I recently closed a chapter of my life that I was not ready to close. I finished another round of physical therapy. I did not think I would ever say I was sad to see physical therapy come to an end.
In fact, I usually count down the sessions until the last one. Usually, I long to be done before I even begin. This is because I have spent most of my life harboring strong stigma toward physical therapy. All that changed in this last round.
For those you who do not know, I was born with the physical disability cerebral palsy. If you want to know more of my general thoughts about cerebral palsy, read this or this. Regardless, it has caused me to have therapy off and on throughout my whole life.
Here’s a glimpse into what my history of physical therapy has been like. So, I have had a handful of physical therapists in the last twenty some odd years.
The first one I had I saw nearly every week during grade school. Altogether, I think I saw him for about six years. I was quite the stubborn child, so I often did not please him. I got on his nerves so much that one day he directly told my mom in a meeting, “I can’t work with your daughter anymore. I can’t handle her.”
Thankfully, I was not at the meeting. But, it didn’t hurt any less when my mom told me that was why I would no longer have physical therapy. Welcome to one of the worst statements a former orphan could ever hear. In grade school, that translated to me as, “You are too terrible for me. You are too broken.”
Welcome to the stigma.
Welcome to the start of a gut-wrenching anxiety toward therapy. From that point on, I dreaded meeting new physical therapists. I was always afraid they would be like my last one. I was afraid they would reach a point of no longer wanting to deal with me.
From that point on, I abhorred physical therapy. I didn’t want anything to do with it. I did all I could to push it off or not do it. I managed to do so until I was married. After meeting with a new general physician, he said I ought to have therapy again.
I was okay with this at the time because I had a therapist in mind. A friend of mine recommended one. She knew of my history with physical therapy, so I knew she did not make the recommendation light-heartedly. As you can imagine, I was really looking forward to meeting with this recommendation. But alas, I did not get the referral for who I wanted.
The therapist I ended up seeing instead practically tried to “fix” my cerebral palsy. Instead of trying to help me cope and manage my disability, she tried to reverse it. She tried to get rid of it, treating it like it was an ugly problem that needed to go away. She acted like she only saw me for my disability rather than as a human worth getting to know who also happened to have cerebral palsy.
Fast forward about a year later, another doctor recommends physical therapy. Of course, I strongly oppose. I wasn’t up for it in the slightest. It would take seeing the doctor again and then some extra months before I decided to take the plunge.
I eventually reached a point in my life when I knew I needed to go if I wanted to take control of my disability. I can assure you, this time around, I was extra adamant about getting the proper referral. I did all I could to make sure I wouldn’t get anyone else. In fact, I even decided that if I didn’t get the referral, I wouldn’t agree to it. It was too great a risk otherwise.
Guess what? I got the referral. Praise God! Yet, I was still hesitant. I made my past experiences clear to her. I made it clear that I was there with a lifelong load of stigma, fear, and trepidation. She took my words to heart.
For the first time in my life, a physical therapist treated me like a human. For the first time in my life, I had someone who saw me for Renata, not for cerebral palsy. For the first time in my life, I had someone treat me well. I had someone who acknowledged my past and did everything she could to give me a better future.
And let me tell you, it made all the difference. In my short three months with her, I got to know her. I developed a connection with her. I enjoyed going to physical therapy. I wanted to go. I wanted to learn what else I could do to help myself. Most importantly, I wanted to meet with someone who cared for me at a heart level, not a physical one.
The stigma was shattered.
So, now, I find my heart breaking as I see the journey come to an end. I find my heart breaking as it means I no longer get to know someone more. My heart is filled with gratitude and thanks to God for blessing me with a tremendously positive physical therapy experience.
But, I also find my heart angry and confused toward God as I wonder why the wonderful experience had to end. Thankfully, my sweet husband reminded me, that even though it had to end, it does not mean I can’t meet with her again.
After all, I am at a point in my life where I need physical therapy about once every two years. My sweet husband assured me that even though this may be a temporary end, I now know there is someone I trust and respect when it comes time to have therapy again.
My sweet husband reminded me that I longer have to walk into a physical therapy session with a gut-wrenching feeling filled with anxiety, fear, and trepidation. Instead, I can know with assurance, I have someone in my life who shattered the stigma when I needed it most. I can reflect on God’s faithfulness during a valley of confusion and pain.
I tell you this: If you can relate to my experience or this stigma in any way, you are not alone. You are not in the valley alone. Something tells me this experience is fairly common. Nevertheless, I say, hang in there, please. God will surprise you when you least expect it.
He will answer your prayers a thousand times over. And before you know it, you, too, will long for the journey to never end.