I live my life by a clock. This is what we might all mutter in times of stress, but in my case, it’s a fact of daily life. For me to get through a 24-hour period, even my most mundane tasks have to be timed to a tee. Twenty minutes to get dressed, tick, 25 to do make-up, tock, and another six to get carefully down the stairs without injury tick, tock and so it goes on. And that’s without ‘surprise’ events coming into play; if I trip or fall; my whole timetable is out of whack.
And these days, my falling flat on my face seems to happen more and more (and usually in a train station – I dread ‘The Gap’). My life has always been this way due to the mild Cerebral Palsy (CP), and I accepted it and blazed on regardless. I still try to do this do, only now I feel like I’m playing an endless game of catch-up, permanently.
This very thought dawned on me recently – that my body wasn’t cooperating as it used to. Simple tasks take longer; I have to walk slower, my muscles ache quicker and even getting out of bed – everything takes more time. I realised this when Meg (our IMAGE Deputy Ed) and I were crossing the road on our way to a work event. She sweetly expressed her annoyance and pointed out that even the average person couldn’t zip along quick enough to make it across before the red light angrily flashed (the stress) and instead of quipping how I was well able to keep up, I agreed that I couldn’t – something that isn’t in my nature. I couldn’t deny she was right; I never make it across without stupidly trying to run or feeling anxious that a car will come flying before I get out of harm’s way. The realisation frightened me. That I truly did need and want what we all yearn for; more time, extra hours – minutes will do – to keep up with life’s busy pace or simply do anything.
I’ve accepted however much I might have wanted it at one point, I wasn’t made to strictly ‘fit in.’
I never wanted to go at my own pace you see; that wasn’t good enough. Oh no. To feel like the CP wouldn’t best me, I had to be going at the speed as everyone else, no matter what. Even if the mental and physical strain of this was too much, giving in and admitting I couldn’t cope was a sign of failure. And a while back, I’d rather have dropped dead (okay, slight exaggeration) than admit this.
I’m not alone I know. Who hasn’t felt that desire to fit in? My mother would comfortingly tell me that my uniqueness is what I should celebrate, and she is, of course, right. But I wouldn’t let CP determine anything in my life, and the effects of that are slowly kicking in.
Why is it such a struggle now? Is it because I’m hitting 30? Probably. My muscles and I have endured a decades-long battle (with multiple surgeries), and I knew eventually, they would start to give way as I got older. I’m still young, but try telling my over-worked muscles that. Is the CP more demanding now because of this pressure I place upon myself? Absolutely. For quite a while, I’ve felt like I was wading through glue; the finish line in sight but just out of my grasp. I want to run, but my body simply says no and ignores my frustrated demands. Its message is clear: you haven’t the energy, not any longer. It saddened me at first and for the next few days, the jeering taunt in my head – I knew you couldn’t do it – refused to be silenced.
My greatest fear is that I’ll look back at my life and realise I worked so hard to accomplish everything right now that I didn’t really live
But do you know what? I can’t do it. Not all the time. Who can? It’s taken me years to come to terms with it; I’m not like everyone else (not physically, anyway) and sometimes, pride be damned, it’s okay to admit this and say yes to help. Only instead of fully accepting this early on, I’ve kept myself in a daily metaphorical race that’s exhausting to be in. I often feel like I do not appreciate the time I have; I’m waiting for it to pass by as quickly as possible so I can try to win my next race. And as we all know, when you’re competing with yourself 24/7, nobody wins.
So, I have to stop. I’ve long accepted however much I might have wanted it at one point, I wasn’t made to strictly ‘fit in.’ And that’s okay. Fate, God or another higher power had other plans. As I’ve come to terms with this, my perception of myself and in particular, how others see me has changed. I’m aware that I might unnerve a stranger; a ballsy 28-year-old who walks funny (it’s okay, I do), talks too much and uses a frame that looks like it’s a prop from a bad eighties sci-fi film. I’m especially conscious of this in a work situation. I’m a part of the IMAGE team a year now, and they took me on, no questions asked once they felt I was the right person for the job. I was painfully aware of the CP going in to interview because I hadn’t put it on the CV – I rarely do (another story) – but they were (and continue to be) encouraging and helpful, acknowledging it, yet not making it the sole focus. I always fear that my condition will cause me to let the side down in some form, and this is what I battle with as a new day starts. No one will take that fear away, but I feel that if I slowed down, I’d be less afraid that it could happen.
Life isn’t a race even though our society might suggest differently. Yes, everything is here and now, fast and instant, but I no longer care. My greatest fear is that I’ll look back at my life and realise I worked so hard to accomplish everything right now that I didn’t really live; placing life milestones on a to-do list instead of enjoying them and appreciating the moments.
I’m running all the time, even when I should be walking (hell, even for safety reasons) and life in all its complicated, beautiful glory, is going to pass by if I don’t take a breather.
So, I’m going to stop trying to play catch up and banish the feelings of failure because I have to do things differently. I can still win the race, albeit in my own way.
A wise friend of mine summed it up: you don’t have to run to win, to live. It’s ridiculous to think that you (or anyone) could be a failure because you haven’t yet achieved as much as the person next to you. Even if you have to do things differently, so what? Live life your way, be happy and you’ll see your finish line before you know it.
These are the positive words I now repeat over and over whenever I feel I can’t keep up. And do I feel I’ll ever truly be able to ‘keep up’ as the years go on? Me, as a person, is resolute – there’s no way I’ll accept anything less. But my medical condition might decide otherwise. I want a full life; travel, adventure, and the big one: children (three if you want an exact number). When I’m at a low point, my insecurities take over and at times, I’m unsure I’ll get any of these things because of the CP and it terrifies me – completely and utterly as I mentally shake my fist to the sky. I’ve cried myself to sleep more than I care to remember. But then, the day starts again. I dust myself off and remember that, occasional low points aside, it isn’t who I am. I was raised to go after everything I desire, to get up and try again (thank you mam and dad) not sit and sob over something I can’t control. CP or not, I have the power to make things happen. And if nothing else, I’ll try until I can’t try any longer.