Archive for the ‘multiple personality disorder’ Category

Let Them See You in Me

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My youngest son, Angel, has not been the topic of much of my writing. For some reason, I shelter him and his Dissociative Identity Disorder. It is an insidious mental illness which developed because of severe, continued, horrific early childhood abuse. It has taken him many years of counseling to adjust to the fact that he has twelve personalities that don’t always work together or even know what each other is doing. Even though the special education system in our town has given Angel a first rate, accepting and supportive education, his teenage years have been a real challenge. Angel has a very angry part that spews hatred and vile threats which are too X rated to explain here. Friends who don’t know of his illness have called him to their defense in the middle of the night because Angel’s angry part would willingly and effectively threaten the bullies bothering them. His friends had also taken advantage of his innate kindness and willingness to help, and he found himself driving them everywhere until his gas tank (and our bank account) was empty. Friendships held little advantage for Angel.

And then he found a wonderful young man named Christopher! He and Christopher had been in elementary school together and just happened to reconnect. Christopher provided a friendship that asked for nothing in return, a new feeling for Angel. Christopher encouraged Angel to join the youth group at church. Pastor Joe, whom I had called to alert to Angel’s eccentricities, took a personal interest in befriending Angel. What a huge difference this has made in my youngest son! With a newfound feeling of acceptance for himself and his parts, Angel is beginning to make real friendships without having to hide his disability. Little by little he has discussed his condition with these two accepting individuals. And they still like him!

This morning I was driving home from church and a sense of great appreciation for Pastor Joe and Christopher filled my heart. While driving, I changed the radio station to K-LOVE, my favorite station, which, unfortunately, does not come in very well in my area. Through the static I could make out the songs, which were only background noise anyway because I was deep in thought. It dawned on me that Christopher and Pastor Joe were gifts from God, and that, through them, I could feel God’s deep caring for Angel. Such a thought warmed my heart with happiness and joy. And at that EXACT MINUTE, the radio station became perfectly clear and the song “Let Them See You In Me’ played. My jaw dropped at the timing. Coincidence that this radio station should suddenly come through loud and clear and play the exact song to match my thoughts????? For me, it was just one more confirmation that God is alive and well and lives through some wonderful people!

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To read all about Angel’s early years and diagnosis, please read my book. Here is a link:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-apple-tree/id538572206?mt=11

The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

Another Year, Another Memory

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(cartoon reprinted from Readers Digest. Two angels are standing on Cloud 8 with the caption “Well yes, I’m happy. But I could be happier…) Don’t let this be you!

A new year has begun! Whoopee! I am so excited to see what great things the new year brings! I only have two annual New Year’s resolutions:
Resolution #1: I think back on last year, and am grateful for all of the wonderful little things that worked out well.

*Found out about Orange Leaf yogurt place where I could get healthy sugar free, non fat yogurt with my choice of toppings, m&ms, hot fudge (yum!), gummy bears, snickers and all the whipped cream I can fit!

*My daughter, Marie, has finally found a counselor trained in trauma and abuse who is fluent in American Sign Language. After all these years! FINALLY she is able to make some progress in this area. As her mom, I have been the only one she has confided in, and it will be nice to share that weight with a professional.

*I loved watching The Good Wife! And Storage Wars! And Survivor!

*I lost a pound and a half. Not quite my goal of 30 pounds, but at least it is in the right direction!

*I have two new grandchildren on the way with a whole lifetime to enjoy them. (Long live nana!)

*Another year accident free…where’s my check from Allstate?

*Another year major illness free! (The hubby had a bout with colon cancer a few years ago, but has been fine ever since surgery because it was caught early.)

*My daughter, Dinora, has a great new job, a fiance, and a cute little house.

*My son, Steven, (who has autism and ADHD,) has a wonderful new fiancee whose OCD keeps things structured and in place for him, stabilizing his disability. (There IS someone for everyone!)

*During several great movies, (The Butler, Gravity, and all of the Pixar films,) I ate plenty of buttered popcorn and jelly bellies. (Ahhhhh! May be the reason I didn’t loose more weight.)

*My son, Angel, who has Dissociative Identity Disorder, has miraculously made it through high school without seriously harming anyone. (Except for the refrigerator he overturned on a teacher…which turned out to be the teacher’s “fault”. In Angel’s IEP was the stipulation that he cannot be yelled at lest the “angry part”, over which he has no control or memory, comes out to protect him, a reflex reaction.) Life with Angel is quite interesting…

*Our cars, both over 8 years old and with more than 150,000 miles each, are still running and getting us places.

