Topic: Adulting

Kevan

Creativity and disability
(part 1)

I have been writing books for the better part of ten years now, and before that I played in a band. Having SMA, I’ve always caught people off guard with my subject matter.

“It’s been an uphill battle to sing and write about anything but disabilities.”

There is nothing wrong with creating material related to disability, but as an artist, I personally had other things I identified with and wanted to talk about in my avenues of creativity.

My band sang songs and made references to movies, literature, other bands, our short attention spans, and our inability to get girlfriends. It baffled our audiences that we didn’t talk more about the elephant in the room: my wheelchair, whether for awareness or humor. But we were college kids with other things on our minds... like pizza.

When I started writing books, I wanted to tell stories about pirates, time travelers, and zombies. I would include characters with disabilities, because they fit the narrative, but they weren’t the focus. And most folks who read those books said, “These are great, but what about more on the guy in the wheelchair? I want to hear more about him!”

These are tensions faced by every artist, regardless of whether or not they have a disability. It’s hard for most of the world to see past your sore thumb.

“There is so much more to you than a 400 lb wheelchair, and those other parts of you need outlets, too.”

As an artist (of whatever medium), I encourage you to push through. Get creative with how you navigate creativity. A common joke in filmmaking is that you make a film for you and then a film for “them,” meaning there are times when you take creative license to make what you want and times when you give in to make what is expected of you by others. Strike a balance between the two, which might involve striking a balance between your pride and humility, or your freedom and discipline.

“Art is definitely expression, but it’s also a sharing of experience, so it’s a wrestling match of being for you and others.”

Two years ago, I finally published a memoir of my life with SMA, and have received quite a bit of attention for it. I’ve been glad, as I grow in my craft, to share such a story, but I’m also now navigating how to not get “pigeonholed” as a disabled writer.

In the following two articles, we will explore both routes: producing creative material related to your disability, and producing creative material unrelated to your disability. Doing both is possible, and I would actually suggest it, but ultimately, the aforementioned balance is yours to establish with yourself and your audience. And whatever that balance ends up looking like for you, always strive to be honest in your expressions and endeavors.

Amanda & Jeremy

Nurturing your child's dreams

Asher was infatuated with superheroes when he was little. He could not get enough of superhero action figures or costumes and his affection grew tremendously when he met a “real life” superhero at a local event. Asher was only four years old when he enthusiastically and confidently stated, “A superhero is going to be at my birthday party.”

“And so it began, the parent journey of helping our little human realize his big dreams.”

A most memorable six-year-old life-sized dream came true when we took Asher and his sisters roller-skating. We knew our girls could physically skate, but Asher had never walked independently, let alone rolled on skates. That day at the roller-skating rink, Asher did not sit on the sidelines or sit in his wheelchair because he had bigger plans. So, with a lot of help from the business owner and a lot of muscle power from dad, Asher literally skated.

Recently, we watched a show where a main character was announced valedictorian. Asher, now almost eight years old, immediately asked what it meant to be a valedictorian. When the word was defined for him, he said without hesitation, “I want to be a valedictorian.” To which I replied, “I bet you will be, buddy.”

The same way we figured out how to bring a superhero to Asher’s birthday party, or how to help Asher skate, we will figure out how to help Asher become the valedictorian he wants to be.

“We will figure it out together, with encouragement and love.”

And we will welcome those who come along, like that business owner or that “real life” superhero, to help us make Asher’s dreams come true, one dream at a time.

Kevan

Creativity and disability
(part 2)

I remember sitting in a friend’s kitchen a few years ago, talking with him about my future. I saw myself as a writer and wanted to have a go of it as a career. By that time, I’d written a handful of novels, and was in search of opportunities to speak. Sitting at that kitchen table, my friend gently said to me, “You have a story to tell, Kevan. It’s right in front of you.” He had been close to my parents since before I was born. He had walked with our family through my diagnosis, and every hill and valley since then.

“He saw my story better than I could see it myself.”

