Why Cerebral Palsy Is My Superpower

Kimberlee Stevenson
Kim, African-American young woman standing with a cane.

I was diagnosed with spastic diplegia cerebral palsy (CP) at the age of two after my parents became concerned that I wasn’t walking. Doctors told my parents I would not have a “normal” life, I would never walk, and I would require special classes and speech therapy.

I proved them all wrong.

Cerebral palsy is a brain injury or impairment that affects the muscles or a person’s ability to control them. I have partial paralysis and the muscles on my left side are very weak.

When I was young, I had trouble walking and sometimes even standing. My left leg and arm would give out on me, and I would fall or drop whatever I was holding. I spent months of my childhood in the hospital where doctors and therapists helped my family and me work through treatment plans for my diagnosis. I used to feel so ashamed and hurt that I couldn’t roller skate or participate in gym class like the rest of my friends.

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For 15 years, I wore an ankle-foot orthosis (AFO), a brace that helped me to walk better on my own. I would color-coordinate the Velcro straps of the AFO so they matched Reebok Classics I had in many colors. Eventually, I was strong enough to walk without the AFO, and I walked proudly across the stage at my high school graduation — without having to take a single special class.

I went to college and was a newscaster. Ask anyone if I have ever needed speech therapy. I love to talk.

I may have set an unofficial record for failing a driver’s test, but on my 17th try, I passed it. I bought a car with cash (I call her Blueberry), and started a job I absolutely love. I may not like the traffic in the Hampton Roads, Virginia area (who does?) but I am doing what no one thought I would ever do.

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My body can be weak, and I have had setbacks after having a few strokes. I had to learn to walk, talk and become autonomous (or independent?) four times. I still fall and get injured. But I have gotten used to many things someone without cerebral palsy wouldn’t have to think about. Getting out the bed in the morning is a challenge because my body has been still for hours and my muscles have tightened up more than they already are. It is often hard to move. Walking up stairs is hard because it can be difficult to lift my leg, causing me to fall both up and down the staircase. Sometimes there is no railing or the steps are so steep that I have to crawl or scoot. Even things I enjoy, like traveling, are a struggle because sitting in a car for long periods of time is painful. I am stiff and cannot move.

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But I am living life. I work with an amazing group of youth, am heavily involved in church, travel a lot, have a food blog and serve as a social media manager for numerous clients.

What has changed most in my life? My confidence level. I used to be severely insecure and shy because I thought my cerebral palsy was embarrassing. As I got older and started learning more about CP and talking to people about some of my hardships, I realized I can still enjoy life. I can get married, have children and travel. And shop for shoes. Sure, I need a strap over my ankle and I can’t do stilettos, but I still love my shoes.

Now I am even sharing my story with parents of children who have cerebral palsy to let them know their children are capable of anything.

Cerebral palsy has given me a reason to live, to be different and to be unique. It took many years for me to realize this, but it happened. I believe we are all made differently, and we all have a purpose in life. My life proves that being different doesn’t mean you can’t be great.

As I always say, “Cerebral palsy is my superpower.”

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