Beginning the New Year with Friends --By Rolf Kotar
Are you feeling alone? The start of 2017 has been difficult for many people, in part because of the divisions exposed after the Election and the shorter, colder days of winter. Please let me acknowledge your feelings, reader. You may be isolated, but you are most likely not an unloved person! When first beginning to attend Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition meetings many years ago, then CCDC Board President Christina Johnson came to me, saying the reason our members like coming and sharing is they want to make more friends. Of course, Executive Director Julie Reiskin is aware of this need. She frequently can't attend community meetings. That is where our Basic Advocacy training can come in. Our next series is starting this March.
Following becoming even a CCDC volunteer, we each become an asset, using our telephones, in starting to stand up for people with disabilities by contacting state officials with our desires. Some go on to become trained CCDC advocates to help individuals through the human service system (that is, apply for social security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits, or do “lobbying” in the state legislature). This way, we each enjoy another's company, as our acquaintances are like ourselves. We're fighting for our rights as a community of people, bound together for more clout - we've real “esprit de corps” as a statewide, civil rights nonprofit.
Many years passed before Christina Johnson came to me, saying, "Rolf, would you be my friend?" I haven't breathed a word of this. However, it was a truly touching moment. After years of physical pain falls, constant magnetic resonance imaging testing (MRIs), Christina began to use a power wheelchair. Now, perhaps not having true Parkinson's disease, but only "Parkinsonism." I'm facing the same possibility of losing more of my bodily functions if I have true Parkinson's disease - no one knows.
Without the constant outreaching of friends and providers during the past three years, I'm certain I would be dead. When first diagnosed with Parkinson's and immobilized (feeling encased in dried concrete) with bilateral lens replacement in my eyes, or cataract surgery with vision correction, counselors from Denver Health and Hospitals called me several times per day to check my condition. I was not healthy. I'd been stable on medicine for 20 years called Olanzapine. It's known this drug causes Parkinson's-like movements and weakness. So, I was switched to a medicine that only sedates, without organizing my thoughts. It's Seroquel and it's taken me years to adapt to it. I frequently was told, “Your thinking isn't accurate. It's muddled.” While the counselors reiterated, over and over, saying to my complaints, "Yes, Rolf, but you can write!" The final call came on a Sunday morning from Denver Health. I said to the counselor, "I just finished one of my better pieces of writing. It's called Escape Velocity." The counselor said, "Rolf, What's it about?" I said, "It's about returning to work after a long illness." The counselor reacted immediately, saying, "That's exciting! Where can I get a copy?" Then the counselor said, "Do you want another call later today?" I said, "No, I'll be just fine."
If you're struggling, please know you are never truly alone - especially being a person with a disability. (We all will have a disability at some point. No person has a corner on discomfort.) It's true for all people that love is around each of us. The most difficult part of accepting loneliness is acting on it to feel a part of the community. There are people with disabilities - and others currently without a big challenge – who will be friends with you. It seems difficult to try; yet since it's guaranteed to happen, be your own best friend, coaxing yourself to go out and meet them!