INVISIBLY DISABLED OR NOT, 5 GOOD REASONS TO REVAMP YOUR LIFE

659894f27914674cc2dbb0523225d056If you’re like most of us, change is uncomfortable.  That applies whether we’ve asked for the change, or not.  Change can be as small as changing your haircolor or as big a deal as moving across town or across country. Some adults mimic Peter Pan’s Lost Boys, adamantly insisting they won’t grow up. If that’s you or someone you care about, check out five good reasons it’s a good idea to view change as a relentless part of being alive:

  1. Gain Perspective:  I’ve got an old pair of glasses I wear around the house.  While I’m used to them and they’re comfy, the truth is that I’m limited in what, and how well, I see.  Not seeing clearly what’s in your life is like a horse wearing blinders.  True, you remain focused on one spot, but the trade-off is how much gets passed by.  What comes to mind is the professional focused on business success who complains, years later, about the unattended soccer games and school plays.
  2. Freshen Up:  Habit is soothing; knowing what you’re doing and how to do it takes away our fear of appearing incompetent.  What’s left out, though, are new experiences.  Meeting new people, going to new places, trying something different are examples of keeping our brains engaged.  Brain science suggests that people who remain engaged stave off the negative side-effects of aging.
  3. Grow Up:  The 60s are gone, so are the 90s.  Even if those were the best days of your life, those days don’t reflect your world as it is now.  If  time-travel was possible, seeing what lies ahead would be an interesting and fun exercise.  Many cinematic characters have been given this gift — Jimmy Stewart in the classic Christmas film “It’s a Wonderful Life”.  What would you learn from a trip to the future?  And what would you have to change now in order to assure it? So what’s stopping you?
  4. Get What You Want:  Have eyes set on a certain job?  A new car?  A life partner?  When plans are made to acquire what we want, change is prominent in the mix.  For example, attracting a partner may mean you have to work on issues that are getting in the way, like trusting the opposite sex. When the burden of old thoughts is released, the domino effect of change starts in motion.  The effects include being more comfortable in your own skin, smiling more, being more positive about life.  Your changes affect everyone else in your life.  Everyone.   Amazing, huh?
  5. Keep What You Have:  When partners say, “That’s not the person I married!”, I say, “Good!”.   Aside from Bunny-Love-Sex, who would trade how the years have forged a new and different partnership?  Adding children, for example, insists on change from an “I” stance to the “we” stance of co-parenting.  All relationships insist on good communication and flexibility in order to be ready for change.  Without it, no relationships can grow,

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist and Relationship Coach working especially with couples experiencing the effects of invisible, or hidden, disability.  As a military brat, growing up changed scenery more than for most.  As a child, she remembers seeing the black and white television production of Peter Pan.  Trying to fly off her bed became a months’ long obsession.  She lives her grown-up life in Colorado with her husband David, and their two cats; in a world of change, Petey and Lucy ground them.  More about Kathe and what she does can be found at http://www.BeingHeardNow.com.

ROOT FOR SOMEONE FAMOUS TO BECOME DISABLED THIS MONTH

I was just reading the Screen Actors Guild’s 2005 study of how few representations of people with disabilities were scripted into tv shows — less than .5% even had speaking roles.

Five years later, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) noted essentially the same thing. Using media to capture Americans’ attention (film, video, print, cyber) is well-suited to our short attention span and overall sense of unreality about the really real world, where visible or invisible disability can be turned off, deleted, or disregarded.  Where we communicate about disability on-line rather than in-person.

hear no evil 2 How pitiful is it when we ride on the coattails of someone famous’ disability, metaphorically pointing at our chests, crying “me, too!”?

Visible and invisible disabilities like Nelson Mandela’s cancer, Michael J. Fox’s and Linda Ronstadt’s Parkinson’s, Catherine Zeta Jones’ bipolar disorder, Ann Romney’s M.S., Glenn Campbell’s Alzheimer’s are all well-known and forgiven because they’re beautiful, charming, entertaining, or people dear to us in other ways.  “Oh, how courageous they are,” we say, “and what a shame.”  Even those of us who are disabled ourselves are sad for the afflicted-famous!   Does someone famous earn more points for being disabled?  Is it a bigger deal?  And how come we feel bad for the misfortune of people who usually have the means by which to be disabled more comfortably than we ourselves have?

