(Apologies in advance for the super long post!)
Three years ago when Jenny Lawson published her first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir), I was still mostly homebound, not yet well enough to attend social functions. The night Lawson read at BookPeople, I threw myself a pity party as I sat at home staring at the clock knowing that just 20 minutes from my house there was an event happening that I wanted to attend but my health would not let me be at. It was crazy making for me.
This time around, my life is very different both personally and professionally. I am so grateful to be in a much better place. I’m still not able to do nearly what most people do on an ordinary day, but I am doing so much more than three years ago. Hence, I made plans to attend Lawson’s reading of her new book, Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things, switching custody nights and various appointments so that I would have enough energy to attend the event. Yesterday afternoon, my body tried to give me a migraine, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from attending. I took the drugs I can take for migraines and headed out.
As I sat waiting to turn left onto Lamar to get to the bookstore, my stomach started churning with nervousness. Despite how much better I am doing, there’s always the fear that I will get to an event and not be able to physically handle it. I do still have to leave certain situations when the chemical fragrance is more than I can handle. After the issues I had last week around disability accommodations, I was really worried about what the Universe might throw at me. It’s still a physical challenge for me to get from point A to point B, and sometimes I just can’t do it no matter how much determination I have.
When I arrived at Bookpeople, the parking lot was full but mercifully the two disabled spots closest to the door were still available. Once in the building, I debated the stairs versus elevator issues I have, and I decided to take the stairs mainly because it was what other people were doing and since I haven’t been in BookPeople for 11+ years, I wasn’t sure where I was going. When I arrived at the top of the stairs at 6:40 for a 7 pm reading, it was already standing room only. There were no chairs available in my vision nor were there any places to sit on the floor anywhere within visual range of the podium. I approached a store employee and asked him if they had disabled seating; I let him know that I could sit on the floor but I couldn’t stand for the event. He asked if I had called ahead, and I had not because it hadn’t dawned on me to do so. I now know for next time! However, they had a few extra seats set aside as reserved for those who needed them. The reserved seats were in the first and second rows. At first, former Catholic that I am, I tried to sit in the second row (because Catholics never sit in the front row in church unless it’s the only available seating, and even then, sometimes they prefer to stand). However, I quickly discovered that I couldn’t sit in that second row because the seats were too close to the row in front of them and I couldn’t bend my legs at an angle that was relatively painless. So I moved up to the front row between another woman who was likely in her 20s or 30s and a senior citizen couple. None of them were loaded with perfume, thank heavens, so I was ok for the entire reading.
While we were sitting there waiting for the presentation to begin (15 minutes late), the older couple next to me were chatting with each other. To preface this, I have to say that I have issues around fame and people’s private lives being in the public eye. I had to do a great deal of personal work before I could be comfortable with having a website with my picture on it on the web. So part of me still feels strongly that what people choose to share publicly should be respected as the limit; paparazzi, reporters and fans should respect those limits. However, this couple next to me were talking about Hailey and Victor, Jenny Lawson’s daughter and husband, in a weird way that sounded like they knew everything about the Lawsons just from her blog. It was kind of freaking me out that I had managed to end up seated next to a couple of senior citizen stalkers who seemed to think they were actually part of Lawson’s life. It also was a reality call for me to recognize my own prejudice that stalkers are only young people. These senior citizens were teaching me otherwise.
Before the reading began, a BookPeople manager came over to our section with another employee and told us that he would be escorting us upstairs via the elevator to get our books signed first. I actually had not bought a book because I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to handle the full evening and because waiting to get it signed at the last book signing I attended at another store was hard on my body. If I had known that BookPeople was aware of this kind of issue for the disabled, I definitely would have pre-ordered one; I now know that for future events as well. However, I’m actually grateful I didn’t order the hardcover because after listening to Lawson read two chapters last night, I really want to listen to the audiobook. I’m not a fan of audiobooks 99.9% of the time which makes this is an exception to my norm. Lawson also mentioned during her “no pants party” on Tuesday night that there is an extra chapter in the audiobook, so there’s that incentive as well.
