Monthly Archives: February 2010

Widespread Thoughtlessness towards People with Disabilities

My son Jacob, 22 months-old

My son Jacob, 22 months-old

My son Jacob who is almost 2-years-old has Down syndrome. Since having him, I have tuned in more keenly to the widespread insensitivity that flies around in popular culture and in politics towards people with disabilities. I have a message for all of us: think before you speak.

While I rarely hear flagrant attacks upon people with disabilities, more often, I hear off-handed comments and statements that clearly do not respect the integrity and worth of people who live with disabilities, most especially towards those with cognitive or severe physical disabilities. I know that most of these comments are not meant to be mean-hearted or insulting, but they are thoughtless and therefore disparaging.

Here’s a recent sampling from a diverse group of people over the last year:

  • President Barack Obama on The Tonight Show talking about his 129 bowling score: “It’s like – it was like the Special Olympics, or something.”
  • White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, describing a group of liberal activists labeled them “f—ing retarded”.
  • Rush Limbaugh, commenting on Immanuel’s statement and the ensuing backlash, said, “Our political correct society is acting like some giant insult’s taken place by calling a bunch of people who are retards, retards.”
  • Virginia Delegate Bob Marshall speaking against continued state funding for Planned Parenthood, “The number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion with handicaps has increased dramatically. Why? Because when you abort the first born of any, nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children. In the Old Testament, the first born of every being, animal and man, was dedicated to the Lord. There’s a special punishment Christians would suggest.” No matter Del. Marshall’s intent, his comments suggested that people born with disabilities following an abortion are suffering God’s punishment.

These comments illustrate a painful reality that people with disabilities and their families live with: ignorance. While incredibly great strides have been made to mainstream people with disabilities into the “typically-abled” world, many people simply do not understand or know how to relate to people with disabilities. I can’t expect that we would all fully understand every disability out there, but we can strive to learn, understand, and appreciate people where they are and as they are.

Often, there seems to be a fear factor surrounding people with disabilities. They’re not like the rest of us, so what do we do? How do we handle their differences? Don’t they take away from our lives as usual? Honestly, before having Jacob, I shared some of these fears. Right after the doctors began telling us that Jacob has Down syndrome, I started to fear for his future and my family’s future. How would Jacob make it in this world? How would we do as a family?

But, when we come to know and love people with disabilities, we can discover the joy of getting to know someone who’s different than us. We discover the uniquely powerful contributions they make to families, faith communities like my church, and to the larger community surrounding them. We learn that they deepen and enrich our lives, not take away from them. In fact, we unearth a very deep truth: disabilities are not handicaps but uniquely special differences.

For these reasons, perhaps our society could one day change the term from people with disabilities to differently-abled people. This is not a mere shift in semantics or another layer of political correctness. On the contrary, this would be a major leap away from seeing people like my son as a person with deficits while seeing him as I see him– indeed as God sees him!– as a person with very different gifts to offer us and the world around him.

As this transformation takes place within us, we can continue to form a society which is open to opportunities for all people to contribute and share their unique gifts. Of course, that includes differently-abled people. And as this transformation unfolds, we’ll hear increasingly fewer of the implicitly and explicitly thoughtless comments said about people with disabilities and other people groups, too. After all, God has created each person in his image and therefore, each of us are of unlimited sacred value to God and to each other.

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Ruminations over Medications, i.e. Me on Meds for ADHD

Last week I finally broke down and did it. I went to see my doctor to get help. This issue had been bothering me to varying degrees all my life, but now I figured it was time to do something about it. And while I desired my doctor’s remedy, I was afraid of it, too.

During all of my adult life I have always poked fun at myself over my ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). I can also look back on my childhood and youth years to see I had it then, but because my grades and achievements never seemed to suffer too terribly for it, my condition suffered a deficit of proper attention. (Bad pun intended!) So, I learned to cope with it by working around it. I also surmised that my inability to concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes, to leave tasks unfinished, to be ever driven by distraction, or to struggle to keep myself focused for extended periods of time was just an immutable part of my personality. I have always strained for ways to keep centered in a conversation when lots of other sensory distractions are around me. I had learned to tolerate the curse of my insufferably bad short-term memory and disdain for organization.

So, I figured that the whole ADD thing is a quirk to deal with, for better or worse. Sometimes it could be a pain, yes. I also saw it as a benefit to my ministry. It has allowed me to shift gears very quickly (a ministry must!) and to handle sudden changes, even very difficult ones, with agility.

