Tag Archives: Growing Up

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.

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Tuesday’s Tunes: Taylor Swift.

23 Oct

I absolutely love Taylor Swift, which is one of the things that actually shows my age. However, I’m totally okay with that because I realize that I love Taylor Swift because she’s a typical teenage girl who’s growing up. Therefore, I’m able to relate to her songs (as can every other girl in America who has loved Taylor from the beginning).

People have said that Taylor’s most recent album Red (which was released yesterday) shows how much she has matured in the last few years, especially when you compare the most recent album to the Fearless album (her first album). I completely agree that Taylor has definitely matured. As Taylor has matured, so have the girls (including me) who have loved her since her first album. Therefore, we still love her because we’re able to relate to her even though we’re changing and growing up.

Anyway, as usual, I’m able to relate to pretty much every song on her newest album. However, the song “All Too Well” seems to perfectly describe my current situation regarding love (or the lack thereof) at the moment. Either way, despite the fact that it’s a sad song, I love it because I’m able to put my own situation side by side with what Taylor is saying. As with many other situations in life regarding strong emotions, they are much easier to get through once you realize that there are others who are going through the same thing. Therefore, thank you Taylor. You have helped me (and so many other girls who love you) through some of the hardest times.

A conversation with my younger self.

21 Oct

Sometimes I imagine what it would be like if I had the opportunity to speak with a younger version of myself. I wonder what I would say. I wonder what advice I would give to my 7-year-old self, the little girl with the nervous smile who has yet to go through 3 intense surgeries and many, many years of physical therapy. I wonder how it would feel to talk with someone who I knew so well, but yet couldn’t completely relate to since she hadn’t yet gone through all the pain that she would experience in her future. I wonder…

I’m sitting on a bench in a small park that I don’t recognize. There is a playground with swings and a play set, which are all just a few feet from where I’m sitting. Kids are playing in every available space in the park, but I feel like I’m a thousand miles away from their voices. It’s not until I hear her bubbly laugh that I know where I am. As I look over at the play set, she climbs out of the tube slide, practically falling right out into the sand because she’s laughing so hard. A moment later, her eyes lock with mine, and I know. The girl with the nervous smile, bubbly laugh and bright blue eyes is the younger me. However, it’s not until I look down a second later to see the braces on her feet that I’m certain my assumption is correct. Even though my stomach feels like it’s flipped inside out, I get up from where I’m sitting and walk towards the younger me.

“Hi, can I play with you?” I ask. She looks up at me with the hugest grin on her face.

“Yes, but only if we sit right here in the sand. I don’t really want to get up.”

“That’s perfectly fine, Amelia,” I say, as I sit down in the sand beside her.

She is focused on putting her arms as far down into the sand as she can, so it takes her a moment to realize what I said.

“Wait, how did you know my name?”

“Because I’m you. I’m you at 20 years old. We are the same person.”

The younger Amelia looks at me quizzically for a second, and then asks, “Does this mean that we can be friends?”

I can’t help but laugh as I remember what I was like when I was younger. Even at the age of 7, I wanted acceptance. More than anything, I wanted friends. Though those two things are something that I still find myself longing for, it was intensified when I was younger. It was often the only thing I could think about since it held such a strong connection to being just like the other kids, the “normal” kids.

I find myself staring with amazement at my younger self, wondering where to even begin.

“You have a wonderful best friend waiting in your future. In fact, there are many, many friends that will be in your life. However, the one I’m referring to, she’s everything you’ve ever hoped for in a best friend.”

“Why can’t she be here now?” the younger me asks.

“She hasn’t met you yet. She won’t come into your life until you’re 16, but I promise you, she’s the kind of best friend that you have always wanted.”

Instead of concentrating on playing in the sand, I now have the attention of my younger self as she looks up at my face with curiosity, so I continue.

“You’ve got a long road ahead of you, and it’s not something that anyone is going to able to prepare you for. It’s going to be incredibly hard. However, trust me when I say that you can get through it. It’s going to feel close to impossible some days, especially on the days when the pain gets really bad, but I promise you’ll get through it.”

The younger me then looks down at the braces that are on her feet and touches the plastic ever so lightly with her fingertips.

“I’m scared,” she whispers softly.

“I know,” I say. “It’s okay to be scared.”

“You’ll get stronger,” I tell her. “It may seem overwhelming now, but eventually it becomes like second nature. You’ll fall, time and time again. But you know what’s amazing about you?”

The younger me looks at me expectantly, but I know her nervousness lies just below the surface.

