For the next instalment of this series, The Lance interviewed students on campus who have visible and invisible disabilities. Below are their stories of what it’s like to have a disability, their experiences, and interactions with people. This article cannot speak for all people who have a certain disability such as ADHD or an anxiety disorder, but it is a step in learning about one person who has it, to empathize and begin to understand someone else who does too. But first, get to know a little bit about Ocean, Joshua, Kylie and Blake.
If you ever saw Ocean Connolly around the U, you'd see her best friend and therapist by her side.
Andy is Ocean’s service dog. She adopted him from the humane society about four years ago and worked with a trainer to get him certified.
“If I’m starting to struggle or if I’m starting to panic or disassociate, he’s there to ground me. When I touch him, pet him, it keeps me present. I can focus on him and because he’s not another person, I don’t have to worry about him judging me.”
Connolly speaks on the difference Andy has made in her life.
"I felt more comfortable just going places, like I felt more comfortable being at school, or being on public transit. Pretty much anywhere I went, my level of anxiety was lower. It was pretty much an immediate difference which you don’t get that with most other kinds of treatments."
Not only does Andy help Connolly, but he puts a smile on people who pass by too. One thing that people often forget is that going in to touch or pet Andy will distract him from his work.
"A lot of people think he's adorable, that’s definitely a big one that I get. A lot of people don’t know proper etiquette around service dogs. I get a lot of people trying to touch him or pet him. They’re well-intentioned, they just don’t know any better or they think that he’s a therapy dog - they think he’s for other people."
Connolly has an anxiety disorder and has trouble with panic attacks as well as social anxiety. She has complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which is where the anxiety stems from. Anxiety disorders are different from regular feelings of nervousness or anxiousness as they involve excessive fear or anxiety. Anxiety disorders are the most common of mental disorders and affect nearly 30 percent of adults at some point in their lives.
Connolly describes what a panic attack may feel like for most people.
“You feel like the world is crashing down. You feel like you have a hard time breathing, your heart is racing, your dizzy, your hands are sweating. A lot of people actually think they’re having a heart attack. It’s a very intense experience physically.”
On the other hand, Connolly says that an anxiety attack is much different.
“As a person with PTSD, if I’m triggered, I will often experience an intense rush of emotion and sometimes disassociate. For other people, if they’re having an anxiety attack, you may not be able to tell at all which I think is important because people assume that it's always very obvious or its the stereotype of someone hyperventilating or crying. Everybody experiences it differently and everybody shows it differently.”
Time and energy are what Connolly’s anxiety disorder affects the most.
“In terms of school work, one of the biggest things is if I’m going through a rough patch or if I’m triggered, it obviously takes away from time and energy that I can devote to school work. I start to doubt myself. It affects my concentration. It affects my ability to plan and organize.”
Connolly has a disability that is invisible to the eye which can make it hard for some people to grasp that she has a disability. On occasion, Connolly will encounter people who are skeptical about her disability. For example, saying that she doesn’t “look” like she needs a service dog. Connolly has even had problems when it comes to accommodations for class assignments and tests.
“I had one situation, for instance, where I wasn’t getting my accommodation from a professor, and she was just flat out refusing to give me my accommodations. I went to her and I said, It’s against the law to not accommodate me.” She put up a big fuss and I was having a really hard time talking to her, so I went to my advisor and my advisor said, “Well you kind of went in with guns blazing, you know talking about the law.” And I was like “It is my right.”
Connolly believes that Student Accessibility Services advocates for students but sometimes doesn’t allow students to advocate for themselves. Most people have the perception that a person with a disability isn't likely to or cannot stand up for themselves.
“We’re expected to be apologetic, we’re expected to basically subordinate yourself. As soon as you show that you have confidence or power as a person with a disability, you’re not given the same respect, people are not as willing to accommodate.”
In Connolly’s experience with asking for an extension on an assignment, midterm or exam, she sometimes has a hard time receiving her accommodations. Some may question why she would need an extension during midterms but do not need one before. Connolly feels that professors think that she is taking advantage of her accommodations when in reality midterm season adds a lot more stress and can be a huge trigger.
Connolly uses the spoon theory to express the amount of energy a person has. If everyone has a limited amount of spoons of energy to expend, then a person with a disability is already constantly expending more energy than a person without a disability.
“So it’s not about, “oh I think now would be a really convenient time to use my accommodations because I have a million things due and I procrastinated,” it’s about my time and energy already more limited than the average person. If most students are freaking out at finals time and I have less energy to give out, to begin with, it makes sense that I am going to struggle and need accommodation.”
Connolly finds it odd that some people will think that she is faking. She says that it not enjoyable to basically humiliate yourself in order to ask for something. She doesn’t understand why a person with a disability is written off as soon as they’re seen as confident.
