The Matter Of Discernment

The matter of discernment puzzles me.

I was 20 before I even heard the word discernment, and then I heard quite regularly at that. It didn’t take long before “discernment” sound like the magic word for some secret society. It annoyed me to no end for a long time.

I’m not much closer to discovering what discernment really means ten years later. Although I have been told on numerous occasions that it’s not a “get out of jail free card,” so I should really stop treating it like one.

Yeah, I’ll get right on that.

It’s one of those necessary evils of life, especially if you’re Catholic, if you ask me.

There seems to be an implication that one cannot possibly find their vocation without some sort of discernment.

While this is more or less true I don’t think it can be expressed in such a cut and dry fashion if people are really going to understand discernment.

I understand that there’s no definite “right” or “wrong” way to discern.

However I’m not sure I’ve ever done it “right,” or at least the best way for me.

I have, however, done what everyone else has done.

I’ve gotten up for the sunrise masses and before class rosaries (mostly).

Gone to prayer groups and Bible studies.

Rarely ever, and I mean ever, missed fellowship or adoration.

Made every retreat possible, even a yearlong SEEL retreat that included spiritual direction.

I even joined a discernment group (albeit for other reasons, at least initially).

And they’ve had great success, although a different definition of success than the secular.

I have the dubious distinction of being a religious sister’s prayer partner for a few months during our junior year (during her final pre-nun years). Just to give you an example. I like to tell people that I helped facilitate her discernment process, because that’s how things happened in my head.

It took me a while to really get that discernment has no timetable. Although it eats on my nerves when people say they’re discerning something and you know for a fact that they’ve been doing it for years. Talk about using discernment as a “get out of jail free” card.

Let’s not even talk about the people who are so certain of their plan because they’ve discerned it within an inch of their lives and then after a day (or what feels like a day) they do a complete change of direction.

Because the mysteries of discernment go both ways, and every which way.

Discernment’s never been my thing, at least not in the same way swimming or encountering unpleasant people seem to be my things.

It would be awesome if God would just speak very loudly and very clearly after a period of prayer and self-reflection.

Unfortunately, discernment doesn’t work like that either, at least not for most people.

Discernment is important. It’s also becoming a lost art in some aspects. Just don’t ask me for advice on it, because I have no idea what I’m doing.

*A similar version of this post was written on August 6, 2014

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When Dreams Become Anything But

By this time last year I was dreaming about what my life would be like without school.

I was literally dreaming of being able to pick up a book or watch a TV show without time constrains, journal, and look for more meaningful long-term employment with more intentionality.

Now that I have the time to fulfill this dream it’s more akin to a nightmare than a dream.

I won’t go as far as to say I miss being in school, but it did provide me with a certain amount of structure I’m struggling to create on my own.

The congratulatory messages have slowed down, but have not stopped completely, which adds to the complexity of my situation. The questions of “what’s next?” have followed, and I feel utterly stupid saying “I have no idea,” even if it is the honest truth.

I have an idea of what I’d like my “next” to be but that doesn’t mean it will happen, at least not right out of the gate. It would be nice if that happens but age has taught me to be more realistic than optimistic.

I check job sites every day and sometimes submit 3 resumes, complete with individually written cover letters. I have gotten interviews, so that’s one step further than I had been getting in the last few years, but nothing past that.

Nothing.

I knew looking for a job wouldn’t be dreamlike. I was pretty sure it would be pretty much the opposite. But I was hoping the other things I had on the back burner for years would give me a sense of balance, not getting a job would be offset by being able to read a book at will.

I see how ridiculous this sounds, but I believe it, well believed.

I have read a fair number of books in-between writing cover letters but it’s not as dreamlike as I would have thought. The reading books part, not the writing cover letters part.

It’s a weird experience to write about yourself. You become incredibly analytical of yourself, every shortcoming gets magnified and every strength gets minimized, at least if you’re me. Then you’re left wondering, “is this really me?” “Is this really my best self?”

It’s really not the best place for your mind to be in when you need to be on your game, but you make do.

