Caregiving, Disability, LizaMcC

April 29, 2021

Finding Freedom

I'm WillowjakMama!

My blog started as a way to document my journey to wellness, but turned into a place to be inspired by others through our collective messy & authentic stories. Now it's my favourite place to be.

hey there

As you probably know, I work at a group home in London, Ontario for adults with disabilities. But, right now my time at the group home has been put on pause for the summer as I head back home to live with my parents and to hang out/work with the Haley Family (name a better job… I’ll wait). I move out of my quirky student house of two years tomorrow (and I’m so not packed) and then I’m moving back into my childhood bedroom for the summer. While I am so excited to be back home for an extended period of time, to live with my family again, and to spend my days with the Haleys, it was a sad goodbye leaving my group home, my roommates, my house, and my degree. 

If you’ve read My Heart Away from Home – you know that the beginning of university was tough for me. I hated literally every second of it. It was long into second year before I stopped hysterically crying every time I left my parents’ house to come back to school. But, London has started to feel more and more like home in my final two years of my degree. My roommates, co-workers, group home residents and school program created the perfect little home for Shy Liza here in London. A home that she is going to miss a lot. I can’t believe I feel so sad to leave because I remember how alone I felt in this city and at this university. It’s a blessing that I didn’t have a car in first year because I would have packed myself up in the first week and never looked back. Now, here I am, not wanting to pack up because I’m not ready to leave. 

I am here reporting live that I made it through my degree and I did eventually feel happy here. I finished my last ever undergrad exam just last night at ten o’clock while in my pyjamas, sitting in an empty student house. It was the opposite of monumental and exciting, because after I submitted it, I was still a girl in her pyjamas, at ten o’clock at night, in an empty student house, who just wasn’t an undergrad student anymore. I did have to take a moment though to appreciate what this moment meant to me and my journey to get to this place. It was wild to look back on how far I’ve come since my first day of university. Right now, I am more Liza than I have ever been (if that makes any sense). It’s been a long and wild ride that has been so far from easy but I’ve come out the other side stronger and more authentically me. I’m still Shy Liza at heart, don’t fret. If you ask me to speak in front of a crowd, chances are my answer is still no. I’ll always pick writing an essay over doing a presentation. I’m not one to strike up conversations with strangers and it still takes me a long time to warm up to people. BUT, if you ask me to write for your blog, chances are I’ll say yes (thanks Stacey) and I’m less worried what the world thinks about Liza and more about what Liza thinks about the world and how she is going to make it better. Shy Liza is still here but anyone who knows me has seen that over these past four years my shy shell is starting to slowly crack open. 

Okay, blah blah blah, we get it Liza, you’re shy and you graduated, what’s next?!?

As you know my immediate plan is to move home for the summer. But I’ve been thinking about what the long term plan is for me. My degree in Disability Studies, doesn’t really put me right into an obvious career (nor am I ready for a ‘real’ job) and while I love direct support work I know this isn’t my forever plan. So, why did I get this degree then? You practical people out there might say it was a waste of money and time, but I know it wasn’t. While I don’t have a career in mind, I do have a feeling in mind.

Hang tight, this will all make sense in a second!  

A few weeks ago, on hour eight of my eleven hour shift at the group home we signed onto a Zoom concert to celebrate World Down Syndrome Day. It was a celebration of disability pride and all the wonderful gifs that people with Down Syndrome bring to the world. It was really special because there was a musical guest who performed his song about finding freedom. After the event, and loving this song, we blasted it on the speakers and we (the staff and residents) danced around the kitchen eating Cheetos. I was dancing with a women covered in cheese dust who had lived in an institution for years. As she double fisted handfuls of Cheetos while swaying to the music, I knew this was her freedom. She was free to dance, snack and live a life free of abuse and control. It felt and looked like freedom. 