Up to that point in my life, I would get so annoyed when people suggested I tell my story of life with SMA. I wanted to be known for my talents, not my disability, and turning the spotlight on it seemed like giving up in that fight. Even when that friend said it, I bucked a bit, but he was right. He wasn’t telling me to sell out. He was pointing out that for all my efforts to share deep things with the world, I had my most profound story sitting right there in my lap the whole time and had adamantly chosen to ignore it.

But I still had a hitch in this proposal. Everyone wanted me to share about my life with disability, but I had trouble finding the best angle for it, the right voice, the driving narrative. That’s when my friends and I did something ridiculous. We decided to leave my wheelchair home, head to Europe, and just see how it went.

“Suddenly, and actually without meaning to, I had a very clear story to tell, and a starting point from which to launch the bigger story of my life with disability.”

I know not everyone reading this is a writer or musician. But the principles remain because, ultimately, it’s all storytelling. As we pursue our various creative endeavors as people with disabilities, let us keep a few things in mind:

  1. Be sure you have a story, something poignant for people to pay attention to. Don’t just go around shouting, “Listen to me because I have a disease!” That is literally everyone’s story (we’re all disabled somehow), so find your unique angle.
  2. Be aware of your audience’s needs and interests in the details of your story. Art is a conversation, so exercise that. Only spend time on how you tie your shoelaces if that’s something your audience wants to know. Ask. They’ll tell you.
  3. Be tasteful in two ways. First, how explicitly you tell your story (varies by audience, refer to #1). Second, don’t beat a dead horse. Share your story, don’t preach guilt or pity. There’s enough of that in the world already.

Have fun!

Alex

Finding my why

2020 was hard on all of us.

The pandemic.
The fear.
The new lives we’re living.

For disabled people, the pandemic is reaffirming embedded ableist views in our society. It weighs heavy on my mental health, as I’m sure it does for the entire disability community.

I’ve always approached life with a “can-do” attitude. I told myself that my disability and society’s ignorance about disability would not stop me from living the life I want to live.

“I can’t control others, but I can control myself.”

My feelings.
My life.

I think this rings true, especially during the pandemic and this time of uncertainty that we are all experiencing.

To keep my mind on track and continue on the journey I’m on of living my best life, I find ways to remind myself of the good.

I follow writers and creators who inspire me with their words. I find solace in relatability and human interaction. The innate human need to connect with others and feel seen is something we all desire. Even if they aren’t disabled, I can relate to their stories and that human connection keeps me grounded.

Another thing I do to keep myself grounded amid the chaos of living a life with a disability--where something can change at the drop of a hat--is to pursue what inspires me. To create. I can’t tell you how many screenshots I have on my phone of things I come across while mindlessly scrolling that inspires me to create something, write something, or do something new.

“What I have to give back is my creativity.”

In college, I studied rehabilitation services. In short, that involves working with people who have disabilities and providing education and services to help them live independent lives, in order to arm our clients with the knowledge to be successful – however they define success. This job gave me purpose. It gave me a creative outlet to give back to my community.

I find having a network of people who are supporting me and being able to use my creativity as an emotional outlet is what keeps me sane.

Life is messy, and disability is not excluded. If anything, disability makes life more messy.

My grandmother always used to say, “A dirty kid is a happy kid.” I found it to be extremely true, even in my adulthood.

Life is messy, whether figuratively or literally, and that’s the best part. We never know what to expect. And this has been a year of the unexpected.

We are growing, learning and evolving.

Resilience comes in many forms, but I think finding what brings it out within oneself is what the best part of the journey is. For me, this was finding my purpose, my job, where I can help others.

“Finding my purpose gave me a ‘why.’ Having a why means everything to me.”

Kevan

Creativity and disability
(part 3)

Ever since I could form words, I have been telling stories. It is my great passion in life. After college, a friend gave me a novel by a German cartoonist who pretty much broke all the rules of conventional storytelling.

