Friday, May 23, 2014

Different? Really?


Today, I’ve been pondering something. Are we really all as different as we’d like to think?

As a psychology major, I understand that we all thrive off of certain basic needs, often derived from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (shown above). The degree to which we need those things may vary, but basic needs are the same.

There have been events taking place in the area of the state where I went to college that are despicable, and I’m not certain that so many people are as different as we may think. Everyone loves, everyone thrives,  everyone struggles, and everyone fails. Is it really all that necessary to understand the intricacies of what that means for an individual so much so that it robs someone of his or her livelihood?

Love is love. Community is community. So are we all that different, really?

Oh wait. I type with one hand, so maybe this blog post shouldn’t be published. After all, it wasn’t typed with the standard two-handed conventions.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

News I Never Thought I’d Have


As someone with a physical disability, it’s a truly momentous personal victory when you realize that something you never thought possible can happen. For me, there are many things that fall into this category, but for now, and as I begin graduate school, one of those things is bike riding. Why? How? What?

Remember the professor who quickly turned to a mentor for me in college? He has been a rider ever since he can remember, and he rode to school on a recumbent bicycle one day. He looked at me and said, “Erin, I think you could do this.” I admittedly thought he was a little crazy, but the idea kept rolling around in my head. Like many through undergraduate degrees, I didn’t really have tike for much of my own hobby, and knowing that I would need some extra attention in terms of the way that it would happen.

Given that I’m off during the summer for the first time in four years this year, I decided that I would  check into the possibility. I researched many, many things and chatted with many experienced cyclists and decided that my need doesn’t lie in an adaptive bicycle, but rather in an adapted bicycle. After about two weeks of Google searching, reading, and studying, I was ready to get serious i the pursuit and found a more-than-ideal engineer that will help me meet my needs. One of the other reasons that considering bike riding was important for me at this point in time is that I sometimes become concerned with how wrapped I am in academic endeavors. While there isn’t anything wrong with that, there’s also something to be said for the need of exercise, an outlet, and well-roundedness.

I’m more than excited to get started,  and be looking for more about the endeavor and adventure in the days, weeks, and months to come. The process will officially begin next week, and I think I’ll use the hashtag #ErinRides on both Facebook and Twitter to track progress, so feel free to add input and follow along!

See you on the trails!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Strappy Sandals

Most of the time, I’m fortunate enough to be able to view my challenges in a rather positive light. When it comes to anything shoe-related, that’s a different story.

One of the reasons for that is that I wear orthotics on my feet that have the purpose of supporting my ankles in favor of balance when standing and walking. Because they’re so bulky, I am unable to wear the cute strappy sandals that are so common in the South for summer.

Take today, for example. The outfit that I’ll be wearing out to coffee with a friend is perfect for a cute pair of strappy sandals. Instead, I’ll wear Keds sneakers. While it doesn’t sound bad, try putting your foot in a sock and then covering it in thick plastic in mid-May in Georgia.

I think about this all the time, especially since I went to college in a town where it was exceptionally warm for nearly half the year, but I guess if that’s the most I’m concerned with most of the time, I’m pretty fortunate.

Next time you wear strappy sandals, be grateful for the little things (and think of me, of course!)

Monday, May 19, 2014

Just Living Life

One of the most difficult things that those of us with disabilities face in most any situation is the fact that the media often portrays any sort of challenge as “heroic”.  The term used by many individuals with disabilities is “inspiro-porn” meaning that stories and other portrayals are usually framed with the notion that people with disabilities and the stories involving us are newsworthy, they’re “magical”, or something similar. 

Luckily, I grew up with a twin sister who isn’t directly affected by any sort of challenge, so my disability was never shed in the “inspirational” light. 

I’ll never understand why this story highlights the fact that this young man is now in a wheelchair to emphasize that he finished college. Finishing college is a wonderful milestone for anyone, regardless of their preferred method of mobility. Or why the fact that this senior in high school went to prom with a “crush, close friend” ends up on a CBS website. It’s 2014; if these stories are truly newsworthy, why are my parents, very normal, average, middle class folks, not being chased by the paparazzi as they travel to work each day? These people are normal people doing everyday things like going to prom and going to college, so why isn’t every person who goes to college or who goes to prom with a close friend interviewed by a national news outlet?

