This I Believe

Dariusz - Webster, New York
Entered on March 1, 2007
Age Group: Under 18
Themes: disability

“Why do you walk so funny?” This is a seemingly simple question, but was one I could not answer for my friends in my years at elementary school. Growing up, I always noticed that I was slightly different than most other people. The rather large arch in my back and the overall limp in my gait looked very unattractive and made me stick out like a sore thumb. Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t the only one who noticed. Because young children are naturally very curious, those around me constantly asked what those “things” on my legs were, or why I walked funny, or who the woman was that made me stay after school. Because I was too young to understand that braces were correctional devices and that “the woman” was a physical therapist, I would simply shrug and then change the subject. Truthfully speaking, I went through most of my childhood not knowing the answers to these questions. My parents always tried to convince me that I wasn’t different from anybody else at all or claimed that “that’s just the way God made you.”

The answer to this question is quite straightforward. I discovered the inevitable truth during a routine check-up when I told my doctor exactly what was on my mind. It was then that he frankly told me that “you have Spastic Diplegia.” He briefly explained the condition and more importantly, that there was little that could be done about it. Spastic Diplegia is a type of cerebral palsy that is a neuromuscular condition of hypertonia and spasticity in the muscles of the lower extremities, usually those of the legs, hips and pelvis. It results from brain damage at birth that prevents proper development of the pyramidal tract, meaning that certain nerve receptors in the spine are in turn unable to properly absorb signals and as a result, the corresponding muscles tighten and contract. Temporary relief is offered in the forms of complicated surgeries and painful Botox injections, but as far as a cure was concerned, there was no hope.

This information was a lot to handle at once, and was very difficult to accept for a long period of time. The truth was plain and simple: I was different, in what I thought of as a negative way. As a result, my outlook on life was slightly darkened. At recess, children were always hesitant to pick me for the playground game of football because they thought that this disability would hinder my athletic skills. As a result, I always had to prove myself. Gradually, people became more accepting of me and began to treat me as a normal person.

Although it took a significant amount of time, I have learned that I am literally no different than anyone else and have learned to cope with the physical limitations. The ailment has inspired me to work to my fullest potential and become even stronger, both in a physical and mental sense so that some people even forget that I have the condition. I believe that people shouldn’t judge people based on first impressions and accept them for who they are. First impressions are rarely the right ones and you should really dig deep and try to establish a friendship before you judge someone. You might end up passing on someone who could truly be your best friend, all because of the wrong impression.

I no longer label myself in a negative way. Yes, I am different, but that’s what makes me who I am. If this complicated medical term can keep someone from treating me like a normal person then maybe that person is the one with the true disability.