I Don’t Always Have Spina Bifida

 

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Photo courtesy Macbeth Photography: MacbethPhoto.com
 My life consists of many awesome events…and many funny photos! 

 

 

Yes, I know. That’s quite the inflammatory title.

This is a topic I’ve been reflecting on for a long time. I’ve read many articles and posts on both sides of this argument. I’ve read posts from adults with spina bifida, and parents of children with spina bifida, who say that spina bifida doesn’t define them. 

I’ve also seen the other side of the coin, from parents who say that, indeed, spina bifida defines their children. 

One of the most interesting arguments I’ve heard for the latter point of view is from my friend, Mary Evelyn. Even when I don’t agree with her perspective 100 percent, she always manages to make a very sound, introspective and rational case. I can’t help but agree with her on this– to a certain degree. 

To be sure, even now, in writing this, I am on the fence on this subject.

Mary Evelyn, and all of those who agree with her, is right. To a certain extent, spina bifida will always define me and my life. It’s an integral part of who and what I am. I will never be able to shrug off the years, nay, decades, of how spina bifida has molded me into the person I am. The adult I am. 

But there is another side of this coin, I ardently believe, that deserves equal inspection. There are moments, even days, when I don’t feel like I have spina bifida. 

Do you know what I’m talking about? Whether you have spina bifida or not, perhaps you can relate.

I’m talking about those moments when I’m getting ready to go out, and I’m putting the finishing touches on my outfit– my earrings, my eyeliner, etc. I glance at myself in the full-length mirror, and I see…a beautiful woman. Not “a woman with spina bifida.” Not “a woman who has had several brain surgeries.” Not “a woman who is now struggling with lower back pain on a daily basis.” Not “a woman who has to self-cath every three hours in order to live.”

Just…a beautiful woman. 

When I’m out with my closest girlfriends, and having a glass of sangria or a cup of coffee, it’s not the woman with spina bifida they are out with. It’s the blogger, the social media consultant, the coffeeholic (more often than not), the grammar nazi who is constantly editing other people’s words as well as her own (I seriously can’t help it!).

 

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Other times, it’s the flirt (sometimes) who wants to get that cute server’s attention, or the wise counselor, when a girlfriend is struggling with a problem (I’m really obsessed with analyzing everyone’s problems, including my own!), or the goofball.

 

Goats*That awkward moment* at Disney when you can’t figure out why the goats love you so much…and later on you find the bag of edamame in your purse. -_-

 

 

 

In fact, when I’m among my closest friends, spina bifida is a topic that is introduced very rarely. I think, by this point, most of them acknowledge it in passing, the way you would acknowledge a person’s eye or hair color, or stature.

I’m also just as protective of my friends as they are of me…sometimes I’m the “older sister,” and sometimes they are. It just depends on the situation.

That isn’t to say that I feel ashamed of having spina bifida…but it does make me uncomfortable to be around people who barely know me and already feel the need to pepper me with a dozen questions I might not feel like answering at a networking event. Sometimes, I’ve made an unconscious decision to remove that particular hat for the evening…and that’s okay. I feel entitled to that. 

I’ll always be an advocate for the spina bifida cause. That won’t change anytime soon, I’m pretty sure. I’m committed to it, because I understand it. 

But if I paused to dwell on spina bifida every day, every moment, every second when I’m getting dressed or putting on makeup, or picking out my earrings…well, then, I’d never make it out the door on time.

The Power of Self-Acceptance Begins with You #loveurself

 

Disclosure: I was given a #loveurself T-shirt for participating in this campaign. I will not be compensated for publishing this post. All ideas and opinions are my own. 

 

There are moments when I’m looking at myself in the mirror and I don’t like what I see. In fact, I hate it. So much that I need to look away. It’s agonizing. 

What’s very difficult for me to remember during moments like these– is that I’m not alone. 

I’m pretty certain everyone has had moments like these, whether we choose to admit it or not.

What I also neglect to recall is that I am so much more than what is being reflected in the mirror. I am a person, a young woman, filled with potential, drive, passion, conviction, intelligence, humor, wit, compassion– and hope. 

 

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What do you see when you look at yourself in the mirror? Do you see any of those qualities? 

 When I was invited to participate in a fashion show at BlogHer 2010, I was forced to confront these questions myself. I confess, it provoked some tears when I thought of how often I was loathing my appearance.

I had written about this issue some time earlier here, about a subject that is still very painful for me to talk about.

Indeed, I find it very ironic whenever I receive compliments about my looks, because, while there are often times when I am admiring my appearance, a lot of my insecurities stem from this very same aspect.

I mean, where the hell was this pep talk when I was having a b*tch fit at Ross while trying on shoes that I knew I couldn’t walk in?

Yeah. That. 

This is why I felt compelled to join the #loveurself campaign. One of my deepest desires in sharing my personal stories is to encourage others to stop giving others power over their psyches. I know full well just how much headspace I’ve rented, free of charge, to these immature people who probably have a hard time facing themselves. 

