Davida Shensky: No One Stands in Line to Become Disabled




Davida Shensky author of No One Stands in Line to Become Disabled

I’m 59 and female.

Since I was born in the 1950s, society didn’t recognize or even admit to having a disability community; therefore, there were a few laws then, giving rights to people with disabilities. During that time, few people even acknowledged the fact that there was abuse in the home, like they do today. These two issues affected how I saw my self-image, rather than what I saw in the mirror. I have cerebral palsy, which affects only one side of my body. As a young child, my right arm drew my hand into a balled fist. I have no control over the muscles in my right foot; therefore I had to wear a shoe with a brace so I could walk without dragging my foot. At the age of fourteen, my orthopedic surgeon split the heel cord so I could walk better and have better range of motion. A few months after the surgery on my foot, he also did surgery on my arm to release the tightness in the tendon, so I would have better range of motion in my arm. When he did this, my fingers became double-jointed but with exercise I’ve gained some control over my arm. I can hold things in my hand but I can’t pick them up from a table.

At that time my self-image was tied more to the physical, emotional, and verbal abuse I experienced as a child from both parents. My father died forty-one years ago when I was eighteen. My memories of him are not good. All I remember was his hand going up and my hands going over my face to protect it. My mother would often say to me things like why are you crying you have no reason to cry, you’re helpless, you’re worthless, you can’t live on your own, etc. due to the disability. I have a poor sense of direction and my mother would often say to me you could get lost in a closet.

As a child I think I recognized this as a dysfunctional family but the healing began when I was fourteen after the surgery performed on both my arm and leg. At that time, physical therapy meant picking up blocks and moving them from one place to another. It was only later, after the health movement started, that I began to realize that by exercising with machines where I could stretch the tendons in my right arm and leg, I could improve my gate when I walked and strengthen that side of my body. My family doesn’t accept the fact that I’m willing to pay to belong to a health club, where they have machines that I can use to isolate and strengthen those muscles. They believe I should only go to the health clubs in the apartment where I live, even though they don’t have the equipment that meets my needs.

As a child, when my parents were abusing me, I would often go into my room and question—why me? I came to the conclusion that God had a purpose for my life. I was educated before they had laws on the books guaranteeing people with disabilities the right to an education; therefore, my teachers didn’t recognize that I learned differently. Because teachers teach in a cookie-cutter manner, rather than tending to the needs of each student and because when I learn using the typical methods of teaching and learning i.e. just reading the material and studying it for a test, it doesn’t always get from short-term memory into long-term memory. I don’t learn orally or visually but by physically doing the project. Math was often very difficult for me because sometimes what I see and what I write down are two different things. For me, I’ve found that reading books in historical settings helps me learn history.

It was not until I finished college and entered graduate school that the Individual Disability Education Act (PL 94-142) become law in 1977 and took effect in 1980. By then I was in graduate school and also employed. I entered the workforce in 1977, which was still fifteen years before the Americans with Disabilities Act became law. After I lost my job with the state, I found it difficult finding another job with the government and was unable to find gainful employment in the private sector. I was often an observer of people’s behavior; therefore, since I wanted to understand why people act the way they do, I studied both mental health and psychology. I also took credits towards a Master’s in rehabilitation counseling to understand the laws about employment for people with disabilities. My father died just as I was entering college; therefore my mother looked at my education is something to occupy my time, not a means to gainful employment. She would often make the comment to me why are you taking that class you are only going to fail.

Whenever someone would put limits on my abilities, it was often like waving a red flag in front of my face and challenging me to prove them wrong. When I couldn’t find gainful employment, I decided to start my own business. I have been in business for thirty years and my business has evolved to where I am today. It has always been in my nature to help others live a better quality of life. That is why today I am a life and career coach. As a career coach I help clients find their passion and build it in to a high-paying income, which is what I did for myself. Eric Berne in Transactional Analysis talks about how our behaviors are formed based on the tapes we hear in our head; those things that other people told us that give us limiting beliefs which prevent us from setting and reaching personal goals in our lives. As a life coach, I work with clients to help them recognize these limiting beliefs so they can overcome them and set reachable goals. While I was in college, I participated in TA groups and psychodrama groups as part of my training. The training gave me an opportunity to work on and overcome many of my personal issues on self-image and self worth. It is these experiences that I bring to my clients.

I’ve found that technology such as Dragon Naturally Speaking—a speech to text software—makes the workplace an even playing field, which gives me a tool to compete against able-bodied people in the workplace. Without a car I have limited mobility to get around, therefore the technology in use today helps me increase my visibility. Networking through social media gives me the opportunity to build a business online.

My company is Career Performance Institute. I have finished a book titled No One Stands in Line to Become Disabled that talks about the importance of communication, team building and good listening habits. I use my personal stories from when I was a child to emphasize the points I am making. I would like the opportunity to promote this book and my websites. I have a radio show on blog talk radio called live without limits. That website address is  http://www.blogtalkradio.com/careerperformanceinstitute

The website for my business is  http://www.1personalcareercoach.com

Since social media is an important part of building business, I discovered and use software that allows an individual to send video e-mails, have video conferencing, video blogs and live broadcasting for their business. Anyone who would like to find out how they can use this software with their business can go to this website address:  http://www.TalkFusion.com/1310330

Let me close this by saying that once I learned to love and respect myself, I found that for my own psychological health I had to stay far away from my family and limit the interaction I have with them because they refuse to accept the positive changes I made in my life to live independently. They do everything to try to sabotage my personal growth and independence. This is true for anyone, whether able-bodied or disabled. When you make positive changes in your life to find personal success and your family stays in the same place, then the best thing you can do for your own personal growth, independence and success is to stay as far away from them as possible.

