Trigger warning: This story contains content about suicide.
After years of challenges to her mental health and experiencing trauma, Addyson now has a new lease on life.
The pandemic brought about new trials for everyone, including Addyson, 27. Her systems of support she relied on were uprooted by the pandemic, and instead of receding from the progress she had made, she took it as an opportunity to have more choice and independence in her life.
When Addyson was in high school, her older sister died by suicide. “After I lost my sister to suicide, I really struggled. It was a long, long time before I felt any joy,” says Addyson. The trauma and mental health symptoms she experienced following the loss of her sister, in addition to complex medical needs, is what initially connected her with Lifeworks as a teenager.
Upon graduating high school, Addyson moved into a community residential home in Hastings, and began attending the Lifeworks Day program. At the onset of the pandemic in 2020, Addyson was living on her own and felt isolated as we all adjusted to new everyday circumstances.
“When the pandemic hit, it was impossible to find PCAs. The reality was that I had significant medical concerns, and [I was] really worried that if I got COVID, it was not going to end well at all.” Over time, all the new burdens and anxieties wore her down, and she knew she needed to make a change. Addyson focused on increasing her independence and leaning on alternative supports. “It got to a point of like, okay, I need to learn to drive a car. I don’t want to live like this anymore.”
Addyson eventually got her license and wanted to become more comfortable going out in the community, especially after a long period of isolation. “I got Aggi [my service dog] and she helped build my confidence so much to be out in the community alone and be able to drive and work at different times, depending on my health.”
With more independence and self-confidence, Addyson began looking ahead at what was possible. Ever since she was little, she knew she had wanted to adopt. “I had always wanted to foster and adopt, but I was at a point in my life where I knew I could.” Addyson and her partner, Adam, intentionally wanted to adopt a child with disabilities. “There are so many children with special needs that are waiting for homes and don’t get to be in a family,” says Addyson.
Addyson and Adam met Lydia, who has autism, significant cognitive delays, and a seizure disorder, through a video posted online. “Lydia had a reel made with the Reel Hope Project. They make videos for teens who are waiting for adoptive homes or kids who are hard to place. From the very first time I saw her video, I knew she was my child.”
In July 2022, Addyson and Adam reached out to connect with Lydia – the first family to do so in three years. Shortly after meeting Lydia, she moved in with Addyson and Adam and they finalized her adoption just over a year later. “It was honestly a lot faster and a lot simpler than I thought it would be,” says Addyson. “Lydia has been with us for over a year, and I could not be more proud of that girl. She has made leaps and bounds and is not the same kid we picked up.”
Addyson uses her expertise as an advocate to help establish supports for Lydia. “Because I work in and have been a part of the disability advocacy community and the mental health system for so many years, I have been able to navigate a lot of my kid’s services.” Addyson established Lifeworks as the Financial Management Service (FMS) to manage Lydia’s budget through the Consumer Support Grant (CSG).
“We ended up on CSG, and because of all the positive experiences I had with Lifeworks throughout the years, it was a no-brainer for us that we would go with Lifeworks again for our FMS,” says Addyson. Through CSG, they could purchase modifications that made their home bathroom more accessible and a stroller that enables Lydia to access more of their community in Red Wing.
One of the most important things for Addyson is ensuring that Lydia feels a sense of belonging. To Addyson, belonging means “that there isn’t a difference between a biological child, a foster child, and an adopted child. Everybody that comes into this home is equally important and matters equally as much.”
Addyson’s family, which includes another child they are in the process of adopting, enjoys spending “good quality time together” through trips to the Children’s Museum, doing art projects, or working through schoolwork together. This coming spring, the family plans to return to Camp ConnectAbilities, a program for families of children with development and cognitive disabilities. “We went last year, and it was cool to get to be around other families that kind of get it,” says Addyson. “Lydia [also] got to try so many new things! It was really nice to be in that environment and have that sense of belonging.”
Addyson reflects on being a parent with a disability: “I just want people to know that just because you have a disability, [it] doesn’t mean you can’t be a good parent. Your disability doesn’t limit or define you, despite what society tells you that you’re able or not able to do.”
Your disability doesn’t limit or define you, despite what society tells you that you’re able or not able to do.
Looking back, Addyson is proud of the growth that she has experienced. “Prior to where I was at, I didn’t have any true hope of having much of a future. I figured my life would be in and out of hospitals, dealing with multiple therapies every week, and just very much a life I didn’t want to live,” she admits.
“Now, I don’t just see my life as my disability anymore. I get to see it as so many more things: as a parent, as an advocate, and as part of a village within the adoptive community. There are so many more aspects to my life and who I am now than there ever was before.” She reflects on the catalyst for the changes that took her life in a new direction: “It really was the pandemic and the situations that arose because of the pandemic that gave me the push to be able to live the life that I get to live now and be the parent to the two most amazing kids in the world.”
With a loving family, a community she feels valued by, and confidence in herself to continue growing, Addyson is looking ahead to her life as a mother. “I am most looking forward to being able to give my girls the opportunities they missed out on,” she says. “I really look forward to [seeing] where both of my girls end up now that they’re able to get the supports and services and be in the environment where they can truly thrive.”