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VESID Success Story

A VESID Success Story
By Joan Nilon

Massage Therapist"Today I am in love with my career and my life. I'm a miracle! At one time, I was frozen by depression, frustrated by disabilities and completely without hope," says Jean Blackman of her life before NY State's VESID (Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities) helped her redirect her life. Today, a certified NYS licensed Massage Therapist with a flourishing practice in Scarborough Manor, Jean Blackman truly is a miracle. It would take a long stretch of the imagination to picture this lovely, animated woman as a one-time dweller of such shaky terrain.

Jean's challenging journey began when she entered school in the 1950' s and found that, although considered very bright by her teachers, she had some barriers to overcome in learning. She was unable to write.

Pace University Logo"Words and numbers came out backwards. Spelling and mathematics were impossible tasks for me. I stopped being a joyful child, full of curiosity and eagerness to learn, and became a fearful one, full of shame and desperate to hide my humiliating belief that I was inadequate. I excelled in the arts and loved to read, but writing things down, especially taking notes in class was impossiblefor me. By the time I got to High School, I had developed acute listening skills and a visual memory. While taking a course in Public Speaking, I learned to organize my thoughts in outline form and speak from notes. It was a very effective learning tool for me. I went on to graduate from Pace University.

"I married during my junior year at college, and we had a son shortly after my graduation in 1969. Although I suffered periodic bouts of paralyzing depression, it was generally a happy and satisfying time for me. I felt fulfilled in my role as mother, and I provided day care for working mothers while caring for my own children. We had four children by 1979, three sons and a daughter.

"My childhood feelings of inadequacy were reawakened when our first child entered kindergarten. A happy and sensitive boy when he began, he became withdrawn and tense within a few months. He was professionally tested and diagnosed as having 'minimal brain dysfunction,' a scary early term for some forms of learning disability. I felt depressed and concerned about the situation. Five years later, my youngest son was also diagnosed as being learning disabled, but at that point the terms had been refined to include dyslexia, dysgraphia and sequencing problems. When my children underwent the testing process, I had also been identified as having these conditions. With the support of their school's programs for the learning disabled, my children have developed effective coping skills to deal with their learning differences. Adults now, they are all currently working at jobs in creative fields.

"In 1993, my marriage of 25 years ended in divorce. Our house was in foreclosure. My children were angry, defiant teenagers, and I was clinically depressed. I rarely slept and when I did, I had exhausting nightmares. By turns, I either couldn't eat at all, or was ravenous for sugar. Unable to concentrate at my detaiI-oriented desk job, I had been fired. I was unemployed and I had no money. Dyslexic and depressive, I had now been labeled a 'displaced homemaker' by the unemployment bureau. With my life totally out of control, I felt miserable and ashamed and I saw no hope of relief. I was paralyzed with fear. My life was completely unmanageable. I thought about suicide, but felt that I couldn't abandon my children. When I finally asked for help, miracles began to happen.

Praying Hands"I began with a desperate 'foxhole' prayer in which I asked God to help me. I joined a support group and earnestly followed their advice. I started to work with a doctor and a therapist in order to cope with my depression. Obviously a key element in reconstructing my life was to find a job. My therapist suggested that I contact VESID, which was the new name for NY State's Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, in order to help me in my efforts. I made an appointment to talk with Perry Rattiner, a vocational rehabilitation counselor. Perry suggested that I fill out an application for services and guided me through the process.

"I took several interest and aptitude tests to identify my talents, skills and preferences. The tests indicated that I had a talent for creative expression, excellent verbal and interpersonal skills, preferred to work independently in a variety of settings and tasks, and to help others on a one-to-one basis in a calm environment. My counselor had asked me what life activity had brought me the most personal joy and fulfillment. My answer had been, 'rocking a baby.'

Rocking a Baby"I love the feeling of nurturing touch and one-on-one giving to another human being. It brings me peace and makes me feel happy and valuable, she said, smiling. At the time Jean had no idea how this insight would translate into a job, which could support and sustain her family.

"I ran into an old friend who was a practicing massage therapist teaching at the Swedish Institute in Manhattan. She encouraged me to consider a career in the field of Massage Therapy. I made a serious investigation of this field. I spoke with several people who were therapists. I sat in on classes at the nearby schools of massage and participated in a weekend workshop in massage to determine if I could develop a successful career as a therapist. These experiences had shown me that I possess the physical strength, motor coordination and temperament to perform this job well. The job's objective of helping others to reduce stress, increase well being and maintain health are in perfect alignment with my personal values and beliefs and with my desire to work in a calm and supportive environment. I was concerned that the extensive study of anatomy, biology and medical practice which is required to achieve a NYS license would be too much for me, but the more I learned about massage, the more interested I became. I took this as a sign that I was on the right path, she said."

Jean requested training through VESID to earn a NYS license as a Massage Therapist.

"On my application I described how my clinical depression and my learning disabilities had impaired my ability to advance in a career. It was not an easy statement to write, but with Perry's encouragement and support I was able to put aside my fear and shame and move on to the task of preparing for a future in massage therapy. Through Perry Rattiner's efforts, VESID funded the yearlong course at the Swedish Institute, where I began my studies in Massage. It was an intense year, full of challenges, but I never lost sight of my goals. I utilized my listening and visualization skills. I developed many unique learning techniques, including color-coding parts of the body in order to learn anatomy and physiology. I even created a trivial pursuit game to help me memorize the information necessary to pass the NYS Board licensing examinations. All along my journey, Perry encouraged and supported me, as did my therapist and the new friends I had made in my support group.

"I began to see that there is a balance in all things. Where we might find a weakness, disability or handicap in one area, we have strengths, assets and talents in others. It's our challenge and our responsibility to find and use them for the benefit of others."

Clapping HandsToday, as a Nationally Certified, NYS licensed massage therapist, Jean owns her own business. She has a special gift to offer the world based on the special strengths she has.

"I want to keep learning, growing and giving. I have a special interest in massage for the pregnant woman, infants and new mothers. I guess it all relates back to my favorite thing - rocking a baby."

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