As an adult, I feel I’ve been able to let go of at least some of this self-imposed, self-hatred. I’m not in high school anymore, and I don’t feel the everyday social pressures of having to face my peers everyday.

Instead, now I get to socialize– both online and off– with a wide variety of friends of different ages, genders, and stages in life. Many are parents or even grandparents, and have a lot of sage advice and encouragement to offer me.

I feel that it makes a huge difference to be surrounded by people who have achieved a level of maturity that sadly, many of your high school peers never will. That’s a hard lesson I’ve had to learn, especially when I always felt compelled to believe my peers. It’s one thing to know that someone is wrong– it’s an entirely different thing to actually believe it.

The truth is, I think I’ll always have a struggle whenever I look at myself in the mirror. It’s nearly impossible to erase all of the scars of years of teasing, bullying, and emotional abuse from mean-spirited classmates.

But my hope is that, in writing about this topic, and in publishing it, I’m taking that power back. 

I’m so done with giving others power over my self-image, because it’s supposed to be a personal thing, and a positive thing.

The journey towards healing is rocky and tumultuous. Nevertheless, it must start somewhere. 

And this looks like a pretty good place to start.

 

Love,

Laurita ♥

Social Good at Hispanicize 2014: Be the Change

Hispanicize 2014 took place in Miami from April 1st through 4th, and this year, the organizers stepped it up by demonstrating that philanthropy is alive and well within the Latino community and beyond.

On March 31st, I attended Social Media for Social Good Training for Non-Profits Serving Latino & Multicultural Communities, a half-day, pre-conference event, sponsored by Florida Blue and open to professionals involved with nonprofit organizations.

 

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The presenters were Alex de Carvalho, founder of Social Media Club of South Florida, as well as Regional Development Director at Constant Contact; Katherine Doble, publisher of Los Tweens and Teens and president of Siren Marketing; and Maricela Cueva, vice president of VPE PR.

The topics covered ranged from strategies for E-mail marketing to the most effective platforms and methods for engaging potential cause supporters using social media.

I personally found the training interesting and engaging, and it was packed with lots of resources for nonprofits and individuals alike.

 

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For this cause blogger, one of the most awesome moments of the conference was witnessing Cuban bloguera Yoani Sánchez receive a Latinovator award for her courage and relentlessness in informing the global public on what is going on in Cuba.

The writer and activist has been arrested several times, even beaten, for speaking up.

I was honored and privileged to have the opportunity to meet her last year, when she came to Orlando to speak at my alma mater, Valencia College. After she was interviewed at the Latinovator Luncheon, I got to attend the press conference and ask her a question! What an amazing opportunity. I was thrilled. :)

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I couldn’t believe that Yoani Sánchez remembered me from the Valencia event! I imagine she meets hundreds of new people every week. 

Attending the Positive Impact Awards was yet another amazing opportunity to see social good up, close, and personal. It was also a wonderful time to pay tribute to many awesome Latinos who are making a huge difference in our communities– and in the world.

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I’m very proud to know Hispanicize Founder & CEO Manny Ruiz, and call him mi hermano. Congrats, Manny, on being given the key to the city of Miami!

By far, one of the most emotional moments during the Positive Impact Awards was seeing Hispanicize’s own Founder & CEO, Manny Ruiz, be surprised onstage by being presented with the key to the city of Miami by none other than the Mayor of the City of Miami, Tomás P. Regalado.

I actually had tears in my eyes, watching Manny choke up as he thanked everyone for their support. ;)

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Manny Ruiz gets emotional upon being awarded the key to the City of Miami. Love it!

Even early on in the evening, on the red carpet, I was able to say hello to a few familiar faces…including this one:

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Oh, you know, just hanging out with my friend Edward James Olmos! 

I was so thrilled that actor Edward James Olmos remembered me from last year, when I attended the premiere of “Filly Brown” during Hispanicize! Eeek!

But that wasn’t my only “geek-out” moment of the night. For reals. Yolanda Pagán, whose late husband Louis Pagán inspired the Positive Impact Awards, and I sort of improvised and tag-teamed that evening during the red carpet. It was a really sweet moment as I watched her glide gracefully from interview to interview and from photo op to photo op! Yoli and I have become very close friends ever since we met during Hispanicize last year, and I felt Blessed and honored to witness this shining moment for her.

Well, Yoli came over to me during the red carpet madness, and straight-up told me:

Maria Hinojosa wants to meet you.”

Jaw. Drops. On. Floor. 

“What!?” I gasped. 

“Maria Hinojosa,” Yoli repeated. “She wants to meet you.”

“Why?” I muttered breathlessly. 

“Are you seriously asking that question?” Yoli countered. 

Well…yes I am!  But, no matter. When veteran, award-winning journalist Maria Hinojosa asks to meet you, you ask when and where! 

So, I dashed over to where Maria Hinojosa was being photographed and fawned over. Then, she notices me.

Then, she addresses me.

She said she really wanted to meet me, and that I was an amazing blogger or something like that, but, truth be told, as is the cruel irony in most situations that you should have been taping– I remember very little of what was actually said because of how shocked I was. Understandably. 

