“I hate the phrase ‘cerebral palsy.’” I began to weep openly in front of my counselor. I brought my hand up to my face covering my mouth to muffle the cry that I could feel rising in my throat. My eyes started to overflow with tears, spilling down, wetting my cheeks. “I can’t even say the words.”
Surpassed only by the fear of snakes, public speaking still ranks number two on the list of America’s top fears according to a recent Gallup poll. I too, hope that I never come face to face with a reticulated python, but give me microphone and an audience of any size and I’d be happy to articulate my thoughts on any subject!
During most of my formative years, I felt a strong sense of shame surrounding the fact that I had an incurable, unchanging, physical and very public disability. Some part of me thought that if I didn’t ever talk about it, then maybe it wouldn’t exist. After working through my issues with a counselor and accepting some invitations to speak, I am finding my voice and growing in my willingness to share my experiences with others.
Last month, I was asked by a colleague to Skype with two classes of 5th graders who had recently read the book Out Of My Mind by Sharon Draper. The book’s main character, Melody, is an 11-year-old with severe CP who is unable to speak due to her disability. My colleague wanted to give her students an opportunity to meet someone who shared the same condition as the book’s main character yet had a completely different range of functionality.
So, for a half hour, students asked me questions about what life was like with CP. What does it feel like? What has been the hardest part of your life? What did you like to do as a fifth grader? Their questions were honest, asked with concern, and demonstrated an interest and growing understanding of what it must be like to live with CP.
This experience inspired me. I always find it deeply personal to talk about living with CP and the pain I have experienced. Every time I speak, I feel like I am being asked to give part of myself away. However, it seems to me that a vulnerable speaker who is willing to share in front of a receptive audience is what ultimately leads to understanding. It helps to bridge the gap, helping others to gain insight into an otherwise narrowly shared experience.
This is why I have decided to launch a speaking page on my blog. I welcome the opportunity to share stories, experiences, and insights with Christian groups and to students in schools. Check it out for more information: http://jwalkinguphill.blogspot.com/p/speaking.html or contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org.