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!