Love letters…

Love Letters

Posted by Lynn Bronikowski

“Hey Dave! Guess what the name of this song is that you are humming,” said Pataki. “Stayin’ Alive. No wonder you have it stuck in your head. You know about staying alive.”

Levy recalls hearing the song as background music while he did physical therapy following his stroke on June 9, 2015.

“That became his theme song,” said Pataki.

The couple were flying to their Hawaiian babymoon—a getaway before the birth of their daughter, Lilly—when Levy’s life took a threatening turn.

At thousands of feet in the air, Levy turned to his wife and asked, “Does my right eye look weird? I can’t see anything out of it.”

Pataki turned to her college sweetheart and asked, “Dave, are you having a stroke?”

“Maybe,” he replied before losing consciousness.

Within 30 minutes the plane made an emergency landing in Fargo, North Dakota, where Levy, a healthy 30-year-old athlete and surgical resident, was in a coma following a rare bithalamic midbrain stroke.

Five months pregnant and alone, Pataki outwardly appeared calm and composed at the hospital but her body was shaking and shivering in shock. Purchase the book HERE.


Pataki’s parents and in-laws soon arrived at the hospital—and her dad, former New York Gov. George Pataki—temporarily suspended his presidential campaign. Levy’s father—a neurosurgeon—was there to answer questions.

“At one point I asked my mother if I was going to be a widow, if my baby would grow up without ever knowing her father,” Pataki writes in her memoir, Beauty in the Broken Places (Random House).

The best-selling author of historic fiction was at her husband’s bedside when she decided to write daily letters to Levy to not only make sense of her husband’s stroke journey but to create memories for him.

“I thought I would write it all down and maybe someday he’ll read it and maybe someday our daughter will read it,” said Pataki. “These ‘Dear Dave’ letters were also for me because I needed to speak to my husband and he wasn’t there.”

The letters also became the basis for her first work of non-fiction.

“The book turned into something we did as a family,” said Pataki. “In some ways it was very healing for us to do it together.”

After four days in the Fargo hospital Levy was stable enough to be airlifted to Rush University Medical Center in Chicago—the very hospital where he had been doing his orthopedic surgery residency.

“I literally don’t remember the town of Fargo at all or being airlifted to Rush but those doctors saved my life,” said Levy of the healthcare team at Sanford Medical Center. “We typically learn about bithalamic strokes in med school and they are usually fatal. For me, I was young enough where I was able to recover. If this stroke had occurred 10 years later, I might not be here.

“The very challenging thing in stroke medicine is that no two strokes are the same,” said Levy. “Everybody is recovering differently and the brain is so many complex things that the manifestations of your injury are completely different.”

Pataki spent long hours at Rush, never wanting to leave her husband’s side. Over time she fed him, signed paperwork, tracked monitors and watched him struggle to take a few steps and say a few words.

“It was scary to see my brilliant husband’s body and mind kidnapped by this new helpless, disoriented foreigner,” Pataki writes.

She reflected back on an August day in 2010 when during a visit to the Pataki farm in upstate New York, the couple became engaged. The next day they found three four-leaf clovers which Pataki glued to a photo and gave Levy on their wedding day with a note that read: “Dear Dave, May we always remember how ‘lucky’ we are to have one another. Love, Alli.”

When she returned to their empty apartment, she wanted to throw that framed photo across the room but ultimately would come to write those words again while Levy lay comatose: “Dear Dave . . . I love you . . . I miss you . . .May we always remember how lucky we are.”

Now they were members of “the Club of the Bad Things,” coined by Lee Woodruff, wife of ABC News reporter Bob Woodruff, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2006 when a roadside bomb struck his vehicle while on assignment near Taji, Iraq. Woodruff wrote the forward in Pataki’s memoir.

“We became members of the Club of Bad Things,” said Pataki. “This (book) was really an experience that enabled me to connect with people both in my life and new people.”

One of the new people in their lives was Omar Lateef, MD, chief medical officer at Rush, who was the first to give the couple hope.

“He believed that Dave’s brain could heal, and that Dave’s recovery could be nothing short of our wildest hopes,” writes Pataki.

“Dave had youth on his side; he had neuroplasticity on his side,” said Pataki. “He had great rehab. Our life might not necessarily be the Plan A that we had planned on but we had every hope to expect that Dave would be a participating, thriving member of his family and in his life. We had to stay hopeful that the brain had this remarkable ability to heal.”

Levy transferred to inpatient rehab before heading home where he was lethargic and laid back—a far cry from his Type A personality which routinely had him putting in 15-hour days.

“When I asked Dave’s therapists about this, I learned that this apathy had to do with Dave’s still-inadequate executive functioning,” writes Pataki. “This was a tough place for us to be. He was lucid enough to resent my urgings (nagging, as he called it), but not sharp enough to initiate and take over all of his self-care.”

Pataki struggled in her roles of both wife and caregiver. Four months after his stroke, Levy was in the delivery room when their daughter, Lilly, was born. The couple last August welcomed a second daughter, Grace.

“As a caregiver you can go through therapy and you can see your loved one regain their ability to walk or run or go on the treadmill—those are great milestones,” said Pataki. “But there are so many unknowns—the invisible aspects of the injury that are just so excruciatingly painful.

“So I think it’s important to connect with others who are walking a similar road. Some of the most hope-giving moments for me were when I connected to other people—caregivers, survivors and advocates and said, ‘OK, I’m not the only one who has walked this road.’”

Levy chose not to return to his grueling medical residency and today works as a medical consultant, saying, “I really do feel like I’m 100 percent better. I had absolutely wonderful therapy and that is what made me what I am today.”

One year after his stroke he writes in an epilog to Pataki’s memoir that “gratitude is the first thing that comes to mind.

“It was certainly a scary experience to have almost died, but one positive I can unequivocally point to is that it has truly brought me closer to my entire family,” he writes. “My entire life is a second turn—a second look, a second attempt at trying to lead a happy and meaningful reality.”

As for Pataki, she writes, “Dear Dave, May we always remember how lucky we are to have one another.”

A Stroke at 9 years old?

By Heather Yowell

One minute I could make out fuzzy images moving around the ICU, and the next minute I was the one moving. What is happening? I demanded, but no one could hear me. I couldn’t talk …I couldn’t even move… and I was losing consciousness.

At age 9, I had a hemorrhagic stroke, a bleeding into brain tissue, and the result of a brain tumor. The tumor was growing into nerves surrounding the brain stem. A blood vessel had ruptured, and the time frame between onset of stroke and onset of treatment was closing fast. The next 90 minutes would be crucial in order to stop the bleeding and significantly reduce disability. It was within this time frame that I lost the childhood I had known, but I am eternally grateful for the life I gained.

For several months afterward, I could not talk — my only means of communication a spelling board. Regular speech therapy—first at the hospital and then at the children’s rehabilitation center—changed that, but progress was slow and there was a lot of frustration and anger.

