Worth and Cerebral Palsy

I don’t know who said this. But I’ve heard it several times from several different people and in several different, separately unique stories. Someone said: Make peace with your past swiftly because your enemies and fair-weather friends will bring it back to your remembering at the most inopportune time. 

Maybe, he or she or (they) — if they are gender-non conforming) — never said this with the right grammar rules applied. But this idea was always implied, inferred, suggested, underlined, and highlighted in my life experience. 

Accept your past… (the great spirit said) for it will come back to your remembrance at odd, WEIRD times.

So when I write ANYTHING… the sole purpose is usually excavating and mining the peace from my past. I write because I believe that personal stories matter. I write looking deeply for WORTH.

My Cerebral Palsy, a disability that I came out of the womb with, has been the adversary’s weapon. It has been closely associated with my ideas about WORTH.

I ask myself everyday what is this condition I have WORTH?

Cerebral Palsy is my past. But wait…It is also my present, My now… my (in the next ten minutes) and my “as long as I breathe.”

And when I’m done living on planet Earth, I will have lived a life with Cerebral Palsy in the present future tense. 

I did not always have peace with this disability. As a child, I fought against it. And for a significant period in my 20s, I believed I could make deliberate choices that might help me deny Cerebral Palsy and its pressing relevance to my success and failure. 

People today still are great at using Cerebral Palsy to attack my worth.

Yes, the same disability that made me adorable to doting grandmothers, well-meaning religious adherents, and “people just trying to help” also worked as a mechanism to keep me silent.

I’ve been gender mis-identified, sexually misfited,  called “too quiet”, deemed mentally-retarded, and these are just a few episodes of the ever-evolving narrative. I was always made to question how worthy I was. 

I was also introverted when I didn’t know what “INTROVERSION” was. 

And so there was for a long time… the idea that I’m in trouble if I acted, and then in just as much trouble if I kept quiet.    

If I stopped and tallied the number of instances and experiences that have amounted to  “keep silent because your life isn’t important enough”, I would already be rich enough to have my own home, at least one well-kept car, and one manuscript on the New York Times “Best” list. 

To go back to what I just said: I write to get peace with my past. And my past is very indicative of verbal abuse. And I let other people tell me what my “WORTH” was.

While some of the verbal abuse was characterized as “tough love” deemed to shake me up so that I might craft some arrogant speck of newfound bravery, most of it was unhealthy, unwarranted, and eventually toxic to the overall development of my own self-worth. 

What is self-worth? 

Sometimes it is rejection. When we develop a good sense of self-worth, we learn the difference between being used (for one’s resources) and being valued.

When you’re USED. You are the good time person. For as long as you are the life of the party, you are called upon. USED people are only good for the life of their product cycle, the second your product stop being good, people discard you.

But when you’re VALUED. There is worth generated on both sides. The group or person that values you gives you the space to change your mind. More dialogue flows through. Communication is a joint deal. And when both the giver and receiver get VALUE, there is less opportunity to feel scared about stating facts, even when those facts are hard to digest.  

So worth begins with a PURPOSEFUL rejection. The rejection I am talking about is of the graceful kind. It is a REAL and deliberate weighing of what is really VALUABLE. and asks Is my action, task, or motivation (valued enough) for me, for others, for society’s betterment. 

How does this rejection relate to making peace with your past? 

In my past, I relished the role of sidekick. I was the sidekick in a movie where the film’s purpose is forever shrouded in mysteriously vague theming.

 Sure, you can act the part. You know your lines. You’ve anticipated when the characters in your movie do what they do. But after several months of production and executing your role, you’ve accepted interviews and accolades and still cannot understand why you agreed to play the side-kick. 

Cerebral Palsy made me the sidekick to myself. In the service of others, I lost myself.

And when I tried to make peace and find myself. The word arrogance kept coming up. When I stated my needs and tried to talk about achieving balance, I would get an argument about why what I asked for was not worth a discussion… and there was NO compromise.

COM- PROMISE (com) means TOGETHER , promise (agreement to do something)

But I really don’t think that people know the meaning of arrogant. To be arrogant is to claim yourself. Sure. But when you’re truly arrogant… the root is altogether NEGATIVE. You claim yourself with no space for another person’s point of view. 

In order to find my “WORTH”, I needed to work on learning to limit, manage, or classify the various points of view that were webbed into my own environments. Maybe, that’s why I’ve grown to appreciate keeping records.

Maybe that’s why I started reading so much. To read well, I had to limit how many people… and how many viewpoints distracted me.

For me, worth is refocused as strength.

I’ve noticed that whenever I speak authentically about worth, guilt always shows up around the corner. But I can no longer use guilt to frame my road ahead.

Silence really does equal death. The longer I allow my worth to be determined by a well-meaning person that is fearful of listening to the facts, the more I cut myself and my community off from evolving, growing, and learning.

I do have a physical limitation. But if my worth is only shaped by my physical limitation, how then can people who have never experienced Cerebral Palsy understand the prejudice that reveals itself in a structure that says you’re only human based on what you’re able to do?

I must continue rejecting ableism. I must reject your idea that I am “helpless”. I must re-frame the notion that I should fade into the background. There is no “I hope that you get better.” Because this disability does not “get better” in the sense that I’ll be “ABLE” like you.

And I am a person of faith. I tell God everyday that I’m glad to live this life.

You are incorrect to assume that because my Cerebral Palsy is “happening” that I cannot pray enough, or serve God enough.

I’m sure that most of you don’t realize that your assumptions about how “worthy” I am at life are not always about making me feel inferior. But sometimes they do.

I am worthy enough to be me. You are worthy enough to be you.

Tip: The next time you tell a disabled person (like myself) why don’t they just break your legs? Ask yourself how you’d feel if the doctor simply decided to break your legs.

Just because my Cerebral Palsy is uncomfortable for you to see… that does not mean I am always uncomfortable. I have gone from torturing myself about my worthiness to choosing when and how to start a conversation.

And while conversations about disability are difficult and awkward… it beats staring at a person (that is staring at me) and waiting for them to say something offensive.

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