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I Couldn’t Bring Myself to Tell My Friends That I Had Cerebral Palsy

Author Ryan O’Connell on letting people think he had been in a car accident instead

Every couple of weeks, MEL Radio’s The Struggle Is Real podcast features a guy who has been through some shit in order to find the light, lessons and LOLs from his life’s darkest moments. On this episode, writer Ryan O’Connell talks to host Lara Marie Schoenhals about his lifelong battle with cerebral palsy, a congenital disorder that he tried to keep hidden until he published his 2015 memoir, I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves.

How the book came about

“I’d been approached by a few agents to write a book. I was 24, and I thought I was going to cash in on the whole millennial zeitgest-y thing of being like, ‘Maybe I’ll do a fun coffee table book for Urban Outfitters.’

“I realized that if I was going to write a memoir I should write about my cerebral palsy, which was something that I’d obviously had my entire life but had never really talked about. I had even kept it from my friends. Anybody that I met after I turned 21 thought that my limp had come from an accident.”

The low point

“I didn’t start talking until I was 3, and I didn’t start walking until six months after that. Things were that slow.”

The even lower point

“Before I hit puberty, the star of my life was cerebral palsy. And it was very intense because all this shit is happening to your body—both from puberty and from cerebral palsy. And I needed to have all these surgeries in hopes of things being more normal when I was fully grown. I had this one huge surgery that left me in a full body cast for three weeks; only to spend the next four months in a wheelchair.”

The lowest point

“I was at the BART in Berkeley. I couldn’t get my fucking dollar through the goddamn thing to get the fare. I went to the BART desk, but the woman couldn’t understand me. Finally, a woman came up behind me and said, ‘Can’t you see this poor man is retarded?’”

What it’s all meant

“Growing up, you don’t want to be different. You want to be like everybody else. But when you get older, you realize that your differences are your strength, that you use the fuck out of them and that they become your platform. It’s really freeing to be honest about who you are, what your deficits are and what you’ve been through.”

Listen to the full episode below.

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