But I do recall the million-dollar-moment, as I was basking in my 30 seconds of glory, Yoli watching me the entire time with a huge grin on her face. 

Manny walked over to us (to formally introduce me to Maria, I imagine) and puts his hand on my shoulder and says to Maria (I mean, are we on first-name-basis now!?):

“Laurita is one of the best bloggers in the country.” By this point, I’m fighting back the tears. 

And then Maria totally says, pointedly, to Manny: 

“I know! That’s why I wanted to meet her!” 

By then, whether I was still breathing was questionable. I think I had a pulse, though, because my heart was racing.

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Maria and me. New besties? Here’s hoping! ;)  

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George Torres, founder of the Positive Impact Awards, Yolanda “Yoli” Pagán, wife of Louis Pagán, and Manny Ruiz pay tribute to Louis’ legacy. (Doesn’t she look stunning?)

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Some of the Positive Impact Awards honorees share their moment of triumph onstage. 

I fear I’ve already made this post too long, but I have to share about the panel I spoke on, on Friday! My dear friend and hermano, George Torres, a.k.a., “Urban Jíbaro,” asked me to speak on a panel titled “Hispanic Social Media for Social Good: Corporate Best Practices.”

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(From left to right): Stephen Chávez, founder of Latino Foodie, moderated the #SocialGood panel, which featured George “Urban Jíbaro” Torres, founder of Sofrito Media Group, and Sofrifo for Your Soul, Steven Sánchez, Global Corporate Communications Manager for 3M, Sonia Díaz of Balsera Communications, and me. 

I have been fortunate to be a part of several dynamic panel discussions these past few years, and this one was no exception! Despite being the last day of the conference, and people showing up– *ahem*– at “Latino time” (there were parties every night!), I feel we had an amazing chemistry among our group, and we were able to engage with our audience members.

The best part was being able to tell my story, and hearing everyone else’s personal journeys through social good! I’ll be honest– I came away from this panel learning a lot! 

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With Yolanda “Yoli” Pagán, who is now one of BFFs! I can’t tell you how grateful I am for your support, encouragement, and many pep talks before and during Hispanicize! ;)


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With my longtime amiga, Alsy Acevedo of Catholic Relief Services, Anadel Alberti of Lanugo, and Yoli. Thanks so much, ladies, for supporting me and attending my panel! ;)

Later that day, after I recovered my nerves from speaking, I ran into Matt Wallaert, a behavioral scientist who works with Bing. He wanted to talk to me and introduce me to a group of young students with ASPIRA of Florida that he brought to Hispanicize, so that I could encourage them. Needless to say, I was at a total loss as to what to say to these kids! I have no idea how to foster and nurture young minds; I don’t know what you’re supposed to say to encourage them!

Well, when I saw Matt and a young friend of his, Chantal, they told me that they had attended my panel and that it was great! Matt had walked in with his group of students to watch/hear us! I was so incredibly moved by their show of support, and I realized that, when it comes to the next generation, all you have to really do is be there for them.

The week of Hispanicize was both too long and too fast. There were so many things I would have liked to do but didn’t have the time or energy to do. There’s just so much! That’s why I’m dedicating several posts, here, on Espresso con Leche, and on my hypeorlando blog, to covering everything I can.

By far, the most inspiring and uplifting moments of Hispanicize this year were the ones related to social good. Of course, it feels great to give, and it also feels wonderful to connect with others who are passionate about philanthropy within the social media space.

The best part of using social media for social good is that “the buck doesn’t stop here.” The donation or Tweet that you make, the photo you instagram, the blog post you publish about a cause can have so many impressions and can be shared so many times. Social media knows no boundaries or limits. Social media exists so that we can push our stories out beyond the natural, physical scope of older media channels.

And this week, I got to connect and reconnect with so many others who feel passionate about doing just that!

A hearty shout-out to the following sponsors:

  • Florida Blue, who sponsored the Social Media for Social Good Training for Non-profits Serving Latino and Multicultural Communities training
  • 3M, who sponsored the Positive Impact Awards, this year’s signature event, in addition to sponsoring and participating on our panel, Hispanic Social Media for Social Good: Corporate Best Practices.
  • Toyota Latino for being my sponsor during Hispanicize, and for inviting me to sit at their table during the Positive Impact Awards! I have so much more content to share about you guys, but for now I’ll say that you have truly demonstrated your commitment to social good in every initiative and program you design for consumers. Thanks for taking me under your wings! ;)

 

 

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” 

–Mahatma Gandhi

–Laurita ♥

Join Me in Getting Covered #TakeCareChat

Disclosure: This post is part of a campaign with Ad Council and Get Covered America. I will be compensated for publishing this post and for participating in the Twitter chat. All ideas and opinions are my own. 

 

If there’s someone who truly understands the value of having good health insurance, it’s me– trust me. I certainly wouldn’t be here without the vigilant care of many good healthcare providers and nurses, and there were times in my childhood when I was literally in and out of the hospital every other week.

Sadly, more than 1 in 6 Americans don’t have health insurance.

