Having an impairment

I hear from readers quite often, writing to me and talking about having read Trapped. Typically a message will begin, “Hi, I’m Andrea, I’m 27 and I have cp. I read your book and…”

Which makes me wonder. Some readers want to write, and ask for advice about that. And I would say, if the first thing you identify about yourself is that you have CP – or any kind of impairment – then yes, you do need to write, if only to get that narrative out of your system.

For decades, my intro line was, “Hi, I’m Fran, I’m X years old and I have CP.” But really, identifying what might be the main challenge in your life as essentially You, is a bit limiting. I have CP, yes, but it no longer defines me, or limits me. The sense of having limitations is odd, relying as much on other people’s ideas of what is possible, as my own. And, I choose not to see myself like that anymore, because to do so is unnecessary and unhelpful.

I’m Fran, I am fifty-four and I have blue eyes; dark blue, almost teal, with a ring of brown around the iris. I like singing, so much so that even at my age, I do so unselfconsciously only dimly aware that other people consider this eccentric. I sing along to music in the supermarkets, because there seems no reason not to: it’s the kind of thing that other people would do, if only they had the nerve.

I’m Fran, I’m fifty-four, and I’m a carer. I care for my family, and for my mother, and I care about the environment. At the moment, four large men – or is it five? – are trimming back the trees at the bottom of the hill at the back of our garden, and I have wept, because I love those trees, which, for me, are a precious glimpse of wildness in the city. I love those trees for being a refuge, for whistling when the wind blows, for being solid and optimistic, and for growing with branches extended wide. And for being taller and bigger than me. For being unfathomable and private to many creatures I will never see. For being faithful, for believing that growth is good and life is sacred.

As for having an impairment… What is that? Is it, as the social model of disability would have me believe, something that I really should be able to ignore? I’d like to, but actually, trying to ignore it is like trying to ignore the elephant in the room…

So instead, I try to make friends with the elephant and listen to what it might be trying to tell me. Often, I might chance a ride on its shoulders, from where I have the most amazing view of life. It’s a metaphor I prefer to play with, rather than push against. And, if we are playing with this particular metaphor, it might be an expensive thing, that hints at a grander life, needing a bigger space to play in. I love those trees because they were elephant sized, and expanded my sense of what I was. Looking up at them, I forgot about having an impairment.

Thank you for listening, and have a wonderful summer vacation.

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