My Writing Is Getting A Facelift!

 

I’m typically not one for New Year’s resolutions. My stance has always been that if you want to change something in your life, you don’t need to wait for a specific day of the year to make those decisions. However, at the same time, I get it. It’s a new year. A chance to try new things, commit to things you’ve strayed from, or just make a commitment to treat yourself and the people you love better.

On November 1, 2011, I started my very first blog: Life In The Blue Ridges, and to put it simply, it was not only a smashing success, but one of the happiest times in my life. Back in 2011, I made the commitment to blog every single day for entire year, and I did it. It wasn’t always pretty. Sometimes I had something to say, other days I didn’t. Yet, I still posted every day. Even on the days when the words just wouldn’t come, I reflected. I posted the song lyrics to music that had been stuck in my head, I posted recent photographs I’d taken, or I talked about the book I was currently reading. Through a year of daily blogging, I found something I didn’t know I was searching for: my voice and a community. Simply put, I found myself.

A lot has happened since I first began blogging a little over 6 years ago. I met the love of my life, I graduated from college (BA in Psychology), I got my Master’s in Social Work, and I’ve traversed the daily grind of living life with a physical disability. A lot has changed since I first began blogging, but one thing has stayed the same: my love of writing. However, I’ll be the first to tell you that my blog in it’s current state does not reflect my love of writing. Life happened. School was placed at the forefront of my life. I fell in love. My career was my priority.

As previously stated, the happiest time in my life was when I was blogging daily. I’ve come to that conclusion. And I’ve also realized that the joy of writing can only be felt by writing itself. I’ve tried getting myself wrapped up in my job, reading a lot of really good books, and just doing things that make me happy. However, none of those things have brought me close to the bliss and authenticity I feel when writing. So here I am….back in the blogging community…and making the resolution to myself to write every single day once again. How long that will go, I’m not sure. As of now, I want to set the goal of writing every day for a year. I did it once. I can do it again. I’m sure things will come up that may derail that a bit, but when that happens, I’ll come back to the blank page and type one word in front of the other. That’s all writing is anyway, right?

Happy writing, friends. Here’s to a new year, resolutions, and lots and lots of writing.

Dating With a Disability [Part 2]

The initial dating with a disability post I wrote back in March was such a hit that I wanted to do a follow-up. I think sometimes society has a hard time understanding that people with disabilities want the same things everyone else does: love, success, lifelong friendships. And those things are attainable for the disability population. However, it may just mean there are more logistics to figure out.

In the case of dating, for me that meant thousands of questions were going through my head: 1). When should I tell him about my disability? 2). How will he respond? 3). Will he care? 4). If we get serious, will he resent me for what I can’t do? 5). If we get serious, will he feel like my caretaker?

Even now, after my boyfriend and I have been dating for 3 and a half years, some of those questions still surface. However, we’ve dealt with them just like we’ve traversed the rest of our relationship: with openness, frequent communication, and love.

When should I tell him: Honestly, it was answered on its own. Because my disability is visible, it’s not something I could hide. No, I didn’t have a “I have CP” tattoo on my forehead, and I have never introduced myself to someone by saying, “Hi, my name’s Amelia, and I have CP.” However, I’ve always prided myself on being open with people. The reality of my disability came out pretty early on…and even though I fretted over how the conversation would go, it went as smooth as though I had said, “My day was good, how was yours.”

How will he respond: My Cerebral Palsy mattered to him, but it didn’t all at the same time. It didn’t prevent him from wanting to date me. However, it mattered in the sense that he wanted to understand it enough to know how to help me when he could, which I was grateful for. More than anything, he wanted to know how living with a disability shaped the way I viewed the world. And in that moment, I knew I wanted to spend my days helping him to understand the world I lived in: the world of oppression, marginalization, discrimination…but also the world of a culture that has its own language, values, history, and perspective.

