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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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.

_____________________________________

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

World CP Day

Cerebral palsy (CP) is an umbrella term encompassing a group of non-progressive, non-contagious motor conditions that cause physical disability in human development, chiefly in the various areas of body movement.

Cerebral palsy describes a group of permanent disorders of the development of movement and posture, causing activity limitation, that are attributed to nonprogressive disturbances that occurred in the developing fetal or infant brain. The motor disorders of cerebral palsy are often accompanied by disturbances of sensation, perception, cognition, communication, and behavior, by epilepsy, and by secondary musculoskeletal problems.

CP, formerly known as “Cerebral Paralysis,” was first identified by English surgeon William Little in 1860. Little raised the possibility of asphyxia during birth as a chief cause of the disorder. It was not until 1897 that Sigmund Freud, then a neurologist, suggested that a difficult birth was not the cause but rather only a symptom of other effects on fetal development. Research conducted during the 1980s by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) suggested that only a small number of cases of CP are caused by lack of oxygen during birth.

Types Of CP:
Ataxic
Athetoid/dyskinetic
Hypotonic
Spastic

All types of cerebral palsy are characterized by abnormal muscle tone, reflexes, or motor development and coordination. There can be joint and bone deformities and contractures (permanently fixed, tight muscles and joints). The classical symptoms are spasticities, spasms, other involuntary movements (e.g. facial gestures), unsteady gait, problems with balance, and/or soft tissue findings consisting largely of decreased muscle mass. Scissor walking (where the knees come in and cross) and toe walking (which can contribute to a gait reminiscent of a marionette) are common among people with CP who are able to walk, but taken on the whole, CP symptomatology is very diverse. The effects of cerebral palsy fall on a continuum of motor dysfunction which may range from slight clumsiness at the mild end of the spectrum to impairments so severe that they render coordinated movement virtually impossible at the other end the spectrum.

CP is not a progressive disorder (meaning the brain damage neither improves nor worsens), but the symptoms can become more severe over time due to subdural damage. A person with the disorder may improve somewhat during childhood if he or she receives extensive care from specialists, but once bones and musculature become more established, orthopedic surgery may be required for fundamental improvement. People who have CP tend to develop arthritis at a younger age than normal because of the pressure placed on joints by excessively toned and stiff muscles.
(information taken from Wikipedia and reorganized/edited by me)

Why am I telling you all of this?

Because there is no cure for CP.

But I have to be honest that’s quite fine with me, most days anyway.

That doesn’t mean there can’t be a collective of sorts. Stats are one thing.

Personal stories are another, and even better.

Which is why I collected all the personal stories I could find and put them in one place.

If you have a CP blog, have one that you like, or just know one, leave a comment with the URL

Free The Feet (part II)

I’ve readjusted to life with an AFO, I guess. I’ve found a few positives to it too. Like having “walking shoes” and “sitting shoes.”

It may seem like every shoe loves dream but it took a little accepting from me. I hate having shoes everywhere so the fewer shoes to have around the better.

When my friend was ordained a few months ago I knew I needed to buy shoes, because I literally had nothing (and when a friend is getting ordained you make exceptions for them).

I found a pair of shoes I actual liked and didn’t worry about whether or not I could balance in them. I just made sure they fit my feet and I could get them off quickly if I did have to get someone in the event of an emergency.

They aren’t the perfect fit but they did the job and with any luck they’ll continue to do the job on future occasions (which is another requirement for me when it comes to footwear).

A common topic you’ll find around the internet is CP & footwear; in fact, there are blog devoted to it.

There are many other factors to consider besides, “do they have my size?” or “these are a nice color.”

In fact, those are often the two things at the bottom of the list of requirements.

Can I afford to buy two pairs of shoes? (Because sometimes bracing requires a bigger shoe, or your feet are literally 2 different sizes).

Can I manage to fit into one pair of shoes? (See above reasoning)

Can I modify them as much (or as little) as I need to without extra cost?

Can they last me more than 5 minutes?

Can I walk in them comfortably?

Can bracing fit in them without much added time or damage?

Can I wear them safely without added support? (Because sneakers aren’t exactly dress wear)

Do they have any potential for creating pressure wounds?

And on and on, and on……

While I may never have a “Cinderella moment” with any form of footwear I’ve learned to appreciate the “little victories” when I can get them.

On The ADA Anniversary

I’ve often wondered if the ADA creates more problems than it solves for some, if not all, people with disabilities. It helps A LOT, but it also causes a lot of headaches.

I’ve come to realize however, that the ADA isn’t really for people with disabilities. It’s for the people who can’t even imagine what life is like to live with a disability.

Kind of like how birthday parties really aren’t for the people they’re thrown for but for the people that go to them.

Kinda.

