This is a short story I wrote. Parts are fiction but parts are my story.
I was born on November 21, 1983. My mother later told me that it had been a very difficult birth and I was in such a hurry to enter the world that the doctor had to catch me on the way out. My parents barely had time to name me Jaidyn Grace Rose Mason before I was whisked away by the doctors for tests because I was born so early. It was during those tests that the doctors found out that I might not be as perfect as I should have been. They told my parents that they did not know how my disabilities would affect me yet but not to expect me to be like other babies my age as I had something called Cerebral Palsy. My parents were told that Cerebral Palsy was a type of brain damage that has many causes but in my case, it was probably caused by a few seconds lack of oxygen at birth. My Mum Aimee and Dad Scott could not believe that there was anything wrong with me. To them I seemed perfect. I mean I had the usual ten fingers and ten toes, what could possibly be wrong with me?
As I got older, reality set in. I could not hold my head up by myself. Later I could not sit up without a mountain of pillows. It was then my family understood that I was going to be different to my cousins. They tried to give me a lot of strength and support and used many beliefs in order to do so. My name is an example of this. I was not called Jaidyn from about the age of three months. My ‘Grandpa’ whom I called Mr Grandpa Alfie or plain Mr Alfie, as he was not my Grandpa but a very close family friend, had a Grandson called Jaidyn (which would have been very confusing for everybody) and also thought the name Grace would give me strength for the many battles I had ahead of me. Therefore, I became Grace or rather Gracie as I am often called. Mr Alfie was a great inspiration and source of strength to me, as I grew older so my name has always been special to me because in a way he gave it to me.
In time, I got better at many things although I am still very different to other people my age. I began physiotherapy at around six months of age. Of course I do not remember the early years, but from about the age of three I knew that I hated the physiotherapy sessions as (although the physios tried) were boring and caused me a lot of pain. For those of you that have never experienced a physiotherapy session I will try to describe what it is like. First, your muscles are pulled and stretched until you are like a rubber band that has been pulled or used a million times. Then you are made to do a series of exercises such as ‘push ups’ or ‘bridging’ before trying your hand at walking in either a walking frame or rails. The stretching process is then repeated before the next physio session.
However, the physio sessions were not the only kind of therapy I received. I went to speech therapists, occupational therapists, psychologists, Cerebral Palsy specialists and countless other doctors as well. Looking back, I know that the specialists and my family were trying to do what was best for me at the time and some of the things they did or made me do really did help me, but at the time, it was hard for me to see the benefits of many of the procedures that were performed.
I have had various operations on my legs throughout my lifetime and will probably have several more before my time on this earth runs out. These were very scary procedures when I was a young child, but as I grew older, I became fascinated by the procedures and loved picking out the colour of the fiberglass to cover the plaster I spent so much time in. At last count I had used every colour that is available at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne. I have had purple legs, red legs, green legs, yellow legs, light blue legs, dark blue legs, pink legs (twice) and black legs. Needless to say hospitals have became like a second home to me, the doctors, nurses and other patients my extended family.
My disability did not stop me from attending ‘normal’ schools throughout my education. Kinder saw other kids drawn to me like moths to a flame and friendships depended not on my disabilities, but on whether I had the latest dolls or the most lollies to share. Sure, the other kids wondered and asked questions about why I could not play jump rope or mountain climbers but also gave me my greatest wish: acceptance. This continued throughout early primary school years despite the fact I had ‘helpers’ with me all the time. However, by the time I reached grade five or six the differences between my classmates and me really began to show. Other kids rode bikes at the park every Saturday or went swimming I did not, other girls were going out on first dates and ending the sweet sixteen and never been kissed tradition, I was not. My best friend since kinder suddenly decided I was not cool enough anymore. I sunk into the black hole, Bermuda triangle, known as depression. I was sent to even more therapists and hospitals. I heard my mother tell family friends on the phone that she was to busy ‘trying to save Grace from herself’ to attend some social obligation or another.
In the end, it was Mr Alfie who was the one who saved me from myself. He did this by doing two things. The first was giving me a certain piece of advice. He said never give up. Reach for the stars. If those other kids do not want to be your friends, it is their loss not yours. Remember I am always here for you and will always love you. The second thing Mr Alfie did was introduce me to the craft of writing. I do not mean writing like the stuff you have to do for school, but writing for myself. The gift Mr Alfie gave me was the greatest he ever could. Through writing, he gave me the key to my soul and a way of escape. When I wrote I could be anyone I wanted to be and do anything I wanted to do. With the power of a pen or computer in my hand it did not seem to matter that I could not do everything my peers could do, I was someone special.
My battles in life were not (and are not) over yet. Secondary school proved to be more of a challenge for me both physically and mentally. It was a much bigger school, which meant it took me a lot longer to get around. It was also very poorly designed and had a lot of steps, which of course I could not manage. The steps also seemed to appear out of nowhere. I would just begin to think that I had learnt my way around the school when a step would appear and I would be forced to find another way around again. The teachers seemed to think because I was not physically as capable as my classmates I should be twice as smart. This meant although I was getting b’s and c’s I was often humiliated and singled out for not doing well enough in class. Despite this, I managed with the help of Mr Alfie and countless others to obtain my VCE. A feat which some of my classmates who were praised in class, but were not getting any better grades than me, did not manage.
In writing this I do not hope to make people feel sorry for me (at times I do enough of that myself) I just hope to show people a little about what it is like to have Cerebral Palsy and in doing so improve societies view on people in wheelchairs and try and get people to do their own bit in helping with saving Grace by realizing that people come in all shapes and forms and have many different abilities.