Jim’s guest post is the 12th post in the segment on my blog, called “The Reality Of…” which gives others the ability to share their story and raise awareness of the disabilities, illnesses, impairments and invisible illnesses that they have.
Where to begin? Well, often when asked for a bio, I open with the following few lines and so I suspect that’s appropriate here. If not, I’ve never worried too much about fitting the norm.
At a relatively young age, I was raised by a herd of stereotypical Catholic nuns. I learned from hard-working parents that life might not always be fair, and taught by my grandparents that there would be no whining.
More formally, I was born pre-ADA, pre-section 504, and pre-IDEA. For those of you who aren’t familiar with United States laws, I was born prior to the primary disability rights movements that I came to participate in and admire. I grew up in a small town and a moderately-sized city in the State of Iowa, which has more pigs than people and sometimes it’s hard to tell them apart (just kidding). Iowa had good services for ”someone like me.”
At the age of 5, I was screened by the school entry process where it was discovered I had a severe and untreatable vision loss, however, remember those nuns? They were convinced that every kid in the school could learn and with their determination, I received a very good education with the resources available at the time. I participated in some sports as my vision allowed, peaking in junior high but also playing a couple of sports in high school. I learned the value of team support through supports while wrecking my knees by running on concrete stairs, but it was a good trade-off.
Did my disability impact my early education? Yes, I am a bit introverted and insecure and having this disability impacted my social participation a little. I couldn’t drive and that meant I really didn’t feel comfortable asking girls out and so I remained awkward in that regard for quite some time – maybe until now, hard to say.
By the time I hit college, my vision became an issue because I had to go to a foreign land (well, a university where there were more people I didn’t know than I had ever seen in one place). I wasn’t well-equipped, to explain my form of blindness that is left with some residual vision allowing me to do some things in a semi-normal way and some things I could only do using alternative techniques and assistive technology. So, adjustment to college life was a bit difficult. I also didn’t know for sure what I wanted to do with my life after college and, well…that was a bit of a problem.
In the end, I wound up transferring to a small college that had a “high school community feel” to me and did well enough academically to have graduate school options. I also fell in with some music-loving misfits, like myself, and social life was far more comfortable. By the end of my graduate school education (originally in rehabilitation), I knew I wanted to be part of the disability rights and services movement, and for the better part of 35 years, that’s exactly what happened.
Oh, did I meet women, get married and have a family? Yep. Twice! A complete summary of that would be a book length adventure so I will only offer this, I was too naive when I got married the first time and the second time has been better as you will learn below.
Well, during a prolonged graduate school process, which spanned a decade, I almost earned my PhD in counsellor education, with an emphasis with regards to students with disabilities. I think my focus was always in this because having a disability was an asset, not a liability in the field.
I got divorced and remarried, changed topics in my PhD thesis process which made completion difficult. I also was trying a qualitative approach in a quantitative environment (looking back, a bad move). However, during my research, I learned that disability was truly a social experience more than a medical one.
Well, let’s fast forward a few years. I obtained employment at a Centre of Independent Living, which is a combined disability rights/services type of organization and there are about 400 of them in the U.S. For the first time, I felt “at home with my purpose and people.” I advanced to a position of director and served in that capacity until just recently. Now, that would be a success story for most however, wait for it…here comes the twist.
About 15 years ago, my wife and the mom of my two young daughters had a horrific car accident that proved to be doubly-problematic. She would wind up in the disability community with a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) and I, who had a couple of bouts with anxiety, went full blown PTSD following the experience. However, being a “strong guy” who understood disability, I denied the hell out of the impact of the accident until years later when it all leaked out.
So now I have bouts with anxiety and depression on top of the blindness, and the invisible disabilities are somewhat harder to disclose and deal with. I believe cognitive and emotional disabilities are a vast and much misunderstood frontier. Medications and counselling are the main treatments and only make the symptoms tolerable in my case.
Am I bitter about this? Well, yep…a little. Mostly because generating public awareness and understanding of acute anxiety is difficult and the impact of the disability has both social and physical impacts.
Right now, if I had to offer some bits of wisdom for people being diagnosed with anxiety disorders, I would offer this advice, shorten your time frames for planning and try hard to live as close to the here and now as possible. Breathe deeply a lot and slow the world down. Anxiety is severe and temporary but recurring which means understanding some of your triggers is important. You need to allow time for things to stabilize and much like with a vision impairment, time management is a vital skill to learn and understand.
Okay, now, as of today, I have started my second career, so to speak, I am launching a career as a writer. I have always loved trying to create and describe experiences trough words and use my sense of humour – writing allows that. I learned to play guitar about 15 years ago which means I’m still learning, however, I like writing songs and playing those that have meaning to me.
My Favourite Superhero
Now, to the most important part of this blog, what superhero or supervillain would I like to be, or feel I am most like? If it were Star Wars characters this would be easy. I pretty much have the temperament of Yoda on my best days. Widening this to the whole superhero realm, I have had a life that demanded and will demand flexibility so Elastic-Man or Stretch Armstrong with the power of stretching and returning to a constant form would probably be most useful.
Thanks Jim for sharing your story with my readers and me!
If you would like to keep up to date with Jim, then you can follow his blog, Peace and Joy 8!