There were little things I took for granted until they were gone. I had to learn everything again. I felt betrayed by my own body; my memory wiped clean. I couldn’t walk, talk, feed myself, or even roll over in bed without assistance. Between lengthy stays at the hospital of the University of Virginia and the children’s rehabilitation center, it took speech therapy, occupational therapy, recreational therapy, and several additional years of physical therapy to get me where I am today…a survivor.

For me the question was never “Will I walk again?” but rather “How soon before I get out of this wheelchair?” Persistence can go a long way, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t difficult. Now was the time to rebuild my life, to make use of the abilities I still had.

At that time, during the 1980s, medical technology was not as advanced as it is today, but the only option was surgery to remove the tumor growing into the delicate network of nerves and blood vessels that surrounded the brainstem. Mine was a surgery that would not have been possible 20 years earlier. If I survived, a 3 1/2-month ordeal would begin that would leave me struggling to make sense of the world.

It’s remarkable how the mind continues to function even when the body is barely functional. I knew my surroundings. Even as I lay helpless in the ICU, dependent on machines to monitor my heart rate and control my breathing, I knew I was there because of a brain tumor and the damage it had done. I just didn’t know how much damage.

How does a 9-year-old deal with the fact that she can no longer do ‘normal’kid stuff, like participate in after-school activities, go to the mall with friends, or even go on trips without having to plan beforehand for handicap accessibility? How do you explain to a child that the rest of her life will be governed by nerve damage? At the time did anyone know?

I needed answers. I needed to connect with others dealing with the same issues.

Recovery is a long, hard road to travel and sometimes there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but when I focused on the abilities I still had (even if they were once taken for granted) only then did I no longer see myself as victim, but rather as a survivor.

With nerve damage and a severe balance problem, grade school was a challenge, but after high school I went on to college. I graduated with honors from Shenandoah University where, relying on assistance for balance, I walked across the stage at graduation to receive a Bachelor of Science degree, for which my efforts earned me a standing ovation.

Now, at age 45, I can still see that girl, limp and helpless in the ICU bed. Turning back the pages of time, how could I explain to someone else, especially a child, that her life will be forever changed? I’d tell her, “Never give up. You will face new challenges, even struggles, but your hard work will inspire other people, and show them what it means to be a survivor.”

and one more testimonial…

Am I on a roll? It is kind of cool getting one more testimonial in a month:




Wow! Overcoming adversity, commitment, love, Faith, communication, passion, are just some of the things I felt during Gordon and Jill’s presentation. But the biggest thing that pulled at my emotion was a desire to act! Get my life and protection based assets in order and fast. 

Also, I was inspired to go and help more people get their financial life in order ASAP. I will not take ‘NO’ for an answer!


Jim Lake
VP & National Head of Sales, Life, DI, & Retirement Income Specialists, CAS, RICP®

S T E L L A…..

OK, I was doing my Marlon Brando impression. (If you put the recording at 1:18, you will hear the famous  Stella call.) Too bad you couldn’t hear it my impression; it was pretty good! If you would like,  I will do it next time I talk to you or see you.

Speaking of Stella, isn’t she the cutest thing?  I took this picture on her 2nd Birthday on Monday, Oct 29.

When I started my blog 6.5 years ago (can you believe I have been doing this for 6.5 years), I thought I would be taking about what I was doing and the struggles I was still incurring.  Then, Stella was born…and I have a new purpose in life.

Do you understand what I am saying?  I didn’t, until Stella was born.  Previous, it was all about work; I needed that status fix. Then after Stella was born, life had a brand new meaning.  It was all about HER. No problem; you probably won’t understand until it happens to you.

I have come to the realization, that I can not do what I used to do and that my day to day tasks are limited..and I am OK with that.  I work with Jill daily and I really feel blessed with everyday that I have…especially when we go to pick up Stella.

So I wanted to celebrate her birthday …two days ago…with a few quick photos. Again, it’s not what I wanted to write about…but I can’t help it!








How to Make Flying With Physical Disabilities Less Stressful: A Fully Accessible Guide

We devote thousands of hours of research to help you get Big Travel with Small Money. You support us by signing-up for credit cards through partner links which earn us a commission. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.

If you’re nervous or anxious about flying with a physical disability, it may not be as bad as you think!

If you have one of the best airline credit cards, you’ll save money by booking award flights with miles and points.  And many of these cards also have perks like airport lounge access and priority boarding which can make your flying experience much less stressful and more accessible.

Having access to an airport lounge, for example, can provide you with a calmer atmosphere while you wait for your flight.  And priority boarding can help you board earlier and get settled into your seat before everyone else so you don’t feel rushed.  Miles and points can also make Business or First Class seats attainable for folks who need extra legroom, which comes in handy on a long flight!

Many airports and airlines also have specific policies and procedures to improve accessibility and assist those who are traveling with a physical disability.  So if you combine their services with the perks from one of the best airline credit cards, you’ll be able to make your journey much more comfortable!

I’ll share what to look out for when you going through the airport and boarding your flight.  And I’ll cover how perks on some of the best airline credit cards can enhance your entire flying experience.

Arriving at the Airport

In planning your arrival to the airport, you’ll be happy to know that the airline likely has procedures in place to help those flying with a physical disability.  You’ll be able to plan ahead because many airports list accessibility services on their website, such as handicap parking locations, wheelchair services, service animal relief areas, accessible restrooms, and more.

Depending on which airport you’ll be departing from, you may need to call ahead to reserve certain services.

We’ve listed the top 15 airports in the US along with some of their accessibility information:

Airport Accessible Restrooms Pet Relief Areas Handicap Parking Wheelchair Service
Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) Yes, all restrooms are accessible. Family restrooms are located near gates A6, B4, C7, D5, E5, E15 and Arrivals/Baggage area, Zones B and E. Service Animal/Pet Relief Areas are located inside the terminal (post-security) on the A/B Connector (near Checkpoint A) and on Concourse D between Coca-Cola 600 Cafe and Original Rum Bar and Grill. Areas are also located outside the terminal (pre-security) at the ends (west and east) on the Arrivals/Baggage Claim level.​​ Handicap parking is available in all CLT lots and accessible shuttles run continuously. If assistance is needed, please call 704-359-4038. If you wish to park your vehicle and escort a disabled passenger into the terminal, it is recommended that you park in the Hourly Deck in front of the terminal. The first hour of parking in the Hourly Deck is free. Contact your airline prior to travel for wheelchairs, passenger loading lifts, personal assistance throughout a connection or escort assistance for minors.
Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) All restrooms located throughout the terminals are fully accessible to travelers with disabilities. Unisex toilet rooms equipped for the disabled are also available throughout the terminals and are located adjacent to the accessible men’s and women’s toilet rooms. Terminal D
Inside Security – Designated area located inside security at gate D18 (please note that for this location, you will not need to exit the terminal or re-enter through security)
Outside Security – Designated area located on the lower level, outside security at gates D15 and D2Terminals A, B, C and E
Designated grassy areas located on the lower level outside security
• Terminal A: Gate A6, Gate A38
• Terminal B: Gate B5, Gate B39
• Terminal C: Gate C2, Gate C39
• Terminal E: Gate E2, Gate E38
Pets are required to be on a leash at all times when visiting DFW Airport. Additionally, if you will be traveling from DFW with your pet, please keep their pet carrier on hand.
Disabled permit parking is available in signed areas of all parking lots and garages. In the Terminal garages, disabled parking is on both the upper arrival and lower departures roadways. One-hour areas may be utilized for long-term parking as long as the vehicle displays a disabled parking tag or license plate. Due to TSA and height restrictions garages at some terminals are not van accessible.

