TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both...Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference. - Robert Frost

Monday, January 17, 2011

Letting my Freak Flag fly...

So, I've told you about my passion for disability advocacy and how I want to make a career out of it, however, I have not disclosed my reasons for this. I was born 3 months premature at whopping 1lb 2 onces, resulting in a 4 month stay in the NIC-U and ultimately, a mild case of Spastic Cerebral Palsy.  After a lifetime of therapy, and 2 major surgeries I walk with a "wiggle" of sorts, and I use a cane when I'm outdoors to help with balance (it doesn't help half the time.. I fall like it's my job). Today, at the age of 21, I view my disability as one of my best attributes, as it allows me to view situations and people with an open mind and appreciate my strengths in a profound way. For most of my life, however, this was not at all the case.

I'm 7 and I'm sitting Indian-style in the middle of the black-top yard of PS 107 during recess, playing with some pogs, surrounded by various toys and other items. Confused, my para comes over and asks me where my crutches are. A few feet away a few of my classmates are trying to walk with the crutches, and then taking turns using them as swords and wands. Smiling up at her with my new toys I said "I lent them out for now...for all of this stuff!"

When you're young, difference is not something that is feared, ignored, or ridiculed. Being different is cool, new, and exciting. Many of the children knew I had cerebral palsy right away- because I wasted no time in telling them. As soon as my feet hit the sandbox, everyone in it knew my life story. I laid it all out there with the castles and the shovels. I'd rather the other kids know right off the bat and accept it, then to sit back wondering and treating me differently. My mother always told me that I could do everything anyone else could do- I just had to find a different way to do things sometimes. When we went to places that had huge ball pits with tubes and slides, instead of telling me to stay back and let the other kids do it, she would take away my walker, my crutches, whatever I had and push me right in, and say "See ya! Have fun!" Now, I know to you, that may seem ill-advised, maybe even cruel, but you know what? I had fun and I made it out...eventually. Sure, it took me 2 hours, but.. I did it. I could do anything.

In 5th grade I became the first girl with a disability at my school to make the cheerleading team, and in 6th grade I was voted Vice-president of the whole student-body. I went into 7th grade at IS 25 with a heart full of confidence. I was so ready to make friends, hit puberty, marry Dexter Holland (the lead singer of The Offspring), have 2 children, and live happily ever after. But I soon realized that my future would never be quite that easy.

When I got to junior high, I had ceased any use of equipment to help me get around, but you cannot hide a disability that is physical. The other kids knew I was different, and unlike my old school, where it was half main-stream and half disabled students, many of them were not used to see someone like me. I started getting teased a lot, mostly because I was an easy target, having never been bullied before. When I sprained my ankle in the middle of the year, my orthopedic surgeon suggested I go back to wearing braces on my legs, and as much as I hated the idea, I knew she was right. The first day I had to wear them to school, I asked my science teacher if I could talk to the class (who I had every class with) briefly after the late-bell rang. That's when I explained what my braces were, what they did, and why I had to wear them. If they had any questions, they could come to me. For awhile, everything went well. People stared, but I was used to that. After a few weeks, the inevitable teasing started up, and while many of the people I had become friendly with felt for me, they didn't know how to make it stop.

When I got to high school, I was done with having CP. I still had it, of course, but I refused to acknowledge it. I went from having acne and a perm to long blond hair and clear(er) skin, struggled to lose weight, and went from a C/B average to straight A's. I threw myself into everything but my disability- the one thing I could never change. When I applied to college in Rhode Island, many people tried to tell me that I wouldn't be able to handle such a large campus in a state that has such harsh winters, but I wouldn't listen. If the other students who went there could handle it, I would to. So, I went. And it was during my first year there where my life changed.

The stares of the people around me cut through me like knives every day. In high school, people were used to the way I walked, some of them knew me from jr high, they had seen people "like me". I think I really confused people on campus because while I appear to be completely "normal" I still wiggle when I walk. A lot of the people I came into contact with would ask me if I hurt my leg, or when my leg would be healed, thinking I had sprained it or something. Then, I would explain. After awhile I started to LOVE URI, and all of my friends and the people we would meet. It was so great, I felt so accepted in every way. Even still, being away from home, I became self-aware, more aware than I had ever been before- about how I was different. I would walk to class and count how many people would stare at my feet, I would look at myself walking in the reflection of windows and class doors. I hated it. It made me sad. I hid my feelings well, but no matter how much I blended in, I would always stand out. When winter came, I fell a lot, and because of that I reluctantly started using a cane. When the snow and ice cleared up, I realized that I could no longer go out without the cane- I had developed a psychological dependency on my cane, a dependency I have still not been able to break. This was a blow to my self-esteem. Now I not only walked differently but I had a cane- a symbol of impairment- a stigma, a big neon sign that read "DISABLED GIRL".

