This is a speech that I presented at the Community Housing Summit last week. The Community Housing Summit was a statewide conference that was put on to bring people together that work with developmentally disabled individuals to educate them about accessible housing and allow everyone to work together to help provide solutions to the disability housing situation. Here is what I presented to the audience…
I don’t have a developmental disability. There is an obvious disability you can see. A physical one. Then I have another. It’s not one that can be seen. You won’t even be able to tell that I have it while I speak to you until I get around to it.
I was a student at Ohio State starting in 2005 on a full ride scholarship. My greatest passion was waterskiing and I helped build the OSU team up from nothing to win a national championship in five years. I was one of 24 students chosen to the Sphinx Senior Class Honorary in the spring of 2008. The highest honor that can be accorded a student at The Ohio State University. I was incredibly involved. I was a Civil Engineering student and I had great grades.
Here’s the other side of things. I had drug problems. I used them to mask my depression. I had spending problems. I did a lot of things right, but I did a lot of things wrong. Months of bad decisions in the fall of 2008 lead to so much anxiety that I stayed awake for six days straight. The result: 2 1/2 weeks in a psychiatric ward believing that I was the second coming of Jesus Christ. The diagnosis: bipolar disorder. That’s the invisible disability.
Two years later was the national championship. The last time I would ever ski. Three months after that I went off of my medications for just five days. The result was another psychotic break with delusions of grandeur that took me on a four hour drive in the snow on January 22, 2011 in the middle of the night. The ending: hanging upside down by my seatbelt after flipping my car five times end over end in a snow-covered field. Just moments before I was feeling invincible. I was going 120 mph on a flat tire and when I looked up in the rearview mirror I saw the police chasing me. I opened up my sunroof and put both hands through the air. Everything went black.
I died that night, but here I am today. I am a C6/C7 quadriplegic with one working hand. I am thankful that my right hand was spared.
I was miserable that first year. I spent four months in the hospital and to be able to go home modifications had to be made to my parent’s house including a lift in the garage and a new door going into the house. Doorways had to be widened to make sure my wheelchair could navigate around it. The upstairs bathroom had to be completely redone with a roll-in shower and an accessible sink and toilet. Lots of money was spent just so I could get to come home. Luckily we had a lot of support.
A lot of people with spinal cord injuries are not as lucky as I was. My 19-year-old roommate had to go to a nursing home. He might still be there today. That’s no place for a 19-year-old to live. That would be devastating. Sadly that’s the story for many people with spinal cord injuries.
I was still miserable living at home with my parents. The bipolar didn’t help. I was suicidal. My medications were not right yet. I thought if I would never walk again or do any of my physical passions that life would not go on. I was not that motivated person I described in the beginning.
I had five classes left at Ohio State. I never thought I would get back there. That’s when I found the answer. That’s when I found Creative Living.
Creative Living is a one-of-a-kind facility and there are only two locations that happen to be on The Ohio State University campus. I moved there in January 2012 less than a year after my accident. I have my own apartment. All of my neighbors have severe physical disabilities. No one has an intellectual disability. We are all highly functioning varying from paraplegics, to people with cerebral palsy, a quadriplegic paralyzed from the neck down, and a lady with polio in her 70s paralyzed from the neck down. Yet even with such severe disabilities we are all able to live as independently as possible. We were all given our lives back.
What makes Creative Living unique is the Resident Assistant program that has someone in the office 24/7 that is there to assist you at the push of a button. You just need your own home health care provider if you need one.
The Resident Assistant Program gives you peace of mind. You don’t feel like a burden. Mostly it just allows you to live as independently as possible. For me and probably everyone else there that is what we needed the most. Of course, the facility is completely accessible with roll-in showers and other design features for people in wheelchairs.
Creative Living allowed me to finish my Civil Engineering degree. It allowed me to get back to Columbus to be with my friends and to have an overwhelming amount of opportunity. I chose a different path when I graduated. I chose to become a motivational speaker. I wrote a book titled, “Well… I Guess I’m Not Jesus.” I also work as a life coach for free to help those students that I meet along the way that are struggling. I live a more fulfilling and happier life than ever before. This past year I was chosen by Business First Magazine as an honoree for Forty Under 40. A dream I never would’ve imagined possible five years ago. None of this would’ve been possible without a facility like Creative Living. Creative Living allowed me to be the motivated person that I was before, but an even better version of that person.
Sadly there are too many people with physical disabilities with brilliant minds that don’t have the opportunity to live an independent life. There are not many housing solutions for this demographic. Most of the focus is directed towards housing for the developmentally disabled. Too many people end up living with their parents for the rest of their lives or in nursing homes. This is probably the first time you’ve heard of this facility. This needs to be a nationwide thing. That is what I hope to do with the next chapter of my life with my Civil Engineering degree and unique perspective. I want to give other people the same opportunity that I had because I know how much good these people can bring to the world.