Her Parents Were Told She May Never Speak. Now, Listen to Her Sing.

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Listen to the video below and you’ll find it hard to believe that Annie Titus, from Buffalo, New York, only starting singing seven months ago.

The 26-year-old with autism started taking classes at her local community center in December and discovered she has an immense talent for music, ABC News reported. Her music teachers couldn’t believe she’d never taken lessons before.

I was astounded,” Titus’ teacher, Maria Lindsey, told the outlet. “I was convinced that she had been taking lessons for a long time.”

When she was being diagnosed with autism around age 5, Titus’ parents were told she may never learn to talk, according to the description in the video below. Now Titus not only talks, she blows people away with her singing voice.

Her newfound talent has also helped her to come out of her shell and gain more confidence.

Watch the incredible video below, of Annie Titus’ first ever performance:

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8 Apps That May Help Maintain Your Mental Health

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While some studies suggest overuse of technology can be linked to depression, apps that actually help maintain mental health exist. They’re of course not meant to substitute professional care, but they can be integrated into any mental wellness plan.

The Mighty did some research and also asked our readers on Facebook which apps they use to maintain their mental health. Here were 8 mental health-related apps that stuck out to us:

1. The Now mindfulness app [Free] 

The Now
The Now

This app sends inspirational quotes as mindfulness reminders throughout the day. According to its website, the app’s goal is to encourage users to engage in the present and achieve a constant state of mindfulness.

Recommended by Zow Grow.

2. Talkspace counseling app [Free to download, additional features for purchase]

Talkspace

This app discretely allows users to chat with licensed therapists. The free version offers limited access to therapists, but for $25 a week users can send unlimited daily messages to a therapist. Other plans available for in-app purchase include video therapy sessions for $29/every 30 minutes.

3. Bejeweled game app [Free]

Bejeweled

One reader recommended finding a silly game as a mindless distraction. Bejeweled, for example, fills the screen with colorful jewels that need to be organized into rows of three or more jewels of the same kind.

Recommended by Leah Sturdivant 

4.  Smiling Mind mediation app [Free]

Smiling Mind

This customizable meditation app offers guided mediation exercises based on age. According to their website, Smiling Mind is ideal for young people and beginners. Get an online trial or download the app here.

Recommended by Susanna’ N’ Martin Flanagan

5. Wunderlist productivity app [Free]

Wunderlist

This app allows users to make to-do lists, label lists, set deadlines and collaborate with others. Among many available list apps, Wunderlist shines for its clean interface and simple navigation. For some, making lists can help make life seem more manageable.

Recommended by Mara Katherine Meyer

6. Optimism

Optimism

Optimism is about more than staying happy. It helps users track their moods and see patterns in what triggers their negative thoughts. The app also helps users create self-care plans to manage their emotions. It’s available in mobile or desktop versions.

7. Operation Reach Out suicide prevention app [Free]

Operation Reach Out

Originally designed to prevent suicide in the military community, this app is useful for anyone experiencing depression or trying to help a friend who has suicidal thoughts. It offers 12 short videos directed towards people considering suicide and a customizable list of help resources. There are also 10 videos for people who want to offer support to others such as, “Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Tough Questions.” **

8. SuperBetter mental wellness gaming app. [Free]

SuperBetter

This app helps build personal resilience and gives people the tools to creatively tackle their problems. It’s designed like a video game but was created after consulting with doctors, psychologists, scientists and medical researchers. Users invent their own “Quests” and can draw on support from others when defeating their “Bad Guys.”

Are there any we missed? Let us know which apps you use to maintain your mental health in the comments section.

**If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

Lead image credit: Pexels 

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Why My Life With a Chronic Illness Is a Lot Like a Banana

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Sometimes I feel like my life with a chronic illness is a lot like a banana. I’m not talking about the superfood, power-inducing, on-the-run snack, I’m talking about a banana that’s been bruised, blackened and abandoned in the fruit bowl.

Over the years, we slowly begin to build up layers of identity around us. Career, social status, health, beauty, fitness, etc. What this presents, if you will allow me, is the image of a perfectly formed banana. However, when chronic illness hits (in my case, chronic fatigue syndrome), you and your identity might become damaged, bruised and blackened.

The first to go is your healthy self. This is when that layer of protection around you is peeled back, a layer I’d always taken for granted. You’re no longer a healthy individual. You’re in pain, and you might feel riddled with guilt and doubted by those around you, even those in the medical profession. As yet another doctor tells you they can’t find anything wrong and maybe it’s psychological, bruises begin to appear on your now unprotected body.

Then fitness, body image and self-esteem get peeled back. Maybe you’ve gained or lost weight. You’ve gone from training for marathons to being out of breath just walking from your bed to the bathroom. You could look physically sick. Or if you have an invisible illness, you look fine on the outside, but no one truly knows how awful you feel on the inside and how much makeup was required to cover the bags under your eyes. You feel beaten and defeated. Bruise.