Express and Remote lots are served by wheelchair accessible shuttle buses. DFW Airport Valet parking is also available at all terminals.

Wheelchair service is offered through your air carrier upon request. To ensure availability and timely service, it’s recommended that reservations be made in advance. However, wheelchair assistance may be requested at airline ticket counters.
Denver International Airport (DEN) Large, private Unisex/Family restrooms are located throughout Jeppesen Terminal and on each concourse.
All restrooms are handicap accessible.
Pet Relief Areas: Furry travelers at DEN now have their own private restrooms on each of DEN’s concourses, in addition to Jeppesen Terminal. The new indoor pet relief rooms provide service animals and pet-companions with a comfortable and welcoming area to take care of business before or after a flight. The pet relief rooms are conveniently located post-security in the centers of concourses A, B and C. Also, there is a pre-security, outdoor pet relief area, located just outside door 200 on the west side of the Jeppesen Terminal. All pet relief areas are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Denver International Airport provides accessible parking spaces at all airport-owned parking facilities. In the East and West parking garages, these spaces are located next to entry doors into Jeppesen Terminal, on garage Levels 1, 2, 4 and 5 (no accessible parking is available on Level 3).

If using outlying parking options, such as economy or shuttle lots, accessible spaces are located near the pickup/dropoff shelters in the Economy West and Economy East parking lots, and at the Pikes Peak and Mt. Elbert Shuttle lots. All vans and buses serving these lots are lift-equipped. Wheelchair or electric cart service is available from your airline. For more information call (303) 342-4650.

Your airline can provide you with wheelchair or electric cart service
Request a wheelchair from the airline in advance or at the ticket counter
George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) Airport restrooms are wheelchair accessible, and family restrooms that accommodate companion care are located throughout the airport. Service animals are welcome at the airport. Service animal relief areas can be found at the following locations:

Terminal A, west side near Hotel Shuttles and Parking Shuttles pick-up
Terminal B, south side near Limousines pick-up
Terminal C, inside (post-security), across from Gate C2
Terminal D, inside (post-security), across from Gate D6
Terminal D, southwest and southeast of terminal entrance
Terminal E, northwest and northeast of terminal (shared with Terminal D)

Accessible parking spaces are located on all levels at all airport-owned parking garages as well as at ecopark and ecopark2. Shuttles from ecopark locations to the airport that accommodate wheelchairs are available. Customers may call 1-281-233-1786 to inquire about accessible parking and shuttle service. Wheelchair service is provided by airlines for passengers and should be requested when booking travel.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) All restroom facilities are fully equipped for wheelchair access. Four sets of “Men/Women” restrooms are located on each concourse. One set is located at either end, and two sets are centrally located on each concourse. Two sets are in the Airport’s Domestic Terminal atrium, including one set in the arrival’s lobby. Additional restrooms are located at the International Terminal, with a set on both the departure and arrival levels.

Unisex family restrooms for those traveling with an attendant are located throughout the Airport:

Domestic terminal arrival’s lobby (2)
T2, T4, T8 and T12
A6 and A27
B9, B23 and B27
C15, C18 and C37
D4 and D32
F4, F6, F9, F12 Concourse F mezzanine level, departure level and arrival level
An adult changing table is located in the family bathroom at Concourse F departure level near French Meadow Cafe.

Hartsfield-Jackson welcomes its many guests, including those of the canine persuasion. To accommodate passenger pets and guide dogs, the Airport provides indoor Service Animal Relief Areas (SARAs) located in every concourse near Gates T7, A10, B33, C19, E14, F7 as well as D-Midpoint.

In addition, there’s a 1,000-square-foot dog park in the Ground Transportation area on Domestic Terminal South, outside of doors W1 and W2. The fully fenced-in park offers biodegradable bags along with benches.

An additional pet relief area is located on the arrivals level of the International Terminal, right outside of door A1.

Parking for passengers with disabilities is available in all Airport parking areas. Once you enter the parking lot, just follow the signs to the designated parking spaces, which are closest to the Airport’s terminals.

Passengers with disabilities are encouraged to use the Airport “Park-Ride” facility, which offers convenient service to the domestic terminal. A free, wheelchair-accessible shuttle bus will pick up passengers at their vehicle and take them to curbside check-in.

Vans taller than 8 feet should park in “Park-Ride” lots. Upon returning to Hartsfield-Jackson, “Park-Ride” customers are picked up at the ground transportation area. “Park-Ride” parking rates are $1 per hour and $9 per day.

For additional information, contact ABM-Lanier-Hunt 24 hours a day at (404) 530-6725.

Airline representatives are available to provide wheelchair assistance. To reserve a wheelchair, contact the airline directly before your scheduled flight. Passengers with limited English proficiency should contact their airline for language assistance.

Due to partial closures on the North Terminal roadways, passengers who need wheelchair assistance for drop-off between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. should contact their airline’s wheelchair company at least five minutes before arriving at the Airport.

Prime Flight (Air Canada, Alaska, American, Contour, Spirit and Turkish) – 404-530-7049
Prospect (JetBlue, Southwest and United) – 404-209-0503

John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) Each terminal has at least one wheelchair accessible restroom. If you need assistance locating one, just ask at the information booth located on the Arrivals Level in any of the terminals. Pet Relief Areas – All passenger terminals at the Port Authority’s airports provide these areas to conform with the federal Air Carrier Access Act, which mandates such areas for service animals who travel with air passengers. Signs featuring the international symbol for pet relief designate the areas. The terminals and parking lots at JFK are divided into five areas, each specified by a separate color. For your convenience, the parking lots nearest the terminal entrances have a limited number of spaces for travelers with disabilities. To park in the spaces, official license plates issued by a municipality or state of residence must be prominently displayed. Parking fees for these vehicles are equal to the lowest rate available at the airport. Contact your airline prior to travel for wheelchairs. If you’re traveling with a motorized wheelchair, please ask the airline when you purchase the ticket about their policies regarding battery-operated wheelchairs.
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) Each terminal has at least one wheelchair accessible restroom. ANIMAL RELIEF STATIONS – Outdoors

LAX has three outdoor animal relief stations conveniently located around the central terminal area of the airport. The three stations are located outside on the lower level (arrivals). The outside relief stations are conveniently located at:

Relief Station – Outdoor
Between Terminals ONE and TWO
Between Terminals FIVE and SIX (Across the street in front of the parking structure.)
Relief Station – Outdoor

NOTE: Each Relief station has a box containing bags for easy disposal of waste. This relief area is located between parking structures 5 and 6, across the street from the terminals.
At the end of Terminal EIGHT
Relief Station – Outdoor Located directly across from the Los Angeles Police Department Sub Station.