At the beginning of my sophomore year, I had a phone conversation with a friend of mine who is also disabled and became fustrated by this person's sadness and insecurity, seeing myself in that all too familiar pain. I realized then that I had to remember that confident child I once was- the person I had been all along. A few weeks later, I founded and became president of "Students for a More Accessible Campus" the first student organization at URI to include both disabled and non-disabled students in an effort to make the campus a more accessible and safer place by spreading awareness of disability among the campus community. After that, I started exploring career paths involving disability, and I started working in the URI disability services office, where I have worked for the past 3 years. In these past few years, I have become a strong voice for disability rights and I know that being disabled is not easy, and because of that I want to be able to advocate for the people who cannot, or are not ready to, advocate for themselves.

When I was a child, my freak flag was worn on my sleeve, and I shared it with everyone. At puberty, my freak flag was half-mass and defeated. In high school, my freak flag was hidden deep in the closet of my soul under a perfectionist attitude and a sense of humor. And today, I let my freak flag FLY, with a true appreciate for where I've been, what I have overcome, and who I am today.

For me, disability has never meant "inability", disability is ME, doing things differently.

Peace out!

Krista :-)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Day Two

I don't have many regrets, but if I could go back and change one thing about the last four years, I would have studied abroad. I've been alive for over 2 decades now, and I have yet to go...anywhere. Florida a few times, Minnesota, New England. I want to sit on a beach in Greece. I want to eat gelato in Rome and spend an hour in the Sistine Chapel admiring it's beauty. I want to drink fruity drinks on a cruise and get my hair braided in the Caribbean. I want to marvel at something that isn't a Rhode Island beach or a noodle house on Northern Blvd. I'm so preoccupied with becoming successful, being this person that I have in my head, this final "me" that I have to turn into, that I'm afraid that I'll spend all of my time preparing for my life, without ever actually living it.

Yesterday I was thinking about how scary it is that we only have ONE chance to live on this Earth. I wont get into the afterlife, because that's a whole other discussion, but I can't help but wonder: Would we live differently if we were all immortal, or if we had spare lives, like in video games? Would it make a difference? Would I care about the same things the way that I do now? Would I feel the same way about myself? Thinking about how fleeting this life is, I actually got chills down my spine. What am I waiting for? The sands of time are slowly wasting away and I have my nose in a GRE book trying to figure out what the probability is that Johnny will pull a blue sock out of his drawer if some of them are green. Who the fuck wears blue and green socks? Is he a smurf? Has HE ever eaten gelato in Rome?

I really need to see this world. Run away with me?

 Last night I dreamed about the Hurt Locker for a short period of time. The Hurt Locker during Halloween... (I watched the movie, thats why). It was not pleasant. THEN I dreamed that I was a cast member in my schools annual production of The Vagina Monologues. I actually really want to do that this year! Sure, it's awkward at first, but after I see it I am always so impowered. I have a vagina, hear me roar (moan?)!! It's so great.

So, I had some distance relatives visit today, and of course now that I'm getting ready to be let loose into society, they immediately want to know all of my plans for the future. The conversation usually goes something like this:

Family Member: So, Krista, How's school going over there in Rhode Island?
Me: Good, very good. I like it a lot.
FM: Still have that 4.0??
Me: Oh, something like that.
FM: Are ya going to be a doctor? Are you going to Med School?
Me: (*cringe*) Oh, well no (I would but I hate math and science and I'm too lazy to live in hell for the next 8+ years) I'm going into Rehabilitation Counseling for people with disabilities (so I can be poor for the rest of my life.)
FM: Oh.... that sounds interesting.
Me: I also plan on eventually working on a federal level in public policy reform (Please still think I'm interesting)
FM: Oh, like for Obama?
Me: (Just lie, it's easier) Yes, exactly.

