Having a Disabled Parent: A Journey of Change

Having a Disabled Parent: A Journey of Change

Witnessing someone you love go through a lifestyle change is hard enough, but when it effects you -- self reflection is just the beginning.
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As I sit in the waiting room of a sterile environment that smells of throat spray, I'm forced to recognize the past ten years. I'm waiting for my father to finish getting an MRI on his back so he can proceed to get a spinal stimulator. His pain and discomfort that has been a burden on his body since the young age of 36 will finally be put in its casket.

I must write a disclaimer: my father has not always been physically disabled. In August of 2006 my father was in an unfortunate ATV accident which caused him to break his back among many other bones. Rods and plates were put into his back to hold his bones together and since then he has been on a constant rift of pain.

Prior to my father's accident, he was a large part of an aerospace engineering company which caused long hours, long moves, and minimal daddy-daughter-time. Don't get me wrong, he still made time to see us between commuting and sixteen hour days. He was athletic, happy, and successful.

After The Accident, we moved from Wyoming back to New Hampshire to live with his mother. From then on, my life was different and so was my dad.

My dad has gone through a series of surgeries and sacrifices to hold the family together. Seeing that impacted me and grew my caring nature. He would always bring home the plungers from needles that were used for his IVs for me to play with. This impacted my career goals later in life. I'd sticker them to my unicorn, Jay (my father's name, bought when he would travel so I wouldn't get lonely), and pretend to be a nurse. He and I had always been close, "daddy's girl" and all.

He had always taught me to be respectful and mannered. None of that has changed, but I've recognized the importance of being mannered.

As stated before, my dad's back is made up of titanium rods and plates and you cannot physically see that he is disabled. On several occasions strangers have asked "what's your handicap?" when we parked.

1.) It's none of your business

2.) There are handicap plates and he has a cane.

3.) Again, none of your damn business.

I've learned the importance of patience. His movements can be slow, his frustration can be high in himself. I have to take a step back instead of insisting on nagging. His needs are important and if it takes longer for him to put his shoes on than me, I have no where to be. Timing is important just in case it takes longer.

Never react automatically on emotion. I, a teenage girl, am a professional at over-reacting to situations and going-over-the-top in thinking when something inconvenient happens. My dad's pain can be unbearable and at times, as we've all been guilty of, it causes him to be snappy. It's not my fault and instead of crying or taking it personally, I've realized taking a step back and analyzing any situation is more important than fighting back (unless it's worth it).

I appreciate my health and being stable enough to function. Imagine you're hungry and everything is below your waist. You could simply bend over to pick it up, correct? You can't with a broken back. I mean you can, but are the consequences of agonizing pain worth it? You think "I can always just pop a pill later and lay down," but how many pills can your insurance issue to you per month? Can you afford the co-pay? So you decide not to eat because no one is around to help. Health is important and everything we can to to protect our bodies from terminal injuries means something.

When I was a little girl I wanted to be a princess which, sadly, you have to be born into (someone help me pull a The Princess Diaries while making me look like Anne Hathaway. Thanks). I then wanted to be a veterinarian which requires science, math, and a high enough GPA that people will assume you know what you're talking about. I contemplated being a rock star like Hannah Montana. Sadly, again, I have no talent. In the past year, I considered being a nurse. As stated before, I had my deflated unicorn that made me rethink my career. I'm a Certified Nurse's Assistant because I grew up releasing that nurturing nature on my dad. If my dad is reading this, he can tell you I nag him with this itinerary of questions:

Morning:

"Hi! How'd you sleep?" "Are you okay?" "Did you sleep well?" "Is there anything I can get you?" "Are you sure?" "Promise?" "Okay love you! If you need anything you know where I am."

Afternoon:

"Are you ready for your rest?" "Have you had lunch?" "Can I get you anything?" "Need a pill?" "You know where I am!"

Night:

"Are you going to sleep okay?" "Do you need anything more?" "Can I get you an extra pillow?" "You know where I am!"

I learned to take nothing for granted. Whether it's my health or that there's food in the house or that we can afford Christmas, it is perfect for what we can achieve for now. I used to take everything when I was younger as something I needed anyway. I thought people and my possessions were always going to be there and as I grew, I realized that none of that is true. You work hard for what you want. Everything is temporary and although it is, cherishing it will benefit myself in the future.

My dad has always been my biggest supporter whether it's running last in basketball or never being put on the field in field hockey. I've put my dad through some emotional hell because not only is he the man that helped create me, he's my therapist when I can't trust anyone. He cares about me more than any man ever could. When we have a disagreement it's always resolved with an "I love you." When times are tough and the tears he refuses to shower the floor with are restrained for the sake of my concern, I know he is doing it for me. For my brother. For my mother. He hasn't just changed me because he is home due to his disability. He has changed me because when shit hit the fan and he was hurt permanently, he changed. He is resilient and he has taught me how to be, too. He is strong (although he can barely withhold an hour long trip to the store). He is reasonable and protective. He learned to recover emotionally from The Accident and my God is that the hardest trauma to push someone through. When I broke my shoulder in a car accident, I had emotional outbursts and post-traumatic stress for two months. He was there to talk it through and I have no idea where I'd be if it left me disabled.

I have been more forgiving.

I have been more grounded.

I have been more appreciative.

I have been more understanding.

I have learned that even when the going gets tough, I am healthy.

I have learned that there is always more than meets the eye.

Thanks, Dad. Not for doing "what a dad should be doing," but for making me a better person.

Cover Image Credit: Cameron Breakfield

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To The Boy Who Will Love Me Next

If you can't understand these few things, leave before things get too involved
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To the boy that will love me next, I need you to know and understand things about me and my past. The things I have been though not only have shaped the person I’ve become, but also sometimes controls my life. In the past I’ve been used, abused, and taken for granted, and I want something real this time. The guys before you were just boys; they didn’t know how to treat me until it was too late. They didn’t understand how to love me, until I broke my own heart. Before you truly decide to love me I want you to understand these things.

