Tag Archives: Courage

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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Changing the Face of Disabilities.

24 Feb

Last semester, I had a professor who I really connected with on a more personal level. Though we discussed my role as a student, we also discussed a role I didn’t think I could inhabit so fully: my role as an advocate, especially for those with disabilities. One evening following my night class with this specific professor, we discussed my life, my future, and all the many obstacles I’ve faced to get to where I am today. It was an incredible conversation, one in which I truly felt heard, and it’s something I will never forget.

Specifically, after much discussion regarding my Cerebral Palsy, my past of physical therapy, surgery, pain and hardship, my professor mentioned how she had been wanting to talk about my disability with me for quite some time but didn’t know how to broach the subject with ease. However, once I completed a project for her class in which I discussed the topic of disability discrimination, she knew I was comfortable and wouldn’t mind hearing any questions she had.

As we talked about my life and my future aspirations of writing my memoir and becoming a social worker, I slowly began to realize I had gained a mentor. I had gained someone who not only supported and believed in me, but someone who pushed me to look more closely at myself and my potential. Since I have only truly connected on a more personal basis with one or two other teachers throughout my life, this experience was incredible. It gave me a chance to open up, to share my life, in a way I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to do if I hadn’t had the courage to open up about my disability through a big research project which was presented to the whole class. Specifically, during our conversation, my professor said, “Amelia, you have the power to completely change the face of disabilities.”

I have striived to be an advocate for others with disabilities since as a kid, I wished I had had a kind of mentor who I could talk to about the difficulties of living with a physical disability. In my opinion, having the chance to talk to someone who had been there would have really helped me, so I long to be that person for others. Therefore, when my professor told me I have the power to completely change the face of disabilities, I was floored. I truly felt proud to receive praise of such a high honor. The simple fact that someone believed I had the potential to achieve something so lofty was amazing.

Recently, I thought about what my professor said last semester, and how great it made me feel. As I mentioned that conversation to a friend recently, she said, “Amelia, there’s something you don’t see: you already do change the face of disabilities.” I stared at my friend, confused, not understanding what she meant. She explained by saying, “You change the face of disabilities just by being yourself. You bring awareness to what Cerebral Palsy is. You provide special needs families with the hope that it’s possible to overcome incredibly difficult obstacles. But you know what the best part is? You overcome it all with a smile on your face the determination to keep going no matter what.” The wonderful thing is I didn’t see how I was changing the face of disabilities just by being myself. I imagined I wouldn’t be able to do that until I aimed to do something more tangible, something I could point to and say, “Yes, I brought about that change.”

It’s caused me to realize that maybe being an advocate and lifting others up has many parts. Maybe it doesn’t just involve the tangible changes we can point to with pride. Maybe it’s the little things too: the connections I strive to make with the families of children with special needs at my internship, the talks about CP and bullying I’ve given at elementary schools, and the connections I’ve strived to make with others with special needs through my blog.

Recognizing my abilities to change the face of disabilities definitely isn’t easy. Maybe it takes hearing it from others before I start to believe it. However, as I’ve been told, I’m already doing it just by being myself. As of now, there’s only one way to go in order to continue along this path: forward. I don’t know all the answers. I don’t know the secret to living life with a physical disability without letting it pull you into despair and self pity. But I do know one thing: All I have ever been is myself. Maybe that’s the only secret that matters.

Finding Determination Through Fear.

19 Oct

A few days ago I was talking with a friend of mine, and he asked me to explain my absolute worst fear in life. Though some classic answers popped into my head, like ending up alone and losing the people I love, I knew my absolute worst fear. I tried to say it, but couldn’t. I felt like I was about to cry. However, after a period of silence stretched over us like a blanket, I finally spoke.

“I’m afraid of the day when I’ll no longer be able to walk.”

I spent my entire childhood learning to walk so I could be as independent as possible, despite my Cerebral Palsy. Before my intense operations, I learned to walk in my own way, my knees knocking together as I put one foot in front of the other. During the years I spent on a t-ball team, I loved the feeling of running to first base. Even though I typically got out before making it to first base, I ran with all my heart just like everyone else on my team. I ran in my own way, but it never stopped me from trying.

