Posted in Cast Member Chronicles, Lights, Camera, Universal!, Overcoming Adversity

One More Week…

The hardest part of my journey over the last few months has been to learn to cope with the fact that we all need a little help sometimes, and that often when we get in a comfortable position, we tend to take the stuff we love and need for granted.

Losing my job at Disney had to have been one of the worst things that’s ever happened to me. Never in my life would I have imagined the hell that would become of my life for almost a good year now. Living off super tiny paychecks and unemployment, as well as taking in RJ partially on nights he works in exchange for survival cash, was definitely not the life I wanted to live. I’m an independent woman, but I felt like I got tossed back into the darkness. 

Life played out like a nightmare I constantly have. In the nightmare, I am a successful business person or graduating college, only to be pulled aside at random and told that there was an error in my records, forcing me back into highschool and having to do the whole thing over again. Just as I was in my prime, everything I worked for was taken away.

I sit here today glancing over my pay stub for the week, yet another check that doesn’t exceed $100, mostly because I’ve been in training one day a week or so for the past month. 

Normally, I find myself in a deep depression over the fact that I can barely buy food let alone pay my bills. I pray every single day that I never have to deal with this again. I wish with all my might that this will be the last really bad paycheck for a while, and yet my wish never comes true. Although I’ve had some decent paychecks since making the move to the new park and picking up seasonal work, the results are often short lived. 

I look at this last paycheck and smile. 

Because after 8 months of suffering, trying to prove my worth to others, dealing with collection calls, and living off Dollar Store food, it’s all come to an end.

Next week, my park will officially be open. I will finally have regular work again for the first time in almost a year. I can finally gain the independence back that I craved for so long. I found a place where my career can grow, where for once, I truly feel accepted. 

Six months ago when I walked out of Disney for good, I thought my life was over.

Turns out my life is just beginning.

In this rather tough journey, I found out who my true friends are, to appreciate the small things in life, and most importantly, not to take life for granted. I’ve learned to take the struggles head on, knowing as bad as things can get, with a little help from the people you love, and sometimes the ones you least  expect, anything and everything is possible. 

Although I still have one really tough week ahead of me, I know, like everything I lived through, it’s only temporary.

In the meantime, I’ll have one more helping of ramen please.

Posted in News and Opinions, Overcoming Adversity

Shameful? Please

So recently, a video surfaced from a motivational speaker by the name of Joey Papa, whom you can watch here, explaining his way of connecting with “Special Needs” people. In the video, Joey shares a rather unconventional tip for those who can’t seem to find the right way to connect.

In this video, Joey asks his viewers to imagine the “most shameful and embarassing moment of your life” and have it constantly repeated everywhere you go. To him, that’s the way disabled people live their lives. 

Um…what?

Since when did disability turn into a constant show of embarassment and shame? How can a man who claims himsef to be a devoted motivational speaker downplay the lives of so many people who are trying to live their lives like everyone else? Kind of defeats his purpose, right?

There are many different ways to connect with people who have any kind of differences, disability, race, sexualality, or otherwise. Using shame as a way to promote empathy is like comparing a black person to that time you farted in front of your boss, or a person who identifies as transgender to that one time you were embarassed on a date by your parents who happened to be in the same place at the same time. Sounds silly, right? Not to mention stupid. If we don’t use that frame of mind in learning about other’s differences, why must this be a way to teach others about our own? Where exactly is the logic in all this?

The fact that this video exists along with that frame of mind is a common example of why I blog, to educate others about my life experience for those afraid to ask. People who only know about life as an able-bodied person are scared of the unknown and associate our lives with shame and embarrassment. These are the kind of people who make life hell for us. This frame of mind doesn’t create empathy or a sense of bonding, but rather instills the fear of making that connection by associating your most embarrassing moment with another person’s life.

Embarrassing moments only last for a few minutes. My life has been constantly going for about 31 years now. There’s a big difference between the two and those paths should never cross, not even in theory. 

I know at times I tend to have an internal ableist mindset of my own, often setting the bar too low for myself. Although sometimes I feel shame in myself, never would I wish this shame upon anybody else, even if it’s intentions are for the greater good of society.

What the heck is this guy thinking?

To really connect with people with disabilities, one must be open to differences and break that cycle of fear and resentment. A simple hello, a helping hand with consent, and an open mind are all things that can make any connection worthwhile. A disabled person should never be treated like a shameful moment in your life on replay. We are all part of the same human race with the same wants and desires as anybody else. 

Sorry Joey, but I am not your embarrassing moment. I am not here to be shamed by your viewers, and I demand the same respect you would give to anybody that is not “Special Needs.” I feel that your heart was in the right place in attempting to educate others, but you have really missed the target on this one. You want to make the world a better place, but you’re only teaching others to hate by teaching them to shame others that are different from themselves. 

