when your ‘last resort’ is your ‘dream come true’

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If you had told me even five years ago that I would be experiencing a major career switch before the age of 25, I would have thought you were crazy. I was IN LOVE with my social media position at the Oxygen Network, and I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else. I was also fortunate to have an amazing boss and mentor (whom I still love and admire like crazy) who later brought me on with her as the digital marketing coordinator for a political news network. When that network was sold to an international news network, however, I started to realized that maybe social media was not the right career path for me. I loved creating content and curating the various social pages, but the job became increasingly focused on the marketing aspect of the business with little room for creativity. (It’s not like you can be super creative when you’re reporting facts and news stories.) And that shift wasn’t particularly exciting for an artsy and nerdy English major who is happiest when she’s dreaming up new ideas and working on creative projects.

10628626_10152804020652642_9176936420018892715_nI knew that I had to make a major change in my life when, after being laid off from my job in early spring, I was surprised to find that I was actually elated and relieved. I was free. But free to do what? I had an English degree and absolutely no desire to pursue a career in law (can you seriously picture me in a drab old court all day?). So what’s a girl to do? Remembering my childhood dream of becoming a teacher, I reluctantly took education classes and figured that was my only option. Teaching was a career choice I had always kept on the periphery, considering it my Plan B in case I was on the verge of becoming a starving artist or something like that. But after giving it a lot of thought and spending the summer in Norway, where I did some deep soul-searching and (as cliche as it sounds) discovered myself a little better, I decided to give this teaching thing a shot.

1979508_10152801864832642_7612538560193325680_nFlash forward just over a month, now that I’ve been teaching for nearly four weeks, and I can’t imagine why I’d been so reluctant about choosing this profession. I think I was born to be a teacher. Is there anything more rewarding than knowing you’re educating and inspiring a love of knowledge in the next generation? Is there anything cooler than doing whatever you can – from wearing a book-themed shirt to handing out Ninja Turtle and Frozen stickers – in order to make lessons relevant and exciting for today’s kids?

In the upcoming posts, I would love to share more about my new life as a teacher. I still love to write about growing up with a disability and sharing stories about others with disabilities who have accomplished amazing things, but my life is about way more than just my nonexistent hand. And I really want this blog to reflect that.

 

Peace,

Caitlin (or Ms. P, as the students like to call me)

 

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why style matters

IMG_0180Like most other red-blooded females in the universe, I LOVE shopping. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something so exhilarating about buying new clothes and then pairing them with other pieces in your closet. The idea of following fashion and obsessing over finding the perfect outfit may seem frivolous (my boyfriend always rolls his eyes at me when I bring up this topic), but your clothes are actually a big part of how others view you and how you act. What you wear is an outside expression of who you are and what you like. Some studies even suggest that the way you’re dressed also influences your attitude and how you feel. And it’s not like it’s legal to walk around naked anyway, so why not give a little thought to how you present yourself to the world?

IMG_0767Although it seems like some people expect those of us with disabilities to care less about our looks and what we wear, that idea is far from the truth. I can’t speak for everyone, but I do know that I (and several others I’ve both met and followed online) love nothing more than the opportunity to doll up in a cute dress and pearls. That said, I’d love to introduce you to a few style blogs that happen to be written by women with disabilities and that are definitely worth a follow.

1) Spashionista

1b5bcb7a9064abd7f474291dad3c67c1Alicia is a ‘fashionista over 50′ whose quirky and fun style makes you wish the stick-thin 20-something runway models would be a little more like her. Every outfit perfectly captures her personality and sunshiney attitude. And aside from sharing her personal style, Alicia also advocates for animal rights and has rounded up a group of ‘roll models’ (I’m one of them!) to prove that fashion and happiness are for everyone.

2) Threaded -

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Haylee may still be in college, but this girl is already on her way to becoming the next big fashion designer (I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll see her on Project Runway someday soon.) She’s a master seamstress who designs and creates her own gorgeous outfits that leave you thinking, “Oh my gosh, she made that?!” Yup, that’s talent.

3) Manufactured 1987

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Jillian, an FIT grad and NYC native, writes about the latest in the fashion world and shares photos of her own daily outfits. She’s also completely badass and makes me wish I were brave enough to rock her unique hair color. Oh, and she’s a model in the most recent Nordstrom catalog. No big deal, right?