This is mostly due to one of the following reasons:

  • They don’t receive coverage from their employer 
  • They cannot afford coverage
  • They were previously denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition

 

Under the new Affordable Care Act, people cannot be denied health coverage because of a preexisting condition.  This is fabulous news for me, having spina bifida and hydrocephalus! Thanks to the ACA, insurance companies can’t turn me away because of that. 

I feel very blessed and fortunate to have access to good healthcare, and I don’t wish to take that for granted for a single second. But, if you’re not willing to take my word for it, perhaps you’ll listen to this adorable menagerie of pets who have a message for you:

 

 

What’s more, most people will have to pay a fine if you don’t enroll in healthcare up by March 31st. The 2014 fine is $95 for an adult or 1% of a person’s income, whichever is greater. (The fine is $47.50 for a child, and a family can only be fined up to $285.)

I’ll be joining Ad Council and Get Covered America TOMORROW from 1 to 2 p.m. E.T. during a Twitter chat where you can learn more and ask questions about getting covered. Be sure to follow @GetCoveredUS on Twitter and Tweet using the hashtag #TakeCareChat to participate in the conversation!

 

Parrot

In the meantime, you can visit GetCoveredAmerica.org to find out how you can enroll in health insurance, and to get answers to some frequently asked questions about the process. There are also some pretty awesome tools on the site, like the Get Covered Calculator, which can help you discover how much assistance you could qualify for to help pay for your insurance coverage.

Figuring out how to navigate the ins and outs of the ACA can be daunting, especially since it’s so crucial to your health and to the health of your family. But with the proper tools and resources, you’ll be enrolling in no time– and hopefully by the deadline of March 31st!

 

–Laurita

The Sad Truth About ‘Selfies’ #NaturalDay

Disclosure: This post is not sponsored. I will not receive any compensation for writing/publishing this post. I am writing it of my own free will. All ideas and opinions are my own.

 

I’ve had a lot to say lately on the societal front. And I mean, a LOT. It’s no secret that I’ve always had my major gripes with society, and who can blame me? As a young, naïve, kindergarten kid, it was society that informed me that I was different, and not in a way that would be deemed “acceptable.”

It was children in our society that bullied, taunted, and tormented me, and it was parents of those children in our society that stood by idly, shrugging their shoulders, and letting it happen, while my parents made desperate phone call after phone call to plead on my behalf that they talk to their cruel kids. 

But maybe– just maybe, this wasn’t entirely their fault. Because other parents maybe stood idly by while this happened to them as they were growing up. They learned that some kids are just “born different,” and it’s okay to stand by while they get helplessly picked on because of something in their physical appearance. 

I’ve made some incredible friends in the past four years of being a blogger and online activist. Last night, while flipping channels absentmindedly, I grew bored and decided to join the #NaturalDay Twitter party, hosted by my awesome friend, Nadia Jones, of Justice Jonesie and the Niche Parent Network.

The party’s guest of honor was Sanah Jivani, a girl with an unbelievably remarkable story that I’m ashamed to say I’d never heard of until yesterday.

Sanah was diagnosed as a little girl with a rare disorder that caused her to lose her hair gradually. By the time she was in middle school, which is such a critical time in the human development process, she had lost it all.

The target of teasing and bullying, she decided to take a bold step– she took to YouTube and filmed a short video of her removing her wig.

It went viral. She received many supportive and encouraging messages, and she had found her calling. 

Sanah launched a project called “Natural Day” for today, February 13th. The purpose is to get everyone to go without makeup, wigs, or embellishments for one day. The request is simple, but it sends a strong resounding message about who we’ve become as a society. 

We are all smoke and mirrors. On instagram, we are all about filters. 

It’s sad to realize that, in an age so obsessed with “the selfie,” most of these self-portraits are actually staged– with lots of makeup, perfect lighting, and carefully-coiffed hair. Rarely is there any actual spontaneity in these images. And, as a result, rarely is there ever any truth. 

Watching Sanah’s brutally honest video, I can’t help but wonder what my friend Carly Findlay, an Australian blogger and badass appearance activist, would have to say about this topic. She has spent her entire life living with a condition that she can’t hide from.

In a way that might not be obvious to most, I’ve done something very similar with my body– I’ve tried to hide it. I’m reflecting on a post I wrote in 2011, Standing on My Own Two Feet, which I found excruciatingly difficult to write. 

I remember sitting at my laptop, eyes wide and wary, hands cold and clammy, as I hit “publish.” I remember refreshing my Facebook page what seemed like a million times as supportive comments pouring in.

I remember my eyes welling up with tears as I realized that people love me and accept me for who I am.

I remember feeling vindicated. 

So, for Sanah and so many others, here’s my own selfie. No makeup, hair slightly “done” but nonetheless in disarray. No smoke or mirrors– just me. 

 

 

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Who knows? If Sanah can do this– reveal her true self, little by little, maybe I can, too. 

 

I never go out without makeup on my face, so for me, let’s just say this is a good first step in the right direction.