Will he care: He did. But he cared in the sense of, “It hurts me to see you in pain,” as opposed to, “I don’t want a girlfriend who has a disability.” Yes, it’s part of our relationship, but it’s not the only piece. It means we have to do certain things certain a little differently, but it doesn’t prevent us from loving each other. However, I will say it does take a special person to care in this way. You want someone to care enough about your disability that they see it as part of you, but not so much that it is the only thing they see when they look at you. I’m happy to say that’s what I’ve found. And honestly, each day it amazes me. Sometimes it still takes my breath away that I’ve found someone who cares enough about my disability that he has taken up the disability fight out of sheer love for me. For example, the first time my boyfriend became enraged when he saw a car parked in a handicapped space without an appropriate license or placard…I felt heard, I felt seen, and finally, I felt like I didn’t have to face the injustices of the world alone.

If we get serious, will he resent me for what I can’t do: Honestly, I still worry about this one. Since we are serious, it’s a thought that bounces around in my head pretty regularly. And since we are so open with each other, it’s also conversation we have often. Do I think he resents me now? No. Do I think there are things he wishes we could do together that my disability prevents? Sometimes, yes. The majority of those things have been centered around activities that require extended walking. However, about a year ago, when I invested in a mobility scooter, a new world opened for us. With my scooter, I was able to get out and be more active and not be as easily exhausted like I’d get if I was walking everywhere. Therefore, we’ve been able to enjoy things like going to the mall or walking around downtown, whereas previously I’d avoid those things because more walking meant pain…and pain meant both of us being unhappy. However, in another sense, sometimes I worry how my disability will impact me as I age. What if in two years I can’t do what I’m doing now? I’d be lying if I said I didn’t worry about it. But if I know one thing, it’s this: I’ll figure out a way to handle those obstacles as they come my way. I always do. It’s who I am.

If we get serious, will he feel like my caretaker: I still worry about this one too. It’s a conversation we have very openly, as neither of us wants to reach a point where we have a caretaker/patient relationship. Honestly, what’s made the difference is understanding and perspective. Are there things he has to help me with? Absolutely. But do I help him with aspects of himself that are weak because those are my strong areas? Yes. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about. The give and take. In my case, many of the ways my boyfriend supports me are physical in nature, but he’s also incredibly kind, loving, and caring too. When I look at a caretaker/patient relationship, I see it as very one-sided. And that’s not what our relationship is. It’s two people supporting and strengthening each other to be the best versions of themselves.

At the end of the day, dating with a disability is just the same as typical dating, but with a double scoop of openness, communication, understanding…and a dash of humor (because if we’re not laughing through life, what’s even the point).

Why My Disability is Not Your Feel Good Story

Throughout my life, I have been called inspirational, brave, and courageous because I live life with a disability. Many people have expressed how much they admire me. I used to just accept it. However, over the last few years, those kind of comments have really started to frustrate me, and here’s why.

Admiring me because I live with a disability and have scars and wake up each morning with chronic pain to simply live my life…it’s pity in disguise. This kind of admiration says to me: “Wow. If I had experiences like yours or lived with some kind of impairment, I don’t know if I could face that.” And what, I’m some kind of construct to measure against so you can say to yourself, “Thank goodness I don’t live like that.” Within the disability community, this concept is known as inspiration porn. As was stated in the hit-show Speechless, “It’s a portrayal of people with disabilities as one-dimensional saints who only exist to warm the hearts and open the minds of able-bodied people.”

Other examples of inspiration porn include stories such as the star athlete at a local school taking a girl with Down Syndrome to prom or images of athletes competing in the Paralympics with the caption, “The only disability in life is a bad attitude.” Seriously? Give me a freaking break.

