Tag Archives: Belonging

My First Speaking Event: Cerebral Palsy and Bullying

30 Oct

Last Thursday, I had my first speaking event. I spoke to an elementary school book club in Asheville who had read Out of My Mind, in which the main character in the novel has Cerebral Palsy, the same disability I have. I was asked to come and speak about being bullied in school because of my Cerebral Palsy.

Below is the talk I read to the students and their parents of the book club (disclaimer: I have changed the names of people in order to protect confidentially):

When I was 7 years old, I played on a coach’s pitch baseball team, and there is one game I’ll never forget. I was up to bat, and my coach, Mr. Mark, stood on the mound smiling at me. He pitched the ball, and even though I hit the ball, it didn’t go far. It landed close to Mr. Mark’s feet. There was a player from the other team standing behind Mr. Mark, but Mr. Mark grabbed the ball and kept it away from the other player. At first, as I was running to first base, I didn’t know what was going on. I just knew that the first baseman hadn’t caught the ball yet, so I kept running. As I was almost near third base, the biggest grin spread across my face as I realized what Mr. Mark had done: he was giving me my very first home run. I remember running as fast as I could from third base to home plate, and as soon as my feet touched home plate, everyone in the crowd jumped to their feet and cheered for me. In that moment, I got to be a normal kid, and I got to feel the happiness that comes with completing a home run. If only for one night, I wasn’t a girl with Cerebral Palsy. I was a baseball player, a team member, and probably one of the happiest people in my hometown, if only for a moment.

Just like the character of Melody in Out of My Mind, I have Cerebral Palsy. Though I am not in a wheelchair or unable to talk like Melody, my Cerebral Palsy affects the way I walk because my muscles are really tight and because I don’t have very good balance. Because of being physically different, I was always an outcast in school. I had trouble making friends, and it was hard not having someone who knew what I struggled with on a daily basis. When I walk, it is very evident that I am different, and because of my visible differences, I was an easy target for bullying in school.

I had my first bullying experience when I was in kindergarten. At that age, I had to use canes to help me walk. Because of having to use canes, I wasn’t able to walk very quickly, and there was a girl named Ashley who enjoyed picking on me because she knew I wouldn’t be able to run away. Every day on the playground during recess, Ashley came up behind me and pulled my hair. It wasn’t a friendly pull either. She grabbed a fistful of my hair and yanked as hard as she could, laughing as I screamed in pain. She pulled so hard that I couldn’t even try to get away from her. Every day, I came home crying, and every morning, I woke up dreading having to go to school and see Ashley on the playground. I felt like crying when I realized I was completely alone. No one was sticking up for me, and it made me really sad. One day, my teacher, Miss Sandy, came up to me and told me to hit Ashley with one of my canes to help her realize that what she was doing was hurting me. See, Ashley was mentally disabled, so she didn’t know any better, and hitting her was one of the only ways Miss Sandy knew to make her stop. I never did hit Ashley though. I couldn’t do it. Hitting her would make me just like her: someone who wanted to hurt someone else. I don’t think Miss Sandy really wanted me to hit Ashley though. She was just trying to teach me the importance of trying to stand up for myself. In many ways, it felt impossible. How was I supposed to stand up for myself when it felt like I didn’t have a friend who would stand up for me?

I’ve struggled with forming friendships my entire life. As a kid, I wanted friends more than anything. I think that is the reason I never told a teacher that kids were making fun of me. I became afraid that once I told a teacher, the people who picked on me would call me a “tattle-tale” and the other kids would distance themselves even more. Because I was so physically different from the other kids in my class, all I wanted was to feel like I fit in. In my early friendships, many of the people who became friends with me were my friends out of pity. Even though they didn’t specifically tell me that, I could tell it was true. I could tell by the way they looked at me that they felt sorry for me. When I was young, I kept those friendships anyway because all I wanted was a place where I felt like I belonged. Many of those friendships didn’t last long though because most of the people who had been spending time with me left when they got tired of pretending to be my friend.