Because I had an outgoing personality, to compensate for the lack of support I had in the family, I built a support system for myself through my relationship with friends and coworkers. They believed in me and encouraged me to set and achieve high goals for myself and also to improve my self-image and my abilities.

Submit your story here: http://arkstories.com/bodyimageblog.html

Copyright Ark Stories 2011


Dystonia: Being Blind Without Blindness by Karen Binette Rapport

Karen Binette Rapport  (on the right), age 60

How clearly I recall the morning I woke up after my fiftieth birthday and as I walked to the kitchen in my home, the walls got in the way.  Each day I spent my morning doing a business recap and my partners would ask, “Karen, are you tired??  Are we keeping you awake??”  I just sat there and replied something is wrong, I cannot keep my eyes open. They want to close…and so began the realization this problem was not going away.

I went to my eye doctor who had no clue what was wrong and he gave me eye drops and sent me on my way.  My internist was the next doctor to pass the buck.  As I tried to tell him my eyes would close while driving or golfing, he thought perhaps I was a bit crazy and prescribed antidepressants and said it was probably menopause.  

A month later as the symptoms were stronger and people kept asking if I had soap in my eyes and the antidepressants did not work, my doc sent me to a shrink to figure out what was wrong.  It was in her office where she finally agreed this was a neurological problem and I needed to find out what was wrong.  She was connected to the Mayo clinic in Arizona and finally a neurologist diagnosed me with Dystonia, specifically blepheraspasms. I guess the diagnosis made me feel better, although many docs tried many different medicines to control the twitching eye muscles.

I noticed that in large groups I fight more to keep my eyes open. I often had to hold friends arms crossing streets, as transitions are always tough.  But there are ways to control it a little, like when I knit; my head is down and the repetitive stitches keep my eyes open.  So in the last four years I have knit twenty-one blankets!!  In my knitting group there is another women with the same disorder and we often talk about the difficulty of living with a disability. Neither of us are able to drive far or be under time pressures.  I cannot enjoy movies or plays as my eyes clamp shut.

My eyes are a barometer of my comfort, as they may shut if I am around certain people. So it goes. I have had to adjust my life to compensate for what I can and can’t do.  Like when I speak, my eyes stay open, yet if I am spoken to they close.  

Presently I am developing a business with my sister: FEEL THE HUGS. It’s a positive approach to everyday life where we are passing on the connection of hugs when people cannot be there to physically give them. Since speaking is easy for me, I do speeches on the Power of Fundraising, while my sister does all the driving and parts of the business that are impossible for me.

People are amazed that with all I have overcome. I remain positive and we are trying to make the world better one hug at a time. There are pieces written on Dystonia…like let’s make it a dinosaur….but for me, I have gratitude that I can help others with Dystonia and prepare every ten weeks for the botox shots that help control my muscles from slamming shut.  

Perhaps sometime in the future, there may be a cure for this disorder. Until then I will remain a knitter, a swimmer and a speaker to encourage others to be part of the hug movement and embrace each day!

Submit your story here: http://arkstories.com/bodyimageblog.html

 Copyright Ark Stories 2011

That’s Ridiculous! Women Don’t Lose Their Hair!





Linda Rieschel is currently writing a book titled Coping With Chronic Bad HairHere is an excerpt.

I am a sixty-two year old woman with Androgenetic Alopecia. That is something I could not say to anyone for much of my adult life, but I can admit that now to almost anyone I meet.  I can also write about it and have even been interviewed on The Today Show by Katie Couric, who asked me what it was like to lose my hair at the age of sixteen.

Although I am comfortable with my appearance now, for the first twenty-five or so years of dealing with my hair loss, I mostly felt shame and embarrassment. And I felt alone.

