by Carrie Baatz
If you asked Americans to tell you what their greatest health concern is, a growing number of people would say, “loneliness.” Human connection is so important to our well-being that when we go for a long time without it, our brains shift into self-preservation mode, we have a higher risk for depression, and we’re more susceptible to viruses.1 Loneliness is right up there with smoking and obesity, shortening life-spans.2
In a busy society that values production and self-sufficiency, you don’t find room for real connection – you have to make room.
At The Independence Center (The IC), we are builders of accessible communities. We want to make it easier for all people to connect and engage.
“People think that being independent means that you can do it all alone,” says Tim Gore, The IC’s Development Director. “You need other people and support systems; you need relationships to be fulfilled.”
Tim directs the fundraising and community relations efforts at The IC, and he is preparing to lead a capital campaign that will fund the renovation of the nonprofit’s new building. The new building (711 S. Tejon) marks the next step in our journey of growing the disability community.
A Journey through Sexual Abuse
At the heart of Tim’s work – and who he is – is a belief that everyone belongs in community. He is a survivor of child sexual abuse and lives with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition that involves symptoms like intrusive thoughts of the traumatic memories and nightmares; avoiding situations related to the trauma; negative changes in thought and feelings, increased vigilance and difficulty sleeping.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused before the age of 18. Most of the time, the abusers are either a member of the child’s family or someone the child knows.
Years after the abuse, survivors can carry emotional and psychological wounds that manifest themselves in relationships. Many survivors struggle to trust other people. Their sense of safety has been robbed by an anticipation forged in their minds that other people are there to cause harm. In dangerous environments, defense mechanisms like this become part of a person’s survival strategy. But they form a block, cutting survivors off from connection with safe and healthy people.
In the sphere of his personal relationships, Tim struggled for 40 years, not knowing why until he recognized a pattern in his thinking. As a part of his PTSD, he had a negative, recurring belief about the people around him: when things went wrong, other people were to blame. He calls this a victim-mindset, a pattern that overtime he has learned to challenge.
“When something goes wrong, and I catch myself thinking that a problem is someone else’s fault, I pause now so that I can see what is really going on.” This empowers him to work on making situations better.
The most important lesson Tim has learned? “Give people the benefit of the doubt.”
Overcoming the impact of trauma is something that Tim says he will never stop working on. He’s okay with that. He uses the challenge as an opportunity to work on “a labor that never ceases,” – a process of discovering and becoming who he truly is, finding the real worth that he offers to other people.
When you change your mentality, it changes everything. Tim embraces people everywhere he goes now, something his old mindset couldn’t have allowed for. “When I go out and tell stories, people know they are getting the real thing. Now I can be vulnerable, honest and confident all at the same time.”
His mantra, “Life plus one” reminds him to live his life to the fullest and help someone else. Having found his passions, he is now guided by them.
We Need Community, and Community Needs Us.
It takes gumption to reach out and make connections, especially if you’ve been deeply hurt, or if you’re different from others in the way you move, speak, see or hear. Throughout our history, people with disabilities have dealt with various hurdles that block us from human connection.
Our struggles are a powerful tool, if we share them. Like almost nothing else, they can open the door to emotional connection, letting people know they are not alone.
At The IC, we want to bring each other out of the shadows of isolation, into a community where we each bring something of our own to the table. We like to create spaces where the impossible can happen. We were the first in Colorado Springs to host Accessible Yoga, an event that enabled people who wear hearing aids to close their eyes like everyone else and listen to the instructor through a loop system.
Being a part of a healthy and inclusive community is life-changing. “When you create this mental, physical, and spiritual space, people grow stronger and can do things that they didn’t think they could.” To Tim, community is an exchange. All the people involved are growing together, and the impact keeps going around. “I help you to accomplish something, and I get something back – you are creating something in my life.”
What naturally flows out of those open, wholistic spaces is creative expression. We’re excited to create a space for art the Downtown Partnership’s First Friday Downtown. Our Art of Accessibility is a recurring event that features art by people who live with disabilities. If you are an artist with a disability, reach out to us! We’d love to showcase your work. Contact us for more information.
1Fortune: Chronic Loneliness is a Modern-Day Epidemic
2The New York Times: How Social Isolation is Killing us
To learn more about events at The Independence Center, visit www.theindependencecenter.org