I’ve had my fair share of these kind of experiences as well. When I was in middle school, every year there was a beauty pageant, and each grade was allowed 3 or 4 contestants. The contestants were chosen based on nominations and votes made by each grade, and when I was in 4th grade, I nominated myself but then changed my mind and stated, “Nevermind, no one is going to vote for me anyway.” Even now, I don’t know why I said it. Maybe it was rooted in my strong desire to be liked and have friends, but as you might imagine, my entire class heard the statement. And lo and behold, I was chosen to take part in the beauty pageant that year. While at the time I enjoyed the experience, now it simply fills me with disgust, and I wonder, “Did my classmates or school ever realize that by providing me with this experience, they were simply using it so they could feel good about themselves for doing a ‘good deed’?”

Years later, when I was in college, my dad and I were walking around downtown Asheville and trying to kill time before going to a concert at The Orange Peel, and an older gentleman came up beside me and started clapping and stated, “God bless you, sweetheart. Way to go.” I was floored. I stared at the man in disbelief and didn’t even respond. Looking back on it now, I wish I had said, “Honestly, saying something like that is incredibly demeaning. I don’t exist to provide you with warm and fuzzy feelings, and I am not here for your pity.”

Don’t admire me for simply living, for doing every day things you can accomplish without even batting an eye. Because to be honest, I haven’t done anything extraordinary. I have a college degree, I recently got my master’s degree, I have a full-time job, I drive a car, and I pay all my bills. But so have thousands of other people in the world. But are you going to walk up to them with a huge smile on your face a say, “Wow, you inspire me so much. I really admire you?” I highly doubt it. Just because I have accomplished those things while also having a disability does not make me admirable or courageous or brave. I am not your charity case or your feel good story. I don’t exist so you can put your life and obstacles into perspective. I am not here so you can pat yourself on the back and check off “do a good deed” on your list of life goals. I am simply doing the exact same thing every single other person in this world is doing: existing.

Disabilities within Social Work: The Road Less Traveled

Two weeks ago I wrote a blog post expressing my stress and confusion regarding not knowing what I population I wanted to work with following graduation from my MSW program in May. At the time, I was considering either mental health or disabilities.

After having time to weigh my options, talk with friends and professors, and receive feedback from a stranger, I’ve made my decision. The disabilities field is where I belong. Not only is it my passion; it’s my calling. As someone with a disability myself, I have the ability to offer a unique perspective as a social worker that not many others can provide. Not only do I possess the knowledge as a social worker to look at each individual from a systems perspective, I personally understand the struggles and frustrations of living with a physical disability. I know without a shadow of a doubt that there a very few social workers who can bring in that kind of experience to further empathize with and help their clients on an even deeper level.

You’d think that finally nailing down what population I want to work with would make things much easier. And it has. But there have also been some challenges. For instance, upon talking with the director of my MSW program, I was told something I already knew but didn’t necessarily want to be the case. I was told, “There aren’t social workers in the disabilities field. So, if you want to work in the disabilities field, you’ll have to create a job for yourself.” Even though I already knew that there is a very apparent lack of social workers in the disabilities field, it wasn’t any easier to hear. However, it did help me to put things in perspective and gave me an idea of what to do moving forward. My MSW program director mentioned that finding a job within the disabilities field will be all about networking (as is the case for most jobs, but I think it’ll be even more important in my case). He advised me to literally talk to everyone I know about my passion for working in disabilities and use every possible interaction to discuss my interests and goals.

Following my meeting with my program director, I knew I had to get to work. Therefore, I started by updating my LinkedIn profile to reflect my interest in the disabilities field. Secondly, I decided to make myself some business cards so that anytime I meet someone I want to network with more, I can provide them with my business card. And boy and boy, they sure make me feel professional! 🙂

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For me, another important thing I wanted to be sure and market is my experience with public speaking on the topic of disabilities. Not only am I currently writing my memoir of living with Cerebral Palsy, I also love talking about my disability, especially in schools. When I lived in Asheville and was getting my bachelor’s degree in Psychology, I frequently spoke to groups of elementary and middle school students on the topic of disabilities and bullying. My experiences speaking to those children were some of the most meaningful moments in my life, and I definitely want to once again get involved as a public speaker within the school system to talk about disabilities. As of right now, I don’t have connections within the Charlotte Mecklenburg school system. However, my MSW program director notified me that he plans to reach out to someone he knows within CMS who would likely be very interested in having me come speak at some schools in Charlotte. So, I’m crossing my fingers.

