Last week I had the opportunity to hear Nick Vujicic at an event for the Friendship Circle. If you don’t know who he is, Nick Vujicic is a man who has no limbs at all. He was born this way, but despite his challenges, he is freer inside than most people. I so relate to his struggles though mine have been different in many ways. Still, key challenges have been identical.
How do you find peace with faith? How do you accept the situation and stop the sorrow? How do you overcome limitations? How do you deal with other people who stare, or don’t know you’re normal inside?
It is more a decision to live fully than anything else. Nick had a tough time as a kid. So did I. He had to fight to get an education in school. So did I. With no limbs, independence is impossible. With severe autism, independence is impossible too. But he learned that the road to freedom is not in having no challenges, it is making the most of the reality life has dealt you. The life he got is harder than average, by loads, and he had to live bigger than normal to just keep up. He is not ashamed, embarrassed, or hiding. He lets people get comfortable with him. That is a great gift.
I had a chance to meet him briefly. He has a cool wheelchair that is tall. It brings him to eye level, more or less. I gave him my book. It inspired me a lot to meet a man who bravely lives life fully, and does good, important work, even though he might have given up. Giving up is the easy way to run from pain but he decided that his life had a higher purpose. He is a role model to many people who despair over much less.
For me, it is a great reminder to count my blessings and to remember that challenges are meant to be overcome.
How do I forgive my body? Stupidly it refuses my wishes time after time. My mind says, “Stop!” It has to go, hurtling into its own internal, impulsive deeds. What can I say? Autism is a really big challenge at times. It sometimes gets easier and I hope that is the trend, and then, out of nowhere, some new order is established. I must do what it says. My will is taken over by a body with its own mind.
I learned from hard experience that I have to fight it with all my might. I decided long ago that I would not be a slave to impulses that ruin my future, my present, and my happiness. However, I am not always sure or able to defeat the impulses. This makes me get really sad and start to hate my body, my neurons, and my trapped self. It is harder to fight impulses in a depression.
Now that I have moaned and whined, I must decide what to do. Can I give in or quit trying? Never. I must keep thinking that I will have the guts to keep on, even if it feels overwhelming. It is pointless to hate my body and neurons because I let them trap me in self rage.
My body is not at fault. It is trapped too. My neurons aren’t at fault. They don’t hurt me on purpose. This is a crime with no criminals. I think I must let go of my frustration and anger. Wishing I wasn’t autistic may truly be the recipe for misery. My mind is free, my body strong, and my soul can fly. If I let it go I can find peace inside. I must love my body as is. It is part of me, though I may not always feel that way, I will get no other. I may as well love it and get hope rather than hate it and get angry.
I think anger is only worthwhile if channeled to fix things. My anger was just a mass of resentment and fury. That is pointless and destructive. I am spiritual and I am sure God loves me as I am. If God can love me with autism then I can do no less.
Tomorrow I start over in my high school. I transferred mid-year to a new school. I was very miserable in my old high school. I won’t elaborate now on what happened or why I had to go to have a happy high school experience. I got lucky. Two days before the semester ended my parents were able to get me into a new school. I think it will be a much more welcoming environment.
I wonder how my old high school would have treated Stephen Hawking, or Helen Keller, or Erik Weihenmayer if they had been students there. The first two were communication impaired and required one on one assistance. Helen fingerspelled her ideas into Annie Sullivan’s hand. She was independently thinking, not writing, in her earlier years. Would she have been accused of not doing her own work? Would they have resented her noises and too visible disability? Stephen Hawking is needing a lot of support. Would he be seen as an expensive burden, or worth giving the trained help he needs? Erik Weihenmayer is blind. Who knows? He might hurt himself.
The reason I bring up these three amazing individuals is not to compare myself with them but to imagine how my old high school would have treated them in the years they were different, severely challenged in a big high school environment, but not famous yet. I think it is easy to know the answer. Maybe they would have decided enough is enough like I did.
Onward and upward. It is time to start over.
Helen Keller was a great woman. Now she is a hero for showing the world that severe disability doesn’t mean a life of ignorance and institutionalization. In her time that was a radical concept. She was incredibly determined to live a normal life and she worked so hard to achieve her goals. She learned five languages in fingerspelling. She learned to speak though she couldn’t hear her own voice, the sounds of the words, or even lipreading the movements of speech. It is an incredible achievement in my opinion.
Her teacher, Annie Sullivan, was incredible too. She stayed with Helen for fifty years. I was amazed because my own aides last about two or three years before they move on to grad school, motherhood, or new jobs. Not only that, but Sullivan was also visually impaired. She still assisted Helen in school and out. So, Annie Sullivan was also a disabled hero.
What creates such motivation as both women had? Is it friendship, intelligence, or some divine talent? I work hard though Helen worked harder. She worked so hard to prove she deserved her place in the sun. She showed what hard work can do. Instead of a life in an institution, wild and locked in, completely cut off from communication, she became a star of the world, giving hope to millions, and giving herself the gift of freedom. She did this in spite of having a lonely disability that cut her off from conversation and sight. In fighting for herself, she fought for me and many others too. Maybe one day I will be a real leader like her.
I have been thinking about people with disabilities who succeed at high levels. For example, many of you have seen the films of Oscar Pistorius, the runner, on my facebook page. He has no legs and he is a runner of world class speed. This is what we call a paradox.
In music, we find the same situation with Evelyn Glennie. She is a great musician and she feels her music because she is deaf. Look at what Beethoven accomplished in his deaf years.
In the sciences, we have Stephen Hawking. In engineering, Temple Grandin. In athletics, Jim Abbott (another paradox- a handless pitcher), and one-legged wrestling champ, Anthony Robles.
In other words, we have the human spirit unwilling to quit. Kind of staggering in a way because they had to fight very hard to be average. But they were not average. They were superior.
Adversity can make you determined. I know this from experience. Heaven knows, I’m a paradox too. I can’t speak and I give speeches often. Someone else reads it out loud, and I’m standing near, but I’m not quitting. In the weeks ahead I am gathering videos of the inspirational and determined, who are shattering limits, for you to see. They are my hope and my models.