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Bipolar Disabled Woman Seeks Grant Funds To Get Horse Gentling Training

by Dawn Gaffney
(Irvington, New York, USA)

My name is Dawn and I am a 51-year-old woman. I suppose I'm a mixed breed: Irish, Native American and Swedish.

Growing up in a very rich town and being from a very low-income family was difficult. I wore my bother's hand-me-down boys clothes and sneakers until I was old enough to get a job and buy some clothes of my own.


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Harder still was growing up in a dysfunctional family with an alcoholic and agoraphobic father.

A close family member sexually molested me at age six. He was my family and I loved him, but somehow I knew it was wrong, even though this was decades before they taught children about "bad touching" and such things.

I did tell my mother and she believed me, but I begged her not to say anything. So she did what she felt was right and made sure I was never left alone with him again.

The damage was done at the point. By the time I reached Junior High School I was depressed to the point of being suicidal. When puberty arrived the harassment was in full swing, which made me extremely anxious; however, this time I did not go to my mother.

I begged my father to put locks on the doors, but since I felt I could not tell him why, he decided we could not afford it. I never felt safe. It did not stop until this man finally moved out of our home.

By that time I had started a cycle of binge/purge eating because I was so self-conscious of my body.

I trained as a ballerina, mostly on scholarship or work/study programs. I earned my teaching certificate when I was 16 years old. Three years later I made the cut for my first paying job as a dancer.

Early into rehearsals I was dropped from an overhead lift and landed on my knee. I was still on my father's insurance and so the knee was rehabilitated, but I was told I would never dance again.

I was crushed, went into a deep depression and never did dance again. I tried to teach, but my heart was broken and it was too frustrating for me to teach others what I could no longer do myself.

I was baptized and stayed in the church throughout High School. I loved God, but never really felt his love in return. Somehow I always had the feeling that God had forsaken me, that I must be a horrible person to have been dealt such a terrible hand in life.

That thought was deeply ingrained. I thought that if I was such a bad person, I might as well act that way. That led to alcohol, drugs, promiscuity and a lot of regret. I used, manipulated and hurt people just to momentarily make myself feel better.

Disability Issues

I am bipolar. I was not properly diagnosed nor treated until I was almost 30 years old. As I understand it, it stems from a defective gene that runs in my family.

The first symptoms were extreme depression with suicidal tendencies. They showed up at age 12, which is somewhat early I am told. The manias started a bit later I think.

The older I got, the worse the symptoms became. I was so depressed at times, I would not even get out of bed for days or longer at a time. I would not wash myself, change my clothes or even speak to anyone unless I had no other choice.

The manias were the worst for me. For me, the only way I can describe it is like having millions of BB gun pellets running through my body at intensively high speeds, and all in different directions.

I cannot focus or perform the easiest of tasks. I cannot control the chaos inside me. I am currently on Social Security Disability for this condition.

Many people feel that having a mental illness like mine carries with it a very bad stigma. I prefer to think of it as a medical condition no different than diabetes. I simply cannot control my body's chemistry without therapy and medications.

It took me years to understand my disability, what it had done to me in the past and what it may have led to had I not sought help for it. I understand that I must always take my medication on a daily basis and in a timely manner.

I know now that I will always be bipolar and need my medications and therapy. Even after over 20 years of treatment, my psychiatrist and I have to tweak my medications when I am feeling less than level in my emotions.

Financial Hardship

I am in financial ruin now. I had filed for bankruptcy once, many years ago (before I was diagnosed). I am now approximately $60,000 in debt and I have nothing to show for it. I am on Social Security Disability Income; however every dollar is put aside for bills before the check ever arrives.

There is one drug on the market that has helped me quite a lot, but even though I am on Medicare and pay for Supplement part B and Part D (Medication) coverage, I cannot afford it. The copay is approximately $400 per month.

I have tried appealing to the drug company directly as well as Medicaid and have been told I am not eligible because I get SSDI.

