Nervous Systems: Chapter 1–Cerebral Palsy

Because Disability Intersections is no more, I will be posting my archived work from that site here. Image descriptions can be found under the read more tag.

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Nervous Systems Part One: Image Descriptions and Captions

 

PREFACE/AUTHOR’S NOTE

Images: Series of line drawings showing Anna, the cartoonist, interacting with Winston, her Yorkshire Terrier, while speaking directly to the reader.

Speech bubble, panel 1: Hi there! I’m Anna, the writer and cartoonist. This is my dog, Winston. He’s with me a lot.

Speech bubble, panel 2: We have some important information to share with you, the reader.

Speech bubble, panel 3: What follows is, in part, about 20 or so years of my life condensed into less than 100 pages…

Speech bubble, panel 4: So, somewhat obviously, I have skipped over quite a bit, and have left some things out.

Speech bubble, panel 5: I’ve tried to be as honest as possible, but I also want to give a nod to postmodernism here…

Speech bubble, panel 6: because how I view or depict certain events may not match up with how some of the other people involved view or would depict these events. I aim to be truthful! And I aim to be honest about my experiences.

Speech bubble, panel 7: As for the more theoretical stuff, I have included citations at the end of the text, plus a whole lot of footnotes.

Speech bubble, panel 8: With this in mind, please enjoy! And (I hope) learn.

 

PAGE 1 TITLE: LEFT/RIGHT

 

Panel 1: Illustration of a neonatal incubator.

Text: I was born three months prematurely. I weighed less than three pounds at birth.

 

Panel 2: Illustration of a small baby in the same incubator, next to a teddy bear.

Text: I was not expected to survive, thanks to a cerebral hemorrhage (sic) and a collapsed lung.

 

Panel 3: Line drawing of a foot, with a scar on its heel. An arrow, with text, tells us that it is a surgery scar on the narrator’s left heel.

Text: Thanks in no small part to medical science, I survived, but not without a souvenir for my troubles.

 

Panel 4: Line drawing of a person’s body, with the left hand outlined.

Top text: My first entrée to disability was mild cerebral palsy…the end result of my early arrival.

Bottom text: The left side of my body would always remain weaker than its twin.

 

Panel 5: Image of the same body with a dotted line down the middle.

Text: The physical issues caused by my CP seemed fairly straightforward.

 

Panel 6: Image of two feet walking; one is lifted higher off the ground.

Text: My left foot had a bit of a limp, for one thing.

 

Panel 7: Image of two legs, with one shaking.

Text: My left leg would also get “the shakes,” often at random intervals. On their own, many of these things seemed normal to me—not bad, just different.

 

Panel 8: Image of young Anna, looking disturbed as she is surrounded by HA HA HAS of different sizes.

Text: When other people entered the picture, though, it was a different story.

 

PAGE 2 TITLE: GROWING PAINS

 

Panel 1: Image of young Anna with her family: dad, mom, and younger brother Patrick.

Text: As a child, I had a happy home life.

 

Panel 2: Image of young Anna, surrounded by smaller images labeled with various interests: Reading, writing, art, lemurs, film, cartoons.

Text: I had interests in a lot of different things, and was lucky to have a family that encouraged my more esoteric leanings.

 

Panel 3: Image of Anna sitting and reading under a tree.

Text: At an early age, I began to suspect that I was not like other kids…

 

Panel 4: Image of Anna looking confused as other kids, off panel, yell things at her.

Speech bubble text: “What are you doing READING? At lunch!” “NERD!” “What a SPAZ!”

Narrative text: This was an issue that, unsurprisingly, blossomed when I was around other kids, mostly at school.

 

Panel 5: Another kid points at Anna’s foot and asks, “What’s WRONG with your foot?” Anna does not respond.

Text: It started small, as these things often do.

 

Panel 6: Dark clouds form over Anna’s head. She looks perturbed.

Text: By second grade, I had begun to suspect that there was something truly wrong with me, which resulted in more “bad days” than I would have liked.

 

Panel 7: Anna’s teacher gives her some well-meaning advice.

Text: Some of the advice I got was not especially helpful. My second-grade teacher, for instance, said…

Speech bubble text: ”Just try to treat those things like water off a duck’s back.”

 

Panel 8: Anna looks confused as she imagines herself as a quacking duck.