Be sure to post your own selfies and videos without makeup and with natural hair today, using the hashtag #NaturalDay! And follow my girl Sanah on Twitter @SanahJivani.

We may be a society that is saturated with images of New York Fashion Week models that are rail-thin and wear excessive makeup and high heels, but we’re all human and we can grow. (To that end, did you see this awesome article in HuffPo about the first woman with a ‘physical disability’ to strut the NYFW runway? Check it out!)

Yes, these are all baby steps, and it’ll take a heck of a lot more than just a selfie or two to change long-held standards of “beauty.” But that’s what’s so fabulous about the internet.

It only has to start with one. 

 

For more of my thoughts on beauty and self-worth, please read “The Woman in the Mirror,“ my post on the BlogHer ’12 Fashion Show, which I participated in as a model, as well as “Standing on my Own Two Feet,” which was chosen for BlogHer’s Voices of the Year in 2012. 

 

Love,

Laurita ♥

 

 

My Sin of Omission

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Yeah, it’s been a while, to say the least.

I spent the last few hours posting photos, status updates, and responding to Tweets about an event I attended in Orlando, and which I plan to write about on my other blog.

Earlier tonight, I put on my casual-dress-professional-cold-weather attire and was present at an exclusive preview tasting at a chocolatier.

I sipped great wine, ate fine chocolate, and mingled with friends, old and new.

We exchanged lighthearted conversation about our blogs, and weighed in on other recent events many of us have attended.

I exchanged hugs, social kisses, and sincere thanks to the people who hosted and invited me.

And I did it all with the utmost sincerity. Of that, you can be sure. 

No one knew that, for about a week, I’ve been dealing with a persistent, painful bladder infection that has me cringing every time I pee (a.k.a. “self-cath,” but whatevs. Peeing is peeing.).

No one probably imagined that, every night for the past three nights, severe bladder cramps have kept me up late and have almost brought me to tears. (Well, not really close to tears– but only because I have a pretty high threshold for pain. I’ve grown “accustomed” to it, if that’s even possible.) 

No one could have known that, just this afternoon, I was on the phone several times with my urologist’s nurse, scheduling what will be my first appointment in years with him. I’ve been in a urology limbo of sorts, because he is a pediatric urologist, and while technically, he is supposed to see patients until they turn 21, I am a “special case,” because I have spina bifida and an augmented bladder. He performed my bladder augmentation surgery– my most invasive and dangerous procedure to date– when I was 10, and I trust him with my life. 

Indeed, no one, save for my parents, would have known any of this, because, simply put, I haven’t talked about it. 

And why would I talk about it?

Since the holidays, I’ve been to numerous blogger events, celebrated birthdays, weekday happy hours, workshops, and the like.

My posts on Facebook have often been the trigger for playful, harmless jealousy. Friends often comment, wishing they had my life. From what I usually post on my Facebook profile, I can’t say that I blame them. By all accounts, I seem to lead a pretty fabulous life. 

I’ve got news for you, though.

Everyone omits on Facebook. 

Yep, that’s right. From the bitchiest posts to the statuses that are downright inspiring, we are all guilty of carefully vetting and considering the content that we post on our social media profiles. 

Why would anyone assume I am an exception? 

In fact, if anyone has good reason to filter her output, it’s me. 

Because my girlfriends don’t want to hear during our ladies’ night out about how my urine stinks of ammonia and looks as murky as swamp water.

Because, as bloggers, while we all over-share to an extent, no one wants to hear at a professional gathering of social media influencers how Miralax isn’t doing the trick for me just yet.

Because, God forbid I should choose the joyful family Christmas dinner in Puerto Rico as the venue for disclosing how I’ve totally slacked off on my neurosurgery stuff and am now desperate to schedule a follow-up with my neuro to find out the results of my MRI, which I had done before the holidays.

Because God forbid I be more human than people can actually bear. 

Unsurprisingly, the issues I just described above (and many more) are very common topics of discussion on many of the private online groups and forums I’m a part of that pertain to life with spina bifida.

You might find it odd, but I actually don’t share too much in these groups. Don’t get me wrong– I’m eternally grateful for the love and support many of these people show me and others with spina bifida. I’ve forged many great friendships with parents of children with SB, and with adults with SB, all over the world.

I guess that I don’t feel the need to share everything about the spina bifida part of my life with them. Heck, they majored in this, as did I!

But I want to share it with you. 

And I want to be able to share honestly and openly with you– without any of the following responses that I’m dreading right now, and that I always dread:

1. Pity. Please, absolutely NO ”I’m sorry you have spina bifida” talk. It makes me feel as if you believe that living with spina bifida is pitiful and shameful. And trust me– I don’t need that. 

2. Discomfort, awkwardness, squeamishness. I’m sorry if I slip up during lunch and casually mention I have to go cath. Usually I say “pee,” but occasionally I will slip up and make some allusion to the fact that I use a plastic tube to urinate. Obviously, I overlooked the fact that you are not as used to this as I am, and any remark that you make along the lines of “ew” and the like will only make you come across as a jerk. Please, grow up and get over yourself. Call me when your pee is prettier than mine.