“I remember sitting at my desk, reading this weird book, and I felt the author say to me, ‘You should share your stories with the world, too.’”

That’s when I set out to self-publish my first book, and more followed over the next few years. None of these books had much to do with disability, and it was a constant uphill battle against people’s expectations.

Finally, I wrote a book about my experience with disability and it was picked up by a publisher. I saw this as two opportunities. First, it was certainly a story worth telling and I was happy to do it; second, I was hopeful that it might grow my audience and that audience would then say, “We see your value as a writer. What other stories do you have?” However, the battle continues.

Last summer, I had lunch with a fellow-writer, and we were sharing with one another our latest projects. I told him about the new book I was working on, and mentioned that one of the minor characters was a man with a disability. My friend’s initial response was that I should scrap the rest of the book and refocus my energies on telling that character’s story, with my unique insight on the subject.

I tell you all of this to say that, if you are an artist of any sort with a disability and you don’t want your art to be all about said disability, I understand your desire and I understand your frustration with a world that suggests otherwise. Whether you are a writer, musician, actor, poet, painter, sculptor, basket weaver, whatever, you are more than the disease in your body and your craft has the capacity to express more than the disease in your body, even if a lot of the world is too short-sighted to grasp that.

Every artist deals with this issue of consumers’ expectations.

“Just as you struggle to be seen beyond your disability in your day-to-day, so you will always struggle in the same way with your art.”

But there are people who truly see you—those couple of friends who really get you. And you will find the same to be true with your art. Through the cacophony of people asking about your wheelchair, there will be a voice or two that celebrate your craft simply for what it is. Those couple of voices are more refreshing than you can imagine. If you pay attention to them, you will be revived, inspired, and carried along just fine. So keep an ear out.

Brianna

Working toward
solidarity and equality

We need to hear from people who live at the intersection of multiple identities, but all too often, their voices are suppressed, if not erased, from the narrative.

This is the world we live in. And, unfortunately, the SMA community is not exempt from a variety of “isms” – including racism, sexism, classism, homophobia and transphobia.

So what do we do? How do we practice disability justice in our daily lives, moving beyond equality and diversity – kinds of social activism that, while helpful, address the symptoms of oppression, not the root cause – to solidarity and equity?

“The work begins with humility, and a decision to listen.”

Take an audit of the voices you follow. How many identify as a person of color? How about queer or trans? Is your disability community diverse in background, experiences, culture?

The work begins with a conversation. There are people in our community, and the disability community at large, who have been doing this work for ages, people who are consistently undermined or forgotten.

“They are the voices we should be listening to. Show up, even when it's uncomfortable.”

If you experience any kind of privilege, commit to amplifying the voices of the marginalized. It's not charity. It's solidarity. I would even go so far as to consider it a responsibility.

The work starts right here, right now. So let's get to it.

Kevan

Joy in the journey

I recently had the pleasure of meeting John Morris, a fellow world traveler and founder of wheelchairtravel.org. John and I are not dissimilar in our needs, namely the use of wheelchairs, and though we each approach travel differently in some ways, the core of our experiences is the same.

One topic that came up in our conversation was that of perspectives. We could swap stories all day about the difficulties of travel, especially in light of the recent health pandemic. But that’s not what we reminisce about.

“Our memories rest in the wonder of our adventures.”

I asked John how he maintains that positive outlook on travel. This is where our difference of approach comes into play, because I travel with a group of friends, while John goes solo.

In the pragmatic sense, a lot of my own positive outlook is bolstered by those I surround myself with. I can look on the bright side, but man, it really helps to have folks around me doing the same. John, however, is traveling alone, so his answer? “I try to focus on keeping a cool head with respect to the inconveniences of travel. Air travel, for example, can be quite uncomfortable and frustrating... but by leaving that frustration at the airport, I am able to better focus on the joy in the destination and the purpose of travel.”

“I couldn't help but agree; keeping a cool head is paramount.”