“You get back up…every time,” I say.

“Why? Why do I have to keep trying?” she asks.

“Because it’s the only way you can move forward. It’s the only way you can be independent.”

Even though I see the younger me roll her eyes at me, I know that my words are impacting her because she takes my hand and squeezes it. As her fingers link with mine, I am overcome with love for the little girl who has yet to know the intense pain that she will face. I have to look away from her before she realizes that I’m crying. As I wipe away my tears, I look off into the distance to see the sun setting behind the trees.

“I have to go soon,” the younger me says.

I nod, unable to say anything. I don’t know if I’ll be able to walk away. However, I say the one thing I’ve wanted to tell her all along.

“I love you. So so much,” I say, letting the tears fall and knowing that the younger me doesn’t grasp the magnitude of this moment. If only she knew that I would save her from all of this pain if I were able to. However, deep down, I know that I can’t do that. She has to go through it. She has to go through it if she wants to become me.

She hugs my legs tightly, and the warmth of her small body against my own makes me smile.

“I’m so happy that I get to be you when I get older,” she says.

She turns to go, and as I watch her walk away from me, her last words weigh heavily on my mind. Though she may want desperately to be me, I know that I need to remember to be her as well. I know that little girl is still within me, and she is showing me just as much love as I wanted to be sure and show her.

My own kind of ballerina.

28 Aug

When I was a little girl, my grandmother took me to see The Nutcracker every year at Christmastime. I’d put on my black and white checkered dress and my patent leather shoes, and my grandmother and I would drive up to the Koger Center in Columbia. As I sat in the audience watching the Sugar Plum Fairies dance, I’d think about what it would be like to be a ballerina. I’d watch the gracefulness of their movements and imagine being able to move almost effortlessly. That’s what it looked like to me: like the ballerinas were moving so fluidly that it was as if they were floating on air.

Even though I was never able to take ballet lessons, I did as much as I could to feel like a ballerina. I bought a pink leotard and pink ballet shoes. I even had to have a bright pink tutu with sparkles. The tutu was my favorite part. I loved the fact that I could spin around and around and the tutu would fly up like a balloon. I remember feeling pretty, and I remember the days that I would spin around in my leotard, tutu and ballet shoes like I was a true ballerina. Simply wearing the outfit was enough for me.

I got my own experience of being a ballerina when I joined the Calhoun Players, a community theatre group in my town. However, in the beginning, it wasn’t like I imagined it to be. Even though I got to dance on stage, for many of the productions I was placed in the back. Though I knew that it was because there were other people who were better dancers than I was, we all want to have a chance to shine. I got my chance in 2007 thanks to my theater director, Chuck. In 2007, I was in the cast of the Wizard of Oz. However, the best part was that for the first time since getting involved with the Calhoun Players in 2001, I wasn’t in the chorus. I had one of the main roles. I played Glenda the Good Witch. Even though I didn’t necessarily play the part of a ballerina, playing the part of Glenda was the closest that I’ve ever gotten, and it was probably one of the happiest moments of my life. I wore a blue sparkly dress that had puffy sleeves and a puffy bodice. It wasn’t a leotard and a tutu, but in my opinion, it was even better. I also had a wand, and I wore a tiara on my head. I felt so happy in those moments on stage that I felt like I was going to burst from happiness. The “shining” moment for me during those performances (other than playing Glenda and feeling as pretty as a ballerina) was getting to stand out on stage in my pretty outfit and sing a solo. For a few minutes during each performance, all eyes were on me. However, for the first time in my life, people were staring at me in awe rather than looking at me and wondering what was wrong with me. Granted, it probably wasn’t the first time I was looked at in awe or happiness, but it felt like a first time for me since I had grown so accustomed to being stared at in a negative way.

As I sat in the audience of The Nutcracker performance, I didn’t know that one day I would be able to be my own kind of ballerina. Even though it wouldn’t be in the way that I imagined, I feel like it was much better. Rather than sitting in the audience watching the performance, I got to be the one on stage. I may not have gotten the chance to dance like the Sugar Plum Fairies, but I got to do something I loved even more: I got to sing. I got to sing like I’ve never sung before, holding a wand and wearing a tiara. I got to wear a blue sparkly puffy dress that still hangs in my closet at home, reminding me of the moment that I got to feel like my own kind of ballerina.

Mr. Tim and braces.

