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.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Why Rehabilitation Counseling? My Story

The number one question that I, or anyone who is entering a new phase of education, am asked is about my program of study. And since many are unsure of the field, I thought I’d take some time to delve into the purpose, the motives, and the duties. Equally important is my choice to enter the field, and there is certainly a story there.

When most people hear the words “rehabilitation” and “counseling”, they automatically think about substance abuse and the like. While we will work with clients who have substance abuse difficulties, we will examine and mitigate the effects of the abuse that may be disabling. In addition, it is nearly impossible for a counselor to serve a client who is an active drug user because of his or her inability to be employed.  For example, a client with many years of substance abuse may have memory recall complications. In that instance, depending on the specific circumstance, the client may find that it affects him or her in the workplace or otherwise. A rehabilitation counselor would work to find strategies to help the client to achieve the maximum level of independence and self-sufficiency possible in every aspect of life. For an adult, it may be focused in the workplace, but for a college student, the efforts would be toward success and mitigation of the effects on academic success.

Most often, according to CORE (Council on Rehabilitation Education), an accreditation organization for graduate programs, “[r]ehabilitation [c]ounseling emphasizes empowerment of individuals with disabilities to maximize employability, attain economic self-sufficiency, independence, inclusion, and integration into American society. The philosophical foundation of rehabilitation counseling includes the belief in advocacy and the rights of people with disabilities.  Rehabilitation counseling emphasizes integration and inclusion, focusing on assets of people, and assisting in the pursuit of independence. By moving from a status of dependence to a status of independence, personal adjustment and/or the opportunity to succeed economically, via employment, can be achieved.”

Yet, you still have that question. Why? How?

You see, it started when I was 15 years old. I spent the summer volunteering nearly 50 hours per week at a children’s respite center for children who were determined to be medically fragile.  Ironically enough, most of them shared a diagnostic label with me. And as a just-turned 15 year old, that was hard to see.  I didn’t know, at the time, how to articulate exactly what I was feeling, but I know now that I was grappling with the fact that I honestly didn’t think it was fair that people with the same diagnostic label could perform and such a wide range of levels. Why were these children confined to a wheelchair, but I was the one able to walk? I’d worked brief stints in a self-contained classroom, but giving parents a break seemed like more tangible, meaningful work at that point in my life.

As life progressed and I started having to make decisions, pray over my calling, and devote my life to a purpose, I discovered rehabilitation counseling through a mentor during my junior year of high school. He was the director of disability services during my first three years of college, and he’d gotten his degree at the age of 40 while working full time and raising two children through the online degree program at the University of Kentucky. He does his work with such passion and purpose, and honestly, it was and is infectious.

The fact that my whole career will be spent advocating for and ensuring that people with disabilities are gainfully employed and have means of self-sufficiency just warms my heart. That’s the way it should be. I can’t imagine a place where just because someone looks differently or acts differently, it may affect their chances to enter the workforce. If I put my left leg into my pants first instead of my right, does it mean that I left my house without wearing pants? No. It just means that I did it a bit differently.

Next time you see someone out working in a public place who may accomplish the work task in a non-traditional way, stop and think. Now, you’re also aware of those of us who ensure that everyone is created equal within the workplace.

I ask you: Why NOT rehabilitation counseling?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

How Kentucky?

People who know me and who have become aware of my acceptance of the University of Kentucky's offer of admission often ask me why I chose it and how in the world I would ever choose to move 400 miles from anything I've ever known.

I thought I'd share the story that's turning out to be quite beautiful. First, you should know that the decision to attend UK and participate in the on-campus program wasn't my original intent.

In late November and early December,  prior to my graduation from college, I had a few interviews with people who worked for companies that had job openings that I desperately wanted. To my surprise at the time, I was rejected from all three and simply got discouraged.

After the first interview that I'd had, that rejection email sent me into a pile of tears for hours. Now, I know that those tears were tears of impatience. Despite the outcome,  I'm more than grateful for the experience now, but at the time, it was ruining my definition of perfect. You know, I was going to live in a quaint college town, get my Master's degree online from the same program at Kentucky, and earn a little bit of money all along the way. Granted, all of the communities and towns that I'd consider couldn't meet my transportation needs as well as actually having a public transit service readily ply available.