We can’t control those around us, and we aren’t always in control of our circumstances, but what we can control is our attitude toward it. I much prefer to focus on the joys of a journey than the (albeit inevitable) difficulties – not just looking back on the memory of it, but as I am experiencing it in the moment. As I mentioned before, part of how I do that is by the company I keep – that they be of a similar mind. It helps me regulate my “head coolness.” So, I had to ask, “As an independent traveler, what is a practical way you regulate, stay cool-headed and enjoy the journey? You mentioned the example of leaving your frustrations at the airport – how do you do that?”

To this, John made a great point. “It is through an understanding that there is a time and place to deal with conflict. If there is an issue with air travel that cannot be immediately resolved, it is best to address that through the appropriate channels at a convenient time. In nearly all cases, the appropriate time would not be to interfere with the very reason I have traveled. Save that work for after the journey, if possible.”

This is applicable, not only to travel, but to everyday life. Difficulties arise left and right, but they don’t have to ruin everything.

“Adopt a positive outlook by leaving those frustrations ‘at the airport,’ to deal with later and enjoy the rest of what’s in front of you.”

I believe, by doing this, you’ll discover a world of wonder and joy.

Brianna

No one is you and that is
your power

I love all of my art prints, but the one above my desktop monitor has a special place in my heart: “No one is you and that is your power,” usually attributed to singer/songwriter Dave Grohl.

The other day, I was beating myself up over my latest project. The professionals call it imposter syndrome. I was comparing myself to others in my community, writers with book deals and large Twitter followings, feeling like I had nothing to offer. Writing is difficult. Marketing is even harder. Why was I struggling when other people make it look easy? Maybe I wasn’t cut out to be an author after all. Maybe it would be better if I just gave up.

And then I looked up.

No one is you and that is your power.

“I have been carrying stories for a decade, tending to them like I tend to my succulents and house plants.”

Putting them down on paper is hard. I’m sure that publishing them will be equally arduous. But they are still my stories. Mine. And they are bursting at the seams with everything I love, from fairy tales in space to disability representation.

They are not perfect. But they are mine. And therein lies their power. My stories are a curious amalgamation of dreams and experiences. If I do the stories justice and write them well, they won’t look like anyone else’s. They will be flawed and earnest and quintessentially me.

“There is power in that, even if the world—or our inner self talk—says otherwise.”

Amanda & Jeremy

I am stronger
because of my son

I find myself around mile 30 of a 50-mile, seven-night trek on the Jon Muir trail in the high Sierra Nevada mountains.

How did I get here?

I’m the model of a modern, domesticated husband and father. Admittedly, groomed for the finer and simpler things of life. Nevertheless, here I am.

Today, I’m mentally broken, dodging mosquitoes and longing for home. “Only” 20 more miles. “Only” two more nights. I miss my family terribly. I want my bed and a shower. An egg sandwich with coffee sounds delightful.

“But the only way home is the same way I got here—one step at a time.”

As I surrender my thoughts to the reality that there is no quick or easy way home, I can’t help but think about my son’s journey with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). Every day, I watch my son tackle simple living tasks as if he were scaling a mountain. He has no easy way in this life; yet, he tackles every challenge without hesitation, taking one step at a time.

I’ve wanted to cry since the start of my hiking trip from mental fatigue and physical exhaustion, but tonight the tears finally roll down my face.

“Each tear confesses that what I have previously defined to be difficult as a 21st century man does not compare to what I am experiencing as I scale this earth and it certainly doesn’t compare to the challenges my son faces.”

As I reflect on my son’s steadfast and hard-earned strength, I am able to conjure the courage and perseverance to overcome my newfound brokenness. I can wipe away my tears and push on, knowing I am stronger because of my son.

Khrystal

Five tips for practicing
self-care

Self-care is essential, especially when you're a caregiver for a medically fragile child. Just as you stop to fill your vehicle's tank on long trips, you must also replenish your energy through self-care.

“If you don't, you'll end up empty, just as your car does.”

