Tag Archives: Physical Disabilities

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.

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The femoral derotational osteotomy: The longest marathon.

14 Jan

I was born with Cerebral Palsy. In my case, I was born with my femurs angled inward and my hips tilted forward, and my angled femurs caused my feet to point in as well. Therefore, as a kid, when I would walk, I’d end up tripping over my feet, which made it harder for me to walk properly. On October 8, 2001, I had my first intense operation, a femoral derotational osteotomy. In some ways, it doesn’t seem like that long ago. The femoral derotational osteotomy was an intense operation in which the surgeons straightened out my femurs in order to allow me to walk straight. Rods were also used in order to keep my legs straight, but they would be taken out the following year once everything had fully healed. Even though the operation itself isn’t something I remember since I was asleep, I do remember the conversation I had with the OR nurses before I was put under. When the nurses looked down at me on the operating table and asked me to tell them about my animals, I proceeded to include the names of my pets at home as well as the names of all of my stuffed animals (and I had a lot). The nurses just smiled. They didn’t seem to mind.

When I woke up in the ICU, I had on two long-leg casts that were connected by a bar in the middle. I also had an epidural, so I couldn’t feel the full extent of my pain. However, those first few days in the ICU were spent not eating as much jello as I could manage, but continually getting sick from the anesthesia that had put me under during the operation. Trust me, having a nurse come over with a tube to suck the vomit out of your throat is completely disgusting, but it’s better than having the full taste of vomit in your mouth by waiting for it to come all the way up. Though I did eventually leave the ICU and Shriner’s after my first intense operation, I had to keep those long-leg casts on for the next 8 weeks, and during those 8 weeks, I became completely dependent on my parents. They had to help me shower, help me go to the bathroom, and help me change my clothes among many, many other things. It was only the beginning of the very long road to gaining my own independence.

In many ways, the femoral derotational osteotomy was the beginning of a marathon that would last much longer than just a few days. It was the beginning of the complete hell I would go through over the next 6 years until I reached the age of 15. By the age of 15, I had endured 3 intense surgeries, 15 years of physical therapy, and more pain that I ever thought possible. However, despite all of that, I persevered. I pushed through because I knew it was the only thing that would allow me to be independent. In the beginning, after that first operation, my parents were helping me do everything. I was completely dependent on them. However, by age 15, I was not only independent, I was gearing up to leave home the following year to attend an all-girls’ boarding school in North Carolina. Though leaving home was and always will be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done (not including my operations and all the intense physical therapy that followed them), it was also the best decision I ever made for myself. As with so many other things in my life, I’ve learned from it all, but more than that, I have been able to better understand the person I am supposed to become. Though I would have never imagined that I’d be using experiences from my own life in order to relate to and lift up other kids with CP and other disabilities, it’s beginning to feel like a permanent place I belong.

In the right hands, a memoir is the flecks of gold panned out of a great, muddy river. A memoir is those flecks melted down into a shapable liquid that can be molded and hammered into a single bright band to be worn on a finger, something you could point to and say, “This? Oh, this is my life.” Everyone has a muddy river, but very few have the vision, patience, and talent to turn it into something so beautiful. That is why the writer matters, so that we can not only learn from her experience but find a way to shape our own. -Ann Patchett, afterword of Autobiography of a Face

Almost a year ago…before the writing began.

24 Dec

Since tonight is Christmas Eve and tomorrow is Christmas, I thought I’d share a picture I came across today from last Christmas.

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It’s crazy to think how much can happen in a year. This time last year, the idea of starting my memoir of living with Cerebral Palsy hadn’t come into existence quite yet, and in all actuality, that is hard for me to believe. I remember how, on a cold winter day in January, I made the quick and impulsive decision and said, “I’m going to write a book about my life!”

A few days later, after I had spent many hours just writing, writing, writing without even thinking of stopping, I emailed two very important people in my life: my writing mentor and my freshman English professor from my previous college, both of whom have always been incredibly supportive of my writing. Both of them have always been big supporters of me in general, and so I wasn’t surprised to receive positive reactions concerning my decision to write a book about my life. Though I did receive support from both of them, I sensed hesitation, and truthfully, I’m still unsure if that hesitation was just my own lack of self-confidence coming to the surface or whether it was something else entirely. Either way, at those very beginning days of my memoir, when only the first thoughts of it were being formulated in my mind, I never thought I’d reach the point where I could talk about my past with such ease. Granted, there are definitely memories that still cause me to pause simply because I haven’t quite gotten the guts to pull them out of the black box they have been hidden in for so long, but considering where I was this time last year, I’ve come very far.

