I went to a Christian University right out of high school. I lived in a small rural farming community with no Christian colleges nearby so I thought that I may as well go to the one my parents attended … 5 states away. What I didn’t realize, is that little had changed in the 25 years since my parents went there. Rules, regulations, and unequal criteria for males/females were still early 1960’s. If I had it to do over again, I would have transferred out after I met my husband-to-be my Freshman year. He was smart and he did that. I’m stubborn though and wanted to finish where I started. I remember the first week when I received my first demerit. I still have every demerit I ever received. Back to that in a minute…
You see? In high school I was “the weird one”. I had some close friends, which coupled with my dream of “leaving forever”, was part of the reason I survived high school. I grew up in a legalistic, religious background. It was a loving home… and most of what I experienced I wouldn’t change because I’m sure it is a part of who I am today (and I happen to like who I am today). However, in high school I was not allowed to do anything OUTSIDE OF SCHOOL. No “dragging main” on Friday and Saturday nights. I wasn’t allowed to date until I was 16 years old, and by the time I hit that milestone everyone thought I was “weird”. I didn’t get to go to movies or dances. I got really tired of people thinking I felt as if I was better than everyone else, when the boundaries put in place were not of my choosing. I was bullied. I’ve never really talked about it to many people. Classmates would probably be shocked if they knew some of the things that happened to me when I was caught in the gym alone, or in the hallway on the way to Study Hall. One of my bullies (a second cousin one year older) would actually follow me into the bathroom (he was male) and shove me around just for kicks. Another bully, also one year older, not only shoved me around and called me names, but he pinched private parts, threatened me with horrible death threats, and basically made my life hell. I would just see him coming and start to have a panic attack. I learned to duck into safe places like the office, or favorite teacher’s rooms “just to say hi” to escape an encounter with him. One of the things he constantly pounded (quite literally) into me was that I thought I was better than everyone else because I was so “holy”. This is the baggage I took into college with me <smile>!
Yay! A Demerit!
By the time I was 18 and started getting written up (for really ridiculous things), I began to really excel at breaking stupid rules. Sure, I got a LOT of demerits but I did plenty of things I never got caught for either. I don’t say that in a bragging way. My point is that I really was proud of having proof on paper what a “rebel” I was. I even sat through some “sermons” from hall monitors and dorm mothers because of what my last name was. My family name was known at this university and they couldn’t believe I wasn’t behaving “perfectly”. I got married young and tease my husband that it was “just to get out of the dorm”. I even received some demerits after I said “I do“… for sitting to close to my husband in chapel. *rolls eyes* But ya know something? I hung on to every single one of those demerits because they were important to me. They represented a turning point in my life. I finally realized as a young adult that I could make decisions about what I would – and wouldn’t do – by myself. I really filled my lungs deeply with the freedom of that feeling! Demerits were received for not meeting someone else’s expectations. Now I could determine what my own boundaries were, what my expectations were for my own life.
I’m a person of faith (and haven’t tried to hide that on here), but I like to think I really live my faith and am a REAL person. Life isn’t about rules and regulations. Nothing wrong with some of those as they keep us on track, help us reach goals, and provide security. However, these rules and boundaries are only good when they set us free, not when they cripple us. Trying to follow someone else’s rules will only get you a box full of demerits. You have to believe what you live and live what you believe.
Life Turning Point
My college experiences and changes set the stage for how I handle life today. It was a turning point for me. I stopped apologizing for who I was, and felt comfortable in my own skin because *I* had made decisions and set standards for myself that I approved of and felt comfortable with as well. If someone didn’t like what I did, I gently (OK, sometimes it wasn’t gentle) argued that I respected their choices, so they should respect mine. I learned to be responsible for ME. I wanted to live a transparent, REAL kind of life, and wanted to make a difference because of that “realness”.
I had single-sided deafness from a car accident at the age of 6-years-old. I had my last ear surgery at the age of 18. I STILL think it took us all by surprise when I developed rather rapid, bi-lateral, progressive, sensorineural hearing loss after the birth of my kiddos. At the same time, I developed Meniere’s disease (although I didn’t know what it was at the time). I determined early on what kind of “person with disabilities” I wanted to be. I would be responsible for who I am and how I cope. My top TEN decisions that turned my life around:
1. It is OK to grieve. It is OK to scream.
I learned how important it is to give yourself permission to FEEL. Bottling up those feelings only leads to physical and emotional problems.
2. Discover your “safe people”.
3. I can “be deaf and have a balance disorder” however I want!
Disability and invisible illnesses are often unique and you may not share exactly the same symptoms as another. Own who you are. Do what makes you comfortable with your “new normal”. For me this means bling-bling on the cochlear implant, bright canes and assistance dog. I am far better served to make the invisible, visible.
4. When necessary, get professional help.
There is no shame in seeking help. Finding a trusted, objective professional can be very beneficial for a variety of reasons. If you aren’t happy with who you are seeing, find someone else.
5. When necessary, ASK for help from others.
There is no shame in asking for help when you need assistance. I have never had anyone turn me down if I ask for help getting to my car, or to help me identify what sound Chloe is zeroed in on. In spite of the negative headlines, most people are nice. Most are glad to help when asked and feel good about offering assistance. (There is a trick to this though – you DO have to ASK. If you are an independent peep like me, folks have learned to wait to see if I ask for help).
6. Believe you can make a difference.
I don’t care what your limitations are. I have never met ANYONE that didn’t have a way to make a difference – to be a catalyst for positive change. Our disabilities don’t limit us – WE limit ourselves.
7. Avoid negative people.
We all have these folks in our lives. But you can limit your interaction. Set boundaries. Protect yourself.
8. Dream big. Have goals.
Just because special challenges “rocked your world” doesn’t mean you can’t have short-term and long-term goals. Your attitude is the only barrier to achieving these.
9. Write. Share. Take photos.
Thinking is great. I recommend THINKING. However, the single most powerful tool I have is my writing. I know others who draw, take pictures, or attend support groups and share. Make sure your “new normal” is something tangible, something you can look back on and identify and recognize change.
10. Don’t work at meeting someone else’s expectations.
If you haven’t learned this already, here’s a news flash. You can’t please everyone. It is healthy to have expectations for yourself, but those alone are all you should work towards.
Have you ever received “grief” for not following someone else’s directions about how to live your life? As a kid, this is OK because we need older (and sometimes wiser) folks to give us direction and instill good habits. But as an adult, you are responsible for you. Don’t apologize for choices you have made. If you deal with your challenges a certain way and it works for you, pat yourself on the back. Be careful though. Like ALL people, we can become focused on self. That isn’t what I’m trying to encourage here. We need other people. Don’t isolate yourself and say, “to heck with the rest of the world”.
© 2014 Personal Hearing Loss Journal