Here are five tips I've learned to help me practice self-care in the more than eight years I've cared for our medically fragile SMA Type 1 son, Hunter.

  1. When you practice self-care, you're helping to ensure you can care for others. If you've ever flown on a plane, you know you must put on your oxygen mask before you put on your child's. Why? Because if your child needs you to put their mask on in the first place, they might require you to put it on again. Should you fail to put yours on first, you run the risk of losing consciousness, and couldn't help if your child needed your assistance again. The same is true for self-care.
“It's not selfish to take care of yourself.”
  1. Choose goals and activities that you enjoy, and are important to you for your self-care. Describe your goals with specificity, so they're clearly defined. For example, "I'm going to run half a mile every day for two weeks." The more specific a goal is, the more you know what you need to do to meet it and can feel accomplished when you do. Start with one to three goals and add new ones as you meet them.
  2. Take time to make time for your goals. Set your goals and try to schedule them for the same time each day. It also helps to plan time for your goals as early as possible in the day. This way, you are more likely to complete them, and before long, you will establish a routine.
  3. Make sure your goals are attainable. My long-term goal might be to run a 10K, but I'm not going to start with that as a scheduled goal. Instead, I'm going to set step-goals. After meeting my goal of running a half-mile each day for two weeks, I would increase my goal to running three-quarters of a mile each day and would keep making incremental adjustments. By doing this, I could celebrate several achievements along the way.
  4. Meet weekly with an accountability partner. Choose someone who can make time to discuss your goals with you each week; it helps to stick to the same day and time, if possible. Try to choose an accountability partner with different goals, so that you can celebrate one another's wins without losing spirit if one of you falls short of reaching a goal. In the first week, discuss your goals and how you will meet them. In subsequent weeks, discuss how you did with your goals, what you could do differently the next week to reach a goal that eluded you, and any new goals.

I hope you find these tips helpful in practicing caregiver self-care and wish you success in meeting your goals.

Kevan

Three tips for your next trip

Traveling is a feat for anyone. Now, throw in a disability – throw in caregivers, equipment, terrain issues – and you have another beast altogether.

“Here are three quick tips for putting together your next trip...”
  1. Intentionality: Traveling is fun, but there is a level of responsibility to keep in mind. As you choose places to go, how to get there and who to go with, be wise. Consider options, challenges and dynamics. Take time hashing it out with your team to develop the best experience possible.
  2. Simplicity: Some concerns are valid, but travel is not your everyday routine, so don’t treat it that way. What in your everyday routine can look differently for a few days? There will be enough to take in and keep up with while traveling without also worrying about what’s not absolutely necessary.
  3. Flexibility: For all your planning, keep a loose grip on what it looks like. There will come unexpected change, unforeseen obstacles and blessings alike. Be ready to rethink plans and go with the flow. This is so integral to the adventure experience and I’d hate for you to miss it.
“These three tips are – ironically enough – applicable to any traveler, regardless of 'handicapability.'”

When planning a trip, everyone needs to be intentional, simple and flexible. But when disabilities are involved, the stakes are higher, room for error is slimmer and the need for clarity in these three categories is more paramount. Prepare wisely, consider humbly, develop loosely and, most importantly, have fun!

Brianna

When your caregiver is your
dad and your best friend

My dad and I can talk without talking. All I have to do is grunt, or quirk a brow, or wrinkle my nose, and my dad is on his merry way. We often joke that we have spent too much time together. If we can read each other’s mind, something’s got to give, if only to preserve our sanity.

“My dad is my best friend.
But he is also my caregiver.”

I live in his house. I eat his food and am responsible for probably 50 percent of our household’s electricity bill. Approximately three times a night, he drags himself out of bed to adjust me in my bed. Sometimes he gives me, his grown daughter, a shower.

Our situation is complex, to say the least. It’s infuriating, but also life-giving, and is a relationship that defies categorization. How do you explain to your therapist that, yes, your dad drives you out of your mind, but he is also one of the few things keeping you alive?