3. Holy talk. You know what I mean here. I consider myself to be a religious/spiritual person with my own faith and personal relationship with the Creator. And if you say you’ll pray for me, I’ll gladly accept your prayers, good vibes, etc. But please don’t attempt to make yourself feel better about my ailment by saying that “everything happens for a reason.” It’ll upset me, and will only serve to make me wonder why this “everything” doesn’t seem to be happening to you. 

Simply put– I don’t expect everyone in my life to relate to my struggles, anymore than you might expect me to relate to all of yours. If you can’t relate to the situation, that’s perfectly fine. I think admitting you can’t understand what it’s like, is actually the first step towards putting yourself in another person’s shoes.

The ugly truth about life is that permanent chronic conditions like spina bifida can’t be cured, anymore than you can bring your deceased loved one back from the dead or force the cast of F•R•I•E•N•D•S to do a reunion.

It’s just not going to happen like that.

We all go through difficult, challenging, brutal stuff. So from here on out, I promise to try to level with you. I’ll try to be honest.

Are you willing to try to listen?

 

“Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.”   –Albert Camus 

 

The 2014 SoftRock Holiday Giving Gala #SRGiving

This past Saturday, I was invited by a new friend to attend the SoftRock Holiday Giving Gala at Tier Nightclub in Downtown Orlando! Samantha Weaver is senior writer for SoftRock, a media company that designs software and multimedia for businesses.

The premise of their Giving Gala was to invite guests– in exchange for a pledge to give time in volunteer hours for any charitable organization.

I love that concept. 

Indeed, for me, there is nothing better than encouraging employees to support a worthy cause, or even several!

So, when Samantha invited me to this event, I simply couldn’t resist. ;)

Mami was my plus-one at the gala, and we got the star treatment that night! We were picked up promptly by a car service and taken to Tier Nightclub, a trendy spot in Downtown Orlando.

Me_TownCar

I was really impressed to see so many plush, comfy sofas in a club setting! I wasn’t expecting that.

 

SamanthaWeaver_and_meWith Samantha Weaver, Senior Writer for SoftRock

I enjoyed drinks and tasty appetizers with Mami, and did a lot of people-watching!


MamiAndMe

Mami and me. :)
 

Me_phone

Caught live-Tweeting and instagramming! 
 
 
It was great to run into several friends– some of them from way back! 
 
LynnAndMe
 
With Lynn Hoppes, who now works with SoftRock, and who I met as Sports Editor when I was interning at Orlando Sentinel in college. 
 
 
JenAndMe
 
With my friend, Jen Vargas, of Central Florida Top 5
 
 
LadiesNight
With the ladies! Samantha, Jen, me, and Jeanette Scott of J’s Everyday Fashion
 
 
AlecDifrawi_and_me
 
With Alec Difrawi, Founder & CEO of SoftRock. 
 
 

I’m so glad I was invited out to the party, and even more excited to start the year off by taking a pledge to volunteer in my community!

Thanks, Samantha– and thanks SoftRock!

Laurita :)

 

Keeping Perspective: ‘Hero’ Spencer Day Twitter Chat a Success!

When you’re going through life, struggling to keep up with everything that’s going on with you, around you, it can be a real challenge sometimes to remember why you “do what you do.”
Three years and eight months ago, I had the opportunity to meet my new musical “idol,” contemporary jazz singer and songwriter, Spencer Day. I was simply overjoyed to meet him, and I honestly never thought much would happen after that.

 

DSC01390Spencer and me, enjoying a cup of coffee in NYC in August 2010. 

 

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Since our initial encounter in Clearwater for a jazz festival, after which we talked at length and I briefed him on my campaign for raising awareness of spina bifida, we have remained connected. He knows I’m moving forward, deciding what the next step will be for this cause, and he wants to be there to support it, in any way he can.

Several months ago, the opportunity arose for me to be involved in helping his career, by collaborating with his fan club and promoting events, music, and Spencer’s latest projects on different social media channels.

Out of all the work I’ve done thus far in my life– including past jobs– few things have been as rewarding for me as the experience of being a part of Spencer’s Fan Club Social Media Team. We started as a motley crew, an assortment of people who clearly share a common interest– an enthusiasm for Spencer Day’s music.

About a month ago, a crazy, random idea popped into my head: Hey, guys, why don’t we host a Twitter party for Spencer? 

It seemed like a harebrained project to take on, considering I’m always on the go, and everyone is busy during the holidays. But we decided to do it.

Yesterday evening, I hosted, along with Spencer as our guest of honor, a Twitter chat with many of Spencer’s biggest fans, in addition to quite a few people who are new to Spencer’s music. The conversation was lively, informal, and very funny at times! Attendees were encouraged to ask Spencer anything– and they did, and he responded. ;)  

As I sipped on my coffee (in my pajamas!) while trying to keep up with the conversation thread, I marveled that such an awesome cyber event could be pulled off in such a short window of time. I also couldn’t help but feel gratitude toward all of the people who participated– even if only for a few minutes during their busy evening.