One indoor animal relief station is currently installed at Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT), and is located to the South (left) just before you enter the great hall, next to the bridge taking passengers to Terminal Four. Relief Station – Indoor
Pictured above, is the location of the animal relief area in the international terminal, which is next to the bridge to terminal four.

Below is a view of the animal relief area, which provides space for animals to stretch out and enjoy a bowl of water.

Relief Station – Indoor

ANIMAL RELIEF STATIONS – Inside other terminals

The airport is in the process of installing animal relief areas inside all terminals. Relief areas will be installed as part of terminal remodeling. Please click here to see the location of existing relief areas, and future sites.

All parking facilities have designated handicap parking stalls. Requesting a Wheelchair

To Request wheelchair service, it is recommended you contact your airline 72 hours in advance. Wheelchair service is provide free of charge by your airline. Tipping is not required for wheelchair service. Most individuals requesting wheelchair assistance are transported via wheelchair from ticketing to their aircraft. Airlines are required to provide curbside wheelchair service when requested. On your return flight, you should remind a flight attendant near the end of your flight, that you will need a wheelchair upon arrival.


Each airline is responsible for providing wheelchairs for their customers with disabilities, from curbside drop-off to the aircraft. Contact your airline’s reservation desk a minimum of 72 hours prior to your flight to reserve wheelchair service. Wheelchair service is provided free of charge. Tipping is not required.

From Parking Structure

Airlines are not responsible for providing wheelchair service from parking structures to terminals.

McCarran International Airport (LAS) Unisex Family Restrooms are available for passengers with special needs; all restrooms throughout both terminals are equally accessible to each traveler. The airport has indoor post-security and outdoor designated enclosed areas where travelers flying with pets and service animals can take their animals to relieve themselves.

Indoor post-security locations:

Terminal 1 A/B/C Gates
Terminal 1 D Gates
Terminal 3
Outdoor Locations:

Terminal 1 Baggage Claim
Terminal 1 Ticketing
Terminal 3

All parking facilities have designated handicap vehicle stalls located in close proximity to elevators or shuttle stops. Wheelchair services are provided free of charge by Gateway, Prospect, and SAS Services. Arrangements for service should be made in advance through your airline of choice, but guests may dial 7874 on any white courtesy phone, or 702-261-7874 from any phone.
Miami International Airport (MIA) Restrooms located throughout the terminal feature toilet compartments for travelers with disabilities. Unisex restrooms equipped for the disabled are also available throughout the terminal. Look for the internationally recognized disabled symbol. MIA has outdoor and indoor animal relief areas located in Concourses D, E, F, G, and J. All of MIA relief areas are equipped with dual surfaces and waste disposal stations (map locations). Designated disabled permit parking and stroller permit parking is conveniently located near the moving sidewalks on the 3rd level of the garages. Additional disabled permit parking, including van accessible spaces, are available on the easternmost ground level sections of the Dolphin and Flamingo garages. Wheelchair service is offered through your air carrier upon request. To ensure availability and timely service, it is strongly recommended that this service be reserved in advance. However, wheelchair assistance may also be requested at airline ticket counters.
Minneapolis-Sant Paul International Airport (MSP) Most restrooms at MSP have at least one accessible extra-wide stall equipped with side grab bars.

Companion care restrooms are located throughout both terminals. Consult a directory or information booth for the nearest location.

The MSP maintains pet and service animal relief areas at both terminals.

There are three Terminal 1-Lindbergh locations. Pre-security, the pet relief area is located outside Door 1 on the Baggage Claim Level. Follow the signs to your left. The area is fenced on three sides and has a woodchip base.

There are two other pet relief areas available inside the secure area of Terminal 1, located near the entrance to Concourse E in the Airport Mall and on the C/G connector bridge.

At Terminal 2-Humphrey travelers can use the grassy area just outside and to the right of Door 8 on Level 1 near baggage claim or the indoor pet relief area near Gate H11.

Passengers traveling with a service animal can request an escort from their airline or Travelers Assistance to the pet relief area.

Special needs parking is available on every level of the ramps at both terminal buildings.

Terminal 1 parking ramps accommodate vehicles up to 7 feet tall for both Daily and Hourly parking. Short-Term parking at Terminal 2 accommodates vehicles up to 8 feet 2 inches tall, while clearance at the Value ramps is 6 feet 10 inches.

Parking for people who have vehicles with disability license plates or a disability tag is available in the parking ramps near the entrances to the terminals. Ramp parking rates apply.

Valet parking at Terminal 1 accommodates vehicles up to 7 feet tall with disability permits, but cannot accommodate vehicles with a wheelchair lift.

Before you fly, calling your airline to arrange wheelchair services, oxygen requirements and other accommodations will help ensure a smooth experience at the airport. Most airlines have options through their reservations systems that allow travelers to identify specific needs.
Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) All restrooms are wheelchair accessible. All passenger terminals at the Port Authority’s airports provide these areas to conform with the federal Air Carrier Access Act, which mandates such areas for service animals who travel with air passengers. Signs featuring the international symbol for pet relief designate the areas. The parking lots near the entrances of each terminal have a number of spaces designated for travelers with disabilities. To park in these spaces and receive the lowest parking rate, official license plates or permits issued by a municipality or state of residence must be prominently displayed. Contact your airline prior to travel for wheelchairs. If you’re traveling with a motorized wheelchair, please ask the airline when you purchase the ticket about their policies regarding battery-operated wheelchairs.
O’Hare International Airport (ORD) All restrooms located throughout the airport have wheelchair accessible facilities. In addition, there are Unisex / Family Companion Restrooms located in all terminals.

Terminal 1 – B14 (2), B10, C19(2), Baggage Claim (2)
Terminal 2 – Across from the Children’s Museum (2), E5, Baggage Claim
Terminal 3 – G11, Rotunda, H14, H2, H5, H12 (2), K1 (2), L10, L21, L24 L5, Baggage Claim (2)
Terminal 5 – Near Security Checkpoint, Food Court Area

Service Animal Relief Areas (SARA) are located on the lower levels of Terminals 1, 2 and 5. These are outdoor, gated areas designated for service animal relief and are accessible at all times. There is also an indoor Service Animal Relief Area in the Terminal 3 Rotunda. All animals must be accompanied and leashed by the owner.

Terminal 1 – Take the elevator located between Door 1C and 1B to Baggage Claim (lower level), exit Door 1A. The SARA will be toward the left.

Terminal 2 – Take the elevator located between Door 2E and 2D to Baggage Claim (lower level), exit Door 2E. The SARA will be toward the right.

Terminal 3 Rotunda – Post security, in the Rotunda (between Terminal 2 & Terminal 3).