When I tell you something, please listen.

I’m my own person, I want to be loved a certain way. If I ask you to come over and watch movies with me please do it, if I ask for you to leave me alone for a few hours because it’s a girl’s night please do it. I don’t just say things to hear my own voice, I say things to you because it’s important to my life and the way I want to be loved. I’m not a needy person when it comes to being loved and cared for, but I do ask for you to do the small things that I am say.

Forgive my past.

My past is not a pretty brick road, it is a highway that has a bunch of potholes and cracks in it. I have a lot of baggage, and most of it you won’t understand. But don’t let my past decided whether you want to love me or not. My past has helped form who I am today, but it does not define who I am. My past experiences might try and make an appearance every once in a while, but I will not go back to that person I once was, I will not return to all that hurt I once went though. When I say those things, I’m telling the complete and honest truth. I relive my past every day, somethings haunt me and somethings are good reminds. But for you to love me, I need you to accept my past, present and future.

I’m just another bro to the other guys.

I have always hung out with boys, I don’t fit in with the girl groups. I have 10 close girlfriends, but the majority of my friends are guy, but don’t let this scare you. If I wanted to be with one of my guy friends I would already be with him, and if you haven’t noticed I don’t want them because I’m with you. I will not lose my friendships with all my guy friends to be able to stay with you. I will not cut off ties because you don’t like my guy friends. I have lost too many buddies because of my ex-boyfriends and I promised myself I wouldn’t do that again. If you don’t like how many guy friends I have you can leave now. Don’t bother trying to date me if you can accept the fact I’m just another bro.

I might be a badass, but I actually have a big heart.

To a lot of people I come off to be a very crazy and wild girl. I will agree I can be crazy and wild, but I’m more than that. I’m independent, caring, responsible, understanding, forgiving, and so such more type of woman. Many people think that I’m a badass because I don’t take any negatively from anyone. Just like we learned when we were younger, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all.” Most people can’t do that in today’s world, so I stick up for myself and my friends. I don’t care what anyone thinks about me, or their option on how I live my life. The only thing I care about is being able to make myself happy. Even though I’m an independent woman, understand that I do have a big heart. Honesty when I truly care for someone I will do just about anything they ask, but don’t take advantage of this. Once you take advantage of this part of me, all respect will be lost for you.

I’m hard to love.

Sometimes I want to be cuddle and get attention, and sometimes I don’t want you to talk to me for a couple hours. Sometimes I want you to take me out for a nice meal, but sometimes I want a home cooked meal. Every day is different for me, sometimes I change my mind every hour. My mood swings are terrible on certain days, and on those days you should probably just ignore me. I’m not easy to love, so you’ll either be willing to find a way to love me, or you’ll walk out like so many others have.

I’m scared.

I’m scared to love someone again. I’ve been hurt, heartbroken, and beat to the ground in my past relationships. I want to believe you are different, I want to hope things will truly work out, but every relationship has always ended up the same way. I’m scared to trust someone, put my whole heart into them, just to be left and heartbroken again. I sick and tired of putting my whole body and soul into someone for them to just leave when it is convenient for them. If you want to love me, understand it won’t be easy for me to love you back.

When “I’m done.”

When I say “I’m done” I honestly don’t mean that I’m done. When I say that it means I need and want you to fight for me, show me why you want to be with me. I need you to prove that I’m worth it and there’s no one else but me. If I was truly done, I would just walk away, and not come back. So if I ever tell you, “I’m done,” tell me all the reasons why I’m truly not done.

For the boy who will love me next, the work is cut out for you, you just have to be willing to do it. I’m not like other girls, I am my own person, and I will need to be treated as such. For the boy that will love me next, don’t bother with me unless you really want to be with me. I don’t have time to waste on you if you aren’t going to try and make something out of us. To the boy who will love me next, the last thing I would like to say is good luck, I have faith in you.

Cover Image Credit: Danielle Balint

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Please Know That EVERYBODY Struggles With Swimsuit Season, Not Just Bigger Bodies

We all have insecurities.

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Summer is upon us and many of us are faced with decisions, or lack of, that we made in the months preceding our long-awaited break from tests and studying. There are two types of people here. Those who have been hustling to get that "summer bod" and those who didn't quite make it there.

Whether you were actually busting your ass and haven't made it to your goal yet or, are like me, and spent most of the winter months camped out on the couch watching Friends reruns and eating my weight in Doritos, summer is here whether we are ready or not.

I definitely could've made better decisions, but here we are.

I both love and loathe swimsuit season. I love the warm sunshine and the break from school, but I don't love the thought of my body being exposed for everyone to see. Seriously. I just spent months wrapped in sweaters and leggings and now I have to show everything on the beach. I'm going to feel a little insecure.

Even if you are told you are skin and bones and so skinny you could disappear, if you feel self-conscious when you shed that cover up, don't be afraid to share that with someone. Your feelings are valid.

To wear a swimsuit is to expose yourself in ways that many of us are not used to and when there are that many people there to witness it, it's a jarring experience. It never fails. Every year, that moment I take off my cover-up, I am cringing from head to toe because even though no one is looking at me, it feels like there are a million eyes trained on me. It's disconcerting and uncomfortable.

Swimsuit season is not a season I enjoy 100% because I see so many people struggling with their bodies when really, they should just be enjoying the sunshine. It's a sad reality and we all live it.

Don't take away someone's feelings because they appear to have the perfect body. They have struggles too and instead of drawing lines, we should be looking for ways to feel better in our skin.

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