To Move Forward

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| This is the 125th story of Our Life Logs |


On March 3, 1994, I was born three months premature at two pounds, eleven ounces and doctors believed that I wouldn’t make it out of the hospital alive. As my family sat, distraught, a priest entered the room to give my last rites. My blue, lifeless body laid across the table. I wasn’t breathing. As the priest prepared to speak, I took a breath on my own and let out a small cry.

“Call off the priest! We have a live birth!”

Immediately, the coolness that covered my body slowly turned to a warm pink. In a matter of minutes, a team of doctors and nurses swarmed the small metal table and began to perform the necessary tests needed to make sure I stayed alive. After months of treatments and tests, I left the hospital in West Hills, California in June of 1994. From that moment on, I was known as “The Miracle Baby” of my family.

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Me as a child.

As my little life began, my family and my pediatricians realized that I was not progressing in the way that other children were at the time, physically speaking. I was unable to hold my head up, maintain my balance, and I had not started a normal walking process. I remained in the crawling stage. By the time I turned three years old, doctors officially diagnosed me with cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is a neurological condition that affects my fine motor skills as well as my ability to walk. In addition, the whole right side of my body is significantly weaker than my left, and I lack dexterity and fine motor skills.

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From the moment I was diagnosed, my family set out to provide me with the same opportunities as any other child. I was raised as if I had no physical limits. I surfed, rode horses, and even played softball for about two years. Throughout grade school, I had excelled in academia and thrived in a classroom setting while also maintaining a fruitful social life.  I wasn’t looked at any differently by my peers or teachers, and I was never made to feel as though my physical weaknesses set me apart. It was a world that I was comfortable in. I cherished my child-like innocence and my naïveté, especially when it came to my disability.

It wasn’t until seventh grade that I realized there was another side to living life with a disability. People can’t always comprehend others’ differences, and they aren’t always nice. Bullying was a hard concept for me to understand in my middle school years and first two years of high school. I couldn’t understand why I was the target of such disdain despite never causing friction with any of my peers. After spending an entire week in the bathroom by myself because I couldn’t take it anymore, a switch flipped inside me. I realized that the only way to see change was to become the change I wanted to see.  I adopted the new motto: “If they’re going to talk, let’s give them something to talk about.”

I asked my favorite English teacher if I could speak to my peers about my disability. She happily obliged and scheduled my first speech for March 3rd, 2010: my 16th birthday. I was nervous when the day arrived because half the students who bullied me would be in the audience. Nevertheless, when I got to Ms. O’Brien’s sixth period class, I took a deep breath and drove my bedazzled scooter to the front of the class. My mouth was dry, and my palms were sweating. I thought I would ruin my moment, but suddenly, I told a joke: “Hi, I’m Miranda and I’m an Olympic gymnast.” Laughter broke the awkward silence. I immediately felt at ease and the words poured out of me like a melody.

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Me with my bedazzled scooter with friends that helped make it, 2011.

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By the end, when I asked if anybody had any questions, I was brought to tears when I realized every single one of my classmates raised their hand to share a sweet comment or question. Looking back, I see that my motivational speaking was a catalyst in my journey to becoming a disability rights advocate. Through speaking to thousands of people, I learned that I had a voice after so many years of feeling silenced by the very thing I couldn’t change. I realized that through changing the way I spoke about my own disability, I was changing others’ perspectives and abolishing any stereotypes they may have had. I was the representation of what living life to the fullest with a disability was.

By the end of high school, I had raised my GPA to a 3.9, graduated with honors, and earned the title of Homecoming Queen. I also made a speech in every classroom on campus to over 3,000 of my peers. My voice was loud, and my message was important. Nothing could stop me. Or so I thought…

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Winning Homecoming Queen my senior year.

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I continued motivational speaking in community college, which opened new doors. I became a panel speaker, an award-winning writer, and a pioneer for change on my college campus, especially when disability rights were concerned. After deciding that I would transfer to a school in Northern California, I continued my advocacy efforts in hopes that the schools I applied to would allow me to effect change on one of their campuses. Colleges recognized my efforts, and I was accepted to four universities: UC Santa Cruz, University of San Francisco, California Lutheran University, and UC Davis.

I realized that UC Davis was the only accessible and affordable option, especially if I wanted to move away and live on my own. I was so anxious to go away to school and exercise my newfound independence that I chose the only school that was far enough away, without looking into it first.

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After attending Decision Day at UC Davis in May of 2015, I set out to make sure the school administration, more specifically their housing administration, had a clear idea of my needs. Because even the simplest of tasks can take me an exorbitant amount of time (i.e. showering and putting on my shoes can take me thirty minutes to two hours on a tough day). I would also be taking three different modes of transportation with me and needed to make sure I had appropriate access. The first thing I requested was a studio apartment so that I could live by myself with no roommates. Unfortunately, due to a fluctuation of incoming transfers, I was told studio apartments wouldn’t be available, so I settled on having one roommate.