 “That’s ridiculous” my mother said, turning away from me, “women don’t lose their hair… go and get your ironing done.”  This was my mother’s response when I tearfully told her that I thought I was losing my hair.  I was sixteen, in the middle of my junior year of high school.  I had cut my hair into a layered, short look a few months earlier (at the insistence of my mother) and noticed that my hair was so thin that I needed to “rat” or “back comb” it  to get it to cover my scalp. From that time on, I lived in fear that my thinning hair would become noticeable. It was ironic, because I had just spent several months of the school year trying very hard to be ‘noticeable’.
My family had moved around since I was three years old. I am the second oldest of eight children and my siblings and I once counted up the different schools we had attended through the years.  The count was somewhere between twenty and twenty-five. Sometimes we’d stay in a neighborhood for a few weeks, sometimes a few months.  I was a shy child and being the new kid in each of the schools we attended was agonizing for me. I learned to tuck into myself so I wouldn’t be noticed.  I avoided eye contact, striving to be invisible. I had to force myself to speak to people and I although I always made a couple of friends at each school, those friendships were short-lived because, before long, we’d be on the move again.  
Everything changed in 1963 when we bought a small home in Pacifica, California.   At age fifteen, I entered Terra Nova High School late in the fall of my sophomore year.  Since I knew we would be staying put for a while, I decided to reach out and avail myself of every opportunity my new high school offered.  This time, instead of dreading being the new kid, I was excited.  I joined a modern dance group, formed a singing group with my older sister, was a clothing model and was eventually on the Pom Pom squad.  People began to know who I was and it was fun being noticed.  I embraced the school, embraced the other students and embraced life, at least for a little while.
By the middle of my junior year my hair was alarmingly thin but I managed to convince myself that what was happening to me was still not too noticeable.  I soon found out that I was wrong. My best friend’s sister smirked at me one day, asking in front of several other girls who were standing in front of the high school gymnasium, “What’s happening with your hair?  Are you going bald?”  I was devastated. Now it was real. My thinning hair was not just a figment of my imagination; it was a fact…and it was also visible to others.  From that moment on, my best friend called me baldy.  She wouldn’t whisper it quietly, just to me.  She would shout it across a crowded lunch room “Come on, baldy!”  Of course people would look up to see who she was shouting at, see me and stare.  It was so embarrassing, so humiliating.  I wanted to die and I wanted to be invisible again.  I avoided eye contact, avoided being called to the front of the class to give a presentation. I quit the modern dance class, quite the singing group I had formed with my sister, decided not to try out for a second year of Pom Pom squad and worst of all, retreated back into my little shell.
I had an additional stress factor added to my hair loss, because I was born to a mother who so highly prized her own good looks, that she was constantly comparing hers to mine, particularly when I became a teenager.  Upon arriving home after a social outing, I would be brimming over with the good times I  had, wanting to tell her about it.  Almost immediately though, Mom would hold up her hand like a stop sign. “Wait,” she would say, “were you the prettiest girl there?”  “No, but I had so much fun, Mom…” “Well,” she’d cut me off…: “wherever I went, Iwas always the prettiest girl there.”  With just a few words, she would diminish me and each time my self-esteem plummeted. When my hair began thinning, it took me months before I got up the courage to go to her and say “Mom, I think my hair is falling out.” When I realized my mother was unwilling even to acknowledge my hair loss, let alone take me to a doctor to find a cure, I knew I was on my own.
I spent years and wasted thousands of dollars trying to find the cause of and cure for my hair loss.  Most of the dermatologists I met with didn’t know enough about women’s hair loss and really didn’t quite know what to do with me.  Most of them were full of platitudes and bad advice.  One even advised me to get married and said then my hair would come back.  Helpful guy! I finally found out what I had when I was thirty-five.  It was, as the doctor called it, the female version of male pattern baldness.  “:But,” he said with a twinkle in his eye, “At least you know it is not life threatening.” It was the worst thing he could have told me.  As far as I was concerned, having female pattern baldness was ‘quality of life’ threatening. I felt like a freak.
Even women with good self-esteem go through an emotional withdrawal when they start losing their hair.  It’s one thing for a man to get a little thin on top. In fact some men are perceived as even more manly when they are bald.  Women, though, are thought of as ‘less than’.  Since hair is considered a ‘crowning glory’, what happens to women who are thinning on top?  They look older…sickly…unhealthy.  I once read that men are attracted to shiny, bouncy, healthy hair because it’s indicative of a woman being healthy enough to bear that man a healthy child. Great, I thought.  Just what I need.  More reasons to be ashamed of my thin hair.
Dating was a nightmare but after a while I did meet and marry a nice man who did not seem to mind my thin hair.  What he did mind, though, were the constant tears and the reluctance to socialize.  It was he who suggested I start wearing a wig. I was insulted and depressed for days over his suggestion but it did start the ‘wheels turning’.  In fact, it was my husband’s mother who offered to pay for a beautiful human hair wig. I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Dorothy, not only for her generosity and kindness, but because buying a beautiful hair piece led me to an entirely new life and a positive way of dealing with my hair.  I started working as a hair replacement consultant with the woman who styled my hair piece.
Charle Dewitt, who now has studios in San Rafael as well as Carlsbad, was a godsend to me. She and I worked together for over fourteen years and it was working with other women who were going through hair loss that finally brought my own tears to an end.  Sharing our mutual stories of hair loss was such a cathartic experience and it was gratifying to realize  that I had come a long way in learning to accept who I was.  Our cancer patients in particular were responsible for teaching me something very important about my thinning hair.  All I was dealing with was hair loss, not cancer, not chemotherapy treatments, not the prospect of surgery…just hair loss.  Many of our breast cancer patients told me that losing their breast was not such a big deal but losing their hair was by far the worst part of their cancer ordeal.  I felt validated!  So many times through the years I had been told by those close to me that I was being shallow and vain for crying so much about my hair.  My cancer patient customers showed me that it was normal to cry.  Once I got over feeling guilty about how much my hair had affected me, I felt free. I felt lighter. I felt not alone. I felt proud of myself.  There was a television commercial several years back with a kicky song with these lyrics: ’You’ve come a long way, baby, to get where you’ve gotten today’… (The rest of the song was about a cigarette, so I’ll leave that part out).
That’s how I feel today – that I’ve come a long way. I am so very grateful to those people who helped me in my journey.  Even the ones who had nothing kind to say were nonetheless building blocks to the road I built for myself.
I feel good about who I am and what I have to offer other women going through hair loss.  I know how it feels, how much you cry, how different, how abnormal you feel.  But I also know that there comes a time when you get tired of the tears and start to ‘get a grip’ on your situation.
I started an online business last year (http://www.ninisniche.etsy.com/), offering the head wraps, sleep caps and accessories I designed especially for women who are losing their hair.  I also do consultations with local (Marin County) cancer patients from my home office and get a tremendous boost each time one of them gives me a hug and tells me that I have made them feel better.  I just started a blog (headwrapguru.blogspot.com) called Alopecia Musings and I’ve written about the emotional ramifications of women’s hair loss and dating, finding the right hair piece, and my favorite one,  entitled “We are not our hair!”
More recently, I signed up to be a general volunteer for the American Cancer Society’s Look Good, Feel Better program.  My intention is to help other women feel that they are not alone…that they are not abnormal, that their tears are perfectly justified and just as important…they will not cry forever.  The more people know about hair loss, the more comfortable those who have lost their hair will feel. 
And it’s all about feeling comfortable with yourself.

