Podcast

Episode 58: Emily Pohl

Jill had the pleasure of spending time getting to know service dog handler, Emily Pohl, whose lived experience during the COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to inform positive changes post-pandemic if we take the time to listen.

Interview Date | May 20, 2020

JILL: Welcome to the DisTopia podcast, where we look at disability from the inside out. [peaceful music fades in] My name is Jill Vyn, and I’m the cohost of this podcast with my friend and colleague, Chris Smit. 

What you are listening to now is the first of two interrelated components of our My Dearest Friends project, both of which have been generously underwritten by the Ford Foundation. The My Dearest Friends podcast, which is produced by DisTopia, is a series of recorded conversations with disabled people about their individual experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic, and the personal, cultural, and political alterations it has triggered. These informal conversations give our guests the opportunity to share personal experiences of sheltering in place and to engage in conversations around deeper questions raised about the value of disabled people, the core values of the disability culture, as well as our hopes, fears, and strategies for living an authentic and pride-filled disabled life.

The second component of the My Dearest Friends project is created in partnership with disabled artist Oaklee Thiele, who is creating black and white illustrations that represent our collective response to our new and uncertain realities as a disabled community. Designed as an open invitation to the disabled community around the world, we invite all of you to participate. More information can be found on Instagram @MyDearestFriendsProject, Facebook, and on our website, DisArtNow.org.

As is true for many of you, our desire for this project is to share our experiences as a disabled community, to disrupt ableist beliefs, to celebrate a culture whose lived experience of disability necessitates flexibility and creativity, and to validate disabled voices and perspectives in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

[peaceful music slowly fades into ambient music]

EMILY: My dearest friends, is it bad that I’m thankful people finally are able to relate to my trauma symptoms and yet angry that they will quickly forget what it feels like when our lives return to normal? [ambient music fades out]

Hi, my name is Emily Pohl, and I am someone who lives with a disability, with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder. I’m a service dog handler, I’m a friend, I’m a boss, and so much more than that.

[chuckles] I keep trying to figure out why I wrote that and what that actually means. I wrote that after thinking through and talking with my therapist about how it felt like COVID wasn’t impacting me as much as it was the average person, and being concerned that I was not processing this communal trauma as well as I should or could, or if I was, yeah, ignoring it. Through that conversation, I realized that, yeah, COVID is a communal trauma for our world right now, especially in the United States. And it’s big and it’s impactful and it’s impacted my life. But I have also experienced a lot of other trauma that has caused trauma symptoms. And so, what the average person is feeling and experiencing right now is what I experience and feel all the time, regardless of having COVID. So, in one sense, I am thankful that people can start to understand what my reality is. And then on the other sense, I’m really grieved that people can understand that. Because that means that we are all living through something that’s very traumatic. And then all of the other side, all the feelings. Feeling angry that I know that when things go back to what will be a new normal, most people in the population will forget what it feels like to live on edge and fear of coronavirus. And so, almost like then my lived experience, my experience that will continue regardless of COVID will no longer be understood or as valid as it is right now.

Yeah, COVID has definitely impacted my life personally in so many different ways. So, before stay-at-home orders came, I was in an intensive outpatient program for depression, anxiety, and trauma. We were meeting three hours a day, four days a week. So, that’s like 12 hours of intensive therapy. Within a couple days, that was suspended because we could no longer meet in person. So, I went from 12 hours of really intense therapy to seeing my personal therapist online twice a week. And it took the clinic a while to figure out how to do telehealth. And once they got that up and running, I participated for maybe a week. But doing intensive therapy online with a group of people who all struggle with similar things but have heavy and weighted stories was just really too difficult for me to do virtually. And so, I made the decision to leave that program with the support of my team. And they all agreed that was the best decision. But it definitely, COVID has impacted the access I have to medical care.

I think now, two months later, I’ve come into a new routine, and it’s OK. But it was definitely a rocky start of transition since my transition wasn’t planned like it normally would be if you were leaving an intensive outpatient program. Normally, they taper you down. Going cold turkey was an adjustment! And I think it was also an adjustment just because our world was changing completely. All of my support systems, I could no longer see in person. And I have a fantastic friend community, and we all started isolating. And then I think I got COVID. [chuckling] So, that changed things, too. Yeah.

