Tag Archives: Hope

Disability Discrimination: A Problem We Need to Talk About

15 Nov

This week, I gave a presentation on disability discrimination in one of my college classes. I had been doing research for the past few months, and I enjoyed bringing this problem to light since it is very personally relevent. Therefore, I knew I had to share it with the blogging community as well

The Americans with Disabilities Act defines an individual with disabilities as someone who has a physical or mental impairment that does not allow them to perform one or more major life activities, and disability discrimination is the act of not viewing individuals with disabilities as fully functioning members of society whose voices deserve to be heard.

Disability discrimination occurs most commonly in the workplace, and it stretches across many different disciplines as well, such as psychology, law, and education. Within the field of psychology, discrimination is harmful for individuals with disabilities because it may lead to feelings of isolation, anger, depression, or anxiety. Within the field of law, disability discrimination is the least discussed type of discrimination law. Furthermore, within the field of education, the presence of disability discrimination perpetuates the feelings of exclusion found in school systems. Disability exclusion also increases fear aimed towards individuals who are different.

(from The Today Show)

The problem of disability discrimination is serious, and it influences individuals with and without disabilities. There is not just one group at fault. Each one of us is responsible for the persistence of this problem, and it is a problem that deserves to be discussed in order for individuals with and without disabilities to feel comfortable in the world in which they live.

But the question is: What can we do?

  1. At an individual level, we should strive to understand that instead of disabilities being something that causes these kinds of individuals to be seen as less deserving of being heard, the differences should be seen as a contributing factor to create a unique society with more perspectives available.
  2. At a university level, disability awareness events could be very beneficial. By providing awareness to disabilities, college students and faculty may be able to better understand the struggle of living with a disability, visible or invisible, which they may not have otherwise been exposed.
  3. We should use person-first language: “individual with disability” rather than “disabled individual.”

Disability discrimination is a serious global and ethical issue within our society today. Since I have a physical disability of Cerebral Palsy, I can attest to the importance of inclusion. My experiences of exclusion made me stronger, but the times I felt included helped shape me into who I am today.

Image

Autmn in the Mountains

A Special Kind of Love

6 Nov

I promised myself I’d write about you eventually. I knew I would need to give myself a certain closure, while also leaving plenty of space for you in my heart, a space you will occupy for the rest of my life.

You carried me through my childhood. You saw the way people treated me, and you acted as a buffer between me and the rest of the world. When we were kids, I needed that buffer. I needed a safe space to go where I didn’t have to be face to face with my situation, while also not having to completely face the blows of reality either. You provided me with that space. Your presence in my life when we were kids was like a bubble I never wanted to leave because it was the one place I felt cared for, the one place I felt safe. Now, I’m no longer inside that bubble, but I find comfort in knowing it’s always a place I can still go if I am in need of reassurance.

Your presence in my life brings me to tears, both tears of joy and tears of sadness. I wonder how I ever got so lucky to have a friend as rare as you in my life. Someone who has known me since we were kids. Someone who knows everything I went through, and loves me just the same, if not more. Someone who has acted as my protector for as long as I can remember. Someone who took me to my first dance, who took me to my prom, and who would drop everything to be there for me. That kind of friendship is so incredibly rare, and the wonderful thing is how safe and cared for I feel, even when I’m just thinking of you. Therefore, my deep love for you makes sense. It brings me to tears because I know my love for you is not the same kind of love you have for me. It breaks my heart, but it doesn’t take away how I have always seen you. Truthfully, my feelings for you make sense. They truly do. I don’t know of anyone who could be cherished the way you cherish me and not develop deeper feelings.

Your belief in all that I am propels me forward. It gives me the strength to keep going when I feel like giving up, and it shows me there are people in this world that would do anything just to see me happy. Though I know that has been true for a long time, it took numerous deep conversations with you until I started to see it with my own eyes. You’ve allowed me to feel a kind of love I thought I’d never find. Sometimes, I wonder what would have happened between us if I would have recognized the love sooner. However, I don’t want to spend my life backpedaling. From this point on, I want to go forward. Forward towards a kind of love I will find one day. A kind of love I now know exists because you have shown me that even though certain forms of love are rare, they do exist.

Yes, I love you. I love you with all that I am, and I truly believe I always will. That’s the thing about first loves, right? They stay with you forever. Though you have not been my first love in the traditional relationship sense of the world, I think 15 years of friendship is a very special, though unique kind of relationship. And it’s been a special kind of love. The kind of love that has allowed me to grow and has given me support all at the same time. The kind of love that has provided me with a true sense of feeling safe, a sense of knowing I matter. The kind of love that is so rare, and yet so beautiful in all that it means.

