As a frequent blogger and a ten-time contributor to the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, Lorraine enjoys telling stories to express what her life is like, with the hope of breaking down barriers between those with disabilities and those without them. Her blog can be found at www.lorrainecannistra.com.
When I read the theme for this book bubble having to do with the weather, I wasn't sure I could tie in my book. And then I got to thinking about the chapter on my mental illness. Some days the anxiety and frustration can overwhelm me. Even though I have lived with my disability for more than 50 years, sometimes I still get mad at the things I can't do. Being so dependent on other people to meet my basic needs is really hard sometimes. Don't get me wrong. I know I have a great life. Lots of people care about me and several lighten my load and I am extremely grateful for that. Most days are sunny. But there are some days when the storm rages. And as long as they are few and far between, that is okay.
I write because writing is part of my soul. I could tell everyone that the issues I write about are important, and that is true. But it is more than that. I was born with my disability, so I have never known any different than living with it. My brother was paralyzed in a car wreck. He adjusted well. About a year ago, my sister was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. I firmly believe that everyone is affected by disability, either directly or indirectly and that disability has an "open enrollment policy." That means that anyone can acquire a disability at any time. These days, when I hear that someone is newly affected by disability, I want to tell them it's okay. Adaptions may still have to be made, but for the most part htey can still do whatever they want to do. That is what I hope sharing my experiences will accomplish.
It was a Saturday a few years ago and one of my caregivers and I decided to go to lunch. We went into the restaurant. When the hostess saw us, she looked at my caregiver asking, "Do you need a children's menu for her?" My shocked caregiver stayed silent, but after a moment I said, "No, I'm hungry, I think your adult portions will be fine." Normally I would have been offended that anyone would think that my wheelchair makes it okay for anyone to treat me like a child. But that day it was different. Something made me see things from her perspective. In her job, she probably sees many people, but not many people with disabilities. I get it. When I am around a population that is unfamiliar to me, I get nervous. I don't want to do anything wrong. So, I do nothing. Because that is safer than potentially hurting anyone's feelings. But I lose out when I do that. I miss out on what could be a connection. When she asked if I needed a children's menu, my guess is that hostess wasn't trying to offend me. She was trying to be helpful in the only way she knew how. I can't be angry at her. She was doing the best she could.
Most people have first-grade memories of finger painting and learning to write out the letters of the alphabet. When I started first grade, I was selected to be a poster child for United Cerebral Palsy. At first, I was excited. The photoshoot meant that I was going to be pampered for a day. Who doesn't love that? Since I was a kid, I didn't realize that those pictures were made to evoke pity, and that pity was supposed to raise money. Those pictures were supposed to say to the world that disability is a bad thing. That people with disabilities are less than. That was a long time ago. The world is different now and there are no poster kids anymore. Disability, for the most part, is now seen as a difference and not a weakness. That is the way it should be.
I was born with cerebral palsy, so I have never known anything different than living with a disability. When my brother was paralyzed in a car wreck at the age of 20, my perspective on life changed profoundly. It was then that I began to truly understand that disability truly has an "open enrollment policy". That is, anyone is a slip on the ice or a stroke away from being in circumstances just like mine. And so began my journey that has morphed into my career as a writer and a speaker. I want to share my message to as many people as possible that people with disabilities are not "less than." I believe in my soul that we are all More the Same than Different!
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