Tag Archives: Physical Pain

Finding Determination Through Fear.

19 Oct

A few days ago I was talking with a friend of mine, and he asked me to explain my absolute worst fear in life. Though some classic answers popped into my head, like ending up alone and losing the people I love, I knew my absolute worst fear. I tried to say it, but couldn’t. I felt like I was about to cry. However, after a period of silence stretched over us like a blanket, I finally spoke.

“I’m afraid of the day when I’ll no longer be able to walk.”

I spent my entire childhood learning to walk so I could be as independent as possible, despite my Cerebral Palsy. Before my intense operations, I learned to walk in my own way, my knees knocking together as I put one foot in front of the other. During the years I spent on a t-ball team, I loved the feeling of running to first base. Even though I typically got out before making it to first base, I ran with all my heart just like everyone else on my team. I ran in my own way, but it never stopped me from trying.

After my first operation at the age of 10, I had to completely relearn to walk after having my femurs straightened out and kept in place with rods. One year later, when I got the hardware removed that was placed during my first operation, I had to relearn to walk yet again. See, not walking was never even an option for me. I wanted to be like the other kids my age, and to do that, I had to be able to walk. I had to be as normal as I possibly could. Even when I was faced with physical pain that made me want to curl into myself and give up all together, I kept going. Every day, I literally walked towards my own independence, one step at a time.

Because I spent so much of my life struggling, and ultimately succeeding, to walk, the thought of reaching the day when I’ll no longer be able to walk is completely terrifying. In so many ways, when I reach that day, it will feel like a kind of giving up. Though I plan to walk for as many more years as I can, I am scared of the day when the pain will just be too much, when walking will be putting too much strain on my body. It’s especially frightening because I know how much physical pain I’m in on a daily basis currently. The realization that I am in so much physical pain and I’m only 21 is terrifying. Trying to imagine my level of pain when I reach age 30 is nearly impossible.

That is one great thing about fear though. It has the ability to help us find the determination and strength we didn’t know we had. Yes, my worst fear is seeing the day when I will no longer be able to walk. However, I’m not there yet. I am a long way off from that day. Today, I am able to walk and do the things I love, despite being in pain. Today, I am able to push through the pain, because the result…the view at the top of the mountain…is worth it. The happiness, joy, and pure bliss of the destination weighs so much more than the pain of the journey.

The fear lingers in the back of my mind, the fear of knowing one day I won’t be able to get to the top of Max Patch, my absolute favorite place in the world. However, the fear also gives me the strength and determination I need to continue doing what I love. Yes, one day I may not be able to walk because of the amount of pain I am in. But I’m not there yet. I’ve still got plenty of fight within me.

At the top of Max Patch (October 2013)

At the top of Max Patch (October 2013)

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Try like hell.

27 Sep

Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if I hadn’t been born with Cerebral Palsy. I wonder if I would have decided to be a dancer or maybe an athlete rather than an aspiring psychotherapist and a writer. I wonder if I would have spent my childhood climbing up into trees to read books rather than becoming all too familiar with hospitals, surgeries, and physical therapy. I wonder if I would have had a big group of friends throughout middle school and part of high school rather than coming home every day crying because I had no friends due to my differences. I wonder if I would have spent my time hiking beautiful mountains rather than having to wonder if I’d have the stamina to make it up the next hill.

Earlier this week, my dad said, “Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like if you hadn’t been born with Cerebral Palsy. You could have had a wonderful life. You wouldn’t have had to struggle so much.” Though in the moment I wanted to interject and say I have had a wonderful life, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t say the words. As soon as I wanted to say something, the memories all came back. I saw myself sitting in a hospital bed screaming out in pain because of the spasms that wouldn’t stop. I saw myself in kindergarten getting my hair pulled every day because I was the one child on the playground who was unable to run away. I saw myself shaking as my classmates pelted me with doge balls during middle school gym class because I couldn’t move away quickly enough. I saw myself crying as a girl I didn’t know imitated the way I was walking and then said she did it because it was a “class assignment.” I see myself at 21, struggling with depression and still not being able to truly accept and be comfortable with having a physical disability.

You would think after 21 years I would be used to the cards I’ve been dealt in this life. The truth is, I’m not. Every day of my life is a challenge. On top of having to convince myself to go to class when my back and my muscles hurt, I have to try to convince myself to get out of bed and face the day even though I’d rather sleep to escape the overwhelming sadness and hopelessness that hovers over me like a dark cloud.

