When people think of Cerebral Palsy, more often than not, the first thing to come to their mind is the physical aspects of it. They think of tight muscles, trouble talking and walking, wheelchairs, walkers, leg braces, and physical therapy. Very rarely does a person think of the effect that CP can have on someone’s mental state. One of the effects that it has had for me is social anxiety.
I was a very sheltered child growing up. Whether my parents meant to do this or not, I don’t know, but my childhood interactions with the public didn’t consist of much. There was school, physical therapy appointments, grandma’s house, and shopping trips. That was it. When I wasn’t at one of those places I was at home. Usually I spent my time watching TV or making up stories in my head. Now, don’t get me wrong, seclusion has its perks. I think it’s part of the reason why I am so creative today. I had to make up friends to play with. Looking back, though, I wish there was a way I could have been included in more activities.
When I reached the age where play dates started to become a thing amongst my school friends I wanted to join in. I would get invited to birthday parties and sleep overs. Some I could attend, but most I couldn’t. It wasn’t that my parents didn’t trust the parents of the child who invited me, it was simply that I would not be able to function and get the care that I needed at the house where the party was being held. The play dates I did have were usually at my own house.
Over the years, as the children I had been friends with realized there was something different about me, my circle of friends dwindled. Strangely it never really bothered me, and by eighth grade my closest friends were the aides that assisted me throughout the day.
In high school things started out much the same way. I spent the first few days of grade nine sitting pretty much alone and observing the others. I kept an especially close eye on the ones I deemed to be “safe” (not super popular or snobby, kind of low on the high school totem pole, usually shy and artsy). These are the people I let into my small social circle.
My aides eventually convinced me to join the school’s choir (which I ended up staying in all four years of high school). Though I never really talked to a lot of the people in it, I loved the feeling I got when we sang together. I was very sad for it to be over by the end of grade twelve. Creative writing and drama classes also helped. Finally I had found other people with the same interests as me, and no one really even mentioned my disability. It was awesome! It took a while, but I did eventually let go of some of my insecurity and form new friendships with people.
Those things got me more socially active inside of school, but outside of school was a totally different ball game. Though I did find a week long summer writing camp, and continued to go to the camp for people with disabilities that I had been going to since I was twelve, I still wasn’t the type to call someone up and ask if they wanted to go for coffee. It was just too much out of my comfort zone. That is where the internet came in. Sites like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube have become a major part of my life. I am much less scared of social interaction on the web, and I honestly don’t know why. Maybe it is something as simple as the fact that nobody can see me (discounting the pictures I post) on the internet. No matter what the reason the internet will continue to be a major outlet for me as I develop more social skills and confidence.
If you have had any similar issues or experiences and want to share them feel free to do so in the comments below. If you found this post helpful or liked it in general it would be great if you shared it on Facebook and Twitter as usual 🙂
Photo by Antoine K