatred among them – I was desperate to lash out at the body that fails me and punishes me in doing so. Rationally I knew it would achieve nothing, but I was so overrun with hatred for the body I can never turn away from or escape.

It gets so very lonely, being on the fringe of so many parts of society. I can be disabled… but I can walk; I can be a mum… but I walk funny. I’ve never been able to fit anyone’s view. And it has broken me. All I have ever wanted to do is fit.

But I will not. Denying my reality is causing me so much pain. I already have so much pain. I do not apologise when I say I cannot live like this anymore.

I cannot live with I can’t. All that makes me feel is that I can’t be society’s perception of what I ought to be. But I am learning that other people cannot validate what they haven’t come to understand.

I don’t want to waste away here, resenting the safe haven of my home. That is not enough for me. But I do need to feel safe. And so I have finally decided to invest in a walking aid. The thought even as I write that makes me shudder with the embarrassment teenage me felt so acutely when I rejected the option.

But it cannot serve my pride in this way any longer. If I stop living, Squidge misses out too and even if I have to accept a decline so young, I will never accept its effects on my darling girl.

So I’m going to safeguard my independence however I can and teach Squidge that all expressions of emotion are OK, are healthy if they are being processed.

I fully expect that one day she may not want to be seen with her mum and a walker and that’s OK. I have to deal with the disability whatever, so there will be nothing I can’t deal with in her honesty.

But for now, I choose to let this decision empower me. After all, if it helps me carry on, then that’s all that matters. A wonderful friend said to me today “It is not for all the time. Often, it is just a visual reference to inform others you need more time.” Disability is not the either/or scenario I have always imagined. We can work with it. I hope. It feels positive to feel even that.

I am making a choice. I am important. I will shout for what I need. I will teach my girl to shout too. We will muddle through. As Squidge would say (to)”getha”

Let’s stop telling such ridiculous lies

Scrolling through Facebook this evening, I caught sight of one of those “rules of this house” murals. There’s one in our hallway that we inherited when we bought our house. It has sweet rules like ‘lie in on Sundays’ and ‘say please and thank you ‘. Cute right?

But this one had a CP twist. Meant to bolster and encourage I think, but my God, my blood was boiling by the first line.

In this house, we do CP

Ugh. No. I have literally just finished writing an essay for uni about performance of identity. Namely gender identity because gender is assigned to us through societal expectations. But you know what, the same is not true of physical disabilities. Because those disabilities are tangible. I see, think and feel every facet of mine every day. Society cannot make me a disabled person and as much as it tries, it cannot shape me into the acceptable mould for a disabled person either (still proudly using my withering legs). Cerebral palsy is not something I ‘do’ – it is not something anyone does. It’s actual brain damage. Don’t cheapen it.

But that wasn’t even the bit that enraged me. People tell themselves what they need to after all.

But this really takes the cake.

The only disability is a bad attitude

Is it?! Well thank fuck for that. Send the word out. Actual brain damage can be cured simply by waking up smiling about your good fortune every morning! Why did nobody tell me?!

I recognise I am being incredibly sarcastic. I do not apologise for it in the face of such absolute idiocy!

I would be thoroughly ashamed of myself if I ever repeated any variation of those words to anyone. They are a disgrace. Coming from the mouths of people not living with the consequences of disability. I don’t dispute disabilities affect families as a whole but it is clearly not happening to the person that thought that was an acceptable mantra to slap on the internet.

How in the world can we expect society to accept and support those with disabilities when statements such as this trivialise what we have no choice but to handle every day? Is it not possible that bad attitudes are born of inescapable struggles? If you cannot see that, you have no business speaking for any disabled person. Because I would swap my every damaged brain cell for an eternally bad attitude any day of the week, just to have the option, just for a moment. But you didn’t have to think about that did you?

Because it’s not happening to you. God help the children with mantras such as those plastered in their homes by those that say they love them.

30 things I have learnt in 30 years of being me

Yesterday I turned 30 years old. I am officially a grown up. I have been always been afraid to age physically but this has harmed me emotionally too.

Last year, in a shopping mall cafe, I sat and wrote out a list of berations. I wrote myself out to be a hateful failure. For all my blessings, I was miserable, trapped in this body and more so, my head.

This year, entering a fresh new decade of living, I am proud to report that with the much needed help of the Mental Health Team I have very much separated that negative voice and now I recognise how and when it tries to sneak in and beat me back down. I have made a conscious choice not to let it win.

These are the 30 lessons I have been so lucky to learn in the last year:

  1. I am a dedicated mum

  2. I am determined

  3. I want the best for myself

  4. I am stubborn

  5. I cannot read minds

  6. The Little Monster cannot be defeated, only managed

  7. My body is not my own just yet but we can learn to muddle along together

  8. Every facet of my identity is my own. They do not need explaining to anyone but me.

  9. The truth can be a friend. I will not spare people’s feelings anymore

  10. I needn’t be embarrassed by my disability on account of people’s lack of understanding

  11. To ask for help is empowering and positive

  12. Decisions taken as a result of my limitations must always be in my best interest

  13. Self care is vital – and allowed

  14. It is OK not to be OK

15. It is vital to be able to say I’m not OK. I have a wonderful husband who wants to listen.

16. I do not need to hide this disability away because I am “lucky enough to walk”. It is mine to own.

17. Not everything is my responsibility. Disability is something society should be accepting of outright. I shall tell it as it is and it should be and no more. My energy is too precious to waste.

18. When I ache, it’s time to stop and be kind.

19. Sleep is precious. Fuck it, napping is empowering.

20. I have brilliant friends who fully support my tendency to drop in and out of their lives, energy dependent. I wish it was different but thank you for loving me regardless.

21. Pain does not have to be endured. Painkillers are acceptable and often necessary

22. I do not need to wage war with a body that struggles anymore. This is a body that has done amazing things for me and made me forever part of the best little person I know.

23. Comparison really is the thief of joy. People are living their own lives to the best of their capabilities.

24. It is no-one’s fault my capabilities have their limits. Least of all mine.

25. I hate to say it but my mum was right…. comfortable shoes and a bag worn on two shoulders is the way forward. Sorry I doubted you Mum!

26. I know this body best. There is very little point in being bamboozled by the medical terms and still not getting the help I need. No more struggling on, I will continue placing the right people and treatment around me.

27. There is pride and achievement to be found in the smallest things. Put my own hair up? Great. Put 3 loads of washing away? Awesome.

28. I will not feel ashamed for repeatedly hitting rock bottom. It is my right to cry and say this life is too hard. Because it is. But I will always fight on for my little family.

29. I will not lie. I will explain each struggle to my beautiful girl so that she understands why Mummy must cry sometimes. She will not be afraid of tears. She will know they are healing sometimes and that Mummy fights on.

30. I will always remember my place in my little family with a girl who loves me and a husband who supports and cares for me in ways I have never afforded myself so that I can enjoy our life together. I will not forget how lucky I am to belong to you both.

Here’s to a very successful 30s!