I’m trying to learn to hold on to the good moments, though they are few and far between. The color of the changing leaves during autumn, the few (but true) friends who have been by my side through all of this darkness, a dad who has never given up on me, a smile from a child fighting cancer after completing an art project I taught her. In the darkness of depression, it is very hard to remember those good moments, especially when the bad days outnumber the good. However, I’m trying. It’s all any of us can really do. We try like hell, and hope against all odds that we can kick this life just as hard, if not harder, as it kicks us every single day.

A conversation with my younger self: Part 2.

1 Jul

Eight months ago, I wrote a blog post titled “A conversation with my younger self.” In this blog post, I talked with my 7-year-old self and tried to tell her the things I imagined she needed to hear at the time. Things like, “You are not alone,” “The pain won’t last forever,” and “I love you.” More recently, I’ve come to the understanding that I need to become closer with my younger self. I need to sit down and talk with her again to find out what she needs. By doing this, I might be able to figure out what it is I need right now. That younger self is a part of me (though she may currently feel very far away), and I think she might need me as much as I need her right now.

I’m standing in front of a hospital room door in a place that is all too familiar: Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Greenville, SC. I spent enough time here as a kid, and the familiar sights and sounds are a tad too close for comfort. However, the distant hum of the air hockey table in the lobby brings a small smile to my face as I remember how, on the good days, I played as many games of air hockey as I could before becoming too tired.

Nurses walk past me bringing various things to other children on this hall. I look at the door I am in front of, knowing I am meant to go inside. I place my ear against the door to try to hear any kind of conversation, but all I hear is crying. I take a deep breath to try to calm my nerves. My younger self is inside that room, and she needs me. Before I can talk myself out of it, I turn the knob and walk in.

Upon entering the room, it appears that all the lights are off. It’s not until I make my way to the far left corner of the room that I see a fiber-optic Christmas tree radiating different splashes of color onto the wall behind it. My younger self is curled up onto her side and watching the colors change. She holds her stuffed hippo tightly against her chest, her arms constricting and relaxing around him as she cries.

“Hey Amelia,” I whisper as I stand at the end of her hospital bed, hoping I don’t startle her.

She looks up, blinking a few times before making the connection, and then turns back towards the red and green lights.

“You told me before that it would be okay,” she says.

I look down at my feet, remembering the first conversation we had in the park when she was 7. I didn’t know how to discuss it then, and even now when she’s 12, I continue to find myself at a loss. How is it possible to discuss a pain so raw and true while at the same time trying to be comforting and reassuring?

“I’m sorry. I didn’t want to scare you,” I tell her.

She glances quickly towards me, and before she turns away, I notice the tears in her eyes. I sigh, knowing her pain so well. I walk around to the side of her bed, pulling up a chair so that I can sit beside her.

“The nightmares are almost as bad as the actual pain, and then the spasms wake me up, and it’s like I’m living the nightmare,” she says.

“I know it’s scary, and I know it hurts. But it’s okay to cry. I’m right here.”

Without thinking, I place my hand on her head, carefully brushing back her curly brown hair so that I can see her face, her blue eyes. As I look into the eyes of my 12-year-old self, I see it all: the pain, the loneliness, the fear…and for a few seconds, I feel every piece of it all over again, even the spasms that seemed to come out of nowhere. I touch my own scars as I remember, and it isn’t until I feel the pressure of her hand wrapping around my wrist that I look up. She’s staring right at me, and her hand is wrapped around my wrist so tightly that I can tell she’s trying to picture the long road ahead of her.

As her eyes move back towards the changing lights on the fiber-optic Christmas tree, I crawl into her hospital bed, allowing her body to curl up against my own. As she holds tightly to my hand and we stare together at the lights changing from red to green to blue, I hug her against me, remembering how much I longed for an older sister who would hold me during those scary and lonely nights of spasms and nightmares.

I’ve returned, and here’s why!

16 Apr

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After over 2 months, I’m back. However, before I go into why I’ve returned, I thought I’d fill you in on what’s been going on in my life recently.

