EDITOR’S NOTE: March is Disabilities Awareness Month. In observance, The Herald-Times is offering a set of six essays by people with disabilities. They will write about what they would like the public to know about a person with their specific disability. This is the second story in the series.
What is your disability?
Hear members of the community speak about life with a disability March 26 at Ivy Tech’s Lamkin Hall in a panel discussion from noon to 2 p.m. The event is part of the Council for Community Accessibility’s Disability Awareness Month Activities.
Panelists will answer questions about their lives. Feel free to ask that question you’ve always wondered about. Bring a sack lunch; snacks will be served.
If you need an interpreter, call Craig Brenner at 812-349-3471
Man with intellectual disabilities has a full life
By Aaron Smith Special to The Herald-Times
March 16, 2012like the public to know about a person with their specific disability. This is the second story in the series.
Intellectual disabilities are disabilities that are characterized by significant limitations both in intellectual functioning and in adaptive behavior. It covers many everyday social and practical skills. This type of disability originates before the age of 18. Two of the types of the intellectual disabilities that I have or have had are: Autism/Pervasive Developmental Disability (a spectrum disorder) and epilepsy (a seizure disorder).
I was diagnosed with autism in 1998. I had some challenges with autism like making new friends and interacting with them, and ordering at a restaurant, and had trouble speaking in front of people. I also was bullied a lot in eighth and ninth grade.
But good things happened to me at school, too. I got to manage some of the sports teams, and the guys were really nice to me. One gave me an award, which was for the No. 1 manager. I graduated from high school with a diploma.
Epilepsy often goes along with autism. My seizures started when I was 10 months old and lasted till I was 14. They affected me in many ways. I had to take strong medicine that often had bad side effects. It was hard at school because I had to go home from school after I had a seizure. I had trouble interacting with my friends. I also missed class time.
My life with autism now is great because I have a good job at the Goodwill store on the west side of Bloomington and I am the president of the Aktion Club of Options Bloomington, and Bloomington Self Advocates. I like my Life Designs classes and activities, too. I am also a member of the South Central Indiana Kiwanis Club and the Council for Community Accessibility. I bowl and play basketball with Special Olympics. I have won 4 bronze medals and received 5 ribbons.
I have good friends. I am looking forward to having my own apartment. I would like to learn to drive. My disabilities will not keep me from having a full life that I enjoy.
Living with post-traumatic stress disorder a constant struggle for man and his family
By Ian Long Special to The Herald-Times
March 17, 2012
It is hard to explain to someone how it is a daily struggle being in pain, physically ill, and having a mental block while your outside physical features reveal no signs of an aliment.
Invisible illnesses like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression are frustrating enough to deal with by themselves, but when you compound them with other disabilities; it is like having a levee ready to break.
The general public’s perception of PTSD ranges anywhere from assuming that an individual will become aggressively violent and go “postal” at a moment’s notice to thinking that an individual is faking.
There is a major misconception that a traumatic event has to be a horrific event on a mass scale over an extended time period. An individual can suffer from PTSD after an event that lasted only one second. The event only has to be perceived traumatic to that individual and cause the mind to have difficulty coping with the event. It is not something that can just be dismissed and forgotten with the blink of an eye — because the traumatic event’s image is sketched into your eyelids.
I wish it was something that I could just forget and dismiss; however, living with PTSD is a constant struggle for me and my family. I have good days and I have bad days that can be triggered by any number of things. Therefore, most of my immediate family knows that I suffer from PTSD and my wife helps me avoid and de-escalate the triggers. I have found that I frequently have to walk away from the general public when I feel my PTSD symptoms start to surface.
Once I disclose my PTSD to others, like my college professors, they often treat me differently. One professor told me that I would have stress in life so I should just deal with the stress of my PTSD the same way. If only doing so was that easy. One of my biggest symptoms of PTSD is anxiety that causes a mental block. I just mentally freeze when put under mental strain.
Taking tests is almost an insurmountable task for me. I have started therapy and taking medication to try to help control the symptoms, but it will take time. I want to have a normal existence and realize that I will have one in time. In the interim, my hope is that people become more aware of PTSD, the effects of it, and the realities of it.
Like most military personnel, I was thankful to be given a chance to do my part. I do not regret the military service that bestowed my disabilities upon me; however I do begrudge the general public’s conception or rather misconception of my PTSD disability.
My story is the story of so many servicemen and women who suffer in silence. We did our part, and now we ask that the general public do their part in accepting us back into society.
Disabilities are a natural part of human experience
By David Carter Special to The Herald-Times
March 18, 2012
The first thing many people notice about me is that I use a wheelchair. What is not visible is that I have been using a wheelchair to get around for almost 37 years; since well before the Americans with Disabilities Act. I have seen the changes from a largely inaccessible urban environment to one which is mostly accessible, allowing those of us in wheelchairs “to boldly go where everyone else has gone before.”
When I was paralyzed, I was 32. I was pretty strong, and was able to wrestle my wheelchair over bumpy ground and other minor barriers. I have been leading a normal life; I cook, I do laundry, I drive myself places, I ran my own business, I shop, I changed my son’s baby diapers, and I make mistakes, like anyone else.
