On Being An Activist, Not An Inspiration

Typically I write and schedule my posts ahead of time. For someone with some of the worst time management skills on Earth, coupled with ADD, it’s just a better system (and why I can’t manage to post every day without some sort of help).

When the news broke that Stella Young died unexpectedly I changed my plans.

She wrote a letter to her 80 year old self, that people shared all over the place. I read it at my earliest opportunity, which happened to be the night I heard of her death. (I’ll spare you my philosophical and emotional thoughts on that).

Although I never got the chance to know Stella personally I feel a sense of loss with her death. I don’t want to go all, “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers,” but it wouldn’t be the biggest stretch of the imagination since the bonds of the disability community seem to run deeper than the everyday population.

There’s this thing that happens when you’re asked to give a speech, at least if you’re anything like me, you spend more time watching other people give speeches (and thanks to the interwebs this can go nonstop for days on end). You don’t really listen to the speeches either; instead you’re watching their posture, movements, what they do with their hands. Seriously, what to do with my hands always puzzles me.

I really wanted to find wheelchair (or crutches, walker, cane) users giving speeches & how they handled their time in the spotlight. What do they do with their hands? What’s their mic set up? Do they use note cards or have notes on their computer from behind a podium?

And I found Stella.

I watched how she presented herself AND her topic.

She made me laugh, not just because she brought humor to her talk but because there are some experiences that everyone with a physical disability seems to share, and if you don’t laugh about it the inner angry cripple isn’t going to become the outer angry cripple.

She’s also the one who introduced me to inspirational porn.

It’s also nice to see someone else out there who has a similar outlook on life and similar thought process, and has a bigger platform no less.

One of my favorite quotes from Stella is this, “I want to live in a world where we don’t have such low expectations of disabled people that we are congratulated for getting out of bed and remembering our own names in the morning. I want to live in a world where we value genuine achievement for disabled people.”

I don’t like living in a world where working incredibly hard to regain your physical baseline is seen miraculous. It’s not fair to the person with a disability or the one(s) claiming miracle, not to mention a big fat lie.

Stella wouldn’t like it if I ended this by calling her one of my inspirations, so I’m not going to do that. She’s not an inspiration, but she’s shown so many how to advocate and be an activist. That cannot be overlooked.

I read that Stella considered herself to be an atheist ever since she heard that there was only a stairway to heaven. So wherever she is now, if anywhere, I hope it’s universally designed I know many of you out there have no idea who Stella Young is so I wanted to give you a chance to get to know her the same way I did.

17 Things Stella Young Wanted You To Know

How Stella Young Wanted To Be Remembered:’Strong and fierce, not sweet or fragile’

*A similar version of this post was published on December 10, 2014

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Normal Is Nice

Fall means a season of follow ups, and usually a mix of emotions.

The emotions are still there, but I’ll get to that later, or not.

The follow ups are still there, and they will be for the foreseeable future, but they’re different.

I was sitting in an exam room waiting, actually I was staring at the sink, when I thought of a poem.

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Yes, I was waiting a long time. Yes, I do get philosophical the longer I wait.

I remembered waiting to be told I had healed enough that I could stand up, and then feeling pain shoot up my legs as they took on my body weight. It was pain, the very reason why I put myself though all of this, but it was different pain, and I was happy about it.

As the weeks of rehab turned into months my feelings towards standing went from happiness to anger, as happened in every stage of my recovery process.

Every follow up I’d wait, and wish someone would find something that would make me better, a more improved version, faster.

That never happened, at least not yet. And no one ever declared me “recovered,” not officially, that came with some self-acceptance.

I sat in the exam room, again, but with a different expectation.

The expectation of normal.

“Normal is nice,” I kept thinking.

And it was, the follow up went as I expected, and I wasn’t upset or overly happy over it.

It was normal, and it felt nice, to be OK with this (not so) new phase of my life.

Regardless of how you feel about standing, normal is a nice place to be.

Defining normal, that’s the hard part.

Labeled

The concept of labeling can be a complicated debate especially when you have a disability. For a long time, I avoided being labeled like the plague, partly because I wanted to avoid any discussion of my disability at all costs. My thoughts on labeling have changed a bit since then (as you’ll see from the rest of this post). All labels have their place but I wonder if we’ve gone too far in both directions, yes at the same time, meaning we want to label everything and we avoid labeling so much that it’s almost ridiculous, and I wonder if it’s becoming dangerous.

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Do you ever find yourself being shoved into a label that just doesn’t fit?

Do you want the short answer to that question or the long one?
The short answer is…….
Y-E-S!

The long answer goes something like this……
Here’s just a list of labels that have been applied to me:
Cerebral Palsy, Palsified, CP-er (which I hate), Premature, Special Needs, Special Ed, Disabled, Handicapped, Crippled, Dyslexic, Stupid, Slow, Dumb, Learning Disabled,
Different thinker, Adapter, Creative, Problem solver, Easily distracted, Attention Deficit Disorder, Bouncer-backer, Inspiration, Survivor, Thriver, Independent, Stubborn, Pigheaded, Closed off, Loaner, Anti-Social, Social Butterfly, Fast talker, Quiet, Courageous, Deep thinker, Over emotional, Latch-key kid, Damaged goods, Teacher,
Motivation, Friend, Enemy, Nice, Hard ass, Sweet, Sassy, Tree hugger, Hippy, Weird,
Conservative, Driven, Closed minded, Free thinker, Catholic, Addict, Artistic, Heathen,
Atheist, Non denominational, Christian, Miracle, Scattered, Fighter, Free spirit, “Mom,” Flighty, Lover, Hater, Lazy, Boring, Amazing, Spastic, Spaz, Athlete, Introvert, Extravert, Warm hearted, Cold blooded, Caring, Mess, Demented, Retarded, Big mouth, Planner, Over reactor, Disorganized, Volunteer, Recruiter, Person
…….and on and on and on

