Pulling Back the Curtain On Living with a Panic Disorder

Selfie of Jeffrey VanDykeWritten By: Jeffrey Vandyke, Graphics Design Specialist

It’s time to pull back the curtain and expose a long kept secret…. I live with a severe Panic Disorder.

For many this comes as a shock…why?  You never expected to hear it, especially coming from me. That’s right, me… I live in a state of almost constant anxiety.  On the outside I’m someone who’s quick witted, I have a great sense of humor and I always try so hard to pick other’s up… sometimes to a fault.

However, what you don’t see most the time is what’s happening underneath all of that. See, when you live with an Anxiety Disorder the slightest shift can send one’s brain into overdrive. Maybe you missed a text, a change in plans, an unexpected test result, a misstep in your word choice, or worse… you feel like you hurt someone you love, so you compulsively apologize. Not just for something you did recently, but for something you did years ago that just so happens to sneak its way into your thoughts.

Because we’re all different, one scenario may send you over the edge, but not bother someone else. My personal landmines tend to vary by the day, but the ones listed above are and have been a constant for me. Fourteen years after my initial diagnosis, I still have no idea why these seemingly simplistic scenarios send my brain into an emotional tailspin. I know this all seems irrational, but my brain doesn’t discriminate… no matter the topic, person, or scenario, it can always find a way to twist even the smallest detail into the worst possible self-talk there is. From they love me to they hate me in the midst of a single conversation.

The good news is as time has gone by I’ve learned little coping mechanisms, which have helped me learn how to better manage my anxiety a great deal so it doesn’t dominate every aspect of my life as it used too. (Of course I still have bad days, but I’m doing better than I was generally). If my anxiety starts to run away with my thoughts, I’ve began trying to draw my emotions… sometimes it’s easier for me to visually depict what I feel rather than saying it. Other times I’ll turn on a favorite song and listen on repeat… not just because I love the music, but because I know what’s coming next and exercising just the slightest bit of control can help put my mind at ease… in otherwise uncontrollable situations. All in all, while this process certainly isn’t easy… not for myself or anyone else living with the same or similar condition(s) I keep reminding myself that everything in life worth having requires small but necessary steps in order to proceed. You can have a house, but you need to lay down a foundation first. You can run a mile, but you need to learn to walk first. You can have your dream job, but first you have to apply… on and on. Hopefully whatever goal you’re working toward becomes closer and closer each day. You might stumble along the way or get pushed back a bit, but you find the courage to keep going. The life you hope for might not be easily attainable, but with a little effort it is possible. You’re worth it!

The Michigan Victory Games

Picture of entire Wave Team attending the Victory Games

Selfie of Jeffrey VanDykeWritten by Jeffrey Vandyke, Graphics Design Specialist DNWM

Imagine a world where you feel like you never quite fit in, where you constantly feel judged and feel like an outsider because your body physically doesn’t match how you feel about yourself mentally. This was how I felt about myself or at least it was before I began participating in the Michigan Victory Games as a member of the Muskegon Waves.

Then I started attending the Victory Games three years ago, I was a bit shy and felt anxious in new environments and around strangers, but the Victory Games slowly helped me not only overcome this, but begin to thrive far beyond my wildest dreams. By attending the Games I began to learn not only what I could do athletically, but more importantly personally.

See, The Michigan Victory Games is so much more than about just playing sports. It gives athletes a safe place to try new things, a place to socialize, a place to compete and a place to grow outside of sports. It truly enriches lives and promotes change for those living with differences. The Victory Games presents athletes with a can-do environment where you’re not only presented with an opportunity to participate in various sports, but encouraged to try regardless of personal ability level. The events are Track & Field, Bocce, Bowling, Weightlifting, Table Tennis, Swimming, Biking, Slalom course, and a few others, along with a dance at the very end of the Games.

Overall, I know to some… this all may not seem like a big deal, but for me the experience as a Muskegon Waves athlete has been life-changing as I’ve  not only have become more confident in myself as an athlete, but more importantly as a person. It is my hope to continue to attend the Games for as long as I can as not only an athlete, but most of all as an example… I want those around me to know that if I can do this, so can you!

If you would like to learn more about the Victory Games or how you can get involved or participate, you can email me at or call me directly at 231-332-4043.