Now, I am 69, and am beginning to feel the effects of aging: arthritic fingers, sore shoulders, and other aches and pains and health problems which somewhat limit my ability to do what I’m used to doing with ease. I do still drive myself to Indianapolis, Bloomington, and elsewhere, regularly and often, but I am more easily tired.
This aging stuff is something I am getting accustomed to, just as, years ago, I had to get accustomed to life in a wheelchair. Neither experience is particularly interesting, except to myself, and isn’t the sort of thing others really want to hear about at any length.
And yet, we people with disabilities are frequently given the opportunity to attempt to make others aware of what life is like with a disability. For me, being asked about using a wheelchair is much like me asking you how you feel about tying your shoes. It’s something you learned to do quite a while ago, but you have moved on to other things; although you do still do it, it seems odd someone would want you to talk about it.
The truth is, disabilities are a natural part of the human experience, and, while you may not have one, a great many people everywhere do. For me, living with a disability has become normal. Most of the barriers which make difficulties for me are because of the thoughtless way things are made, not because I can’t walk.
She offers a voice to those with mental illness
By Rachel Roby Special to The Herald-Times
March 19, 2012
Living with mental illness is a lifelong journey. Although I was not diagnosed with any mental health disorders until my late 20s, I always sensed there was something terribly wrong.
As a young child I was shy and withdrawn. My adolescent years provoked a feeling of not being comfortable in my own skin. I was anxious and full of fear. These feelings were so intense I had thoughts of wanting to end my life. I was 13. When I entered into my teenage years, I had abysmal bouts of depression. I remember feeling isolated and lonely. I developed anorexia. School was difficult and challenging. I was very bright; on the other hand, I lacked motivation and concentration. Guidance counselors made a few attempts to intervene, but I was defiant. I was terrified to tell anyone about my feelings. But how could I? I had a brief understanding about mental illness; nonetheless, I convinced myself I was not crazy.
My mental state deteriorated rapidly while I was attending Ball State University. My anorexia developed into bulimia. Sadness and erratic behavior plagued every facet of my being.
I had uncontrollable crying that was always followed with grandiose idealizations of myself. Somehow I continuously accomplished an external appearance of success, determination and efficiency. I was very good at masking and making myself to appear “normal.” Inwardly I was spiraling into a darkness of self-hatred, emptiness, fear and confusion.
Ultimately my mental illness became physically noticed. I lost all facial expressions, I appeared blank, I appeared shallow. I could no longer put on the masquerade. Most of my relationships were stormy. I was not able to experience close relationships. I had trouble with employment. I could not keep a job, and I became a transient. I was already being eschewed by society, therefore I lived in shame.
I was too scared to ask for help. I did not want to be labeled as a crazy woman.
After being hospitalized from a suicide attempt, I was finally ready to face the truth, seek treatment and face the reality of mental illness. I already had my own misconstrued concepts about mental illness.
Even my own prejudices were inaccurate. It is quite difficult to describe the suffering one endures with mental illness. Once diagnosed, there must be a process of acceptance. I was not shocked, I was not in denial anymore, but I was scared. I did not know what to expect. Will I live in an institution? Will I be able to work? What will I tell my family? Will I get worse? Will I have to take medications for the rest of my life?
I took my recovery one step at a time. First, I sought treatment. I found a wonderful therapist that I still meet with weekly. Next, I met with doctors to discuss medications. I learned that taking medication is essential to my recovery. Taking psychiatric medications is the same as diabetics taking insulin.
I educated myself about my diagnoses. I practice meditation and spirituality. I write poetry, and I share my experiences with others. Once I started to heal, gradually my life seemed more normal.
Most of my fears about mental illness were put to rest. All of my preconceived notions of the mentally ill were dismissed. I do not like words like “unstable,” “unbalanced” or “moody.” I do have different ways, atypical patterns of behaviors and peculiar mannerisms.
What should others know about interacting with me? If you don’t know anything about me, there is nothing special you need to know. I am just another person who has a medical condition which is being successfully treated. If you know about my condition, then treat me no differently than you would treat someone with diabetes, arthritis or a broken arm.
Finally, if you know about my condition, and you or someone close to you has similar problems, use me as a resource as a person who knows exactly how you feel and what you are facing.
Today I am grateful for my mental illness. The suffering I endured for a good part of my life has taught me human compassion; I understand people, and I see individuals for who they are and not what they are. I have limitations, and I will always have daily struggles and challenges. There is nothing to be ashamed about having a chronic brain disorder. I speak openly about my challenges with the simple idea of being a voice to those with mental illness. I offer hope by telling my story.
Being of service and advocacy to those with disabilities has been most essential to my own recovery. I am inspired by Harper Lee’s theme from ‘To Kill a Mockingbird” “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
We are making progress on total acceptance and tolerance, but we still have a long way to go. I do not walk with my head down because I am mentally ill. I walk with my head up as a person with mental illness.