I'M A MIRACLE!
A VESID Success Story
By Joan Nilon
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.
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began, he became withdrawn and tense within a few months.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.
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.'
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
Jean requested training through VESID to earn a NYS license as a Massage
"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
"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."
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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