Take me, for example. I’m certainly excited, honored, and thrilled to be attending a nationally ranked university for graduate school. My program is even #17 in the nation. Does my excitement have anything to do with the fact that I’m going to be a graduate student with a disability living in Lexington, Kentucky and attending the University of Kentucky? I honestly haven’t even thought about it in that vein. I’m going to further my education, just like anyone, with or without a disability, would have the opportunity to do. Is the fact that I’m moving 400 miles from anything familiar a feat because I have a disability? No, it’s a feat because I haven’t known anything else in my nearly 24 years, save the fact that I went to college in a small, rural town about two hours away for four and a half years. I won’t lie and say that I haven’t found extreme comfort in the fact that there are over 1,000 students with disabilities at the University of Kentucky. I can say one thing for certain for each and every one of us: we aren’t attending school simply because we have disabilities. Iff anything, society would tell us, just as these “news stories” have implied, that it would be much easier for us to sit around and wait on the cameras. Instead, we choose to better ourselves, better our society, and better the futures of generations.

I don’t want media attention because I’m doing what people my age and in my stage of life are typically doing; I just want a smile. And I want people to recognize that it wasn’t any more difficult or easier for me to gain admission into my program. I want people to realize that the best recognition that they can give me is equality because, truthfully, I’m just living life.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Why Research?

When I stepped into my first research methods course a little over two years ago, it changed my world. As an academic, I’ve come to realize that many people are confused by a passion for research, but lately, it’s shaping up to be an intense passion. So, what does a beginning researcher glean from conducting empirically based research?

I find that research gives my field purpose. As an undergraduate psychology student, it was hard to imagine myself as anything more than a clinician. After declaring the major, I knew that one either went on to do something completely different in other avenues of education, or you were just that: a psychologist. This course, taught by a young professor who was in his first year of teaching, opened my eyes to the world of empirical research. Throughout the course, we learned everything from the basics of correct source citations and in-text citations to how to propose our own research. The final project entailed our proposing a research project with simulated results. The paper was the most exhilarating one I’d ever written at that time because the work was all my own. The ideas were all my own, and like most of my fellow students, I felt validated and empowered. I finally saw a solid contribution that I could and would make to any field of study. It’s always wise to leave things better than when you found them, and research allows me the opportunity to do exactly that.

Research satiates my hunger to know more. Psychology and related fields are endless contains of knowledge. There isn’t ever  a possibility where someone will know everything there is to know, and that’s almost the most satisfying thing about my hopeful lifetime career in academia. Knowing more also means that the field is able to help people in new, innovative ways that may save a life, a family, hope, joy, love, or any of those things. Because people like myself submit to research journals, we’re contributing to the education of colleagues so that people may enjoy prosperous, productive lives. I always long for that, and research satisfies the longing.

Writing and presentation are two of my favorite academic assignments. Obviously, I’m a blogger, so I enjoy writing, but words are truly beautiful things. I came to appreciate them when I began to read at 4 years of age, and it hasn’t stopped since. Using those words to help advance the field and to help people come to new understandings is simply a joy. In terms of presentation, it thrills me to find ways to interact with others about my research interest, as well as to help them become more educated and involved regarding the topic. During my first conference presentation a little over two years ago, it was most definitely exhilarating. Helping others to find interest by way of my presentation or my writing is thrilling, and by communicating findings, I feel as though I’ve paved the way for additional questions to be formulated.

Many people ask why I am so excited for graduate school, and it’s fairly simple. It’s rooted in research, learning, and teaching.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Teacher Who (Teaches) Me Everything

It was my freshman year of college, and it’s a pretty safe bet to say that I was excited but scared out of my mind. One of my first friends in college was a couple years older than me, and she was a music therapy major.  On Mondays, she led a music therapy session, and she offered for me to be a student assistant in the session. While I was looking for ways to become involved on campus, I was excited to be involved and serving adults with developmental disabilities in this way.  My friend was and is very gifted in her profession, and she was very well-liked among the faculty of the department. Our session met in a classroom that is used as a meeting space for classes, student groups, and many other endeavors. 

One day, about two months into my freshman year, one of the music therapy professors walked into the room to prepare for a class. My friend made small talk, and eventually came to introduce me to this amazing professor, pictured above at right.

After getting to know Dr. Keith over the next few months, attending a concert he conducted, and understanding that we had more in common than most people, I knew that it would be a friendship and a mentorship that would last forever. It was soon discovered that he had longtime connections with a family member, and I felt more comfortable around him than around most people at that stage in life. 