“You’re seen as faking until proven otherwise if you have an invisible disability. You feel like you constantly have to prove yourself.”
An interesting fact about Connolly is that her name change was approved this past December.
“I changed it informally over the summer. Basically, I just don’t have a good association with my birth name. For me, a big part of healing and owning my story was deciding I want to name myself. I don’t want to use a word to describe myself that someone else decided I was. I want to decide for myself who I am."
Connolly would use empathetic, passionate, and ambitious to describe herself. She looks up to her friends and calls them her 'chosen family' due to how supportive they are.
She believes that to break down the stigma around mental health, it takes educating people and providing a new perspective.
"I think if we can get people to think about the fact that they have mental health too and its something that everybody needs to take care of, then all of a sudden we go from having these two groups “mentally ill people” and “normal people” to just thinking of everyone having this aspect of their health."
Connolly is finishing up her last semester and is excited to see where life will take her next. She’s applied to graduate school and is hoping to be a community psychologist in which she’ll apply psych to social justice issues.
A Facebook notification may distract someone for a few minutes, but for someone with ADHD, it’s a distraction that can keep them scrolling for hours. It’s the reason why Joshua Sorhaindo deleted the Facebook app off of his phone.
“I try to be on that less. I try to cut things like that because you look and you could spend 2 hours browsing when you could’ve been more productive. You can’t be wasting your time on there because that’s the biggest resource, time.”
To ensure that Sorhaindo doesn’t let things distract him, he’ll study in a quiet room. He understands that this is something that he’ll deal with for the rest of his life.
Sorhaindo was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a disorder that causes a person to be hyperactive and unable to control their impulses. They may even have trouble paying attention. Sorhaindo was diagnosed at the age of 7 and remembers how things quickly changed for him.
“In school, I was brought to a different room sometimes to work on things. When people were learning cursive writing, I didn’t get to learn that. That’s something I remember from when I was really little. I remember thinking, ’why am I not learning it’. Over time I think I felt a bit less like an outcast and instead of recognizing that I take a bit longer to do some stuff.”
Sorhaindo says that the accommodations at the University of Windsor through the Student Accessibility Services help him with tests and assignments. Every semester he visits the SAS to receive medical documentation from a psychiatrist or physician in order to be given forms that he gives to each of his professors. This notifies the professor that he has ADHD. Sorhaindo knows people who have ADHD but do not register with SAS.
“It’s up to everybody if they want to sign up for it or not but I think it’s very beneficial to do so. I would encourage if you have ADHD and you haven't signed up for it, sign up for it. It would be a good idea to look into it because it’s very helpful for me. If you don’t sign up for it, it can be sometimes tough to keep up.”
When Sorhaindo isn’t in a lab at the U, he likes to play video games, read, and listen to music. He’s never been great at drawing, but he appreciates art and likes to go to art galleries. Sorhaindo would describe himself as calm, thoughtful and helpful.
He tries to always have a positive outlook on a bad situation.
“I think something to go by is, even if you’re going through a hard time, I always subscribe to the fact that things will get better. There’s always another way out. Whether you have to deal with it yourself or you’re having problems with something, don’t just count yourself out, look for solutions.”
“I just want what everyone else wants which is acceptance in the world.” Says Kylie Jamieson.
Jamieson’s disability is called Charcot-Marie-Tooth, a neurological disease that has affected her muscles and nerves since she was born. It was named after three scientists that discovered it. However, Jamieson was not always in a wheelchair.
“I wasn’t always in a wheelchair and that’s what a lot of people find so surprising. When I was in grade 6, I was no longer able to walk myself so I had to use a walker. In grade 7 I went into a wheelchair so it was a very quick process. It’s a progressive disease so over a long period of time it will get worse.”
It’s a rare disease and Jamieson has never met anyone else with Charcot-Marie-Tooth, just read about other people who have it as well. She doesn’t think about the fact that it’s a progressive disease and instead focuses her mind on other things such as school, her career, and her future.
“Of course there are bad days. Sure there are days where I’ll be down and I’ll wish that I wasn’t in a wheelchair, but if I wasn’t in a wheelchair I wouldn’t be who I am. I highly believe that. At the end of the day, it is what it is and I just find ways to cope with it and be positive. Of course, there are times where I’m going to be negative but I think that’s sort of inevitable, it’s going to happen with anyone.”
Intelligent, trustworthy and quiet are the three words Jamieson uses to describe herself. In the future, she wants to be an editor.
“Right now I’m in the editing practicum. So we’re putting out an actual book and launching it in April. It’s definitely a great experience for my work.”