Boundaries are a buzzword these days – interpersonal rules, limits or guidelines that keep relationships healthy. Without boundaries, you’re a dog with no leash, digging under fences and crossing roads at peak traffic times. Without boundaries, you will either burn out or get hurt.

Boundaries are crucial in caregiving relationships, especially when your caregiver plays a dual role. Imagine if your best friend from high school was also your professional caregiver. What would you do if they didn’t show up for work one morning? As their friend, you might be tempted to let it slide. But as their “employer,” you expect them to be accountable, dependable, like any other employee. In this scenario, boundaries would delineate what is and is not acceptable. You might say, “I value your friendship, but I expect you to take responsibility for your actions and treat this like any other paying job.”

Now imagine that your best friend and caregiver is also your dad. How do you navigate that conversation?

It’s not easy. I won’t pretend that I’m an expert. But it helps to acknowledge that boundaries are hard, no matter the situation. It will always feel a little bit uncomfortable, like you’re overstepping in some necessary way.

I always seem to have boundary conversations around our dining table. My feet are in my mom’s lap, my dad is sitting to my left, and I’m staring at a half-empty plate of chicken and mashed potatoes. If history is anything to go by, I’m crying and feeling stuck between adolescence and adulthood because I need my parents more than most people my age.

I leave these conversations feeling wretched. My parents are my best friends. We’re closer than we probably should be. The last thing I want to do is complicate our lives by drawing a line in the sand and saying, “I’m still your daughter, but I’m also an adult. We need to work together, so I can start acting like one.”

“It takes vulnerability to ask for what you need and courage to believe in your ability to compromise.”

But I can say from experience that parents need boundaries, too. Starting the conversation is hard but worth it. Ultimately, you all benefit.

Alex

How did you do it?

I get asked this question from almost everyone when they find out I left my home in the suburbs to attend college six hours away from my family.

“To me, it wasn’t a huge obstacle to attend college with a disability—it was my goal that I was going to accomplish.”

For the disability community, going away to college can seem daunting and out of reach. Everyone is different and should do what is best for their situation. But, if you want to go away to college, I’m here to tell you how I did it and some of my own personal tips and tricks!

  • Tip 1: Research your desired college and look into what sort of disability support they offer. Call the college and talk with the disability resource center about your needs and how they can accommodate you, so you can get the full college experience, both academically and socially. Ask about accessibility, if they provide any personal care support and what academic modifications can be made for your learning needs.
  • Tip 2: Get ready for a lot of responsibility. If you decide to go away for college, you won’t have your family there. You’re going to have to manage your daily care, academics, accommodations, doctor appointments, social life, clubs, etc. I suggest getting a planner and getting yourself organized! Possibly adopt a routine so that you can keep your life organized and running smoothly. In college, there’s a lot going on, and you don’t want to get caught in a rut!
  • Tip 3: Communication skills are key! When you have a disability, having good communication skills are essential, especially in regards to managing your needs and care. Be open with your caregivers about how they can best help you thrive and be comfortable while you’re adjusting to life away from home. Be open with your professors about what your needs are while you are in their classroom. Be open with your peers about your needs, and just have fun!

Having the opportunity and privilege to attend college at the Southern Illinois University Carbondale and graduating with a B.S. in rehabilitation counseling changed my life. Not so much the degree, but the experience as a whole. I made forever friends and have made some of the best memories I’ve ever had in my life. Most importantly, I found myself. I learned that I could be successful and live completely on my own.

“Having the autonomy to do that gave me confidence, dignity and passion that led me to where I am today—living a happy and successful life.”

You can do it too, and I hope my tips and tricks help you realize, you can.

Shane & Hannah

Home Sweet Home

During our speaking engagements at elementary schools across the country, a common question we get asked by inquisitive, young minds is: “What do you do if your house has steps?”

“We love this question, because it shows that the students are applying our message about accessibility to a centerpiece of their own lives, the house they live in.”