I arrived at my new home with my mother and grandparents in tow. As my roommate started showing me around our apartment, my heart sank. All the accommodations I had requested to be able to live comfortably were nowhere in sight. I had been promised these accommodations and had been reassured numerous times that everything would be okay. When it wasn’t, panic set in for me and my family. Still, we tried to make do. We put certain tools in place that would make it easier for me to use my living space, at least until the accommodations arrived.

Three days later, my family traveled back to Southern California, and despite their pleading for me to come back with them, I made the stubborn decision to stay behind. I wasn’t willing to give up so easily even though I had just found out that the odds were stacked against me.

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Me during my college years.

Within the first month of being at UC Davis, just about everything that could’ve gone wrong, did. On my first day of classes, my scooter broke down. For the first two weeks, campus maintenance staff was in and out of my apartment, putting in the accommodations I had requested three months prior. All in all, it took them close to a month to finish everything, but once they finally did, things just continued to go downhill. The bars in the bathroom that I used to hold on and transfer in and out of the shower would constantly come loose, causing me to fall when I would attempt to get in or out. The automatic doors they put on my bedroom door eventually wouldn’t open or close, even when I pressed the button, which made it an ADA violation and hazardous for emergencies. To make matters worse, my physical and mental health began to deteriorate.

Over the course of five and a half months, I stopped showering (because I couldn’t). I developed severe edema (severe swelling of my lower extremities) to the point where I could no longer get out of bed. On top of that, I lost any control I had over my bodily functions. Perhaps the worst of it all was my development of severe depression.

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Truthfully, up until those five months up at Davis, I had not one symptom of depression, or if I did, it wasn’t as severe as it was—as it is. During the tough time there, I was incredibly isolated and afraid. I approached the housing administration numerous times, begging them to do something, but they just cast me aside. They claimed I could not be moved to another location because of how much money they had already spent. They said if I truly needed and wanted a change, I could simply leave the university.  I felt powerless.

• • •

Through the difficult times, I was still able to find comfort while at UC Davis. I have fond memories of taking long treks down the bike path, which was always ridden with fallen leaves, to get my piping hot coffee from the closest Starbucks. I kept myself going by cultivating friendships and focusing on the people who lifted me up when I was down. I made friends who would check on me consistently when they hadn’t heard from me. If I didn’t meet those good people, things might have taken a darker path. Still, the bad outweighed the good.

So, in the beginning of February 2016, I made the decision to leave the university. By this time, my grades had declined, I couldn’t recognize myself if I looked in a mirror, and I was so emotionally scarred that I felt like a shell of a person. In a sense, and if I am being totally honest, I still feel this way.  After five and a half months of my own personal hell, I was never the same again.

I often get asked why I kept everything to myself for so long instead of just telling my family. I know that my answer won’t make sense to anyone on the outside looking in, and it may not be enough. But if I am being completely honest, I was ashamed. I was embarrassed. I felt like if I didn’t try to stick it out and give the administration a chance to rectify the situation, I would be letting myself go. I was also a little prideful. I had worked so hard for years to get to that pinnacle of independence and yet, it came and went before I could thoroughly enjoy the feeling of bliss everyone else was able to experience.

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It has been two and a half years since I moved back to California, and in May of this year, I graduated with my B.A. in English from California Lutheran University. While I have been able to make a strong comeback, I still experience frequent flashbacks, which contrary to popular belief, aren’t always negative associations. I remember the sights, the sounds and the people so vividly that my heart physically aches if I think about it too much. These memories hurt because the more I think about it, the more I miss the little life I started in such a whirlwind of time.

Even though I still experience depressive episodes and flashbacks, I’ve realized that sometimes our toughest, most traumatic life events help us grow into the people we are meant to be. They show us the purpose we are meant to fulfill. Since graduating, I have once again picked up the activism I started years ago, except now I am heavily focused on working in educational policy positions. I’ve met with my state politicians and university presidents, as well as former and current university students to share my experiences and prevent the unnecessary travesties I endured. I am going to use my negative experience and turn it into something positive. Hopefully, I can show the world that no matter what the obstacle or setback, one can always expect and appreciate the comeback. I definitely do.

Section Break

 This is the story of Miranda Casanova

Miranda Casanova, 24, is a California-based writer, speaker, and disability rights activist. She has dealt with cerebral palsy but was always able to live a normal life with the proper accommodations until college. When her college refused to properly help her live comfortably, she left and used the frustration to propel her into activism for those suffering from similar situations all over the country. Before her “college nightmare,” she was content writing for a newspaper, teaching, and finishing her novel. While she could very well pursue any one of those plans, her focus continues to be on others. She plans on going to graduate school within the next year to research educational policy and disability law. She wants to make sure that she is in a position, sometime in the future, in which she can better equip and assist students like her in an academic environment. She wants to make sure that what happened to her does not happen to anyone or anywhere else. Miranda also runs a blog titled “Miranda, On the Move” at www.mirandaonthemove.com and has a book by the same name slated for release in October.

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This story first touched our hearts on July 12, 2018.

| Writer: Miranda Casanova |
| Editors: Kristen Petronio; Adam Savage; Colleen Walker |

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