These are just a few labels I’ve been given in my lifetime. Do I feel like any of them fit me? Not really. No. None of them “fit” me. I feel like I get forced into at least one of these labels at least once a day. Other people have given them to me and force me into them, but sometimes I force myself into them for lack of knowing what else to do. No matter how much I don’t like labels they do help make things easier. I find myself relying on them in new situations or when I find myself too frustrated to be able to explain things to the best of my ability.

My favorite saying for a long time was “Label jars, not people.” It’s still a favorite but I don’t rely on it for wisdom as much as I use to. It was a title I used for an old blog, now I rarely think about it.

Even though it is a statement I rarely use anymore I still believe in it.

Things need labels.
People do not.
People are so much more than any label can describe.
If you need to label someone than you’re showing off your insecurities.
If you want to label someone label yourself, just know you’re selling yourself short by doing so.

*A similar version of this post was published on November 4, 2008

SDR: Thoughts 30 Years Later

I kept telling my family that I couldn’t wait until I’m 33 years old.

And it has nothing to do with it being referred to as your “Jesus Year” in some circles.

I couldn’t wait because I’m be able to say “My SDR was 30 years ago.” For one thing it makes the math easier for me and the resident(s).

Because when I give them the year I had my SDR or how old I was when I had it a look comes over their face like I’ve just asked, Train A, traveling 70 miles per hour (mph), leaves Westford heading toward Eastford, 260 miles away. At the same time Train B, traveling 60 mph, leaves Eastford heading toward Westford. When do the two trains meet? How far from each city do they meet?”

I should also tell you that I often have to then explain what an SDR (short for Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy) is because they aren’t as popular as they used to be (due in part to the Intrathecal Baclofen Pump, I think). It’s funny because I didn’t know what it was for a long time, even thought I had it done, so I’ve had to educate myself because I realized I had to educate others. I even have a short description of every surgery I’ve had with my list of pervious surgeries. 1) To give people a heads up while they’re reviewing my records before an appointment. 2) I can’t spell Rhizotomy (neither can spell check).

I have mixed feeling about getting old, but this is one thing I’m looking forward to more than others.

Here are some basics:

I was 3. I remember it being around Halloween because my grandma decorated my room which included a very large, to a 3-year-old, Happy Halloween banner. My room had wallpaper with clowns on it, which is probably one reason why I fear clowns, practically clowns in hospitals.

 I don’t remember much about that but the surgeon who performed my surgery told me that he got a call from my mom once I was home asking what he had done because she found me either sitting on top of our piano or I had something in my hands that was previously on top of the piano and when she asked me about it my answer was “I climbed.”

It was done at local hospital by a surgeon who had just arrived. I was his first patient. We didn’t go anywhere else because it was the best fit for me and my family.

I was told I was getting “new legs” so when I looked down and saw my “old legs” still attached, because who wouldn’t want to see what new legs on your body looked like, I was confused. I was even more confused when people would come to visit and look at my back

I had PT Monday-Friday for a year at the outpatient facility associated with the hospital where my SDR was done, as well as a home program. I had OT as well but it wasn’t as intense as PT. Once the post-operative obligations and goals were met I went back to my normal PT routine of twice a week at a private PT practice closer to home.

I remember the first time I stood up and saying that my legs felt like Jell-O would be a bit of an understatement.

What I Thought I Knew Then:

I thought I was getting new legs, literally. It’s kind of weird how comfortable I was with the idea of having a different set of legs attached to my body. I mean, I didn’t wonder where they were going to get the new legs from?

I thought what was done was done. My SDR left me with decreased sensation in my legs and toes and some decreased or no movement particularly in my feet and toes. After my last surgery (fall ’09) I began having some feeling in my thighs and just last year I started to experience intermittent sensation in some of my toes. I don’t know how this happened or how common it is but it’s been interesting.

I thought everyone knew what was happening. It wasn’t until people with cameras started taking pictures of me during PT and asking my mom questions that I wondered what the big deal was. What I didn’t know then was that SDR was relatively new and I was the 1st patent in the state to undergo SDR surgery.

What I See In Retrospect 30 Years Later:

Would I have it done if it were my choice? I’d like to say “Yes” because I know my life would be drastically different. But in the last few years I’ve really started to question and think about what my life might’ve looked like if I hadn’t had an SDR. I don’t hold any bad feelings towards anyone but I do wonder, especially since my SDR was more extensive (from L1-S2) than what’s being done now.

I wouldn’t be as independent as I am now without it. I use a wheelchair on occasion for mobility, but I probably would be a full-time wheelchair user without it, and would probably need to rely on others more for care. In my opinion people focus too much on the ability to walk after SDR. Walking in itself does not make a life more meaningful. As I’ve said before and I’ll say it again, using a wheelchair has opened up my world more than it would be if I used crutches or used no mobility aids at all.

There you have it, my SDR experience decades after the fact, but if I’ve missed something you’re curious about let me know.

*A similar version of this post was published on March 7, 2016