It wasn’t until I became friends with a boy named Tommy in first grade that things began to change. Tommy was the first person to visibly stick up for me. He confronted the people who picked on me, telling them it wasn’t okay to pick on someone who couldn’t help that she was different. Tommy’s friends laughed at him for sticking up for me, but he didn’t care. He stuck up for me anyway and was there for me no matter what. Tommy also saw the numerous people who became friends with me because they felt sorry for me. He knew how much that hurt me. Even though Tommy wasn’t disabled, he saw how I cried day after day when another person I thought was my friend just got tired of trying. Tommy’s presence in my life didn’t stop other kids from picking on me, but I began to feel a little less alone. Even now, I don’t have many friends. However, the few friends I do have are incredibly close to me, and I am happy to say that one of those friends is still Tommy.

When I was in fifth grade, I took a required PE class. In my PE class, dodge ball was typically the game of choice. Every week in PE, I was chosen last for dodge ball. I even remember one particular day when one of my friends, Allie, was the team caption. This made me excited because I thought: Yes, finally! I won’t be picked last because Allie will choose me since we are friends. The team picking began, and I waited with excitement for Allie to say my name. I looked towards her with a smile on my face, and my smile faded as I realized she was picking everyone else but me. Finally, it came down to Miranda, a girl who had just broken her leg, and me. It was Allie’s turn to pick, and I started to inch towards her. And then you know what happened? She chose Miranda over me! Miranda, the girl no one liked because she was so mean, and the girl who couldn’t even move as well as me because she had broken her leg. I couldn’t believe it!

As I got older, I thought the bullying would stop, but it didn’t. The summer after my sophomore year in high school, I attended a creative arts camp. One day I was walking back from a creative writing class, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw a girl named Lauren imitating the way I was walking. I turned to her and said, “Hey, what are you doing?” “Imitating the way you’re walking,” Lauren said. When I asked her why, she explained that she was supposed to observe people as an assignment for her theatre class. Even though I told her she hurt my feelings, Lauren didn’t listen. As I walked away, I watched as she laughed and continued to imitate me. I ran back to my room and cried, so sad and frustrated that I was still getting picked on. Even at an older age, getting picked on hurt just as much, if not more. Lauren knew what she had been doing. She saw how I cried in front of her, and yet she still continued to imitate me and laugh at me. I couldn’t understand why she would be so mean on purpose. I ended up telling a staff member about what happened, and she contacted the teacher to find out that it was never a class assignment. The next day, though, something good happened. Lauren did the one thing I never thought she would ever do: she said she was sorry.

Being bullied, either physically or emotionally, is hurtful for anyone, but it’s especially hurtful if someone bullies you for something you have no control over, like a physical disability. My bullying experiences have affected me my entire life. I remember the details of every bullying experience I’ve ever had. I remember how alone and broken they made me feel, and how it seemed like the bullying would never stop. Typically, kids in school try to be different because they don’t want to blend in with the crowd. For them, it’s important to stand out. In my case, I have always been incredibly different, and all I have ever wanted was to be normal. My differences have never stopped me from trying to be as independent and normal as possible though.  I have Cerebral Palsy, and I am a survivor.

Speaking at this event was an incredible experience. I was nervous to speak about my bullying experiences since they were a part of my life I had never verbally discussed before. However, it was such a relief to finally talk about being bullied, and it gave me a sense of closure. It was also wonderful to hear from the kids in the book club and answer their questions. One girl in particular asked what my best grade in school was and what was my worst. It truly made me smile because I realized how wonderful it is to hear questions from kids. They make connections many of us as adults seem to have lost as we have gotten older, or maybe kids are just never nearly as shy to ask whatever seems to pop into their head. Either way, it was a great evening. I have even been asked to come back to that same elementary school to speak to the fifth graders, and my contact information has been passed on to two other elementary and middle schools in Asheville. I suppose it’s time to make myself some “business” cards!

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Stuck between ability and disability.

15 Jul

Though I have Cerebral Palsy, I’m very much of an inbetween. I’m not fully able-bodied, but I’m not severely disabled either. I know what it’s like to feel as if I am holding other people back due to the things I am unable to do. However, I also know the feeling of being held back myself by those who are more severely disabled than myself. It’s not as if I am unable to do everything. It’s just that I may have to adapt the way I do certain things in order to participate in them like everyone else. Because my abilities fall in between the abilities of able-bodied people and the abilities of people with more severe forms of Cerebral Palsy, I’ve never felt completely comfortable in either group.