Back to the drawing board for you. Perhaps you might need a Disabilty Consultant to assist you in your speeches. Just saying 😉

Posted in Overcoming Adversity, The Billy Blogs

Dear Billy, (Three Months Post Break Up)

Dear Billy,

I wanted to check in and let you know how things are going lately. I’m sure beyond that tough facade of yours, you’re most likely wondering about what is going on with me. Believe me, I’ve been thinking the same way as you are. 

When I finally got closure from you last month, I was finally able to move forward with my life, although doing so meant burning a lot of the stuff you gave me. Surprisingly I don’t have any regrets, but I sure do miss Sunshine Bear. I guess you could jokingly say I’m horrible bear parent, but I digress. I was angry at the way things worked out with us, and as much as I tried to make things work, I guess it just wasn’t meant to be. Yeah, I spent weeks crying myself to sleep over this to the point where I had nothing to cry about. Although you’re too manly to admit it, I have seen you break down before and I worry about you doing so again. You have always had such a strong will about yourself and I hate to see that will be broken.

Anyway life so far has been hard, but I’m getting back to the way things used to be with my career. Work picked up at the survey place because of pilot season, meaning all the new TV shows are out and ready for previews. There are some pretty awesome shows coming out. I recommend you watch the show “Rise” since it’s very much like “Glee: and it also chronicles the story of a teacher I know for my hometown. The character named Lou is actually based on a real person. Pretty cool, huh?

I have been working on my training as a vacation planner at the new park, that job that basically ruined our relationship and prevented me from moving in with you. Although I lost you, I have finally gained confidence knowing I can return to my roots as a vacation planner and be something with my life again. My bosses are really nice and let me use my magnifier without any hassles. The people I met so far are really nice. Everything about this place has been nothing but wonderful to me. It may have seemed like a gamble, but so far I’m winning. 

You should see this place, Bill. It is as if you stepped into Hawaii. There’s a big giant volcano that’s also an aqua coaster, there are two lazy rivers, about 13 slides, a wave pool, and a water splash area. I know you’re probably thinking that none of these rides would be accessible to you, but a good majority of them are. They have elevators that take you to the top for some of the slides, a lot of the pools are Zero Entry, meaning you could take your wheelchair in for a little bit and dangle your toes, and some of the pools have little chairs that will drop you in so you could transfer in and out of your wheelchair easily. Even the kids play area is handicapped accessible. There are basically no limits to what you can do here. My God, you would love this place! Hopefully one day, you’ll be able to come and visit me.

Everything else in my life is going okay. Me and RJ are still good friends and are kind of debating whether or not we want to go back with each other, but for the foreseeable future, it doesn’t look like it’s happening. But I’m far from crushed about it. We are perfectly good as friends.

Working both jobs has been keeping me busy and my mind occupied. Every once in awhile when something new happens, I so want to call you and tell you about my day, but since you’ve basically written me out of your life, I know the odds of you answering are slim. 

I have been on a lot of adventures lately aside from work. I got to shoot real life zombies at RJ’s work, explore an insanely huge McDonald’s, help in the production of a Jimmy Fallon skit, attend both a Blake Shelton and a Flo Rida concert in the same week, go to Spooky Empire, and babysit Amanda’s cat. I have so many stories to tell, and not enough time to jot them down. 

Although I try not to, I still think about you a lot. I wonder how you’re doing through all this, how your bowling league is going, all the cool trips you made with Shayna, even what’s going on with your job. So many questions, I’m pretty sure I won’t get the answers to. But nevertheless I hope everything goes well with you and you are living a wonderful life that’s far from boring.

Just be sure to know that even though things went bad between us, I still consider you as a mentor and great friend of mine. That love I had for you will never die, even though now it seems like it. You have been a major part in my life and I will forever be grateful for the time we were able to spend with each other the last year. I’m hoping sometime down the line we will cross paths again, but only when you’re ready. I know I can’t make you change your mind,  that is all on you. But rest assured when time comes and you are ready to talk to me, I will be here for you.

Never stop being the amazing fun person you are. Keep being the amazing self-advocate who never stops fighting for their dreams. Whatever life takes you, know that you can handle anything that comes your way. I want you to be happy, and never to be sad. 

I’m always a phone call away if you need me. 

Love you still, always will.

Mandy

PS- Enjoy this picture of me hanging out with a Zombie at Spooky Empire last weekend. Don’t worry, he isn’t real. 

Posted in Lights, Camera, Universal!, Overcoming Adversity, Pondering about PTSD, The Billy Blogs

Mandy’s Inferno

“Remind me that the most fertile lands were built by the fires of volcanoes.”

