Tag Archives: Asheville

Where lifeintheblueridges has been, and what’s next!

6 May

It’s been quite a while since I’ve written a blog post, and that’s mostly because I have been focusing solely on my final year of college. As of last Thursday, I completed my last final exam of my undergraduate career. I’ll be graduating in just 4 days with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. I truly can’t wait to have that diploma in my hand and have my family and friends around me to celebrate!

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.-Henry David Thoreau

What’s next in my life: Graduate school! Starting in August, I will attend UNC Charlotte’s MSW (Master’s of Social Work) program, and I truly can’t wait! One of my dreams of helping others is finally going to be coming true, and I am so ready for the journey ahead. Though it will be sad to close the UNC Asheville chapter of my life, I am anxious to start the next phase of my life in a new city which holds new opportunities and the chance to bring more wonderful people into my life. What could be more wonderful than that, you ask? Well…finally getting to focus solely on what I love and long to do for the rest of my life: helping others (hopefully the special needs population).

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.-Howard Thurman

Where lifeintheblueridges has been: Since its creation in November 2011, this blog has been an incredible gift to me in so many ways. Within the first few months of starting my blog, I connected with many people like me, aspiring writers. More than that, though, I was welcomed with open arms into a community I never knew I needed. Because of constant support and encouragement from those who knew me not personally, but simply through my writing, I finally reached a point in which I was able to start something I never thought I’d be able to do: the sharing of my story of living with Cerebral Palsy. In January of 2012, I began receiving positive feedback from fellow bloggers and connecting with others who either have Cerebral Palsy or another disability or know someone who does. Because of all the positive feedback, in January of 2012, I started writing my memoir of living with Cerebral Palsy. If it hadn’t been for the encouragement from the blogging community and other friends, I don’t know if I would have ever had the courage to open up about my experiences of living with CP. Since opening up, however, I have connected with so many people who’ve told me to keep on sharing. More recently, I’ve also been giving talks to elementary and middle schools in Buncombe County regarding my experiences of living with CP, and more specifically, the bullying experiences I had as a child as a result of my Cerebral Palsy. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities I’ve received to talk with so many kids about disabilities and bullying, especially because they have allowed the kids to learn more about what it’s like to live with a physical disability and it’s given them the opportunity to ask any questions they want about me and my disability (which I fully support since I know there are so many kids who are curious). Overall, through this blog, I have gained the courage to open up about my experiences and have developed the desire to share my story with others. However, I’ve also gained encouragers, supporters, fellow writers, beta readers fellow CPers, special needs parents…or more precisely, a community of people that is cheering me on currently and will continue to do so even after my memoir is eventually published (or that’s what I hope, anyway).

Where lifeintheblueridges is going: Beginning this July, I will no longer live in Asheville…no longer will I be nestled among these mountains I love. Therefore, the beloved lifeintheblueridges will be ending after this post. In the coming months, I’ll no longer be a college girl in Asheville. I’ll be even more than that…a graduate student in Charlotte! Therefore, though this blog has provided me with more than I ever thought possible…I’ll be creating a new blog, especially because I am about to close one door and open another. I am incredibly excited to begin a new blog journey, a blog that will solely focus on writing about my experiences of living with CP. Since this blog helped me to open up about my experiences, there’s NO WAY I’m going to stop sharing my story and writing my memoir. I hope to be sharing my story and the writing process of my memoir even more on my new blog!

*As of right now, I am not sure when my new blog will be up and running, but I will make one more post on here once the new blog is live so that everyone can continue following me and my story.*

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My First Speaking Event: Cerebral Palsy and Bullying

30 Oct

Last Thursday, I had my first speaking event. I spoke to an elementary school book club in Asheville who had read Out of My Mind, in which the main character in the novel has Cerebral Palsy, the same disability I have. I was asked to come and speak about being bullied in school because of my Cerebral Palsy.