*My son, Francis, who, despite his blindness, is still making boatloads of money in the Silicon Valley computer industry. (On less child I have to support.)

*All in all, another successful year with more ups than downs.

Resolution #2: I look forward to the coming year with optimism and enjoyment. Hopefully it will be another successful year with more ups and downs, and I will make memories to put on my list for #1 next year!

Hopefully, your life will also have joy, happiness, love, and some interesting foods to eat!

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To read more about our life as a family, please read my book. Here is a link:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-apple-tree/id538572206?mt=11

The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

Hotwire is My Hero!

hotel_clipart   I don’t travel very often, but when I need to book a hotel, I use Hotwire.com.  They offer wonderful hotels at a low rate; hotels that have extra rooms that they need to fill up.  The catch is, you do not know the name of the hotel, just the “type” of hotels that are included in each category.  Hotwire has never disappointed me, as they have always provided quality hotels at a greatly discounted price. This past weekend, I was scheduled to do a presentation for a large parents conference held at Perkins School for the Blind, about a two hour drive for me. Because the conference was scheduled to begin at 8:30 am, and I would be reimbursed for my travel expenses, I contacted Hotwire to book a hotel room. The least expensive one listed was $69, which was a real bargain because hotels in and around the Boston area are very pricey. I booked it on line, and awaited the name of the hotel.  It was not a brand name I had ever heard of, so Google checked it out for me.  It was listed as an “elite, boutique hotel”, and the least expensive price listed on their website for a room was $180!  Now, I am definitely NOT elite, and have never visited a boutique before, but for $69 I was going to give it my all! Upon driving up to the hotel’s front door, I learned that valet parking was mandatory. I relinquished my “Best Mom” fake jeweled key chain to the parking attendant, (pardon me…to the VALET.) Politely and without comment, he struggled as I do to climb up into the driver’s seat of my large van, and drove away in my 2002, dented, dirty, 15 passenger with a raised roof and wheelchair lift van.  He parked it right between a Rolls and a Jaguar, and it looked like a large, dirty, cheap piece of coal between 2 diamonds. Even my car was going to get a new experience! The lobby was gorgeous, as are so many in expensive hotels.  Lots of fresh flowers, a water fountain cascaded down the wall, and a lovely tray of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies.  Checking in was a pleasurable experience with a tuxedo clad clerk, who offered me a cookie.  (I would have taken one anyway, so the fact that he offered was a bonus, although I would have preferred he offered me 10.) My 6th floor room, with the curtains open, had a breathtaking view of the Boston skyline at night.  The room itself was definitely “boutique”… furniture with trim lines, a wood floor with plush, beautifully designed, throw rugs  that added an elegant, clean look to the room. Because it was late in the day and I was tired, I put on my jammies, brushed my teeth, and climbed under the luxurious, fragrant, CLEAN sheets and comforter. I honestly felt as though I were laying on a cloud. In addition, there were four different types of pillows on the bed so that I could choose the one which would best facilitate a good night’s sleep.  Ahhhhhh…..sleep….on a cloud overlooking the Boston skyline… The modern bathroom had a very large walk-in shower with huge round shower heads pointed in all directions.  In the morning I took a shower, or, should I say, I EXPERIENCED a shower. It was all a new thing for me; hot water flowing over my body from all different angles.  Do people really LIVE like that?  The shampoo was ultra fragrant, with a conditioner and body wash that had complementary fragrances.  (Think orchids, strawberries and oranges…) I felt like a fruit orchard, and it was a very unique feeling! (I guess that is what makes the hotel “boutique”.) As I finished showering and came through the frosted glass door of the shower, I shocked myself when I saw another dripping wet, old, fat, ugly naked woman coming towards me in the room. I screamed.  I shuddered.  I looked closer.  It was ME.  Reflected in the mirrored wall just outside the bathroom.  Although breathing a sigh of relief, I was also filled with horror at the image in front of me.  I don’t know about you, but I NEVER look at myself naked in a full mirror.  Any illusions I may have had about my looks were proven false in that moment.  Oh, well…it’s a good thing I feel beautiful on the INSIDE… After getting over my shock, I dressed and made myself a nice cup of tea with the provided Keurig.  Now THAT is my idea of a boutique hotel…one that provides fresh tea to my liking.  Now, if only I had a few of those chocolate chip cookies from downstairs…         ************************ I would love to come and speak for your group or at your conference.  I would do it for free, but would need the price of travel. For functions in the North East, that would be only gas money. Link to my book: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-apple-tree/id538572206?mt=11 The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane Link to the Readers Digest review of my book:  http://www.rd.com/recommends/what-to-read-after-a-hurricane/