Now instead of dreaming of what my life may look like a year from now (or even any shorter window of time) I’m managing my expectations, not putting all of my eggs in one basket and not getting my hopes up most of all.

Life isn’t turning out the way I thought it would in post-postgrad life but what does?

By this time last year I was dreaming about what my life would be like without school.

I was literally dreaming of being able to pick up a book or watch a TV show without time constrains, journal, and look for more meaningful long-term employment with more intentionality.

Now that I have the time to fulfill this dream it’s more akin to a nightmare than a dream.

I won’t go as far as to say I miss being in school, but it did provide me with a certain amount of structure I’m struggling to create on my own.

The congratulatory messages have slowed down, but have not stopped completely, which adds to the complexity of my situation. The questions of “what’s next?” have followed, and I feel utterly stupid saying “I have no idea,” even if it is the honest truth.

I have an idea of what I’d like my “next” to be but that doesn’t mean it will happen, at least not right out of the gate. It would be nice if that happens but age has taught me to be more realistic than optimistic.

I check job sites every day and sometimes submit 3 resumes, complete with individually written cover letters. I have gotten interviews, so that’s one step further than I had been getting in the last few years, but nothing past that.

Nothing.

I knew looking for a job wouldn’t be dreamlike. I was pretty sure it would be pretty much the opposite. But I was hoping the other things I had on the back burner for years would give me a sense of balance, not getting a job would be offset by being able to read a book at will.

I see how ridiculous this sounds, but I believe it, well believed.

I have read a fair number of books in-between writing cover letters but it’s not as dreamlike as I would have thought. The reading books part, not the writing cover letters part.

It’s a weird experience to write about yourself. You become incredibly analytical of yourself, every shortcoming gets magnified and every strength gets minimized, at least if you’re me. Then you’re left wondering, “is this really me?” “Is this really my best self?”

It’s really not the best place for your mind to be in when you need to be on your game, but you make do.

Now instead of dreaming of what my life may look like a year from now (or even any shorter window of time) I’m managing my expectations, not putting all of my eggs in one basket and not getting my hopes up most of all.

Life isn’t turning out the way I thought it would in post-postgrad life but what does?

Maybe I’m Not An Expert

With March coming to a close so goes my blogging blitz. It never ends up how I think it’s going to and this year was no exception.

I feel like this year was different than the others, for a few reasons, less facts, more stories, for one thing, or is that two?

There were topics I wanted to write about but never got around to or have already written about. When I came up short I dove into my archives, probably more than I wanted to, but it worked. I think?

I’ll get to more stories later on, possibly when the timing is better.

One thing that kept getting my attention this year was the focus on children and the desire to treat, if not cure Cerebral Palsy as soon as possible.

This isn’t new by any means, but it seems to be gaining more attention for whatever reason.

In a way my focus this past month has been more personal because it’s how I’ve grown into adulthood and the different phases of life that people, CP or no CP, find themselves in.

Not every aspect of life comes with statistics, and even those that do come with outliers.

So, for now, and probably in the future, I leave you with more stories than statistics because you can find statistics somewhere else.

Life as an adult with CP is an oddity, a misconception which I brush up against every day, so although Cerebral Palsy Awareness month is over that doesn’t mean my efforts are over, at least not completely.

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All Cerebral Palsy related posts

To Successfully Succeed

Confession: I can’t believe I haven’t written about this before. If I have and someone knows where the post is, would you be kind enough to post the link in the comments section. I’m not that great at virtual organizing so even if I did write something I can’t find it.

 Katy asked,
“How do you define success?”

 My answer to this question has very little to do with the fact that I have Cerebral Palsy, but I’m sure it colors my answer to some extent. I hope my answer gives you more insight into the fact that people with Cerebral Palsy are more like those without Cerebral Palsy than they are different.

This is question that’s like, “Describe your ideal summer vacation,” the answer changes depending on where you are in life. At 5 your ideal summer vacation is going to D!sney World. At 25 you’re just hoping you’ll be able to afford a summer vacation (we won’t go into how I feel about summer vacations these days).

