05.03.12 Truth & Wisdom
“Spazzy, spastic, hop-along, teacher’s pet… come here, we want to talk to you!”
They always caught up with me and I would inevitably end up, head first, in one of the wire rubbish bins in the playground. My two legs would stick out the top, the plastic leg brace taped to my left leg waving about for all to see. When I was 7 going on 8, most days at school went on like this [unless a teacher or friend stepped in at the right moment] and while being scared at the time, I also remember being mad…really mad! [I have always had a bit of a temper!] Until one day, before they could lift me into one of the bins, I lost it completely and shoved the ring leader so hard that she fell back, hit her head on the ground and started crying. Then I felt guilty. Bullies are just cowards and I wasn’t the only one being bullied, that was for sure!
I always knew I didn’t deserve to be treated badly because of my cerebral palsy… I just was.
From a very young age my parents had instilled in me that I was no different from anyone else. Yes, there were certain things I could not do like ride a bike, go roller skating or kick a ball, but it wasn’t a big loss and they always made sure that I had a go at everything. When the doctors wanted to put me in a ‘special’ school, my parents refused, and looking back, I am so grateful they did. Body confidence [which mustn’t be confused with being conceited or arrogant] comes from believing that you are okay…just the way you are. Not better than anyone else, just ‘as good as’ everyone else, regardless of your personal circumstances. My mother was always very comfortable in her own skin and never felt the need to ‘dress up’ for other people. She would only do it for herself. To this day I still believe she honestly didn’t care what other people thought [one of the many qualities my father loved in her] and was always just herself. When you have a role model like that, no matter how young you are, it definitely has an impact.
Most of the time I don’t feel different from everyone else.
Don’t get me wrong, I still went through the same teenage angst as everyone else and boys definitely didn’t want to go out with me because I was ‘different’. And sure there were days when I really hated my cerebral palsy, and my body. I used to look at my left arm and leg and think ‘WHY won’t you work properly…WHY?‘ But there was always something, or someone to pull me out of my ‘blue funks’ as my father called them. I was always allowed to vent my frustration/upset but then I was picked back up again, told I was loved no matter what and told to get on with it and because I was stronger than most…and I did. As I hit my twenties I found I didn’t have the same insecurities as many of my female friends. Things that bothered them didn’t even register with me. I didn’t seek approval in the same way they did. I remember saying to one friend, “When there are things about your body you cannot change, no matter what, the rest of it becomes slightly insignificant.” You can either learn to live with it and accept it, or you can spend your life being utterly miserable. Most of us choose the former, of course. I also don’t for one minute want to underestimate, or belittle the problems and insecurities that my friends went through, we all have our own journey.
The occasional bigot actually helps me like myself more.
Now I’m in my late 30s and slowing down a bit, inevitably. My left hip and leg hurt more often, my arm seems to be tighter. This is no doubt the dreaded ‘middle-age’ slowly creeping up on me. I do need to lose a few pounds [well okay….more than a few!] but I’ve lived with cerebral palsy for 38 years. To me this life is normal. A well-meaning friend of my father’s once suggested that if I meditated in a certain way I could ‘cure’ myself. I looked him straight in the eye and said, “But there is nothing WRONG with me, I don’t need fixing, I’m not imperfect, this is just the way I am and I’m fine with it. If I could walk ‘normally’ tomorrow I would probably fall flat on my face. That to me would be a problem!” When what I am seems to make other people feel uncomfortable I like putting them at ease and opening their minds a bit. I have to say I have the most wonderful family and friends. They have accepted me EXACTLY as I am and that to me makes them pretty incredible.
There are plenty of people out there who don’t accept people who are ‘different’…at all. People like them actually help me to like myself more. Sure, I still have down days, it’s only natural, but on average my state of mind about myself is positive. I live a good life. I have a degree [something some people still find amazing because they assume that if you have CP your intellect is impaired as well). I hold down a full time job and live in a lovely flat, on my own, in London. I have a great social life and have had quite a few boyfriends over the years. To be honest, the odd time someone says something bigoted towards me, I still feel affronted, [that old temper again!] but I don’t CARE what they think. I guess I really am my mother’s daughter after all.
Lisa Jenkins is a freelance music and travel journalist living in London. You can read more from her at her website, lisaannejenkins.com
Featured image by Michel Bakkanes on Flickr