During the months of January, February, and March, things were rough for me physically. I was in more pain than normal, I was falling more than usual, and it was incredibly frightening. I felt like I had slipped back in time. Despite my initial resistance, I contacted a local doctor in Asheville who deals with CP in adults (which, in some ways, seems like some kind of Mecca). However, I was afraid, understandably. I didn’t know if I wanted to hear what the doctor would have to tell me regarding my disability. I didn’t know if he’d mention surgery or botox. I just knew that I wanted answers, but I was scared to know what they truly were.

Due to my anxiety connected with going to this new doctor, I had my parents come with me as moral support, and I knew they’d want to hear what the doctor had to say anyway. What was the verdict, you ask? Baclofin (an anti-spasticity medication to hopefully lessen the increased spasticity) plus regular physical therapy and pool therapy for a period of 6 weeks. Even though I was happy about the Baclofin since I had never taken an anti-spasticity medication and was interested in how it would affect me, I was much less excited about the physical therapy. I remember leaving the doctor’s office that day in a weird haze. Once I got outside, I started to cry. Physical therapy? Again? Wasn’t 15 years enough? I couldn’t even seem to wrap my head around it. I was scared and for good reason. I had more than a lifetime of memories from physical therapy to write multiple books on the subject, and I wasn’t looking forward to returning…at all. However, after talking it through with my parents and numerous friends, I realized that this was ultimately my decision. If I tried the physical therapy again, and I wasn’t getting anything out of it, I could stop…just like that. With that understanding, I made the decision to go ahead with the physical therapy and the pool therapy. After all, I was in a crazy amount of pain. If there was any chance that physical therapy could help, why not give it a try?

My PT evaluation (before I even started back with PT exercises) felt like stepping back in time. I felt like a kid, walking into a place I knew would result in me being in tears in an hour. My anxiety was sky high, and I was terrified. For my entire life, physical therapy was associated with one feeling: pain. I didn’t understand why I had decided to place myself in that environment again…and willingly at that. The fear came back full force when the physical therapist asked me to bend one of my knees back as far as I could. I have always been incredibly hesitant to bend my knees due to a painful experience during my intense physical therapy following one of my major operations. Therefore, the slight mention that the physical therapist may be planning to “try to get those knees to bend” had me terrified. Though when I left that day, the physical therapist assured me that I was in control and they weren’t there to hurt me, I just looked at her. Up until that point, I had never really had the say-so regarding my physical therapy, mainly because my previous experiences with PT occured when I was still a child and the primary goal was to get me up and moving so that I could be as independent as possible.

As the weeks went on, so did the physical therapy and the pool therapy. I also continued to take the Baclofin. I started to like the pool therapy, simply because it was a less intense version of physical therapy. Therefore, I felt like I could actually relax. The first regular PT session following the first evaluation wasn’t enjoyable like the pool therapy though. The exercises I was asked to do gave me flashbacks to previous physical therapy sessions in my past, and it was incredibly overwhelming. At one point. I even started to have an anxiety attack. I couldn’t seem to get the feeling of pain out of my head, though I wasn’t in pain during the present moment. It just felt close. The rest of the day following the PT session in which I had the panic attack was rough. I cried off an on throughout the day, and painful memories from my past PT didn’t seem to want to leave me alone. Though I was incredibly anxious to return to PT following that rough day, I did. I explained how the previous PT session deeply affected me and caused me to be really upset. Thankfully, the physical therapist responded well to my anxiety and told me that she’d find other stretches I could do that wouldn’t cause me so much emotional stress.

Last week, the 6 weeks of physical therapy and pool therapy came to end. Though I was glad that the physical therapy had provided me with some exercises to implement into my current workout, I was happy to be done. I was happy to actually get discharged from physical therapy. I’m also still continuing to take the Baclofin, the anti-spasticity medication. Though I haven’t seen immediate changes, I have noticed that I haven’t fallen in a number of weeks, which is huge since I was falling multiple times a week prior to starting the PT, pool therapy, and Baclofin. So that’s where I am as of now, taking it one day at a time.

However, the main reason I’m back doesn’t have to do with physical therapy or being in pain. I’m back because a week ago I received news that the post I wrote last May for Holstee is going to be included IN A BOOK. Though I’ve been published numerous times before (online and in newspapers), there is something so incredibly about the idea of being published IN A BOOK. The My Life Book is still in its early stages, so I don’t have any information about when the book will be published, but I will definitely keep all of you posted. The interesting part is that when I was informed that my story would be included in the book, the suggestion to edit the article since it has been almost a year since it was published was thrown onto the table. I’m somewhat torn, however. A lot has definitely happened in the last year, and since the article I wrote for Holstee involves talking about how I’m writing my memoir of living with CP, it would make sense to include the struggles I’ve been dealing with most recently. However, I also know that it could be hard to limit all of the explanation to just one article. Decisions, decisions. Either way, things are looking up!