I’m not looking for pity, just parity.

As in years past, President Obama again established October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month.  The spirit of it is lofty and disability awareness monthtouching.  But business generally runs on what’s concrete, not what’s moral.  Even more to the point, it can be expensive to hire disabled workers: accommodating to special needs isn’t cheap (widening doorways, re-designing rest rooms, installing elevators, etc.) and unless the federal government is handing out money or tax incentives to businesses, hiring the disabled isn’t good business.

Furthermore, if businesses have to be induced by other than moral means to hire this population, it’s like asking a restaurant to serve a customer gratis, just because he’s hungry.

Won’t happen, nor should it.

The fact is that the people who do the hiring are just people, members of a society that has difficulty having the disabled around in the first place.  Employers are no less prejudicial about disability than they are about age, gender, national origin, or sexual preference.

It’s perplexing that the morality play of the President’s proclamation would be presented in an economic climate like that which exists in the world today, where corporations like Siemens lay off 15,000 workers at a swipe.

I suppose none of them were disabled.bigstock-Group-of-tiny-people-walking-i-36380644 (1)

It’s insulting that the plight of the disabled worker should be highlighted when they are only part of the millions of other Americans who are hungry for work, If inclusion is sought, singling out any one portion of the population defeats the stated purpose.

The proclamation belongs in The Truman Show, where it’s always sunny, there are never problems, and life is always fair. Happily deluded.

But hey, thanks for giving the nation a heads-up that employing the disabled is the right thing to do.  I do believe that now, finally, things will change. (wink, wink)

Kathe Skinner is a Colorado-based Marriage & Family Therapist and Relationship Coach specializing in work with couples, especially those whose relationship is affected by invisible disability. She is in private practice where she can arrange her environment to meet her continually changing physical needs.  She has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis for over 35 years.

LOVING

Love at its most true is not afraid to be hard. ~ Whitley Streiber

Love at its most true is not afraid to be hard. ~ Whitley Streiber

Married, in a relationship, or single, life is often ungovernable.

Through disability, chronic illness, divorce, break-up, deaths big and small where do we find respite from difficulty?

When can we stop being courageous?

So many of us lean on love to give us relief from life’s chattering.

If love were so one-dimensional, though, if all loving did was give us rest, would it still be lustrous?

What is easy, quantifiable, predictable soon loses our interest.

Whitley Streiber put it beautifully, “Love at its most true is not afraid to be hard.”  I agree (even if he is talking about aliens.)

Kathe Skinner is a psychotherapist and relationship coach, specializing in working with couples whose relationship is impacted by invisible disability and chronic illness.  Married to David for over 26 years, they live with kitties Petey and Lucy in the Front Range of Colorado.  Are there aliens cruising the skies over her home?  She thinks the logic is irrefutable.

LOVE ME, LOVE MY CHAIR

Rachel1A couple of weeks ago I introduced Rachelle Friedman to those of you who don’t know her.   If you recall, she became wheelchair-bound due to a freak accident at her bachelorette party.  I promised to tell you more…

Not to be cheesy, but Rachelle and her husband, Chris, are nothing short of inspiring.  They never chose to be in the spotlight, but they are.  Their lives together have a level of transparency they’d never planned, where privacy doesn’t look anything like it used to.

The very act of being married is a prime example.

He stayed with her?  Actually married her?  No shit!  Uh, what about sex?  They don’t “do it”, do they?

The answers are all “yes”.

Much is made of Chris’ staying with her.  It’s not just that she had an accident, ended up in a wheelchair, and except for that everything else stayed the same.  Rehab was long and painful.  With paralysis, her body changed and she’s plagued by low blood pressure, which makes activity dicey.  And even though she can’t move her legs, nerve pain still exists — something medication doesn’t completely take away.  So why does Chris stay?  “The extra hardships don’t outweigh his love,” Rachelle will tell you.  It’s not that he “stayed with a girl in a chair that makes him great.  It’s that he’s loving and giving no matter what.”

