By: Alex Diaz-Granados
What does it feel like to have cerebral palsy (CP)? Though this might seem to be a simple question about a physical disability, it’s actually a psychological conundrum with no simple answer. There are many variables, including the fact that there are several types of CP (spastic, dyskinetic, athetoid, ataxic, and mixed) and that the severity of the condition varies from person to person.
Like many people who are affected by CP, I was not born with this neuromuscular condition. According to my mom, I was born two months premature and had to be placed in an incubator for awhile until my respiratory system was stronger. Unfortunately, the nurse who placed me in the incubator forgot to turn on the incubator’s oxygen supply in a timely manner. Because of this, my brain was deprived of oxygen and part of the motor control center suffered irreversible damage.
This caused me to develop the most common type of CP, spastic cerebral palsy. Divided into three different subtypes, this type of cerebral palsy includes spastic diplegia, spastic hermiplegia and spastic quadriplegia. Spastic diplegia includes muscle stiffness in the arms and legs, while spastic hermiplegia affects one side of the body, causing movement difficulties. Spastic quadriplegia affects the entire body and is the most severe type of spastic CP.
In my daily life, having spastic CP hampers my abilities to do things that I either want to do (such as assemble model kits) or have to do (such as cut vegetables or meat while preparing a meal). One of the most odious symptoms that I have is I can’t control my hands well enough to make precise hand movements. It requires a great deal of effort for me to reach either too far or too close to touch or grab objects.
Unfortunately, CP is not a disability that can be cured, much less wished away. It can be treated with physical therapy and occupational therapy, and some of its effects can be minimized with patience and a desire to do what doctors and therapists ask you to do. But CP is a part of my life whether I like it or not, and I have come to terms with this reality.
In addition, every individual with CP is unique. I have two friends who have this disability, and yet none of us have identical feelings about it. My friend Joaquin, for instance, is a successful businessman who helps run a well-known family-owned flower shop in Miami. His CP is more severe than mine, yet he drives a specially modified car and has a busy social life. My friend David, on the other hand, is on the other end of the emotional spectrum. He, too, drives a modified car and works as a stock boy for a local supermarket. But he is a morose fellow who constantly complains about his lack of success in life.
As for me, my feelings about having CP fall squarely in the middle. Like Joaquin, I have a job that I love and that I’m good at (freelance writing). I have also come to terms with the fact that there are certain careers that are forever out of my reach, such as aviation or being an officer in the U.S. military.
These days, I have a positive outlook about most aspects of my life and have not let CP define me. I’m still a bit shy at social functions, and I’m more dependent on others than I would like. But, I no longer feel like I’m an outsider looking in at everybody else’s world.
I think that this outlook on life came about because, over time, I have overcome quite a few challenges despite having cerebral palsy. One of these personal victories, finding a profession I could pursue to make a living with, came about serendipitously as a teenager and then blossomed in my adulthood. Currently, I have a successful career at the Examiner.com and also enjoy blogging about my experiences with cerebral palsy.
Although my life with CP has been far from easy, there are definitely those instances where grit, courage, and intelligence help kids and adults with CP overcome adversity and lead productive and happy lives!
Alex Diaz-Granados is a Miami-based freelance writer, online reviewer, and aspiring novelist. He studied journalism and mass communications in college, and lives in a nice condominium in sunny South Florida. He has a fairly active social life and is in a happy relationship. He also happens to have cerebral palsy. He is a regular contributor to the Cerebral Palsy Guidance site. Read more about his journey with CP here: http://www.cerebralpalsyguidance.com/