March, while being the month of many other important occasions; personally, nationally, and globally; it is Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month. Now, I have never contributed to the discussions that take place during this, I thought I would this time.
Every time I mention my disability on my social media, I preface by saying, ‘I know I don’t really speak about it too much,’, which is completely true. When comparing this topic of conversation to mental health, my life in a psych ward, food, tea, films – the thing I mention the least is my disability. I find this strange, however, because it is an integral part of being me. Unlike others with a disability, I wouldn’t class it as part of my identity, yet I would say it has deeply impacted the way I look at myself and the way others look at me. It also has an effect on the way I interact with others.
For anyone who knows me personally, outside of the realms of social media, they will be able to note that my cerebral palsy is one of the main things about me that I frequently make jokes about. From calling myself a cripple to the hilarious idea of slipping around on an icy pavement, cerebral palsy is the butt of the joke on a daily basis. When I am with people sometimes I am aware that I talk about having cerebral palsy a lot, but what many may not realise is that when I make such jokes is usually at the time when I am the most self-conscious about it. Comedy has been recognised to be one of the most mature defence mechanisms – though, my maturity is very much debatable! Whenever someone makes me uncomfortable, I have to overtly make sure that they know just how much of a freak I think I am to deflect from the fact that I was upset that I was the butt of another person’s joke or that person made me feel inferior.
Whenever I am in pain or my muscles are bothering me to a degree that I am holding myself in strangely comfortable positions, I simply have to tell people! It is almost compulsive to turn to someone and say, ‘Hey, look what a freak I am!’. Of course, the main thing to note when using dark humour is to know your audience. I don’t just yell that to passers-by on the street – although, in doing so, they would most certainly agree with such a statement!
One of my main jokes is the ‘T-Rex’. Due to the nature of cerebral palsy, it causes the vast majority to hold their arms up near their chest with quite loose wrists. When I am aching, especially, this posture is leaning forward too – it is just what is most comfortable for me! Now, with this comes I great joke. The amount of times I turn to people and say, ‘Oh God, I’m aching, look at my t-rex arms!’ is so funny to me. When I was younger and living with my parents, the ongoing joke with my dad is that I was Mr. Burns from the Simpsons! I’d know instantly that my arms were placed up by my chest when I would walk into a room and my dad would say, ‘Smithers…’ in Burns’ trademark voice! Along with this, the limp wrists naturally give way to a number of queer jokes – being trans* and questioning sexuality, of course I had to! I have often said that my cerebral palsy made me almost destined to be queer!
Growing up with cerebral palsy meant that these comments were not always welcome, however. I was always extremely self-conscious that people were looking at my legs or were laughing at me if I fell over. In fact, from the age of fourteen to this very day, I began to refuse wearing shorts that were high above the knee because you could see where my knee turned in. While many will tell me that, because my cerebral palsy is mild, it isn’t that noticeable; I know this to not be the case, though, every single time I see a person staring, or a teenager does a really shitty impression of my turned-in, drop foot (no, really, these impressions are often horrendously bad, so if you are reading this as someone who has ever done this, just know that you look way more stupid with my walk than I do, it suits me, you just look ridiculous)!
At school over the years, my disability coupled with severe anxiety was the perfect target for bullies, as you can imagine. As if my awkwardness wasn’t enough to attract the lowest of the low, I also constantly walked like I was intoxicated! Despite learning how to stand up for myself (mainly when I had fallen over for the thousandth time), it didn’t stop people pushing me down. This, surprisingly, didn’t change when I went into a CAMHS ward. One patient attacked me in the garden one day. I lay there in shock and as I tried to get up, I was pushed back down with the words (literally) spat at me, ‘and don’t try to get back up, you fucking spastic…’ Funny thing is, that patient will have had no idea that that word was actually part of my diagnosis! Suddenly it dawned on me that even in a ward of mentally ill teenagers, somewhere I thought would finally understand me, I would continue to be bullied.
Anyway, enough of the sob story, because what I was actually talking about was the innate hilarity of being disabled! Over the years, I have had a laugh with many of the people I know, but even some of the things people say that are meant to be mean can be humorous. There are so many jokes which I sit there and think, ‘why didn’t I come up with that?!’ it’s infuriating that my best jokes haven’t even come from me. I will never forget a small group of guys I went to school with. One of the best running jokes was singing the first line of Ed Sheeran’s ‘Thinking out Loud’ when I limped past them, ‘When your legs don’t work like they used to before,’ what made this even better was when a friend told me next time to respond, ‘Well, I was born like this, so they never really worked in the first place!’, the banter thrown back had an even better reaction by his mates!
Another song related ‘insult’ (that was really just a great joke) was another guy and whenever I walked past him, he’d sing the chorus line ‘Walk this Way’ by Aerosmith. Incredible!
The other way I draw comedy from my disability is just the idea of a scenario when encompassing my cerebral palsy into that moment. Some examples include when someone asked me why I didn’t want to go ice-skating, talking about wearing stilettos or any other footwear that I would find extremely difficult to walk in, or even that time that I made a joke about being a ballerina with my physiotherapist!
Now, why did I choose to talk about cerebral palsy and the jokes I make about it and not something more important? It is awareness month, after all. I could sit here and moan about how all of the information about the disability as about children with it, or how if you have it mildly almost all help as an adult drops off a cliff, or how, despite getting no help as an adult, 75% of people with cerebral palsy experience chronic pain. I could moan about my pain to you, or how I didn’t know about a wide variety of symptoms I experience I didn’t know were attributed to my CP until I moved to the rehab I now live in, but the truth of the matter is – using humour is more important to my experience of my disability than any of these aforementioned topics that do need to be talked about when discussing cerebral palsy.
Using humour makes the pain better, using humour takes away much of the impact of people’s ignorance. Without the ability to laugh at myself and everything I have experienced, I don’t know how I would have gotten through. It is not just my disability either, it is my mental health, it is my trauma, it is everything.
As much as we’d like to think that tolerance is increasing, there will always be people out there who treat people disrespectfully when they’re different. Many people will not like the jokes I make, or the fact that I would rather talk like that about my disability than be a damaged and tormented soul.
We need humour.
Humour is our best defence mechanism when the world has let us down over and over again.
We could cancel people over and over, but how often does that promote positive change?
Beating people down when they have made a mistake rarely makes them better people.
To look at something and destigmatise it, make it known that these people have struggles is one thing, but to hold a mirror to the world and see how funny that distorted image can be is the best we have.
We need to laugh.
We need to remember that there is brightness in every dark moment.
The way we tell our stories is the way we write our future.
And thank you for listening to mine.