Terminal 5 – Take the elevator located between Door 5C and 5B to Baggage Claim (lower level), exit Door 5B. The SARA will be toward the left.

O’Hare offers 325 accessible parking spaces in its parking facilities. All spaces are located adjacent to elevator centers, sidewalks, bus stops and the Airport Transit System (ATS) platform in Economy Lot E. All accessible parking spaces are wide enough to allow for lift or ramp access, but not all provide sufficient height for traditional accessible vans. Below is a breakdown of the number of spaces and height restrictions for each lot.

Garage: Level 1 (17), Level 2 (18), Level 3 (18), Level 4 (19), Level 5 (17) Level 6 (19) // Height Restriction 6’6″
Lot B: 9 spaces // Height Restriction 9′
Lot C: 11 spaces // Height Restriction 8’5″
Lot D (International Lot): 18 spaces // Height Restriction – None
Lot E: 118 spaces // Main Entrance – Height Restriction 17′ 2′, Side Entrance – Temporarily Closed
Lot G: 39 spaces // Height Restriction – None
Lot H: 22 spaces // Height Restriction – None

All shuttle busses from the ATS Platform to the Remote Parking Lots are fully accessible.
For more information, please call the Parking Information Hotline at (773) 686-7530

Contact your airline prior to travel if you need wheelchair assistance
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) Each terminal has at least one family restroom with a private area to change clothing or disposable undergarments. Ask for directions at any information desk. Sky Harbor has nine areas for pets to stretch their legs, drink water and take potty breaks (mitts for cleaning up provided).

The Pet Patch is located just east of Terminal 2.
The Paw Pad in Terminal 3 – Level 1 is now located outside of the terminal on the West End. It is part of a new West Plaza area that provides an outdoor area featuring native Arizona plants and a pet relief area.
The Bone Yard is on the west side of Terminal 4 – Level 1 just outside of baggage claim.
There are also animal relief areas located near the PHX Sky Train® stations:

The East Economy Park & Bark is located near the East Economy parking garages.
The Park ‘n Play is located on the northwest corner of the 44th Street PHX Sky Train® Station.
We also now have Animal Relief Areas post-security in all three terminals:

Terminal 2 on the lower level near the Family Restroom;
Terminal 3 on the concourse;
Terminal 4 in the D1-D8 gates concourse near the Family Restroom and in the B1-B14 gates concourse near the restrooms at Gate B2.

Accessible parking is available in all garages closest to the elevators. In the East Economy lot, accessible parking is available north of the PHX Sky Train Station. In the West Economy Park & Walk, accessible parking is available at the east end closest to Terminal 2.

If you need extra time at the curb, Airport staff on the curb may issue Special Needs permits.

Over height or oversize parking is available in the uncovered economy parking areas and Oversized Vehicle parking area east of Terminal 4.

Request a wheelchair when checking in and tell a flight attendant during the flight. If you are departing, you may request a wheelchair from a Sky Cap at the curb or from a Sky Cap or the airline on the ticketing level of the terminal. You can also request wheelchair service ahead of time when you book your tickets with your airline. Ask your airline about traveling with power chair batteries.
San Francisco International Airport (SFO) Companion Care Restrooms for travelers needing companion assistance are located in all terminals, pre-security and post-security. Animal Relief Areas are available 24 hours a day. Painted paw-prints on the Arrivals Level terminal curbside walkways lead the way to outdoor locations in:

Terminal 1, Courtyard 2, Arrivals/Baggage Claim Level
Terminal 1, Post-Security Boarding Area C, Near Gate 43
Terminal 2, Courtyard 3, Arrivals/Baggage Claim Level
Terminal 3, Courtyard 4, Arrivals/Baggage Claim Level
Terminal 3, Post-Security Boarding Area F at the entrance to Gates 80-90

All airport parking facilities have convenient parking for vehicles displaying a:

DP (Disabled Person) license plate
DV (Disabled Veteran) license plate
Disabled Parking placard
The Domestic Garage has standard parking at all levels. Van accessible parking is available through ParkVALET on Level 4 Departures near Terminal 1, Boarding Area C.

International Garages A and G have standard and van accessible parking at all levels.

In Long-Term Parking, accessible parking spaces for standard and van accessible vehicles are located on the first (ground) floor. SFO’s Long-Term Parking shuttle buses are wheelchair accessible.

Travelers requiring wheelchair assistance are encouraged to advise their airline of their needs when making flight arrangements. Upon arriving at the airport, travelers with wheelchair or other special requests should approach an airline representative for assistance.

At Domestic Terminals 1, 2, and 3, airline staff can be approached at curbside and check-in areas. At the International Terminal, please proceed to your airline’s assigned counter or dial 1-6210 from specially marked phones at all terminal entry doors.

Arrangements for assistance to and from other locations at SFO can be made with your airline.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) Restrooms are located on both the Ticketing and Baggage Claim levels of the Main Terminal as well as on concourses A, B, C, and D, and in the North and South Satellite. Outside Areas:

There are two areas outside the Main Terminal that are equipped to serve as “pet potties” for traveling animals. The two areas are located outside of Baggage Claim on both the north end. The north area is outside of door #26, just past Carousel 16. It is a small sandy area to the left under the stairs with plastic bags and a trash can.

Inside Areas:

All pets must be in their travel carriers when in the Main Terminal building. The only exception is training/service dogs and other specially trained pets assisting travelers with disabilities.
There are currently three pet relief areas in the secured section of the terminal. These units have pet waste bags, hand sanitizer, a paper towel dispenser and trash for proper disposal.

NORTH SATELLITE pet relief area is located on the STS level of the N Gates near the escalators
SOUTH SATELLITE pet relief area is located on the STS level of the S Gates near the escalators
CONCOURSE B pet relief area is located across from Hudson News, just before the Concourse B exit.

ADA-designated parking spaces are available in both General Parking on the fifth floor and in Terminal Direct Parking on the fourth floor. Vehicles properly displaying valid disabled permit identification may use these spaces. Sea-Tac Airport provides complimentary wheelchair service from Link Light Rail Station to check-in through Prospect Airport Services.

How To Arrange Wheelchair Service:

Contact Prospect Airport Services at 206-246-1550 prior to your arrival at the airport to make a reservation.
Exit train and take the elevator or escalator down to the lobby of the Link Light Rail Station.
Call Prospect Airport Services at to confirm your arrival. Prospect Airport Services staff will meet you in the station lobby. (Note: Follow signs towards the side of the station lobby leading to the parking garage and airport building.)
If you need assistance getting from the airline ticket counter through security and to your gate, please arrange this directly with your airline.
This service is provided at no charge, but gratuities are greatly appreciated.

From Your Ticket Counter to Your Departure Gate

Please contact your airline directly to make a reservation prior to your arrival at the airport.

From Your Arrival Gate to Baggage Claim

Please contact your airline directly to make a reservation prior to your arrival at the airport.

Wheelchair Rental

In addition to luggage carts, Smarte Carte offers wheelchair rentals from several locations on the Baggage Claim level. See our interactive map for help locating a rental station.

