Tuesday, October 11, 2011

October is National Disabilities Awareness Month

My mother was run over by a truck and had her leg crushed at age 16. In the hospital bed she overheard the doctors saying that she would never walk again. My mother was from a southern family where “women did not work.” She was also strong willed. With a battered leg she learned to walk and left home to become a nurse. If she had anything to say about it, another child would not hear what was not possible.

My father was in medical school when he met my mother. He was one of eight boys in a family from a coal mine region in Pennsylvania. His family was not rich, but he was academically gifted and he was the one that was chosen to move up and become a physician. He had a gentle soul and I remember carrying in groceries on medical house calls he made to the poorer families to ensure that the children would be fed. My father also had Diabetes. He lost his vision five years before his short life ended at the tender age of 62.

My wife’s knee was consumed by a giant cell tumor a few years after our son was born. She elected leg salvage surgery and became the first person ever to have a total knee transplant from a cadaver. For twenty odds years, several surgeries and through many trials and tribulations, her leg was finally amputated in 2006.

If this were not enough to instill a sensitivity to national disabilities month, early in my counseling career I found myself backed into a corner and joined the ranks of those not mentally well. I experienced a total mental breakdown, vacillated between paranoia and omnipotence, gaining a true understanding of the meaning bi-polar! Now looking back and having survived, I am actually thankful for my debilitating experience. I am far more effective with people experiencing mental health issues having been there and it prompted a quest for spiritual discovery which I did not even know was lacking. I had been excessively self-centered, not very honest with myself and operated under the influence of many illusions. I needed a kick in the pants to first understand vulnerability and then the interconnectedness we share with a living web of energies on this planet.

My parents both died before I left my twenties. They were a powerful team and provided well for our family. My father was a very quiet man and in retroflection I have his listening skills which are necessary in counseling. My mother never stopped talking, so from her I claim a gift for public speaking. From both of them I understand the concept of unconditional love being their only son with five older sisters and one younger sister. I had no concept of people with disabilities when they were alive.

My wife on the other hand has provided the opportunity to learn many lessons. She is an artist and sees far more than I on first glance into the universe. Her strength is amazing and inspiring. She is a researcher par excellence and continually expands my consciousness. We have held each other tightly during our darkest hours. Today she walks strongly with a prosthetic leg. Today I am writing this message as the President of the National Employment Counseling Association and my research has evolved into exploring the concept of Wellness.

During National Disabilities Month, I will be presenting “ Wellness in the Workplace, Talent Has No Boundaries” for the Atlantic Cape May Workforce Investment Board Disabilities Committee. We have invited Employers, the staff of agencies that provide services to people with disabilities and people who consume these services. I plan to use all my skill at facilitating group interactions to engage my audience. I’ll entertain them, give them the opportunity to learn through interactive processes and hopefully deliver thought provoking messages.

All humans encounter challenges in this existence called life on earth. We are all unique and have different sets of strengths and weaknesses. We each have our own personal set of talents and “disabilities.” Every person we encounter has a message for us. Counselors are taught to listen and understand from our client’s perspective. If we can help other humans to really listen, speak the truth with a caring heart and open their mind to possibilities, more doors will open.

Wellness in the workplace begins with truly valuing ourselves. When we love ourselves unconditionally, we then have the capacity to value every other human we encounter. Everyone has made mistakes. We have engaged in activities and said words that have hurt, both us and others. We have all known fear and doubt and felt really alone. I find truth in the concept that when we face our challenges and persevere, we come out stronger on the other side. But I also know, when we feel alone it helps when another extends a hand.

It is through our compassion that we care for the dignity, well-being and integrity of every person around us. Our capacity to embody this quality, simple as it may seem, is the strength that can change the world around us.

Thich Nhat Hanh (Vietnamese Buddhist Monk)

If you have chosen to be a Workforce Development Professional, you are in a healing occupation. I salute you. Be well.

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