I hope people are inspired by our love, not because of my disability.   – Rachelle Friedman  rachelle2

Rachelle doesn’t understand the fuss that’s made of her everyday life, either.  “Just because I wake up in the morning, eat breakfast, work out every now and then and play sports with a disability…does not make me inspiring.”

One of the biggest changes has been in Rachelle’s career path, and the corresponding change in life plans because of it.  She can no longer teach aerobics, nor can she be a reliable 9-5 employee.  This young woman likes to inspire and also to educate.  She is registered with a speaker’s bureau and has been doing some cool speaking gigs.  If money was not a roadblock, wants to be a coach, helping other people.  With the loss of that second income, the couple struggles financially.

You could call her the Queen of Lemonade, but I think there’s more to Rachelle than that.  I’m sure there are moments…   But she is blessed with talent, beauty, and drive, so Rachelle would be a winner no matter what.  That she has a wheelchair in the way, well, that’s just a lotta lemons.

Visit Rachelle at www.facebook.com/rachelleandchris and on Twitter at @followrachelle.  Watch for her book next year!

Kathe Skinner is a Relationship Coach, Certified Relationship Expert and Marriage & Family Therapist in Colorado where she conducts communication workshops for couples, pre-married’s, the invisibly disabled, and the over 50 crowd.  Kathe enjoys collaborating with KatheSkinner marriage & family therapistother professionals in order to reach more relationships affected by hidden disability.  She sits on the Executive Board of the Invisible Disabilities Association, is a regular contributor to Disability.gov., and is an ardent-and-natural-teacher-without-a-classroom.  She has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis for over 30 years.  More about Kathe at www.BeingHeardNow.com.

VERBAL OOPSES

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I was in the health food store yesterday and helped a little girl, about 8 years old, who couldn’t reach the roll of plastic food bags.  When I left the store, I saw her standing with an older woman; I smiled at the woman and asked if the little blonde was her granddaughter.  In halting, Scandinavian-accented English she told me no, the little girl was her daughter.   Hoping my embarrassment didn’t show I went ahead with what I was going to say in the first place – that the little girl was beautiful and very polite.  But with her having trouble speaking English, and it being the holidays and all, I do think it was “mormor” after all, visiting from Europe.

I’ve been wrong other times, too; either by omission or assumption.  When I greet already-established clients as newbies what is there to say?   Name slips are easier to cover; I just correct myself after apologizing profusely.  It’s when I discover my screw-up after the client’s left that grates; unfinished business or lack of closure or something like that.  All I know is that I hate having apologies go undelivered.  The absolute worst is making dead-wrong assumptions that are innocent but insulting.  Ever asked an overweight woman when she’s due?

I don’t think I’m the only one whose engagement with others doesn’t always work out.  It’s not always true that other people want to be vulnerable to strangers; it’s the grand assumption I make about people, probably because of what I do for a living.

There are unspoken rules about physical proximity, “getting in someone’s space”, and there are verbal ones, too.  Like how you talk, what you say, the purpose of saying something at all.

Women often complain that their partners don’t talk to them.  It’s assumed (there’s that word, again) that a partner’s thoughts, and especially feelings, are being purposely withheld.  It would be a darned interesting experiment (but unethical) to see if those same partners are verbally receptive to stranger-talk.  We’re usually nicer to strangers than we are to the ones we love.

Sometimes things just come out wrong.   Last time I was snacking my way through Costco I told the sample lady I’d knock her out just to steal every one of the cream puffs she was demo-ing.  Thankfully she was quick on the uptake, got it, and didn’t call security.

Do guys make these goofy blunders?  I know they do in sitcoms but do they in real life?  Don’t know; my partner hasn’t said.

Kathe Skinner is an inveterate chatter who specializes in coaching couples, especially couples whose relationship is impacted by invisible disability.  She lives in Colorado with her mostly-quiet husband, David, and their two hooligan cats.  Lucy chats more than Petey; guess what they say about women talking more than men is true of cats, too.