When I was a freshman at Wofford College, before I made the decision to transfer to UNC Asheville, there was an older disabled man who worked on the staff who had Cerebral Palsy. Though I never asked him if he had CP, I assumed he did because the way he walked was so similar to how I walk. I noticed him on campus. My eyes would catch his gait, and I’d look away, feeling as if I was seeing a reflection of myself. Again and again, I caught myself doing the same thing I hated in others: visibly looking uncomfortable.

One night while having dinner with friends in the cafeteria, the disabled man came over to our table. He looked at me, introduced himself, and commented that he had wanted to speak with me for a while. Though I acknowledged him and said hello, I became incredibly uncomfortable and quickly turned back to the conversation my friends were having. Eventually, the man walked away. Though the situation shouldn’t have freaked me out, it did. I hated that he approached me because of my Cerebral Palsy. I had wanted to fit in with my friends, and his presence made me feel as if I stuck out.

My perceptions have changed a lot since the experience that night at Wofford. Since then, I have started a blog, written about what it’s like to live with Cerebral Palsy, and have become much more open about discussing my experiences related to my physical disability. Though I don’t think fondly on my reaction towards the disabled man at Wofford, at the time, I couldn’t have even fathomed beginning my journey of self-acceptance. I was so far from even starting to feel comfortable in my own skin. Back then, I felt as uncomfortable with myself as I felt every time I saw the disabled man on campus.

Being stuck between fitting in with able-bodied people and those who have more severe forms of CP is continually frustrating. I do not necessarily have what is termed as “mild CP” because my CP noticeably affects my walking and my muscle tone. However, I am able to walk independently without assistance, which is not always the case for those with more severe forms of CP. I have recently joined a Facebook group for people who have CP because it’s becoming more and more difficult to describe the concept of chronic back pain and other frustrations to those who can’t even begin to understand what it’s like living with a physical disability. Therefore, I thought I’d benefit from a “support group.” However, within the group, I am reminded again of how much I don’t fit when I see the posts about power chairs, the frustrations of not being able to drive or not being able to live independently (since I am able to walk, drive, and I’ve lived on my own since I was 16).

On the good days, I’m comfortable with my able-bodied friends. On the bad days, when my back pain is worse than normal and all I want to do is cry, I wish I knew someone who was also stuck between ability and disability who understood my frustrations because at least we could be stuck together. However, this “stuck phase,” aggravating as it may be, is where I am, and there’s not much that can be done to fix that. I can’t make myself more able-bodied (no matter how much I wish that were the case), and I’d never choose to be more disabled than I already am. I’m just me, and even though it’s really hard, I’m trying to learn to be okay with that.

The top 5 Jodi Picoult quotes to help you change your life.

17 Nov

I absolutely love Jodi Picoult. She’s one of my favorite authors, which is most likely because I love how all her books make me think. I’ve always loved the way Jodi Picoult writes, and she is one of those writers that somehow knows the words that I feel without me having to utter a single word. I’ve never understood it, but it’s a concept that I’ve come across with other writers as well (John Green, Lucy Grealy). Though Jodi Picoult’s words haven’t necessarily changed me, they have helped me realize the aspects of my life that I hope to change.

1. “Maybe who we are isn’t so much about what we do, but rather what we’re capable of when we least expect it.” – from My Sister’s Keeper

This quote, though it’s simple, gives me hope. It is a reminder that yes, we will all make mistakes, but those mistakes shouldn’t be what others constantly focus on. Instead, we should remember the moments that we were strong, courageous, and brave. For instance, people have always told me how strong I am for what I have been through. However, I never know how to respond. I was strong because I had to be. There was no other choice. This quote helps me to see that strength that is within me, even though there are countless times in which I’d prefer to not always have to be the strong one and simply let someone take care of me.