-Andrea Gibson

I spent most of my writing and blogging career chronicling the trials and tribulations of me and Bill, star crossed lovers from age, disability, and location standpoints. I told our stories, both good and bad, in hopes that one day, we could of paved the way for other disabled folks to get married and live that fairy tale life. 

But as of last month, I feel like a fraud. 

I had a few really bad months under my belt due to job loss and financial hardship, having my friend RJ help me out in exchange for a place to stay on nights he would work late. Not a choice I wanted to make, but it was that or risk homelessness.

Of course, Bill was never able financially to help me, only to be my cheerleader in my time of great crisis. His disabilities meant he wouldn’t be able to move down to Florida for me, and he encouraged me to move in with him.

As magical as it would of been to be with the one I love, I couldn’t do it. The idea of living off benefits and having the potential of being cared for by staff, although ideal, would of been the death of me. It was a life he knew all too well, and the only life he has known, but for me, it wasn’t enough unless it was a last resort before moving back in with mom and dad. 

I wrote about us constantly, and now without him, I feel lost. For every share of an old story, I feel like a liar. For the presenting I have done and will be doing, I feel like life with him was just a figment of my imagination, a folk tale as big as Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.

Without him, life erupted, and everything I thought we had was destroyed.

I often wondered what he must be going through right now, how hurt he must be, or if he even misses me. Or am I just that annoying phone call in the middle of a Titanfall marathon? Who knows?

A friend from my Disney Days now works as a staff person for a house up north not too far from Bill, and she was able to update me on what’s going on.

Apparently to Bill, I “cheated on him with RJ,” a far cry from the truth since RJ knows I’m still head over heels for the guy and wants me to figure things out on my own. 

No matter what I do for Bill, whether it be an email, text, Skype, or voicemail, it just doesn’t seem like enough to convince him to forgive me, or at least give me the closure I need so I can focus on other things. 

It makes me look like the bad guy. It also makes me feel like one too.

As Mardi Gras season comes to a close tomorrow for me, the anxiety of going to a whole new park grows more and more each day. Watching that Volcano manifest from the side of the highway gives me both comfort and sadness, fear that I did this whole thing for my own gain and not his, and joy that I will finally be able to get my life back together again.

Volcano Bay from the highway.

If only Bill could give me that one chance to prove that this was all worth it and forgive me. If only he could be proud of me and not ashamed. If only he knew the amount of courage it takes to keep going amongst all the hardships I outnumbered the last few months. If only he could understand.

But the question remains, does he understand? Is he able to? Or are my pleas for his acceptance just falling into the lava? 

If only I could find that acceptance in myself as this new journey beckons instead of relying on him. I want to be excited for this new opportunity, but I feel already burned out.Not that the job is bad or anything of the sort, but for everything else going on in my life. 

I guess it’s me versus the Volcano. Let the battle for acceptance begin. 

Posted in Overcoming Adversity, Pondering about PTSD, Relationship Ramblings, The Billy Blogs

Finding (Self) Forgiveness 

Usually, we find it difficult to control our mind. It seems as if our mind is like a balloon in the wind – blown here and there by external circumstances.
                    -Kelsang Gyatso

I have been struggling a lot lately with forgiveness, mostly due to losing Bill and trying to patch up whatever friendship we have left. Losing him has been the ultimate nightmare of mine. Like a balloon, I feel free, but yet I feel lost in the wind, wanting so desperately to be tied down.

Forgiveness has been a hard concept for me to grasp.Trust has always been something I have had issues with since I have dealt with some bad people in my life who would take advantage of my kindness, only for me to be tossed to the curb in the end. How can I forgive others if they hurt me? I am the queen of holding grudges, you do me wrong, ain’t no turning back. 

Bill has fallen through the cracks in the situation, which has tested my patience as well as my self worth. In a normal relationship, he would be the last thing on my mind. But we were never classified as normal in any aspect of being together. Disability was never a “get out of jail free” card for him, but what is?

Maybe it is my attitude that caused all this, expecting way more than what he could deliver. Expecting higher standards for myself while forgetting I am allowed to make my choices and not be punished for it. Why should I go through a second party for approval? 

Because it’s Bill and I have no freaking clue why.

I want to forgive him for the situation with his little friend as well as my choice to take this new job because me being the egotistical whacko I am, I never thought once about his feelings in all this.

But are his feelings worth changing my whole life around? Where do I draw the line in all this?

What if the person I need to forgive is myself? 

Silly concept, but it’s much needed, given the new park is opening soon and my training is mere weeks away. I want to be positively focused on something that could make my life better. I made the choices I did to propel myself forward. I shouldn’t feel guilty for making that decision, even if I broke his heart. 