Below is the talk I read to the students and their parents of the book club (disclaimer: I have changed the names of people in order to protect confidentially):

When I was 7 years old, I played on a coach’s pitch baseball team, and there is one game I’ll never forget. I was up to bat, and my coach, Mr. Mark, stood on the mound smiling at me. He pitched the ball, and even though I hit the ball, it didn’t go far. It landed close to Mr. Mark’s feet. There was a player from the other team standing behind Mr. Mark, but Mr. Mark grabbed the ball and kept it away from the other player. At first, as I was running to first base, I didn’t know what was going on. I just knew that the first baseman hadn’t caught the ball yet, so I kept running. As I was almost near third base, the biggest grin spread across my face as I realized what Mr. Mark had done: he was giving me my very first home run. I remember running as fast as I could from third base to home plate, and as soon as my feet touched home plate, everyone in the crowd jumped to their feet and cheered for me. In that moment, I got to be a normal kid, and I got to feel the happiness that comes with completing a home run. If only for one night, I wasn’t a girl with Cerebral Palsy. I was a baseball player, a team member, and probably one of the happiest people in my hometown, if only for a moment.

Just like the character of Melody in Out of My Mind, I have Cerebral Palsy. Though I am not in a wheelchair or unable to talk like Melody, my Cerebral Palsy affects the way I walk because my muscles are really tight and because I don’t have very good balance. Because of being physically different, I was always an outcast in school. I had trouble making friends, and it was hard not having someone who knew what I struggled with on a daily basis. When I walk, it is very evident that I am different, and because of my visible differences, I was an easy target for bullying in school.

I had my first bullying experience when I was in kindergarten. At that age, I had to use canes to help me walk. Because of having to use canes, I wasn’t able to walk very quickly, and there was a girl named Ashley who enjoyed picking on me because she knew I wouldn’t be able to run away. Every day on the playground during recess, Ashley came up behind me and pulled my hair. It wasn’t a friendly pull either. She grabbed a fistful of my hair and yanked as hard as she could, laughing as I screamed in pain. She pulled so hard that I couldn’t even try to get away from her. Every day, I came home crying, and every morning, I woke up dreading having to go to school and see Ashley on the playground. I felt like crying when I realized I was completely alone. No one was sticking up for me, and it made me really sad. One day, my teacher, Miss Sandy, came up to me and told me to hit Ashley with one of my canes to help her realize that what she was doing was hurting me. See, Ashley was mentally disabled, so she didn’t know any better, and hitting her was one of the only ways Miss Sandy knew to make her stop. I never did hit Ashley though. I couldn’t do it. Hitting her would make me just like her: someone who wanted to hurt someone else. I don’t think Miss Sandy really wanted me to hit Ashley though. She was just trying to teach me the importance of trying to stand up for myself. In many ways, it felt impossible. How was I supposed to stand up for myself when it felt like I didn’t have a friend who would stand up for me?

I’ve struggled with forming friendships my entire life. As a kid, I wanted friends more than anything. I think that is the reason I never told a teacher that kids were making fun of me. I became afraid that once I told a teacher, the people who picked on me would call me a “tattle-tale” and the other kids would distance themselves even more. Because I was so physically different from the other kids in my class, all I wanted was to feel like I fit in. In my early friendships, many of the people who became friends with me were my friends out of pity. Even though they didn’t specifically tell me that, I could tell it was true. I could tell by the way they looked at me that they felt sorry for me. When I was young, I kept those friendships anyway because all I wanted was a place where I felt like I belonged. Many of those friendships didn’t last long though because most of the people who had been spending time with me left when they got tired of pretending to be my friend.

It wasn’t until I became friends with a boy named Tommy in first grade that things began to change. Tommy was the first person to visibly stick up for me. He confronted the people who picked on me, telling them it wasn’t okay to pick on someone who couldn’t help that she was different. Tommy’s friends laughed at him for sticking up for me, but he didn’t care. He stuck up for me anyway and was there for me no matter what. Tommy also saw the numerous people who became friends with me because they felt sorry for me. He knew how much that hurt me. Even though Tommy wasn’t disabled, he saw how I cried day after day when another person I thought was my friend just got tired of trying. Tommy’s presence in my life didn’t stop other kids from picking on me, but I began to feel a little less alone. Even now, I don’t have many friends. However, the few friends I do have are incredibly close to me, and I am happy to say that one of those friends is still Tommy.