Lets Agree to Disagree…Mental Illness and Violence

I recently received a response from a blog colleague who’s beliefs are different than mine.  It is normal for people to have different views on things, and everyone’s views are welcome. This is my version of  agreeing to disagree…

Dear 5KWD, I wonder if you would have any insight on the following. After doing a smattering of research I learned that virtually every mass shooter on record was taking antidepressant psychiatric drugs when they “went off”. The news media and many posting here are examining the mental illness angle, but we know that depression, asbergers, etc, does not cause homicidal behavior. However, it seems very plausible to me that these FDA approved psychiatric drugs, which have known side effects, may be inducing this behavior. I think it’s the drugs, not the mental illness. This makes way more sense to me than the idea that sometimes formerly quiet, law-abiding people are randomly “going off” and shooting rooms full of children.  artandlifenotes.wordpress.com

 

I agree that every mass murderer may have been on antidepressants.  It would go along with my theory that they have underlying psychiatric conditions.  All of my adopted children are on psych meds.  My oldest daughter has attention deficit disorder.  Prior to medication, she couldn’t pay attention, she was flunking school, she couldn’t pay attention to read a book, and she developed sever anxiety over her inability to function “normally”.  Once on medication, (which includes an antidepressant,) she brought her grades up to straight A’s, attended college, and has a career in her chosen field.  I understand that some people would say that the side affects of medication would outweigh the benefits, she calls me from time to time to bring her medication to work because she forgot it, and she cannot concentrate to do her job. My middle son, who was born addicted to cocaine, has been diagnosed with a variety of mental illnesses, but I personally like to give him just one:  his brain and wiring is screwed up due to his prenatal exposure to drugs.  As an infant he would flail about and injure himself, he rarely slept, wouldn’t eat, and climbed out of his crib by 9 months old. (He couldn’t walk, but he could climb!) He would run around destroying anything in his path.  Without psych meds, it would have been impossible for him to attend school because he surely would have climbed out the bus window!  My youngest son, who was severely abused in his early childhood, has Dissociative Identity Disorder, (previously called Multiple Personality) a condition in which a child withdraws within himself/herself when abused, sort of “blacks out”, so to speak, but another part of the brain still feels the affects of abuse.  That other part remains in his “psyche”.  Hidden.  Buried. Showing itself from time to time in an angry, violent outburst, often requiring hospitalization. Without psych meds, he would not be able to function as well as he does.  He would be encompassed by deep depression and obsessive thoughts.  My youngest daughter has severe attention deficit disorder, and cannot sit still or pay attention without medication. Similar to my youngest son, she was abused as a child. Her hidden demons come back in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, tearful, angry aggression, often on herself, but sometimes against others.  Without psych meds, she would not be able to function.  She still has PTSD and “episodes”, but they are far less frequent than when she was not on medication and it would be a daily thing.

I understand people have different opinions about psych meds, but in my family, without them, it would have been impossible for my children to live life “normally”. I know that there may be side affects, but the side affects are far less intrusive on their lives than their mental health issues. The doctor always goes over the possible side affects, and not a single child has ever indicated they bother them.

Regarding your concept of not believing the idea that sometimes formerly quiet, law-abiding people are randomly “going off” and shooting rooms full of children, again, I can only point to my own children.  Childhood abuse, even verbal abuse, and non-loving parents, can permanently harm a child’s developing psyche.  Permanently.  Even counseling and medication may not be able to fully quiet the demons hidden in a child’s brain.  My son, who is the sweetest, nicest, most generous boy, often displays his “angry part”, a part so vile and violent that it reminds me of Linda Blair in the Exorcist.  He is unrecognizable and so angry that violence surrounds him…sometimes resulting in a call to 911 for assistance with restraining and hospitalization.  For my daughter with PTSD, her episodes are more invasive.  The slight touch, smell, or thought can cause her to fall back into anger of abuse, and she dissociates and becomes violent.  She is not herself…well, that’s not true because even when she is having flashbacks she is herself, but the self as a young child being abused.  Regarding the randomness of violence, case in point:  she was recently arrested for “assaulting a police officer with a deadly weapon” when he charged towards her to get her to stop flailing about and screaming.  (She ripped a board off the wall and tried to ward him off.) She is living in a restrictive, “locked” facility with staff trained in behavior modification and restraints, but her behavior has horrified and shocked them.  It is not her fault, she cannot control it, but she is very violent.  Other people looking at her would never think such a sweet, friendly child could harbor such demons.