So, one other thing that changed because of COVID is, and now that’s different, but I had a psychiatrist appointment. Normally I see him in person for 30 minutes with a follow-up. And he called me on our appointment time and was like, “I have 5 to 10 minutes. That’s all the insurance is gonna pay for.” I’m like, “What?” He’s like, “How are you doing” I was like, “You don’t need to know how I’m doing. We need to start talking!” And so, that was really surprising that at the time, that was like this interim of the clinic figuring out how to do video conferencing and get insurance to pay for it. And so, they had made this agreement that psychiatrists could do a quick check-in and still be paid.

My health coverage dramatically changed really quickly. But, yeah, I think I’m not alone in that experience. I think a lotta people with a lotta different disabilities experienced a dramatic reduction in services because they’re not considered essential. And I think the hard part is I understand. I understand why you need to reduce non-essential services, because there are people who are fighting for their lives with COVID, and all of the medical equipment needs to be redirected to that. But at the same time, it feels invalidating that what I struggle with or what my friends who have different disabilities struggle with are not valued enough to be recognized that their treatment or their ongoing treatment is just as important and maybe just as lifesaving.

[ambient music break]

I have an Instagram account called LifeWithPenPen. I started it two years ago when I got my service dog, Penny. Initially, I started it because I didn’t want to overwhelm my friends on my personal Instagram page with cute pictures of my dog. And so, I wanted to be able to post whatever I wanted however I wanted without offending my friends and having them turn me off! [laughing] And so, yeah. So, you can see. The first year or so is just like documenting my life with Penny. And about a year ago—June is PTSD Awareness Month—I decided that I wanted to start sharing a little bit more about my reality with PTSD, with a desire to explain it to my friends. I feel like it’s very hard for me to explain what the reality of living with PTSD is to someone who has never had that reality. Not so great at like explaining in like a formal conversation of what PTSD is, but I can give you snippets of life here and there. And so, that’s what I started doing on this Instagram account: just sharing what my life is like with PTSD and what treatments I do and what helps and what brings me joy and what’s hard. And I don’t know. There is no planned content. It’s just like whatever happens! Whatever I’m feeling, I’m gonna share in the moment, so.

Well, one really good thing about Instagram and doing that is that I’ve been able to connect to some people in the disability community. And I had never been, I’d never connected with really anyone in the disability community before Instagram. And I have made some really genuine good friends; some of them I’ve met in real life, and some of them live across country. And we will FaceTime. And others are limited to Instagram, but still, I consider friends. And during COVID, I joined Camp Access, and I am so, I don’t know, I’m just so excited about it. And so thankful that I have the opportunity and the space and the time to be able to do that right now. I think that’s one of the really big blessings that have come out of Instagram and the disability community, and having Mary’s leadership with Camp Access has been really great. And I’m not sure. I know Mary has big dreams. She’s, to me, she’s the epitome of a true advocacy person. [laughs]  And so, she has these big dreams, and I would love to see them come to fruition. But even if they don’t, for me, it has impacted my life personally and changed it for the better, just being able to have conversations with people around the world who have similar lived experiences with disabilities. And so, I hope that things will change, and life will be more accessible to people with disabilities. But if anything, I think it’s been a really good opportunity to connect with people. And that’s probably the first step in creating change.

I made a post recently about my experience grocery shopping with COVID now. I feel so bad to say this, but in a lotta ways, the accommodations or the rules that have been put in place because of COVID actually benefit and help me so much with my disability. Before COVID, I pretty much relied on grocery pick-up service. Going to the grocery store is extremely difficult for me. My hypervigilance is very high all the time, so going to an overcrowded grocery store with a lotta products that I can’t filter out, with a dog where kids and people are talking about the dog, and I’m trying to remember what I need to buy, and it’s just really, really difficult. By the time I leave, my anxiety is through the roof. I’m sweating. I make it to my car, and I’m like, [breathes heavily] OK! I did it! I got food! And I now need to go to bed. Yeah! This is victory. I conquered the world by going to the grocery store. [laughs] And that was all I could do for one day, which is why I started relying on grocery pick-up.