When I was in fifth grade, I took a required PE class. In my PE class, dodge ball was typically the game of choice. Every week in PE, I was chosen last for dodge ball. I even remember one particular day when one of my friends, Allie, was the team caption. This made me excited because I thought: Yes, finally! I won’t be picked last because Allie will choose me since we are friends. The team picking began, and I waited with excitement for Allie to say my name. I looked towards her with a smile on my face, and my smile faded as I realized she was picking everyone else but me. Finally, it came down to Miranda, a girl who had just broken her leg, and me. It was Allie’s turn to pick, and I started to inch towards her. And then you know what happened? She chose Miranda over me! Miranda, the girl no one liked because she was so mean, and the girl who couldn’t even move as well as me because she had broken her leg. I couldn’t believe it!

As I got older, I thought the bullying would stop, but it didn’t. The summer after my sophomore year in high school, I attended a creative arts camp. One day I was walking back from a creative writing class, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw a girl named Lauren imitating the way I was walking. I turned to her and said, “Hey, what are you doing?” “Imitating the way you’re walking,” Lauren said. When I asked her why, she explained that she was supposed to observe people as an assignment for her theatre class. Even though I told her she hurt my feelings, Lauren didn’t listen. As I walked away, I watched as she laughed and continued to imitate me. I ran back to my room and cried, so sad and frustrated that I was still getting picked on. Even at an older age, getting picked on hurt just as much, if not more. Lauren knew what she had been doing. She saw how I cried in front of her, and yet she still continued to imitate me and laugh at me. I couldn’t understand why she would be so mean on purpose. I ended up telling a staff member about what happened, and she contacted the teacher to find out that it was never a class assignment. The next day, though, something good happened. Lauren did the one thing I never thought she would ever do: she said she was sorry.

Being bullied, either physically or emotionally, is hurtful for anyone, but it’s especially hurtful if someone bullies you for something you have no control over, like a physical disability. My bullying experiences have affected me my entire life. I remember the details of every bullying experience I’ve ever had. I remember how alone and broken they made me feel, and how it seemed like the bullying would never stop. Typically, kids in school try to be different because they don’t want to blend in with the crowd. For them, it’s important to stand out. In my case, I have always been incredibly different, and all I have ever wanted was to be normal. My differences have never stopped me from trying to be as independent and normal as possible though.  I have Cerebral Palsy, and I am a survivor.

Speaking at this event was an incredible experience. I was nervous to speak about my bullying experiences since they were a part of my life I had never verbally discussed before. However, it was such a relief to finally talk about being bullied, and it gave me a sense of closure. It was also wonderful to hear from the kids in the book club and answer their questions. One girl in particular asked what my best grade in school was and what was my worst. It truly made me smile because I realized how wonderful it is to hear questions from kids. They make connections many of us as adults seem to have lost as we have gotten older, or maybe kids are just never nearly as shy to ask whatever seems to pop into their head. Either way, it was a great evening. I have even been asked to come back to that same elementary school to speak to the fifth graders, and my contact information has been passed on to two other elementary and middle schools in Asheville. I suppose it’s time to make myself some “business” cards!

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Wanting to find my niche of writer friends.

12 Dec

Since starting this blog in November of last year and realizing my own need to share my story of living with CP, I think it’s accurate to say there have definitely been days with no words. Days when I would sit at my computer for hours before a memory would find its way into my mind or I’d realize I wanted to share a certain lesson I had learned. However, I think it’s important to realize that we all have days where we get stuck. Though I’m most familiar with it in terms of how it relates to being a writer, I know the concept of being stuck affects people in different ways.

In my experience, I have gotten over many of my ruts by reading. I imagine it has something to do with having the chance to get out of your own head for a little while to enter the world of someone else’s creativity and writing style. Though it doesn’t always act as an immediate jolt, placing myself into the worlds of other writers allows me to gain perspective as well as achieve a better understanding of the message I want to get across through my own writing.

Last month, when I read Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett, I spent time imagining how things would’ve been different for me now if I had made the decision to major in English instead of Psychology. Though I love Psychology, I have always had a love of words, literature, and the power of writing. However, I think I ended up choosing Psychology because I knew it would hold many more opportunities for me in terms of a future career than English would. Though I am very happy with my decision to study Psychology, I do miss the English courses I took my freshman year of college. In those classes, I flourished. I poured over the short stories we discussed in class, but since my freshman year was a time in which I took a break from my writing, I wasn’t keen on writing my own stories. Though I knew I had the ability, I was fully content to live inside the worlds of the authors I only hoped to one day emulate.