If you asked the pre-college me & new college student me I would define success as being famous and having everything that goes along with it, or at least all the good parts you can think of (not the bad parts).

If you asked my recent college graduate self what my goals were she’d tell you she just wanted to finish the final projects and graduate. I never wanted college to end but I wanted to workload to end. I guess I’ve been a sucker for community longer than I thought.

These days my definition of success has changed a lot. I don’t want to be rich or famous. Nor will I feel unsuccessful if neither of those things happens, especially since that’s not how I chose to define myself anymore.

These days success comes in a variety of different packages.

A work day that involves minimal paperwork and I’ve reached daily goals I’ve set for myself as well as reaching the staff wide goals? Success. Making positive strides to live my word for 2013? Success. Networking to further my business? Success. Being able to pay my bills and have my insurance pay what they’ve promised? Success.

Things seem simpler now, not to mention more depressing now that I’ve written it, but it’s not really. My priorities have changed. It happens with most people, I’m guessing. It would be awesome to be able to travel more or take more “time off” but it’s not in the cards, at least in the recent future.

In terms of concrete things that I would like to be successful at, I would love for my business to do well enough that I’d be able to quit my day job and still be able to support myself. It would be nice to be able to be in a healthy relationship and maybe have a family, but right now I’m not planning anything other than being able to take care of myself. I’d really like to be one of the few small business success stories out there (Inquire if you dare!)

On the first day of classes every semester at least one of my friends would write, “I will do my best to successfully succeed,” it’s been something of a manta ever since. There are days when success is smaller than others, but it’s still success. What I really want is to succeed successfully throughout my life, meaning I want to do well without causing harm to anyone else, self-included.

*A similar version of this post was written on March 20, 2013

Arming For The Future

One morning I woke up and got dressed, it’s what I do most days, but this morning in particular was different.

I was planning this outfit for at least a week.

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It wasn’t fancy by any means but, for me, it was more important than any fancy dress (or anything else). It was part of the most important presentation of my life (at least so far).

One of the last pieces of my master’s degree was completing a capstone of some sort. Originally, I was going to write a paper. I had been planning it since the beginning, and I wanted to be able to pull something I had written off a shelf in the library at a later date. I pictured future students finding my work and incorporating it into their own, just as I had done, but one sentence changed my mind.

“If you did a project it will have the potential to reach a greater audience.”

I thought back to the final projects I’d done in other courses. What could I use from any of those, if any.

I decided to do a project, but that would mean enrolling in the seminar rather than working by myself (a method I prefer, or at least I thought I would).

Before my project would be finished I would have to workshop it with a small group and then present it during the seminar.

I was, to the best of my knowledge, the only student in my class born with a physical disability. So, I didn’t just have to present my project. I also had to give everyone a crash course in living with a disability.

I put thought into every detail, over and over again. Knowing everyone would go back to their everyday lives I wanted them to come away with more than what they came with, other than how good my project was.

Mainly I wanted them to know that people with childhood disabilities grow up and become adults, that we’re probably not what they thought, that the disabled aren’t looking for pity or continually bitter. I wanted them to see disability from a different point of view.

The outfit was only the last piece of my part of arming my peers for the future.

Get A Job!

At the beginning of my last year of formal education I faced a similar predicament as most of my peers. I had determined pretty quickly that graduate school was not for me; the only post-graduation conclusion I came to faster was religious life was most certainly not for me. I had one choice left.

I needed a job.

A task I failed in such spectacular fashion that it’s only by the Grace of God that I can tell you that there’s hope (and a happy ending) for everybody.

I made the decision to put off applying for jobs until my final semester, something I don’t recommend as a general rule. I knew I was heading into a world of low paying jobs regardless, so why not live in ignorance for a little longer?

I had every intention of going into the entertainment industry, or arts ministry. Neither of which are areas in which your average college career services office can help you with. I think I set foot in career services twice.

Most arts related departments know that they have to fill in the gap. That’s why they have this thing called “lab” or “practicum.” a time when most of the department gets together and discusses work, what you’ve done, what you’re doing, how to do what you want to do. You also spend a lot of time doing seemingly self-centered things, like discussing head-shots and monologue choices (these things do have an actual purpose).