The first portion of my college experience wasn’t exactly sunshine and roses, and there were many rough patches that are difficult to re-tell, to this day.  One of the three or four things that remained constant, however, was Dr. Keith and his unwavering support. There were times where I would walk into his office, even unsure of what was coming out of my own mouth. Dr. Keith simply listened, and he began to teach me valuable lessons for which I’ll be forever grateful.  There was a time in which i had decided to declare a music therapy major, and after many, many sessions of tears and frustration over guitar playing with Dr. Keith, it was decided, and heartbreaking, that it just wasn’t feasible. 

Later that month, Dr. Keith taught me a skill that I’ve used every single day since: how to advocate and educate in front of a group of people. In one of the courses that he teaches, he explores different categories of impairment and various interventions that may be effective in the music therapy setting. Each year, from 2009-2013, I went and told my story to his students. Dr. Keith, in this small way, allowed me to see that my story was important to him and to others, and he gave me an avenue that was informative but familiar.  For the last several years, if you were a student in Dr. Keith’s Principles with Children course, bringing a clean sock to class wasn’t out of the ordinary. 

After a couple years, it came time for me to be able to take Dr. Keith’s courses as electives.  I was overjoyed to be sitting in one of my favorite courses, Psychology of Music, with the man who’d already taught me more than I can ever quantify. It was special. If I was having a bad day, I didn’t have to say anything  for him to know that something was just “off”. It was more important to me to attend his classes out of respect for his teaching and for his knowledge than I ever may be able to adequately express. We would engage in some of the most intellectually stimulating conversation to which I have ever been exposed, and Dr. Keith and I had a special connection.

I knew several things, from a personal perspective, that connected us both at the heart and at the head. I have, and will never have, a teacher who has taught me just as much a about life outside the classroom as the academic content inside the classroom, as Dr. Keith has.  We have shared many laughs, many tears, and many frustrations, and I will forever be grateful for his willingness and for his mentorship. Everyone should have a Doug Keith in their lives. 

When it came time for me to choose an escort for graduation, it was a no-brainer. Dr. Keith, the professor who has fostered my love for music therapy, my love for research, and my genuine love for people, was the perfect person, without a doubt. I’m so grateful to he and “his” Joe for what they mean to me and all that they’ve done.  The neat thing is that just because I’m moving to Kentucky doesn’t mean we’re not there for each other. That simple fact means more than I could quantify!

Thanks a million, Dr. Keith, and just in case you’re wondering, I ain’t lyin’!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

People Are Like Plants

Bear with me for a few minutes here, folks. This is a stretch from graduate school or moving related subject matter, but in an email conversation with a mentor this week that was continued via text message,  I came to realize that people are like plants.

Before I totally lose you. think about it. When you were formed, you were but a tiny morsel, similar to the soil that provides the fertile ground on which you’ll grow and develop. Your root system, your heredity, determines your strength, and to a degree, it determines the way you’ll ultimately see the world and the way that you’ll grow and develop.

In a sense, I’m going through a period of realization in which I must remember my roots.  The flowering branches and the situational evidence for things that have happened in my life have simply colored my experience, all for the better, but remembering my roots is important in this period of stepping out into that field of unknown. When you hear of a plant being re-potted or simply relocated, it must have the exact same  conditions as before, but the fact that the plant is in a new place isn’t changing.

The fact that we need people, we need basic survival materials (food, shelter. clothing, water, etc.), and the fact that we need relationships with said people won’t change no matter where we are. Even though the honeybee sucks the pollen and nectar from the flower at the start, the process will make a beautiful flower, yet again, at the end.  Just as when I begin the great adventure to Kentucky, I’ll need the same things that I needed as a student in Georgia. They’ll be there; I just have to look in different places and become accustomed to the surroundings of Lexington, similar to he process for a plant that has been re-potted.

There’s been an intensely personal struggle with a relationship that everyone needs but that I don’t have for the last several years of my life, and I’ve been the plant with the motto to bloom where I’m planted because the adaptability of my root system speaks volumes. It’s not important to discuss this relationship dynamics, but I a honestly impressed with the resiliency of the human spirit to fill the void with thins that matter, things that can fill the spirit in equal or better ways.

Relocation requires resiliency, and deficit requires compensation, much like in the life cycle of a plant. Bloom where you’re planted,  and good things will blossom.