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My first speaking engagement in Asheville, NC at Haw Creek Elementary School. November 2013.

Though it is somewhat frustrating to know that I’ll need to create my own job (in a sense), I am no stranger to going after what I want, even if that may seem impossible. Due to having a disability, I have faced many barriers throughout my life. However, that has never stopped me from chasing my dreams. So, the idea that there are not social workers in the field of disabilities won’t be a deterrant for me. On the contrary, actually. Because there is a lack of social workers in the disabilities field is EXACTLY the reason I need to go into the field. At this point in my life, I’ve become a pro at adapting to seemingly impossible situations, and I’m more than willing to do whatever needs to be done to provide individuals with disabilities and parents of children with disabilities the advocate they deserve!

On The Right Road

This past Saturday, I graduated from college with a Bachelors in Psychology. As I sat in the third row among my classmates, barely viewable among a sea of blue, I was happy. I wasn’t the girl a few seats over who kept having to wipe away her tears. I wasn’t the guy one row in front of me who looked bored, as if he’d rather be any other place than seated among his classmates. I was the girl in the third row whose gaze kept moving back and forth between the keynote speaker and section 4 of the arena where my friends and family were sitting. I was the girl who was soaking up every moment.

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Author and higher education expert, Arthur Levine, was the keynote speaker at my graduation ceremony. At first, when he began discussing the current state of our economy and the degree of technological change within our society, I became bored. These were things I had heard countless times, especially within the bubble of a liberal arts university. However, what he said later made me perk up my ears.

“We need your help as part of the most diverse generation in U.S. history – we need your help to knit together a deeply divided nation,” said Levine. “We need your help in dreaming, designing and developing a new world tied together by technology. … We need your abilities and imaginations to create the first global society in history. … Tomorrow’s going to require leaders who want to help heal a pained nation and a troubled world – you can make a difference. … Making a difference is your birthright.” (courtesy of the UNC Asheville website)

Specifically, the last part of this passage touched me, most importantly the idea of helping to heal and make a difference. In many ways, since I have chosen to pursue my master’s degree in social work beginning in August, I felt as if Arthur Levine was speaking only to me. There were moments in which it felt like he was looking right at me. It was as if he was simply reassuring me that I am moving into the right field, while also moving into a profession that I have a true passion for. Receiving this kind of reassurance, which I assume was not his intention, was one of the greatest graduation gifts I could hope to have been given. It was as if the universe was saying, Yep, you’re doing exactly what you need to be doing, so keep going.

Therefore, rather than processing out of my graduation ceremony with a sense of worry and dread, I held my head high. I smiled because for the first time in my life, I truly felt like I was on the right road to start doing what I’m meant to do. What I also realized was that I’ve been doing just that for the past few years. I have been following my passion of helping others ever since I decided to open up about my experiences with Cerebral Palsy in January of 2012, and that passion has only increased since I have started speaking to elementary and middle schools on the topic of bullying as it relates to my CP experiences. So, though I haven’t started my master’s program yet, I do feel like I have been on the right road for a while now. Truthfully, I think I knew that the first time someone contacted me after reading a blog post of mine to tell me how opening up about my experiences has helped them to better understand what their son, their daughter, or they themselves are going through.

As I continue to enjoy my summer, and specifically focus more strongly on writing my memoir, I’ll push myself forward by knowing that I am helping others. Even if it’s just one person, I am helping that person to become more aware of disabilities. I am helping them to see the one thing that I myself still struggle to see sometimes: Different is beautiful.