Sitting at a sidewalk café in Camps Bay with a couple of friends, I order my all-time favourite, a peach ice tea. ‘Please, can you bring me a straw with that,’ I ask the waiter. This is just one of the compensations I make for having cerebral palsy.

I was born with this condition. It is is a neurological condition that manifests itself differently in every individual. It affects me through impaired walking and fine-motor coordination. I also experience spasms in my legs and can shake uncontrollably at times. I get tired quickly, so simple tasks sometimes become very difficult. Naturally, this affects my life in many ways.

I have to go to physiotherapy and hydrotherapy once a week to strengthen my muscles and help keep them loose. Despite this, I still experience intense physical pain, with some days being better than others. Heat easing, hot baths and Happy Huggers are my friends, even during the hot summer months.

Dating is difficult

As a woman in my mid-thirties living with this condition, finding a partner is a little challenging. I am currently single. Added to the normal anxieties of dating and meeting potential partners, I have come to terms with the fact that I can’t eat with a knife and fork or even hold a glass of wine. I find it easier to meet men through friends because it allays my fears around acceptance and helps me feel more comfortable.

Shoe options are limited

I can only wear trainers as comfort is extremely important, and not all trainers suit my feet. I love fashion, so this is frustrating, and it often affects my whole outfit. I have never worn stilettos or pretty sandals.

Working is complicated 

It is hard for me to hold down a regular job; not because of my intellect, but because my physical challenges hinder the demands of employment. My low energy levels further contribute to this. I also am not able to drive or take public transport. In addition, I am not able to work at a fast pace because of my spasms and involuntary shaking.

 

Tracy Cohen

Tracy Cohen

 

Naturally, I have had to deal with immense frustration and sometimes the darkest days of despair. I often don’t feel like an adult, as I lack independence and am not in a serious relationship. Watching my friends work, get married and have children makes me feel as if I’m lagging behind. I have had to accept this very painful truth that my life is never going to correlate with societal norms.

But, I have always been a compassionate person, and I’ve found hope and a sense of purpose through volunteering. The charity I am currently involved with is the Homework Enrichment Lifeskills Programme (HELP). The aim of this organisation is to assist underprivileged children with their homework, and to improve their literacy and numeracy skills. As an after-school volunteer and fundraiser for HELP, it has given me a greater perspective on my disability, and a deeper sense of gratitude.

One of my fundraising highlights for HELP was when I had the opportunity to work with the well-known musician, Francois van Coke. This really allowed me to marry my two passions: music and helping others. Together, we raised money for a few months before taking a walk on the Sea Point promenade, which saw the culmination of the Walking On Sunshine campaign. Not only was this a philanthropic endeavour, but I was able to raise much-needed awareness around cerebral palsy.

I strongly believe that had I been able-bodied, I would not have garnered as much tenacity, resilience, bravery and compassion for other people. I hold these personality traits very close to my heart. I am aware of my limitations, but I do not allow it to dictate my life’s purpose, which is to help people that are in need.

Tracy Cohen