Any social life you once had might get stripped away as you enter the land of hibernation and Netflix. Your social standing you once wrapped tightly around you is gone, along with a lot of the fun in your life. Another bruise.

Perhaps the layer of your identity tied to your career disappears. It might be hard to continue being a successful, powerful, high-achieving colleague. You’re feeling less and less of who you were. Bruise.

Maybe you can no longer shop for yourself, clean your house, cook your own dinner or live independently. You feel like all of who you once were is gone. You’re now dependent on others. Who you were and what you thought defined you have been stripped away. Bruise, bruise, bruise.

As the world moves on around you and your friends earn promotions, get married, have babies or travel the world, maybe you begin to feel even more like that last bruised banana sitting in the fruit bowl.

However, the story doesn’t end there. Despite chronic illness stripping away everything you once held dearly, you slowly begin to realize your identity hasn’t actually disappeared. Yes, it has changed, and it has shifted from what society perceives your identity should be, but it’s still there. You are you! You’re an individual who is fearfully and wonderfully made. You’re an awesome superfood with purpose and hope.

Even if you feel like a bruised banana, there’s so much beauty in who you are and so much hope. When you’re in that place, you might not be able to see it, but anyone around you who takes a moment to consider it can see it shining through. You’re an encouragement to others and an inspiration. You’re abundantly greater and stronger than how you may feel your chronic illness has changed you. So keep on fighting; you’re truly worth it.

And, really, when you think about it, it’s the bruised and blackened bananas that without a doubt make the best banana bread!

Follow this journey on Make It, Bake It, Fake It.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s the hardest thing you deal with as someone with a chronic illness, and how do you face this? What advice and words of support would you offer someone facing the same thing? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our “Share Your Story” page for more about our submission guidelines.

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NFL Player Gives Powerful Speech About His Daughter’s Cancer Diagnosis

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Devon Still, an NFL player for the Cincinnati Bengals, stood in front of the crowd and the television cameras at the 2015 ESPY Awards Wednesday night and opened up about his daughter’s cancer diagnosis.

When my daughter was first diagnosed with cancer, I felt like I was living a nightmare,” Still says in the video below.

In his acceptance speech for the Jimmy V Perseverance Award, he admitted that during the first days of her diagnosis he would go to the hospital chapel and cry.

 

Leah Still is now in remission from the Stage IV neuroblastoma she was diagnosed with in June of 2014, but it’s been a long hard road for her family.

After her diagnosis, things were further complicated for Still when it was announced he would be cut from the Cincinnati Bengals’ roster, Today reported. He’d had to divide his focus between football and his daughter’s cancer, so Still understood the team’s decision to cut him. However, it was later announced that Still would be assigned to their practice squad, meaning that in addition to continuing to receive a salary, Still’s daughter would be covered under the team’s health insurance policy.

Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 11.02.01 AM
Via Devin Still’s Instagram account.

In his ESPY speech, Still thanked the public for their support and then had some special thanks to offer his daughter, who was unable to attend because she is still recovering from cancer treatment.

I know you wish you could be here, but I know you’re watching,” he says in the video above. “I just want to thank you. From the moment you were born, you molded me into the man I am today… I always used to dream about how I was going to be able to show you so much about life, but in the five years I’ve been with you, you’ve taught me more about life than I could ever [teach you].”

Watch his whole acceptance speech in the video above.

Related: Football Star Gives Adorable Pep Talk to Daughter Before Her Surgery

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To the Parents Whose Children Are Facing Surgery

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I send out my love and support to you because you’re like us. You will be handing off your child — your baby — over to a stranger who will perform surgery on them to attempt to fix whatever is malfunctioning inside them.

It’s inconceivable. It feels like the worst dream you could ever have. No matter how necessary, it’s still unimaginable something so sweet and innocent would have to go through something so intrusive, painful and traumatic.

Yet here we are, all of us, facing this truth. Here are the six things I’ll make sure to remind myself about as we gear up for another surgery with our daughter, Ellie. I hope you find it helpful, too.

1. Avoid amateur speculation.

The first time around, we were so naive. But I wish that’s something we could recreate. Our ignorance helped us take things as they came and not create problems when there were none.

I’m not saying don’t any research, but just limit your scope and try not to take everything you read as gospel. If you have questions, ask the professionals caring for your child. They’re the ones who can answer the questions specific to your kiddo. Every situation is unique, so use the expertise of your doctor to answer your questions and concerns.

2. Do what makes you feel best.

If you want to cry, cry. If you don’t want to talk about it, don’t talk. If you want to talk about it until you can’t possibly say another word, do that. If you want to be alone, be alone. If you want to be surrounded by people, surround yourself with the people who love you.

Don’t be confined by what you think other people expect from you or what you think other people need from you. You have a lot going on, so you deserve to handle and process things however you see fit.

3. Don’t play the “what if” game too much.

We’re human beings and always trying to assess the outcome of a situation. This can sometimes be used as an exercise for stress reduction, but in this situation, it can add to your anxiety. Try not to think too much about what might happen because it won’t change what will happen. Let the story unfold as it will. Handle things as they come rather than making yourself stress about how to handle something that doesn’t exist yet.