When COVID hit, then everybody decided to start relying on grocery pick-up, and I didn’t have a slot. I couldn’t get a slot. I think maybe if I woke up at midnight, I could maybe find a slot. But sleep is a whole nother thing. And so, I wasn’t gonna interrupt my sleep to be able to get my groceries! So, the first time I ventured out to a grocery store when everything had changed with COVID, I went to Trader Joe’s, and I was so impressed. They only allowed 30 people into their store at a time. And I think now that I’ve gone to a few other stores, it’s pretty common. They have the tape or the images where you stand in line and you wait. And then they have their crew that’s sanitizing the carts. And you walk in, and I felt like I walked in, and it was like, ahhhh! This is amazing! There’s not a lotta people. The staff at Trader Joe’s had been so intentional even in how they arranged their food so that you could only grab one at a time. And I just, and not having it packed to the gills and having to navigate that changed my experience grocery shopping.

And no one ever now talks to my service dog or comments to me about my service dog or comes up to me and wants to pet Penny. People with service dogs can totally relate to that. Like, that’s just a thing like. And I get it. It’s a dog. And my dog’s cute, and people like dogs. But it’s really hard to handle when everybody repeatedly wants to talk to you and your dog. It’s fine if it’s one or two people maybe in your life, but when it’s five or six people in a half an hour, it takes a lot of emotional, like not having to get mad at them. ‘Cause there’s no reason to be mad at them, but also trying just to go buy milk. So, not having people talk to me about my dog made that experience so much better. And people keeping their distance from me, and I’m not having to worry about things that I normally would, made grocery shopping amazing. I get excited now [laughing] to go grocery shopping!

And I went home that first day, and I’m like, oh! I’m good. I can keep doing things. This is amazing! Like, it didn’t take all of my energy. And so, one thing I hope and I don’t think will happen, but one thing I hope with the future post-COVID world is that stores that have, a lot of grocery stores or nurseries, they have like an hour of access to people who are considered vulnerable, whether they’re immunocompromised or they’re elderly or whatever reason. My health doesn’t consider me more vulnerable to COVID, but the idea of being able to go and have maybe expand the idea to being like people with disabilities would be lifechanging. And if there was one grocery store that did that in town, they would get my business. Because I guess the quality of my life would be higher if I could have that accommodation, whereas currently, if I go grocery shopping pre-COVID, that’s all I could do for the whole day.

JILL: I don’t know how much you know of Oaklee. The connection with her dog, Coco and just what you were talking about. She has a, I don’t know if you’ve seen it, an illustration or a statement about how well, now I know people can leave my service dog alone! [laughs]

EMILY: That’s one of the very first ones that I saw! And I was like, yes!!! I can relate! This is not like, “Oh, she’s just so cute. I can’t help myself.” Like, no, you could help yourself! [laughs] So!

[ambient music break]

JILL: And the complex PTSD, I hadn’t heard the C. And I know that you, in your Instagram, you do some education and that you said that telling it isn’t always as easy. But could you try and do a little bit of education in this?

EMILY: Yeah, I think that’s why I actually like this platform and Instagram in general is that you can relate and be like, oh, yeah. That’s part of my experience. Post-traumatic stress disorder, I think, is technically considered an anxiety disorder. And some people refer to themselves as having complex post-traumatic stress disorder. I personally…I guess I get down to the technical technicalities. So, C-PTSD is not an actual diagnosis in the DSM, but it’s being debated about being included in the next diagnostic manual. So, I often will say I have chronic PTSD instead of complex PTSD, because chronic describes the fact that I have PTSD symptoms continuously and will probably have them the rest of my life. But when people say they have complex PTSD, it usually means that they have experienced multiple forms of trauma over a long period of time in their life, which is something that I have. I’ve experienced multiple forms of trauma over a prolonged period of my life.