When Jenny Lawson finally made her appearance, she looked around with grateful and amazed tears in her eyes and said, “Holy shit, you guys! There are so many of you here." She was greeted with a raucous round of laughter that along with her comment set the tone for the whole evening. It was a truly amazing crowd; I’d bet there were 250-300 people there. Lawson’s phone wouldn’t let her take a panoramic of the whole crowd because it was too big! (My leg is on the far right of the top photo; I’m cut out of it mostly, though.)
Lawson began by reading two chapters from Furiously Happy. After reading one in which she describes the advantages of passing out with a speculum in one’s vagina, she commented that she had been practicing looking up and making eye contact while she read about her body parts at the gynecologist’s office. When she actually did look up during the reading, she saw her grandparents listening to her read about her vagina. She then said, “Hi Granny and Pop-Pop!” and waved at the senior citizens sitting next to me. Oh. No wonder they sounded like they knew the Lawson family so well. They weren’t actually crazy stalkers after all! Not even once did it dawn on me that they might be relatives of hers even though she lives in central Texas.
Moving on to the Q&A session, Lawson began by addressing a question about parenting with mental illness; she gave a similar answer during her No Pants Party. She said that the amount of openness one can have with a child about one’s condition is going to depend on the age and personality of the child. Lawson said that her daughter Hailey knows now that she has mental illness, but Hailey knows that no matter how bad things are for Lawson that Lawson will always have time for her. Even if all they can do is watch Doctor Who or Miss Fisher’s Murder Mystery Series together on the couch, it’s still time spent together. Lawson does not allow her daughter to read her blog though many of her daughter’s friends do. Hailey does get to read anything written about her and has veto power about what is said. There are some things about Hailey that Lawson doesn't share because she doesn't want her to be tormented by mean 14 year old girls. When Lawson does share something to Hailey, she reads the blog entry out loud so she can censor the language in it. Lawson believes that most kids are far more perceptive than we realize when it comes to what is going on around them.
Another woman from the audience asked how one balances taking care of one’s self when dealing with a mental illness and still actually managing to get writing done. Lawson responded that a great deal of it is about respecting the need to not write at times. She admitted that writing about certain topics can be triggering for her, especially the darkest parts. At those times, she had to give herself permission not to write and just take care of herself. She said her editor helped her to see that sometimes the best breakthroughs for writer’s block come when engaged in recreation such as when she was refilling her creative cup such as watching Doctor Who or reading. In addition, Lawson mentioned the phrase, “If you can’t write, just sit down and write.” She said that while that used to make no sense to her, she’s learned that some days that she has to write stuff that’s not very good but which will eventually evolve. Lawson said she’s got a thousand pages of stuff that may someday actually be good enough but they’re not there yet.
On a lighter note, someone asked Lawson if there was a piece of taxidermy she really regretted not buying. Lawson said that she limits herself in that the pieces must not be too expensive, they must have died a natural death, and they need to be old. She said the one piece that she is still haunted by is a unicorn at Paxton Gate in San Francisco which is actually a French horse head. She said it’s not white like the typical unicorn but brown and actually rather jinky looking. The unicorn is missing some of its teeth and is “so messed up.” From there, Lawson went on a very long-winded and extremely funny diversion about her Bank of America credit card recently being put on a fraud suspicion hold because Victor had bought a taxidermied beaver for her at Paxton Gate while he was there with a friend. Any transcript of the story would simply not do justice to Lawson’s fabulous storytelling ability. She’s just one of those people you could listen to for hours while she talked about almost anything because she could find a way to make it funny.
When asked which author Lawson herself would line up to meet, she said that she still has difficulty doing this because she’ll get in line to meet an idol and then panics when she gets close to the front. She said she is a fangirl of anyone who manages to finish anything, but more specifically she loves Neil Gaiman whom she got to meet backstage at an event. She also loves David Sedaris but she hasn’t met him; her friend Dylan Brody opened for Sedaris and got him to autograph a book to Lawson which says, “Any friend of Dylan’s is a whore.” (See comment 68 here). Most of all, she would bring Ray Bradbury back from the dead because he really does it for her.