In Ann Patchett’s memoir Truth & Beauty, writer friends Ann Patchett and Lucy Grealy attended Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, to study English. The entire time I was reading of Ann and Lucy’s adventures as English majors in northern Manhattan, I imagined myself in a similar place (not in terms of living in New York, but studying English and being surrounded by others who also had a love for writing). I pictured myself finding my writer friends, forming writer groups and spending hours discussing our own writing projects as well as the works of the authors we hoped to be like. I pictured myself spending hours in bookstores pouring over Flannery O’Connor, only to one day find someone sitting near me pouring over an entirely different book, while finding comfort in the silent conversation we shared. Despite the fact I now live in the artsy city of Asheville, I have not found the writing niche I long for. In some part of my mind, I wonder if I would have found my writer friends easier if I had chosen to be an English major instead, especially since it seems to be an unspoken fact that English majors love to write, read and talk about books. Though I hope to eventually find a group of writer friends my age who are able to fully understand my love of literature and writing, sometimes I just wish I had put myself in a better position to find just that.

Though I know I have a lot of time to “find my niche,” I think each of us longs to be around a group of people who understands us and encourages us to fully embrace the things we love. Though I do have friends my age who fit that mold, none of them are writers. I do remember coming across a Literature Club on my college campus, and that may be a place to start. However, I also know that I’m interested in connecting with others who not only love to read, but have the burning desire to write on a daily basis (and end up doing so, for the most part). So yes, I feel like I would benefit from a niche of writer friends. Maybe all it takes is being willing to go out into the community in search of a writers group. Though stereotypically most writers categorize themselves as introverts and would much rather spend a day inside reading than out socializing with friends (and I definitely categorize myself this way), I think the only way I’m going to find my fellow writers to talk with about books, writing and the deeper complexities of life is just by going out and looking for it. However, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. But who has ever said that something worth finding ever is?

Photo Friday: The sky is the limit…or is it?

7 Dec
The winter trees of Asheville. :)

The winter trees of Asheville. 🙂

Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life – well, valuable, but small – and sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven’t been brave? So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn’t it be the other way around? I don’t really want an answer. I just want to send this cosmic question out into the void. So good night, dear void.- from You’ve Got Mail with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks.

When the stars align…with Easter Seals UCP.

1 Dec

Easter Seals UCP is a non-profit organization that supports families dealing with disabilities and mental health challenges. Over the past few months, I have been researching different Cerebral Palsy organizations to see if I could come across any information tailored towards adults with CP. Though I still haven’t found much useful information, I did find Easter Seals UCP. Upon looking at their website and the numerous blog posts by families dealing with disabilities, I was inspired. I was inspired not to focus on my own physical issues at the moment, but instead chose to focus on something that has just been coming to life since I started sharing my story of CP: my role as an advocate.

If you would have told me two years ago that my current primary focus would be using my own story and my personal experience with CP to advocate for kids with disabilities, I probably would not have believed you. I have never imagined that talking about my own struggles would be something I’d be able to do…much less want to do. However, since that is how things seem to have evolved, once I realized there were numerous Easter Seals offices across every state, I knew I had to get involved. The need to get involved led me to find out if there was an Easter Seals UCP office in Asheville, and I found it.

After connecting with some people in the Easter Seals UCP Asheville office through email and phone conversations and getting such a positive response regarding my desire to get involved within the Asheville community, I could not be more excited. At this point, I’m unsure how things will progress. However, after learning that the Asheville office works directly with families in the community, I asked if there had ever been any kind of program implemented that deals with the emotional barriers that a disability presents. Though there isn’t currently a program in place within the Asheville community that deals with the emotional side of disabilities, I told the Easter Seals Asheville office that I felt it would be incredibly beneficial for the community and that I’d be willing to help in any way I can. Long story short, I’ll be meeting with those at the Asheville office to discuss ways in which this kind of program could be implemented as well as general ways in which I can work with Easter Seals as a CP/disabilities advocate within the community.

