Picture by Michelle Steiner
Flowers have always been a major part of my life. I can remember loving the smell and the beauty of them, from the time I was a child. I remember being young and picking flowers that my family grew. Another significant part of my life has been having a disability. I was diagnosed with a Learning Disability as a young child starting out school. Much like the flowers that changed with seasons, so did my view on my disability. All the flowers didn’t grow at once, but each at it’s appointed time. Each flower symbolized how I thought of my disability.
When I was first diagnosed I was like a tiny violet. People remarked on how shy I was. In fifth grade I won an award for the shyest girl in my class. I had a hard time fitting in with my peers. Part of the reason was that I was an only child for many years and that I had more adult interactions. When I went to school I found it difficult to relate to the other students. The other reason that I was bashful was the rejection that I received. The small Western PA school that I went to made it impossible to hide or blend in. My peers knew that I went to a Learning Support. I was not viewed as smart and had many unkind remarks told to me. I wanted to fit in, and to speak up. I felt when I did I was ridiculed and laughed at. Struggling in school also made feel stupid as well. I doubted myself academically and socially. Keeping quiet was my protection. I bloomed but no one seemed to notice.
Pink lilies by Michelle Steiner
When I was a teenager my disability was like a lily. I was beginning to become more vibrant shades of pink, yellow and orange. I took pride and felt bold in things that I was good at such as reading and writing. I made friends in a neighboring school and with others from the community. Despite the increased brightness, I was delicate. I feared surviving the conditions outside of the public school. The strategies of extended test time, having the test read aloud to me and teachers giving me extra help, were working. Would my lily petals survive the harsh winter winds, of the real world? The school staff gave stern lectures about working hard or they wouldn’t graduate. I also had a teacher who didn’t think I could handle college, because of my math difficulties. As an adult I can see that this was meant to motivate students to do their best and work hard. I couldn’t see that having to repeat a grade and having to put in extra effort was building resilience. Thankfully I had a student teacher and case workers from Vocational Rehabilitation that saw my potential as well. Despite my fears I graduated and went forward.
I felt like a Holly Berry during the first part of my post secondary years. I found a program at a community college, that I was interested in and had disability accommodations. I didn’t use these services at first because of the stigma that surrounded them. Many people thought that they gave students an unfair advantage. I had an advisor who wouldn’t go to a meeting with the office for students with disabilities to clarify a few issues. I also had professionals who told me that my education and job choices would be limited because of my disability. Despite the cold conditions, tiny red berries began to burst forward. Vibrant curved leaves formed on the branches. I graduated and worked in childcare settings. I was able to move out on my own. I always wanted more though. Due to financial reasons and my job downsizing I had to move back in with my parents. During that time I decided that it I wanted to to try to go back to school.
When I went to university I felt like a sunflower. I wasn’t working and school became my job. I used the accommodations of a note taker, extended test time, and tutoring. I found a program that interested me and had the least amount of math possible. I was also more comfortable talking to my professors about my disability, and the accommodations I needed. Most of my instructors were helpful and knew I was trying my best. I had a few who didn’t understand, but I was better able to handle the situation. Using accommodations and advocating for myself helped me to do well at school. I basked in the sunlight of the accomplishment of getting my Bachelors degree. I also began to face the bright rays of light of what I could do and not focus on the gloom of the shadows of what I couldn’t accomplish. A sunflower can’t grow in the shade and neither could I.
Photo by Michelle Steiner
I have also had other flowers that have grown along side the featured ones. Lavender and lilacs have always been a favorite of mine. The sweet aroma of fresh lilacs is intoxicating. My grandfather grew a giant lilac plant in his yard and have fond memories of sitting underneath it. Every time I see lilacs I remember that there were happy moments in the past. The lavender also has calmed through frustrations when I tried hard but failed.
The vibrant energy of a red rose helped to give me the energy to move forward and try again. It helped to create a passion to want to help others on their journeys with having a disability as well.
The red, yellow, and orange tulips that bloomed every spring gave me hope. Every spring they are one of the first flowers to bloom. After a long winter and season of set backs, seeing the tulips helped to revive me. I began to have hope in myself.
Each flower that has represented my disability has made a beautiful bouquet. The variety of flowers, shows how my view of it has evolved. The flowers may be different but not less. Each has served a purpose in my life. Some of the blooms were more noticed and others grew in the shadows. Others may not see beauty in my blooms and accomplishments. Many people will say that I should be more accomplished. Other people will see only the beauty, but not the difficulties that often surround it. I have learned to tend to my own garden and ignore others who don’t understand. I now can see and appreciate the value and beauty each flower that my disability represents.