Cerebral Palsy and Self-Image: An interview with Carrie-Ann Lightley

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Cerebral Palsy and Self-Image: An interview with Carrie-Ann Lightley

One of the most important aspects of living a fulfilling life with cerebral palsy is adopting a positive mental outlook, and cultivating a constructive and resilient self-image that makes it easier to handle the challenges posed by the condition. Sometimes, this can be difficult to accomplish, which is why it is so important for those affected by the condition to make sure they have access to support during tougher times.

Carrie-Ann Lightley is one of the UK’s leading accessible travel bloggers, and having lived with cerebral palsy for many years, has extensive first-hand experience of how to manage these challenges. For her, keeping a strong outlook on life and developing a positive self-image whilst living with cerebral palsy has been crucial to helping her achieve her goals in life.

JMW Solicitors spoke with Carrie to get her expert advice on many of these issues, including the links between cerebral palsy and emotional regulation, and the steps that she takes to handle the effects of cerebral palsy on daily life. Read on for insights from Carrie on how to build your self-image, and live a life with cerebral palsy that's full of opportunities and personal growth.

How does cerebral palsy affect people's lives? Can you tell us how cerebral palsy has affected you, personally?

Cerebral palsy affects my ability to stand and walk. When I was younger, I walked with a frame or sticks, but these days I use a wheelchair. It’s classed as a non-progressive condition, but, as with all lifelong conditions, it has had a degenerative effect over time. 

Has your disability ever affected your self-image? If so, how did you overcome this?

It’s taken me a long time to find my true self-image, and that continues to evolve with life’s changes. As a child, I had no peers with disabilities, and no role models who looked like me showing me the path to follow. As a result, I tried to follow other people’s paths, making myself appear and behave as ‘normally’ as possible. 

As a young adult, I began working in the world of accessible travel, surrounded by proud, talented disabled people, and with the help of some excellent mentors, I began to find my passion, and the confidence to really be myself.

Do you believe that people may have preconceived notions about life with cerebral palsy? If so, what are these?

A lot of people assume that I can’t move at all without my wheelchair, or that I have no feeling in my legs. Neither of those things are true.

People are often surprised to see me travelling independently, expecting me to be with a carer; or assuming that I must need their assistance.

How can young people with cerebral palsy boost their self-image? 

A strong support network, and being around people who’ve had similar experiences, are so important. There are charities like CP Teens UK that connect young people with cerebral palsy. It’s about finding your tribe, and not carrying shame about being different. Shine, regardless.

What is something that you are proud of achieving so far in life?

Around six years ago I met a disabled woman – let's call her Alice - who assumed that travelling to Rome would be impossible for her. 
She’d fallen in love with the city before she’d become disabled and was desperate to return, but just couldn’t imagine that she’d manage. As my own trip to Rome had such an impact on me, I’d written a travel guide to Rome with disabled access. Alice had read the guide, and on the basis of my review, had found the confidence to book her return trip to Rome. 

In 16 years of travel blogging, I’ve won awards and accolades, stayed in luxurious hotels, and written for national newspapers – but I count changing Alice’s assumptions on the accessibility of Rome as one of my greatest achievements.

When you feel down, what’s one thing that helps you to keep going? 

Spending time out in nature with my dog always helps me to refocus. I love being out alone with her, just the two of us and my wheelchair, finding our own way independently. 

Are there any assumptions about the effects of cerebral palsy on daily life that you would like to debunk? 

People with cerebral palsy have a sensitive startle reflex. Most babies grow out of this; those with CP don’t. It means that I struggle with loud sudden noises like alarms, car horns and fireworks. People assume I’m just jumpy and often laugh – I'm not, it is part of my condition.

What makes you feel confident?

Reminding myself that I’ve survived all of my bad days, and achieved a lot of things that I never thought I would. Pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone, and, usually, loving every minute of it. The best feeling is proving yourself wrong.

Keep up to date with Carrie-Ann's travels on her blog: www.carrieannlightley.com. You can also read more cerebral palsy blog posts and informational guides on our Cerebral Palsy Hub.

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