 

These women have the style and confidence that I admire and aim to exude in my own daily wardrobe picks. They take the idea of self-expression to another level and make sure every outfit they wear says, “This is me. This is my personality. And I know I’m awesome.”

 

(Just as a side note: I’m hoping to include more topics, like style and fashion, in this blog in the near future. I still plan to write posts on disability and living with a physical difference, but I would love to include some other content as well. What do you all think?)

 

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seeing disability through a different lens

I’ve made it no secret on this blog that I wasn’t the most confident person growing up. I hid my limb difference as much as I could and refused to display it in photographs until very recently. I was taught from an early age that my lack of a hand was something that should be hidden. If you look at the pictures (the few that do exist) of my early teen years, you’ll find it’s nearly impossible to tell that I’m missing half my left arm. By that age, I’d already become a pro at disguising my defect (or what I considered a defect back then, rather) using sweaters, jackets, long sleeves and gloves. I was determined to look as normal as possible and grew embarrassed whenever someone would call attention to my missing hand. Things have fortunately changed since then and I’ve come a long way in building a better self image. But sometimes I think about my old pictures and regret all the anxiety and energy I put into hiding myself.

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15-year-old me always opted for long opera gloves

When I think about my relationship with my disability as a child, I always wonder if maybe there were things I (or those around me) could have done to help me feel more confident about looking different. I did go to camp for kids with disabilities a couple times, but their main focus was more on learning to use my Myoelectric prosthetic and functioning in a two-handed world. They didn’t really address the topic of body image, and it wasn’t like there was any representation of limb difference on TV or in movies. So who’s a limb different girl to look up to in this looks-obsessed society? When is a child with a disability allowed to feel like she can be beautiful just as she is?

A few days ago, a close family friend sent me a link to a post about a photographer who snaps pictures of her daughter and creates beautiful dream-like scenes with them. The little girl, Violet, does not have a left hand, but that’s hardly the main reason for staring at the images. Violet’s mother Holly Spring has used digital editing to transform the backgrounds into several different fantastical worlds for her daughter to inhabit,  images that include giraffes, enchanted meadows, and sunset boat rides. Her muse and model absolutely shines as she smiles, poses, and dances for the camera. And what’s one thing I can’t help but notice in all the photos? While not all the pictures display her smaller arm, little Violet clearly makes no attempt to conceal it.

Holly Spring's photos features her little girl embarking on various whimsical adventures

Holly Spring’s photos features her little girl embarking on various whimsical adventures

What we see in Spring’s photos is a girl who has more confidence as a kindergartener than I’ve been able to muster in more than two decades. Her joy and freedom and self esteem are palpable. What we don’t see, however, is Violet’s mother who stands behind the scenes. But Spring is more than just the photographer here. She is the one responsible for her daughter’s glow, building Violet’s confidence by casting her in the spotlight and showing her how beautiful she is. I think the most important factor in growing a child’s self-confidence is letting them know that someone they love believes in them and believes that they’re beautiful, that their physical difference does not detract one bit from that beauty.

1524823_741268325885514_164229681_n 2Violet is still young, and her opinions about herself will develop and evolve as she grows older. That’s a fact of life, and we all go through moments of self-consciousness and insecurity. But I hope that when that time comes, when doubt sneaks its way into her mind, that she will take one look through her childhood photos and summon even an ounce of the easy confidence she displays in those radiant images.

 

 

(Second and third images belong to Holly Spring)
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my life in GIFs: 10 things that cost less than a bionic arm

One question I’m asked frequently (after the inevitable “What happened to your arm?”) is this: “How much does a prosthetic hand cost?” Let’s put it this way – you know when people facetiously claim that something crazy-expensive costs an arm and a leg? Well, that’s pretty accurate. And while I’m not entirely sure how much a leg costs, I can assure you that an artificial hand is a big investment. A Myoelectric arm prosthesis (the kind that lets you open and close the hand) will set you back upwards of $20,000. And the cosmetic hand (read: the one that’s just for show) is not too far behind.

To put this information in perspective, here’s a list of things that my artificial hand most likely costs more than:

1) A car -

Unless you’re driving a Beamer (or something of equal or higher value), chances are good that my robotic limb is more expensive.