Without knowing it I managed to grow up just as the ADA was finding its “sea legs,” which probably explains why so many aspects of my life have become, in a sense, easier even though my mobility had had an endless ebb and flow.

I once heard it said that, “those who don’t need the law are truly freed from the law,” or at least that’s the best my brain remembers it as.

The idea being (I think) that we wouldn’t need as many laws (or any) if everyone operated with the same level of moral decency.

As great of an idea as this is I doubt it will ever happen, ever. Sorry all of you who dream of world peace.

It would be nearly impossible for someone to be able to imagine what it’s like to live with a disability, unless they do in fact live with a disability themselves; besides the fact that imagining it and living it are two different things.

That’s why the ADA is so important.

It gives people a clue into what’s needed in order for people with disabilities. Although it should be pointed out that what’s deemed ADA compliant doesn’t mean it’s accessible for those who need it to be, but it’s better than nothing.

(So if you don’t know anything about the ADA feel free to read up)

As much as I (and countless others) benefit from the ADA there always seems to be something new to learn.

Such as how many loopholes there are.

Like the loopholes for already existing buildings and/or religious institutions.

As a Catholic who works in a building that’s been “grandfathered in” (multiple flights of stairs and no elevator) I curse such loopholes often.

It would be nice if there were less (or no) loopholes in the ADA but that’s only a short term dream. Someday I’d like it if the ADA was an afterthought, making it in a sense unnecessary because access for all is a natural thing.

It seems so wildly unrealistic, but I can hope right?

*A similar version of this post was written on July 22, 2014

Free The Feet

One of the interesting things about rebranding a blog is that you have something of a stockpile of posts to pull from, whether it be for memories, new ideas, or even reposting. I wrote the following 7 years ago, almost to the day:

-I don’t like shoes.

-I don’t like feet more than I don’t like shoes.

-My dislike for feet has nothing to do with how unattractive my feet actually are.

-My college campus was the land of flip flops, even more than most schools.

-I have a friend who promises his children won’t wear shoes until they’re at least 5, and even then not in the home.

-More than one of my friends gave up wearing shoes for Lent, and no one was fazed by it.

-I use to know someone who never wore shoes, even in the dead of winter.

-I can only wear sneakers.

-Only on rare occasions can I wear shoes that are not sneakers.

-I use to require getting a new pair of sneakers each month.

-My current shoes have lasted over 6 months surprising my exercise physiologist and new physiatrist, but for different reasons.

-My friends use to declare “free the feet” days during college.

During my last post-op visit I had several things on my mind. I’ll spare you the nitty gritty but having met with my physiatrist the day before & having opinions from the exercise physiologist weighed heavily on my mind. One of the biggest reasons I moved my Orthopedic care to Boston was that things are more comprehensive and having to coordinate my own care for the last few years had become exhausting and seemingly unnecessary. But I still have trouble letting go and not hand delivering mounds of paperwork to each doctor and/or specialist during each visit (I have printable files I regularly update as well as the “official” stuff) or putting my two cents in here and there in the form of, “Well ___________ said that_________________________ and it makes sense to me so……….”

I’m a rare crossbreed of nosy, self-controlling, snitch-of-a-sponge. But 9 times out of 10 I will deny this fact.

At my first post-op appointment, I was given a prescription for a new AFO, a “downgrade” for the one I had been wearing for the last few years. I wasn’t happy about it because (1) I actually liked the AFO I had and felt it only needed an adjustment or two (because I’m a professional after all) to be able to carry on, (2) I REALLY didn’t want a new AFO after all the work I had done. But I relented with the understanding that within a year I’d hopefully be able to rid myself of AFO(s) altogether.

“Can I stop wearing the AFO at least sometimes because….(I’ll spare you the pleading)”

“Well let’s see.” (I hop off the table take barely 2 steps) “Yeah, you’re fine. But after the Botox you’ll want to put it back on…… (tra la la)”

So I went out and bought new shoes, because an AFO can stretch out a shoe like nobody’s business. They aren’t my favorite looking but the fact that I’m wearing them AFO-less puts them at the top of the list by default.

Not really remembering that I’ve worn an AFO for years meant I was grossly under prepared in the sock department. I think I have 3 pairs that don’t come up to my knees. No matter how many I actually have it’s not nearly enough. Lucky for me my mother has an abundance of socks. Well not really, but she has a good number she doesn’t wear so I’ve become the proud owner of them, again by default.

I’ve adjusted to life without an AFO pretty easily & rather well I might add, but that all ends on Monday when I get injected with Botox.
I’m hoping going back to the AFO is only a short term deal, or else these last few weeks have been a major tease.

At least I’m not going back to lock-up. That was an experiment that I will never repeat for as long as I live, and neither will my orthotists.
For now I’ll be eagerly anticipating my next “Free The Feet” day.

*A similar version of this post was written on July 16, 2010

I Pulled My Armpit?