Submit your story here: http://arkstories.com/bodyimageblog.html

 Copyright Ark Stories 2011

A Few Months Ago I Slit My Wrists

My name is Sarah I’m 15 years old.

I have been struggling with my weight for as long as I can remember. My family members are all bigger than normal. We are not huge but we’re not small either. My sister managed to get slim in her early teen years but I haven’t yet. It just seems to me that everyone is so much happier when they are slim, rather then when chubby.

I’m not fond of the word ‘fat’. I don’t use it, even when it is true. I find it a cruel word, so I try to avoid it.

I have been bullied in my younger years. When I was around twelve, I was my biggest. I was also miserable. I think that was around the time I started cutting. I hadn’t done it on my wrists. I would do it around my ‘problem’ areas, such as my stomach and legs. I felt it helped me to be distracted from all the horrible thoughts and just concentrate on the pain I was causing.

I was very depressed. I felt that everyone was talking behind my back. Being so self-conscious, I was becoming even more shy. I didn’t believe that I could ever be all that happy. But I got a bit slimmer after a few months. I still wasn’t slim but I wasn’t as big.

Being in a new school, I felt I could be a new person. Until some people occasionally called me names (Fat) and reminded me that I wasn’t completely happy, deep down inside. I knew I wasn’t happy but looking back, I know now how depressed I was. I was always talking to my mum about everything; she’s like my best friend and she helped me through everything. But even talking to her didn’t always help. I started going on diets and reading books on how to cut down on snacks. I really felt like I wouldn’t be able to do it and I still do. I stopped these diets after a while and just felt even more depressed. No matter how much I wanted to lose weight, I never was able to lose as much as I wanted. I lost a bit but never enough to satisfy myself.

A few months ago, I slit my wrists. I was in such a bad place that nothing was helping and I felt like I wasn’t ever going to be who I wanted to be. Nothing made me happier. I had no way of letting out how I felt. I cried at least once a day. But I knew that none of that would help me; it was just a way to let out frustration and my last resort when I didn’t know what to do.

A little while ago, I cut again but on my leg this time. My leg was itchy and I just kept scratching it, even though it wasn’t itchy anymore. I was letting out my frustration.

My mother brought me to a dietitian so I would know what to eat and have some motivation anytime I wanted to quit. She was very nice but what bothered me was how slow she wanted me to lose weight. I know I can’t just lose it overnight but she was saying one pound a month, which was just too slow for me. I asked her if it was ok to lose more but naturally, because I’m still growing, the food and exercise will probably make me lose weight faster. She thought that was fine, so I was satisfied.

I’m doing some of what she has said to do and my family is too. But it’s only two days since I went, so I’m a bit uneasy and not so brilliant at keeping with the food and exercise plans. But I’ll get better. I have faith in myself now. I know I can do this. I want to do this. My struggle with weight isn’t over but it’s going to get a bit easier. I just have to try my best and be patient. Weight isn’t everything. I can be happy being me even when I’m not ‘skinny’. It will take time and, of course, I’ll be thinking about when it’ll be over but I have to wait and be patient. And as my mum always says, “One day at a time!”

Submit your story here: http://arkstories.com/bodyimageblog.html

Copyright Ark Stories 2011

Elgin Bolling: The Eyes Are The Window Of The Soul




Elgin Subwaysurfer Bolling Is a Creative Caricature Marketing Consultant, who helps his clients enhance their online visibility by providing them with  funny pictures for serious business. He is the Author of several Ebooks including How To Use Cartoons & Caricatures To Promote Your Business, found here:  http://subwaysurfer.blogspot.com/p/media.html 

Elgin is also one of NYC’s Most Sought After Live Caricature Entertainers. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fix2V9e4Khw


By Elgin Bolling

“Strabismus” is a word that doesn’t exactly roll off your tongue. It’s almost never used in conversation and origami has never been used as a graffiti tag by any subway writer in the hood.

People with Strabismus have come to know the word by its most common names: cross-eyed, cockeyed, left eye or which-cha-way if people get really creative.

I first heard the word at a very young age, not because it was explained to me but because I constantly found myself at Kings County Hospital, looking tearfully into intense bright lights, hearing a team of doctors who kept repeating the word.

Strabismus is defined as a visual disorder where one or both eyes are misaligned. This is a condition that may be constantly present, or in my case, comes and goes, affecting one eye more than another.

In a culture that coined the phrase “the eyes are the windows of the soul,” I always wondered what my soul was saying as I looked out from broken windows. That I was misaligned? Off-center? Unbalanced? My peers certainly let me think so.