I want to create this feeling in people. This might mean figuring out how to make jobs more accessible for disabled people. Or tackling the lack of support given to disabled people in this province. Or maybe it’s finding ways to create more accessible independent living buildings. Or building awareness of disability rights in communities. Or maybe it’s employing disabled people myself. Or maybe it’s finding ways to make workplaces and schools more inclusive. Or maybe it’s dedicating my life to being the best ally I can be. Or maybe it’s all of the above or something completely different.

There are so many people in this world who don’t have the same freedom as you and I – in both big and small ways. In many cases, the freedom we have was just handed to us. For many others though, a sense of freedom can feel far away. This is why my goal is to use my degree, passion and skills to recreate this cheese-dust-dancing-feeling over and over again within the disability community, however that may look. 

I hope you have found or are on the journey to your freedom, whatever that looks like for you. And I hope you can help others find their freedom along the way. 

Thank you to everyone for reading and to everyone who supported me throughout my degree. I wouldn’t be here without you! 

I feel so ready to take on the world because I am more Liza than ever! 

xx Liza 

Liza McClelland

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  1. Doreen Youngman says:

    Congratulations Liza on so many huge achievements … from obtaining your degree to overcoming your fears to Cheeto dust dancing with your people that you have grown to love! Cheers to finding your ah ha moment at the end of I am sure a busy and tiring shift! ????. Love your writing and positive messages, you go girl (woman) ???? ????

    • Liza McClelland says:

      Thank you so much, Doreen! Your kind heart definitely gives people that cheese-dust-dancing feeling! Thank you so much for your kind words, as always.

  2. Lara Wright says:

    Congrats on your graduation. Hope you find so many cheese dust dancing moments in your future.♥️

  3. Allanah says:

    Liza,
    You have grown and matured so over your years in London. Your honesty about life, your feelings, those you work with and for, and about how you have changed yet stayed Liza, have been wonderful for us to see and hear as you have shared with all of us. Our very best to you as you now move on to the next stage in your life, whatever direction you chose to take. ????????????

    • Liza McClelland says:

      Thank you so much, Allanah! St. Pauls’s has definitely been an important part of my journey!

  4. Lynda Sully says:

    Congratulations Liza! You have blossomed over the last four years and it seems you have achieved great success academically and personally. Way to go! It sounds like there are much bigger things ahead for you and I wish you every success. I remember you as a little girl, then young teen at St. Paul’s. I enjoy your messages on willjack!????????????????????

    • Liza McClelland says:

      Thank you so much, Lynda! St.Paul’s has been such an important part of my growth and journey to get to this place!

  5. Susan says:

    You will continue to do great things, Liza, I have no doubt. Thank you for using your voice so powerfully.

  6. Darlene says:

    Congratulations Liza. Your journey sounds so similar to my own!! Your words truly do resonate with me! Take great pride in this achievement!!

    The team at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Clarington wish you all the very best as you continue your journey. Thank you for the time you spent with us supporting children who face adversities, as they strive to reach their full potential! Surgite!!

    • Liza McClelland says:

      Nice to hear from you, Darlene! I cherish my memories with Big Brothers Big Sisters as I definitely witnessed lots of cheese-dust-dancing moments and it was such an important part of my journey to get to where I am today. Thank you for reading (and for helping kids who face adversities find their freedom)!

  7. Harold & Lois Yellowlees says:

    Dear Liza:
    I loved reading your article as I feel I have known you for a long time and watched as you became a brave young woman way before you give yourself credit, but am so pleased to see you have reached that personal point for yourself! You are an amazing, compassionate young woman who sees so many positive things in others and have become an advocate for all. You are at the beginning of doing great things. I am so proud of the woman you have become and wish you the best for your future. Enjoy this next brief chapter with your family, your old room and the Haley’s! God Bless
    Lois Yellowlees

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Hi, I'm Stacey.
Welcome to the
Willowjak Blog 

My blog started as a way to document my journey to wellness, but turned into a place to be inspired by others through our collective messy & authentic stories. We chat about themes that are often ignored and voices that aren't often given a chance at the mic. Now it's my favourite place to be. 

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