Truthfully, it’s because of the support I’ve received from my mentors, friends, family and all you lovely fellow bloggers that I have made it to this point concerning my memoir. Though the amount of pages I have written is incredibly, incredibly slim considering a full year has passed since I began, most of my writing took more mental preparations than I anticipated in the beginning. Though I wrote like crazy in the beginning month of beginning my memoir, that “early fire” started to fade when the emotions of what I was doing began to fully set in. Since then, I have continued battling those emotions, and those battles have taken up more time than I anticipated….time that could’ve been spent writing. However, I needed to give attention to those battles…to all of the emotions that were being brought to the surface after essentially burying huge chunks of my life in boxes in the back of my mind. Therefore, though I don’t have very many pages to show for all that I have trudged through over the past year, if anything….I know what I have finally faced…and what I have grown from.

Therefore, I wish to say thank you for every single one of you who have been a part of the supportive hug I’ve been receiving for the past year. To family, friends, mentors, and fellow bloggers…thank you for sticking with me through the really hard writing days, the really good writing days, and all those days in between when I was either talking about my memoir or talking about a certain memory from my past. Though there is still a very, very long way to go, I know from experience that the beginning of a project…or the simple act of even starting it…is the hardest. Though there were many days throughout the last year that I either debating stopping or could no longer remember why I was putting myself through the pain of writing and reliving the hard parts of my life, I kept at it. I kept at it for you, for me, and for all the families and kids dealing with a disability who just need someone to relate to or someone who understands or someone who they can look to and say, “She made it through. So can I.”

As well as my many thanks and lots of love, I’d also like to wish all of you a happy holiday season. 🙂

When the stars align…with Easter Seals UCP.

1 Dec

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

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

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

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

Copyright: Easter Seals UCP.

Copyright: Easter Seals UCP.

The top 5 Jodi Picoult quotes to help you change your life.

17 Nov

I absolutely love Jodi Picoult. She’s one of my favorite authors, which is most likely because I love how all her books make me think. I’ve always loved the way Jodi Picoult writes, and she is one of those writers that somehow knows the words that I feel without me having to utter a single word. I’ve never understood it, but it’s a concept that I’ve come across with other writers as well (John Green, Lucy Grealy). Though Jodi Picoult’s words haven’t necessarily changed me, they have helped me realize the aspects of my life that I hope to change.

1. “Maybe who we are isn’t so much about what we do, but rather what we’re capable of when we least expect it.” – from My Sister’s Keeper

This quote, though it’s simple, gives me hope. It is a reminder that yes, we will all make mistakes, but those mistakes shouldn’t be what others constantly focus on. Instead, we should remember the moments that we were strong, courageous, and brave. For instance, people have always told me how strong I am for what I have been through. However, I never know how to respond. I was strong because I had to be. There was no other choice. This quote helps me to see that strength that is within me, even though there are countless times in which I’d prefer to not always have to be the strong one and simply let someone take care of me.

2.“Sometimes to get what you want the most, you have to do what you want the least.” – from My Sister’s Keeper 

For me, this quote relates to the concept of writing my memoir vs what I what to achieve through writing my memoir. I want acceptance in myself, but more than that, I want other kids with disabilities and other kids who also go through horrendous surgeries to know they are not alone. However, to get to the point where I can help other kids like me, I have to do the hardest thing I’ve ever attempted: I have to relive the memories of my childhood so that I can write them down. Though it’s a painful process and sometimes I’m not entirely sure why I keep on writing, I think of the kids that are lying in hospital beds feeling scared and more alone than a widow on Christmas. It’s because of those kids that I keep on trudging through, because once upon a time, I was one of them, and I spent so much time wanting for someone who could understand. And that person never came. So I want to be that person for other kids. I have to be, because feeling like no one understands when you’re going through the most intense physical pain of your life…that’s the worst feeling there is.

3. “You can’t look back – you just have to put the past behind you, and find something better in your future.” – from Salem Falls

This quote has definitely been the kick in the pants when I’ve needed it. I’m naturally one of those people who focuses on the words “what if.” However, reading this quote always helps me to reminder that I just need to look ahead rather than always focusing on what might have been, because keeping my eyes glued to the rear view mirror isn’t going to do me much good. Instead, I need to look ahead and realize that the people who are in my past are there because the things that I’ll find in my future will be so much better.

4. “You might have to lose control before you could find out what you’d been missing.” – from Nineteen Minutes

This quote is similar to saying “Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to realize what you had.” It’s all about perspective. Sometimes, all we need is a shift in perspective, a chance to look at a situation in a different way in order to focus on what’s really important. I definitely know there have been times where I have lost sight of what’s truly important because I’ve allowed myself to get too bogged down by the petty things that won’t mean much in the long run. By changing my perspective and realizing that focusing on the important things are what really matters, I learn more from the situation, and I’m able to be happier.