We don’t need to belabor an obvious fact – accessible housing is rare and difficult to find – but as Hannah and I have just purchased our first home together, we wanted to discuss a few of our observations (and tips!) from throughout this experience.

A frustrating part for me was that I couldn’t accompany Hannah to many of the open houses, due to inaccessibility. We entered the home-buying process with the assumption that at least some adaptations would need to be made to make our future home accessible, so we didn’t limit ourselves by only seeing perfectly accessible houses. The unfortunate effect of this decision was that we looked at many places with 3+ steps at every entrance.

We counteracted this issue in several ways. Sometimes, Hannah would attend the showing by herself (or with her mom!). Hannah made sure to take lots of photos and videos so she could share them with me afterwards. Another option was to have our real estate agent do a “virtual” tour for us. Using a video call on his phone, our agent walked through every room while we watched from the comfort of our apartment. With his video tour and his tips about the pros and cons of every room, it was just like doing an open house in person.

If possible, I’d also bring along my portable ramp to get inside as many of the prospective homes as I could. I enjoyed this method the best, but all three options gave us a great sense of our choices.

With a disease like SMA, requirements for a home are obviously going to vary from person to person, but here are some of the things we asked about and paid attention to when picking our first home:

  • How much work needs to be done to make the front entrance accessible?
  • If there’s a basement, is it a walkout or would we need to install an elevator/lift inside the home?
  • We generally looked only at one-level homes. Multiple floors just mean a lot more work needs to be done to make it accessible.
  • Were the rooms and doorways spacious enough to maneuver my wheelchair easily? In our first apartment, the hallway to our bedroom was so narrow that I scraped the doorway pretty much every time I entered it, which created a lovely, shrill screeching sound. Sorry neighbors!
  • Since Hannah lifts me onto the toilet and into the shower right now, we paid close attention to the layout of the bathroom.
  • An attached garage was pretty much a necessity for us, living in Minnesota where it snows 11 months of the years (at least it feels like). In the home that we eventually purchased, I can drive from inside our house into the garage and right into our van without ever going outside. In no small way, this feature is helping to keep me healthy, as I no longer need to spend time in the frigid cold/ice/snow getting into my van.
  • Does it have a fireplace? This one has nothing to do with accessibility. I just really wanted a fireplace.
“Buying a home is a stressful process for everyone. We did our best to have fun with it, and to remind ourselves that – stressful as it may have been – it was also exciting!”

Alex

Catching SMA curveballs

In life, bad days are inevitable.

When you live with SMA, just getting through the day can feel like an impossible task. Sometimes, just eating and watching a movie are my only accomplishments of the day, and that’s okay.

We have all this pressure on us to accomplish and “achieve” things in an unrealistic timeframe that doesn’t acknowledge everyone’s unique lives. Everyone should live their life at a pace that’s suitable to their specific needs, goals and aspirations. Even if we do that and respect our boundaries and disability fatigue — SMA can throw a lot of other unexpected curveballs our way, and I’m no stranger to the curveballs of SMA.

There’s unexpected sickness that can stop your life right in the middle of the train tracks. There’s the back and forth to try to get a new wheelchair or medical equipment approved. There are social aspects, like combating ableism all while trying to balance having a healthy social life. There’s internalized ableism and mental health you need to manage. Sometimes, it can all seem very daunting.

Having lived for 26 years and counting, I learned how to catch those curveballs.

“Catching SMA curveballs is like rock climbing.”

I know this metaphor example uses rock climbing and I can’t walk, which makes for the perfect amount of irony, so stick with me.

When you rock climb, it can be really scary at first and the unknown is waiting for you at the top. You might slip and fall on your journey to the top — you might even scrape your knee. But you get up and try again, even if you fall down multiple times. You must keep going. Finally, the moment is here, the part where you reach the top. You remember each step and how much anguish you were in as you took those last few steps to get to the top.

