Living With Cerebral Palsy
A young adult shows that physical disability is not a handicap to the human mind and spirit.
by Linda Norcott as told to David Kidd
Born in Leeds, England, with the umbilical cord wrapped around my neck, I had, to put it mildly, a less-than-ideal start to life. In those precious first moments, my brain suffered oxygen deprivation, and I began my painful existence with cerebral palsy.
Growing up, I had a bit more freedom than I do now in my wheelchair. I used splints to straighten my legs, and I got around tied to a special frame called a spider walker. I liked swimming and found much satisfaction completing the Walk Against Want, though everyone – including my dear mother – didn’t think I could. I was ecstatic to help raise money for hungry people around the world.
At age five, I attended Woodville Spastic Centre in Adelaide, South Australia. I learned to hate the word spastic because others think it means intellectual disablement, rather than physical disablement. I was not intellectually disabled. My understanding often embarrassed people who thoughtlessly said things about me within earshot.
My mother always inspired me to press on no matter what life threw at me. She was a great believer in the glorious life to come, where there will be no more death, sorrow, crying, or pain and where we will have new bodies. Faith in God got me through many trials, especially the mind battles. The hardest in my younger years was the fear of dying young. “Linda will not live past her childhood,” the “experts” claimed. I was determined to prove the doctors wrong, though, and believed that it was up to God, not them, whether I lived or died. And I went on.
When I was 16, my mother injured her hip and had to give me over to residential care at the Julia Farr Centre for people with head injuries. My dad worked, and my brother attended school, so my mother had no choice. She stayed at my bedside day and night for the first few weeks I was there.
I developed a close friendship with a boy named Stephen, who also had cerebral palsy and lived at the center. Unlike me, Stephen could only communicate slowly, using a board letter-by-letter rather than word-by-word. One day Stephen asked a nurse to bring him to me. Using his communication board with my help, he proposed to me.
I was completely surprised. Marriage was one of the last things on my mind, as I was only 16 at the time. A few days later I gladly accepted his proposal. But when I broke the news to my mother, she immediately and firmly said, “You’re too young to get married.”
Despite my defiance, I agreed to wait until I was 18. Mum soon got used to the idea, especially after meeting Stephen’s mum. I treasure one special moment at my wedding. The first time I ever heard Stephen clearly pronounce a word was when he said, “I do.”
Having a good mind trapped in a body that can’t feed, dress, or clean itself, nor get around without help, is painful and frustrating. Often, though, it’s the way people treat me intellectually that frustrates me more than my physical limitations.
Many times at the center I would ring my mother in tears because I could not handle being treated as though I were a mental case. “Please don’t treat me like a baby,” I’d tell people, “because I am not one. I have a brain, and it works.”
Being a Christian, I found, does not assure you a trouble-free life. Even Paul endured excruciating pain and trials after he became a Christian. Before my 27th birthday, I lost my father to alcoholism and my mother and husband both to cancer. These traumatic experiences might have destroyed my faith were it not for the words of my dying mother: “Don’t give up thinking of Jesus.”
I was teary for a long while after Mum died, and my uncontrollable spasms increased. I felt as though I had lost a big part of me. Though I’d lost her love and companionship, I did not lose my mother’s inspiration. Also, I was blessed with adoptive parents, Sandy and Glen, who visited me at Julia Farr and helped me go on during this traumatic period. These caring Christians continue reaching out to me with love and sensitivity.
But after Stephen died, my mood turned darker. Why should I continue living? I knew he was in bad shape, but I doubted that people at the center had told me the truth about him. I suppose I hadn’t wanted to believe he had cancer. He was so young. Though I’d suspected he would die, it was a great shock when he did. It took months to sink in. I felt a big, empty, dark hole inside.
On top of the despair of my mother’s and husband’s deaths, I had to endure my close friend, Sue, who also has cerebral palsy. She wouldn’t agree that I had a rotten life. “What life have I got without Stephen?” I groaned.
Sue responded roughly, “You’ve got a good life.”
Though her words startled me, I knew she was right. I had to go on.
People still talk down to me and treat me like a retard. I crack a joke or say something intelligent and see surprised expressions. They call me names and tell me I am stupid. They ignore me and treat me as if I do not have anything worthwhile to say – or worse, as if I am not even in the room. I detest this.
No matter how people treat me, I try to carry out God’s will in my life. I’ve had lots of times when I’ve wanted to give up and just die. I have the same temptations as everyone else; and like any other person, I experience doubts. But I love feeling close to God. I greatly believe in the power of prayer and often ask my friends to pray for me. Sometimes prayer helps to relieve my physical and emotional pain.
The troubles of this life are for a short time. But God is good, and I will receive my glorious new body at the resurrection when Jesus returns. A beautiful eternity beckons where I will be freed from my heartache and physical pain.