And so, when a person experiences trauma, whether that’s one incident like getting in a car accident, or going through war or living in an abusive household, whatever the trauma might be, your brain starts to protect itself and protect your body to survive. If your brain starts doing that over and over and over again to survive, it’s good, ‘cause you survive. The bad part is when you’re out of the trauma or the traumatic situation, your brain doesn’t realize that and continues to respond as if you’re still living in a traumatic situation. People use the word “trigger” a lot. I feel like that’s a really big buzzword. For me, a trigger is something that reminds my brain of the trauma that I experienced. Like sometimes people ask me like, “Well, what are your triggers?” And I can list some of them. And then sometimes, it’ll be a smell or something, and it will totally put my brain back into thinking that I’m still living in that traumatic experience.

So, my response time is smaller than the neuro-average person. So, my brain and my body will wanna go into fight or flight faster than the average person because of my trauma experience. And so, a lot of the therapy work that I’ve done is to retrain my brain and to be able to tolerate those emotions without like, I wanna say, like I don’t know the technical word, but like without dissociating or without actually just running out the door or whatever. And so, you’re either hyper or hypo. And back and forth, up and down is a lived experience for me constantly. So, either super anxious, super on edge, super hyper-alert or the opposite: I’m just completely checked out and unable to really function very well.

Because I lived through so much trauma, I have this ability to function even though I might be checked out or super anxious. Sometimes even close family friends won’t realize that I’m not doing very well because I’ve been able, like I was…. I had to, in order to survive, be able to still partially check out, but also still remain present and be able to communicate. So, for me personally, that’s a challenge.

JILL: I’m curious about what has helped you over the years? It sounds like Penny for sure. But what else? You’ve mentioned therapy. You’ve mentioned Penny, you’ve mentioned environmental type, things that you can’t change but that you appreciate changed right now. You’ve talked about how you have, I don’t know if you consider it coming out very publicly on Instagram, and if that feels freeing. What do you attribute to where you are today?

EMILY: Yeah, all of that! [laughs] So, I have different types of trauma, one of them being that I used to be a humanitarian. And so, I would go from disaster zone to disaster zone with a large NGO. I took a job with that organization that, they said, “you can live anywhere in the world you want. Where would you like to go?” And I said, “Minnesota,” which is where I’m from. And I think everybody thought I was crazy. Like, you could move to Paris or Sydney or New York or wherever! And I was like, no, I’m going home. And so, in that move was the first step of trying to create safety and balance and normalcy in my life. So, I bought a house, and I have done a lot in the last five years to try to make my home the safest place possible for me. And then that goes out from my home. So, with PTSD, it’s very common to not trust people and not have really good friends. And so, I have worked really hard with the help of a therapist to learn how to make friends that are deeper than just casual, where you can be authentic—I guess you used the word “coming out.” I’ve never used that word—but where you can be authentic and say, “Yeah, I have PTSD, and this is what it’s like. And this is my bad day, and I’m not gonna hide it from you.” Community has significantly helped my PTSD. And not just community. Like, community that understands and will still care for me and love me even when I’m not doing well.

And then, of course, therapy. There’s so many different modalities of therapy. Having a therapist, one of the first things I did was learn how to identify my emotions. As children, we are taught emotions and how to identify them and express them. But I was never in a safe place to be able to do that. And so, I didn’t really have emotions. And to not have emotions is to not live. You can’t be human without expressing and feeling emotion, whether good or bad. And so, I spent like a year trying to figure out what I was feeling and what emotion label went with that and how to do that. And so, that also helped me. And then learning joy in small things. I love gardening. I love putting my hands in dirt and seeing things grow, and being outside is incredibly renewing for me. Yeah, that has helped.