I spent the first month after graduation relaxing for the first time in 4.5 years and enjoying the holidays with my family. In the back of my head, there was always that question of "What's next?" lingering in the back of my head.  The end of December came, and I decided that I'd go ahead and get things ready to apply to the program. I started with an email to the Disability Resource Center at UK to inquire about services available to students. My parents and I were tucked away in a mountain cabin for New Year's, and I knew I wouldn't get a response for a few days.

On January 2, I received a phone call from the director of the DRC, and he was genuinely interested in who I was and what attracted me to my field and to the university.  We chatted for a week or so before "it" happened. I went to bed one night really content with the fact that distance learning is quite a bit less in tuition than an on-campus program and felt that I had made the right decision.  The next morning, the friend that I stayed with on my first visit messaged me via Facebook to tell me that she saw that I posted this video and that I was considering UK. She then let me know that she lives  and works in Lexington and wondered if I was actually thinking about moving there.

I hadn’t ever even considered it, and to be honest, I just didn’t think I could do it. All this talk about public transit being a real thing started to seem like just a figment of  my imagination, and more importantly, how would I survive 400 miles from home? I picked up the phone to run the idea by my mom, even though I was still skeptical myself.

To my surprise, my mom was extremely supportive and mentioned to me that I had just received a refund check that would cover my airfare costs to stay with my friend if I wanted to just to test the waters.  I knew that at that point, I had thinking and praying to do like I’d never done it before. Moving that far away from home seems daunting, but I’ve always known that prayer is a powerful thing and is a storehouse for strength when doubt comes along.

That night and for many nights after that, I prayed for clarity. I didn’t pray for answers. The next morning, it’s almost as if God audibly woke me pup that morning. I sat straight up in bed and said aloud, “I’m moving to Lexington.” I was in shock. but I threw my glasses on my face and reached for the phone to call Jake, the director of the DRC. We chatted for awhile, and I remember one of my first questions being whether or not I would be able to physically be at UK and have all of my needs met. He went on to explain that I absolutely would, some of the services that they could provide, and then he let me know that there were many students on campus in similar situations to my own.

At first, I was going to enroll as a distance learning student as planned and then visit to see if I wanted to change to an on-campus student, but I felt such a strong calling to Lexington and to the situation that was being presented that it wasn’t necessary at that point. I was able to go out there three weekends ago and absolutely fell in love.

I was in a meeting with the Accommodations Consultant who was very open in saying that it was a God thing, and I couldn’t agree more. I’m so excited to see how the journey unfolds, and I look forward to chronicling it! Patience is indeed a virtue, my friends, and it may prove that God needs you somewhere other than where you’d originally thought or intended. It’s apparent to me that there are clients in Lexington who need me, and God wants me there to help.

Here am I. Send me.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

My First Visit

Three weekends ago, I visited Lexington for the first time, and I am more than in love with the city. If you follow me on Facebook, you've seen the trip updates and pictures, but I thought putting them in one place would be nice. Also, I've started a Facebook page for this blog where you can (soon!) find all the posts on this blog, links, resources, and information related to graduate school, relocation state-by-state, neat Kentucky facts, and more!

My flight was at 7:00pm to leave Atlanta for Lexington. Boarding was quite simple between the gate attendant and the flight attendant's assistance. I was so excited to know that it was so easy! This, the view from my window in Atlanta:


Because what's a Delta flight without Coke and peanuts? The in-flight snack really helped to calm my overly excited nerves!


As we made initial approaches into Lexington, the man in the seat next to me taps me and whispers, "Here we are!" and I leaned over to grab this picture:

When I got to the airport and saw my friend from all the way back in 3rd grade, it was like no time had passed. Even when we were best friends at 9 years old, we'd spend hours on the phone. (Think teenage girl on your favorite sitcom.) The whole weekend was one big phone conversation catching up on college events, family happenings, and the like. We graduated high school together, but somewhere between third and twelfth grade, we just lost touch. It was so nice to chat literally all weekend. I was starving by the time we'd gotten to her house, so we had spring rolls and rice for a late dinner. 