The guilt has resulted in a few bad nights of sleep, weird dreams that just don’t make any sense, and a desire to cuss people out just because I can. Never have I felt so irritable in my life. Most of this anger is brought upon myself since it was me who decided to end it on impulse, who had issues with his lady friend, who picked up a job away from him. I’m the one who did all this. Me.

I want to forgive myself for the choices I made, looking at the bigger picture has shown me the way to a better future for myself. I hope in due time, he will be proud of me for doing this and will forgive me. Knowing Bill, he can be really stubborn. Like a brick wall, he’s tough to break. Let’s just say it’s going to be a while, if anything, for him to open up again.

But I can’t wait for that to happen. Time is precious especially in transition like I’m in now. Somehow I need to find that in myself. My fate depends on it.

Things can only go up from here, right?

Posted in Cast Member Chronicles, Lights, Camera, Universal!, Overcoming Adversity, The Billy Blogs

Why I Didn’t Give In To The System…or Him

My biggest critic turned out to be the person I devoted my whole life to. And because of a tough choice I made in finding a stable career, I lost him.

After about a decade of trying to make things work between us, me and Bill decided to part ways. There was more involved than what I want to share, but the gist is that I decided to fight the odds against me and work hard to make my life one where I don’t have to settle for less.

Back in August, I lost my job with Disney, and with my fate being undetermined with Universal for the longest time with me not finding anything beyond seasonal or temp work, all signs pointed to me moving in to Bill’s supportive living community in a last ditch effort to not resort to moving back in with my parents, a fate many of my friends with disabilities, and some without, have faced.

To Bill, this meant we could live out our lives where he would be taken care of and have me at the same time. And as magical as it would of been to be with the person I loved, it would of torn me apart inside.

Although being born with the challenges I have faced, my family made every single attempt to raise me as if I were a normal child. My dad, being the conservative kind of guy he is, always told me to work for my goals and not ask for a handout. Even my mother worked every single job she could find so we could move out of living in poverty and be happy, ever since I could remember. I wanted to be like my parents and fight for what I wanted even if the odds are stacked against me. I saw them grow from minimum wage retail workers to being a corrections officer and a teaching assistant. If they could do it, so can I.

Bill, on the other hand, had different plans for me, and although they seemed wonderful, they weren’t for me. His idea of a perfect life involved having me and him move in together, live off the system and food stamps, and essentially have no control over my money while his staff take care of our bills, our meals, everything.

As cushy as that sounds, I didn’t buy into it.

Now I’m not trashing that lifestyle by any means, but what he was used to given his disability and what I was used to as a person who got denied for most government benefits just never added up to me. Where would I have fit in in all of this? What purpose would I have aside from being a live-in girlfriend? So many questions, not enough answers.

A few weeks ago I got the news that I was able to transfer into Universal’s newest theme park, going back to my roots as a vacation planner and finally having stable employment. Bill judged me for making the choice of career over him, and who can’t blame him?

I worked hard for last eight months to prove myself worthy of getting back in the workforce, and sadly, it came at a price of losing the person I love the most.

Whether I lost him for good or not remains uncertain, but my love for him will never die even though things didn’t work out the way he planned. I can only hope one day he will forgive me for making the hardest choice I’ve ever had to make.

Nevertheless, I persisted. Having the disabilities I have will never stop me from living my dreams. 

If only he could see that this decision is worthwhile.

Here goes nothing.

Me in one of my many uniforms, this is my resting Market Research face for the NBC Media Center
Posted in News and Opinions, Out and About in Orlando, Overcoming Adversity

Love Trumps Hate in the Sunshine State

Mandy Ree at Lake Eola Park in Downtown Orlando. Sign reads “Women’s rights…it’s not an ovary action.”

In my typical anarchist fashion, I took the streets of Orlando (well, more of a jogging path) to rally aginst the many issues women and minorities face during Trump’s reign as president. A lot has happened within the first 24 hours that has added fuel to the fire, amumg them several government sites regarding the White House’s take on minorities, disability rights, and the LGBT community being taken down and replaced by Trump’s agenda, leaving us out in the cold. 

The rally took place inside Lake Eola Park, which showcased stories from local speakers involved in the local political scene. Many of the addresses touched on topics of racism, sexism, right to healthcare via Planned Parenthood, islamophobia, LGBT rights, and many more. But what surprised me most was that the disability community was well-represented, thanks to these two wonderful ladies from the Florida Democratic Disability Caucus and the National Federation of the Blind. 

Check out their awesome speech here.

Needless to say, it was a surreal feeling seeing the community come together as one. Men, women, and children of all races, ages, abilities, and orientations came out today on the lake to raise their voices and take action against an already hate-filled cabinet. 

Please enjoy some of my favorite pictures from the Rally below.