And then Penny, Penny, my service dog. She has totally changed my life. I did not know…. [chuckles] I didn’t know, one of my friends, she’d actually mentioned this a couple days ago. When I was preparing to get Penny, I remember telling her, “I don’t know how I feel about having a dog walk around and follow me around.” [laughs] In many ways, it’s ‘cause my disability is invisible. And if I have a dog, then all of a sudden, my disability is visible. And so, there is, like it’s a double edged sword. Some of it is, it’s a blessing to be invisible, and then it’s also a curse. And so, I didn’t know I was ready to share with the whole world that I had a disability with having Penny. But Penny has taught me a lot. She knows when I’m doing poorly before I even know that I’m doing poorly. And she’s pretty persistent. So, she will…she’ll make me stop and deal with [laughing] my issues.

Like, last night, I was at a friend’s house for dinner. This was the first time I ever left my house and went to a friend’s house during this COVID period. And halfway through dinner, she was so like, mm-mm. Gotta go home. You’re not OK. You’re not OK. And these are friends that understand. And so, I was like, all right. “Well, this is not fun ‘cause this dog keeps interrupting us! So, we’re gonna go.” [laughs] So, she also helps me sleep. I started sleeping better because of her. She interrupts my nightmares. There’s just so many good things about a dog and how she helps, both with tasks with my PTSD, but also just having another being with me all the time.

JILL: I think it’s fascinating how she is so in tune with you and that you have to listen! It’s that prevention.

EMILY: Yes.

JILL: I’ve experienced depression, so I know a spiral, right? So, if I could have someone who tells me right from the beginning, like. Our experiences are very different, I know. But is it like if you catch it early, does it help your whole—

EMILY: Yes.

JILL: Yeah.

EMILY: If I catch it early, or if she catches it earlier and tells me, I can do the necessary things to regulate my system. Usually, then I’m able to continue on my day. I might have to adjust or do less. But if I continued without trying to help my system regulate, I would end up in a really bad spot. Like, if you’re depressed, and you just let it go, go, go, go. And all of a sudden you’re in bed for a whole week, and you haven’t left. Being able to see it and address it and keep going has changed the quality of my life, and I would not be able to do that without having a service dog.

JILL: But that’s the key from everything that you’ve said even before Penny, is that you were addressing it.

EMILY: Yeah.

JILL: And you were doing really what I imagine is really, really hard work, right?

EMILY: Yeah.

JILL: You decided to do that, and now Penny has helped you do it even more.

EMILY: It is extremely painful and difficult to work through trauma and then retraining your brain to respond to situations differently. For me, it felt like it was equally or more painful not working through it and just staying the same. And so, for some people, they decide that staying the same and not putting their heart and soul into treatment is easier and better and more manageable. And I get that. Because it’s scary, to, it’s scary. It’s scary to try to change. It’s scary to try to talk about your trauma. And what if it doesn’t work and all of these things? And so, I spent a lot of years ignoring things to the point where I was really sick, and I had really no decision but to…. My decisions were die or start intentionally working on it.

[ambient music break]

JILL: So, we as a family have chosen to just be at home. I think being connected to the disability community makes me hyperaware of my role in this. So, we’ve only done pick-up. We used to do shipped a while ago. And I don’t like the grocery store to begin with. Just I’m one of those people.

EMILY: Oh, someone who understands me! [laughs]

JILL: Yeah. So, we shift to the pick-up. And yeah, we get how it takes a while, so you have to plan ahead. But I went to pick something up from a hardware store today for a home project, and I was calling for the curbside. You call in and say, “I’m here.” And they never answered. And I’m like, well, OK, I guess I’m gonna put my mask on and go in. I could see that there were not a lotta people in the store. I still felt anxious because this felt weird. And there’s the glass, but the woman behind it had her bandana, but not on. So, it’s like, so I’m like, gosh, this is so weird. What is it gonna be to go back? That transition that you talked about, that you didn’t have control over “going in.” I say “going in” in air quotes. What are you imagining? Are there things that you can do to transition out of COVID-19?

EMILY: Ugh.

JILL: I mean, we could have more control over our choices. I mean, I know. Of course. Granted, not everybody gets control in this situation. Everybody has different lived experiences. But you went to a friend’s, and there was something there that wasn’t quite right. And how do we move back in, and how can we learn from people like yourself to renegotiate and navigate life differently? Who knows when that time is gonna be.

EMILY: Right.

JILL: But we’re all gonna have to make a decision about how much to engage.