Early the next morning, I was awake at the crack of dawn out of excitement. I had scheduled paratransit service from my friend's house to campus, and I was told that they'd be there by 8:30. At 8:15,  there was a knock on the door. The driver had come all the way to the door to assist me with steps, bags, etc. and onto the bus. For the small fee that it costs, the service is wonderful! I'm so relieved that the level of independence that the service offers will be available, and I just can't wait! I had a 9am meeting with the Accommodations Consultant in the Disability Resource Center, and I can say for certain that the services and the willingness to help makes me all the more excited for four months from now! Then, I was graciously given a private golf cart tour of campus (thanks, Sarah!) sponsored by the UK Visitor Center.  Check them out if you're interested in a campus tour! It was phenomenal. The guide even stopped so that I could take a few pictures along the way:

This is historic Memorial Hall. Aside from the library, when you see a picture of UK, it's usually of this building. It is absolutely stunning, and its architecture reminds me of my undergraduate institution.

This is William T. Young Library, probably the most famous building on campus. It is the second largest academic library in the nation next to Harvard, and most importantly, it has a Starbucks inside.

That afternoon, after having lunch in a tall tower in the center of campus and visiting the bookstore, I used the paratransit service to head home. The same quality was presented on the return trip, and to be quite honest, it makes me so much more excited to be in Lexington. We enjoyed dinner and frozen yogurt after both of our days had ended, and then we headed off to the Movie Tavern, where you can order food and beverage while you watch a movie. It was a neat experience, and I would highly recommend checking to see if there's one in your area!

On Saturday, we started by apartment hunting and touring a bit of the city, and then we stopped off at Good Foods, the co-op in town that has all organic, non-GMO products, along with a cafe and bakery. I was fascinated and plan to take full advantage.

Probably the highlight of my Saturday, aside from finding the perfect apartment complex, was meeting the AcoUstiKats and seeing them perform at the Woodford Theatre. They are UK's premier male acapella group and have been made recently famous by NBC's The Sing Off. Getting to meet and take photos with these guys was so much fun!

Then,  on Sunday, we toured the town and the downtown areas, and a few pictures that I took are truly what I've always thought of Kentucky to look like. Take a peek:


Unfortunately, early Monday morning meant it was time to head to the airport to fly home. In the time that I was there, I became even more excited to call Lexington my new Kentucky home in four short months and can't thank my friend Robin enough for being such a wonderful tour guide and hostess. I'm so thankful for such a warm and inviting place to call home soon!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Where Does Motivation Come From?

During this stage of my life, I'm finding it challenging to retain the sources of motivation that come with going to school full-time and being surrounded by creative, intelligent people with every turn of my head. Fortunately, I'm returning there in August, albeit to a new university, a new setting, and new sights, smells, and sounds.

Most people are shocked when they discover that my motivation does not come from other people with disabilities. I often find solace in understanding that people with disabilities similar to my own have been on the adventure before me, but that's simply a "logistics" meter. Even in 2014, I still have concerns about the accessibility of modern public facilities, as well as the quality of service offered to those with disabilities.

In a recent conversation with a mentor who played football for a legendary coach in college, works for a university to which I have extreme loyalty, and who has a broadcasting background, he simply asked, "Where do you learn? Who motivates you? Is there anybody you study?" Very generally, I answered, "People without disabilities." The reasons for that are many, but the biggest part of my logic centers around the idea that people who are in similar situations are not motivations, simply due to the fact that they may not offer advice that will allow you to better your journey. For example, if two 23 year old young professionals attempted to mentor each other, it would turn into an accountability situation. Since  experience is one of the best teachers we have, the opportunity to learn from experience can come from mentorship.

I'm motivated by the fact that society sees disability as a negative concept. I'm motivated, not because I can prove people wrong with my actions, but because I've always thought of it as the best thing to ever happen to me. Since I've graduated college, the reaction to the simple fact that it happened has been astounding. Honestly, the actions and reactions of people toward me and toward my situation are my biggest source of motivation. Why should I only walk 5 steps when I can walk 10, get more exercise, and have legs like no one has ever seen?