Fall semester of my senior year I had a full load of drama classes. I was also helping put together my classes answer to the Oscars. I was up to my ears in drama, with a capital D. It’s a drama major’s dream, until you’re actually living it.

Living your life at an eleven isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. (Spinal Tap, anyone?)

I decided to put off any auditions or arts related jobs for a while, so I focused on long term service applications, until I printed out a couple. I was finishing my passion project and putting together a production. This “job thing” could wait until after graduation.

Right?

Yes and no.

I think you should know your limits. If you can’t devote adequate time to something you need to let something go. I like having a full plate but I’m not a fan of getting a bigger plate when the one I have is full.

However, my putting things off until I had more time turned into an unintentional gap year; there’s nothing wrong with a gap year, but when you do nothing productive with it you’ve gone from having a full plate to being stuck in a big hole.

I should have taken the advice given to me. I should’ve taken the help that was offered as well. I should’ve taken advantage of the resources around me while I had them.

I should’ve (at the very least) made a resume!

That disability support services office I had a love/hate relationship with? I shouldn’t have had such an “I can do it myself” attitude (emphasis on attitude) when they inquired about my plans for the future.

I went into the job search process assuming everything would all work out, and eventually it did. But people should learn from my missteps.

I should probably also tell you that I’m not that great at interviewing (I’m even worse with auditions) so I could’ve used the extra practice. Yes, I’m saying I should’ve applied for job I didn’t want/didn’t think I’d get just for the interview experience.

Getting a job (& keeping a job) with a disability should be no different than the non-disabled population. Now that I’ve said that, that doesn’t mean that the process is the same.

There are “extras” to consider during the search & application process:
Can I get there?

-If you don’t drive don’t assume that there are transportation options, even if there are they may not be reliable.
Can I perform the duties asked of me with no (or minimal) accommodations? This Includes “other duties as assigned.”

-The ADA outlines reasonable accommodations but I’m leaning “reasonable is up to interpretation. Therefore, look for jobs that keep accommodations to a minimum, as close to none as possible.

Is the workplace accessible for me?

-My current workplace is not accessible for most people with disabilities. When I used a wheelchair full time post-op I had to rely on my coworkers for a lot. We had to set up a mini office downstairs for me to get any work done some days. There are still days when things aren’t accessible for me, but I make do.

Can I handle the workload?

-If you’re prone to fatigue this is something you have to consider. Can you still do your job after a bad night’s sleep? And all that goes along with it?

Is this a job you see yourself in for the long term or the short term?

-If this is a position you see yourself in for the short term don’t stop looking for the long term. That short term may end up being a long one.

Should I disclose my disability?

That’s up to you. There are situations where you should or shouldn’t (as in don’t need to). Don’t lie. Most importantly whatever decision you make don’t let it be motivated by fear.

The ADA has done a lot for people with disabilities but there’s still a long way to go. You may feel like you have to work twice as hard to get half as far as a coworker. That may be true but you’ll be making it easier for the next person who comes in the door.

A similar version of this post first appeared on an old blog on March 5, 2013

 

I’m Not An Expert, But I Play One In Life

March is Cerebral Palsy Awareness month, as a person with a disability, which happens to be CP, I feel obligated to do my part in spreading a greater sense of awareness; because although CP is common few people really know about it.

I’m not an expert in CP. I have not studied it in textbooks, read studies, or analyzed people with the disability, from an objective standpoint.

I’ve lived more than three decades with Cerebral Palsy; I’m not an expert, but I play one in life.

Lecture halls and textbooks have their place but there’s something to be said for the value of living something day in and day out without the sterility that can come with formal education.

So, what do I have to tell the world, or at least the internet?

It all depends.

I used to put everything out there, or at least that’s what it felt like, now I pick my spots, just because I don’t put it out there doesn’t mean someone else can’t put it out there, or just because it’s not out there doesn’t mean it has to be out there.

Boundaries, they’re a wonderful thing, when used well.

But boundaries can, and do, change.