2.“Sometimes to get what you want the most, you have to do what you want the least.” – from My Sister’s Keeper 

For me, this quote relates to the concept of writing my memoir vs what I what to achieve through writing my memoir. I want acceptance in myself, but more than that, I want other kids with disabilities and other kids who also go through horrendous surgeries to know they are not alone. However, to get to the point where I can help other kids like me, I have to do the hardest thing I’ve ever attempted: I have to relive the memories of my childhood so that I can write them down. Though it’s a painful process and sometimes I’m not entirely sure why I keep on writing, I think of the kids that are lying in hospital beds feeling scared and more alone than a widow on Christmas. It’s because of those kids that I keep on trudging through, because once upon a time, I was one of them, and I spent so much time wanting for someone who could understand. And that person never came. So I want to be that person for other kids. I have to be, because feeling like no one understands when you’re going through the most intense physical pain of your life…that’s the worst feeling there is.

3. “You can’t look back – you just have to put the past behind you, and find something better in your future.” – from Salem Falls

This quote has definitely been the kick in the pants when I’ve needed it. I’m naturally one of those people who focuses on the words “what if.” However, reading this quote always helps me to reminder that I just need to look ahead rather than always focusing on what might have been, because keeping my eyes glued to the rear view mirror isn’t going to do me much good. Instead, I need to look ahead and realize that the people who are in my past are there because the things that I’ll find in my future will be so much better.

4. “You might have to lose control before you could find out what you’d been missing.” – from Nineteen Minutes

This quote is similar to saying “Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to realize what you had.” It’s all about perspective. Sometimes, all we need is a shift in perspective, a chance to look at a situation in a different way in order to focus on what’s really important. I definitely know there have been times where I have lost sight of what’s truly important because I’ve allowed myself to get too bogged down by the petty things that won’t mean much in the long run. By changing my perspective and realizing that focusing on the important things are what really matters, I learn more from the situation, and I’m able to be happier.

5. “Just because fate had thrown another obstacle in my way didn’t mean I had to give up my dreams.” – from Harvesting the Heart

Dreams are a special thing. They give us a purpose, a direction to move towards. I am one of the fortunate people who knows the feeling of being able to live my dream: writing about my own life in order to help other kids who have been through something similar. However, I know that for many people, dreams reside in the distance. They are present, but they are regarded as things that don’t always deserve the right amount of attention because there’s not enough time or money or space. Living a dream isn’t supposed to be easy. You’ve got to work for it, every day. But the feeling you get when you realize you’re living it…when it’s staring you in the face and giving you more joy and purpose than you ever thought possible…that’s a feeling that borders on miraculous.

Why we need more memoirists.

10 Nov

In the right hands, a memoir is the flecks of gold panned out of a great, muddy river. A memoir is those flecks melted down into a shapable liquid that can be molded and hammered into a single bright band to be worn on a finger, something you could point to and say, “This? Oh, this is my life.” Everyone has a muddy river, but very few have the vision, patience, and talent to turn it into something so beautiful. That is why the writer matters, so that we can not only learn from her experience but find a way to shape our own. -Ann Patchett, afterword of Autobiography of a Face

Though I do love everything about this quote from the afterword of Lucy Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face, the last line of the quote is what really speaks to me. Since I am in the process of writing my own memoir, over the past few months I’ve vowed to read more memoirs to gain a greater understanding of the genre I’m trying to be a part of. Spending more time reading memoirs rather than fiction, I’ve begun to realize what’s so appealing about them. Memoirs tell the stories of people…they dive deep into the love, pain, fear, excitement, love, and joy that has filled each and every one of those stories. People love reading about people. That’s a fact. However, more than that, I think memoirs allow readers to find pieces of themselves in the memoirist, even though the understanding behind those pieces may feel unclear. Either way, those pieces, however different, provide connection…a sense of belonging that was otherwise lacking.

It may seem obvious that the desire for more memoirists in our society is strong. However, though that may be true, the fact of the matter is that writing about one’s own life isn’t easy. It’s hard. Really, really hard. It’s the process of stripping away every mask that you’ve hidden behind for much of your life. It’s what happens when you force your true self out into the harsh light of day, continually resisting the urge to look away in shame. In my opinion, writing a memoir shows vulnerability. It shows courage, strength, and every emotion that we experience throughout our lives. Through vulnerability, it shows authenticity in its rarest form, and that in itself is truly miraculous.