2) Breast implants -

I’m not saying I would get them, but I totally could… Let’s just say, I could look like Heidi Montag right now if I’d pursued this route.

3) A year of college -

According to CollegeData.com, a year at an out-of-state public college will set you back $22,203 on average. And if you decide to attend a public university in your state, my arm could pay for about two years. Crazy, huh?

4) A year’s worth of rent – 

Maybe this wouldn’t be so helpful if you’re living in (extremely overpriced) NYC, but you could definitely get a pretty decent apartment anywhere else.

5) A Louis Vuitton bag -

Actually, depending on which bags you pick, you could probably afford a whole designer wardrobe.

6) A small wedding – 

Granted, it wouldn’t be a Kim Kardashian/Kris Humphries affair, but this sum of money could buy a girl with simple tastes her Pinterest dream wedding.

7) A year abroad – 

You know that gap year some kids take between high school and college? My prosthetic could fund that in full and may even last you a few years after that.

8) Diamonds – 

Who cares about having an artificial fourth limb when diamonds are a girl’s best friend?

9) Laptops for the whole family – 

And I’m talking good laptops, something like the MacBook Air.

10) A year’s worth of concerts and music festivals – 

Concert tickets for big-name artists can get pretty expensive. With what it costs to buy my fake hand, you could probably even follow one of them on their next tour (that’s what? 20 concerts across the globe? With front-row seats?).

 

So the next time I casually say that I would “give my left arm” for something on this list, know that I am most likely actually considering it….

 

Peace,

Caitlin

 

(All images/GIFs in this post found via Google.)
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my boyfriend is lucky to have me

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I know, I know – the title of this post sounds ridiculously arrogant and narcissistic. But hear me out! Just the other day, I overheard someone (hi, Mom) gushing on the phone about how sweet it is that my boyfriend Daniel loves me with or without my arm. I knew she meant that he doesn’t care whether or not I wear my prosthetic, but her comment made me think about similar things I’ve heard all throughout my life. It reminded me especially of an email a church community leader once sent out in an attempt to inspire its recipients. The email featured a series of photos of a married couple and their children doing various everyday family activities. The wife and mother in the images happened to be missing both legs, and her husband’s marriage to her was being touted as an example of “true love.” It was supposed to be a “heartwarming” message, but it had the opposite effect on me.

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Equals

The idea that a disabled person is somehow less deserving and less likely to find a partner is one that our appearance-focused dating culture and media unfortunately perpetuate when they publish stories like the one I mentioned above. And when well-meaning people share these faux-inspirational love stories online, they are unwittingly contributing to a belief that demeans people society considers less-than-perfect and ultimately devalues the concept of love as a whole. A good relationship requires the two people involved to view each other as equals. So when we are encouraged to see an able-bodied person as a saint or a martyr for dating/marrying someone disabled, that relationship becomes severely unbalanced and puts the latter person in a place of disempowerment and dependence. A healthy relationship is a two-way street, and love needs to be present at both ends for it to work. If we praise one person for loving the other, we imply that the other person is less deserving of affection and that their love means less. That’s just not okay, nor is it accurate at all.

IMG_20140524_110609Unfortunately, this idea has so saturated society’s minds that I feel the effects myself all the time. I can’t explain how rude it is when someone tells me that they’re so glad I found someone or that it’s great that my boyfriend isn’t shallow. Ouch. That can be a huge blow to anyone’s self esteem. (Do these people even think it’s a compliment when they say something like this???) In any case, they’re wrong in their assumptions about my relationship. My boyfriend is not selfless or saintly for loving me. He is not with me because of any sense of pity or self-righteousness. Dating me is not a sacrifice, and I am not a charity case. Yes, I’m incredibly blessed that I found an amazing man I’ve grown to love deeply. But my boyfriend is equally lucky that he’s with me. We both have a lot to offer each other, and our relationship is based on love and trust and caring and attraction (both mental and physical.) It’s an insult to both parties in a relationship for anyone to assume otherwise.

So I leave you with this: the next time you read or hear about one of these “inspiring” stories of “true love,” be happy for the couple (because yes, all love is beautiful) and then roll your eyes and move on with your life.

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