I’ve been having issues with my right arm for months. I figured it was just lingering from my unfortunate encounter with a chair a few months ago. It would get better for a while and then not, and then get better and then not, and you get the idea.

I’m sure it’s not that big of a deal for most people but when your legs aren’t normal on a good day and your arm is sub-par you’re basically down to one fully functional limb on any given day.

I’m normally sore for a while after a trip too.

So, I just waited it out.

Until I thought maybe I should stop waiting.

I mentioned it to my trainer and he found a fairly large trigger point in the region of my scapula.

I texted a friend with a rehab background after my session to find out what she knew about it.

“Um, serratus anterior?……Basically the muscle on your side below your armpit.”

Awesome.

Wanting to know more about what I’ve gotten myself into I came home and looked it up for myself.

serratus-anterior

How someone can find an injury within this mess without the aid of additional studies is beyond me but I’m glad it’s possible, especially so early in the “Medical New Year” when I avoid any doctor related anything like the plague.

Being a swimmer with CP I’m realizing I have to be a different kind of careful when it comes to my upper body.  

Speechless For Now, Or For Good

I recently wrapped my 1st stint as a podcaster. It was an interesting experience to say the least. It wasn’t something I ever envisioned doing but I didn’t want to turn down the opportunity.  It was a new challenge. And in all honesty, it was one I wasn’t always up for.

Now that the season is over I’m taking time to evaluate whether I want to do another season. If you listen to the season finale episode you’ll hear me joke about whether you’ll hear me on Special Chronicles in the future.

Honestly, I haven’t made any decision either way at this point.

There’s a lot to consider, now that I know what podcasting really involves.

-I have other projects I’d like to work on.
-Do I have the time for everything?
-Do I have the energy for everything?
-Can I produce enough quality content?
-Do I want to produce more content than I’m already producing?
-Do I have anything left to say that someone hasn’t said or can’t say?
-I went into this venture thinking it would be a temporary gig, although it lasted longer than I thought, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t still meant to be temporary.

And that’s just the short list of thoughts.

speechless-abc-tv-series-key-art-logo-740x416

When does one truly know when to step back, move on, or carry on?

I guess we’ll all find out the answer in the fall, at least in this case.

BADD ’17: In Defense Of The Able-Bodied

I’ve wanted to write this post for a long time, but it’s one of those “tread lightly” things, and that’s not my best skill, so I’ve put it off, but I think today is the day.

I’ve written before on whether or not it’s possible for those with disabilities to be ableist towards others with disabilities. While it’s a divisive topic I think it’s an important one to acknowledge and discuss in certain situations.

As excited as I was to join a swim team I knew I wanted to continue when the season was over, which ended up not being in the cards for a few reasons. I also knew the season was really just a start and I needed to find the next step.

I asked people for advice, people who have been around and faced some of the same challenges, but I didn’t exactly go how I thought.

Before I even made a viable connection, people tried to talk me out of what I had in mind.

It didn’t make sense to me, if the end goal was to create a more inclusive environment what was so bad about my plan?

I showed up to my 1st masters swim practice with extreme caution. I wasn’t sure it was going to work, especially after watching the junior team practice, but I needed to give it a try. I had 1 private session with a coach a few months before and I was still reaping the benefits. If I backed out of a chance at team practices I would regret it.

It was a hard practice but everyone seemed welcoming. I’ve kept a list of goals since I started swimming again. I had been steadily chipped away at them but things stalled, until this practice. I ended up crossing off almost everything else on the list.

Then nearly everyone who encouraged me to seek out other opportunities tried to talk me out of it, even when I didn’t ask for their opinion.

It wasn’t good for me to leave people “who are like me” or “could understand someone like me,” at least according to them.

I understand their concern, at least usually, but what confused me was these comments were coming from people actively working towards more inclusive sports. So, why shouldn’t I join an able-bodied team? Especially if it’s a better fit, in almost every way.

I know there are those out there who feel that I’m betraying “my people” but if the ultimate goal is for people with disabilities to be seen as equals to the able-bodied community so we need to become part of the able-bodied community whenever an ideal situation presents itself.

At least that’s what I think.

I’m not going to say that the change has been seamless. It’s been full of adjustments, not so great practices, and at times downright culture shock.

But I can say without a doubt that I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t made the change.

And that’s made me think a lot more about inclusion.

When we see a chance for inclusion we should take it, we need to take it. It doesn’t always come with the betrayal of the disability community, and if we keep seeing it that way then we probably should change our approach.

Inclusion isn’t a one-sided issue, we can’t just stand around and wait for people to include us. We can’t just yell, and bitch, and moan about it either, there has to be some meaningful effort on our part, and it doesn’t have to be some grand gesture either.

Sometimes “just” showing up and seeing what could happen is enough.

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2017