Most recently, I'm motivated by college athletes. Why? College athletes who are successful and who flourish on and off the field of play understand the importance of living a full life, but also the importance of using the platform that a student-athlete offers to be leaders in the community and elsewhere. It doesn't take being a student-athlete to come to these realizations, but the lifestyle allows for an amazing opportunity to see, do, and be many things for the athlete and for others. Wants motivate people far too often, when needs should be driving the bus. A need to give back to the community is not something that is innate in many, but realizing the need can transform sources of motivation. It's an explanation for why my passion for community service is off the charts!

Motivation comes in all shapes and sizes that can vary depending on the current situation and circumstances. Knowing that, why has it become crucial that we fit into a mold that may not fit us? Why do I have to be motivated by people with disabilities just because I happen to have one?

Where does your motivation come from?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Disability in Graduate School (Or Simply in Life)

I've had plenty of time to do some thinking on the ways that having a disability might actually be advantageous when beginning graduate school this fall. There are rare occasions in which individuals reflect on the positives of something that might challenge the way that they live their lives, but I think it could prove to be an interesting way to learn to appreciate the small things and the unexpected blessings.

Disability is almost always synonymous with "unconventional".  Just because I button a pair of jeans with one hand doesn't mean that my jeans are never buttoned. Though I can't explain to someone how I accomplish it with one hand, I just do. In graduate school, I surmise that many of the research articles that I will read or the papers that I will write will involve complicated intricacies that will drive people to ask, "How do you understand any of what you're studying?" Truthfully, the only way I can and will explain it is that it's what happens when passion is evident. Just like when you realize that you're the only one who can button your pants, it just happens.

One quickly learns that some things just take time. For me, I've had to come to terms with the fact that it's okay if it takes me an hour to get ready to go run errands. The important part is that I accomplished the task independently, and I, most of the time, am confident with the work that I complete. Graduate work isn't conducive to completing the three page paper you forgot about in the two hours before it's due. You can't procrastinate. You can't expect quality if you aren't willing to put in the quantity in the form of time. It's okay that you had to cancel the coffee date with your friend if it means that you're less stressed about the 6 hours it took to put your best effort into the paper. Write the paper, and then reward yourself with the coffee date. You'll feel much better that way because the best things just take time.

The application is just as important as the acquisition. Most of us with disabilities similar in nature to my own spent most of our childhoods in physical and occupational therapies to acquire the skills to live, work, and grow independently. While using stretchy bands to improve quad strength and doing 200 "donkey kicks" while watching television is important, climbing the hills of campus can't become a reality until someone sees that he/she can actually climb the hill or walk the mile distance between a classroom building and the library. Similarly, the textbooks and the coursework are vital in graduate school, but applied experience, such as an internship, truly tests that knowledge. "Thinking on your feet" is challenging, and especially for disciplines like the one I'll be entering, it's just as important to apply effectively as it is to acquire successfully.

You know yourself best, no matter what all the advice in the world says. For years, people with and without disabilities have offered advice on how to do various tasks that have proven challenging. While I often appreciate their advice and concern for me, I have earned to keep in mind that I know my needs and abilities better than anyone. Much like the advice given to new parents, applying to and starting graduate school, as well as living with a disability, opens the proverbial floodgates for all the advice anyone has ever learned. Remember, take what you wish, but you know yourself better than anyone ever will.

Admittedly, there is much more that could be added to this list, but I am enormously grateful for the lessons that life has taught through challenges, and I am eagerly awaiting the chance to apply them to my graduate school experience in 2014!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Bullying: My Tips and Tricks

In recent weeks, I've noticed a surge in blog posts from concerned parents of young children (usually aged 10 and under) about their children becoming victims of bullying in school. As hard as it is to admit, the fact that I am a young adult with a disability inevitably means that I have ample experience with the big, usually burly, characters who bully. Because I never want my experiences to happen to anyone else, I thought I'd offer a few points. If you are enduring bullying, these tips will apply to you, and if you're a parent of a child who can't quite understand these situations from emotional angles, I hope this will prove helpful.

**As always, I'm never claiming any content to be professional advice. Rather, this advice is based solely on personal accounts and experiences. Should you have serious issues and troubles, I would always encourage you to seek the counsel of a credentialed professional.

