Now that I’ve admitted to you that I’ve tried to keep my Cerebral Palsy a secret on a number of occasions I feel as though I should tell you why, or at least provide an example.
Author John W. Quinn who has made no secret about the fact that he kept his CP a secret to serve in the Navy also has thoughts on the subject worth considering.
I can tell you that the number of people who keep their disability a secret is a lot higher than any of us would like to admit (or realize). As much as we like to say, “The truth shall set you free,” there’s also the equally popular, “freedom isn’t fee,” however I can’t think of one instance where I’ve heard these pearls of wisdom follow each other.
I’m not a fan of keeping secrets but there are times when I have. I’ve kept the fact that I have Cerebral Palsy a secret, but that also depends on what you consider a secret.
I don’t go around broadcasting the fact that I have CP in everyday life. There’s no real reason to. If I feel that I need to tell someone than I do, but it’s not a decision I come to lightly.
There have been times when I’ve had to tell people that I have a disability because not telling them would be more off-putting, but I try to keep it as “light” a topic as possible.
By all accounts most of the time my judgments on “to tell or not to tell” are correct.
“At first glance, I didn’t notice anything different about her. Her legs looked a bit skinny but I figured she was just naturally thin.”*
Those words come from a former housemate’s paper on Culture & Disability, in which I am the primary subject. Are you impressed?
My first thought after reading it? Wasn’t I wearing pants that day? If I was, I’m glad I don’t have those pants anymore. I, like I believe most people with CP do, wear pants to cover up the brace I wear on my right side, which back then was heavier & more obvious than the one I currently wear.
My former housemate goes on to say the following,
“……after a few minutes, we decided to rendezvous with the rest of our future house to walk around the grounds and to get to know each other. Without hesitation, she took hold of my arm and we slowly made our way out into the field. I soon realized that my year ahead would be much different than what I had previously imagined”*
I will tell you that I did hesitate, at least in my head, when I took hold of her arm. My housemates didn’t know I had CP, and I didn’t want them to know, at least not at day one, minute one. The people I flew to Portland with just knew I used a wheelchair, but that I wasn’t paralyzed (Even that admission came after I made a comment about hoping there wouldn’t be any sunrise hikes during the week and one of my traveling companions offered to carry me, not realizing my displease with the idea was with the sunrise part, not the lack of ability).
The only person that I knew knew was the person who interviewed me, because I felt that he needed to know; I had no idea if he had told his coworkers (although I suspected he did). I took her arm because the alternative seemed like the “worst” choice. We were in the woods in Oregon. The grounds were unfamiliar. I was also stepping off a porch stair with no railing. The alternative would have been to risk falling and then having to come clean right then and there. Can you imagine if I had done that AND actually hurt myself? Not the best way to prove you’re just like your peers.
Don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not ashamed of the fact that I have CP. I’ve just lived long enough to see what the power of the label does. I do not tell people directly that I have CP unless they directly ask me, “What is your disability (or diagnosis)?” I’ve had friends (and/or coworkers) for years and they still don’t know that I have Cerebral Palsy. And that’s OK with me.
I am not hiding it, at least in my opinion. If people want to know they can ask. Can you imagine starting a new job and telling everyone that you had blond hair? That’s how I view my CP, if it’s not going to have a direct effect on something, there’s no need to bring it up. Not everyone agrees with my approach but that’s more their problem than mine, in my opinion.
Let’s not forget the automatic lowering of expectations when you tell someone that you have Cerebral Palsy. They automatically assume you “can’t” more than you “can,” when it’s not always true.
Keeping a secret can be a good thing, at the beginning. Everyone should be given a chance to show what they can do before looking at what they can’t do. In fact I’ve had one employer in particular consider my disability as an asset, once we had a chance to get to know each other. (There should be more employers like her in the world, for sure)
The only place I’m completely open about any of it is online, specifically my blog. Why? Because as much as this is my blog this isn’t just about me, it’s about joining a community I’m part of that can’t be found in my daily life, the parents of CP kids & teenagers with CP, and let’s not forget other adults with CP like myself.
After the paper was finished my former housemate (& friend, let’s not forget that part) asked me to give it my seal of approval. I thought it would be more of light reading material. I mean, honestly, what can someone learn in one class that I don’t know after living 20+ years as a person with a disability in society?
Apparently I’ve adopted a “passing” behavior.
“This view is essentially taking the concept of ‘normal’ and applying it to a personal, constructed, and designated self. A disabled person, who adopts this ‘passing’ view, perceives herself to fit into society’s conception of ‘normality’. She acts as if all is ‘normal’ and ‘hides’ her disability acting as if it was not even there. For the able-bodied person, ‘passing’ behavior also occurs, manifesting itself by not acknowledging a person with a disability as such. This view has its merit in the sense that not all eyes are focused on the disabled person enabling her to ‘blend in’ and effectively feel ‘normal’ herself.”*
Basically, I keep “it” a secret because it’s not one for me.
*Quotes taken from “Understanding Disability Through My Roommate’s Empty Wheelchair: A Social Narrative”
*A similar version of this post was published previously on June 26, 2013