After my first operation at the age of 10, I had to completely relearn to walk after having my femurs straightened out and kept in place with rods. One year later, when I got the hardware removed that was placed during my first operation, I had to relearn to walk yet again. See, not walking was never even an option for me. I wanted to be like the other kids my age, and to do that, I had to be able to walk. I had to be as normal as I possibly could. Even when I was faced with physical pain that made me want to curl into myself and give up all together, I kept going. Every day, I literally walked towards my own independence, one step at a time.

Because I spent so much of my life struggling, and ultimately succeeding, to walk, the thought of reaching the day when I’ll no longer be able to walk is completely terrifying. In so many ways, when I reach that day, it will feel like a kind of giving up. Though I plan to walk for as many more years as I can, I am scared of the day when the pain will just be too much, when walking will be putting too much strain on my body. It’s especially frightening because I know how much physical pain I’m in on a daily basis currently. The realization that I am in so much physical pain and I’m only 21 is terrifying. Trying to imagine my level of pain when I reach age 30 is nearly impossible.

That is one great thing about fear though. It has the ability to help us find the determination and strength we didn’t know we had. Yes, my worst fear is seeing the day when I will no longer be able to walk. However, I’m not there yet. I am a long way off from that day. Today, I am able to walk and do the things I love, despite being in pain. Today, I am able to push through the pain, because the result…the view at the top of the mountain…is worth it. The happiness, joy, and pure bliss of the destination weighs so much more than the pain of the journey.

The fear lingers in the back of my mind, the fear of knowing one day I won’t be able to get to the top of Max Patch, my absolute favorite place in the world. However, the fear also gives me the strength and determination I need to continue doing what I love. Yes, one day I may not be able to walk because of the amount of pain I am in. But I’m not there yet. I’ve still got plenty of fight within me.

At the top of Max Patch (October 2013)

At the top of Max Patch (October 2013)

Being Bullied: The Effects that Can Last a Lifetime.

9 Oct

About two weeks ago, I randomly received an email from a woman who works at an elementary school in Asheville. She informed me she had received my contact information from the program director of Easter Seals in Asheville who spoke very highly of me. She then told me there is a book club at the elementary school, and in the book the children are reading, the main character has Cerebral Palsy. Based on the high remarks she received from the Asheville Easter Seals program director concerning me, she asked if I’d be willing to come speak to the third through fifth graders about my experiences with CP. Specifically, she asked if I could speak about my experiences of being bullied during my school years.

The email was completely out of the blue, and I was stunned. To have received this kind of opportunity without searching for it is incredible, and I am excited for such a wonderful opportunity. However, the tricky part comes with the focus of the talk: my bullying experiences in school.

It is safe to say my bullying experiences were the worst part of my childhood (excluding my intense surgeries and physical therapy, obviously). As a child, I could not understand why I was being targeted out of everyone in my class. I understand now that children are especially curious about those who are different from them. However, I didn’t know why it always had to be me. During those times, I also didn’t understand why I was so different. All I wanted was to fit in, and by getting bullied I stuck out even more.

I got my hair pulled in kindergarten because I had no way of running away, I got pelted with a dodge ball in middle school because I couldn’t move away from the ball fast enough, and every day in gym class, I was picked last. Though I know those experiences helped me to develop a thicker skin very early on in life, many of the experiences were just plain cruel. There is no other way to say it. They resulted in me coming home from elementary school crying to my parents on a daily basis. I cried over more than just the bullying though. I cried over hating I was so different. I cried over not being able to fit in because my experiences were so different from most of the other kids my age. I cried because it wasn’t fair. None of it was fair. I was a nice kid. I smiled at other kids, I laughed with them, and yet I still didn’t ever really fit in with them.

