Why You Need to Stop Compensating
My wife and I recently adopted a 4 year old girl from China with cerebral palsy (CP).
CP is a disease that affects motor and sensory functions of the body. While she was still developing in the womb, her brain suffered an injury. Causes of CP vary from prematurity to hypoxia to infections. The part of her brain that was affected did not develop normally and she struggles with muscle control.
We know very little about the first 4 years of her life. When we picked her up, though, she was extremely weak. She struggled to walk 10 feet without falling. Forget running or climbing or dancing. The normal stuff of a 4 year olds life.
When you looked at her, it was easy to write her off. To place her in a category of a hopeless, pathetic invalid.
The first time I saw her, I was scared to death. Seeing her lack of ability to function gave me little hope that she would ever have a “normal” life.
She is anything but an invalid. In the short time we have had her, we have seen her development excelerate beyond what we had imagined possible.
The Problem with Compensating
One of her treatments is bracing.
The braces are called AFO’s or ankle-foot-orthotics. They completely surround her ankle from high up on her calf down the back of her leg and underneath her feet past her toes.
The interesting thing about the braces is how they help her. Strengthening her muscles is very hard for her. Most kids develop strength as they play and do stuff. She is so weak and her muscles function so abnormally this hasn’t happened for her.
Because she is weak, she compensates.
Eva is a really smart girl, which both helps her and makes things worse. She is really good at finding the easy way out of something. For her it is like breathing.
She takes a swimming class. One of the games she is asked to play involves her going under water to grab items. She is supposed to grab one at a time until they are all gone. When Eva gets tired, she grabs two.
She compensates to function. With weak muscles, she has learned to change the way that she walks. And yes, it looks funny. But the biggest issue with compensation is that it keeps her weak. The muscles that need to strengthen are not used. Her ability to compensate actually perpetuates her problem.
This is one of the reasons she wears braces. To remove the compensation. The braces force her to walk differently. And yes, it looks even funnier. But weak muscles are forced to be used which makes them stronger.
Walking differently and slower and funnier are the first steps to walking normally. Allowing her dysfunction is an important part of improving her function.
But the key part of this process is to remove her ability to make it easier. To put her in a situation where she has to do the hard work.
All of us have some way we compensate. There is part of our lives that is so difficult and painful, or perhaps weak, that we have learned how to function some other way.
We compensate by finding joy in things that are easy to obtain but do not last.
We compensate by finding the easy way out in life.
We compensate by silencing the dreams in our hearts.
We compensate by keeping ourselves busy and distracted with lesser things.
We compensate by allowing excuses for our lack of effort.
Because we compensate, we are weak.
The only way to become stronger is to remove the compensation. To walk funny for a time so that we can gradually build strength.
And then one day, we will be able to run.
How do you compensate for weak areas of your life?
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