But now that I’m married again, the father of three children, and have numerous, heavy responsibilities as a pastor of a large congregation and a leader in other arenas, the stresses of trying to cope with my condition finally caught up with me. I thank God my ADD didn’t result in losing either my family or my career. However, I did feel like I was losing my grip on my effectiveness and my sanity, bit by bit!

Then one day, it just hit me. I came home after being away for a few days and sat on our family room floor holding Jacob who was being fussy. The TV was on. Blairlee was sitting on the couch talking on the phone. Kathryn was in an adjacent room singing along to music. The dog was barking at something. All of that combined stimuli felt like sharp claws digging into a chalk board. I couldn’t think or focus on anything. Later that evening, Blairlee and I were talking about the usual family stuff– coordinating our schedules, things coming up with Kathryn’s school work, Jacob’s appointments, etc., etc. A few hours later, I couldn’t remember half of the things we had just discussed!

This had been an ongoing pattern that wasn’t getting any better. Finally, I decided that for the first time in my nearly 36 years, it was time to take full ownership of this ADD thing and get some professional help.

So, I called my doctor and asked to be diagnosed and possibly, if necessary… [gulp]… get medication.

The next day, Blairlee, a Maryland state licensed clinical professional counselor, pulled out her DSM-IV, which is a large book that catalogs mental disorders. (I’m sure she was highly anticipating being able to use that book on me one day!) Keeping in mind that neither she nor I am qualified to give psychological assessments, we nevertheless discovered that my behavior and thinking patterns fit almost hand in glove within the diagnosis called ADHD, Inattentive Type. It was as if somebody personally studied my behavioral patterns and created this disorder to describe me.

Several days later, sitting in my doctor’s examination room, I described for her my symptoms, and she heard enough to agree that yes, I’ve got ADHD, Inattentive Type.  Then she prescribed Adderall XR, a drug commonly used to treat ADHD. Ironically, my daughter Kathryn, who has my same condition, took that drug for about a year and it worked wonders on her.

Now here’s the funny part: part of me felt truly relieved to finally have some help with this ADHD, for my sake and for those around me. But another part of me deeply dreaded the prospect of living on a medication like this.

It’s not that I have a problem taking medicines. I mean, I take Tylenol for headaches and other over-the-counter drugs for short-term issues. I take antibiotic prescriptions for the occasional sinus or bronchial infections.

Yet there’s part of me that despises the notion of having to take a medication on a long-term or even lifetime basis in order to function properly. It’s like I’m hinging my mental health on a chemical concoction.

Seven years ago, I had to take antidepressants for the only depression I’ve ever suffered, and while I was glad the medication got me to function again, there was something about having to take those pills that I hated. They drove my blood pressure up requiring a medication for hypertension. If I missed a dose of my antidepressant, my life became hell for those few hours until I was able to take it again. Coming off of them was sheer torture.

So, perhaps my fear is now somewhat based on that experience. It’s irrational, of course. I’ll admit that.

And yes, I know that millions of people live everyday taking necessary medications in order to function or even to survive! They take them, do just fine, and whine a lot less than I do about it. And yes, I feel blessed to have gotten this far having had only one other major experience of taking medication long-term.

Maybe my deep reservations are rooted in anxious fears. What if this medicine doesn’t work? What if I’m expecting it to do more than it’s capable of? What if it creates other side effects? What if I somehow get hooked on it? If it doesn’t work or creates too many other problems, are there other remedies that would work? On and on these anxious questions flow. The night before I began taking the medicine, I didn’t sleep well because I was so nervous about having to start it.

Well, I should know in a month’s time whether or not the Adderall will do the trick and also to see what other kinds of helps are out there to help contain the ADHD I have. So far, I have noticed some definite differences and improvements, and that’s been encouraging.

All in all, this is yet another way that Jesus is teaching me to live life one day at a time, not worrying about things that are outside of my control. And hey, if this remedy will help me be more effective in his service, then all the better!

I’m also grateful for having the means and access to excellent medical care and medicine. At the same time,  I’ve been increasingly mindful of those who don’t and have conditions far worse than mine that beg for treatment. Their plight far outweighs my own rumination over medication.

So, periodically, I’ll keep you updated on how things go and what I learn. In the mean time, follow doctors orders, especially the Great Physician’s. As always, thanks for taking the time to read my ramblings!

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