Not All Airports Are Created Equal

If you’re looking for an airport that make accessibility a priority, there are some that stand out above the rest based on reports from people in online forums.

Phoenix Sky Harbor International

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport has been said to be one of the most accessible airports in the world.  In addition to the usual services like service animal relief areas, wheelchair services, and accessible restrooms, the airport also provides:

  • Quiet room for prayer, meditation, or just a simple break from the fast-paced airport environment
  • PHX Sky Cart, an electric cart that transports you between terminals
  • Dial-A-Ride public service for seniors and people with disabilities daily from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm
  • PHX Sky Train which provides a fully accessible connection between the airport terminals and Valley Metro Rail at the 44th Street station
  • Rental cars with hand controls with Avis, Budget, Hertz, and National
  • And much more!

Chicago O’Hare International

Chicago O’Hare International Airport also offers a plethora of services for folks traveling with physical disabilities.  It has the usual amenities like service animal relief areas and wheelchair services, as well as the following:

  • More than 300+ accessible parking spaces located near elevators, sidewalks, bus stops, and the Airport Transit System
  • Terminal transfer bus
  • Rental car companies located nearby with hand-controlled vehicles for persons with mobility impairments
  • Multiple public transportation services that are wheelchair accessible, including more than 300+ accessible taxicabs

San Francisco International

Many individuals online have also spoken very highly of San Francisco International, and it’s easy to see why!  For those traveling with physical disabilities, the airport offers many services to make your experience as smooth as possible:

  • Accessible parking services
  • Wheelchair accessible AirTrain
  • Ramps through public areas to allow for easy mobility
  • Companion care restrooms

But even if you won’t be flying out of one of these airports, most major airports will have accessibility services available to significantly enhance your travel experience!

Useful Credit Card Perks

If you have one of the best airline credit cards with premium travel perks, you’ll be able to make your airport experience much more enjoyable.  You’ll want to check to see which benefits your specific card offers:

  • Free checked bags – This perk can come in particularly handy and save you money if you need to carry medical equipment on your flight
  • TSA PreCheck – Speed through security checkpoints more quickly and easily with TSA PreCheck!  You won’t be required to remove shoes, liquids, belts, or light jackets.  And you won’t have to wait as long because TSA PreCheck lines are usually shorter than the regular lines
  • Airport lounge access – Have a quiet area to relax before your flight, away from the busy fast-paced environment of the airport!
  • Trip delay insurance – If you end up having to purchase additional supplies as a result of a delayed flight, you might be able to receive reimbursement for those costs!  You’ll just need to check with your specific card issuer’s terms and conditions to determine under what circumstances you’ll be eligible for reimbursement

Boarding the Plane

Airline Website URL
Alaska Airlines Alaska Airlines Accessible Services – Wheelchairs
American Airlines American Airlines Special Assistance – Mobility and Medical Devices
Delta Delta Special Needs FAQs
Frontier Frontier Special Services
Hawaiian Airlines Hawaiian Airlines Special Assistance – Q&A
JetBlue JetBlue Special Assistance – Wheelchairs
Southwest Southwest Unique Travel Needs – Customers With Disabilities
Spirit Airlines Spirit Airlines – Traveling With Special Needs
United Airlines United Airlines Special Needs – Disabilities

While every airline has slightly different policies and accommodations available, most of the major airlines listed above have written policies in place for what to expect when traveling with a wheelchair, portable oxygen concentrators, and other medical devices.

So if you’re trying to choose which airline, it’s best to focus on where you’ll have access to the most beneficial perks based on your elite status with a particular airline, or any benefits you may receive from certain airline credit cards.

And depending on your travel preferences, you may want to book non-stop flights when possible, because being able to avoid a situation with multiple connecting flights should make your overall flying experience much easier, even if it does end up being a little more expensive.

Useful Credit Card Perks

Although the most stressful part of the airport might be over now that you’ve passed security and are about to board your plane, credit card perks on one of the best airline credit cards can still be beneficial for you at this stage!

If you have priority boarding for instance, you’ll be able to board the airplane before the majority of other passengers, so you’ll have more time to get into your seat without the rush from everyone else.

Arriving at Your Destination

Once you arrive at your destination, you’ll likely have to wait for all other passengers to exit the plane first.  Depending on which airport you’ll be flying into, you may be able to rent a car with hand controls or other accessibility devices, although this may require an advance reservation.

If renting a car is not an option, there are a few other services that can take you from the airport to your hotel:

Useful Credit Card Perks

Even after you’ve landed, there are still a few perks from your credit cards you may be able to take advantage of!

For instance, if you’ll be renting a car, you can check to see if your credit card offers primary rental insurance.  If it does, you can confidently waive the insurance coverage offered by the rental agency and be covered for damage due to theft or collision in most cases.

And if your luggage did not make it through, you may be able to file a claim through your credit card company with baggage delay coverage.

Bottom Line

Many airports have policies and procedures in place to assist those who are flying with a physical disability, so it’s not nearly as stressful as you may think!  Many of the major airline websites list information like handicap parking locations, service animal relief areas, wheelchair services, and more so that you won’t run into any surprises when you arrive at the airport.

And perks on some of the best airline credit cards can make your experience at the airport much more enjoyable.

Miles and points can also make it more affordable to book a Business or First Class tickets for more legroom, which can be great on a long flight.  Other perks like priority boarding can allow you to board the plane and get settled before everyone else so that you don’t feel rushed.

If you have traveled with a physical disability and found these perks helpful, we’d love to hear your story in the comments below!

Accessibility Notice

Our “How to Make Flying With Disabilities Less Stressful” was written and designed to meet the needs of our readers with disabilities.  This content was created for complete interpretation by all readers, including those who utilize voice assist and other assistive technologies.

This guide was published in accordance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, which can be found at, and meets Level A conformance guidelines.

This conformance is claimed only for the content on this specific webpage:

Another Testimonial!!!

We spoke at Guardian a few weeks ago and was blessed my this great testimonial:


After seeing Gordon and Jill speak at a meeting February I knew they would be a perfect fit for our Top DI producer meeting in August. These guys are top in their field and sell disability insurance every day – but hearing and feeling an authentic story like Gordon and Jill’s gave them new motivation and stories to share. The passion of both Jill and Gordon around the important role the insurance, specifically disability insurance played in their lives was moving. Their story is unique in it positions the agent in a pivotal role – in the eyes of a client.

I would encourage producers and client groups alike to invite Gordon and Jill to their event to share their story. You’ll walk away moved and inspired.

Thank you, Gordon and Jill, for sharing your energy and time with us in Dana Point. Looking forward to seeing you both again someday soon.

Stacy McCann
Head of Internal Sales, Agency Distribution

I can’t believe I was SO SUCCESSFUL last week!

I can’t believe I was SO SUCCESSFUL last week!  When I asked people to fill out the “Pink Sheet” …

58 responded…almost HALF of my audience…and this didn’t include the people that heard me talk before!

