Finding Gratitude Despite Having Cerebral Palsy

Uncategorized Oct 14, 2021

 

My life is filled with amazing people and amazing experiences. I have traveled, nurtured deep friendships, relaxed at countless dinners, found a wonderful woman and fathered two beautiful sons. Along the way, I also met dozens of entrepreneurs, authors, athletes and other amazing people. I am also a highly experienced speaker and writer.

Bottom line is, I have a truly blessed life.

On the other hand, I was born with cerebral palsy. My disability means I need always need help eating, getting ready in the morning, typing, showering and performing other basic tasks. The disability also affected me psychologically.

For instance, I often daydream about what my life might be like without cerebral palsy; even after all these years, I still cannot shake the feeling of embarrassment when asking for help; and watching others effortlessly perform basic tasks reminds me of how much more energy and time I must spend on those same tasks. I often feel robbed of a deeper human essence.

Before I met my wife and we started a family together, I would tie myself in mental knots wondering if love was possible for me, or if it was even fair for me to have kids. These kinds of gut-wrenching thoughts bounced around in my head for years and sometimes still haunt me.

Today, when I speak in front of crowds, my interpreter will ask me point blank: “what’s it like having cerebral palsy?” I look at him and say, “it sucks, but it’s also the best thing in the world; you should try it out.”  It’s a funny line and the quip helps break the ice for the audience. But it holds a great truth as well: I really am deeply grateful because things could be so much worse.

My disability is a result of a doctor’s negligence. A lack of oxygen when I was an infant damaged the bottom of my brain which controls signals to my body. Fortunately, the damage did not affect my cognitive ability and I’ve never had seizures. I also have pretty good mental health, all things considered.  Due to my disability, I have very little pain and so far, I have not had any surgeries as a result of my cerebral palsy.  That alone is a blessing.

One of the drawbacks of this brain damage means I can do almost nothing with my right hand. Most of the time, I place it out of sight behind my back, otherwise it flies around. I rely instead on my left hand to slowly peck out lines on a keyboard, drive my chair around the neighborhood, use the restroom or take rides when on vacation. I’m grateful for the strength in my left hand. What if both hands were uncontrollable? So many activities would be impossible.

And although I speak with a speech impediment, it’s not too bad. After a few minutes, people can decipher what I’m saying and we can hold a conversation. But what if it took years for a person to understand me? What if I was mute? I’m grateful the impediment isn’t that bad.

Growing up, my parents encouraged me to adopt an attitude that this disability was no big deal. They did everything they could to treat all the extra steps as just that – extra steps. I never once heard them discuss these extra steps as inconveniences.  We even traveled to Disneyland. And as I grew up, I was lucky to find a group of friends who treated me as one of the guys. They didn’t have to do this and only as an adult can I appreciate the maturity of my friends.

A lot of things had to change in society for all this to be true. As the Netflix documentary Crip Camp shows, the generation before mine fought for the rights I enjoy today. Because of them, I had the luxury of being the first person in my school district in a wheelchair and the government supplied me with more than enough resources to thrive.

Some days I feel the sheer weight of my disability and it’s never easy to watch others perform basic activities. But being grateful is not about dismissing my challenges. It helps me put my life into perspective.

Knowing the glass is neither half-full nor half-empty is a great path to balance the negative with the positive. Now I can focus on watching my two sons grow up, play sports or beg me to buy them Pokémon cards. Perhaps the best part of being a father is that they see me as the guy with the Amazon password. I really do have a lot to be grateful for.

 

 

 

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