 My condition was intensified a notch by being born premature at six months. My eyesight suffered in my anxiousness to be part of the air-breathing world and in addition to the aforementioned Strabismus, I wore the proverbial Coke bottle glasses.

As you might guess, socializing became a problem. In social interaction, particularly if you are a male, you have to look people in the eye, both to gain respect on the playground and romantically, at the school dance. Being caught in a world where I was forced to look people in the eye while looking away inevitably made me appear all the more odd.

This body image crisis caused me to constantly engage in fistfights to defend my honor and spend entire summers at home to avoid social interaction.

One day I looked into the future and saw what waited for me: namely the image of a frightened, angry, lonely man, with no one to love and nothing to live for. I was determined that wasn’t going to be me.


It’s not an easy thing to look into your future. If you’re honest, you will see clearly where you’ll end up if you don’t change.

And that’s the hardest thing to accept, knowing YOU, not THEM, are going to have to make the change. Years of fighting, hiding, being teased, laughed at, pointed at, made fun of, made me realize that people, aka “THEM” were fine with things just as they were. I had become a doormat, behaved like one and laid down on cue for people to wipe their feet on. 


So I looked actively for change agents: models who I could imitate and emulate. I resolved thiswould be no quick fix job and would take months, if not years, of mental and physical programming. Having a lot of time on my hands—remember, I was a recluse who didn’t go anywhere—I became a voracious reader, television watcher and radio listener. If there was a new self-help book out, I had to have it. What I couldn’t buy, I borrowed from the library. I read that everything starts with the mind. I learned that the words you say every day to yourself was what you eventually became and acted out. I had no problem believing this, as I had become the poster child for negative self-talk. I slowly began to change my speech patterns, particularly the things I said about myself to myself. I realized, from my own experience, I could change very little that came out of the mouths of others but could control what came out of mine. Being able to develop a measure of control over SOMETHING was very encouraging. I also noticed a pattern in what was said in various self-help books. While each imparted the information through their own personality, many of the words and concepts they quoted from came from a book I owned, called The Bible. I figured if the info I was getting from the books in pieces was great, then getting it from the source must be fantastic.  I became a voracious Bible reader, literally reading several copies until the pages became frayed and the covers came apart. That book became single-handedly my greatest source of wisdom, comfort and salvation.


While I could do nothing about my eye condition, I could transform my body. I began running. Running was great because it was something I could do alone. I could do it early in the morning or in the evening. If there were people outside, I could just run past them in a second, not giving them a chance to observe me. Over time I became acquainted with other runners. Not in the sense that we socialized at dinner and such but there would be that “head nod”, that wink, that smile of affirmation and recognition. I realized I had become part if an elite group. I was an athlete of sorts. With each pounding stride, I was running away from my tortured past, my poor body image. I started to look for another physical challenge. Full contact karate seemed perfect.


I joined the Harlem Goju karate dojo in Harlem, miles away from my Brooklyn home. Classes were free and that attracted me. I soon found out why. The class was comically located across the street from Harlem Hospital, which came in handy because class was dangerous. Not dangerous in the sense that the sensei, Sam McGee, was a sadist, he wasn’t. It was that the karate taught was traditional, bare knuckle, full contact, no headgear. You could really get hurt, lose teeth, along with your consciousness.

It was perfect.

I had a lot of anger and resentment in me, both at myself and at my peers, who had rejected me when I was growing up. Because the training was hard and the fighting real, I had ample opportunity to test myself and channel that anger in a positive direction. I even obtained a black belt in the school and went on to study many other martial arts over the years. I also found that the people I encountered in martial arts circles were more accepting and affirming of me, regardless of my appearance. I believe it’s because there’s something about the warrior arts that develops a certain type of character in people. You realize what really matters is who you are inside and that makes you who you are. You learn that anyone can look good but can they perform good? Can they weather life’s storms? Are they humble? Can they bounce back from loss? I had proven I could and had been in the company of giants, and realized to my surprise, I had become one myself.


There’s so much more to say. I could say how I nurtured a talent for art that opened doors for me socially and financially, leading me to become one of New York City’s most sought after corporate and private caricature entertainers, EBOOK authors, Creative Caricature Marketing Consultant. I could mention how being a journal writer throughout my youthful pain, makes blogging and article writing like this one, a snap for me to do. I could tell you I’ve literally brought crowds of people to their feet with thundering applause as a lecturer, poet and speaker. Or finally, I could tell you of the wonderful woman I’ve been married to for over twenty years and the two smart, gorgeous kids (objectively speaking, even by the world’s standards!) who are socially conscious academic giants, about to be unleashed on the world. But I think I will choose to tell about the Love of God, who died so you might have abundant life and then imparts that life to you so that you can have a strong self-image that offsets the false body image you have. It’s a false image because it’s a SELF-image. God makes all things beautiful.

Yes. I prefer to end it here.

Thanks for your attention.

This is my confession.

Elgin Subwaysurfer Bolling

Submit your story here: http://arkstories.com/bodyimageblog.html

Copyright Ark Stories 2011

Lisa Rowan: Cerebral Palsy; Confined To A Wheelchair For Life





Lisa Rowan and Jonathan Taylor. Authors, e-books on family caregiving.