Rep. LaFave mobilizes plan for updated accessibility logo

State Rep. Beau LaFave has introduced a plan to update the accessibility icon used on signs and in parking lots and buildings in Michigan, better reflecting the lifestyles of people with disabilities.

The legislation would require that any new placement or replacement of signs displaying the international symbol of access utilize the updated logo, which portrays active independence, rather than stationary helplessness. The new symbol would be replaced at no cost to taxpayers and no additional cost to business owners.

Michigan wouldn’t be the first to adopt the new icon. New York and Connecticut have already implemented similar legislation.

“The new logo shows that individuals with disabilities play an active role in the community and aren’t just sitting in a chair letting life pass them by,” said LaFave, of Iron Mountain. “It’s not about political correctness, it’s about showing the true relationship between people and the devices that assist them. It’s not 1968 anymore. It’s time to portray the new reality.

“As a person living an active life with a disability, I’m proud to stand on the front lines to instigate this important change.”

LaFave’s measure would also take steps to remove the term “handicapped” from signs and other communications at state and local levels.

The legislator worked closely with Disability Network Michigan to create the legislation. The group joined him at the Capitol today to advocate on behalf of the legislation. Scores of individuals with disabilities were in attendance to support the cause.

“Disability Network Michigan’s 15 federally-established Centers for Independent Living served 43,588 people with disabilities last year,” said Sara Grivetti, CEO of Disability Network Michigan. “We know that people with disabilities are active members of their communities. This legislation will help our signs reflect the reality.”

LaFave’s bill in the package is House Bill 4516. The second bill, HB 4517, was sponsored by state Rep. Greg VanWoerkom, of Norton Shores. The bills were co-sponsored by both Republicans and Democrats, including all Upper Peninsula representatives and the chair of the House Health Policy Committee.

Michigan SILC Voting Membership Seats Open for Governor Appointments


The Michigan Statewide Independent Living Council (MiSILC) currently has four voting member vacancies with a fifth voting member seat becoming vacant on May 2, 2019. They are looking for qualified candidates that reflect statewide geographic diversity as well as demographic and disability diversity. The majority of the council, both non-voting ex officio members and voting members, must be comprised of a majority of people with disabilities who are neither state nor CIL employees. Ideal candidates from CILs include current and former CIL board members and consumers knowledgeable about CILs and independent living. If you know anyone who may be interested in serving, please pass along this opportunity.


Council members serve a three year term and are eligible to serve a second three year term if re-appointed by the Governor. No council member may serve more than six consecutive years (unless they are finishing a partial term of another council member who resigned or otherwise left the council mid-term).


At this link, please find an overview of the Michigan SILC’s purpose and role in promoting and supporting Independent Living throughout Michigan. A link to the current SPIL and the Governor’s online appointments portal are included in the document. Anyone interested in being considered for the MiSILC vacancies is encouraged to apply immediately.

Motivational Monday – Meet Aaron “Wheels” Fotheringham

Picture of Aaron on a half pipe doing tricks in his wheelchair. Caption: "Always test your boundries and don't the the disability restrain your capacities and possibilities."

Aaron “Wheels” Fotheringham

Aaron Fotheringham (Born with Spina Bifida on November 8, 1991) is an extreme wheelchair athlete who performs tricks adapted from skateboarding and BMX. Although he used crutches early on, he has been a wheelchair user full-time since the age of eight. He would watch his brother riding his BMX at the skate park, and one day his brother told him that he should try riding his chair in the park. Aaron later noted that “I did, and I was hooked”


– At the age of only 14, he was the first person to successfully perform a backflip in a wheelchair

– At the age of 18, he was the first person to successfully perform a double backflip in a wheelchair

Motivational Monday – Meet Tim Tebow

Picture of Tim Tebow with the following caption: Don't be normal. Be an example.

Tim Tebow:

Timothy Richard Tebow (born August 14, 1987 in
Makati City, Philippines) is a former professional American football quarterback and current professional baseball outfielder in the New York Mets organization. He played college football for the University of Florida, winning the Heisman Trophy in 2007 and appearing on BCS National Championship-winning teams during the 2006 and 2008 seasons. Tebow was selected by the Denver Broncos in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft and spent two seasons with the team. He also played for the New York Jets in 2012. Additionally, he had preseason stints with the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013 and 2015 respectively. Tebow is dyslexic and believes in his uniqueness as a gift from God.

