It came to my attention earlier, as I was devising a work plan from now until Christmas, that the third International Cerebral Palsy Day will be marked tomorrow on 5th October. And as a CP’er myself, I felt compelled to write a blog about it. (Also, I haven’t blogged in a reeeeeeeeeeally long time. Sorry about that. Writing a novel isn’t as easy as I thought it would be and sucks up a lot of my time these days).
For the uninitiated, Cerebral Palsy is a disability which is caused by damage to the brain before, during or after birth. The condition itself can range from mild to severe, depending on the damage sustained and the part of the brain affected. Cerebral Palsy is a non-progressive impairment and cannot be cured, although medication and speech- and physiotherapy can enable the person to have a better quality of life (apparently, when they remember to do it).
I’m not going to lie to you, though – me being the politically correct little shit that I am, there’s something about an International Awareness Day for CP that makes me uncomfortable. It could be partly related to my reluctance to admit that CP does bring with it annoying limitations such as fatigue, muscle pain and blah blah blah, when I would rather be perceived as being invincible, capable of absolutely everything. It also has something to do with the fact that for the last seven years, I’ve been programmed to believe that disability is constructed by an inaccessible and exclusive society, not one’s individual impairments. So, in other words, your impairment doesn’t matter, but your motivation to challenge injustice does. That’s something I firmly believe.
Another myth I need to shatter is that disability is something that can be overcome. No, it bloody well can’t, okay? I’m not going to wake up in the morning, or go on a pilgrimage to Lourdes and be miraculously cured, and you know why? Cerebral Palsy is not a disease, it’s not contagious. What needs to be ‘overcome’ is society’s obsession with cures, with an almost unnatural desire to eradicate disability/impairment through medical science and technology. We seem to forget that Hitler also had ideas on how to create a disability –free society, which resulted in the ‘mercy killing’ of an estimated 700,000 people with disabilities.
On a positive note, however, some things have improved slightly for people with Cerebral Palsy. If you’ve ever read Christy Brown’s My Left Foot you’ll note how the language the author uses is very much of a certain era; Brown indiscriminately uses words such as ‘handicap’ and ‘cripple’ to define himself, words which are deemed offensive nowadays. Also, during Brown’s darker moments, it is easy to see how his thinking is directly influenced by a society that sees him as problematic, different, and how to a certain extent he’s internalised the negativity of those around him. Nowadays, children with Cerebral Palsy are well educated, are often integrated into mainstream education, and some of us even get the chance to bullshit our way through university (see ‘Why Getting An English Degree Was So Terribly Important’). We have families of our own, we drive, we hold down jobs (albeit with difficulty at times; it can take a person who has CP three to five times the amount of energy to do a simple task that a non-CPer does).
Having said that, I hate the slogan ‘I may have Cerebral Palsy, but it doesn’t define me,’ because that’s balderdash. Of course it does. It makes every achievement more special, be that getting a Masters Degree or buttoning your blouse by yourself. The reality is that many of us CPers work harder than most to gain the same results as someone without CP. My Leaving Cert nearly killed me, and that’s no exaggeration. I spent two years in constant pain after having my daughter from lifting her and getting up and down off the floor. And if time was wound back, I’d do the same again, but there’s no denying that the extra demands I put on my body took its toll. Furthermore, if I’m honest with myself, that’s why I stepped back from a traditional job in favour of writing: at least this way, I can work to my own schedule and rest when I need to. (Not to say that I don’t intend on going back to work, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the freedom to work as I do now. Ironically, though, I’m working more than fifteen hours a week on my writing now, and I’m not as tired as I used to be. Funny that).
Oh, and I’m also obliged to tell you that as International CP Day is a ‘thing’ now, presents are customary. Don’t worry, it needn’t be anything major. Twenty euro in a card or a box of Milk Tray will do just fine.