EMILY: Yeah. I think that in Minnesota, our state is starting to open up. I think a lot of people, including myself, are starting to have those conversations and thoughts. And this week thinking through what am I comfortable with? And what do I think is right? And how do I protect those who are more vulnerable and susceptible to COVID? And before I got sick with what I think was COVID, I had decided that I would, since I live by myself and I run my own organization— So, I work from home, and I needed for my mental health some contact with people. And so, I had decided that there’s two families that I would be, and they were OK with me doing life with. And then I got sick, and so that just stopped. And I cut everything out. Didn’t go anywhere. I didn’t do anything. Didn’t talk to people. I mean, I talked to people via video. Yeah.

There’s a lot of fear, I think, and anxiety about how to appropriately reintegrate into society while COVID is still there. And I think it’s very personal decisions, even though it collectively impacts all of us. So, my friend, this last night that I went to their house for dinner, that was one of the families that pre-getting sick, I had agreed to be in my life. And we were gonna go for a walk and then have dinner. And I was very anxious and really nervous. And so, for me personally, I texted her, them and said, “I can’t do a walk, but I’ll come for dinner.” Because I was so anxious and so nervous about what that would be. And obviously, I didn’t stay very long. [laughs] So, I was there for maybe an hour, max. But they had prepared their house. So, they had sanitized things and cleaned things, and like, “This bathroom you can use. I’ve cleaned it. There’s a fresh towel.” And a lot of that kind of thinking and precaution went into it. I don’t know if it was wise. People could be really mad at me who listen to this and say, like, you shouldn’t have done that. I don’t know if I should’ve done that or not. But I did. And I think that for me, it’s just one little step of starting to be more comfortable with interacting with the world. Because if I don’t make little steps, then it will take me a lot longer than the average person to be comfortable interacting with the world again, just based on some of my other diagnoses.

JILL: What you described with your friends are that they are sensitive to you.

EMILY: Yeah.

JILL: How beautiful is that? Not everybody has that, where they can feel open and do life together and figure it out. Like your friends ,sounds like they are so willing to meet you where you’re at.

EMILY: Yeah, yeah. And they’re willing to fluctuate. My mental health changes, sometimes hourly, and so they understand that. And so, this week I felt comfortable going and having dinner. Maybe next week, I’ll be like, “No! I don’t want you to get sick! I don’t know if I have it,” you know. All of that. And so, and they would be OK with that. And they would respect. I guess respect is maybe the right way of saying it: respect my diagnoses and how that plays out in our relationships and friendships.

JILL: I wonder if it’s because you respect yourself in your diagnoses.

EMILY: Maybe? [long pause] I don’t know.

JILL: I don’t know. I mean, I know I’m talking to you when I don’t know what’s going on inside while we’re talking. But you come across as someone who has done a lotta work and understands that your disability is part of who you are and that you have acceptance for yourself.

EMILY: Yeah, definitely. I think Brené Brown talks about authenticity a lot. If you’re not authentic with yourself, just yourself, it’s really hard to be authentic and vulnerable to your friends or your family. And so, there are different layers of admitting to yourself where you’re at with your disability and accepting that. It’s taken a lotta time to accept that this is part of me, and this is my reality right now. And once I started accepting that and owning that, then it’s like acceptance came. And if I can accept and be content with what my life is like, don’t get me wrong. There are days where I’m not content! But then it’s easier maybe for others to be like, oh yeah. That’s who she is. That’s who Emily is. And she’s not intentionally trying to hurt us if she bails on a dinner invitation.

[ambient music break]

JILL: Yeah. So, if we go back to where we started, your submission, I’d be curious. You said, “Is it bad that I’m thankful people finally are able to relate to my trauma symptoms and get angry that they will quickly forget what it feels like when our lives return to normal?” And so, what I’ve heard you talk about is that you’re hoping the normal shifts. You hope it shifts, first the stores. You hope that there’s learning and growth in community. And how do we preserve that? I’m wondering if you have some ideas. What’s your next?