5. “Just because fate had thrown another obstacle in my way didn’t mean I had to give up my dreams.” – from Harvesting the Heart

Dreams are a special thing. They give us a purpose, a direction to move towards. I am one of the fortunate people who knows the feeling of being able to live my dream: writing about my own life in order to help other kids who have been through something similar. However, I know that for many people, dreams reside in the distance. They are present, but they are regarded as things that don’t always deserve the right amount of attention because there’s not enough time or money or space. Living a dream isn’t supposed to be easy. You’ve got to work for it, every day. But the feeling you get when you realize you’re living it…when it’s staring you in the face and giving you more joy and purpose than you ever thought possible…that’s a feeling that borders on miraculous.

NaNoWriMo (Day 1): Different kinds of love.

1 Nov

My parents are very different people. I guess you could call them polar opposites in a lot of ways. However, they compliment each other, and I also know that without them being very different, I would have had an even harder time dealing with the struggles related to my Cerebral Palsy throughout my childhood. In connection with my parents being very different, they also have very different ways in which they show love. I like to think that I got lucky and am able to show others how I feel through how each of my parents behaved (and still do behave) towards me regarding love.

My mom has always showed affection through tough love. During my childhood years, I couldn’t understand that this was even a form of love. The toughness hurt. It made me cry. Most days, it made me feel like I wasn’t good enough. Especially concerning the exercises that I had to do in order to get stronger and be more independent, my mom was the pusher. The goal was to get me to be more independent, and in my mind, I felt like that is all she could really see. For much of my life, I didn’t want a tough love mom. I wanted a mom who would show me she loved me in the obvious ways. I wanted a mom who would see me in pain and instantly hug me and rock me, continually telling me that it would all be okay. I wanted a mom who would welcome me into her arms, welcome me into the place that I fit and would always belong. I didn’t understand how my mom could push me to complete all the really painful exercises and not even be phased when the tears began to fall. I didn’t understand why she didn’t tell me she loved me more often. For much of my life, I doubted my mom’s love for me. Since we were often butting heads, I couldn’t allow myself to see the ways in which my mom was showing me love. I just knew that I was in pain, and instead of making it stop, she was making it worse. In my mind, that was so far from love. Though my mom was pushing me so that I could be a more independent person and fight through what was bringing me down, I couldn’t see that. All I knew was that what I did end up doing never seemed to be good enough. As soon as I completed one exercise, using all my strength to push through the really painful parts, there was another exercise to do…and another after that…and another after that. It was a never-ending stream of pain and tears, and at the center was my mom, telling me to bend my knee up just one more time.

My dad was the complete opposite. He has always been incredibly sympathetic and has always showed his love for me in ways that I could relate to. For instance, I remember the first few weeks I was home after my first surgery. Throughout those weeks, I was in an incredible amount of pain, which often made it really difficult for me to sleep at night. Therefore, I’d call out for my dad, and even though it would take some time for him to hear me, eventually he’d come to my room. In those moments, there was nothing he could do to ease my pain except give me some pain medication. However, the ability for him to just sit at my bedside and brush my hair with his fingers was enough. Though I was still hurting, it was obvious that all he wanted to do was take away my pain. I could tell from how he looked at me that it was so hard for him to not be able to do anything. However, in those moments, his love for me was obvious. The simple fact that he just came to sit beside my bed through my tears said so much. Even if he never said anything to me, I could feel the love that was held in those moments.

My dad has always been an incredibly empathetic person, and I know that’s where I get my ability to empathize with others and relate to the pain that other people have felt, though I may have not felt that specific kind of pain myself. Though my dad has always been empathetic, that doesn’t take away the fact that for my entire life, I have longed to have someone to understand my pain. I’ve wanted someone to be able to come up to me and say, “I know exactly how you feel.” However, in a situation such as mine, that’s not an easy thing to find. My dad’s love for me has filled many of the gaps that a person who knew my pain normally would. Though he doesn’t know what my pain has felt like it, he (as well as my mom) lived through it with me. They were with me every day, watching as I went through unimaginable pain that they couldn’t take away no matter how much they longed to do just that. Also, since I’ve always been incredibly close with my dad, he’s grown to understand many of the parts of myself that I don’t show to many people. Since we’re so similar, he probably knows me better than anyone else. In so many different ways, we understand each other, and my ability to be incredibly open and honest with my dad has allowed us to have the kind of parent-child relationship that I know many people wish they could have.

In much of my teenage years, during the times that I was going through intense physical therapy but also beginning to become my own person, I began to doubt my parents’ love for me. Though I have no doubt that my parents had told me they loved me countless times before, I feel like my own low self-esteem impacts the way I imagine others feel towards me. Though that may seem sad, I think it’s something that any of us who are different struggle with. In a childhood that is filled with a great deal of emotional and physical pain, where is the love? How can we feel like others love us if they are pushing us to do things that are incredibly physically painful? Isn’t love supposed to be a warm feeling? Isn’t it supposed to be the kind of emotion that has no boundaries or limits and is able to lift us out of the hardest times in our lives? Doesn’t love conquer all? Regarding my ability to doubt that others love me, I have realized that I have always been one of those people who needs reassurance, which I feel like is another trait I get from my dad. Therefore, even though I have friends and family who may tell me they love me on a regular basis, I often wonder when I will allow myself to believe them. I wonder how long it will take to stop doubting how much they care. I wonder…I wonder…I wonder.