As a social media consultant, the number of “impressions” or “pageviews” matters. It’s a measurement of quantifiable success, and it’s the most “tangible” evidence of whether or not an online event was a success.

As a person, however, I realized that shouldn’t matter to me. 

What mattered is that everywhere I looked in my Twitter feed, I could see familiar “faces,” avatars and usernames of my friends, some bloggers, some non-bloggers, who showed up in support of me– and in support of Spencer. 

We also got to reward some of Spencer’s fans and followers! We gave away 5 copies of Spencer’s latest album, “The Mystery of You,” as well as 6 digital copies of Spencer’s holiday album, “If Christmas Doesn’t Kill Me.” It was so rewarding to make people happy by sharing his music!

The report I generated afterwards showed that, in the past week, the hashtag #SpencerDay has had over 1.8 million impressions.  That’s not bad at all, considering how many holiday/Christmas parties, family gatherings, business events, and other commitments everyone has going on during this season, that make it difficult to participate in online events.

 

SpencerDayTwitterResults

 

For a social media consultant, those 1.8 million impressions are the definition of success. 

For me, however, it’s those familiar faces, the “avatars” I know so well, that made me feel like a winner. 

I’m truly blessed to have so many people who genuinely support and “get” what I do. Even my parents, who years ago found the words “blog” and “Tweet” intimidating, pitched in by Tweeting and making sure I had a hot mug of coffee to help me stay alert. ;)

Yes, it’s true– there are people who might measure success in different ways– by monetary earnings, job promotions, or how many conference speaking gigs they landed in a year.

That’s all good and enticing. (Hey, who wouldn’t want all that?!)

But sitting at my laptop, Tweeting furiously and watching as the stream flowed constantly with new comments, questions, and retweets from people both familiar and unfamiliar, I couldn’t help but feel like the luckiest girl in the world. 

Thank you, from the bottom of my grateful heart, to all of you who joined, shared, Tweeted, promoted, and encouraged. Thanks to all of you who had the most awesome things to say about Spencer’s music, whether it was the first song you’d heard or if you’ve been a longtime listener. 

Thanks for being there anytime I’ve wondered if I could do something. Thanks for lifting me up.

 

Thanks, above all, for helping me to keep my perspective.

 

If you aren’t already following Spencer, please do so here:

 

Spencer Day on Twitter 

Spencer Day on Facebook 

Spencer Day Fan Club on Twitter 

Spencer Day Fan Club on Facebook

 

 

Love,

Laurita ♥

5 Simple Ways to Help Someone Living with Spina Bifida / #GivingTuesday

 

Giving Tuesday

 

 

Today is Giving Tuesday, a movement for social good that is taking social media outlets by storm. 

Thousands and thousands of people are sharing ways in which we can all give back to great causes. 

I don’t wish to add to the cacophony of causes by asking you to donate to this or that. Instead, I want to give all of you – even those with limited funds some tips on how you can support a friend or loved one who has spina bifida, or who lives with someone who has spina bifida (caregivers need support, too!) 

So, read on for some musts and must-nots.

 

1. Don’t exclude us from social gatherings. 

I remember how painful it was growing up, and the teen years were just as awkward as my early years. It hurt me deeply when I found out some of my girlfriends were hanging out and choosing not to invite me. The reason? They thought I might bring my mom along. Although it wasn’t true at all, it still hurt. My so-called friends didn’t think I was independent enough to attend a social function on my own, without my parents at my side.

If you have a friend with spina bifida, ask them what hobbies or activities they enjoy. Invite him or her to your next outing. If you have any doubts as to what their capabilities or limitations are, ask, but never assume. 

 

 

2. Ask us for help or advice when you need it. 

Believe me. This can actually be one of the greatest gifts you will give someone with spina bifida. Many of us with spina bifida are so tired of being “helped” all the time, and many times people won’t approach us to ask a simple favor out of fear that we won’t be able to help, or we’re too “burdened” by our lives. That, if you ask me, is an even greater burden.

So, go ahead and ask! The worst possible thing we could say to you is “no.” ;)

You might even find that we have a lot to offer and give to others. 

 

 

3. Don’t tell us about every medical study you’ve read about pertaining to spina bifida! 

No, seriously. We don’t want to hear it. Especially if it involves the prevention of spina bifida, medical research is based on a lot of different variables, and while your intentions may be noble, mentioning something like this can sound like you’re trying to “fix us.” Most people with spina bifida go through countless surgeries and hospitalizations, and often have different therapies to learn to maximize their potential, physically. Many times, if there is a procedure we can benefit from, chances are it’s already making the rounds in online support forums for families with spina bifida!

 

 

4. Don’t tell us God will heal us, or that there’s a reason we have spina bifida. 

I’m a deeply religious and spiritual person, and I have my firm beliefs. I personally do believe things happen for a reason, but if you’re saying this to me after I tell you about spina bifida, you’ll come off like a total jerk. Does that mean God chose for me to deal with spina bifida? Maybe. Then again, there are a lot of great things in my life that have come from having spina bifida, and also, a lot of great things that don’t have absolutely anything to do with that.