Every once and a while I relax the boundaries, and it’s mainly for one reason.

I can talk about Cerebral Palsy as much as I want but there’s only so much writing and talking I can do without some sort of feedback. There’s only so much yelling into a void anyone can do before losing their voice?

I’ve done this before, and I want to do it again.

What do you want to know?

What questions do you have?

What possible myths have you heard?

What do you know about Cerebral Palsy?

What do you wish you knew, or even had the slightest idea about?

I know parents of kids with CP & young adults with CP read my blog. Both groups have questions and opinions (I would too if I were in their place).

I may not have all the answers to every question or myth that there is out there, but I believe I can provide guidance and provide inroads.

I’ll be the first one to tell you that I’m not in expert in Cerebral Palsy, but I do have live experience to draw on, and that’s not something I take lightly.

Grad School: The Final Semester

I’m pretty sure a lot of people never thought I’d reach this point, honestly, I had my own doubts at times.

As far as semesters go this one was fairly lonely, like my first one, except this time I was able to recognize the loneliness. I knew a few people in class but not well, and I really didn’t want to make any new friends (yes, I am that kind of person). I wouldn’t go back to last year if given the choice, but I missed comradery, much like last fall.

You’d think I’d have the whole studying routine down by now, but no, there were plenty of nights when I was clicking submit at the last minute. But there were times when I completed assignments a week ahead of time. So yeah, that time management thing went to both extremes.

Although there were times when I wanted to quit, no matter what semester it was, and return to life as a normal person now I don’t know what to do with myself.

I’ve caught up on Netfl!x, which didn’t take nearly as long as I would’ve thought. So much so that I’ve started and finished watching other things.

I’ve even read a book or two, which I swore I wasn’t going to do for 6 months, at least. And by book or two I mean I’ve read a pile or two of books.

I took a short break from swimming, but it was more of necessity than want. And I regretted it within 2 minutes of getting back in the water, the break from swimming, not the swimming itself.

People keep asking me “what’s next?”

Honestly, I have no idea.

Am I cut out to be a normal person anymore?

My face has been buried in books and writing papers for years. I’ve had to turn down more social engagements than I can count, I don’t care to, really.

School has been my excuse to not do things I don’t want to do, but didn’t want to just say no either, so it worked on a few fronts.

I’m sending out my resume again and seeing what’s out there. I’ve been doing it some in the last year but nowhere near seriously.

But that’s not the part that freaks me out the most, although it is daunting.

What will I do with my free time?

I’ve had projects on the backburner for years, but is it time to give them more attention?

That would require some shifting, for sure.

Should I pursue a career based on filling someone else’s shoes or should I continue to forge my own path?

When I Grew Up

I don’t think I can come up with the full list of things I wanted to be when I grew up. So obviously none of the have panned out. However, I’m still waiting to “feel grown up,” never mind actually be grown up, so something could pan out eventually.

There was that time that my high school guidance counselor assumed that I would become a nurse because my mother’s a nurse. My mother then asked the guidance counselor if she had ever even met me before this one meeting, because if she knew anything she knew I would never be a nurse.

Point: Mom

Then there was that one time I was reviewing my health history with a nurse practitioner when he jokingly asked why I never considered become a physical therapist, my answer was “because I wanted to learn something new,” obviously.

I think I’ve had similar goals for why I wanted to be whatever I wanted to be at any given time.

I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives and maybe help them see things a little differently.

It’s hard to say if I’ve achieved this goal but I’m working on it.

I’ve realized I spent a lot of time (probably far too much) trying to be something I’m not. It wasn’t that obvious, it was certainly subtle from my prospective, but with each change I’ve made I feel like I’m getting closer to what I’m supposed to be as grown up.

The funny thing is, if you have a weird sense of humor, I feel like who I’m meant to be as a grownup has been following me around for quite a while just waiting for me to turn around and embrace it.

So, what did I want to be when I grew up?

If you can think of it it’s probably something I thought I wanted to do for at least 5 minutes. None of it has panned out as of yet, somewhat thankfully I admit.