It's okay to cry. It is typical for young children or for anyone in vulnerable situations to view crying as a sign of weakness. But in fact, it is just the opposite. Releasing your emotions regarding the situation will change the lens with which it is viewed. Aside from the fact that crying usually leaves us feeling as if a weight has been lifted from our shoulders, it is vitally important. Displaying emotions is often healthy and will lead to more beneficial interactions and understanding in the long run. So, Mom. Let her rest her head on your shoulder as the tears flow down her face. It's okay. It's right.

Remember your worth. It's easy to forget that you've been a hero in so many other areas of your life when your bully is standing over you or walking by to throw out the sly insult. Because most bullying situations don't take place like the movies say that they do (i.e. a big man three times your size throwing punches and calling you a "wuss"), it's easy to let the comments sting as they come straight for you in the hallway. But remember, you're worth it. All. Your family needs you, your friends need you, and you are a bright spot that this world needs in order to shine its brightest. Remember that little sister that is eagerly waiting for you to come home? The puppy that needs your help to grow big, strong, and playful? The mom that depends on your hugs to get her through her workday stress? They all need you. They want you. They love you. Remember your worth.

Take time to think. It is perfectly normal and typical for everyone to want to be liked by everyone else, and it takes awhile to understand that if  someone doesn't like you, it doesn't mean that you're not likable. Remember that the "popular" girl at school or in the workplace was only deemed to be that way by those around you; she wasn't sprinkled with limited edition pixie dust at birth, I can assure you. Your friends should be the ones who make you laugh, who make you think, and who love you for who you are are what your bring to the lives of others. One of my best friends in the third grade was the girl who literally could sew anything starting with a simple piece of thread. She wasn't the girl who sold bookmarks to only certain people. Today, she's back in my life and may be helping me as I pursue graduate school. She did something happy and healthy with her life, and I couldn't tell you what the "bookmark" girls are doing right now. Take time to think about your friends, who they are, and what they mean to you.

Lean in when you need support. Unfortunately, you won't always have the ones who love you most right when the bully strikes most of the time. Because of that, it is always important to let people know what is happening right when it occurs. That way, they can help you through logistics of any situation, but they can also support you emotionally, and even physically, when times get tough. If you're in school, it may be important to make teachers and other trusted authority figures aware of your frailty so that if something happens, you're permitted to call parents or a best friend for five minutes after. That way, you understand that you're never emotionally alone. Lean in. You've got this.

Keep a journal. Sometimes, there are thoughts that you just can't express out loud, and that is perfectly okay. So that those thoughts have a way to be released, it is important that you keep a journal, whether it turns into a place for sketches or a place for writing, so that even your innermost thoughts are expressed.

Finally, remember that you're not alone in experiencing difficulty such as this. There are people, young and old, who experience bullying and its many forms on a daily basis. But as Dr. Seuss so wisely said, “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Blogging Every Day: Graduate School, I'm On My Way

Happy New Year, everyone! In years past, I've been one to make many resolutions, but in my current situation, I'm hesitant to do that because so many things could change at any point right now.

Instead, however, I'm planning to blog every day, if even short posts. The reason for setting this goal is three-fold:

I'd like to rekindle my love for writing. I've always loved to write, and through my last little while in college, the only writing that I had time for was my required research papers and class activities. It's not that those exercises weren't enjoyable, but as always, there's something about the freedom of choice that feels...well, free. I am a guest contributor to a few sites around the internet, but there's something to be said for my own personal space to allow myself to let my hair down.

I want to help. My perspective, a soon-to-be graduate student with a little extra challenge, is a rare one to be seen on the internet, so if I can help just one person, it's all worth it. I also want to help myself look back to realize just how fortunate I am when things get a little trying. It's amazing how many people forget to  be thankful, and in 2014, or ever, for that matter, I refuse to be that person. I want to help people realize possibility, peace, faith, joy, and love. If it's just one person, that's simply enough.

I want to keep my skills sharp. More on this later, but it looks like 2014 will bring the start of a graduate program. In graduate school, there's so much writing that it's going to be crucial for me to keep my skills sharp in the interim period. There will be more detail later, for sure, but with the way that the program is set up, it's so important. Most professors have always been complimentary of my writing, but people are different, and it's important to keep every aspect of the skill sharp.

I'm excited to see what 2014 holds, and I am thrilled to have you along for the ride!