A more recent fan asked Jenny Lawson why she began the Bloggess. Lawson said that many years ago she was working at a non-profit in human resources ironically teaching people how to act appropriately. She had actually started writing as a child as an outlet for her anxiety disorder. Eventually another mom blogger in Houston decided to quit her job because that blogger didn’t think one could be a good blogger and a good parent. Lawson decided she must be the crappiest parent ever because she volunteered to not only write on that blog but to do it for free. However, she was frequently getting in trouble for what she wrote, so eventually she started her own blog where she could write whatever she wanted without censorship. She said she now blogs to read the comments because the humor from her readers makes her laugh quite often. (And it's true. While I generally abide by the rule "never read the comments," I love reading the responses on her blog.)
Lawson ended the evening with a great question from a man in the audience: “What do you think of The new Doctor [Who]?” Lawson asked if they couldn’t discuss something easier like abortion. After loud laughter from the audience, Lawson said that she is still getting used to him. She thinks that it is an interesting take on The Doctor, and he is “way alien” but doesn’t make a very good human. He’s definitely not her favorite, but for her the pinnacle was Doctor Donna. And with that, Jenny Lawson closed the Q&A and headed upstairs to beginning the signing portion of the evening.
After 75 minutes sitting in the same chair, my body was definitely ready to leave. So much has changed for me physically since just four months ago when I went to see Chris Harrison's book release. When I left the book signing this time, I could feel that my body was exhausted, but I wasn’t having many of the symptoms I had when I walked out of the last event. I didn’t go into a lot of pain last night (aside from the migraine I was already trying to fight off), and I slept really well-- no fibro flares or any other assorted misery. I am so happy that my health is finally returning to a place where attending events like this is a reality for me. It was a wonderful evening filled with great people watching an abundant laughter. I was also incredibly grateful to have a positive experience around disability accommodation thanks to BookPeople instead of the obstacles I’ve encountered in so many other places of late.
© 2015 Elizabeth Galen, Ph.D., Green Heart Guidance, LLC
J. K. Rowling once wrote, “Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.” She illustrates this concept so beautifully throughout the Harry Potter series as most of the characters are afraid to speak the name of "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” or “You-Know-Who,” but the brave and powerful wizard teenager of Harry Potter refuses to join in their fearmongering. Instead, Potter says the words “Lord Voldemort” loud and clear much to the dismay of many of the other characters who are afraid that just mentioning the name will bring evil upon them.
We might laugh at this example and see it as absurd, but our own mainstream culture lives in fear of certain words which it has labeled as “bad.” I was recently chided for using “the F word” by my middle school son’s principal. I then proceeded to use it again along with some other words she probably didn’t appreciate either. The absurdity of her inability to name the word that disturbed her was both annoying and amusing to me.
The bottom line is that there is no such thing as a “bad” word. Words have cultural connotations, but they are just words and letters. The word fuck, for instance, is both a noun and a verb. The adjective is fucking. These words contain the letters f, u, c, and k just like many other words in the English language such as futtock, firetruck, rackful, sackful, unfrock, truckful, and fullback. There is nothing inherently wrong with those letters or any way that they can be used to form words.
However, if you decide that you find the word “fuck” offensive, then it is you (along with many others in our society) who is labeling the word as bad, and it is you who has issues around the word which you need to process. The word itself is not actually bad. If you don’t know why you are afraid of that word, look to your childhood. Your parents, teachers or church probably taught you that the word was bad and that if you used that word, you were bad. Nothing could be further from the truth. The words we use are merely words. The intent behind the word is what matters. If you tell someone to “fuck off,” in most situations that person will be offended, and probably rightfully so since you are telling them that you don’t respect them or their opinions. However, if you ask your romantic partner, “Want to fuck?”, the response will likely be quite different. The fact that the word fuck is considered profane by many is rooted in a societal fear of sexuality that exists simultaneously in a culture where sexual references abound. It’s a strange bit of hypocrisy in our world.
