I fall down a lot. More than the average person, who might trip over a shoelace or the curled-up edge of a shag rug. For as long as I can remember, it’s always felt as if a gust of wind were trailing behind me, waiting for the perfect moment to blow me over.
I fell so often as a kid that I developed a habit of immediately yelling “I’m okay!” from wherever I’d land in the house. My mom would listen for these words, then return to her task, anticipating the next thump or clang.
Fast-forward to the evening of my high school graduation: As I prepared to walk with my graduating class of 70 students, I realized a trip would never go unnoticed. So I strapped on the safest heels I owned and headed to the living room, where my family was waiting, to practice my stride. As I came downstairs, my cousin grabbed me and pulled me close to his chest. “Alexis, I’m so proud of you. You’ve come such a long way since the CP diagnosis,” he said. “What?” I replied, with a stare. “Since the cerebral palsy…you didn’t know?” he asked. Um, no, I didn’t.
I ran upstairs to my mother’s bedroom, where she stood putting the finishing touches on her mother-of-the-grad look. “Mom, do I have cerebral palsy?” I asked, as she clasped her necklace shut. Cerebral palsy, often called CP, is a group of disorders that affect movement, balance, and posture and can develop from a brain injury in early childhood. But that wasn’t me, I thought. And it wasn’t as if I hadn’t asked about my excessive falling before. Each time, my mom would make light of it, saying something like, “Your balance is just a little off.”
Not this time. “You were born with mild cerebral palsy,” she said. As I sat there on her bed, still in my grad cap, I started piecing things together: my failed swim lessons, the physical therapists who pulled me out of class twice a week so I could practice my balance…it all made sense.
“The world is hard enough without a ‘disorder,’” my mom said. The words stuck with me. I appreciate that my cerebral palsy didn’t hold me back—a possible issue for some, according to WH advisor Chloe Carmichael, PhD. Labels can feel like limitations, she says.
I didn’t have a label, so it never had the chance to limit me. I became adaptable, in school and in life. So what if running bases in softball wasn’t the easiest thing for me to do? My mom signed me up for the golf team. When I realized I couldn’t hold a pencil correctly, we purchased penmanship paper, and I practiced for hours a day until I figured out how to grasp the wooden stick that would eventually help me write my first poem, short story, and very brief (but bound!) childhood novel. And just look where I am now: I’m an assistant editor at a global health and wellness brand, and I’m writing this story!
So, yes, I fall down…a lot. But you should watch the way I get back up.
This article originally appeared in the March 2020 issue of Women’s Health.
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