Now, what’s being going on with all of YOU? Two months doesn’t seem like too long, but it’s felt like an eternity. Either way, I am so happy to be back!

Why Jodi Picoult Deserves Praise From The Special Needs Community.

9 Feb

One of my favorite authors is Jodi Picoult. I’ve read all of her novels, and I saw her speak in March of 2010 regarding the release of House Rules (and it was by far one of the best nights of my life so far). However, I love Jodi Picoult for more reasons than she’s a great author (I quote her books more than any other author), every one of her books has taught me something, and the fact that she addresses touchy subjects. I also love her because she responds to emails from her fans. She’s said in numerous interviews that she’s the one responding, rather than one of her assistants.

In Jodi’s 2009 novel, Handle With Care, the main character, Willow O’Keefe, has OI, or osteogenesis imperfecta (a genetic disorder characterized by brittle bones that break easily). Even though Jodi discussed a disability that is very different from Cerebral Palsy, I still felt like I was able to relate to much of what Jodi discussed in Handle With Care about what it means to be different and what it’s like to feel so much physical pain on a daily basis. It was a special moment when I realized that my all-time favorite author was writing about certain feelings that I have experienced on a daily basis: the desire to find a place I belong in a society that’s not fully accepting to those who are “different.”

In March of 2009, I wrote the following email to Jodi:

Dear Jodi,

I just recently read the synopsis of your new book, Handle With Care,
and I am very excited to begin it! However, as I was reading your
conversation about Handle with Care that is featured our your website,
something caught my eye. Even though I don’t have OI, I have another
disability, Cerebral Palsy, which has affected my life since I was
young. Personally, I just want to let you know how deeply you touch my
heart with each of your books. You do a wonderful job of portraying
how it truly is for those of us who are different. I can sympathize with the kids you
interviewed that have OI. Even though it may be extremely
rough for them, they are just like any normal kid, and nothing warms
their heart more than when they are actually treated like one.
I am extremely thankful if you actually took the time to read this.
You and your books have made a significant impact on my life. I hope
to one day meet you and let you know face to face how much you have
truly helped me.
Thanks again,
-Amelia

This was her response:

Amelia, kids like you are MY heroes.  I hope you like the book and hope it rings true!
Jodi Picoult

So far, Jodi has discussed disabilities such as OI and Asperger’s (House Rules), and I applaud her for interviewing kids who are faced with the disabilities she has covered because those of us who have lived through the experiences our disability presents are the only people who know what it’s really like. Therefore, Jodi Picoult deserves a crazy about of praise and support from the special needs community for giving a voice to the issues that may have not had much prior awareness or increasing the level of awareness to a more diverse population. Though I still silently hope that one day Jodi will write a novel that has a character with Cerebral Palsy in it, I already have gained so much from the fact that she has written about many of the emotions I feel on a daily basis in regards to my disability.

The Disability Fight: It Never Ends, Does It?

23 Jan

I am still incredibly self-conscious in regards to the physical aspects of my disability. Though I may have reached a point where I am able to talk about my disability with more ease than ever before, I still haven’t developed a sense of confidence when it comes to the physical differences related to my Cerebral Palsy. I shrink away from the differences, silently wishing they were a part of someone else and not me.

When I see the severe curvature of my lower back in a mirror, I cringe. In the summer, when I give in and put on a bathing suit because of the heat, I hate to look down and see the scars on my legs from my intense surgeries. In just one moment, I am transported back to my intense surgeries, all the physical therapy I endured following those surgeries and the nights I’d wake up screaming and in tears because of the pain that seemed to come from everywhere all at ounce. When I am about to walk inside of a building and I see the reflection of myself in a door, I look away. I don’t have to look at my own reflection to know the way I’m swaying side to side as I walk with a visible stiffness in my legs. I don’t have to look at my reflection to know the way my knees still knock inward and the way I’m up on my tiptoes despite the operations I had to straighten my femurs and try to decrease the spasticity in my legs. I can formulate a picture in my head of myself walking that’s so accurate I want to scream. I’d give anything to not know every single detail of how the way I walk is different from how the average person walks. A part of me hates myself for my self-consciousness in regards to my walking. I spent my entire childhood going through intense surgeries and 15 years of physical therapy to reach a point where I could walk on my own without assistance and be as independent as possible. It’s not that I am not proud I can walk. I am. I know I should be jumping up and down on a daily basis because I am able to walk. But I don’t. I just can’t make myself do it.