When we continue to teach others that certain words are “bad,” then we are perpetuating misinformation and conditioning our next generations in the same way we were conditioned as children. My own kids all know every “profane” word in the book, what they mean and why people find many of them offensive. They know them because they’ve heard them come out of my mouth on many occasions! However, my children have been fortunate to have been brought up in a family where it is recognized that words are just combinations of letters, and the connotation that one puts behind the word is the true issue. I know that is not the most common way for kids to be raised, but I am so glad that they are learning how not to bow to the fearmongering around language.
It’s not just so-called profanity that our society is afraid of. Words like feminist, queer, witch, nerd and pagan become taboo words when our culture deems them to be. Yet those words are ones that friends and I use frequently for we consider them part of our identity. We have chosen to embrace the parts of ourselves that many fear. Others can’t use words such as penis and vagina that describe their reproductive organs due to conditioned shame; those body parts are definitely not inherently bad for they are involved in the creation of every human on the planet. However, our culture definitely has issues around words that represent things that we are afraid of.
Synchronicity decided to kick in last night as I was writing this blog post during commercials of the new series premiere of The Muppets. One of the skits and ongoing gags in the show was about Sam the Eagle acting as the show’s network censor to filter out words that he deemed inappropriate for the public to hear. His list during the first staff meeting of the show included “crotchety, twiddle, and gesticulate.” Clearly the show was making a point about how arbitrary our censorship of certain “profane” words really is. Later in the episode, Kermit the Frog declares in frustration with about his ex-girlfriend Miss Piggy that his “life is a bacon-wrapped Hell on Earth.” As he speaks those words, Sam the Eagle walks past to declare, “You can’t say hell.” Such is the role those who wish to censor language: Utterly annoying to those who wish to express themselves freely. While the majority of our rational society agrees that censorship of books is wrong, we still have not come to a place where we agree that censorship of language is just as inappropriate. It’s long past time for all of us to embrace our lives, our sexuality, and our language rather than living in fear of things that aren’t really fearful.
© 2015 Elizabeth Galen, Ph.D., Green Heart Guidance, LLC
(I wrote this meditation for an outdoor labyrinth walk which will happen on September 27, 2015 in celebration of the fall or autumnal equinox. The labyrinth we are walking is situated in an area surrounded by trees and a wet weather creek. The bird section of this was inspired by “Love and Attachment” in The Meditation Bible by Madonna Gauding, pp. 270-1.)
Take a moment to close your eyes if you feel safe doing so. Depending on how you are sitting, allow either your tailbone or your feet to make contact with the Earth. Feel the energy and strength of all that is below you. Take a deep inhalation in, smelling the fresh air that surrounds and supports you. Exhale, releasing not only the carbon dioxide from your lungs, but also beginning to let go of anything that is burdening you. Take several more deep breaths, inhaling the nourishing oxygen and exhaling all that no longer serves you.
As you settle into a more relaxed state of being, take a moment and listen to the world around you. What do you hear? Are there crickets chirping? Cicadas humming? What about wind in the trees? Can you hear the trees rustling? What noises has nature brought to join us in this evening of reflection?
Now, whether you can hear birds or not, imagine a beautiful bird lands near you. Take a moment to look at this bird and appreciate its beauty. ...
What type of bird is it? ...
What color are its feathers? ...
How big is it? ...
Is it watching you, or is it watching something else? ...
Is it still or moving? ...
Ask the bird if it has a song to sing. If it does, take a minute to hear what it has to say. Is its song soft or loud? Smooth or rough? Calming or alarming? ...
Take another moment to just sit and observe this bird, this beautiful miracle of creation that shares the planet with us. As you watch this bird, allow your heart to be filled with joy. Know that the bird is enjoying being in your presence as much as you are enjoying its gift of presence to you.
