I’ve been thinking about the intersection of my disability, learning and writing lately. I’m continuing to work on a fourth complete full edit of the manuscript and all of these issues have come up. AGAIN.
Backstory: In kindergarten I had an IEP (individualized education plan) for anxiety. An IEP is a support plan for anyone with a disability. It’s usually 10-25 pages in length and is literally a plan to help written someone with a disability be successful in school. It outlines specific steps to help that person: therapy in school (or outside), special education, medication, specific learning styles, etc.
I was a walking (and mostly not talking) anxiety case. I was carrying the weight of the world on my five year old shoulders feeling like I was the cause of everything: read the cause of my parents divorce when the news came out shortly thereafter that our family was breaking up.
I felt like if I acted or talked differently they would get back together. Little did I know I was not the cause of their divorce. My IEP went away after Kindergarten but I was still a hot mess of anxiety.
When I disclosed my own sexual abuse at the hands of my paternal grandfather in 1984 and went to trial a year later I was also carrying the weight of the outcome of that trial on my shoulders.
I again thought if there was something I could have said or done to the court things would have turned out differently. It turns out, according to sexual assault researcher (and survivor) David Lisak, that only 1.5 to 3% of all child sexual abuse cases are ever won. The deck was hugely stacked against me.
There was very little I could have done to change that ruling. I do know, as an adult, I had a very strong memory of what happened, according to my childhood therapist (and expert on childhood sexual abuse), Pam Crow. Our attorney, Ken Hadley, also echoed what Pam said when I talked to him a few years ago for research on the Yellow Blanket.
Flash forward a year and I’m 9. My mom is going back to school to get a masters in special education. In a research lab she diagnoses me with another disability: a reading disability that makes it difficult for me to retain information in the short term. Essentially, you could give me a passage, tell me to read it and ask me a few minutes later what was said, what the plot was, etc. but I probably couldn’t tell you. My short term reading comprehension was shot to shit.
My mom graduated with her masters in special education and started advocating for me by writing a letter to each teacher explaining my learning and what was helpful and what was not. Every year from 4-12 grades (and even in college) she wrote a letter on my behalf to explain my disability.
I went to one special ed class in fifth grade but felt like it didn’t really benefit me. I was better in the mainstream classroom. These two disabilities compounded with multiple choice test taking in elementary, middle and high school set me up for mediocrity. I was shy, didn’t ask questions when I needed to, and with constant test taking it’s kind of a miracle I got into any college my grades were so meh.
Flash forward to adulthood and I have the insight to know I’m not carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. My anxiety still lingers but I talk it through with talk therapy. I’ve had years of off and on therapy because of anxiety starting at age 7.5. I don’t take medications because my anxiety hasn’t pushed me to the level of anxiety or panic attacks.
I’ve been in therapy regularly since 2008 seeing the same person (save for 2014 when I decided to take a year off). My work with people with disabilities and the example that was laid for me for strong advocacy (i.e. all those letters my mom wrote to my teachers) is why I do the work I do.
Having two disabilities allows me to connect with my clients helping them find jobs and coach them through difficult times. I’ve been able to get creative with salvaging jobs that could have gone bad by communicating with clients managers/co-workers and developing tools to help them learn, communicate, etc.
I don’t want my clients to fail and my anxiety pushes me to go to the mat for them, advocate and in some instances get sick because I have this ability to just push myself soooooo hard.
The manuscript I started five years ago has completely transformed and looks nothing like the first version. I really enjoy seeing how the intersection of my own disabilities and the work I do on a daily basis is forming another layer of reflection for my fourth draft.