I'm absolutely devoted to disability advocacy, and disability employment. I really want to help people with disabilities individually for a few years, work my way into public policy/disability rights reform on a federal level, and eventually get my PhD and teach at a college somewhere warm. I just wish I could do all of this while actually making money. I do not know how this lifestyle will pan out when I turn into Carrie Bradshaw promptly after my 40th birthday. It's going to be really hard for me to afford that apartment on 81st and 5th on a salary of 40k a year. Not to mention the 10 thousand dollar engagement ring and traditional wedding I plan  to have.

My solution: Get hit by a car/slip and fall on something owned by the city without dying, so I can collect some sort of settlement money, hit lotto, or marry rich.

Sounds pretty solid if you ask me.

I'm just going to do what makes me happy, because I'd rather do something I love and be less-than-wealthy, than be filthy rich and miserable. Besides, the best things in life are free.

...except for designer handbags, but that's not the point.

Keep reading,

Friday, January 7, 2011

The End of The Beginning

It is a new year. 2011. In four short months I will be ending my time as an undergraduate at The University of Rhode Island. As one of my New Year's resolutions, I want to document my last semester of college, as it will be my last group of memories before I am forced to embrace my inevitable adulthood, and delve, a "grown woman", into the real world.

I don't know if this blog is a good idea or not. I hope that by writing into this cyber void, I will be helping myself figure out where I go from here. My life is going to change after May, some of it will be new and exciting, and some of it will REALLY suck. I just want to be ready. A big part of me knows that in life, we are never truly "ready" for any kind of change. We have to "go with the flow". You'll realize that I'm not a go-with-the-flow kind of girl. In fact, in most areas of my life I'm nervous, anxious, and slightly unhinged. I strive for absolute perfection, and when the thought of failure isn't enough to motivate me, I turn to guilt. Unhealthy, I know. Don't let that deter you, though. I'm just trying to live up to my potential.. and I haven't quite figure out how to do that without driving myself nuts, hopefully writing everything out will help me with that.

I do everything with only the best of intentions. I love people, cuddling, baby animals, bad scary movies, shopping sprees, and a stiff drink...or two (three). I like feeling needed. I don't know many things for sure, but I do know that I will never be happy if I'm not helping someone. I don't know why that is.. but maybe it's because I know what it feels like to need the ear of another, to crave a connection with someone outside of myself- I think we all do.

I will be writing on here everyday... hopefully you'll read along.

It's snowing out, and I haven't left my house in 2 days... I hate winter break. Getting up and motivated is so hard when you have NOTHING to do. I LOVE being busy.. as sick as it sounds, I am most happy when my day is so packed, I barely have time to eat. I'm so much more efficient when I don't have time for mistakes.

I'm taking the GRE in exactly a week and I've been "studying" (aka: opening the book, reading, highlighting, getting distracted, closing the book, forcing myself to open the book again, feeling like an idiot, closing the book, watching tv and staring at the book with absolute contempt). I hate standardized tests. I'm not THAT brand of smart. I'm people smart, and I'm motivated. That's why I get A's and take honors classes... not because I'm GRE smart. I feel like I've been pretending to be one of the "smart people" all this time without being found out and the GRE is going to absolutely blow my cover...but this is all my own choice. I wasn't going to apply to any programs that needed GRE scores until I got in in my head that I just HAD to apply to the 3 George's. George Mason, George Washington, and Georgetown. Ugh. The secretary at the Georgetown office of admissions even sounded intimidating... I don't know what I was thinking. I kind of want to back out, because it's so much work to apply and I don't think I can afford to live anywhere else but home/close to home (in NY) at least for a few years (student loans out the bootay), but I wont back out. Because that wouldn't be "me"... plus I already laid out 160 bucks for the exam. I'm completely stressed out. After next Saturday, I'm burning this damn book.

I think I'm going to start recording my dreams too. Because they are getting pretty interesting. Last night, I dreamed that I got a french bulldog puppy who I named Beansy. Beansy never barked, ate cereal, and continuously pooped under my bed. I also got lost in a office building elevator, with random people I haven't seen in years. The night before that I was chased by an alligator, that nobody else around me seemed too concerned about, while driving a silver SUV. I wonder what tonight will have in store for me!!

Okay... bye.

Stay tuned!!