I know many people not exposed to individuals who are mentally ill to the serious degree of my children would find it hard to believe they just “snapped”.  No one never knows if a person who appears to be “normal and quiet” is really “normal and quiet” underneath.  I believe wholeheartedly that one has to have a mental illness, even if undiagnosed, to be a mass murderer. I believe no one in his/her “right” mind could possibly do such a thing!  Of course, this is just my one biased opinion.  I can understand, though, that there are different sides to every story.  Let’s just “agree to disagree”!

The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane by Linda Petersen.

Therapy Dog…Miracle?

Nine years ago, when we adopted our daughter who is deaf, a friend who is blind donated to us his newly retired Seeing Eye Dog.  The dog, age 6, was getting to be a little bit too old to guide this gentleman on his hectic daily routine, but was still vibrant enough to be a wonderful family pet.  Thus she began her non-working life with us.

Brandy was a gorgeous German Shepherd with the colorful mixed color coat most German Shepherds have.  The most fascinating this about her as a pet was that she was so well trained.  She had been trained not to bark at cats or other dogs, although she was known to bark to announce the arrival of our son, Steven for some odd reason.  He liked to work with snakes and reptiles, so maybe in the guide school in which she had been trained such species had not been included in her training.  (After all, how many people who are blind run into snakes or tarantulas in their daily walks?)

In addition to having a mellow, friendly, and incredibly devoted personality, Brandy had been trained to run right outside to “do her business” (so to speak,) so there was none of the usual waiting, walking, coaching or exasperation  which could be associated with a normal dog’s method of, well, “doing their business”.  Rain, snow, mud, cement….Brandy voided upon command!  She would walk with Marie down the street with Marie closet to the side of our road. Because Marie was deaf, Brandy would keep her safe for oncoming cars.

Although she had a great relationship with Marie, Brandy tended to gravitate towards our son, Angel, whose dark moods and multiple personalities tended to keep his mind in constant turmoil.  Brandy sensed that in him, and quickly choose Angel’s bed on which to sleep.  Because Angel would frequently take to his bed if the dark demons in his brain became overwhelming, Brandy became the perfect therapy pet.  She calmed him and centered him, allowing him to tame the “World War 3″ going on in his head and basically live a “normal” life.  Angel’s ability to continue on and be successful in school amazed me, and he credited Brandy with survival.

Brandy was an exceptional dog!  Not only did she sense Angel’s moods and guide Marie down the street, but her personality set her apart from other dogs.  Her job was devotion to others, and she was like a quiet Saint…always loving, accepting, forgiving and tender.

My mother passed away several years ago, and Brandy was thirteen years old at the time.  Angel took my mother’s passing especially hard, and was unable to attend school for several weeks.  Brandy was there to help him through the devastating time for this a child with such attachment issues.  His grandmother had been the one to give him gum drops when he’d been especially depressed.  And she made him custard pie on a regular basis. In is mind, he lost the only person he felt truly understood him. (She definitely knew that the way to his contentment lay somewhere in his stomach, which is not so different than many of us.)

Angel’s life changed when my mother died, and a lot of his confidence and hard won happiness had waned. He was a freshman in high school, having great difficulties adjusting to his disability in the especially raw world of teens and classes of Algebra and Forensics.  Brandy was there every day when he came home from school, and they would spend time at the end of each day unwinding, in his bed.  I began to fear that Brandy, being thirteen at the time, would not live to see Angel graduate from high school, another three years away. With the loss of his grandmother, I knew that he would not be able to adjust to the lost of his comfort pet and that any potential of a successful high school graduation would be out of the question. I sincerely prayed for a miracle..for Brandy to remain alive long to help Angel through these transitional years.