If you were to ask me whether I’d choose to have CP over not having it, I’d say I’d rather have it because it’s made me into a much stronger person. But if you were to ask me if there’s anything I’d change about myself, I’d tell you that all I want is to look like everyone else. I don’t want to always be the target of stares from toddlers, and even adults, in grocery stores. I want to be able to stop having to cringe at the severe curvature of my lower back or look away from my scars and the pain I remember and still feel. I want to stop having to look away from my reflection because my knees are knocking together and I’m up on my tiptoes. In a way, that’s what all of the physical therapy and surgeries were for. It was to get me as independent as possible, or as close to being like everyone else as I could get. But even with all that work, I’m so far from being where I wish I could be. My balance sucks. I can’t go up or down stairs without a railing. I can’t put on a pair of pants without needing to be in a seated position. And on the days when I think of the things I can’t do and I’ve fallen more than what is normally expected of me during the course of a day, I cry. I cry because it is so, so hard to keep fighting this. No, I am not faced with a life-threatening health problem, so I’m not fighting for my life necessarily. But I’m still fighting just as hard. And it takes every ounce of strength in my body to wake up every morning and make the choice to face it all…again and again, even though all I really want to do sometimes is pull the covers over my head and hide.

The femoral derotational osteotomy: The longest marathon.

14 Jan

I was born with Cerebral Palsy. In my case, I was born with my femurs angled inward and my hips tilted forward, and my angled femurs caused my feet to point in as well. Therefore, as a kid, when I would walk, I’d end up tripping over my feet, which made it harder for me to walk properly. On October 8, 2001, I had my first intense operation, a femoral derotational osteotomy. In some ways, it doesn’t seem like that long ago. The femoral derotational osteotomy was an intense operation in which the surgeons straightened out my femurs in order to allow me to walk straight. Rods were also used in order to keep my legs straight, but they would be taken out the following year once everything had fully healed. Even though the operation itself isn’t something I remember since I was asleep, I do remember the conversation I had with the OR nurses before I was put under. When the nurses looked down at me on the operating table and asked me to tell them about my animals, I proceeded to include the names of my pets at home as well as the names of all of my stuffed animals (and I had a lot). The nurses just smiled. They didn’t seem to mind.

When I woke up in the ICU, I had on two long-leg casts that were connected by a bar in the middle. I also had an epidural, so I couldn’t feel the full extent of my pain. However, those first few days in the ICU were spent not eating as much jello as I could manage, but continually getting sick from the anesthesia that had put me under during the operation. Trust me, having a nurse come over with a tube to suck the vomit out of your throat is completely disgusting, but it’s better than having the full taste of vomit in your mouth by waiting for it to come all the way up. Though I did eventually leave the ICU and Shriner’s after my first intense operation, I had to keep those long-leg casts on for the next 8 weeks, and during those 8 weeks, I became completely dependent on my parents. They had to help me shower, help me go to the bathroom, and help me change my clothes among many, many other things. It was only the beginning of the very long road to gaining my own independence.

In many ways, the femoral derotational osteotomy was the beginning of a marathon that would last much longer than just a few days. It was the beginning of the complete hell I would go through over the next 6 years until I reached the age of 15. By the age of 15, I had endured 3 intense surgeries, 15 years of physical therapy, and more pain that I ever thought possible. However, despite all of that, I persevered. I pushed through because I knew it was the only thing that would allow me to be independent. In the beginning, after that first operation, my parents were helping me do everything. I was completely dependent on them. However, by age 15, I was not only independent, I was gearing up to leave home the following year to attend an all-girls’ boarding school in North Carolina. Though leaving home was and always will be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done (not including my operations and all the intense physical therapy that followed them), it was also the best decision I ever made for myself. As with so many other things in my life, I’ve learned from it all, but more than that, I have been able to better understand the person I am supposed to become. Though I would have never imagined that I’d be using experiences from my own life in order to relate to and lift up other kids with CP and other disabilities, it’s beginning to feel like a permanent place I belong.

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