I really don’t believe it.  Jill and I are blessed with this strong following of insurance agents who love to hear our story.  So, this leads me to another year in the speaking circuit.

Don’t get me wrong;  you, most likely,  WILL NOT hear me talk.  My wife limits the amount of speeches I deliver each year because we are helping raise our granddaughter, Stella.

Our beautiful daughter… had this beautiful girl … and we feel blessed to have both of them living in our home.  Do you see  what I mean?

I hope to see you next year as I speak to MORE insurance agents!

Struggles With Mental Illness

A Blueprint When Feeling Blue: How A Mental Health Diagnosis Can Be Empowering

When First Impressions are the Worst Impressions

The first time you ever heard the term “mental illness”, what did you think of? I can tell you what I thought of.

I was in the beginning of high school the first time I recall hearing this term. At the time, associated it with people who were unstable. I thought of people who were violent or adults who had tantrums or isolated old women who never left the house. I thought of mental illness as something that was permanent, something that individuals “had” and couldn’t recover from. Even though de-institutionalization was prevalent by that point, I still thought of people who have long stays at psychiatric wards and pictured them mumbling to themselves in a straight jacket.

Ironically, I was going through my own struggles with mental illness at the time. I didn’t call it mental illness then. I would go back and forth between feeling anxious and depressed, but I thought it was teen angst and aloofness. But was I mentally ill? My 16-year-old self would say “No way. I’m not crazy.” (Whatever “crazy” means…)

My teenage image of what an adult living with a mental illness might look like.

As I learned more about mental illness, my view of it changed substantially. By the time I was halfway through college, I realized that my anxiety and mood disorder had a significant impact on my functioning and that mental health existed on a much wider spectrum than I thought. My lived experience with mental illness was one of several factors that influenced me to study human behavior. But what about people who do not have the desire to learn about this topic? Are their impressions as biased, extreme, and inaccurate as the examples I mentioned above?

My teenage reactions to the term “mental illness” were similar to the negative stereotypes that exist in the public sphere. One of the most egregious stereotypes of people who live with mental illness is that they are more likely to be violent than the general population. The truth is that people who have a mental health diagnosis are about 10 times more likely to be the victim of a crime than the perpetrator.

A mannequin represents a victim of crime on the street. Despite certain stereotypes, individuals with a mental illness are 10 times more likely to be the victim of a crime than the perpetrator.

Perhaps the stereotypical images discussed above are the first to come to people’s minds because they are the most extreme interpretations of what mental illness might look like. The hard truth is that the majority of mental illnesses are subtle. Somebody could be diagnosed with conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression or anxiety and the rest of us would have no idea. In fact, over 40 million adults in the United States have a mental health condition. That is equal to nearly 1 in 5 people. And contrary to my 14-year-old imagination, the majority of adults with a mental illness are not violent, institutionalized, or home bound.

Mental illness affects children, adolescents, and adults from all walks of life, but this is not often talked about due to stigma. Although efforts to reduce stigma have made recent progress, it is not uncommon for the people who I have worked with to experience guilt and shame as reactions to a mental health diagnosis. I have heard story after story about their worries and projections. Would a mental health diagnosis alter their life in a frightening way? Would they have to take medication forever? Would they be able to work at a level that would allow them to meet their goals?

A man expressing worry and sadness, reactions that many people may have when diagnosed with a mental illness.

When new symptoms arise, it is reasonable to be concerned about how they may impact our quality of life. Yet, forecasting defeat can make symptoms of almost any mental health condition even worse. In fact, if is possible to utilize the information gathered about your diagnosis to make informed decisions about how to take care of yourself moving forward.

Something Doesn’t Feel Right…..

I think it is safe to say that we can all relate to having a physical illness or ailment. We have had upset stomachs, scratchy throats, or aches or pains that seemingly came from nowhere. All of us can relate to the feelings of helplessness and annoyance that arise when we want the condition to go away, but we have no control over when it will because we are unsure of what caused it and how to fix it. Some of us may have even been informed that there is no way to “fix” the ailment because we have something chronic, but that we can learn to live with it by managing the symptoms.

Now imagine that you are having symptoms, but they are emotional instead of physical. Picture struggling with a relentless sense of hopelessness, prolonged sadness, sudden episodes of panic, recurring flashbacks to a traumatic incident, or intense fear that others might be out to harm you. Like having an upset stomach or a mysterious pain, there could be a variety of reasons why you are having these symptoms and they are not always clear. And when we see a doctor for the weird stomach ache or sore throat that won’t go away, what does the doctor do? Ask questions: How long have the symptoms been occurring? Do they happen at specific times of the day? Do they happen after you eat? Then they will probably examine your throat or press on your stomach to examine your body further.

An experience that many of us are familiar with at the doctor’s office.

A similar process occurs when you seek consultation about a mental health condition. You tell a therapist, social worker, or psychiatrist the symptoms and life events that you have been experiencing, and they will ask a series of questions to help find the nature of your condition. The questions that these professionals ask are typically called bio-psychosocial assessments and tend to be quite comprehensive. Similar to when you visit a medical doctor, the treatment plan may not be clear after one session (in fact, in many cases it is not!) but it can offer a roadmap about what to do nest.

I’d like to be clear that not everybody who sees one of these professionals necessarily has a mental health condition that can be treated using the same biological model that applies to medical diagnoses. In many circumstances, the problem that brings someone to a therapist or social worker requires a treatment plan that has a higher emphasis on fixing social or environmental problems. Yet, these interventions are also based on best practices from previous research and can improve mental health outcomes. British author Johan Hari wrote  excellent book named “Lost Connections” which gives several examples of what these interventions look like and how they can improve symptoms that were originally presented in a more clinical setting.

I have noticed that people have different reactions to mental health diagnoses than they do to medical ones. For example, when I was diagnosed with Panic Disorder it felt different from when I was diagnosed with Allergic Rhinitis. It was difficult for me not to view my diagnosis of Panic Disorder as some kind of moral shortcoming. Throughout the years, I have learned that viewing my diagnosis as a personality flaw would make it harder for me to come to peace with it and have the willingness to explore treatment options.

Creepy blurred photo of a person’s face and a furry hood. Panic attacks tend to escalate very quickly and sometimes the experience can feel very “blurry” as interpreted in this photo.

It is not useful, and not at all accurate, to attach guilt and to such conditions. I did not engage in any actions that resulted in me developing Panic Disorder. A combination of genetic predispositions in my DNA and social experiences I had early in life have influenced my brain to develop in such a way that I sometimes respond to situations with a disproportionate amount of fear and terror – often over a very short period of time. This is not a moral shortcoming, it is a combination science and learned behavior.  I can learn to manage it though and work with therapists or peer groups to take steps to “unlearn” the behavior.

Now, let’s go back to that doctor’s visit we discussed earlier. Imagine how we might feel at the end of each of these visits. I can attest that after I receive a medical diagnosis, I am often relieved. Most of the time, I am informed of what the problem is, what medication to take, and what lifestyle choices I can make to relieve the symptoms of the condition. Even though the steps to treat it might be a nuisance, at least I leave knowing what to do and feeling a bit more empowered.