Still, never put us on pedestals because of having spina bifida. That’s just…creepy. 

 

 

5. We’re not sheltered. You can talk to us about…anything. 

I don’t know where this crazy misconception was born that people with spina bifida aren’t exposed to certain things– like sex, alcohol, rock n’ roll, the rise and fall of Communism, and Miley’s infamous twerkfest. 

We’re human. We read the tabloids from time to time, usually in the bathroom, just like you do. 

And we also like to party. Hey, you can’t expect us to sit around and watch C-SPAN all day, right? (Fun as it sounds.) 

What’s more, many of us have graduated high school, or even college or grad school. We like to talk. And I love Google and Wikipedia! So, even if I don’t understand what you’re talking about, give me about 30 seconds with my phone to impress you. ;)

Oh, and we also have brag-worthy lives filled with riches and diamonds and yachts and filthy-rich-jetsetting, so make sure not to hog the entire conversation. ;)

 

 

Hopefully that sheds a little light on some basic things you can do to keep someone with spina bifida in your life. (Yes, we grow tired of being overlooked, just like you would!) The most important thing to remember is that our lives don’t revolve around having spina bifida. There are so many facets of our lives, and many of them are similar to yours. 

Also, like you, we hate twerking.

Happy Giving Tuesday!  

–Laurita ♥

It Takes a Village

That is, without a doubt, one of my favorite, perhaps overused, sayings. But, I’m a firm believer in its veracity.

I don’t think anyone was put on this Earth to “go it alone,” at least not entirely. If you reach out far enough, there is always someone there.

There has always been someone there for me– many people, in fact. 

For several years, one of those people has been Tracy Jensen. The mother of five beautiful boys, her youngest, Kumaka, has spina bifida. She and I connected on Facebook a long time ago, and since then, her stories about Kumaka’s strength, resilience and overall sense of adventure and humor have encouraged me during difficult times.

Through all of their challenges, Tracy has remained an exceptional mother, as well as a great encouragement to many families in the spina bifida community.

Many parents might raise an eyebrow and think, sympathetically, (and frankly, a little condescendingly), “I don’t know how Tracy does it.” And I’d be lying if I told you the thought hasn’t crossed my own mind more than once. What is most amazing about Tracy and her family is that they always take the time to support their community and involve their kids in great things. Kumaka is currently following in the tire tracks of the notorious Aaron Fotheringham, a WCMX (extreme sports for wheelchair users) pioneer and truly, the resident badass of the spina bifida community. 

While living on the west coast, Tracy and Kumaka also support and encourage Misty Díaz, a runner who has spina bifida and is raising funds to help kids and youth with disabilities compete in sporting events.

So you see, this is a very mutually nurturing community, and our paths often overlap. Now Tracy, the woman who does so much for all our community, needs our help. 

She has reached out– this time, across the globe– and fallen in love with a little girl named Sofi.

Sofi is four years old, lives in Eastern Europe, and she has spina bifida.

During the first two years of her life, Sofi was only bottle-fed and was rarely let out of her crib. As a result, her physical impairments are severe, as she has been deprived of achieving several critical milestones.

 

Sofi Rose

Still, her sunny disposition are encouraging signs that she will continue to improve, and she now lives in another orphanage, where she is thriving.

But, she needs a family, and a permanent, loving, safe home. And so, Tracy and her family are heeding this little girl’s call for help. They’ve decided to adopt Sofi, and bring her home to the U.S., where they will take excellent care of her, as they have for Kumaka and Sofi’s four other big brothers.

Since August 2012, the Jensen family has been tirelessly raising funds to offset all of the costs associated with Sofi’s adoption– the court fees, travel documents, airfare, hotel stays…the list goes on and on. Indeed, the expenses are astronomical.

The moment that they get to carry Sofi into their home will be priceless. You can’t quantify the value of a family’s love

This isn’t the first time I’ve shared my thoughts and heartache over orphaned children overseas who are living with spina bifida. All of the challenges that children face in an orphanage environment are multiplied many times over by the severity of the child’s condition.

In Sofi’s case, we know the sky will be the limit for her– once she comes home. 

In a classic race-against-time, the Jensens have been presented with the possibility of having her home with them for Christmas, but they can’t do this without our support. 

Please take a moment to visit Tracy’s donation site for Sofi and commit to giving $5, $10, $20, $25– any amount will help, and it all adds up. 

If you can afford that latte (ironic, since I’m typing this at my local Starbucks!), you can afford to help bring Sofi home. 

In Tracy’s own words, “We may be on this journey to adoption because we feel led to bring Sofi home, but you all are on our journey too…you are all part of the steps to bring our girl home.”

I feel privilege to be part of the “village” that wants to help bring Sofi home. From the orphanages of Eastern Europe, to the creature comforts of her new West Coast home, it’ll be quite the journey for little Sofi, but luckily, she has all of us to guide her steps along the way.

 

Tracy_and_sofi

It may take a village to raise a child, but it’ll take an even bigger village… to bring her home for good. 

–Love,

Laurita ♥