For able-bodied people, it may never cross their mind if the next place they’re going to is accessible. Will it have a ramp or wide doors? Will it have the proper accommodations for my disability? That is something that Jamieson has to think about regularly.
“I’ve always had to worry where the bathroom is, if it’s accessible, if there’s an elevator, if necessary, or if there is a seat if necessary, you know. So I always have to adapt, be always sort of, I guess, aware of my surroundings. I have to make sure there is a ramp or an accessible door. I never really thought about it that way, that I have to adapt to other places rather than them adapting to people with disabilities.”
Now that Jamieson is graduating she’s worried about going on to do her Masters if she attends another university.
“I think the best thing about this university is that they have great disability services here. That's what worries me about leaving because I’m almost done and I want to go on to do my Masters, but I may not be able to go here. I’m very comfortable here and I know how the university works. Disability Services is very accommodating. They are willing to change a classroom for me if I have a good reason.”
When Jamieson has to write an exam, she’s able to write it in an isolated room where she’s given a computer to type or speak into headphones. If she wasn’t able to receive that accommodation, her writing would not be great and it would be physically exhausting to the point where she would have to stop.
When Jamieson was younger it bothered her that people would stare at her, but now she doesn’t really care. When she sees someone in a wheelchair she wants to know why, too, even though she is in a wheelchair. One challenge that Jamieson faces is people underestimating her.
“I’ve had people talk to me like I was a baby like I had no sense of intelligence. I’m a fourth-year university student with goals in life. There’s such a stigma against people with disabilities that they can't understand what you're saying which is so not true. I’ve had people be so shocked when they find out that I’m an English and Psychology major, but why is it such a big deal?”
Jamieson inspires many people to think differently about the world, and recognize inaccessible areas that they may not have noticed before.
“I was sick one day and my professor wanted to go to the Green Bean for the last day of class and its in the basement of the church right, so we weren’t sure if it was accessible. My one friend in that class who I just started talking to, she ran after my professor and she's like “I don’t know if it's accessible”. I wasn’t even in class and I wasn’t aware that they were going to the Green Bean but she took that initiative for me so that she could speak up for me. In times it’s very necessary especially if I’m not there to speak for myself. I was proud that she did something like that because it’s not just for me in a way. It’s sort of like a step towards acceptance for everyone.”
When Holtby came to the university he participated in the Build program, a program for students with learning disabilities, which helped him get settled into residence and get a head start on school.
Holtby has ADHD and was diagnosed with it when he was in grade 3. He doesn’t see ADHD as a learning disability, but a learning difference. He also describes it as his brain running without the secretary it needs.
“I think very differently than a lot of people. I have a very outside the box way of thinking. I’m not any different because I have ADHD.”
In high school, he had a tough time with his teachers who did not understand the need to accommodate him.
“I remember I was in my grade 12 English class and I had asked the teacher a question. He turned around and looked at me for a few seconds, and then turned around and continued teaching again. The whole class was in shock. I just needed clarification. I didn’t understand how he was saying it.”
Now being at the university, he feels that he has had a good experience being accommodated.
“When I give in my form that lets the professor know I have ADHD, some will ask me how they can help me further and others will just take it. But I’ve never had a bad experience.”
However, growing up Holtby wasn’t comfortable with his accommodations.
“In grade 6 my mom fought for me to have a laptop. I get it and I hate it, so I gave it back and I probably didn’t use it to its full potential. All the kids looked at me like I was getting an unfair advantage. They questioned why I got extra time and they didn’t understand it. In reality I was getting the same time as them because it takes me longer.”
The three words that Holtby uses to describe himself are outside of the box, hands-on, and crazy. One thing he is absolutely crazy about is cars.
“I have an old car I’m fixing up at my house. I use that car as part of school. I try to incorporate that as much into school projects, design projects, anything that I can. I’m also really hands on. I don’t sit at all hours at a desk like some kids do, but I do a lot of self-learning and teaching myself what I’m interested in. Building on old cars is exactly what I want to do in life. I want to be the best mechanic there is, and that’s why I came to engineering.”
In order to focus, Holtby has to take medication to control his mood, behaviour and regulate his learning ability. One drug for people with ADHD, but known to many students in university as a ‘study drug’ is Adderall.
“Don’t be doing Adderall if you’re not prescribed it. That is one of the biggest, annoying pet peeves of mine. I get asked if people could buy my drugs, and the answer is no. It is the most commonly sold ‘study drug’, and it’s not a good drug. People need to understand that these drugs help me get to an even playing ground and that it’s not going to do the same things to you as it will do to me.”
Holtby feels that having ADHD makes him stand out from the rest.
“Do I wish that I didn’t have it? No. It makes me who I am. I would not be as creative. I love it. It is the greatest thing about me. It makes me different than the next person.”
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