Through reading Lucy Grealy’s memoir, Autobiography of a Face, I’ve started to understand just what memoirists can offer. Other than providing us with the obvious pieces that connect to form a complete, living, breathing life, memoirists give us the opportunity to embrace our own vulnerabilities rather than shrinking behind them. They allow us to come face to face with the contentment that results from being able to face your past, scars and all, head on. They give us the chance to find our true selves, no matter how frightening or foreign that part of us may be. They present us with the opportunity to love ourselves, which in turn allows others to love us just as much, if not more.

“Mommy, why does she walk so funny?”

9 Nov

I don’t remember the day when I became uncomfortable with myself. I just know that I went from being a kid that wanted to experience every part of life with no regard for the opinions of others to a girl who viewed herself based on the ways others thought of her and treated her. Though I may not remember the specific day when my attitude about myself began to change, I know that it started with the staring.

Being physically different from your peers is especially hard for an obvious reason: since you’re not like your peers, you’re “different,” and being different isn’t “the norm.” Even though I find it sad that the concept of being “different” is primarily a culturally constructed concept that is perpetuated by societal attitudes, it’s not surprising. Due to “differences” being culturally constructed concepts, it makes sense that the act of staring is at the center. The center of making those who are different actually feel different, even if they may not think they are that much different from those around them (at least in the beginning). Having others openly stare at them automatically separates them from the crowd that they are trying so hard to fit into.

In the early days of noticing how others would stare at me, it felt like a punch to the gut, causing me to feel like the easy target, unable to move or even breathe. The moments that hurt the most were those in which my differences were noticed through staring as well as through vocalization. I remember one specific day that I was in the grocery store with my mom. As we came to the isle of milk and eggs, there was a little girl who walked past us with her mother. I watched the little girl as she moved past us, knowing that any second she’d turn around and her eyes would lock with mine, her mouth hanging open in shock and surprise. The girl saw me as she was walking towards me, and the staring began. The stare started at my feet, and the girl noticed the way that my feet pointed slightly inward as I walked. The girl then looked at my legs, focusing on the way that my knees knocked together as I walked. Eventually, the stare landed on my face, and the curiousity that I saw in her eyes was mirrored in my own. By the time the stare reached my face, the little girl couldn’t look away, not even for a second. Even as she and her mother walked past me, she would turn around and look back at me, still holding her mother’s hand but so engrossed in me that she wasn’t paying attention to where she was walking. Then, ever so slowly while trying to keep her eyes on me, she’d turn to her mother and ask, “Mommy, why does she walk so funny?” The words stung, and I walked away before I could hear the mother’s response. I followed my mom through the grocery store, thinking back over and over to the little girl’s question, wondering what the answer was. That simple question as well as the sadness and uncomfortable feelings that were associated with the staring has come back to me on a daily basis throughout my life, and even now, it’s no less painful than that early memory in the grocery store.

In the early days of the staring, if my mom caught someone staring, she’d look at them, smile and say “Hi, how  are you?” Even though I knew that my mom was implementing the “Kill them with kindness” approach, I could never make myself do it. For reasons I can’t quite explain, the stares were such a shock that I couldn’t even speak. Over and over, the stares of little girls and boys, and even adults, seared into me, searching for answers. Since I was as far from the answers as they were themselves, I looked away, not wanting anyone to see the pain that was reflected in my eyes. It wasn’t until I was home in the comfort of my bed with a stuffed animal in my arms that I allowed myself to cry. I allowed the tears to fall over and over, hating the kids who stared at me so much and hating myself for letting their stares have such an effect on me. After I couldn’t cry anymore for the night, I’d look up at my ceiling fan, watching the shadows of the blades reflected on the ceiling, wondering if there would ever be a day when I’d feel normal.

Even today, at the age of 20, the stares still affect me. Though I no longer cry at night because of them, they make me angry. Angry at the people who can’t accept that there are people in the world who look different from them, angry that the parents of kids who are gaping at me don’t explain to their children that it’s not polite to stare, angry at the adults who are in their 40s and still gape at me from across the grocery store, not even trying to hide their surprise at the way I walk. Angry at myself for still being so far from the answers as I was as a child, silently hoping that one day it will all make sense.

Mirrored in Truth & Beauty.