Suddenly, a breeze begins to blow. As it does, the time for the bird to depart has arrived. Even though you have enjoyed your time with the bird, both of you recognize that you must move on to other things now. In your heart, whisper words of departure to the bird and allow it to fly away, unrestrained by anything that might have kept it close to you.
You are now alone in nature again, though you are not truly alone. The trees and their leaves surround you. The Earth is firm beneath your feet. You hear the rustle of other friendly creatures in the woods, and you know that even though your aviary companion has flown, you still are part of the greater creation around you. Take a moment to offer gratitude for the time you got to spend with this bird, even if the time was short. No matter how long the encounter was, it still was a blessing to experience.
Just as the beautiful bird has left you, so too is it time to let go of other things. Autumn is a time of reflection and release. The crops are harvested and processed, and the fields will lay fallow for the winter season. The trees, too, know that this journey around the sun has come to another turning point, and they release their leaves to help nourish the earth as the leaves decay. Soon their bare branches will be resting their arms for the winter, preparing internally for the spring that will always come again.
Take a moment to think about what you need to let go of in your life. Perhaps you are still clinging to a dream that will never take place. Maybe you are having trouble letting go of a lover whom you wish was still with you. Even though you know the spirits of your loved ones will always stay close to you, you may be clinging to their memory and wishing they were still here with you in bodily form. Yet for everything, there is a season, and now is the season of letting go. In your heart, you know what it is that you don’t want to let go of. You know that clinging to whatever this is does not serve your higher good. You know that the best way you can serve yourself is to release this and allow yourself to move forward into the next season of your life.
Before you let go of whatever it is that is holding you back, take a moment to offer gratitude for it just as you did with your encounter with the bird. Know that even if you are letting go of a dream that never came true, whatever this is that you are releasing did serve a purpose in your life. Maybe it gave you inspiration or hope. Maybe it provided you with love and security. Maybe it just taught you soul level lessons that you needed to understand. Regardless of its purpose, whatever you are releasing did serve you in some way, and offering gratitude for that service will make it easier to release….
The time is now nearly here for you to walk the labyrinth with your topic of release in mind. One by one, we will slowly enter the labyrinth, walking at our own pace. We will each be walking together yet separately just as in life we are together yet on our own. Take care as you walk to notice any rocks, holes, or other obstacles that you may encounter, and just as you take slight steps to detour around hazards in life, do the same on your labyrinth walk. Know that you can never get lost in a labyrinth. There is only one way in and one way out. The destination is long and winding. You will come close to the center, to the goal, only to be taken away from it again. Keep walking your path at your speed and reflecting on whatever you need to let go of. This journey is about you. Open your heart and your mind to receive any information that your higher self, your spirit guides, your angels or your higher powers might be providing for you. They will often provide comfort and wisdom as you let go of whatever no longer serves you.
As you walk the path, you may smell fresh rosemary that I have scattered along the path. Rosemary is used in spiritual healing “for inner strength, for self-confidence, for mental clarity, for focus of intent, to break apathy and inertia, for protection, for purification, for cleansing of sacred space and ritual objects, for spiritual awareness and understanding, for memory, to assist transition into the spirit realm, for funeral rites, and for rites of passage.” Know that the rosemary is supporting, blessing, and cleansing your journey of release.
When you get to the center of the labyrinth, you can leave whatever object of nature you brought, be it flowers, herbs, or fruits. Whatever you place there is an offering of thanksgiving to the Earth and to higher powers for supporting you in your journey in life. It is also symbolic of leaving behind whatever issue you that is no longer serving you.
You may stay in the center of the labyrinth as long as feels right for you. When you determine it is time for you to leave, then simply head back out the way you came in. Again, just as it was on your way in, your departure is about the journey, not the destination. Take your time on the way out, feeling the strength of the earth beneath you. Hear the nature around you. Listen for insight from your higher powers and guides that may help you in this process of release. If you encounter another group member along the journey, simply step to the right side so each of you may pass peacefully and in silence. When you reach the exit of the labyrinth, you may take some time to journal about your experience both meditating and walking the labyrinth.