I’m thirty-eight years old, female and married for twelve years. My mother fell off a horse while seven and a half months pregnant and I was born by emergency C-section within the hour. I was life-flighted to a neonatal trauma center and survived through heroic intervention and support. By the time I went home, I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

I walked with a walker until age ten, when I suffered muscle spasms powerful enough to rip both femur bones out of both hip sockets, which put me back in the hospital. Five surgeries later (one on both hips and four more on the hip that wouldn’t stay in), I left the hospital confined to a wheelchair for life.

I was downright skinny throughout my childhood, exercising by leaving my wheelchair and crawling around whenever I wasn’t in public. I was a size 4 through high school and into college. My efforts to stay slim included missing meals and staying up late moving around. During my sophomore year, it paid off when I met a guy. But I was pushing myself so hard that I started having problems. I passed out in class once and the EMTs said I was minutes away from going into hypoglycemic shock when they arrived. That’s how I learned I had hypoglycemia (the opposite of diabetes). As classes got tougher and I added a social life to schoolwork, I started pushing myself too hard. My boyfriend took me to Urgent Care four times for exhaustion.
Once I started to let up, I started to gain weight. I went on birth control and added twenty quick pounds. We moved in together after graduation and married two years later. My husband is twenty years older than me and had two kids from his first marriage. I found out I was too medically fragile to survive a pregnancy, so I’ve made do with helping my husband with his kids and now his grandkids. I’m still heavy but because of the hypoglycemia, eating less causes my blood sugar to crash and I get injured when I exercise. Diet pills that attack my body chemistry put my life at risk, so we’re having trouble finding a weight loss plan that’s safe for me. I’m not happy with my body image but I won’t change it if I have to kill myself to do it.
Our sex life isn’t what I wish it was but my husband isn’t as hormonal now as he was in his younger years and his experience with prostate cancer has taken its toll. But he assures me he didn’t marry me for my bod and every day we look at the forces that hold our marriage together. Each night he tells me four reasons why he loves me; once a week I ask for a new, or original reason. After seventeen years together, he can still get it done. He knows why I love him; he revolutionized my life by supporting my dreams. 
If I was lighter, moving would be easier. I used to transfer into and out of his Corolla in college and now we have to take the ramp van if I want to come with. But we are not our bodies. I have a stronger marriage than anyone I know and my friends all agree that I got really lucky. I wish I weighed less but if I was thin and one of his kids had cancer, we’d have real problems. Right now, we just count our blessings and hope that tomorrow turns out as well as today is going. It has never been, is not now and will never be about my body image. And Thank God for that.

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Copyright Ark Stories 2011

Melissa Binstock: When The Sick Person Entered My Mind

Melissa Binstock:  Author of Nourishment: Feeding My Starving Soul When My Mind and Body Betrayed Me.  Available at local bookstores or from  http://www.nourishmentthebook.com/.

I don’t want life to be painful anymore; life shouldn’t be painful.  I remember when I spoke these words to my older sister when I was a freshman in college.  I had called her from my dorm room where I sat alone, pale, tired and starving.  That was four years ago, yet I still remember it as though it was yesterday.  That’s how I feel about almost all the events surrounding my eating disorder.  Maybe it was the pain associated with these events that imprinted these memories in my mind.  I don’t know.  All I know is that the memories are there, and they are strong.  I can trace the first of such memories back fourteen years when I was just eight years old.  That was the year my eating disorder started–the year when the Sick Person entered my mind.  

My eating disorder began as a result of the loss of control over my mind and body to dyslexia and Tourette’s syndrome.  The inability to read and to control the odd jerking movements my body made caused me to seek control in some area of my life.  Naturally, I turned to food, one of the first things we have control over in life.  I began making up strange rules for my eight year old self–No more than twelve grams of sugar per item and twelve grams of fat per day.  I thought it was all fun and games at first.  I could choose to eat the PB&J my mother made me or I could choose not to.  I was in complete control–or so I thought.  Eventually, though, I no longer had the option to eat, as every time I tried, I would hear screams of, “You’re losing control, control, control!” blaring in my head.  The Sick Person had taken over.  Soon enough, screams about losing control turned into screams of, “Disgusting girl, fat, disgusting girl.” At times, the screams of the Sick Person became so loud that I would flee to my bathroom, curl up in a ball on the floor and scream.  I thought that if I screamed loud enough, I could make her voice stop.  Yet, it was too late; the Sick Person had already taken over.  

I’m not going to tell you my whole life story.  After all, that took up close to three hundred pages, the pages that comprise my book, Nourishment.  What I will do is tell you that when I was sixteen, my anorexia and self-hatred caused me to become so ill that I had to enter a treatment center for close to four months.  After that, I was hospitalized again when I was eighteen.  True, I could focus the rest of this article on my hatred of my body, on the Sick Person that dominated my mind.  Yet, I feel as though we bash our bodies enough; we talk about the darkness enough.  What I want to speak about now is how I got out of the darkness, how I quieted the Sick Person. 

