Saturday, June 8, 2013

I'm a Spaz

When I was in junior high, whenever a friend did something clumsy, awkward, or funny, we would laugh and say,

"Don't be a spaz!"

I think I vaguely knew that the word "spaz" came from "spastic," but I had no idea what spasticity actually meant. Until, of course, I was afflicted with this uncomfortable condition myself.

Looking back, one of the people who probably suffered from spasticity was a kid in my class who had spina bifida, or maybe cerebral palsy. He used crutches and his legs looked like they hadn't grown enough. Other than noticing his awkward gait, I didn't think about him at all. My top--and only--priority in junior high was to fit in.

There was also an adult in our neighborhood who probably had spasticity. He walked into the town center every day with a lopsided gait. I'm guessing that he also had Tourette's syndrome, because he also used to mutter curses, and jerk with uncontrollable tics. "He's harmless," my mother would reassure me, if I encountered him on my walk home.

A few weeks ago when I was walking, I had a good view of my shadow. I was trying to walk fast, which makes my spasticity more noticeable. I was swinging my right arm, and with each step I could see my shadow arm moving in jerky, awkward movements, like a wind-up toy losing steam.

At first I was amused by my spastic shadow. I was even tempted to spew curses, just to see reactions of passers-by.

Then I thought: please god, help me walk normally before my children start junior high.

(For the record: I believe I also have apraxia, which contributes to the awkward look of my movements. Like many stroke survivors, I have a cluster of conditions.)


  1. Grace, the term spaz was initially used for spasticity and then picked up by teens to mean idiotic antics, or mental case (brain dead).

    With a stroke you are a spaz in both cases, as am I. We have uncoordinated movements, behave with some idiotic antics and are brain dead. The good news is that term isn't used anymore. At least it wasn't when my girls were teenagers (1990s onward to 2006).

    But a funny revelation.

    1. I hope I didn't offend people by talking about this outdated word.

      I don't like my spasticity, but I can deal with the occasional looks from passersby. But I have so much remorse for the times when I used that word without thinking about how hurtful it can be--especially for younger people who are struggling with building their self-image.

  2. I HATE watching my shadow - except when the sun's really low so that I look skinny. My shadow is like having a magnifying glass showing all of my mistakes.

    BTW, I think "spaz" went the same way as "retard."

  3. I'm not self-conscious about my arm in the winter because it hidden by a sleeve. When warm weather comes it takes about a month for me to stop feeling self-conscious. If people stare at me it often helps to smile at them. They either smile back or look away because they know they were being impolite.

  4. Grace, my understanding of "apraxia" is it is "motor planning". I was told Bob had it at first. The ST demonstrated it by asking Bob to "point to the ceiling" or "point to the floor" and when he didn't, she said, well he wants to do it but the brain is not sending the right messages... Later, I figured out it was just aphasia-- Bob did not understand the word "ceiling" or even "point" so how did he know what to do? but when demonstrated he could surely repeat the demonstration. Anyway, if you can follow directions, i.e. "motor plan" then you don't have apraxia. So many therapists just don't understand this thing.

    And hey, you may have a spastic muscle, but that does not mean you are a "spaz"!

    You are doing so well. Rejoice. And keep on keeping on.

  5. Ha! I understand. I learned how to skip again in the water (step on foot then hop on it then step hop, step hop) and tried to show my sister on land...her laughter told me very clearly that I did NOT look graceful doing it!