23 Aug

For much of my life when I was little, I had to wear AFOs, which are basically braces that I wore on my feet to keep them from turning inwards (before my first surgery, my femurs were turned inwards). Getting new AFOs had its ups and downs. I had to get casted for new braces every time I grew, and most of the time it wasn’t something I was looking forward to. New braces meant fresh “hot spots” on my feet until I could get used to the braces and “break them in” in a sense. Even though we used padding to try to ease the hot spots, they weren’t comfortable. When any body part has to be held in a position that it’s not naturally in, it’s not exactly fun. The one thing that did make me smile was getting to pick my color.

Picking a color for braces is a lot like picking a color for a cast after you’ve broken your arm (which I’ve never done, thankfully). You want something bright or something that makes you smile when you see it rather than frown. I know that many times I chose hot pink and bright purple. However, I remember one special time when I had to get new braces when I was at Shriner’s Hospital. Instead of going for one of my typical bright colors, I picked the bright red that had monkeys on it. I was so excited to be able to look down and see animals. It almost made the fresh “hot spots” worth it. Almost.

The best thing about getting new braces was Mr. Tim. I can see his face in my mind even now. He was the orthopedic doctor that I went to when I needed new braces, and seeing the way he smiled every time he saw me almost made the process of getting new braces bearable. I remember the process so clearly. Mr. Tim started by taking an ace bandage roll and soaking it in what I think was plaster of paris. Mr. Tim then wrapped the ace bandage around my foot and waited a few minutes for it to harden. The next part, the part that always made me a little anxious, was when Mr. Tim had to use a saw to remove the brace mold. Even though I knew that Mr. Tim wouldn’t cut me because I knew how many brace molds he had made, the sound of the saw wasn’t pleasant…and it could make you nervous even if you didn’t think you were one bit scared.

Even though I’m grateful that I don’t have to wear braces on my feet anymore, I remember coming across an old pair of braces when my mom and I were cleaning out my closet a few months ago. It felt good to be able to not even have to hesitate before I told my mom to get rid of the braces, but for just a second, I thought of Mr. Tim and the smile that seemed to brighten even the really hard days.

Blazing my own trail.

18 Aug

As I sit at my desk gearing up for the start of my junior year of college (which begins on Monday), I am amazed at how I was able to keep up with my schoolwork when I was in and out of the hospital for my intense surgeries and intense physical therapy following those surgeries. Granted, I had tutors, and without them, I don’t think I would have been able to get all of my schoolwork done. However, it’s hard for me to imagine that I had so much time. I had time for schoolwork even when it wasn’t the highest priority (though it was definitely the second highest). The first concern, of course, was focusing on getting me as independent as possible through intense surgeries and PT.

I think I’m just very thankful that I was able to stay at the same pace as the rest of my classmates. I still am not quite sure how I did all of it. Maybe I didn’t need as much sleep in those days, or maybe I just didn’t have as much schoolwork as I am remembering. I definitely know that if I was faced with the same situation right now, I wouldn’t be graduating in a mere 2 years. However, that was middle school. Even though my academics were incredibly important, they weren’t as heavily weighted as they are in college obviously. Either way, I feel like I got lucky on that front. Thanks to some really great tutors, I was moving at the same pace as the rest of my classmates even when I was doing schoolwork from the hospital and from home.

All things considered, I am happy that I got the same education as the kids that I grew up with despite my disability. My parents could have chosen a different avenue, but they chose to put me in an environment with every other kid my age, and I’m so glad they did. Yes, I was teased and yes I faced some difficulties that other kids my age didn’t have to worry about. However, I also learned at a relatively young age that I had to blaze my own trail. Best of all, I’m glad that I was put in a regular school environment in the very beginning of my education so that I could get used to being around regular kids. Through this immersion, I learned quickly that I was different, but I also learned that in a school setting, I was treated like every other kid in my class. I was held to exactly the same standards as every other student, and I definitely know that I benefited from that.

It is because of my parents’ decision to place me in a regular school environment and my pure love of learning that has gotten me to where I am today in terms of my education. I am grateful that my CP does not limit my intelligence because school has provided me with yet another avenue that I am able to excel in without being limited. Yes, I may have had to work harder in middle school knowing that I had to get my schoolwork done while also going to physical therapy and having intense surgeries, but I did it. I did it because it was expected of me and because I loved to learn. I’m grateful that my parents instilled in me a love of learning, and I’m happy to say that despite having to focus on my CP as I was growing up, I was still able to blaze my own trail.

When in Ireland, find home in the most unlikely places.