 

PAGE 3

 

Panel 1: Image of Anna interacting with Janet, her physical therapist.

Text: I’d known that some of my after-school activities, such as physical therapy, weren’t exactly “normal.” I liked physical therapy—my therapist, Janet, was someone I felt I could trust.

Speech bubbles: “How are you doing this week, honey?” “Okay, I guess. The kids at school are really annoying.”

 

Panel 2: Anna is confronted by two kids.

Text: Eventually, I reached a point of no return with many of my non-disabled classmates.

Speech bubble, girl: I heard you go to physical therapy…nerd! Speech bubble, boy: Only RETARDS go to physical therapy!

 

Panel 3: A row of smiling, exaggerated Anna faces addresses the other kids.

Speech bubbles: “Sure, you can copy my homework! Ha ha, yeah, I am a spaz!”

Text: By 6th grade, I had decided to dedicate myself to becoming a “nice” girl—I thought that filling the ultimate stereotype of a girl would stave off teasing and bullying.

 

Panel 4: Anna stares at the viewer with a “poker face.”

Text: During this time, I got a lot of practice in hiding my true feelings when people would say or do cruel or shitty things.

 

Panel 5: At a doctor’s appointment, Anna’s leg is examined by a doctor.

Speech bubble, doctor: I’m just going to examine your leg, okay?

Text: This would also come in handy during some of my medical visits, although I was not always successful at hiding my feelings in that environment.

 

Panel 6: At the same doctor’s appointment, Anna is upset.

Speech bubble, Anna: It hurts…

Speech bubble, doctor: You’re doing so well. Almost done, okay?

Text: True to form, when my façade of “nice,” “brave,” and agreeable did crack, I began to hate myself.

 

Panel 7: Anna sitting at a desk, studying.

Text: I threw myself into school in an attempt to distract myself from both self-hatred…

 

Panel 8: Image of a squat glass, filled with alcohol and ice.

Text: …and some burgeoning home issues, most notably my dad’s alcoholism.

PAGE 4

 

Panel 1: Anna looks into the distance as a group of boys laugh; one appears to be grabbing her. A thought bubble next to her head reads, DON’T REACT.

Text: My “niceness” often prevented me from taking action against some of the more physical advances [at school]. Poker face was easier, I guess.

 

Panel 2: Anna’s dad brings breakfast to the kitchen table as Anna stands next to a chair.

Text: Meanwhile, things at home were weird.

Speech bubble, Anna: Dad, I’m tired.

Speech bubble, dad: It seems like you’re always tired. Here, have some breakfast.

 

Panel 3: Anna interacts with a pointing boy.

Text: Things at school were more or less consistent.

Speech bubble, boy: Do you have a limp because you’re RETARDED?

Speech bubble, Anna: Um, no.

Thought bubble, Anna: Asshole.

 

Panel 4: Anna has two thought bubbles next to her head; one depicting a hand grabbing her rear as the grabber laughs, and one reading, “Not much I can do, I guess.”

Text: I kept some of what was happening to myself; I figured that my parents had enough to deal with already.

 

Panel 5: In what appears to be a living room, Anna’s mom talks to her and younger brother Patrick.

Speech bubble, mom: Kids, Dad and I are going to be living apart for a while. It’s not because of anything you guys did…we love you both so much.

 

Panel 6: Similar image to panel 5’s; Anna and Patrick look away from mom. Their facial expressions seem to have some elements of confusion and anger.

 

Panel 7: Anna and her mom sit at the dinner table.

Text: Wacky adolescent behavior was easier to talk about than some of the more physical stuff.

Speech bubble, mom: You seem quiet. Did something happen at school?

Speech bubble, Anna: Yeah.

 

Panel 8: Anna and her friend, both dressed in P.E. uniforms, talk outside. The friend wags her finger as she speaks.

Text: My best friend at the time was the reigning queen of wacky, Janus-faced adolescent ridiculousness.

Speech bubble, best friend: You shouldn’t act so depressed.

Thought bubble, Anna: You wouldn’t know about THAT if it hit you in the face.

 

PAGE 5

Panel 1: The friend speaks to Anna again; both have pinched expressions on their faces.

Text: According to her, girls were a certain way.

Speech bubble, friend: Acting like THAT will make guys think you’re a BITCH.

Speech bubble, Anna: Ok.

