Learning to shine despite my disability

Growing up is hard enough without taking away the camaraderie of shared experiences. Kathryn has muscular dystrophy (MD) and has struggled with how to deal with being alone in her differences throughout her life. “I always felt different, especially as a teenager. There was just a difference when I’d be around kids my age. I couldn’t do things that they could do. I might be able to do certain things, but usually with limitations.”

When she was younger, Kathryn would hide it from people. In college, she can remember parking in a handicap spot but intentionally not using her handicap hanger, because she didn’t want people to know that she had a disability. But now Kathryn is able to admit, “deep down, I thought that people would not like me or accept me if they knew I was different.”

Turns out that it was her that needed to do the accepting. As she learned it began to shape her character. “My MD helped me to be the person that I am right now, which is someone who is able to love people where they’re at and help people get beyond a problem that they might have.”

When it came to choosing a career, Kathryn wanted to choose a career that would match her physical abilities. But she also wanted to be able to use her life experiences for the greater good. As a counselor Kathryn is able to help her clients accept the cards that life has dealt them, recognizing that sometimes you can’t control what happens to you, but it is adversity that actually makes you who you are.

Kathryn confesses that self acceptance does not change the situation; she still has many things that she is unable to do on her own. “It’s always on my mind, because when I do things, I just can’t go and do things like other people. I have to plan. I have to think about whether the car is too high to get into myself or if I can step up onto that porch. I can’t do a lot of those things on my own, and I have to ask for help. It can be very frustrating, because you want to be like everyone else… But then I remind myself that everyone feels different in some way, and this is my difference.”

Like Kathryn, it is our choice to reflect on what we can do and to bring out that positive spirit in our community. After all, we can only do one thing at a time… better to choose something that works toward the good!

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

Make a Wish
To enter the contest that inspired Kathryn’s wish, check out Pantene’s Beautiful Wishes. And since $1 is donated to Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths program, which makes wigs for women who’ve lost their hair to cancer, we’ll all come out winners in the end.

An Expert Opinion
Get hair care solutions from the industry’s best courtesy of Pantene, which is hosting the Beautiful Wishes contest that Kathryn entered.

A Little Experiment
Want to know the science behind beautiful hair? Take a look at Pantene’s Under the Microscope to see how heat and brushing can terrorize your tresses.

A Source of Strength
At the Muscular Dystrophy Association, researchers are working to finding cures for more than 40 neuromuscular diseases affecting Americans of all ages.

On Her Own
Glenda Watson Hyatt shares her experiences living with cerebral palsy to motivate and inspire others to think about their own situation and the world around them. She does all this by typing with only her left thumb!

Good Grief… the right way to let go of a loved one

Allison came home from school one day to find she was locked out of the house. Her father’s car was gone and nobody was there to let her in. When her mom came home, they walked into the house to find her father shot to death, lying on the living room floor.

Within hours Allison’s brother retaliated by murdering the two men who had killed her father and was arrested.

“At first I didn’t realize the magnitude of the situation,” she said. “I didn’t realize he was dead or who had committed the murder or anything like that. Then the more the pieces fell into place about the murder the more I fell out of place.”

The death of her father was just the beginning. In the next four years, her brother would die in prison and her boyfriend would die in a car accident. While she was with him.

Makes you feel like your problems are silly, doesn’t it?

To sit in a room with Allison, you’d never guess that she’d have so many legitimate excuses for being woefully depressed. You couldn’t begin to wrap your mind around the amount of death that has touched her heart in just 23 years on this planet. You would actually think, wow, what a nice, cheerful woman.

That’s because Allison radiates positivity.

“At some point, you can either choose to say, ‘Life sucks’ or ‘I’m cursed’ or you can say, ‘These are the cards I was dealt and I can decided to be happy or sad,'” Allison said with a smile. “I decided to be happy. I decided to put in positive energy instead of negative.”

Coping with death is never easy, but Allison’s been through it enough to find a formula that works for her. Call it a recipe for good grief, a process that gets you through the darkest moments life puts in your lap until you are able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Keep yourself busy.

When Allison’s dad died, she turned to art as her therapy. She learned to throw pottery and for hours after school she would be in the art room throwing and creating, “I tried to keep my mind off of his death and concentrate on something else.”

Try to maintain some normalcy.

“As hard as it was to get up and bathe every day, eat and talk to people, I continued to maintain a routine of going to work and hanging out with my friends in order to feel normal,” Allison said.

Let yourself grieve.

The magnitude of the grief Allison felt was different for each of the men she lost in her life. She wasn’t able to focus on school and could barely pull herself out of bed. Those first few days were crippling, but then she got busy and grew into her grief.

“By all means, you’ve got to sit with it and deal with it, but only when you’re ready,” she said. “Otherwise, you’ll fall apart, you’ll break apart.”

Focus on the positive.

“Find the best in it, and learn from it,” said Allison.

The passing of her dad made the relationship with her mom better. It also made her realize just how strong she was and that she had the capability to do anything she wanted to do.

At first glance it doesn’t seem like anything good can come out of having your father murdered, but Allison looked for the positive and was grateful for the relationships that came out of his death.

“My father was from Germany and after his death, I went to visit family that still lived there,” she said. “I was also able to get to know a brother I hadn’t met before, a son from my dad’s first marriage, and none of that would have happened if he hadn’t died.”

The way Allison sees it is, “I can take what has happened in the tragedy and I can either be pitiful and be pitied or I can have faith in myself and in the universe and in God, which is what I have tried to do.”

She tells herself that the universe will only deal her as much as she can handle.

“Every day you have to find the sunshine,” said Allison. “Negative feelings come much easier than the positive, but I don’t make them a habit. I work hard to look for the positive because the negative unfortunately creates itself. Every day you have to find the sunshine and the smile. You have to create it.”

If you’re struggling with grief, think about joining a support group, either online or in your community. GriefNet is a web-based network of support groups to help people with all sorts of loss.

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

Support System
GriefNet offers simple access to over 50 e-mail support groups to aid people dealing with many different types of loss.

A Shoulder to Lean On
Psychologist and grief expert Alexandra Kennedy helps people cope with the loss of a loved one with her books, tapes and seminars.

Trigger Happy
The Mayo Clinic’s resource/informational sheet about what triggers grief and the best way to face those triggers.

Young and Restless
As bewildering as death is for adults, it’s even worse for children and teens, whose life concepts aren’t as secure. Learn how to help the young grieve and cope with loss at DirectGov.