It was soon after that painful phone call with my sister that I began to dedicate myself to silencing the Sick Person.  What catalyzed this difficult endeavor was not a sudden decision.  Rather, it was the years of pain, sadness, and isolation; it was the hunger for something more in life.  I knew I had the tools to get better, to thrust myself onto that long road of recovery.  After all, I been in therapy for over half my life, and now I was a psychology student.  So I began to put those tools into practice, which included using Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Motivational Enhancement Therapy.  CBT is based on the idea that your thoughts influence your feelings and your actions. Therefore, if you change your thoughts, you can change you feelings and actions.  MET, on the other hand, is based on using different techniques such as goal making to motivate yourself not to engage in destructive behaviors.  I knew these things in theory but it wasn’t until I used these techniques on myself that I realized something extraordinary; they work.  I began by using MET by writing down goals I wanted to achieve but knew my eating disorder was getting in the way of.  One such goal was going to graduate school for clinical psychology.  The dangerously low-calorie diet the Sick Person restricted to me prevented me from thinking clearly, making school extremely difficult.  This desire to go to graduate school so that I could learn to better help others was a strong enough motivation to push me towards health.  But I still had to learn how to silence the Sick Person.  This is where CBT came into play.  I began challenging the Sick Person’s cries and screams, yelling back at her for the first time in my life.  With practice, time, and effort, I found that the Sick Person’s voice began to hush, finally freeing me from her deadly grip.  True, the process wasn’t easy, and I still have my daily struggles.  Now, though, I’m finally fighting back. 

I am no longer the prisoner of the Sick Person; I am Melissa.

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Copyright Ark Stories 2011

I Am A Black Woman With an Eating Disorder

I am a twenty-five year old black woman who has struggled with my weight my whole life and within the last six years, an eating disorder. I am choosing to speak on this matter because I think people think a thicker girl couldn’t have an eating disorder and especially a black woman.

I can remember the exact time and place where I was when my anxieties took over. I was eight years old, getting dressed in the bathroom for school and looked at myself in the mirror. I looked really hard. I thought, I couldn’t look like this, I don’t feel like I look like this. I wondered why so many kids teased me. I now saw why. I was a chubby first grader with a belly and glasses. At that moment, I started hating myself. I know you are thinking, but that’s so young. I know. When I was really little I would hardly look at myself because I just believed I looked a different way. I would look at my mother, who is light-skinned with long full hair, and figured I must look like her. All I cared about was having fun.

I started putting on weight after my parents’ divorce when I was three years old. I can’t remember much but I hear I took it hard. My grandmother tried to love me through food. I had never eaten fast food, or candy, or anything fried but my mother had to go back to work and my grandmother was taking care of me and that’s what she fed me. I just I learned to like it. It should be known that my grandparents are from the deep south and believed in eating a lot of ham hocks, fried chicken, greens, bacon, biscuits—southern cooking in general with lots of Crisco.

I was born and raised in a predominately white city. It’s a small city. 80% of the population is white with only 14% black. The majority of the black population is related to each other, so you can imagine how hard it was to date when you got older. Always asking, what’s your last name and are you related to this family? But I digress. I went to a private school with only five black kids in the whole building, ages k-8. One of them was my cousin. My classmates constantly compared me to her. She was super skinny like they were and I wasn’t. Why was I so big, they would ask. Sometimes, they would put on my clothes during gym class and make fun of me. One boy bullied me very badly all my years there. In this town, if you weren’t a super skinny black girl, you were ugly. I didn’t understand it. It was only the girls and that one guy who treated me like this. The white boys at school loved me, go figure. I contemplated suicide in the seventh grade and that’s when my mother had me change schools to a public school. Best move she ever made. The kids there accepted me for who I was, no matter what my size. Everyone was shaped differently. But my problems did not go away with a change of school.

At home, my father’s family would constantly compare me to my skinny cousin. Telling me how much prettier she was and how she would get farther in life, even though I had a 4.0 GPA since first grade. My aunt would give Christmas presents to every kid in the family but me. She gave me a pillow from her couch. Even though school was better, my family was constantly belittling me. My mom caught on and made a big change. We moved to Hampton, VA for my first year of high school.

I was mad about it at first but it was the best! I lost some weight when we first moved there because we didn’t have a car so we had to walk everywhere, plus, it was so damn hot, you sweat like crazy! Walking around the neighborhood, I had never seen so many black people in my life. It was freeing really. They were all very nice. I went to school and all the girls there looked like they could be my twin. Everyone looked just like me, with hips and thighs. A lot were even bigger than me. They had so much confidence and dressed so well. Plus, they all had boyfriends. Some of their boyfriends were the finest guys I’ve ever seen. I gained so many friends. I became popular. I had two cliques of friends and when I turned 17, I got my first boyfriend. He was older but looked like TI and Shamar Moore all in one. Everyone was jealous of me. He loved my shape. Lots of guys did. So I started dressing better, feeling better and got a little cocky in my high school years.

My eating disorder started when I got my first serious boyfriend when I was eighteen. He was verbally and sometimes physically abusive and wanted very much to watch what I looked like. I had to be dressed up all the time with make up on and not gain weight because I represented him. It was a lot of pressure. The abuse is what caused my self-confidence to take a dive. It didn’t help that he cheated on me and got that girl pregnant while I was away at college. A young white male also sexually assaulted me during that time.

College was fun but new pressures of image arose. I went to school in Boston and it was a melting pot of nationalities. I never met so many black kids from different countries but unfortunately, they didn’t think well of black Americans. They thought we were less than them since our ancestors mixed with other races and were slaves: that we were tainted somehow and our skin color wasn’t right and our noses all wrong. Not all of these kids felt this way but the ones who did made it known. There were quite a few altercations at my university of this nature. I don’t want you to think my university was bad; I still had fun and made great friends.