Thought bubble, Anna: Whatever.

 

Panel 2: The friend grasps the sleeve of Anna’s shirt; both are dressed in regular clothes.

Text: I regularly failed to measure up to her elusive standards.

Speech bubble, friend: What made you buy that shirt? You look like a slut.

Thought bubble, Anna: Maybe if I just let her run her mouth, she’ll get bored and stop.

 

Panel 3: Diagram of “other” markings, highlighted with arrows and text: zits, big boobs, lack of “acceptable” fashion sense, limp.

Text: Certain things marked me as “other,” but my disability was perhaps most damning.

 

Panel 4: Anna, wearing pajamas, examines a copy of the book Reviving Ophelia and reads the summary on the back cover. Thought bubble: Sounds interesting!

Text: Home sick from school one day, I found Mary Pipher’s Reviving Ophelia on my parents’ book shelf. I read it cover-to-cover in two days.

 

Panel 5: Anna reading and looking shocked.

Text: From then on, things began to look rather different.

 

Panel 6: Anna looks sad; thought bubbles surround her head: Why am I so WEAK? Why can’t I stand up for myself?

Text: I was not well-versed enough in feminist theory to notice the problems with that book, but so much of it made sense to me. The sections on [the] expectations heaped upon young women felt especially relevant to me.

Footnote: See Gonick 2006.

Panel 7: Anna angrily says “Not again!” as her left hand shakes. Thought bubble: I am so fucking disgusting…

Text: I was pretty terrible at mimicking “proper” girl behavior anyway, but disability seemed to intersect with these expectations in some very odd ways.

 

Panel 8: Small drawings illustrating Anna’s limp, leg brace, and harassment by other kids.

Text: From my limp to my medical foot and leg braces to the harassment—I was at once a girl and “other than.”

 

PAGE 6

Panel 1: Image of a report card showing A and B grades.

Text: The more crap I had to deal with in various environments, the higher my grades got.

 

Panel 2: Anna looks in the mirror as she pokes at a zit.

Text: I also hit puberty fairly early; this only added to the pile of crap.

Speech bubble: I’m 12 years old…I should NOT be getting zits.

 

Panel 3: Anna lies in bed, in pain from leg cramps.

Text: Muscular “growing pains” in my legs, which kept me up at night, weren’t fun…

Speech bubble: OW.

 

Panel 4: Anna looks at her chest quizzically.

Text: …nor was waking up one morning and discovering that I had breasts.

 

Panel 5: Anna grumbles.

Text: Filling out came with its own set of problems.

Thought bubble: Well, shit.

 

Panel 6: Anna experiences boob pain.

Text: There was pain in a sensitive area, for one thing.

 

Panel 7: Two middle school boys try to grab Anna’s chest as they laugh hysterically.

Text: Unwanted attention from boys…

 

Panel 8: One girl snaps Anna’s bra as another looks on and laughs.

Text: …and girls, for that matter.

 

PAGE 7 TITLE: SUPERCRIP

Panel 1: Anna makes a decision to be “normal.” A thought bubble above her head shows her as a weird monster.

Text: The CP was—unlike my health issues that would come later—nearly always in danger of being pointed out by my peers, or in danger of being pointed out. I tried my best to hide it…which did not work.

Speech bubble: I’ll just be NORMAL!

 

Panel 2: Anna interacts with another girl.

Text: Being seen—and known—as the “girl with the limp” had its own set of problems.

Speech bubble, girl: Get away from me, RETARD.

Speech bubble, Anna: Sorry.

Thought bubble, Anna: So much for that “normal” thing…

 

Panel 3: Anna stands to the side; a group of kids laugh as her former best friend makes fun of her.

Text: I felt like I was constantly being watched, for one thing.

Speech bubble, friend: And then she was like—

 

Panel 4: Anna looks worried and sad.

Text: Nor did I understand, at that point, that other kids’ comments about my body were more about their own inability to deal with differences.

Speech bubble, Anna: Why do they hate me?

 

Panel 5: Anna thinks.

Text: At some point, I became convinced that getting straight A’s—and generally striving to be a “good kid”—was the solution to my problems.

Footnote: Along with being “nice.”

Speech bubble, other kid: Hey, BITCH!

Thought bubble, Anna: How can I make people respect me?

 

Panel 6: Anna makes a plan.

