Shortly after I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) I decided to buy a pair of heels. I could count on one finger the number of times I’d successfully worn heels in the past: to that dance in college after a knee surgery, using my crutches to help me balance.
I grew up in rural North Carolina and heels did not help me climb trees, catch blue crabs, or sail a boat. I didn’t have a use for them. I didn’t know how to wear something that wasn’t running shoes or soccer cleats. I would only try on heels to make my friends laugh while I stumbled around like Jar Jar Binks.
It seems counter-intuitive that I would purchase a pair of heels right after being diagnosed with a disease that causes extreme joint pain, inflammation, and spinal damage. I should be preserving my body and my joints as much as possible, right?
But when I was diagnosed with AS something clicked inside me, and it wasn’t a desire to follow the Yellow Brick Road back home to Kansas. It was a sudden desire to experience everything life could offer before I couldn’t do it anymore. And that somehow meant learning how to walk in heels even if I was only able to use them for a year, 5 years, or 10 years. Even though it didn’t make any sense.
So I bought heels and kind of learned to walk in them.
And then I became a fashion model. I swear it wasn’t planned. During my first photo shoot the photographer had to teach me how to pose gracefully without falling over. Continue reading How a Pair of Heels Gave Me a Reason to Live with Ankylosing Spondylitis
I became a self-titled Episcopal Church Geek as soon as I learned the proper order in which to extinguish altar candles, when I was 7-ish. My early days as an acolyte are blamed on my desire to be just like my closest older brother, who is five years my senior. But, once in, I was so enamored with being part of how church functioned that I never thought of leaving.
I was hungry for more.
It could seem cult-ish to say I’ve never questioned my faith, but in all honesty that’s the truth. Because the norm in my religious upbringing was that I was encouraged to ask tough questions of God, the Bible, the preacher, our beliefs, rituals, and more. The thing that allowed me to never question my personal faith was the fact that I had permission to question everything about it. The very freedom that I could so easily walk away meant that I had a reason to find out why it was important to stay.
I was 16 or so when I thought I wanted to be a priest, but it would take another 15 years before I would find my true calling as an Episcopalian. I’m still figuring out the whole priest thing.
This post explores some of the ways I am beginning to bridge my “in real life” disability and chronic disease advocacy work with my passion for helping The Episcopal Church truly welcome everyone. Continue reading Disabled Deputy On a Roll
I’m a severely low-income resident of Sacramento.
This might surprise you considering I’m pretty well-known for my advocacy related to healthcare, disability, and chronic diseases. You’ve seen me on the Sacramento TEDx stage, the Women’s March on Sacramento, in press conferences and on healthcare panels, in this upcoming documentary, and in numerous television interviews about national healthcare policies.
Someone so steeped in the public eye shouldn’t have a worry about housing, right?
Yet what I haven’t talked about publicly is my very fear of becoming homeless. I’ve reached out to local representatives about my fears only to be redirected or ignored completely. It’s time you know what it’s like for me facing barriers to safe, stable, affordable housing in Sacramento, California.
Mid-June 2018 I was officially granted permanent disability benefits, Continue reading In Support of Rent Control in Sacramento
Below is a video and transcript of the speech I gave at the 2018 Women’s March in Sacramento. The current video may be updated with an official rally video after it is released.
(Video courtesy of Darcy Totten, Activism Articulated)
My name is Charis.
Five years ago I was asked to testify on a bill and I said to the person, “I am nobody, how can you expect me to say anything to convince these lawmakers to choose the right thing?”
She said, “Charis, all you have to do is share your story. Nobody can tell your story for you.”
Sacramento! Can you share your stories? That’s all you have to do.
I’m a former college athlete. I graduated magna cum laude from a women’s college and I paid off my college loans in 6 years. I could do anything!
Then I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis. You can’t tell because I’m hiding the pain, but Ankylosing Spondylitis hurts like hell and my body’s working overtime just to survive. I also live with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Depression, and Anxiety.
In 2016, I made the hardest decision of my life. I applied for Social Security Disability. Now, two years later, I am still waiting for a decision on my case. For two years I’ve been surviving on savings and occasional financial help. But with Sacramento’s rent rising astronomically and my savings and health in decline, my future is uncertain at best. Continue reading I Told My Story at the 2018 Women’s March in Sacramento
I’ve heard some say disability benefits are unnecessary hand-outs for people who should just die off, and why should hard-working people foot the bill for people who are lazy, whose lives mean nothing?
The disability process itself mirrors these same sentiments – the 3-5 years (average) process for applying, fighting for, and receiving disability (SSI or SSDI) in the USA is by its nature a grueling process, with analysts hired to deny applicants not once, but twice (standard procedure), forcing the applicant to appeal their case twice over several months before a hearing is granted, which then takes years to schedule due to a shortage of judges. It is a process intended to force people to give up.
You usually have to be literally dying to be automatically granted disability in the USA. Continue reading Being Disabled Is a Job
Dear gate agents,
I’m one of those passengers who shouldn’t be in the pre-board line.
You know the ones.
I’m dressed nicely and I have makeup on; I appear healthy and able-bodied. I don’t use a wheelchair. I’m young. I sometimes sit on the floor and stretch. Aside from my pillow and sometimes my cane and wrist braces, there is not much evidence pointing to a broken body. According to popular opinion, I don’t look disabled.
You want to do your job well, and part of that is accommodating people with disabilities. But often, when I request a pre-board pass, you look at me like maybe I’m cheating, like maybe I learned a trick somewhere just to get a better seat or not wait in line. Maybe you think I’m smug or even entitled. Sometimes you question if I need the pre-board pass on the basis of disability right after you sweetly, wordlessly hand one to the woman in front of me Continue reading Dear Gate Agents and Flight Attendants, From People Who Don’t Look Disabled
I’m still proud.
…Of being a Democrat. Because we try to put in place policies that protect and assist the poor, the disadvantaged, the disenfranchised, the marginalized, the needy…people who are less-than by no fault of their own. I’m proud of being a Democrat because we don’t expect everyone has the ability to pull themselves up by their bootstraps but we do want everyone to flourish as best they can with the same or similar opportunities. I’m proud because we reach across the aisle even when our hands are slapped over and over, we accept defeat graciously and we continue our work even if we can’t have the title ‘President’ or ‘Senator’ on our lapel pins. Continue reading I’m Still Proud