With all these things going on and with my history, I started to think if I was skinnier, maybe people wouldn’t treat me this bad. It has been a long journey but I am finally coming to terms with the fact that none of this is my fault. I still struggle with my eating disorder but learning more about it and discovering things I love to do and that I am good at is really helping me. I have the love and support of a few loved ones. I try to ignore those who have put me down my whole life but it’s hard when I have recently become a caregiver for my sick grandmother. It is time I live life more for me because I’ve only got one shot. I know I will never be skinny. I probably will never have the body of Beyonce. It is a hard pill to swallow. Right now, I am focused on learning to like myself and finding joy in my accomplishments. I can run faster and longer than ever before. I am learning to swim, a life goal of mine. I am stronger than I’ve ever been and feel better. I am in shape, with a waist and a booty that sticks out just like I like it.

Visit my blog: http://www.sexyflirtyandfit.wordpress.com/

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Copyright Ark Stories 2011

Tattoos Make Me Feel Beautiful And Unique by Rease Kirchner

Rease Kirchner

I started getting tattoos when I was sixteen years old. I was the kind of kid who looked like a rebel but was not at all. I feel like tattoos, especially on younger people, are often associated with rebellion of some sort. However, I was a straight A student and had an excellent relationship with my mother. In fact, my first tattoo was a birthday gift from her! I started getting tattoos because it is such a unique form of art. I love being able to take something that has a special meaning to me and have it represented on my body, forever. 
When I got my first tattoo, I already had my second one planned, so yes, I did always know that I wanted to have several. Tattoos are addicting. People say it all the time and it is totally true, but everyone’s reasons are different. For me, it is a way of paying tribute to a passion. Ideas for new tattoos are just constantly manifesting themselves and I become obsessed with having them designed and getting the tattoos done.  I always fall in love with the new art and just want to express more of myself. Currently, I have two big projects in mind that I am dying to have designed. They are both large projects and I have moved away from my home town, so I will need to search out a new artist and save up some money before I get them done. 
As for how it makes me feel about my body, my tattoos make me feel beautiful and unique. Someone can have the same haircut as me, the same clothes or the same body type, but no one will have the tattoos that I do. I do not get tattoos to call attention to myself but I do love that they give me something special that stands out. I have a very large tattoo of gorgeous autumn leaves on my chest. It is something someone can notice about me immediately, it lets them know a little something about me right away and gives them something interesting to remember…
While some of my tattoos may seem silly or purely decorative, each one has a meaning for me. Having these intimate parts of my personality represented on my body makes me feel more open to sharing my experiences and myself with people.

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Copyright Ark Stories 2011

I Should Have Been by Esther Kane MSW

Esther Kane, MSW (http://www.estherkane.com/) is an Eating Disorders Psychotherapist and author of It’s Not About the Food: A Woman’s Guide to Making Peace with Food and Our Bodies (http://www.endyoureatingdisorder.com/).

My Story:

Being a short, curvy, Jewish gal, I learned from a very early age that the way I looked was not considered desirable.

I had:

– Dark hair, which should have been blonde.
– Dark brown eyes, which should have been ice-blue.
– Curly hair, which should have been straight.
– A naturally curvy and rounded body, which should have been straight up and down and bony-thin.
– Small shoulders when I should have had wide bony ones from which a dress or blouse could be elegantly draped.

I was:

– Short and compact when I should have been tall and lanky.

– Near-sighted and needed glasses because my eyes were too dry for contact lenses when I should have had perfect vision or been able to wear contacts to hide my poor eyesight.

– Long in the torso and short in the legs when I should have been the other way around.

For the most part, I have made peace with these facts about my body over the years. Having recently turned 40, however, I have some extra body image concerns to add to the above lists:

graying hair

wrinkling skin

downward pointing breasts

unexpected weight gain

All of these have come as a major shock as somehow, I guess I thought I would be immune to all of the side effects of aging. But no, Mother Nature would have me learn otherwise. And while I am working really hard at growing older without plastic surgery, Botox, or other toxic attempts to extend my youthful appearance, the weight gain has been a real doozy.

However, I have managed to lose a bit of that weight over the past year through common sense eating and regular exercise. But my size and shape are definitely different from when I was in my twenties- a fact of life that I have resigned myself to as it’s better than the alternative having no body at all.

To be perfectly honest, I am really terrified of aging and ‘losing my looks’. Even though I have never met the standard beauty ideal, I have always been considered pretty, and to some, even beautiful. As much as I would like to think I am more than how I look and preach to other women about the virtues of focusing on who you are on the inside as being the most important thing, I am grieving my youthful body, skin, hair, and face now that I am forty and have officially entered ‘midlife.’

I do not relish the fact that gravity will get me, as it does everyone, in the end. I am not joyfully “embracing” becoming a crone, a wise elder, or a mentor to those younger than me. Frankly, I am pissed right off. I frittered away my young years by falsely thinking I was ugly, fat, or deficient in numerous other ways. Now, when I look back at photos of me during those years, I realize how young, juicy, and gorgeous I actually was. And did I revel in it? Love every minute of it? Appreciate what I had? Nooooooo! Instead, I spent so much time criticizing what I did have and that makes me really sad. Now I truly understand what George Bernard Shaw meant when he proclaimed, “Youth is wasted on the young.”

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Copyright Ark Stories 2011

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