The complex social aspects of school are difficult for any kid. However, they are especially difficult for any kid who may be a tiny bit different from their peers. I only hope to try to convey this to the children I’ll speak to at the elementary school in Asheville. I don’t want to berate them or tell them to stop being mean. After all, they are kids. Kids are curious, especially regarding things they don’t fully understand. I only hope to explain how children with disabilities should be treated just like any other kid. Yes, they are different, but pointing out their differences and excluding them from activities because they are a little bit unique only makes it that much more difficult for them.

Despite growing a tougher skin due to being bullied, I have carried my bullying experiences with me ever since I was a kid. I remember the specific moments in detail. I remember who targeted me, and I remember exactly the way I felt when I came home and cried. I know now that many of my bullying experiences were not intentional. They were just moments of kids being kids. However, that does not mean I still don’t remember the feeling of walking into gym class with my fingers crossed, silently hoping I wouldn’t have to be pelted with a dodge ball by the one girl who always got so much satisfaction out of being the one to hit me.

Try like hell.

27 Sep

Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if I hadn’t been born with Cerebral Palsy. I wonder if I would have decided to be a dancer or maybe an athlete rather than an aspiring psychotherapist and a writer. I wonder if I would have spent my childhood climbing up into trees to read books rather than becoming all too familiar with hospitals, surgeries, and physical therapy. I wonder if I would have had a big group of friends throughout middle school and part of high school rather than coming home every day crying because I had no friends due to my differences. I wonder if I would have spent my time hiking beautiful mountains rather than having to wonder if I’d have the stamina to make it up the next hill.

Earlier this week, my dad said, “Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like if you hadn’t been born with Cerebral Palsy. You could have had a wonderful life. You wouldn’t have had to struggle so much.” Though in the moment I wanted to interject and say I have had a wonderful life, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t say the words. As soon as I wanted to say something, the memories all came back. I saw myself sitting in a hospital bed screaming out in pain because of the spasms that wouldn’t stop. I saw myself in kindergarten getting my hair pulled every day because I was the one child on the playground who was unable to run away. I saw myself shaking as my classmates pelted me with doge balls during middle school gym class because I couldn’t move away quickly enough. I saw myself crying as a girl I didn’t know imitated the way I was walking and then said she did it because it was a “class assignment.” I see myself at 21, struggling with depression and still not being able to truly accept and be comfortable with having a physical disability.

You would think after 21 years I would be used to the cards I’ve been dealt in this life. The truth is, I’m not. Every day of my life is a challenge. On top of having to convince myself to go to class when my back and my muscles hurt, I have to try to convince myself to get out of bed and face the day even though I’d rather sleep to escape the overwhelming sadness and hopelessness that hovers over me like a dark cloud.

I’m trying to learn to hold on to the good moments, though they are few and far between. The color of the changing leaves during autumn, the few (but true) friends who have been by my side through all of this darkness, a dad who has never given up on me, a smile from a child fighting cancer after completing an art project I taught her. In the darkness of depression, it is very hard to remember those good moments, especially when the bad days outnumber the good. However, I’m trying. It’s all any of us can really do. We try like hell, and hope against all odds that we can kick this life just as hard, if not harder, as it kicks us every single day.

Own your story.

20 Apr

Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.-Brene Brown

When I came across this Brene Brown quote a few days ago, I couldn’t help but realize how much it applied to my certain circumstances. Not just the overall situation of living with Cerebral Palsy, but the more recent circumstances of realizing that I must now face the emotions which resulted from my recent return to physical therapy. Though it would be so much easier to resist thinking about the emotions and memories that returning to physical therapy brought up for me, I know that I must face them if I’m going to be able to move forward.

Throughout my life, I have heard people tell me how awesome it is that I don’t let my CP define me. According to my CP doctor, I “make it look easy.” Though I do understand that most people are trying to compliment me, it’s also hard for me to believe them in the full sense of the phrase. Though I don’t ever introduce myself as “the girl with CP,” I often wonder if that’s what others are thinking, specifically people I have just met. Overall, I try not to let myself focus too much on all of the difficulties it brings, because if I did that, how the heck would I still be able to find joy in the little things? However, at the same time, my CP affects me on a daily basis. Every day is hard, and every day I am reminded of how different I am from those around me. At the same time, I am reminded of how far I’ve come, and that’s where “owning my story” comes in.

