Spain Remembers

Spain Remembers

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Life Well Lived

It is a wonderful thing when a person writes about his or her life.  Michael Oswald who has Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder writes us about his life.

My Name is Micheal Oswald. I’m 29 years old I live at home with my long time foster mother and father. I am involved in many activities, have many friends and live a very productive life. In so many ways, I am just like you. One thing though… I was born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, or FASD. I have also been diagnosed with Tourettes Syndrome, Aspergers Syndrome, Obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD) and Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
In my early years, it was difficult for many to understand why I was the way I was. For me however, it was and is far more difficult. In my childhood, I encountered numerous challenges. Many I have overcome, but some remain.
Balance was a huge issue. When I was 7 and 8, I was still unable to climb the stairs one at a time, for fear of slipping and falling. For a long time, walking meant never lifting my feet, only shuffling them on the ground. Sensations were something else all together. Once, while walking on rocks on the beach with bare feet, I remember being in pain, the unfamiliar feeling of the rocks under my feet. After that I was sure to wear beach shoes.

The Tourette’s began early on as a constant clearing of my throat, graduating to tapping of my feet, to what it is now, which is facial twitching, and constant kneading of my throat in sore or irritated areas. My doctors and others are now trying to help me with medication and counselling to deal with the OCD, ADHD and my anxiety.
As a kid I was the target for bullying, simply because of how I reacted to it, namely in a loud and aggressive manner. Bullies learned fast that they could always get me to overreact. My overreaction always got me in trouble. As I grew older, all I wanted was to be accepted and have a group of friends, to be like others I saw around me.
Reading social cues continues to be an ongoing issue. I may look at someone and think they are looking at me the wrong way. Misunderstanding what a person means or says, either from their tone of voice or what they say, often brings conflict as I act on a threat that is only perceived, and not at all reality based.
Waking up to go to school, as far back as elementary, was something I dreaded. I had next to no friends, or I if I did, I was blind to the fact. Because of how I acted, I pushed away the very people I wanted to have close to me, with them becoming increasingly uncomfortable and drifting away.
Though there were challenges, I had many gifts that got me through. My ability to do well in English and Social Studies gave me peace of mind. Although I was not popular with the student body, I found solace in the support that some of the staff gave me in elementary and secondary schools alike. As I worked on my gift for the spoken and written word, I saw a potential that was sure to develop into something much more rewarding. As it turned out, I was more than right.
More often than not I can articulate how I feel and have it understood. I feel sympathy and have a strong sense of empathy for those I am close to including friends and family. My mom reminds me again and again, that it is important for me to see the love and happiness in each day. When I have a bad day, and conflict ensues, I sink into depression. I have been told to think hard of all I am grateful for.
I have an extensive interest in music, movies and fashion. I can list off artists, discographies, actors and their many roles, the year an album was released.  I love to dress in good clothes. I often change a few times until I feel satisfied with what I have on.
Having support around me, to serve as an “external brain” is crucial. Reminders help me to keep track of belongings and help me with control and direction. I like that I have my family, respite and community workers to listen and offer advice that helps me to stay on track.
As for employment, I do not have a regular job at the moment. I have tried working at a nursery and the SPCA. I have also made several volunteer attempts. I have what people call barriers to employment. Slowly I am chipping away at these, showing everyone around me that with the right supports, I can learn to manage surprises, changes in plans and conflicts that may arise. It is a process and I smile with every success. I now have watered plants and continue to vacuum and wash vehicles for Sunshine Coast Association for Community Living (SCACL) as well as other odd jobs. I smile, thinking of each job completed as a small success.
With education from my support network, I was able connect with CLBC. I still have a wonderful counselor whose listening skills are amazing and she grants me the gifts of strategies for everyday life.
It is hard for others to understand the fact I have FASD, as I am highly functional in many areas such as speech, writing and seeking social outlets. Some assume I am a troublemaker who doesn’t listen or try hard enough. Having an “invisible disability” makes it difficult for some to see why, when I can do many things well, I still have trouble losing my temper, grasping instruction, or having tasks explained many times.
I am truly grateful for my allies in this life. My mother, father, my many respite and outreach workers, my counselor, coaches and athletes in Special Olympics, and so many others. Special Olympics has given me the terrific opportunity to take part in sports, something I never could dream of in my school days. I play softball, soccer, basketball, swim and run track and field, and recently dabbled in floor hockey. I have learned discipline, skills, pacing and development of patience. I usually attend the gym twice a week, one day partaking in circuit training, the other working with a personal trainer. I feel and see the benefits every day. I love it. I have also had swimming lessons. I love the water. I joke that it’s because I was born a Pisces. I have also taken and loved horseback riding lessons. When I’m riding, I feel such a connection with the horse, almost like they know how I feel.
Writing plays is a major role in how I express myself. Since I could pick up a pen or pencil and a piece of paper, putting down my emotions, in poetry, song or rhymes gives me an outlet and I know I would not be the man I am today without it. I had some of my songs and poetry published and have performed some of them and felt honored to have people listen.
Animals have always been some of my closest friends. Happy, sad, laughing or crying they always know how I’m feeling and are there to support me. I love them all and know they teach me patience, love, trust, loyalty and how to laugh when I am at my lowest.
I have lived many places in many different environments. Not all have been conducive to a healthy lifestyle. Now I am back home. Each new day carries with its own challenges and tests. Lately, I feel I have met these and am overcoming them day by day. I don’t know what lies ahead, today, tomorrow or an hour from now, but I smile knowing I can look any difficulty in the eye, and stand up and rise above.

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