5 Nov

Last night, I started reading Truth & Beauty by Anne Patchett, which is a memoir of Anne Patchett’s friendship with troubled author and poet, Lucy Grealy. Here is a synopsis according to GoodReads:

Ann Patchett and the late Lucy Grealy met in college in 1981, and, after enrolling in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, began a friendship that would be as defining to both of their lives as their work. In Grealy’s critically acclaimed memoir, “Autobiography of a Face,” she wrote about losing part of her jaw to childhood cancer, years of chemotherapy and radiation, and endless reconstructive surgeries. In “Truth & Beauty,” the story isn’t Lucy’s life or Ann’s life, but the parts of their lives they shared. This is a portrait of unwavering commitment that spans twenty years, from the long winters of the Midwest, to surgical wards, to book parties in New York. Through love, fame, drugs, and despair, this is what it means to be part of two lives that are intertwined . . . and what happens when one is left behind.

This is a tender, brutal book about loving the person we cannot save. It is about loyalty, and being lifted up by the sheer effervescence of someone who knew how to live life to the fullest.

Since starting this book, I have seen myself in Lucy Grealy. Though I have not faced what she went through, the loneliness, fear, and desire to belong are all feelings that I have known all too well. Lucy’s words throughout the novel (seen especially in the letters she writes to Ann), are heartbreaking and brutally honest, but in more than one point in the book, I have felt like the words have been taken from my own soul. Even though this is definitely not the first time that I have seen myself mirrored in the emotions of someone else, I feel like this is one of the few times that it’s been so spot on. Throughout the book, Lucy exhibits numerous times when she is down on herself due to her situation. However, that being said, she is a poet, and writing is the way that she comes back to herself. Writing and her friendship with Ann are what allow her to come back to her reality with gusto. Though I am only about halfway through the book at this point, I have found myself, on more than one occasion, clutching the book almost like a life-line, holding it close to my heart and whispering words from the novel that seem to apply to my own life.

“Writing is a job, a talent, but it’s also the place to go in your head. It is the imaginary friend you drink your tea with in the afternoon.”

When I came across the above quote, I smiled. I smiled with the realization that during certain times in my life, I too have viewed writing as a friend, as the friend who is always there, day or night, waiting to welcome you home with open arms and a carton of ice cream. Yes, the ice cream addition was my own tid bit, but it’s what writing has been for me for so long: the one thing that I can come back to, again and again, like a long-lost friend that you never seem to lose touch with no matter how much time has passed. A friend with whom you can pick up right where you left off, as if you saw them just yesterday and not years ago. Thankfully, I have had the pleasure of having more than one friend like that in my life, and it is one of the best feelings I have come to find in this life. Sure, there are other things that come close to that kind of magic, but they aren’t moments that are also full of deep conversations that last into the early hours of the morning or moments of laughing until your stomach hurts.

“That is one thing I’ve learned, that it is possible to really understand things at certain points, and not be able to retain them, to be in utter confusion just a short while later. I used to think that once you really knew a thing, its truth would shine on forever. Now it’s pretty obvious to me that more often than not the batteries fade, and sometimes what you knew even goes out with a bang when you try to call on it, just like a lightbulb cracking off when you throw the switch.”

Truth & Beauty is full of more honesty than I can only hope to achieve one day with my own memoir. It’s not even just honesty that causes you to pause and think, That’s got to be truth. Those feelings are so raw that the only place they could have come is from the deepest and most authentic part of the soul. It’s more than that, if at all possible. It’s sitting on the kitchen floor with a cup of coffee in one hand and the book in the other, staring down at the page and thinking, I can only hope that one day I am as in touch with the deep and dark parts of myself like this author is able to portray. Though I have become incredibly introspective since beginning my memoir in January, I have not reached this level of raw authenticity. To do so, I believe it takes many more months, if not years, of sitting in the dark corners of your memories patiently awaiting the day when they decide to come out into the harsh light of day. You’ve got to sit in the dark and get to know them on a level that’s more true than you’ve ever known. You must sit with them, day and night, until you know their features and ways in which they move through the world. Until your breathing matches their own with such accuracy that you can no longer tell the difference between your breaths and theirs.

“Our friendship was like our writing in some ways. It was the only thing that was interesting about our otherwise dull lives. We were better off when we were together. Together we were a small society of ambition and high ideals. We were tender and patient and kind. We were not like the world at all.”