Though I began writing my memoir in order to help myself come to terms with what I’ve faced and to help others in similar situations, I have also just wanted to shed a light on just how many of us are struggling in ways people may not truly understand. Putting all the benefits and support aside, “owning my story” through writing about it and essentially saying “Yes, this is who I am, and I am damn proud” has been the most frightening, scariest, most frustrating and overall hardest thing I’ve ever done. In all actuality, it sucks, but it’s helping me. Truthfully, it reminds me of the idea that you’ve got to hit rock bottom before you can truly understand your own strength. It’s cliché, but it’s also true. In many ways though, I feel as if trudging through this first draft of my memoir is similar to hitting rock bottom, over and over again.

Despite the frustrations of “owning my story,” it’s my way of being the voice of so many others who aren’t able to express what it’s like living with a disability. If writing my memoir means I can give a voice to a few of those people, then I will plunge into the darkness of it. Just because there are people who aren’t able to express the emotions connected with what they have experienced doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have a chance to still be heard. If anything, all of those people deserve it a little bit more. After all, every one of us has so much to learn from each of the people we come into contact with, so why not start by owning the experiences we’ve faced, no matter how scary and painful?

Why Jodi Picoult Deserves Praise From The Special Needs Community.

9 Feb

One of my favorite authors is Jodi Picoult. I’ve read all of her novels, and I saw her speak in March of 2010 regarding the release of House Rules (and it was by far one of the best nights of my life so far). However, I love Jodi Picoult for more reasons than she’s a great author (I quote her books more than any other author), every one of her books has taught me something, and the fact that she addresses touchy subjects. I also love her because she responds to emails from her fans. She’s said in numerous interviews that she’s the one responding, rather than one of her assistants.

In Jodi’s 2009 novel, Handle With Care, the main character, Willow O’Keefe, has OI, or osteogenesis imperfecta (a genetic disorder characterized by brittle bones that break easily). Even though Jodi discussed a disability that is very different from Cerebral Palsy, I still felt like I was able to relate to much of what Jodi discussed in Handle With Care about what it means to be different and what it’s like to feel so much physical pain on a daily basis. It was a special moment when I realized that my all-time favorite author was writing about certain feelings that I have experienced on a daily basis: the desire to find a place I belong in a society that’s not fully accepting to those who are “different.”

In March of 2009, I wrote the following email to Jodi:

Dear Jodi,

I just recently read the synopsis of your new book, Handle With Care,
and I am very excited to begin it! However, as I was reading your
conversation about Handle with Care that is featured our your website,
something caught my eye. Even though I don’t have OI, I have another
disability, Cerebral Palsy, which has affected my life since I was
young. Personally, I just want to let you know how deeply you touch my
heart with each of your books. You do a wonderful job of portraying
how it truly is for those of us who are different. I can sympathize with the kids you
interviewed that have OI. Even though it may be extremely
rough for them, they are just like any normal kid, and nothing warms
their heart more than when they are actually treated like one.
I am extremely thankful if you actually took the time to read this.
You and your books have made a significant impact on my life. I hope
to one day meet you and let you know face to face how much you have
truly helped me.
Thanks again,
-Amelia

This was her response:

Amelia, kids like you are MY heroes.  I hope you like the book and hope it rings true!
Jodi Picoult

So far, Jodi has discussed disabilities such as OI and Asperger’s (House Rules), and I applaud her for interviewing kids who are faced with the disabilities she has covered because those of us who have lived through the experiences our disability presents are the only people who know what it’s really like. Therefore, Jodi Picoult deserves a crazy about of praise and support from the special needs community for giving a voice to the issues that may have not had much prior awareness or increasing the level of awareness to a more diverse population. Though I still silently hope that one day Jodi will write a novel that has a character with Cerebral Palsy in it, I already have gained so much from the fact that she has written about many of the emotions I feel on a daily basis in regards to my disability.