One of the most challenging elements of rehab is that I am working to develop and keep skills and abilities that I have never had. I suffered brain trauma as a newborn child and learned all of my motor skills with a damaged brain, so I have never possessed the ability to stand up on the tube and read a book or to run quickly down stairs. I refer to my process of overcoming my disability as rehabilitation, but even the word implies that I am regaining something I have lost, when that isn’t the case.
I spent most of 2009 in a physiotherapy clinic in Toronto. I had a pilates class every day, two massages per week, and physiotherapy once per week. I was surrounded by patients who used rehabilitation in the correct sense of the word. They were recovering from accidents or regaining lost function in their bodies. Women took pilates classes to lose their baby weight. People had massages to recover from whiplash. They used the physiotherapy services to heal specific injuries or address certain problems and then they moved on with their lives. They knew where they were before they started rehab and worked to get back to that place and then to get even better, but I worked toward something that I had never felt, used, or experienced. Sometimes, it was hard to stay motivated when – even though I had specific goals – I didn’t know what having them felt like or how having them would improve my body, walk, posture, and sense of myself.
There were many days where I wanted to give up my intensive boot camp. I knew that the long term benefits were worth it and – whether or not I got better – I still needed to exercise to be healthy. I just felt that I was fighting an uphill battle to which there was no endpoint, even though at the time I was motivated to completely cure myself within three to four years of rehabilitation. I wasn’t working to heal an isolated incident of pain or a specific injury. I was working to heal and overcome an entire condition. I realize now that this is a lot of pressure that I put on myself.
I understand that I made progress even though most of the time I couldn’t feel it or see it in myself. Other people could. My family members and friends who lived in Toronto noticed a change in the pace of my walk and the straightness of my pelvis and spine. My physiotherapist herself didn’t believe that I could get better when I started (because she too had been taught that cerebral palsy is incurable because it is a result of brain trauma). My dedication and the progress I made proved her wrong (and proved other people wrong, like the chiropractor I found when I moved home). I worked at the studio for nine solid months and – though I still struggled with balance-related mobility – I left with a completely different body than the one with which I’d arrived. I wasn’t completely healed – and I’m still not entirely recovered – but I did more in that year than I ever thought I would. My physiotherapist told me that every single time she thought I’d achieved the most I’d ever accomplish, I got even better. When my time in Toronto came to a close and I prepared to leave for England, my massage therapist said to me, ‘There’s no one like you. You’re a little crazy, you wear your heart on your sleeve all the time, and you don’t give up on anything. ‘