Jobs, Money, My Future…Oh My!

To say it has been a long time since I’ve blogged is an understatement. Between being in my final semester of graduate school (which starts back on Monday), stressing about jobs, money, and my future, and fitting in time with my boyfriend and my cat, there hasn’t been time for much else. However, as usual, this blog/writing has been in the back of my mind. So, here I am.

When I first began my MSW (Master’s in Social Work) program in August of 2014, I thought I knew what I was in for. I thought I knew the population I wanted to work with. I thought I had the hard parts figured out already. However, I’m beginning to realize that starting my MSW program was just the start. As it turns out, the hard decisions have yet to be made. People ask what population do you want to work with and what kind of work do you gravitate towards within social work…and my expression is completely blank. Because you know what? I don’t know. I don’t know, and that’s scaring me.

As part of my MSW program, each year students are required to complete an internship/field placement for each of the two years of the program. During my first year, I began by interning with an organization that works with individuals with disabilities. However, after a big personality clash between my supervisor and I, I made a quick switch after a few weeks. I then interned for the rest of the year at an adult day health center for individuals with dementia. While I enjoyed that, the pace was somewhat slow for my taste and I didn’t really like working with the elderly population, so I knew that during my second year, I wanted to do something completely different. Therefore, this year, my field placement has been in the case management department of a local hospital. While I enjoyed it at first and I’m able to do the work, I’ve recently realized that it’s not where I want to work following graduation.

Here’s what I do know as of now: I’m interested in mental health (but don’t have any experience with it), I’m interested in disabilities (but know that I want to directly work with clients as opposed to doing a lot of behind the scenes work) and I want to do clinical work. I also know that I love working with kids, but don’t necessarily know if I’d like working with them in a mental health capacity.

And here’s where all the frustration comes in. While I realize that it is just as good to know where you don’t want to work as well as where you do, I thought I’d have a better idea at this point. I thought I’d have it figured out, and I don’t. I thought graduate school would help me figure out what the hell I want to do with my life, but it hasn’t. Other than knowing I want to be a social worker, obviously. Which is good, I guess. But it doesn’t feel like enough.

I’m hoping that I have a better idea of what direction I want to move in following graduation, but what if don’t? What if I’m just as clueless then as I am now? The hard part is that I know I’ll need to get a job following graduation in order to pay for rent, bills, and living. At the same time, I’m just as scared to take a job working with a population I don’t have experience working with. To be honest, that terrifies me….to get in a job and realize the learning curve is way more than I bargained for. Therefore, the obvious result would be to take a job in an area of social work that I already have worked in (like in gerentology or the hospital)…except for the fact that I know I don’t enjoy working with those populations/in those settings. Agh! I’m frustrated, to say the least.

Thankfully, I’ve been able to talk to multiple people about all this. And all of them have told me that it’ll all work out and that I’ll find a job. However, what many of them have also said that it may not be a job I really like right out of graduate school. And I guess that’s what’s so hard. The uncertainty. The not knowing where I’ll be working. And the likelihood that even once I find a job, I might not even like it. How crappy is that? I thought the whole point of going to graduate school was so that I could work in a field I love and enjoy going to work every day?

And when I get in this kind of funk, the ever looming question emerges: Am I cut out for this work…Do I really even want to be a social worker? At this point, I know one thing: I know I want to help people. I want to help people more than anything in the world. And hopefully, when the time comes and I’m sweating my way through all sorts of job interviews, that will be enough.

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Why I’m Participating in Relay for Life

Though I have never participated in Relay for Life previously, this year I felt a particular need to do so. As a current Master’s of Social Work (MSW) student, my fellow classmates and I are studying to become social workers who are able to best support the most vulnerable and oppressed populations, and my population of choice is children with special needs and children undergoing treatment for cancer.

In August of 2013, I began a year-long internship with Arts For Life in Asheville, NC that changed my life. Arts For Life is a non-profit organization in North Carolina that teaches art projects to children in the hospital. Specifically, I taught art projects to children with special needs and children undergoing treatment for cancer. Early on, I felt particularly drawn to the children I worked with because like them, I spent extensive amounts of time in the hospital as a child because of my Cerebral Palsy. While I was a patient at Greenville Shriner’s Hospital as a child, doing art projects was the highlight of my hospital stays. Therefore, to have the chance to provide the same happiness to other children was incredibly rewarding. I worked with many children and families throughout my internship who commented that I had changed their lives because of the joy I was bringing to them and their families. But truly, they were the ones who changed my life.

Please join me in raising money for anyone who is fighting or has fought cancer. No one should face such a hard battle, especially children!