When treating mental illness, it is often difficult to make a diagnosis after one visit. Providers have to identify a diagnosis for insurance billing purposes, but after just one visit with a client that diagnosis is preliminary. It is inaccurate to stay that you will leave your first appointment with an explanation of how to vastly improve our symptoms, but the point that I am trying to make is that once an explanation is provided it can arm you with additional knowledge about how to manage your situation and put you in a position where you can make a choice.

Any time I needed to seek help for my mental health symptoms, I tried to view it as a learning opportunity. I would ask about the known causes, any research that has been done on it and what has been successful for others who have been living with it. I would also reflect on how the information that I obtained applied to my own situation and determined (sometimes with a provider and sometimes on my own) what the best next steps would be in my action plan.

For me, it was empowering and validating to be reminded that I was not alone. Like I said earlier, 40 million adults in the United States have a mental health condition. And there are forums on the internet, and sometimes in-person support groups, for many different mental health conditions where you can connect with other who are finding solutions. The more you know about the root of your distress, the more power you will have to manage the symptoms and make your own choice about the best next step. Mental health professionals can help with the evidence based guidance – but we are not experts on you – you are!

Challenges with This Process: And How to Stay Empowered Through Them

Mental health treatment isn’t always linear. If you need a medication to improve your mental health, you may need to try a few different drugs or different dosages before you find the right prescription that works for you. If you need to seek a therapist or support group, you may need to try different groups or providers before you find the right match. And you may go through mental health treatment, get better, and find that a month or a year or five years down the line, you need treatment again. There may not be a quick fix.

Sometimes treatment can feel like a bit of a puzzle. It can take several tries of piecing different approaches together before you feel whole again.

It is true that sometimes the dynamic between a therapist or psychiatrist and a help seeker can feel disempowering to the client. When working with clients, I have always tried the best I can to use the strengths perspective which focuses on a person’s assets and resilience, rather than their pathologies. It is important for practitioners to know that our communication style and view of the client as a non-expert of their own life can contribute to their feelings of disempowerment. Speaking from the experience of being on the consumer end of mental health treatment, I have always felt much more . empowered when I saw providers who used the strengths perspective.

Whenever I have felt disempowered, it has helped me to focus on what was immediately in front of me. When I have gone through episodes of worry and doomsday forecasts in my mind about things “never getting better,” I was able to get through it by putting thoughts of the future aside and engaging in a useful task that would give me an immediate sense of gratification. Enter….cleaning! It sounds a little silly, doesn’t it? Never in a million years did my feminist inspired brain think that domestic tasks would help me feel empowered. But in certain moments, they really did. I even tried some DIY cleaning ingredients which made it fun for me. It was kind of like a creative project. I would make something, use it to change the environment and feel a sense of accomplishment afterwards. Of course, recovery and wellness as a whole are not that simplistic. But there have been several times where a night of giving some TLC to my apartment helped ground me and remind me that my mind did not always have to be in the future and that I could enjoy simple tasks in front of me in the meantime.

Let’s Talk More About Empowerment

OK, so you were informed of your different treatment options and have made a decision about what you would like to do. How can the sense of empowerment you felt when you made that choice stick with you as you go through the process of recovery?

A Canadian study that was facilitated in 2001 explored factors in the lives of adults with a mental illness that influenced the degree of empowerment felt in their lives. Every participant was in some kind of mental health treatment (either therapy, medication management, a peer support group, or a combination of more than one treatment method). The study revealed that the two factors below had a significant influence on empowerment:

1.) Personal motivation: When consumers of mental health services were able to take more initiative in making choices, it resulted in improved confidence, skill development, and greater sense of control over their lives.

2.) Supportive Relationships: Consumers of mental health services reported feeling more empowered when their personal and professional relationships were supportive and fair. This resulted in increased participation and involvement in the community, particularly if they were able to connect with a community of peers who they saw on a regular basis.

I have actually witnessed the peer support models become increasingly common in the past decade and know of individuals who have discovered a sense of purpose once they become involved in peer support. These kinds of groups and relationships have the potential to offer mental health consumers a sense of connection that may be difficult to find elsewhere.

Giving and receiving mutual support to other with a mental illness can provide empowerment and a sense of purpose.

Another way that having a mental health diagnosis can result in empowerment is through resilience. Those of us who have lived with a mental illness have often been placed in positions where we have had to struggle to find new or different ways to cope with life’s stressors. It has been my experience that surviving through the moments where the mental illness is at its worst forces us to learn skills to help us persevere. Even though I felt hopeless and vulnerable in the midst of my worst mental health crises, I always came out of each of them feeling a little stronger and a bit more confident in my capacity to grow through adversity. And some coping skills I have learned as a result of struggling with anxiety have resulted in positive changes in my life that I otherwise may never have experienced.

For example, I had no interest whatsoever in meditation before my anxiety hit its peak in my early twenties. I tried meditation, with some skepticism, after some peers and providers had recommended it to me. Meditation ended up benefiting me so much that I continued to practice for long after my symptoms improved. As a result of practicing meditation, I have become more patient, more present, and more appreciative. Had struggling with mental illness not given me the motivation to try new coping skills, I may have never discovered this practice that has enriched my life.

I have heard others share similar feedback about exercise. Several of my peers specifically mentioned running as an activity that helped them with things such as “clearing their head” or “setting their perspective for the day. One challenge with exercise though, is that it can be hard to start particularly when you are having symptoms of depression. These symptoms can suck away your energy level and motivation.

When discussing the benefits of early morning exercise, Jen mentions a visualization activity  that can help counteract some of the self-deprecating thoughts and beliefs that come with depression. Our thoughts can sometimes trap us into believing that certain things are not options. I have certainly gone through this before. It sounded a little bit like this “There is no way I can get up at 6 to hit the treadmill tomorrow. I’m not going to have the energy.” And then I literally pictured myself hitting the snooze button until 7:15.

Changing our narrative, and the way we visually see the narrative playing out, can be useful. Psychologists have found that the self-fulfilling prophecies that occur during depression can create a cycle that is difficult to get out of. Visualizing yourself overcoming challenges has the potential to break this cycle.

Meditation reduces stress, improves concentration and increases self-awareness, something that is particularly useful when managing a mental illness.

The Takeaway

We are all familiar with the stereotypes of mental illness. Advocates, consumers, and providers across North America have been fighting to challenge these stereotypes and provide correct information about mental health. Stigma against mental illness can often deter people from seeking treatment and may cause them to view mental illness as a personal weakness rather than a treatable condition. This perspective can be reframed by viewing a mental health diagnosis as a framework for establishing a treatment plan. Some mental health consumers may be able to shift this perspective on their own, but providers and the public need to also take accountability. Stigma is created by public opinion. If the public could have more empowering and empathetic views toward people who have a mental illness, it could lead to a paradigm shift that could help more people see diagnosis as a blueprint rather than a bombshell.