I am proud to say that Angel graduated in June.  He did so proudly, and, except for the fact that his graduation cap was too small for his very large head, he made it through the rigors of being a senior, completing senior projects and getting good grades so that he could walk across that stage with pride.  It was a wonderful day for all of is, and I said a silent prayer of thanks that Brandy was able stay around long for him to finish so successfully.

Right after graduation, Brand’s physical condition worsened dramatically to the point that she could no longer walk without falling over.  Angel himself made the decision to have Brandy euthanized.  He said he had been so selfish wanting to keep her alive for his own sake, but that he knew she was suffering and that is was her time to “join his beloved grandmother in heaven.”

So, yesterday, I made an appointment with the vet to have  Brandy euthanized.  For breakfast, I searched in the freezer and gave her a whole frozen pot roast to gnaw on, which she seemed to greatly enjoy. She had been to the groomers only a week before, and she still wore the yellow bandana around her neck.  Her coat was shiny and soft, and her cute toenails were short.  Eating that pot roast, she was happy, and Angel and I stayed with her for hours, petting her soft coat and murmuring words of love.

Her euthanization went as well as could be expected for such a traumatic event.  Angel and I were both sad and teary as the vet prepared her, but we tried not to let her know it, talking in loving and soothing tones throughout the process.  To me, she actually seemed happy and content, with no idea what was happening.

The vet was extremely sensitive to her needs, and the process went very smoothly.  The vet indicated Brandy was obviously a well-cared for dog…and did we realize that our Germain Shepherd had lived to be sixteen and a half years old?  This was a statement she repeated at least five times during the whole process.  DID WE REALIZE THAT OUR GERMAN SHEPHERD WAS SIXTEEN AND A HALF YEARS OLD????  She indicated that that was almost a miracle.

MIRACLE?  I have been blessed with several miracles in my life but somehow, in the scheme of every day life, I had forgotten that day, more than 3 years earlier, when I prayed for Brandy to live long enough to allow Angel to graduate from high school.  She had done that for him, for me, for US!  Our home life, and Angel’s future, would have been completely different had she not been there to sensitiviely calm the chaos in his mind..

Angel and I, (and the whole family of course,) have spent our days crying and mourning the loss of our beloved Brandy.  The one thing that keeps me grounded is the fact that her long life and her lovingly therapeutic affect on Angel HAD been a miracle.  We were so blessed to have had her…

Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities: THE BOOK!!!!!

The six-week-old infant boy, with gorgeous blue sparkling eyes and blonde hair does not make eye contact with his mother who is trying to nurse him because he cannot see. The five-month-old infant girl from Guatemala with happy brown eyes smiles easily, but cannot hear the voice of her mother. The six-year-old boy with dark skin and gorgeous black curls hides behind a large, fake plant rather than join his family at the table for Christmas dinner. The Hispanic boy’s joyful smile at his mother turns to a smoldering stare, holding the darkness within him. The seven-year-old girl with beautiful blue eyes and blonde hair, does not love her mother, and tells her so every chance she gets. She tells her in American Sign Language.
Are these snapshots of five troubled families?
No, these are the children of my family. My name is Linda Petersen. My husband RAYMOND and I have five children with five different disabilities. Our first son Francis was born blind and we later found that I carried the same gene that had left my brother blind, deaf and multiply disabled. So we adopted our second child, Dinora. Declared healthy, she turned out to be malnourished and deaf and suffering from attention deficit, post traumatic stress and anxiety disorders.
Still we coped. I worked part time and drove my pair to numerous medical and school appointments, while Raymond pitched in admirably on housework and cooking.
But when Francis and Dinora became teenagers and my schedule eased, I ached to do more. Raising children was great fun and I had the time, emotions and ability to give. Raymond adored children, so our only dilemma was how to add to our family.
Since we lacked the money to adopt again, we became foster parents and requested only infants. Caring for and watching babies grow and develop has been an awesome and humbling experience. Although most were returned to their parents or adopted by relatives, we wound up adopting three of these children ourselves.
Each, it turned out, had serious disabilities as well. As they grew, horror stories emerged from their family backgrounds: beatings, sexual abuse, severe neglect, cocaine addiction, and neurological damage.
Our family is a walking dictionary of medical conditions and psychological syndromes, some so severe that you would never expect that child to live a normal life. Yet our children have survived and thrived.
I hope to share with others the approach that has worked for us. Acceptance and humor ease life’s burdens. Patience and understanding trump even the greatest disability.