4. Look at your child.

Look at them and see their strength and determination. Look to your superhero for the confirmation and comfort you need. They don’t deserve your doubt, only your unwavering belief.

5. Hope.

Know in your heart that this is necessary. Try to remember that even though this is something you would never want to see happen to your child, it’s a necessary step to take. This is what needs to happen for your child’s survival and quality of life. Try to fill the dread in your heart with the hope this surgery brings. Hope can get lost in the wake of despair. Hope requires a conscious effort. Put forth that effort and you won’t regret it.

6. Remember, you’re not alone.

Don’t seclude or isolate yourself in the thought that you’re alone. If you want to be left alone to process, that’s one thing. But don’t be alone because you don’t feel like anyone would understand or because you don’t want to be a burden to others with your emotions. There’s always someone who will listen and support you in whatever way you need. You just have to ask.

This is the last place you thought you’d be, I know. It’s in our nature to fiercely protect our children. Allowing someone to do something to our child that will cause them pain goes against every parenting instinct we have. But when the cause is worthy, when the outcome means longer, happier lives for our children., permit yourself forgiveness and hope.

And give yourself some slack every one in a while. We are all learning this life together.

Love,

The momma of a superhero like yours

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell a story about a time someone helped you and/or your child when you needed it most. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our “Share Your Story” page for more about our submission guidelines.

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When a Mom Wasn’t Given the Right Resources With Her Baby’s Diagnosis

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Through donations from the community, friends and family, we make up baskets to deliver to families who have a baby born with Down syndrome. The baskets are filled with lots of goodies for the baby and resources for the family to access once at home with their bundles of joy.

krista-rowland-baskets-

Today, I delivered two baskets to very deserving and beautiful families. We only had the opportunity to visit the first one for a few minutes, but the conversation has repeated itself over and over in my head throughout the course of the day. The baby is still in the NICU, and her mom is anxious to get her beautiful daughter home so they can start to get into a routine and begin their lives as a family of three.

Most baskets that I deliver are to families who receive a diagnosis at birth. It can be a bit of a difficult time with lots of emotions and tears. It’s overwhelming for families, but with the right support system and community resources to help guide you, it can all work out. My little girl has brought so much love, laughter and light into our lives and to countless others all across the globe. Two years ago, the world became a better place.

The new mom told me they received a prenatal diagnosis and that, all throughout her pregnancy, doctors and medical professionals encouraged her to terminate the pregnancy. As she told me this, I felt my blood start to boil, and my heart ached for this beautiful family. The mom isn’t from the U.S., and English isn’t her first language. She wasn’t able to stand up for herself in the way she wanted to. She knew she wasn’t going to terminate her pregnancy, but she didn’t receive the support and guidance she deserved.

When we received our diagnosis, I was 15 weeks pregnant. My OB was caring and compassionate, and she allowed us to grieve. We did grieve. We went through a few weeks of feeling sorry for ourselves, and it included lots of worries, fears and being upset. We were entitled to this time, but we also were surrounded by people who didn’t allow us to wallow for too long. The medical professionals in our lives didn’t tell us they were sorry or that our child with Down syndrome wouldn’t have a bright future. They took us by the hand and guided us in the right direction. They gave us facts about our unborn child, not a book filled with grim statistics not relevant to our pregnancy. We focused on the ultrasounds and educated ourselves.

I don’t know what my husband, James, and I would’ve done if we were told over and over again this child has no right to be in this world, that she would be a burden on society or on us and our family. We looked up to these people; we valued their opinions. You’re vulnerable when you receive news you don’t expect. You’re in a state where emotion takes over logic. You fear the worst and let worry creep into your mind. All you need is someone to hold your hand and tell you it will all be OK. You need to be told to breathe and relax. You don’t need people who are ignorant to dictate what you should do with your body, with your child, with your future.

I’m not for banning abortion when a family receives a prenatal diagnosis. I wasn’t put on the earth to judge others. I believe telling a woman what she should and shouldn’t do with her body is the wrong way to go about it. I’d like to see a law that states when a family receives the diagnosis, they must get educated, meet with a family and meet with those who are qualified, those who can explain the beauty of Down syndrome and what our children will achieve. With some education, a woman and her family can have the opportunity to see the potential, the beauty, the gift that lies ahead.

krista-rowland-daughter2

As I stood there with this mom today, she felt lost. She wasn’t given the resources, the forms, the community supports available to her and her family. She’s fearful of the future and is unsure how to proceed. I reassured her I will hold her hand and be the support she needs and deserves.

It’s going to take all of us to change the world. We all need to be in this together. We need to be the parents our children need us to be. We need to keep advocating. We need to keep showing the world the beauty that lies within each of our children. When we stand together, we will be the change the world needs.

krista-rowland-daughter1

Follow this journey on A Perfect Extra Chromosome.

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