17 Jul

Twice in the past week I have heard two different Irish cover bands play “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show. Other than “Wagon Wheel” being one of my favorite songs in general, it’s also a song that speaks of North Carolina, my home state. It’s just so weird to think that twice in one week I’ve heard a song that instantly has me thinking of North Carolina, Asheville, the mountains, bluegrass music, and the place that I feel most connected to. I’ve realized that even when I’m in Ireland, I can still receive the strong pull of home.

There are mountains here in Ireland, but they are nothing like the Blue Ridge Mountains that I call home. Every so often I find myself searching for the blue hue that holds so much security and comfort inside me, only to slowly realize that the specific color that holds so much emotion for me cannot be found in the mountains here. At the same time, however, I think if the Ireland landscape was more like the landscape that I’m used to at home then it would make it that much harder for me to leave next week.

It’ll be hard to say goodbye to a place that I feel has taken root so quickly in my soul. Before coming to Ireland, I was a bit hesitant. I didn’t know if I would like it or not. I had no idea what to expect, other than the fact that I was looking forward to seeing the green beauty that I had poured over during all the times that I watched P.S. I Love You. No words can describe how amazing it has been to realize that home isn’t always one specific place. When I come to think of it, I’ve found home in multiple places.

My first home was in a small town in South Carolina. It was where I grew up, and even though it has now become a place that doesn’t hold very much meaning for me, it will always be the place where I first learned about life. I think of riding my Barbie Jeep, my gocart, and my four-wheeler. I think of making mud pies in my Barbie kitchen. I think of my childhood friends…and the friends that ended up not being very friendly towards me. I think of finding my love of theatre, which is also when I realized that it was possible to have another family outside of my immediate family that was there to love and support me just as much. I think of growing up, of the days that I lost myself in books because I needed a way to escape the days when the pain was too much. I think of the nights when I made my own little space in the bottom of my closet that was equipped with a light, blankets, a pillow, a book, and a pencil and paper that I used in order to write away what I was feeling. I found security sitting in my closet…with the realization that the harsh world lay just outside. I found out what it meant to dream.

My second home was Salem Academy, an all-girls’ boarding school in North Carolina. Though I didn’t consider it my home until my senior year there, by my senior year I didn’t want to leave. It took a year to find my own place, but once I did, I knew that I’d never be the same. I found a part of me…a part of me I hadn’t really embraced before. I found my true self…or at least the beginning of my true self. I wouldn’t have been able to embark on the journey of figuring out who I truly was were it not for my best friend Skidmore. I met her during my junior year at Salem, and she was the first friend that I discussed my entire life with, the good and the bad. Skidmore was the first person I completely opened up to, and having someone who reacted so positively to all that I knew I needed to say was also something that was necessary. Without Skidmore’s love and non-judgemental acceptance, I wouldn’t have been able to start to figure out who I was…or what the meaning of home really was.

My third home is, as a whole, North Carolina….but more specifically…the Blue Ridge Mountains and Asheville. I’ve always been a mountain girl, but I’ve never been able to say that I have had the chance to live among a landscape that I love….until last August. And being in Asheville makes home feel even more real to me because I’m in such an artsy city…while also knowing that it is a mere 5 minute drive to reach the Blue Ridge Parkway…or the place that makes me feel completely alive. Writing has done the same thing…given me that feeling of being truly alive. Therefore, being able to write among the landscape of the Blue Ridge Mountains…it’s unreal, and yet, it’s what I’ve been doing.

It’s hard to imagine that Ireland has, in a way, become another home for me. And yet, I’m not all that surprised. I can’t think of one person that I know who has come to Ireland and not fallen in love with its beauty. But it’s more than just the beauty. It’s the people…it’s the quaint little village towns and the college cities…it’s the pubs and the pub atmosphere (which, I’m surprised to report, have held more character and comfort than I ever imagined), and it’s the music. I’m a true music lover, and I listen to music every chance I can get. Here in Galway, live music can be found all over the city on every night of the week. I love that opportunity. It’s probably one of my favorite parts about being in Galway. It’s not just live music every night though…it’s free live music. For a true music lover like me, it can’t get much better than free good live music every night!

So even though I’ll be leaving a home next week, I’ll also being going home to a place that I love more than anything in the entire world. Despite the fact that I’m leaving, I know I’ll be back. A place can’t take hold in my soul so quickly and not be a place that I don’t plan on returning. I don’t know when, or under what circumstances, but I know that I’ll be back. I can feel it. After all, there’s only so long that you can stay away from home, even when, sometimes, home has the ability to be so many different places all at once.