You stand (or sit) at the top… your long hard journey has brought you here and the view is great. You feel the sun shine on your face and remember that the journey of life isn’t always easy, but it’s always worth it in the end.

“That’s how I get through hard days living with SMA — being able to look back on my journey and appreciate all the moments in between because nothing good in life ever comes easy.”

Brianna

Hunger, Desire and
Learning to Be Alive

It took me years to realize that I struggled with mental health.

Looking back, I feel like it should’ve been obvious. There’s anxiety, and then there’s gasping for breath in a waiting room because your doctor mentioned surgery and you’re having trauma flashbacks of anesthesia and bloodwork and life-threatening operations. There’s depression, and then there’s sleeping till 4 p.m., playing video games till 7 a.m., losing entire years to the black pit in your brain.

“There are bad days, and then there’s living with a disability.”

Things changed for the better when I realized, quite suddenly, that I wasn’t just nervous, or sad, going through a tough time. I was anxious. I was depressed. I spent the first 15 years of my life waiting to die. When that didn’t happen, I didn’t know how to live. I didn’t know how to be a disabled person in a world that values the perfect body, with healthy lungs and straight teeth and a correctly shaped skull.

No wonder I was confused. No wonder I felt alone.

In my experience, things start to change when you acknowledge the truth of your situation. Sometimes, most times, the truth is ugly. Many of us are dependent, and lonely, and frustrated with our lives. We want more for ourselves, but we have been conditioned by society to ask for things we know we can get, like pity or discrimination. We don’t dare ask for the big, scary, marvelous things, like dreams or miracles.

Things start to change when you look the truth of yourself in the eye. You are an animal with hunger and desire. You want things—love, and recognition, and chocolate, maybe, if you’re anything like me. You want the world, and your want makes you human.

Humanity is hard to acknowledge. Especially when you grow up in a world that tells you through subliminal messaging and targeted ads that disabled bodies aren’t pretty, disabled people aren’t worthy, disabled _____ aren’t _____. (Fill in the blank. You might be surprised by what comes to mind.) Standing in front of this wide, wondrous world and asking for more, demanding it.

“I don’t blame you for shying away. But I am here to tell you that everything you’ve ever wanted is yours to have. You just need the courage to ask for it.”

People will turn you down. It’s inevitable. And, inevitably, their rejection will sting. But that is part of being human. That is part of being alive.

I could talk for hours about mental health. Meditation (try it), or acceptance and commitment therapy (my counseling framework of choice), or support groups (you never know until you show up). But I know from experience that, once I acknowledged all of the things I’d spent years pretending I didn’t want, life got better. Not because a magical switch was flipped, but because I allowed myself to be, for the first time in a long while, human, with hunger and desire.

I let myself be present.

Brianna

Finding and Loving
My Voice

I was a self-conscious middle schooler when my English teacher asked me to read a short story I’d written at a school event.

I realized halfway through the reading that my audience was comprised of blank faces. No one understood what I had said. The story — something about siblings and ghosts and a tragic car accident — was lost in the glare of the spotlight.

It took me years to get over that incident. I found that, when people talked to me, I no longer had the words, so I stopped talking. I tripped and fell into silence.

But then I went to therapy and worked with a counselor to address my depression. And, perhaps the scariest of all, I told my story. Again, and again, until the memory grew blunt edges.

“With time, I grew to love my voice. There are days of silence and uncertainty and wishing my voice was different — but then I wake up and start again.”

If you’re struggling to find and accept your voice, here’s what I suggest:

  1. Explain your situation
    Nothing changed until I found people who were willing to listen.You might have to repeat yourself a few times, but don’t give up. People might surprise you.
  2. Troubleshoot
    I recently invested in a portable speaker with a microphone that attaches to my wheelchair.It helps to know I don’t have to shout.
  3. Push through the discomfort
    Will you be anxious? Without a doubt!Will people understand you? Maybe! Will it be awkward and uncomfortable? Probably!
“Will you survive anyway? Yes.”