Words cannot even express how excited I am about this possible opportunity. However, I know that without this blog and the incredibly supportive community of WordPress, I would not have been able to reach the point of talking so openly about my disability and what I’ve faced. For my entire life, I have struggled with the concept of belonging. However, I guess the part of my life that I was trying so hard to escape from was where I needed to be all along. Even though I didn’t have the opportunity to talk with someone who knew what I was going through during the years of my intense surgeries and physical therapy, I want to be that person for other kids with disabilities, and I want them to know they don’t have to go through it alone. Therefore, to all the families dealing with disabilities and the entire Easter Seals community, thank you. Thank you for helping me find another dream to strive towards.

Copyright: Easter Seals UCP.

Copyright: Easter Seals UCP.

Reflecting on words.

29 Nov

Have you ever come across one of your previous pieces of writing and thought: Did I seriously write that? It’s SO good! That happened to me last night when I came across a blog post I wrote on October the 20th, titled The finding place of my words. As I read my own words, I was amazed. There were certain connections I made on that brisk fall day back in October that still apply to how I feel right now. I don’t know what it is with writers wanting to write about words or the creative process. However, in my case, it provides me with perspective, which is discussed in more detail in my blog post titled, The magic of first lines in literature.

Last Spring, as I was walking across the quad of my college campus to get to class, I had to stop and take in the scene that was unfolding before me. As I looked around, I saw tons of college students sitting on the quad reading. However, as is customary for Asheville, they were all different. Each student’s reading experience was unique. One guy was lying in a hammock he had strung up between two nearby trees, and his book rested lightly against his bent knees. I also saw a girl who was lying on her stomach on a flowery blanket with her bare feet casually in the air. She was holding a book out in front of her, careful to block the sun from her eyes. The third student I spotted was my personal favorite though. She was sitting in the grass with her back up against the trunk of a tree. Her long, dark hair covered the sides of her face, making it possible to only focus on her eyes, which were moving so fast across the pages of her book that I could tell she was a very focused reader. I think the image of the third student stuck with me the most because I could see so much of myself in her. As a reader, especially when it involves a book I am reading for pleasure, it takes a lot to break my focus. Often times, I get so absorbed in the words that I lose the ability to fully comprehend what is going on around me, outside of the world of words that I so often call home.

Though I don’t know whether the students that I observed were reading for their own pleasure or for a class assignment, I like to believe either they were reading something for pleasure or were at least reading something they were interested in. I enjoy sticking to this belief simply because it is very closely related to how I imagine myself when I am reading. In so many ways, words have always been my refuge, but they have also been the place I have returned to again and again if I need to re-evaluate something or find my sense of balance.

“All my life I’ve looked at words as though I were seeing them for the first time.” – Ernest Hemingway

Not all words provide us with the strength to change or the reassurance that we are moving in the right direction in our lives. However, if a series of words can come together into a sentence that causes us to stop and read the sentence again and again, it’s almost like magic. Whether they fill us with a sense of happiness, loss, sadness, anger, loneliness, or hope…words matter. They have the ability to reach a place inside us that not many people can even describe. It’s almost as if the most precious of sentences we have ever read reside in a place so deep within us and so personal that it takes a certain kind of experience for the words to resurface.

“To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music the words make.” – Truman Capote

“One must be drenched in words, literally soaked in them, to have the right ones form themselves into the proper pattern at the right moment.” – Hart Crane

Words matter. They are precious stones that have been washed by the countless waves of the sea, and they lie in the sand, waiting for us to uncover them. But the most precious words, the ones that are the rare deep blue stones, they are not so easy to find. They reside in the crevices of rocks, thrown to those places by the most violent of waves. But they have triumphed. They have overcome the turbulent waves of the sea, taking refuge until we are able to bring them out into the light. So don’t wait. Start searching.

Photo Friday: First Instagram Photo.

16 Nov

The first Instagram photo taken with my iPhone!

“Perhaps some day I’ll crawl back home, beaten, defeated. But not as long as I can make stories out of my heartbreak, beauty out of sorrow.” -The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath