Tag Archives: Awareness

Why I Love Working With Dying Children.

2 Dec

I read an article recently by a woman who teaches poetry and prose to dying children. Throughout the article, the author regularly mentioned how a certain little boy’s death would one day prevent her from ever returning to work. That little boy became another little girl who became yet another child. They all faced something we don’t talk enough about: death. Eventually, the author mentioned how this work contains so much sadness and fragility, and yet it is also the work she could never dream of walking away from.

Ever since August of 2013, I have been interning with Arts For Life, a NC-based non-profit organization focused on teaching art to children and families battling serious illnesses and disabilities. Specifically, I work with two populations of children: children undergoing treatment for cancer and other blood disorders and children undergoing physical, occupational, or speech therapy. I began this internship for a variety of reasons. However, the main one was due to my previous hospital experiences. As a child, I had to undergo three intense surgeries, which later included intense physical therapy, and I spent all this time in the hospital. During this time, the one bright spot in all the days of physical pain, tears, and uncertainty was the weekly craft nights. For one hour every week, I got to focus on making an art project rather than dwelling on how much pain I was in, which exercises I needed to do, or an upcoming surgery. Having a chance to put all my energy into something completely outside of myself helped to decrease some of my anxiety. Some of those nights, I dare say I might have even been happy. Due to my enjoyable experiences with art projects in the hospital, I knew I wanted to provide these same opportunities for other kids in the hospital.

Ever since I started teaching art projects to kids in the hospital, I have loved every minute of it. I love seeing the regular kids every week who have finally gotten used to me and will come up and just start talking. I love watching the kids burst with creativity, coming up with an alternative project I hadn’t even considered. I love seeing the smiles on their faces when they finish their project and run to show their parents. I love finding new ways to teach the children. However, more than anything, I love being able to take in all the different lessons they’ve ended up teaching me without even knowing it.

They have taught me the true meaning of strength. They have taught me what it means to not let an illness define you. They’ve taught me how “art” and “perfect” are rarely in the same sentence, and that’s perfectly okay. More than anything, they’ve taught me the importance of noticing the small things. One little girl I know is battling cancer, and yet she is one of the happiest little girls I know. She smiles, she laughs, and she plays. Most importantly, she does one thing I believe we often forget. She notices every moment: every smile, every time of laughter, every speck of blue sky. She absorbs every single piece of life, soaking it all in. I try more and more each day to live like her, but I’ve got a long way to go.

Numerous friends have asked me how I am able to be around kids who are dying. And you know what my response is? “How could I not?” These kids need me. They need the chance to be able to fully express themselves. They need a positive person in their lives who can bring something good into their hospital experience. They need someone who cares. A few years ago, I never imagined that person could be me, and yet, here I am.

I have yet to lose one of the children I teach. The more I read the article written by the woman who teaches poetry and prose to dying children, the more I’ve begun to understand that we all deal with death in our own way. How I react to losing a child I teach may not be the same way one of the child’s nurses might react. That being said, the important thing to remember is even if I lose I child I teach, there are still tons of other children who need me. Though one day may feel quiet as I mourn the loss of a particular child I cared for, there will be more children coming to clinic the following day, and I need to be the best I can be for them. Being sad around them isn’t my job. If I’m sad, they’ll get sad. That’s why positivity is so important.

Teaching art to children with serious illnesses and disabilities is not easy, but it is the first thing I’ve ever done that’s given me a deep sense of purpose. Seeing the smile on a little boy’s face means I was part of his happiness. Having a little girl cling to my leg begging me not to leave warms my heart more than she will ever know. I just hope one day these children will know how much they have changed my life.

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.-Plato

Sports Illustrated Kids Brings Awareness To CP.

4 Feb

A few days ago, I watched the inspirational story of brothers Connor and Cayden Long, the winners of the Sports Illustrated Kids 2012 SportsKids of the Year award. However, I have found myself watching it more than once over the last few days simply because it’s that amazing, but be sure to have your Kleenex ready!

The story of Connor and Cayden not only brings awareness to Cerebral Palsy, but it also emphasizes that those with disabilities deserve to be treated like everyone else. Connor, brother to Cayden who has CP, has done something incredible. Through his decision to include his brother in triathlons, he is reshaped the course of his brother’s life, whether he knows it or not. He’s making a point to say that even though his brother has CP, he shouldn’t be viewed as any less than anyone else. Through Connor’s desire to connect with his brother, he is giving Cayden a voice that may not have been heard otherwise. He is helping others become more aware of CP and other disabilities, which is definitely needed in today’s society. Hopefully the more aware people become regarding CP and other disabilities, the less fear there will be toward those who are “different.”

The fact that Connor, who is only 9 years old, was able to make so many important points concerning the acceptance of those with disabilities is incredible. Sadly, there probably aren’t even that many adults that would have the courage or understanding to make such claims. Though I know that some of that fear stems from a lack of education and awareness about those with disabilities, it’s why we need more people like Connor who have a background with people with disabilities (whether it’s a family member or friend) and who are not afraid to get up and say what needs to be said. Though there is still a long way to go regarding society’s acceptance of those with disabilities, allowing the public to become more aware through stories such as this is how it begins.

The story of Connor and Cayden is yet another emphasis on why I have chosen to share my own story of CP. Though it may take quite a while for me to actually get my complete story on paper, I know there are people with disabilities who have some of the same pain, fears, hopes, and dreams as I do, but are unable to express how they are feeling or just want to know they are not alone. That’s why I’ve kept on writing. These stories need to be brought to light, both for those who have lived through the experiences as well as for those who are striving to understand just what someone they know with a disability is feeling.

Bringing awareness to disabilities.

22 Oct

I’m proud to announce that my university, UNC Asheville, is having its very first Disability Awareness Week starting today, which is hosted by UNCA’s Disability Services Office. Even though I wasn’t involved in bringing this event together, I am very honored that my university is making such a positive decision by understanding that we need to bring awareness to disabilities. Even though awareness is something that takes more than just one week dedicated to disabilities, I believe that this is a step in the right direction. Through doing research for my community psychology project on the social stigma of physical disabilities, I’ve found that the stigma persists because of two main thing: a lack of knowledge and simple fear. Though fear seems like a small component, it drives much of the social stigma of physical disabilities since being “different” is purely a cultural construct.

One of my favorite events of UNCA’s Disability Awareness Week is its “Wall of Oppression.” Starting today, there will be a huge poster hung in the student union where people can write some of the hurtful statements they have received, heard or read regarding disabilities. In my opinion, this is such an awesome way to bring awareness to the stigma that’s connected with disabilities. I think it’ll help a lot of people realize that the strongest component behind the stigma is fear. So many people are afraid of what’s “different.” My university has the chance to change that…or at least try.

Along with the “Wall of Oppression,” at the end of this week there will be a fire pit gathering in which the “Wall of Oppression” will be burned in a symbolic act freeing people with disabilities from oppressive words and thoughts. I love this idea so much. Throughout so much of my life, I’ve heard it all. I’ve been teased, laughed at, and avoided…and this week of Disability Awareness Week is acting as a way to inform students that this behavior is not okay. Just because someone is “different” doesn’t mean they should be treated as less than anyone else.

My entire life I’ve tried to find a place where I fit in or belonged, and the fact that the social stigma of disabilities is so prevalent in our society has made fitting in even more difficult. However, over the past few months, I’ve realized that I’ve known my place all along. It’s to advocate for myself and others will disabilities, especially for those who aren’t able to speak for themselves. I strive to make people with disabilities realize that they are not alone and that I understand their pain and how hard it is to put up the daily fight. After all, we are the only ones who can understand what we’ve faced. No one else knows our pain. Through continual advocation of disabilities, I’m helping so much of society who may not know someone with a disability have a glimpse into our world. If that’s not worth as much time as I can give, I don’t know what is.

Let’s talk about the weather.

14 Aug

When I was in Ireland for my summer study abroad program earlier this summer, I took an Irish language class that met twice a week. I was hoping to learn some Irish phrases so that I could come back to the States and impress my friends and family with some Irish, or maybe an accent. Unfortunately, I came back with neither. However, I did learn one interesting thing: The Irish love to talk about the weather. One of my language professors said that in Ireland it’s typical to spend about 15 or 20 minutes every day just talking about the weather, as if it is as important as something that happened at work or an interesting conversation you overhead while standing in line at the grocery store. I found the importance of the weather as a conversation piece very interesting mainly because that’s not how the topic of weather is viewed in the States.

Here if someone brings up the weather as a conversation topic, they’ve done it for 2 reasons: 1. The conversation is so boring or awkward that they’ve settled for discussing the weather or 2. Something big is happening in terms of the weather (i.e there’s a severe storm coming their way or it’s been unseasonably hot). Normally, I think that if the weather is brought up as something to genuinely discuss, the conversation has already been shot to hell. However, imagine how things would change if we put the same emphasis on the topic of the weather as the Irish do. Though we normally view the topic of the weather as a mundane discussion, taking the time to actually sit down and comment on the weather could help us slow down a little bit. It could give us a break, even a small one, to discuss something that seems as simple as brushing our teeth in the morning. When I was in Ireland, I noticed the slow and overall relaxed nature of the Irish. They don’t rush. If the bus is 15 minutes late, it’s not a big deal. The earliest classes begin at 9am rather than 8am. However, forbid them to go into their favorite pub as soon as they get off work at 5pm, and you’ve got trouble.

I know that if I took a few minutes every day to talk about (or at least observe) the weather, it would be a daily reminder to slow down. Though I know that it is a common saying to “Stop and smell the roses,” how many of us really stop and take the time to notice the little things? Maybe today each one of us could try to connect to our Irish roots (that we may or may not have) so that we can be reminded to take things just a little bit slower.

Barbara Kingsolver Quotes.

12 May

Since I’ve been on a recently discovered Barbara Kingsolver kick lately (I just finished The Bean Trees and am now reading Pigs In Heaven), I thought I’d share some Barbara Kingsolver quotes since I haven’t done a quotes post in a while (Quotes obtained from goodreads.com).

  1. “The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.”
  2. “Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.”
  3. “It’s what you do that makes your soul.”
  4. “What keeps you going isn’t some fine destination but just the road you’re on, and the fact that you know how to drive. You keep your eyes open, you see this damned-to-hell world you got born into, and you ask yourself, ‘What life can I live that will let me breathe in & out and love somebody or something and not run off screaming into the woods?”
  5. “If we can’t, as artists, improve on real life, we should put down our pencils and go bake bread.”
  6. “In a world as wrong as this one, all we can do is make things as right as we can.”
  7. “Morning always comes.”
  8. “Every one of us is called upon, perhaps many times, to start a new life. A frightening diagnosis, a marriage, a move, loss of a job…And onward full-tilt we go, pitched and wrecked and absurdly resolute, driven in spite of everything to make good on a new shore. To be hopeful, to embrace one possibility after another–that is surely the basic instinct…Crying out: High tide! Time to move out into the glorious debris. Time to take this life for what it is.”
  9. “Literature duplicates the experience of living in a way that nothing else can, drawing you so fully into another life that you temporarily forget you have one of your own. That is why you read it, and might even sit up in bed till early dawn, throwing your whole tomorrow out of whack, simply to find out what happens to some people who, you know perfectly well, are made up.”
  10. “It’s surprising how much memory is built around things unnoticed at the time. ”
  11. “To live is to change, to acquire the words of a story, and that is the only celebration we mortals really know.”
  12. “She kept swimming out into life because she hadn’t yet found a rock to stand on.”
  13. “In my own worst seasons I’ve come back from the colorless world of despair by forcing myself to look hard, for a long time, at a single glorious thing: a flame of red geranium outside my bedroom window. And then another: my daughter in a yellow dress. And another: the perfect outline of a full, dark sphere behind the crescent moon. Until I learned to be in love with my life again. Like a stroke victim retraining new parts of the brain to grasp lost skills, I have taught myself joy, over and over again
  14. “Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say.”
  15. “That was when we smelled the rain. It was so strong it seemed like more than just a smell. When we stretched out our hands we could practically feel it rising up from the ground. I don’t know how a person could ever describe that scent.”
  16. “If you ask me, when something extraordinary shows up in your life in the middle of the night, you give it a name and make it the best home you can.”
  17. “It’s one thing to carry your life wherever you go. Another thing to always go looking for it somewhere else.”
  18. “Anybody can get worked up, if they have the intention. It’s peacefulness that is hard to come by on purpose.”
  19. “People read books to escape the uncertainties of life.”
  20. “Don’t wait for the muse. She has a lousy work ethic. Writers just write.”

Happy Saturday everyone! Is there a particular author that has some of your favorite quotes? What are they?

Become Aware.

25 Mar

I went to my first early morning meditation class today at Asheville Community Yoga. Even though it was raining most of the day, it was nice to be leaving campus before much of the campus was awake. I love the quiet that comes with the rain in the mountains, and I’m happy I got to experience it “by myself” this morning. There were only me and 3 other people at ACY for the early morning meditation (not including Michael, the instructor), which was actually kind of nice. For the first part of the class, we spent time “waking up our bodies” so that when we sat for meditation we’d be awake and focused. The beginning exercises felt good, especially the stretches and the movements that allowed us to make our bodies feel as comfortable as possible (like massaging our neck and back).

We then sat down, and we began by counting our breaths. We’d inhale and count 1-2-3 and then count again on the exhale. After about 5 or 6 breaths this way, Michael rang a bell in order to signal the beginning of our meditation. Michael said that we’d sit and meditate for 20 minutes, and then the ringing of the bell would indicate the end of the meditation. Michael reminded us throughout to concentrate on our breath when we started to get lost/when our mind began to wander. In the beginning, I thought that 20 minutes of sitting and breathing would feel like forever. However, it wasn’t as hard as I thought. Though I did have to return to counting my breaths a good bit, the experience was quite eye-opening.

Through the simple act of sitting and breathing in and out, I became more aware of myself….more aware of my body…and more aware of the world around me. It was a great way to start my morning, especially since I felt refreshed and prepared to begin my day of studying and homework. I can’t wait to go back in a week!

I hope you all have had a happy Sunday.

Learning To Love Myself.

25 Feb

I’m visiting one of my best friends, Kayley, in Virginia this weekend, and we’ve spent the last few hours talking about our lives. We talked about my book, and Kayley said “Amelia, not many people can do what you’re doing. And hardly anyone can do it at 19.” And though I understand that, her next question caught me off guard. We started talking about happiness and love, and Kayley asked me if I loved myself. Through my tears, I told her that I didn’t know. I didn’t know how to love myself

People tell me all the time that I’m a happy person, and I am. However, there’s a difference in being happy and loving myself. I mean, I like to think that I love myself, but when asked the simple question of whether I loved myself, I couldn’t even choke out a simple yes. Since August, I’ve done a lot of soul-searching. I’ve begun to try to find myself. Being in Asheville has really helped that. I’ve found restorative yoga. I’ve discovered how much meditation helps me feel grounded in the moment, in the now. But one thing Kayley pointed out tonight was that learning to love yourself isn’t immediate. It’s a process, and it takes time. Waiting is hard. And so I’m not exactly a fan of the fact that it could take me a while to learn to love myself.

We talked about my book for a while, and Kayley actually read what I’ve written so far because I’ve wanted her feedback since she knows me really well. The advice she gave was to include more personal experiences. Even though I’ve included a lot, at this point the majority of my book is also explaining to others that they can come to enjoy their lives. Anyway, Kayley did point out that when she read it last night, she had to hold back tears. Some of the memories that I’ve included so far she didn’t even know about, so it impacted her. That made me feel good though. I mean, isn’t that what we as writers want? To touch people. To impact them. To reach them. To connect, even for a minute.

Another thing Kayley pointed out as we were talking about my book was this: “I can’t imagine the pain you went through…and I can’t imagine what you’re feeling all over again, but you can do this. It’ll probably be one of the hardest things you’ve ever faced, but I believe that once you finish it, you’ll know what it means to love yourself.”

I met Kayley during my freshman year in college (when I was still at Wofford), and she’s one of the most incredible best friends I’ve had. She supports me through everything, and I know that I can always count on her to help me realize what’s important. Though we are very different people, we’re also a lot alike. Through our talk, I’ve realized that since I faced so much physical and emotional pain when I was younger, I’m scared to allow people to love me since I don’t want to feel anymore pain. I feel like the majority of the issue is that I need to learn to love myself. Yes, I’ve already said this, and it seems really easy to say. But it’s not quite as easy to do. I mean, I said that being happy is different from loving yourself. Happiness is being cheerful and enjoying little things and trying to find the joy. But loving yourself…..that’s remembering all the crap that’s happened in your life, but still being able to say that you’ve loved all of it too, not because it’s been easy, but because it’s taught you something. And that’s what I need to work on. There are things that happened in my past that I still haven’t quite come to terms with, but I’m trying. I’m beginning to learn that once I love myself, it’ll allow others to love me just as much.

Photo Friday: Sunset And The Blue Ridge Parkway.

24 Feb

I captured this shot of the sunset a few days ago, and I just had to share it with all of you. I’m a lover a trees (if you haven’t already noticed), and I love the look of the line of trees in the distance.

Yesterday the weather was unseasonably warm, and I needed to clear my head. So I thought, what better way to think through things than with a drive on the parkway. I captured this shot from the first lookout that I came to, and I just can’t help but be breathless. The beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains has always had a sort of magnetic pull on me. Seeing views like this reminds me of the beauty that surrounds us, even through the hardships of life. Though sometimes it’s hard to see the good things, they’re there…even if they are sometimes just a glimpse…a fleeting moment…that brings you back to love…and to life.

Photo Friday: The Magic Of Meditation.

27 Jan

Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment.-Alan Watts

Since I’ve now become a regular of a restorative yoga class at Asheville Community Yoga, I’ve discovered the magic of meditation. When I was first introduced to it, it was hard. My thoughts were going crazy: grocery lists, daily activities, people I needed to call, the planning of meals, homework, etc. I just wanted to shut off my mind, and I couldn’t seem to do it. When I was at my second restorative yoga class, Robin (the teacher) told us to concentrate on our breathing. Not just breathing in and out. But the feeling of our chest expanding when air rushed in, the feeling of the air entering our lungs. The physical concept of being filled not with just air, but with life. That concept got me thinking:

How would things change if I focused on the fact that every breath was pouring new life inside me, making me feel completely present and alive? That concept plus the concept of “All we can be sure of is the present moment” changed my outlook on life. Things began to look like possibilities instead of obstacles. And the choices I made every day began to have more weight. Focusing on the fact that all we have is now is a very powerful tool. It’s helped me not to worry as much about things. And especially when I’m in restorative yoga class, I know that for one hour the only thing I have to focus on is being completely present. It’s an amazing feeling. Almost magical. All the stress, tension, fear, anxiety…it just falls away, and the only thing that’s left is me, my body, my life. But once I walk out of class, I’m slapped with reality. Schoolwork, errands, class. And slowly, being present slips away. But then, the next Friday, I get it back. Even if only for an hour. I get it back. And then I’m refilled with being present and only being sure of things moment by moment.

In my restorative yoga class, we practice mindfulness meditation. According to historyofmeditation.net,

Mindfulness is a tool used in Vipassana meditation or insight meditation and comes from the Theravada School of Buddhism. It consists of being completely in the now or present moment and being supremely aware or mindful the mental and physical happenings taking place within your person. These include movements of the body, sights, sounds, smells, tastes, sensations of touch, feelings of pleasure and pain thoughts etc. The practice of mindfulness is being aware of the previously mentioned happenings with complete non judgement or reaction (attraction or repulsion). This practice then leads to purifying the mind of unwholesome traits and ultimately the experience of “Nibbana” sometimes spelt as “nirvana” which is a permanent and supreme state of happiness.

Concentrating on the present moment allows us to let go of all worry, stress, and fear….and simply live. Live freely, openly, completely, and sometimes…full of magic.

Change Is Coming…Ready Or Not?

18 Jan

A few years back, if I was told that certain people in my life wouldn’t be in my life now, I would have probably laughed and said: Yeah right. The thing is, time is a funny, funny thing. And time mixed with a change of location can result in you becoming a different person all together. It can help you grow into the person that you’re meant to be.

I feel like change can be positive or negative, but ultimately, it puts us face to face with our reality. And yes, maybe that reality is harsh at first. But isn’t a big part of living focused on learning how to make the best of our reality? I used to constantly think about the negative impact of things, and I guess I have yoga to thank for helping me think more positively. But I don’t think it’s always “thinking positive.” I think it also is important to realize that we’re not in complete control (though many of us would like to think so). I think it’s just important to also see that we’ve just got to try to make the best of every situation, even if that means making some hard decisions at the time. I mean, our whole lives revolve around making decisions. And yeah, we are going to make some mistakes along the way. But without mistakes, we wouldn’t be human. So we might as well make the best of it, flaws and all, right?

Life isn’t full of sunshine and rainbows. There are storms and curves in the road and lots of detours. But life wouldn’t be worth it without all the hard stuff. I mean, without hardship, we wouldn’t be able to understand the true feeling of happiness. I mean, we’d know we were happy, but there wouldn’t be a polar opposite to compare it to. Change is a big part of life, and even if we try to run from it, it’ll smack us in the face anyway. So instead of running away or fighting it, why not try to at least remain calm in the face of change. Yes, that’s way harder than it sounds, and I know. But by calming our minds, we become more aware of the world around us and are better prepared to make intellectual decisions without our judgement being clouded with fear and uncertainty. All we’ve got is right now. And change is coming. And by being aware of the coming change, we’ll feel more calm when we’re faced with difficulty in the future.