EMILY: I guess there’s a lotta ways I could answer that question. I think that normal as we knew it before COVID will never return. People can’t, society can’t go back to something after experiencing some trauma that we are as a society, as a world. I think there will be a lot of semblance of normal. And so, it’s what is the good that we have learned from COVID that we wanna keep in our lives, in our societies, and what isn’t necessary anymore? And I think that’s maybe very similar to how I process my PTSD. Like, some things I do are not necessary anymore, even though they helped me stay alive for years. And then there are other things that are still really good and helpful. And so, for a society, I would love to see more understanding and flexibility in doing remote work or having hours for people who live with disability or, even though we can’t say that, or susceptible to a virus. I think that as we were quickly thrown into trying to figure out how to do that all, we as humans will be able to refine that and know how to do that better moving forward. And so, I think that’s the main reason why I don’t think we will go back completely to what normal was. I hope that in returning or adjusting to a new normal, there are some accommodations that can be helpful for people with disabilities.

JILL: On a separate level, I’m curious about what your organization is and what you’re working on.

EMILY: So, three years ago, I quit my job with this big humanitarian organization and was hired by this tiny little non-profit. They hired me for my idea to do audio Bible Studies for oral preference learners. So, three fourths of the world learns through hearing and conversation and discussion and stories and drama. And yet, the vast majority of Christian resources are developed for book learners, and so an individual like who are used to learning and studying on an individual basis, not in groups. And so, for the past three years, we have been developing audio Bible Studies that are not just story-based, but go through a book of the Bible and facilitate conversation. So, it’s recorded, and then the groups of people will pause and talk about whatever the question might be, and then they keep going. And yeah, we’re the only known organization that produces audio Bible Studies targeted for oral preference learners, so.

JILL: Can you share the name of the organization?

EMILY: Oh! Yeah. It’s called Gospel Joy.

JILL: Oh!

EMILY: So, we work in Africa primarily.

JILL: And the response to this work is?

EMILY: It’s overwhelmingly good. [laughs]

JILL: Oh.

EMILY: We can’t keep up with the demand.

JILL: Wow.

EMILY: So, women will finish one study, and be like, “Well, when’s the next one gonna be done?” [laughs] You can do a study a lot faster than we can produce it! As you know, editing audio and like all of that takes a lotta time. So, yeah. So, it’s been positive and helpful, and it’s encouraging to spend time with women who are like, “I now understand what this book of the Bible is saying.” They never understood it before. And so, yeah.

JILL: Wow. That’s awesome. It fits with your humanitarian roots as well?

EMILY: Yeah. Women are culture changers and culture influencers. They might not be like the leader, but they influence their children greatly. In community development and humanitarian work, it’s very normal to work with women, ‘cause it’s known that they will help shift the culture or the society. And so, in Christian circles, in churches and in trainings, most of the trainings are directed towards men. Some of the people I work with in Zambia, John, my friend John is Zambian. He’s like, I could go to a Christian Bible training any day of the week I wanted to. There’s always one available, but my wife, she might have one or two in a year she could go to. And so, there’s just a disproportionate amount of resources between men and women right now with Christian material.

JILL: It sounds like you’re doing important work and work that fits for you.

EMILY: Yeah.

JILL: Well, it’s so good to meet you, Emily.

EMILY: Thank you so much. Thank you for asking me to share my experience with COVID. I’m really honored to spend some time talking to you, and I am excited about what you guys are doing. I think connecting people is so important. [ambient music plays for the next few sentences]. During the season of COVID-19, I’ve been able to connect to more people with disabilities. And so, it’s been an unexpected blessing. So, thank you.

JILL: Well, thank you.

Thanks for listening. Be well, keep your distance, send us your comments, questions, and your submissions for Oaklee Thiele to hello@DisArtNow.org. Please make sure to follow the My Dearest Friends project on Instagram, Facebook, and DisArtNow.org. And thanks again to the Ford Foundation for their support of this work and to cat enthusiast Cheryl Green for the transcription of this podcast episode.

Music: “The Return” by Ketsa. (Source: freemusicarchive.org. Licensed under an a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 License.)