Though my parents showed their love to me in very different ways, they’ve always complimented each other. If I had 2 parents who demonstrated tough love or 2 parents who were incredibly soft, caring and empathetic, I wouldn’t have been able to make it through my struggles. Though sometimes it’s still hard that my parents show love in 2 very different ways, it’s helped me define my own definition of love. It’s also helped me understand that since my parents have two very different personalities, the way they show affection is definition, and that’s just the way it is. However, it’s helped me see that there isn’t just one way to show someone who you care about them or love them. Though I am only 20 and I still have a lot to learn regarding love, I know that the love I have received from my parents has shaped me into how I show my love to other people. Though I don’t solely demonstrate tough love or solely demonstrate softness and empathy, I know that having a mix of the two is probably the best way to be.

[Word count: 1380 of 50,000]

Happy (almost) first birthday, lifeintheblueridges!

31 Oct

Even though today isn’t the “official” one-year birthday of lifeintheblueridges, I will be starting NaNoWriMo tomorrow. Therefore, my post tomorrow will be my writing piece for day one of NaNoWriMo rather than a “Yay lifeintheblueridges is one year old today” post. However, I knew that I couldn’t go full tilt into my first NaNoWriMo experience without celebrating the one-year birthday of this blog.

As well as November 1st being the one-year birthday this blog (in which I have written one blog post every day for an entire year), it is also the celebration of the beginning of my journey to find myself. Yes, that may sound cliché, but it’s true. Since I started my blog, I have become a completely different person. When I first began, I had no idea that my words would act as a gateway into what I strive to do in life: advocate for people with disabilities. I first began acting as an advocate in January of this year when I made the decision to share my own story of living with Cerebral Palsy. Though it was a very spur of the moment decision that was made one evening as I sat in bed thinking back on my life in and out of hospitals and how hard it was not having someone who understood my pain and fear, I knew that it was a decision that would stick. I could feel it.

I am proud to say that 10 months later, the decision has remained strong. More than anything, it has grown. Though I know that part of the growth has to do with the inner strength that I have rediscovered within myself, I also know that it has a lot to do with the support and encouragement that I have received from the blogging community. Before beginning my blog a year ago, I never knew that the blogging community was as close to a home with a strong sense of belonging that I’d ever hope to find. Even though I am sure that there will be other places along the way that will allow me to feel a similar sense of belonging, I know it started here. I have no doubt that as I continue to share my story, I will continue to become more confident in myself. However, I also will be sure to not forget those who helped me first begin to recognize my true self: my parents, my friends, my mentors, and all of you lovely blog followers.

It’s always so crazy to think of how much can happen in a year. When I began this blog one year ago, I didn’t know that this is where it would lead. I didn’t know that I would reach a point where it didn’t scare the hell out of me to talk about my life with Cerebral Palsy. I didn’t know I’d be able to talk about certain memories without crying because I could remember the pain so vividly. Honestly, I didn’t think I’d be able to revisit any of the painful memories at all. For so long, they were stored away. I kept them in the dark recesses of my mind, and I never even considered the possibility of bringing them out into the light. The simple thought of reliving the moments in my life that were filled with so much pain and fear was unimaginable. However, I think all of that began to change when I realized that I had the power to help other kids with disabilities feel less alone by sharing my own story. Truthfully, all of it changed because of Grace.

Grace. The twelve-year-old girl who I know who has Cerebral Palsy. The girl who is facing what I’ve faced, and yet always seems to have the biggest smile on her face. The girl who looks up to me as if I have hung the moon and the stars. And yet, she’s also the girl who has the ability to break my heart since, at the time, I knew I’d never be able to save her from the pain. There was nothing I could do that would result in Grace not having to feel the emotional and physical pain that I have had to face my entire life. However, eventually, I thought of a way I could help Grace. Though it may not be in the way that I wished, I know that I can help Grace (and many others like her) by sharing my own story and bringing to light the pain, fear, loneliness and rejection that I have faced throughout my life. Grace. The girl who I feel like I can completely relate to since we know each other’s pain. The girl who often sends me spiraling back into painful memories that have been long gone and over for many years by simply being present in my life. And yet, I long to help her see that she is not alone, that she is strong, and that she is loved. I long to help her see that she is one of the reasons why I’m writing my memoir. Maybe even the sole reason.