Text: I didn’t expect the CP to go away, per se—but I did want to compensate for this difference.

Thought bubble, Anna: I know! I’ll get straight A’s AND try out for flag football AND run for Student Council AND participate in volunteer work AND…

 

Panel 7: Text only.

Text: The trope of the disabled person who strives to overcome her disability via amazing feats is not uncommon, and even has a name: SUPERCRIP.

 

Panel 8: Text only.

Text: As the disability activist Lorenzo W. Milam writes, supercrip is a personification of “Roosevelt Syndrome—scaling great heights, smiling…convincing everyone that there is nothing going on inside…nothing at all (5).”

Bottom text: It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Footnote: See Milam 1997; see also Hamilton 2009.

 

PAGE 8

 

Panel 1: Anna smiles as she makes a decision.

Text: In effect, I strove to become a sort of miniature Supercrip during my early adolescence.

Speech bubble: I’m not going to let my foot bring me down!

 

Panel 2: Anna runs for Student Council, sits in a meeting, and studies.

Text: My list of accomplishments during this time included running for Student Council multiple times, staying in Student Council for over a year once elected, and, of course, getting extremely high grades.

 

Panel 3: View of stage during a school talent show as the emcee introduces acts. A banner, reading “Talent Show 1999,” is hung above the stage.

Text: I also participated in plenty of school events.

Speech bubble, emcee: Our next act is a dance routine set to the Spice Girls!* So…please welcome Anna, Alex, Lauren, and Rachel from Grade Six!

Asterisk: Unfortunately, I am not making this up.

 

Panel 4: The girls perform their dance routine.

Text: All in all, I thought I was doing ok with this “good kid” stuff.

 

Panel 5: Anna’s parents congratulate her on her report card.

Text: The adults were cool with it…

Speech bubble, dad: Wow! Straight A’s again! Good job!

Speech bubble, mom: We’re so proud of you!

 

Panel 6: Two kids confront Anna after the Talent Show.

Text: …but the other kids certainly were not.

Speech bubble, boy: You were HORRIBLE! You are such a SPAZ.

Thought bubble, Anna: I didn’t see YOU up there…

 

Panel 7: Anna holds a mask that shows her own robotically cheerful face.

Text: Soon, being “good” started to feel like it wasn’t enough. I had to be PERFECT.

 

Panel 8: Anna throws the mask to the ground.

Text: The less “perfect” I was (according to my own impossibly high standards), the worse I felt.

Thought bubble, Anna: Eff this.

 

PAGE 9

 

Panel 1: Anna looks sad as the taunts of her peers, spelled out, surround her. The taunts read: failure, gross, weak, dumb, emotional, stupid, bad, ugly, lame, fat, bitch, retard, eww, slut.

Text: I felt like I would never be good enough. And if I couldn’t be “perfect,” I didn’t deserve to be liked or loved.

 

Panel 2: Anna looks in the mirror.

Text: This is not uncommon for young women to feel. As Charlotte Caron notes, “the desire to be liked becomes paramount” (22) during adolescence. The desire was there, as was the feeling that I didn’t deserve to be liked or loved.

Footnote: See Caron 2007.

 

Panel 3: Anna’s reflection in the mirror shows her as a monster with horns and a tail.

Text: In my mind—and, I assumed, the minds of others—I was too gimpy, too unfeminine, and too screwed up to be of use to anyone.

Speech bubble, Anna: Wow, I am disgusting.

 

Panel 4: A pretty, perfectly dressed little girl sings as Anna looks at her sadly.

Text: Where other girls were graceful and feminine, I was clumsy, shy, and weird-looking.

 

Panel 5: Anna sits on the floor after trying to walk in short heels.

Text: Feminine trappings were too difficult for me to pull off with success. Heeled shoes were out of the question.

Footnote: Still are, thanks to balance problems.

Speech bubble: How does ANYONE walk in these things?

 

Panel 6: Anna, wearing hip clothes and makeup, tries to talk to her former best friend, who rolls her eyes in response.

Text: If I wore makeup and “nice” clothes, my deep voice and odd gait would betray that exterior.

Speech bubble, Anna: Hi!

Speech bubble, former best friend: GROSS.

 

Panel 7: Image of a high-heeled shoe, a dress, and lip gloss—all with x’s through them, and the word NO beneath each.

Text: The backlash from trying to be feminine scared me so much that I refused to wear light colors, dresses, and makeup for many years.

 

Panel 8: Image of the “woman” symbol and Anna’s left foot, labeled “being a girl” and “having a disability,” respectively.

Text: I spent a huge amount of time hating myself for the two things that I felt were least under my control: being a girl and having a disability. None of my supercrip aspirations could mask either.

 

PAGE 10 TITLE: VISIBLE

 

Panel 1: Image of Anna’s feet.

Text: The CP had—and has—an odd status as far as “visibility” is concerned.

 

Panel 2: Teenage Anna silently responds to a person who asks what’s wrong with her foot.

Text: Even while I was growing up, I always felt weird—and a little angry—whenever people would “helpfully” point out my limp.

Speech bubble, person: What’s wrong with your foot?

Thought bubble, Anna: NOTHING, jackass.

 

Panel 3: An old man points at Anna as she walks by.

Text: Many times, it felt (and still feels) as if they were really saying that I was too unaware of my different body—and it needed to be pointed out!

Speech bubble, old man: You’re limping!

Speech bubble, Anna: I sure am!

 

Panel 4: A woman with a cane walks as several large sets of googly eyes stare her down.

Text: In general, women’s bodies are so subject to cultural policing that the monitoring of disabled women’s bodies does not seem particularly surprising.

Footnote: See Bartky 1989; the same could also be said of those whose bodies don’t fit “traditional” gender presentation.

 

Panel 5: Image of the “woman symbol” and a question mark, surrounded by words: fat women, women of color, queer women, poor women, trans women.

Text: Many women who do not fit white, abled, thin, and cisgendered norms of what a woman “should” look like also experience this policing—and the cost of that visibility.

 

Panel 6: Image of a heart along with the words LOVE YOUR BODY! An asterisk denotes “If it looks and acts like it’s supposed to, that is.”

Text: In recent years, popular feminism has encouraged (young) women to “love” their bodies.

 

Panel 7: Image of a white woman’s bare stomach.

Text: Body acceptance seems to be catching on…at least for white, young, abled, middle-class straight women.

 

Panel 8: A delighted feminist talks about body acceptance.

Text: Many “new” feminist activists with media platforms wax poetic on the importance of women’s “self love…” without also considering that they are speaking from a fairly normative position in so doing.

Speech bubble, feminist: I love MY body…therefore, EVERY woman should love hers!

 

PAGE 11

 

Panel 1: Anna walks to catch a light rail train.

Text: Loving oneself and one’s body, too, becomes a bit harder to do if you’ve been told by both mainstream culture and more liberal feminism that your body is weird, ugly, or just plain doesn’t fit in.

 

Panel 2: A young guy tries to ask Anna about her cane; Anna looks annoyed and does not respond.

Text: I suspect that some will protest this statement—after all, feminists and women with privilege have body image issues, too—but abled feminists and women face body policing that is substantially different from what women with disabilities face.

Speech bubble, young guy: Hi! What’s the cane for?

Thought bubble, Anna: SHUT UP, SHUT UP, SHUT UP, SHUT UP.

 

Panel 3: Another stranger asks Anna about her limp; Anna does not respond.

Text: “Loving your body” is not easy to do when your body is consistently pointed out as “abnormal” because you are both a woman and are disabled, or are a woman and non-white, or…well, I could go on.

Speech bubble, stranger: Why are you LIMPING?

Thought bubble, Anna: Fuck off.

 

Panel 4: The “love your body” feminist from page 10, panel 8 looks confused.

Text: That such “abnormality” is made visible on a near-constant basis—and that this making-visible is obscured by non-disabled, “body positive” feminists—only adds to the feeling that we do not belong.

Speech bubble, feminist: Disability? How is THAT a feminist issue?

 

Panel 5: Anna looks concerned.

Text: Even in the “feminist” movement, people like me are still not all there—at least in popular feminism.

 

Panel 6: Anna looks conflicted, and then concerned again. Words surround her: WHITE, YOUNG, MIDDLE-CLASS OR ABOVE, HETEROSEXUAL, and finally DISABLED.

Text: Further, some of us are visible and invisible simultaneously. It is odd.

Speech bubble, Anna: I feel very conflicted about this!

END OF CHAPTER

 

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