Now, as you feel ready, open your eyes and prepare for your journey of letting go.
© 2015 Elizabeth Galen, Ph.D., Green Heart Guidance, LLC
(This article is the second in a series of articles on living life with disabilities. The first can be found here.)
For most people who are able-bodied, they don’t have a perspective of what it is like to be disabled. Some may have taken care of an elderly parent or disabled child, and those people are far more likely to understand the issues that the disabled face. When I was in seventh grade, I injured my foot and was in a wheelchair and/or on crutches for over a month. I also worked in a nursing home as a volunteer and a paid employee when I was in grades 9-11. Yet even those experiences did not prepare me for the full reality of what it is like to be a disabled person.
Oftentimes, I think that able-bodied people will make poor decisions around disability issues out of ignorance. Quite often these people are incredibly well-meaning, but they just haven’t stopped to think through the reality of what their decisions or words will mean to a disabled person. Take, for example, a popular internet saying by Zig Ziglar: “There are no elevators to success. You have to take the stairs.” I understand that Ziglar was trying to make the point that no one can be lazy and successful: He believed that hard work in line with the American Protestant work ethic that dominates popular thinking in our society is the way to be successful. Since he was a Republican and a Christian, it makes sense that this ideology was part of his belief system. (I disagree with that philosophy, but that’s a whole different blog post.)
However, I would bet that Ziglar did not truly think through what his words might mean to a person with mobility impairment. For those who can’t climb stairs, this quote becomes almost insulting. It insinuates that those who take the elevator are lazy or cheating or not working hard. Yet it may take a person with mobility impairment a lot more time and effort to get to the second floor of a building in a literal sense, even if that person does take the elevator. In a figurative sense, the person with physical disabilities may also have to work much harder than an able-bodied person as well because of prejudice in our society that closes off many opportunities to the disabled.
There are other times when I feel like selfishness, narcissism or stupidity are actually the roots of an able-bodied person’s decisions to not help those who are mobility impaired. In some cases, people with disabilities actually can have those same dastardly problems and will make decisions that impair or harm others with disabilities. Decisions like those seem hypocritical to me. The current governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, lost the use of his legs in an accident more than thirty years ago and now requires a wheelchair for mobility. However, despite having personally endured the hardships of being disabled, Abbott has time and again fought against rights for the disabled. As the former Attorney General of Texas, Abbott repeatedly argued that the state should be immune from lawsuits regarding the ADA. He even argued that a woman who was missing a leg was not disabled because she had a prosthesis. Now, as the legislature is about to cut funding for therapies for children with disabilities on Medicaid, Abbott supports the decision as a fraud preventing measure even though he himself underwent necessary intensive physical therapy after his paralyzing accident.
A lot closer to home, I keep encountering different people who make ignorant or narcissistic decisions that impact those with disabilities. Even though my knees are in horrific pain right now, I went to Whole Foods last night to buy groceries for my family. I’ve had Instacart do the shopping the past few times, but I really wanted to go myself this time since I find it hard to flush out a grocery list for others to buy everything we need. I also really enjoy picking out things like produce and flowers myself. By the time I finished a full large cart of grocery shopping and headed out to the car, I was exhausted, sweating, and in screaming knee pain. I had parked in a disabled spot, the third one in the row. As I walked out the door and toward my car, I watched a young, beautiful stylish woman finish loading her groceries into her trunk. She was probably 25ish, and she was dressed very stylishly but casually (which is about as much as you can expect for a Friday night in Austin). As she closed her trunk, she walked two feet away, and then shoved her empty grocery cart… straight into an empty disabled parking spot. That meant that when the next person with disabilities arrived at the spot, s/he/ze would have to get out of the car, move the cart, get back in the cart, and then pull in. The woman watched the cart roll forward for a few more seconds and then turned to get in her car.