2006-2009 – Winner of numerous College Football Awards

(Notable Achievements) 

2007 – Heisman Trophy Award Winner; Sporting News Player of the Year

2008 – First-team Academic All-American

2009 – Sports Illustrated College football Player of the Decade

2010 – Laundched the Tim Tebow Foundation

Motivational Monday – Meet Muniba Mazari

Muniba Mazari sitting in a wheelchair. " I don't know how my story will end, but nowhere in my text you'll ever read, I gave up."


Muniba Mazari (born
March 3, 1987) is a Pakistani artist, model, activist, motivational speaker, singer, social reformer and television host. She uses a wheelchair due to injuries sustained in a car accident at the age of 21 which makes her Pakistan’s first wheelchair-using model. She is also the National Ambassador for UN Women Pakistan

Career Highlights & Awards:

2015 – One of the two Pakistanis to be named BBCs 100 most inspirational women

1st wheelchair-using model for the Toni & Guy chain of hairdressing salons in Pakistan

2016 – Featured in Forbes 30 under 30



The Disability Network Covenant articulates the commitment we have to work in a collective manner to advance independent living in Michigan.

We believe our collective vision will be achieved as we build, maintain and support a culture of Excellence, Trust and Passionate Action.

The following staff members are this quarter’s Living Our Covenant Award Winners:

Passion Award – Amanda Van Tubergen, Employment Navigator

Excellence Award – Brad Hastings, ADA & Advocacy Coordinator

Trust Award – Danna Pittman, Office & Communications Manager

Our congratulations to our award recipients!

Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month – By Jeffrey VanDyke

Written by Jeffrey Vandyke, Graphics Design Specialist with Disability Network West Michigan

Tomorrow (March 1st) is officially the start of what’s known as Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month, so as a result… I wanted to share a little something beforehand.

Cerebral Palsy, the very nature of the two words used together in a sentence, (medically speaking) say that I am ‘Permanently Disabled’, which at 1st glance brings a certain sadness to those who read those words in correlation with one another. Realistically, the condition itself on the surface doesn’t leave much in the way of hope either, as the mere mention of Cerebral Palsy is grim being that the standard hopes of a ‘normal life’ are almost instantly eradicated and replaced by the fears of how bad will it become? The unnerving wait and see game begins.

Specifically of myself, my life has been a constant battle, I’ve literally been defined as a miracle baby as my life almost ended before it started…. born 3 months early, given 2 hours to live, and 30 something surgeries later, I’m still here!

The physical results? I cannot walk or stand at all, nor is it likely that I ever will be able too* my speech is occasionally slurred, and I have constant pain throughout the day as my body and as I age? The smaller tasks take up far more energy and require much more planning than in years before. As I’m often caught in the mental tug of war of what I want to do as opposed to what my body will allow me to do.
Yet, I do not view my struggle as a curse and I am in fact extremely lucky. Despite all the difficulties I have and what I cannot do, I’ve trained myself to try and focus more on what I can do and the gifts I have been given. The mental capacity to think, speak, and see life for myself, as well as an opportunity to prove that life with a disability or any other struggle for that matter is not a definition of who you are or what you can become.

You are more than your diagnosis or struggle your up against and while no amount of prayer, birthday wishes, nor medical intervention has granted the miracle I asked for… it gave me an entirely different gift. The ability to be grateful, accompanied by a certain strength to be able to not only continue on in my own life in spite of seemingly insurmountable odds, but more importantly, the ability to be a voice of experience, which has allowed me to touch others through my experiences and for that opportunity, I am forever grateful and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
#disabilityawareness #cerebralpalsy #cerebralpalsyawarenessmonth

Motivational Monday – Meet Nick Vujicic

Nick Vujicic: Nicholas James Vujicic (/ˈvɔɪtʃɪtʃ/ VOY-chitch; (Born December 4th,  1982) is an Australian Christian evangelist and motivational speaker born with Tetra-Amelia syndrome, a rare disorder (called Phocomelia) characterized by the absence of arms and legs. He is one of seven known individuals who are diagnosed with the syndrome.

2005 – Vujicic founded, “Life Without Limbs” an international non-profit organization and ministry. In 2007 – Founded “Attitude is Altitude”, a secular motivational speaking company

2010 – Awarded Best Actor in a Short Film, “The Butterfly Circus”