After ranting and raving about my lovely life raising 5 kiddos with disabilities, the book has finally been published as an e-book;  “The Apple Tree:  Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane”, on Amazon.com, I-Book, and Barnes and Noble.

The Apple Tree; Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane

Publication Date: May 12, 2012

Please consider purchasing one. It’s only $8.99!!!

Volunteering is a Gift You Give Yourself

Volunteering is a gift we can give ourselves that can also improve the lives of others. It is a win-win situation with huge implications for both parties. When I volunteer or do something nice for someone I feel happy, almost to the point of giddiness. Before the invention of the Fast Pass for tolls, we would often pay the toll for the car behind us. My children and I would giggle about this gesture, a cheap happiness booster for only $1.00!

I have to admit that all of my volunteer efforts are completely selfish, starting with the adoption of 4 special needs children. People who say I’m “a saint” or “so very special” for doing this are completely wrong. I do it because it benefits me. I get 4 wonderful, if not troubled, children to love and who love me. Despite their many problems, I know that if they were anywhere else, their problems would be much worse. Seeing any improvement in them is a joy, and knowing that I had something to do with that is extremely satisfying. Additionally, I HATE to clean house, so if I have the work of caring for 4 children, then I certainly don’t have time to clean. See? Win-win for me!

I have volunteered with a recreational group of adults with disabilities for 30 years. It is a wonderful group! I do not have to worry about wearing make-up or dressing fashionably because they accept me as I am, as I care for them. I have 50 great friends! We have a bowling league every Monday, and an activity to follow, such as Bingo, a guest speaker, chair dancing, Yoga just to mention a few. We take 2 inexpensive trips together annually. We have been to Disney World, Penn Dutch, New York and Radio City Music Hall, Niagra Falls, Montreal, New Hampshire and more trips too numerous to mention. This is great for the organization’s members because they can have the support they need to travel. I make the arrangements for a motor coach with a wheelchair lift so that our friends in wheelchairs are able to join us. We stay at accessible hotels. The group is great and helps each other, thus proving my theory that almost everyone can volunteer. We have people who are blind who push people in wheelchairs. (The person in the wheelchair acts as the sighted guide!) We have people who are deaf who are sighted guides for the blind. We have people who are developmentally delayed carrying bowling balls for individuals in wheelchairs. It is a wonderful, supportive group. We send each other birthday cards. We have a great social outlet that is entirely dependent upon volunteers. We are so “tight” that when I was pregnant with my oldest son, they threw a shower for me, and they gave me all items I could use so I could bring my son on trips with them…portable crib, stroller, travel size baby lotion and baby powder. At the age of 4 months, my son first started attending this group, and he traveled and volunteered with us until he was a teenager. When my other 4 children were adopted, they similarly came with me and this group, and volunteered to the best of their ability. They loved to help the developmentally delayed play Bingo, and they delighted when their “friend” won! They have learned to be happy in the success of others. They have all provide sighted guide assistance for the blind, pushed wheelchairs, carried bowling balls and assisted in any way needed.

My children have been raised to be conscious of the needs of others. My older son, Francis, is legally blind. That did not stop him from volunteering. In high school he became and Eagle Scout by organizing a collection of 5,000 pairs of eyeglasses which were donated to the local Lions Club. He volunteered at a local child care center and loved playing with the little children. He was an assistant Sunday School teacher and a volunteer annually at a camp for the blind and Bible School. In college he volunteered out of state several times for Habitat for Humanity. He might not have been able to see to pound in a nail, but he was strong and completely capable of carrying heavy materials and helping to hold walls up. He also helped to coordinate several food drives and walk-a-thons at his college. Currently, after obtaining his PhD from Cambridge University in England, he has his dream job of designing computers for people with disabilities.

My daughter, Dinora, adopted at an early age from Guatemala also joined us weekly and on trips with the recreational group and she also was an Assistant Sunday School Teacher. She and I did some fund raising to help open the soup kitchen, Tus Manos, in Antigua, Guatemala. Her most rewarding adventure was to spend the summer after high school graduation in Guatemala to help open the soup kitchen. I was there on the actual opening day, and the joy was overwhelming. Dinora had on an apron and a huge smile as she passed out food. She made sure to make eye contact and was friendly with everyone by giving them a pat on the back. Even the individuals who were disheveled and barefoot coming through the line with their eyes glancing downwards were rewarded by the accepting, compassionate friendliness of those passing out food. When they left the line, tray of food full, their eyes were looking upwards, often filled with tears. Dinora said to me she was thrilled to come and help out “her people” because she had led such a privileged life and they had not. I had brought with me a collection of new flannel shirts (on sale so cheaply I could not pass them up.) Dinora and I passed them out and the men, in tattered clothes, would humbly bow and thank us. It was a wonderful, uplifting trip. We traveled in a beautiful country and met many beautiful people who touched our hearts forever.