At that point, I saw three options. I could do nothing which was not an option for me even with as tired and painful as I felt. I could confront the young woman politely, explaining what she had just done. While it would be rude to leave the cart in any empty spot rather than a cart lane, leaving it in a disabled spot is even more inconsiderate because of the difficulties some individuals with mobility impairments have when it comes to getting in or out of cars. However, given the week I had just had, I was fairly sure the young woman would tell me to mind my own business (if not something less polite and/or more physically aggressive). That left option three: Once I finished unloading my cart, I would move the other cart into the holding lane with mine even though I am disabled and in pain, unlike the very healthy looking young woman who put her cart in the disabled spot.
Mercifully for me, a car with disabled plates pulled up to the spot while I was unloading my groceries. Thankfully for them, they had three people in the car, so one was able to get out and move the cart on behalf of the person in the car with a mobility impairment. However, even if that person who moved the cart was fully able-bodied, it was still a rude move on the part of the woman who pushed her cart into the disabled spot. It would have taken her 10 or 15 seconds longer to put the cart in a holding lane rather than in the disabled spot, but because of her own seemingly narcissistic behavior, she couldn’t be bothered to do so.
I feel like our world would function a lot better if we all made an effort to be more considerate of others around us. Just because you have a janitor who cleans the bathrooms at work doesn’t mean you can’t wipe down the splashed water on the counter with your own dirty paper towel. Just because you hate changing toilet paper rolls, it doesn’t mean you should leave it empty for the next person in the stall. If someone has their arms full, then by all means, take the extra few seconds to hold the door open for that person. And just because you had a long day at work and want to get home, it doesn’t mean you should leave your cart in a much needed disabled parking spot when it would only take you a few seconds longer to put it in the holding lane adjacent. By attempting to make another person’s life just a little easier, we can raise the vibrations of the world in a very powerful way. Compassion and friendliness go along way towards positive change.
© 2015 Elizabeth Galen, Ph.D., Green Heart Guidance, LLC
Recently the Universe has started throwing disability accommodation challenges at me again. When something like this happens, there is always a reason. However, like many people, I often have a hard time seeing what the Universe wants me to see, do or learn. Oftentimes challenges appear in our lives to get us to change our behavior and actions. In this case, I can’t stop being disabled, so that’s not exactly what the Universe is after. Sometimes the Universe wants us to confront the issue, but in this situation, I am well aware that I am disabled and the impact it has on my life. Sometimes the event is a bit of karma in action, teaching us that something we’re doing isn’t right. However, I strive to make my businesses as accessible to all people as possible, so I don’t feel like the way I treat others with disabilities is the problem.
At times being disabled feels like you’ve lost the Unpopular Discrimination Olympics. Right now in my social circles, gay rights are a hot issue. Transgender issues are as well. Discrimination on those fronts is loudly frowned upon. Discriminating against minorities is also a topic of frequent conversation and outrage. It’s not ok that young African-American men die at rates much higher than the rest of the population, and it’s also not ok that the schools and police treat Muslims of Middle Eastern origins differently than Caucasian Christians. I am totally in support of the outrage at injustice in our society. If you really want to get one of my social circles stirred up, talk about a breastfeeding mama being told to put her breasts away or cover up. The lactavist mamas come out in droves to support other mamas who were mistreated under Texas law.
And then there are the times when I post about disability discrimination, something I face at least monthly, often weekly, and yesterday, twice in one day from two different sources. That’s when the crickets chirp. The challenges of the disabled are not a popular cause at this moment in time. No one wants to acknowledge how widespread social prejudice is against the disabled. No one wants to believe that the disabled don’t get treated equally.
