If everyone’s “normal” is different, then different should be the new normal
Born with Cerebral Palsy, now just 17 years old, Yasmin Caulfield's main mission is to use writing as a platform to create resonance and understanding surrounding issues of equality, progression and acceptance, while empowering others to find sanctuary in their individual expression.
Normal. I have a complex relationship with that word.
I could change it - average, typical, ordinary. But it still sounds the same, because according to society, I am none of those things.
According to society, I am “different,” and that is a bad thing. “Different” has too many connotations that frighten us - like “odd” or “strange.” It makes us - the models of this strange garment - feel like we are strangers in our own humanity. Strangers to ourselves.
Worse, according to society “different” comes with an accessory - vulnerability. All because I will never be “normal.”
That may be so but the truth is, I am confused.
Some people like red, others prefer blue - they are “different” to each other, although they would never admit that; a speck of red becomes “vulnerable” in an ocean of blue. So they stay safe, and say “blue.” They say blue, and they stay blind - because what they cannot see is their accessory: we all wear vulnerability differently.
Yet, if everybody’s normal is different, why isn’t different the new normal?
I remember the first time. I was at the front of the assembly hall, two-hundred beady eyes trained on my rickety, alien motion as I stood up. Shaking arms raised, I began to walk the tightrope of expectation across the room.
“What do you think she wants to be?” said the teacher to the pupils, as though waiting for the punchline of a joke.
All in perfect, unwavering unison, they glassed the surface of the silence, and their half-hearted mask of acceptance melted away in their reply: “Normal.”
“The same” she corrected - as though trying to plaster the wound. But it was too late - in their eleven year old eyes, I wasn’t normal. I was an outsider.
As I sank downwards, I felt it for the first time. Boiling, bubbling anger, as red as the wheelchair I was sat in.
That wasn’t the last time. Three years later, in the street, they caught up with me again.
But by this time I had realised that that wasn’t the first time at all.
I was seven years old. I remember the tiny earthquake that shook my tiny core as it dawned on me: I was painfully old for armbands, and I was painfully jealous that my baby brother could swim before I could. I erupted into heavy tears, gasping for breath between the syllables of “it’s not fair!”
But then something magical happened. I decided that “cerebral palsy” was just a name. Just a label. Just like “red”, just like “blue”, and just like” normal.”
My tiny earthquake had turned into the epicentre of a mighty, mighty hurricane. “I’m getting back in the pool!” I had insisted, with as much conviction as I could muster, my throat raw from the impact.
I didn’t know it yet, but as I spliced the blue canvas underneath me, time and time again, I had met a new friend: a friend called “tenacity.”
My vulnerability was overt - or at least the things that vulnerable ‘should’ be. But what the blind couldn’t see, was that I wore vulnerability as an armour. I wore my shade, adorned with scars, braided with fortitude.
My vulnerability still made me angry - it still wasn’t fair that this world decided who I could be, decided that I was “fragile.” But I’d like to thank this world. Because this world made me realise that I couldn’t possibly be silent and frustrated simultaneously - I had to make a choice.
This world was a catalyst, and my frustration quickly became my freedom.
I remember the first time. I was sixteen years old, and I paused before I started to read. Shaking arms still, I took off ‘anonymity’ - I’d never liked it on me.
Piece after piece had been read by pupil after pupil - ‘oohs’ for the good bits, sniggers the funny bits, and quiet for the not so funny bits.
As I finished and breathed back in the rich envelopes of oxygen filling the room, I realised: it was silent.
These people were sixteen years old, and for the first time in both of our lives, they were not just listening to me - they were hearing me. They were hearing my words, and hanging on every one like puppets.
And then a novel sound. A rapturous novel sound - clapping. ‘Them’ and 'me' were in this moment together. In this moment, I had met ‘levity.’
I can’t remember the first time I sat down and started to write, but I discovered exactly why I did it at that moment.
I did it, because vulnerability is magic. I did it, because vulnerability creates resonance and change.
I did it, because vulnerability is human.
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