Click the following link to donate and support me at Relay for Life: http://main.acsevents.org/goto/ameliacoonrod

To Those Who Taught Me To Dream

When I was little, I wanted nothing more than to be a ballerina. Around Christmastime, my grandmother would take me to see The Nutcracker at the Koger Center. As I sat up in the balcony in my checkered dress and patent leather shoes, I stared with admiration at the character of Clara. I imagined myself twirling around in my own leotard with a toy nutcracker in my hands, lost in the music and a dance that was all my own. When I got home from seeing The Nutcracker, I’d put on my leotard and tutu, grab a favorite stuffed animal at the time, and twirl in circles to the music only I could hear.

It was in those moments, in the safety of my childhood bedroom, that I began to dream, imagining doing things I knew I wouldn’t be able to do in reality due to my disability. I imagined dancing with a grace I had seen only in ballerinas. I put on my ballet shoes and twirled until my unstable balance got the best of me and I fell to the floor in frustration. I even remember asking my parents if I could take ballet lessons, determined to learn how to create the beauty I had seen in the character of Clara. The opportunity never arose though, simply because I didn’t have the balance to be a ballerina. Despite walking on my tiptoes, twirling around in circles on those same tiptoes was out of the question.

As I got older and I filled my head with more realistic dreams, I never stopped imagining doing the things I’d never be able to fully experience. I thought of dancing to the music of my world. I imagined running down the street and feeling the wind on my face as I chased the orange and red sunset I saw in the distance. I pictured myself climbing the huge oak tree in my backyard, wanting nothing more than to find a sturdy limb I could sit on so I could rest my back against the tree’s broad trunk and escape into my favorite book. The creative imagination I possessed placed me right into the worlds I dreamed, though I knew I was so far away from actually experiencing them.

I am forever grateful to the people throughout my life who have encouraged my imagination and dreams. Though I was constantly reminded by other kids around me of the things I was unable to do, so many of the adult figures in my life understood the importance of believing in my creativity. Because of those individuals, I have learned what it means to still hope and strive for the things that still seem a bit out of reach. Through my ability to dream, I developed a determination that has propelled me through my life, despite stumbling again and again. While I may not have had the chance to be a ballerina who twirls endlessly with the grace of a perfect melody, I have sung my heart out at a voice recital, capturing an entire room with the simple sound of my voice. I have participated in theatre productions, achieving my moment in the spotlight by being Glinda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz. I have written of specific moments of pain during the months following intense operations, creating the same tears in the eyes of my readers that I possessed during my moments of defeat. Though I may not have had the chance to live the experiences I longed for, I have continued to move to the song of my own life, continuously grateful to those who taught me to dream and create my own destiny.

The beauty of my worst fear.

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 22 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.

I’m back!

After months of trying to remember my log in information for this blog, I’m finally back. Truly, it feels incredible. So much has happened since I have been on this blog, and yet even typing in this semi-constrained white box is the most free I have felt in a long time. Honestly, I don’t remember the last time I sat down to write for myself. Ever since August, my life has been full to the brim with graduate school, an internship, and some form of a life. Though I’ve loved it, it’s been busy, and within the chaos, I’ve somehow drifted away from writing…away from that part of myself that aches to breathe through words…away from the part of myself that I typically keep hidden from the word, unless I’m within the blogosphere (crazy enough).

Well, friends, I’m back…for the long haul. When I first started graduate school back in August, I was so overwhelmed that I thought I had to choose between writing and the growth of my future career as a mental health therapist/social worker. However, by not giving myself writing time over the past six months, I’ve felt more distant from my own life than ever before. So maybe it’s not about choosing one passion over another. Maybe it’s about making room in my life for both passions.

Therefore, this is my attempt to do that. Whether it’ll mean blogging once a week or twice a week, I’m not sure. But, I’m here, and at this point, that’s all that matters. I’m not entirely sure where this blog will go from here, though I do suspect I’ll continue with some Cerebral Palsy posts. After all, it goes along with this blog’s name. Despite the amount of posts I’ve already written about what it’s like to live with Cerebral Palsy, there are always more. Though they’ve lessened over time, there’s still so much to talk about…so many memories I haven’t even attempted to revisit yet. However, due to taking the writing break, I think I’m more prepared to tackle the harder memories now than ever before. So, here’s to future writing, and most of all, here’s to all of you: all the lovely bloggers I’ve connected with over the past 4 years. If you’ve stuck with me from the beginning, I fully appreciate you beyond words. If not…if you’re new to my blog…you’ve come at just the right time.

The Femoral Derotational Osteotomy: My Longest Marathon.

I published this piece on my first blog on January 13, 2013, and I’ve gotten many responses from parents of kids who are about to undergo this surgery or are just in the beginning stages of discovering whether this operation is best for their child. Therefore, I’d like to post it here on my new site.

*Keep in mind: the experiences discussed in this article are mine and mine alone. I am not a doctor, I don’t have a medical background, and I wouldn’t advise parents to use this article to decide whether their child should not have this operation or not. I invite parents to simply use this piece as a way to better understand what your child might go through.

(Originally published on January 13, 2013)

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