Part of the "problem" with discussing disability discrimination is that it doesn't play into the cultural myth of the disabled in America. Our society doesn't want to know the reality behind life as a person with disabilities. Rather, what society wants to see is a person who has lost both their original legs yet has learned how to use prosthetics and wins marathons, defeating those who have their original two legs. They want a heart-warming hero story. The American public wants everything to be a pretty picture where good defeats evil. They don't want to acknowledge the reality of what that person with disabilities goes through before they learn to run marathons on prosthetic legs. Most of all, the public doesn't want to face the bitter truth that all it would take is one battle with cancer or one car accident, and they, too, could be that person with disabilities struggling to use prosthetics.
People point to the ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) believing that it has made society fully accessible for the disabled. Just two months ago, President Obama gave a speech lauding the changes that have happened under the ADA in the past 25 years. He acknowledges that those with disabilities still don’t have equal employment opportunities, but that’s barely the tip of the iceberg of the problems those with disabilities face. As a person with a disability, I have to say that the ADA often feels like a lip service law, one that sounds lovely and politically correct but is actually powerless when it comes to making significant change. The reality is that many companies and businesses do not follow ADA regulations. Many government organizations don’t either; my problems have included the Social Security DISABILITY Office refusing to accommodate my disabilities even when it is entirely possible for them to do so at no additional cost and very little hassle. More often than not, when I seek disability accommodations, I have to mention the word “lawyer” or “lawsuit” before people will even entertain the idea of meeting my disability needs. That’s not what a society should look like where the ADA was truly embraced.
Since the Chinese New Year (February 21st for the event in question) of 2015, I’ve repeatedly experienced disability discrimination or difficulties. I have written drafts and outlines of the incidents that have happened, but I have not posted them on my blog. I’ve wanted to keep my blog from being a complaint center. I have wanted to keep it realistic but hopeful. I want people to see the positive side of what changes can happen when one is dedicated and works hard on their personal issues. Yet one thing I can’t directly change is the way others act in response to my disabilities. I can file complaints with various government organizations. I can leave negative Yelp reviews. But for all I can do, I can’t actually make people understand that their actions are discriminatory against the disabled unless they want to see how their actions and words hurt other people.
As I’ve asked my spirit guides what it is that the Universe wants me to do as these disability issues are resurfacing again, the only answer I have gotten is “change the obstacle.” I am working on healing my illness as fast as I can, but I have no idea how disabled my body will remain once the infections are gone from my body. Likewise, there are millions of other people in the world who can never change their disabilities as they are permanent barring major science breakthroughs or impossible miracles. Disabilities are not obstacles that can leave this planet. So I’m contemplating that “change the obstacle” means using my blog to bring social awareness to what I and many others face in the world as people with disabilities. Maybe it will help in some way to bring about some social change in the way that the disabled are treated.
My daughter was recently looking through my junior high and high school yearbooks. I was healthy and pain free back then. In my senior yearbook, I was voted “the most likely to raise hell.” My daughter thought that was hysterical because it’s still true now. I’m not ok with standing by and letting injustices occur. I believe in speaking out, and I believe in changing what needs to be changed. I really do not want to be the central Texas disability discrimination coordinator. I don’t want to spend so much of my energy and time trying to overcome disability barriers. But if I don’t speak out about what I am encountering, no one is going to do it for me. When I write about and file reports about what I experience, it also sometimes helps others to say, “Hey! Me, too! I didn’t like that it was happening to me, but now I know I’m not alone and that this is not an ok situation.” The process of discussing it and of filing those complaints doesn’t feel so positive for me in the short term, though.
As a result of all of this, I’m starting a blog series for as long as it takes for me to write the blog posts about the discrimination I’ve encountered in the past year as I've begun functioning in society more often. I’m also going to try to balance it out with some posts about people who’ve been amazing in going above and beyond in helping to meet my needs. I hope that these posts help bring about change in some way. Selfishly, I also hope that they get the Universe to stop putting so many disability obstacles in my path!
© 2015 Elizabeth Galen, Ph.D., Green Heart Guidance, LLC
Elizabeth Galen, Ph.D.
Holistic Life Coach and