Though I am lucky to have an incredible best friend, when I read the above passage, the first thing that popped into my head was the level of comfort that can only be achieved through a childhood friend. I thought of a friend that I have known since kindergarten, and the nights that we would lie in my bed and stare up at the ceiling, talking about our futures like they were millions of miles away. The nights that we would hold hands when we got scared in the middle of the night, only to end up burying our faces in pillows a moment later when we were overcome with laughter. We looked at each other then, smiling and breathing heavily once the laughter subsided, not even knowing what we found so funny, and yet realizing that nothing could top the happiness that had been wrapped up in that moment. It enveloped us, that pure bliss, wrapping us up like a quilt that was stitched with every happy memory of our relatively short lives. We knew, no matter what, that we had each other.

Happy (almost) first birthday, lifeintheblueridges!

31 Oct

Even though today isn’t the “official” one-year birthday of lifeintheblueridges, I will be starting NaNoWriMo tomorrow. Therefore, my post tomorrow will be my writing piece for day one of NaNoWriMo rather than a “Yay lifeintheblueridges is one year old today” post. However, I knew that I couldn’t go full tilt into my first NaNoWriMo experience without celebrating the one-year birthday of this blog.

As well as November 1st being the one-year birthday this blog (in which I have written one blog post every day for an entire year), it is also the celebration of the beginning of my journey to find myself. Yes, that may sound cliché, but it’s true. Since I started my blog, I have become a completely different person. When I first began, I had no idea that my words would act as a gateway into what I strive to do in life: advocate for people with disabilities. I first began acting as an advocate in January of this year when I made the decision to share my own story of living with Cerebral Palsy. Though it was a very spur of the moment decision that was made one evening as I sat in bed thinking back on my life in and out of hospitals and how hard it was not having someone who understood my pain and fear, I knew that it was a decision that would stick. I could feel it.

I am proud to say that 10 months later, the decision has remained strong. More than anything, it has grown. Though I know that part of the growth has to do with the inner strength that I have rediscovered within myself, I also know that it has a lot to do with the support and encouragement that I have received from the blogging community. Before beginning my blog a year ago, I never knew that the blogging community was as close to a home with a strong sense of belonging that I’d ever hope to find. Even though I am sure that there will be other places along the way that will allow me to feel a similar sense of belonging, I know it started here. I have no doubt that as I continue to share my story, I will continue to become more confident in myself. However, I also will be sure to not forget those who helped me first begin to recognize my true self: my parents, my friends, my mentors, and all of you lovely blog followers.

It’s always so crazy to think of how much can happen in a year. When I began this blog one year ago, I didn’t know that this is where it would lead. I didn’t know that I would reach a point where it didn’t scare the hell out of me to talk about my life with Cerebral Palsy. I didn’t know I’d be able to talk about certain memories without crying because I could remember the pain so vividly. Honestly, I didn’t think I’d be able to revisit any of the painful memories at all. For so long, they were stored away. I kept them in the dark recesses of my mind, and I never even considered the possibility of bringing them out into the light. The simple thought of reliving the moments in my life that were filled with so much pain and fear was unimaginable. However, I think all of that began to change when I realized that I had the power to help other kids with disabilities feel less alone by sharing my own story. Truthfully, all of it changed because of Grace.

Grace. The twelve-year-old girl who I know who has Cerebral Palsy. The girl who is facing what I’ve faced, and yet always seems to have the biggest smile on her face. The girl who looks up to me as if I have hung the moon and the stars. And yet, she’s also the girl who has the ability to break my heart since, at the time, I knew I’d never be able to save her from the pain. There was nothing I could do that would result in Grace not having to feel the emotional and physical pain that I have had to face my entire life. However, eventually, I thought of a way I could help Grace. Though it may not be in the way that I wished, I know that I can help Grace (and many others like her) by sharing my own story and bringing to light the pain, fear, loneliness and rejection that I have faced throughout my life. Grace. The girl who I feel like I can completely relate to since we know each other’s pain. The girl who often sends me spiraling back into painful memories that have been long gone and over for many years by simply being present in my life. And yet, I long to help her see that she is not alone, that she is strong, and that she is loved. I long to help her see that she is one of the reasons why I’m writing my memoir. Maybe even the sole reason.