I live with my parents and am unable to help by paying rent or even contributing to household expenses or the grocery bill. I am luckier than some because my parents allow me to live here so I have a roof over my head and food to eat.

However, both my parents are in their mid-70s now and are, like me, on a limited income. Things will be getting worse soon, as my father has been diagnosed with mesothelioma and is dying. When he does, my mother's income will be even lower.

Our house is very old and needs lots of repairs we cannot afford. I have to find a way to help my mother and myself financially or I don't know what will become of us. My brother won't help; he has chosen to distance himself from our family.

Income Efforts

I have had several jobs over the course of my lifetime. One way or another I was generally asked to leave after two or less years because of my disability. This was the case before I was diagnosed, and was so even after. Either because I was so depressed or overmedicated that I feel asleep on the job, literally, or I was so manic that could not perform my tasks.

There is one exception to this general rule. During this last disability (I have been on SSDI before) I was very depressed, and my mother tried to help. She insisted that I at least try to get out of the house and be around other people by finding volunteer work.

I found a barn looking for volunteers. I am a rider (western style) and thought this might be a good fit. It was a stable with horses trained to work with disabled children, and some disabled adults.

I loved working with the horses and became a full-time barn volunteer, working six to ten hours a day, Monday through Friday, and sometimes on weekends. I cared for the horses and tended to their needs in every way I could.

I found myself calmed by the horses. The routine and the physical nature of the work helped level my moods. I even went out west to volunteer on cattle drives.

Unfortunately, I had a very serious accident at the rodeo one night. I was trying to win the purse by riding a long horned Texas wild bull. I took a very bad throw and wound up with a broken neck. My right rotator cuff was badly damaged and my left shoulder needed surgery.

I had several surgeries, the last of which (I hope) was last week. Unfortunately for me the physical nature of ranch life may be too much for me to handle once I recover.

Specific Needs

My needs are simple for now. Being involved in the equine world led me to go to trade shows, the best of which was run by the Equine Affaire Organization.

Several times I met a man there by the name of Ken McNabb. He is a Certified Horse trainer through a method known as Gentling. I have spoken to him about his clinics and his methods. I have seen him work with horses; I've even studied his DVDs to familiar myself with this work.

I am told that my grandfather was one of the great horse gentlers of his time. I wish he were he to guide me now.

Mr. McNabb runs the Ken McNabb School of Horsemanship. Unfortunately, I am unable to afford either the $6,000 tuition, not to mention the $4,000 in traveling fees, gas, food and lodging to get to and from his school (per clinic).

I have tried PELL and FAFSA, but the government does not acknowledge his trade school, so I was turned down. I found one company willing to consider my application, which I am working on now.

I am trying to get private funding in the form of grants to cover the cost of the two or three clinics it will take to get my certification. It would also be wonderful if I could get grants to cover my debts, so when I do get a job, my paycheck cannot be garnished.

One other thing that I had not previously mentioned is that I had to put everything I owned in storage for years. When went I to check on things after several years, I arrived to find almost everything was destroyed, either by rodents or bad mold.

A lawyer's opinion would help me, as I lost not only material things, but things that can never be replaced, such as photo albums and memories of the past. I don't know if I have a case against them, but I would like to find out. The extra money could help.

One other thing that would help greatly and could perhaps be donated is a solid, working laptop. I need one to search for the grants I need, as well as type them to apply. The Dragon Software would be an added bonus, as I am a terrible typist.

Business Idea

Mr. McNabb is a kind and generous man. He helps his trainees find jobs in the horse world. He is well known and has many contacts. He is a sought after Trainer.

However, it is not just a job I'm looking for. I wish to make a name for myself in the equine world and become a well-known and sought-after Certified Horse Trainer myself.

I would like to eventually become self-employed. I believe with all my heart that this is the best career decision for me, bipolar or not. And I believe my late grandfather would approve.

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