My son, Steven, who has Attention Deficit Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder also attended the recreational group as an infant and toddler. Despite his disability and limited social skills, he developed compassion for people with all types of disabilities from all walks of life. When he was about 8 I remember traveling with him in downtown Boston where there are many beggars on the streets and in the subway. That child had to give money to each and every one! He gave out all of his own money and then asked me for more. As we were about to get on the last subway he saw a disheveled man playing the guitar and he asked for more money. I had no more dollars to give and he said he couldn’t get on the subway until we gave this man something, so we both dug in our pockets to look for change, and managed to scrape up 37 cents which he ran over and put in the gentleman’s bucket. Now, at the age of 17, he uses his obsession with reptiles to volunteer at a reptile education center. He stands at the entrance with a huge boa constrictor, python, turtle or alligator, allowing people to pet the reptile and answering all of their questions. He may not be good at social interactions, but he found his own niche in which to volunteer.

Currently, my 15 year old son, who has Dissociative Identity Disorder from years of early childhood abuse, uses his “game show host” personality to call for the monthly Bingo game with the recreational group. He is HILARIOUS! He puts so much humor and energy into the Bingo games that this is their favorite activity. He also uses some of his own money to buy little Bingo prizes when he sees something he thinks they might like. In return, he gets their acceptance and love. He likewise calls Bingo games for a local nursing home. As a boy who desperately needs affection and acceptance due to his disability, it would normally be inappropriate for a 15 year old boy to hug adults. However his Bingo groups are comprised of many adults who have no family and no one else to care for them. They need his hugs and affection as much as he needs theirs. It is a win-win situation.  He also volunteers at his school as an “Autism Buddy”, a social group where the high school students provide activities and social interaction for younger children with autism.

My 13 year old daughter who is deaf and has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Attention Deficit Disorder loves to come to the recreational group so she can be a sighted guide. She has taken great pleasure in her ability to do this. She regularly guides women who are blind into the ladies room, showing them where the stall is. She has helped to feed individuals who need assistance, gently wiping their mouths if food drips down. She also volunteers in the same nursing home as my son. Her job, however, is to clean out the bird cage, (which she LOVES,) and to play Rummy with the residents. They are buoyed by her youth and enthusiasm and she loves it because she is helping.

Perhaps the greatest opportunity my children have had is having an uncle, (my brother) as a relative. My brother was born with Rubella Syndrome in 1951, He is developmentally delayed, legally blind, has a severe speech impediment and has a hearing impairment which has progressed to profound deafness. He became schizophrenic when he was 18, and this has gotten worse, with most of his conversation having to do with his rides on the Starship Enterprise. His head is greatly misshapen, he has only 2 teeth in the front, one side of his mouth droops down, he drools, and he has difficulty walking around and frequently trips without a strong arm to hold onto, My children adore him! He generally lives in a group home but I pick him up on Saturdays and holidays to spend a day with our family. He is greeted by a “Hi, Uncle Steve”, a hug and a smile by them all. The children are used to being a sighted guide for him, and will sometimes argue over who gets to do it. My brother is very easy to please. His greatest joy is riding the escalators at the mall, getting a diet coke and, to make it a perfect day, having a piece of cheesecake or a sundae. We took him yesterday to the mall, riding around for 1/2 hour on the escalators and going to the movies. He got his soda at the movies and afterwards we stopped for dinner and cheesecake. He was ecstatic! When we brought him back to the group home, he clapped his hands and told them it was the best day he ever had! Seeing someone so happy over simple pleasures is extremely humbling. Although caring for him is not in itself “volunteering”, it contains the same components. We do something to make his life better and we are rewarded by his happiness and joy. Money can’t buy the sense of satisfaction that brings to everyone involved.

In summary, to volunteer is a gift we give to ourselves as much as the gift we give to others. Most people, including children and people with disabilities, have the ability to volunteer. It is an extreme self-esteem booster and makes life much more fulfilling. I highly encourage it.

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