When I was living in a homeless shelter, I had upgraded from a cane to forearm crutches. One night a church group had come in and cooked for all of the clients. My anxiety often got the better of me so I usually spent 90% of my time, when I was actually in the shelter, in my room. But one of the staff members was not having that for some reason, so I had to go where everyone was dining and be social.
I chatted briefly with a couple people, and declined a few offers of soup (I never trusted the cleanliness of the dishes in the shelter’s kitchen) and numerous offers to sit because I was too anxious to do so.
This guy from the church group came up to me and started chatting me up. He motioned with his hands and asked why I needed my crutches. I told him I had cerebral palsy, that it was a birth defect because some people don’t know what it is. He looked sad and told me that he was oh so sorry because apparently having CP is supposed to suck, and I smirked and told him not to be – attempting to get the message across not to pity me. Here’s his response to that. Are you ready? It’s pretty epic, so I advise taking deep breaths.
“Well, I mean, still, not something you’d want to wish on your worst enemy, hm?”
I didn’t want to be rude and just leave because I didn’t want to risk getting in trouble with the shelter staff. And his comment made me unable to speak without using a string of obscenities, so I kept my end of the conversation to nodding and non-committal grunting until I was sure I could get through our interaction without wanting to punch him in the kidneys. Under other circumstances, I wouldn’t have hesitated to have a back bone and metaphorically tear him a new one. But he was a church person, and he had just brought home-cooked soup to a homeless shelter.
Then he asked me what I did for work. When I told anyone else that I was applying for disability at the time, I didn’t feel bad about it. But telling this guy that I couldn’t work made me feel guilty for some reason. Maybe because he expected me to..? I dunno.
Somehow the conversation got back to disability after his failed attempt to talk politics after making me feel like shit for being unable to work. Somewhere down the line I told him that there’s a difference between being born disabled and becoming disabled (not that one’s more valid or less than). He went off on a run about how a doctor once tried to diagnose him with MS, and even though he knew he didn’t have it, it was still pretty scary until he got a second opinion that said otherwise, and that must be exactly what it’s like to be born with CP! Yes! He compared what wasn’t even really a close call to lifelong brain damage that, not only affects my muscle function and coordination in my legs, but also my cognitive function! I want you all to write that in your notes, class! An incorrect assumption and false judgment that someone may have Multiple Sclerosis is exactly the same as being born with mild cerebral palsy! Just like breaking your leg is exactly the same as being a quadriplegic! And so on and so forth.”
Alexander Collins is a 23 year-old guy born in the Midwest and now living in Boston. He has cerebral palsy. He’s pretty awesome. He can be found here.