AWM Foundation & Loreen Arbus Foundation Focus on Disability Scholarship Winner Essay
The Alliance for Women in Media Foundation engaged in a partnership with The Loreen Arbus Foundation to focus on the needs, achievements, contributions and stories of citizens with disabilities. The Loreen Arbus Foundation Focus on Disability Scholarship is to be given to aspiring student television and filmmakers. This year’s theme is My Voice, My Time. Ms. Lenhard submitted a creative writing piece focusing on the challenges and triumphs that come with living with a disability.
I woke up and my body went into a dystonic episode. For me, that usually means that my body tightens up and pulls every part of my body back. This morning, though, my legs didn’t flinch. You would think that would be good—at least some part of my body wasn’t curled in pain. Within seconds, though, I realized I couldn’t move my legs at all. Fear filled me. It took every ounce of my mental strength to focus on the rest of my body and convince it to relax.
The dystonic episode lasted forty minutes. When I could sit up in bed I tried moving my legs with no luck, they refused to budge. My fear quickly turned to tears and anger. I already had six surgeries in four months and I knew all of this meant something was wrong and I had no choice but to head back to my second home, the hospital. I called my friend Ariel and she agreed to meet me at the Emergency Room. I dragged myself out of bed, lifeless legs being pushed and pulled by my hands, got dressed and got in my wheelchair.
My fear, anger and tears propelled me to the nearest subway, which I rode to the hospital. As my friend and I waited for the neurosurgeon or one of his residents to see me Ariel did her best to comfort me. I refused to be comforted. In her wisdom, though, Ariel stood there and cried with me as I hurled questions she could not answer
“What if they have to take out the medicine pump? What if I can’t ever walk again? What about my internship? They must think I am such a waste of time and resources. I only made it there three days this summer! What about school? I am so weak and tired. How am I ever going to graduate?”
It turned out that the medicine pump did have to be removed. Later that month, in rehab, I was told I would never be able to safely walk again. The therapists spent their time training me in two ways: How to use a wheelchair safely and how to do therapy on my legs to prevent complete atrophy. I spent another four months in outpatient rehab after I left my month stint in impatient rehab.
Those months in the hospital and rehab were the most fearful, grueling months I had ever known. Many times I considered giving up. I thought for sure that my fears of not being able to live independently and spending the rest of my life in a nursing home were coming true. Thankfully, I had friends and family that loved me through it all. They kept reminding me that I had a fire in me that was not ready to die out.
I am now walking again, better than before all my surgeries. It was not easy. It meant finding a doctor who believed there was a way to get my body to start moving again. I don’t walk perfectly, I still use loft strand crutches and am convinced that if a cop ever pulled me over while I was driving and asked me to walk in a straight line I’d be arrested on the spot! But, I am walking! I live in an apartment just outside of Philadelphia and head to Temple University to go to work at the Disability Resources and Services and attend class at the Center City Campus. I also have been accepted to be an intern at the same place that I only made it to for three days last summer! I am finishing up my Communications Management degree this semester. My thesis to complete the program is a study looking at a current reality show and the way disability and gender—particularly women—are framed in the show through the perpetuation of stereotypes. I have also been accepted into the Fox Business School to study Human Resource Management.
The degree in Human Resource Management may seem like I am stepping away from the realm of media and communications but I am not stepping away at all. I am passionate about seeing people with disabilities become fully empowered and employed individuals. Without employment in America a person has very little power. I am pursuing a degree in Human Resource Management to open up more doors for people with disabilities. My desire is to write a book for my capstone in the Human Resource Management program about people with disabilities who have become leaders. I want them to discuss what it took for them to become leaders and what it is like for them to have such a powerful influence on the world. I want to write this book so that young people with disabilities will know that they can not only live full lives but that they can also be leaders and influence the world. Sheryl Sandberg in her book Lean In argues that in order for more doors to be open to women there has to be more women leaders. I believe the same premise holds true for people with disabilities. If I can help one person with a disability to lean in and become a leader then the fire that has kept me going this far will continue to keep burning.