Yet, because your presence in my life has brought me love, I am hopeful. I am hopeful that one day I will find the kind of love I wish you could show me now. Because in so many ways, you’ve done the best thing for us. Our friendship is too precious to take the risk of a relationship. You told me you vowed to never put yourself in a position where you might leave (since you had seen so many “friends” leave me, and knew how much it hurt me when they did). In its own way, that shows just how much your cherish me, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

I love you, and I always will. Your presence in my life has lifted me up while also breaking me down. Though that may sound sad, it’s good. You’ve helped me to experience an emotion I never thought I’d understand. Granted, though I am no closer to understanding it, I finally know the feeling of loving someone so much that it seems as if your heart might burst from happiness. And now, in this moment, I know what it means to love you, while also allowing other people in. For a while, I was afraid giving myself the opportunity to move on would mean I had to let you go, but that’s not what it means at all. It means loving you, keeping you in my heart, but making space in my heart for new possibilities. It means it’s possible to hold all kinds of love in your heart at once, and knowing there is always room for more.

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!

Image

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.

A conversation with my younger self: Part 2.

1 Jul

Eight months ago, I wrote a blog post titled “A conversation with my younger self.” In this blog post, I talked with my 7-year-old self and tried to tell her the things I imagined she needed to hear at the time. Things like, “You are not alone,” “The pain won’t last forever,” and “I love you.” More recently, I’ve come to the understanding that I need to become closer with my younger self. I need to sit down and talk with her again to find out what she needs. By doing this, I might be able to figure out what it is I need right now. That younger self is a part of me (though she may currently feel very far away), and I think she might need me as much as I need her right now.

I’m standing in front of a hospital room door in a place that is all too familiar: Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Greenville, SC. I spent enough time here as a kid, and the familiar sights and sounds are a tad too close for comfort. However, the distant hum of the air hockey table in the lobby brings a small smile to my face as I remember how, on the good days, I played as many games of air hockey as I could before becoming too tired.

Nurses walk past me bringing various things to other children on this hall. I look at the door I am in front of, knowing I am meant to go inside. I place my ear against the door to try to hear any kind of conversation, but all I hear is crying. I take a deep breath to try to calm my nerves. My younger self is inside that room, and she needs me. Before I can talk myself out of it, I turn the knob and walk in.

Upon entering the room, it appears that all the lights are off. It’s not until I make my way to the far left corner of the room that I see a fiber-optic Christmas tree radiating different splashes of color onto the wall behind it. My younger self is curled up onto her side and watching the colors change. She holds her stuffed hippo tightly against her chest, her arms constricting and relaxing around him as she cries.

“Hey Amelia,” I whisper as I stand at the end of her hospital bed, hoping I don’t startle her.

She looks up, blinking a few times before making the connection, and then turns back towards the red and green lights.

“You told me before that it would be okay,” she says.

I look down at my feet, remembering the first conversation we had in the park when she was 7. I didn’t know how to discuss it then, and even now when she’s 12, I continue to find myself at a loss. How is it possible to discuss a pain so raw and true while at the same time trying to be comforting and reassuring?

“I’m sorry. I didn’t want to scare you,” I tell her.

She glances quickly towards me, and before she turns away, I notice the tears in her eyes. I sigh, knowing her pain so well. I walk around to the side of her bed, pulling up a chair so that I can sit beside her.

“The nightmares are almost as bad as the actual pain, and then the spasms wake me up, and it’s like I’m living the nightmare,” she says.

“I know it’s scary, and I know it hurts. But it’s okay to cry. I’m right here.”

Without thinking, I place my hand on her head, carefully brushing back her curly brown hair so that I can see her face, her blue eyes. As I look into the eyes of my 12-year-old self, I see it all: the pain, the loneliness, the fear…and for a few seconds, I feel every piece of it all over again, even the spasms that seemed to come out of nowhere. I touch my own scars as I remember, and it isn’t until I feel the pressure of her hand wrapping around my wrist that I look up. She’s staring right at me, and her hand is wrapped around my wrist so tightly that I can tell she’s trying to picture the long road ahead of her.

As her eyes move back towards the changing lights on the fiber-optic Christmas tree, I crawl into her hospital bed, allowing her body to curl up against my own. As she holds tightly to my hand and we stare together at the lights changing from red to green to blue, I hug her against me, remembering how much I longed for an older sister who would hold me during those scary and lonely nights of spasms and nightmares.

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.