And let’s get real for a minute, I have CP I can’t just have any job I wanted (actually that applies for everyone regardless of ability). So, there were countless things I wanted to be when I grew up that I knew would never happen, so let’s all be thankful I was never interested in Ballet, for example.

I did want to be an Olympian. That was one of the few things I convinced myself I could do, even with CP. I just figured I’d automatically be one of those heartwarming human-interest stories you see between events and commercials.

This was before being rejected from even trying out for the swim team & before I knew there was this thing called the Paralympics for athletes with a variety of disabilities. I don’t want to close the door on my dreams of Olympic glory, but it may be a little late to make a run for Rio (and I’ll probably be too old for Tokyo?)

When it comes down to it I wanted to make an impact on people’s lives. I wanted to make them see things differently or think of something they’ve never thought of before. I never wanted to be someone’s inspiration, but if that happened along the way who am I to disagree.

Now all I have to do is grow up

*A similar version of this post was published on November 21, 2014

Grad School: The Last Summer

This summer was bananas, all kinds of emotions going full throttle bananas.

I can’t believe I’m actually writing about this.

I learned during my first summer than students often mark their time by summers, and there’s a certain satisfaction that comes with saying “this is my last summer.”

I’ve watched many of my classmates go through their last summer, each has been different, each having their own positives and negatives. I knew what I wanted to do and what not to do. I wanted to end on a good note and have the best experience possible.

I even consulted people and made a plan to have a full yet enjoyable summer.

Very little of the plan went according to plan, as is usually the case.

This summer went much like last summer in the respect that a lot of my classmates and I had the same classes so we spent plenty of time together over a short period of time (although not really because we started courses around the same time).

One thing people get wrong about distance learning is that it’s isolating. Yes, there is an element of that but, if it’s a small program you’re anything but isolated. In fact, I think there was only one person I didn’t know before class began (and I kept referring to her as “the new person” which is completely false in terms of remaining course load).

The first week was fairly relaxed, compared to previous years, it was the only time I didn’t have a morning class. A luxury I had been wanting for years but the opportunity never came about & I chose to forgo the meal plan again so while people were down at breakfast and/or hurrying off to class I was still in bed indulging in well overdue Netfl!x binging.

And by noon I was bored out of my skull.

I took care of a few things, like tuition, scholarship requirements, etc. It was nice to get all of it out of the way but it didn’t take very long so it was shaping up to be a long week and it was only day one.

I did the majority of my course work before arriving and my first presentation wasn’t until the end of the week so I was able to watch everyone’s and make adjustments (and practice, over and over).

If you follow me on Inst@gram you saw how much detail I put into my presentation, although it may have come off fairly low-key.

The week closed well but I couldn’t help but keep thinking about my presentation. It could have been better, I think, so there was plenty of work to do before I turned in the final project (hell there’s still a lot to do & grades are in).

The weekend was pretty low key considering how much work lay ahead. I think what helped was the fact that we were all in the same boat so if someone was struggling (which I was, I just didn’t know it) there were other people to pick you up (and in my case 3 or 4, I can’t remember).

Pro tip: Make friends with someone who can pack anything (& nearly everything) in a suitcase without

Because my presentations (or really practicum requirements) were scheduled for the beginning of the week it meant that I had a lot to do in the span of less than a week. I wasn’t a big fan but at the same time I liked the idea of being done on Tuesday, because the 2nd week of classes came with a mandatory early wake up & Theological Reflection at night.

This summer was unlike any of my previous summers for many reasons but mainly because there were many group activities outside of class. Meals, for the most part, were together. We saw more of the outside world, together. Whenever someone was going to do something they asked who wanted to come along. In one way, it was how we made the most of our final time together.

This was the summer I couldn’t wait to have, my “final summer.”  It’s something that gets hyped up in one way or another by everyone, even yourself. There are certain rites of passage that you don’t get to have until that “final summer.” What often gets overlooked as the emotions that come along with it, at least for me.

While I’m not done with school yet the experience is certainly coming to a close. The blessings have been given the good byes (even if just temporary) have been said.

It’s time for a new group to start their countdown to their own last summer.