Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Keeping a Positive Outlook

When I speak about my book, the number one question from the audience has been, “How do you stay positive with such a significant disability?” When I was first asked, I didn’t have an answer to this very thought-provoking question.  As I thought about it, I could see how life as a triple amputee might look quite depressing.  So I wondered… wow… how did I do it?

I think it helped to be born as a triple amputee and not as a result of an accident or illness.  I just didn’t know any other way.  Whatever I learned to do, I had to do it with 3 missing limbs.  Growing up, I was expected to do chores, etc. that my siblings had to do.  If there was an obvious chore that I couldn’t do, I was given a substitute chore.  There were very few exceptions made for me.  Understandable considerations were made such as my bedroom was not upstairs with the other kids but my dad converted the kitchen pantry into a very small bedroom.  I got to choose the paint color – lavender!  However, I never thought that a downstairs bedroom was an advantage I gained because of my disability.

It never occurred to me that I should have advantages or exceptions.   It never occurred to me that I was courageous, heroic, brave or inspirational.  I just lived a very ordinary life.  Living with a disability is merely a lifestyle, not all that different from anyone else.  You simply learn to do things a bit differently.  I did realize very early on, however, that my attitude would be a fundamental key. 

For example, it was clear that I would occasionally need help; e.g. my high school guy classmates carried me up and down the stairs for some classes.  They were all willing – just anyone who was at the steps at the same time as I was.  They would each grab an arm and walk up or down. We made it fun or funny.  I doubt I would have had such willing classmates if I had a generally disagreeable attitude.  Negativity is nonproductive in so many ways. 

I took some time to think about the question, “How did you do it,” and it is fairly easy to answer now.

1.     I had to be adaptable.
2.     I had to be very patient and extremely tolerant.
3.     I had to make concessions and know when to make them.
4.     I had to perfect the art of compromise.
5.     I had to be determined to accomplish each task.
6.     I had to be content with other people’s biorhythms; e.g. when they could help, etc.
7.     I had to be happy with what I could do and not concentrate on what I could not do.
8.     I had to be creative at finding alternatives.
9.     I had to take perseverance to a new level.
10.  I had to be extremely organized.
11.  I had to be content to watch if I could not participate.
12.  I had to often credit someone else for an idea I slipped them.
13.  I had to make big things small in order to minimize disappointments.
14.  I had to quickly learn how to anticipate barriers, plan ahead for them, avoid them altogether, or make quick-thinking plans for “what if.”

In addition to the above, I credit my grandmother for her constant praise.  She no doubt wondered (worried) a lot about what my life would be like, and I think that prompted her to be extremely happy with everything I did.  As an adult now, I can see how excited, and maybe even surprised, she was at what I accomplished year after year.  It is clear that everything I touched turned to gold in her eyes.  That resulted in her unknowingly giving me a lot of confidence in myself.  I wish we had talked about this because she had a resounding impact on my life.

Another big reason that my circumstances do not derail me is really quite basic. There is, quite simply, no alternative, no choice, no option.  It is imperative to concentrate on what I can do and not on things I can’t do.  Sometimes I do wish I could do more.  Sometimes I am not in a positive or good mood.  Sometimes I do get frustrated.  Sometimes I do think how unfair it is.  Sometimes I do wonder why.  These thoughts can’t last long or they will overtake me.  I must consciously push them out.  I must also keep in mind that my circumstances are no one’s fault so it is unfair to take out my frustrations on anyone else.

Maybe because of my determination and success, others will be driven to do greater things.  No one ever knows how far the “domino effect” will reach.  I may never know who went on to accomplish greater things simply because I did not give up.

Yes, it is hard to be a triple amputee but it is not the worst thing that could happen.  I am grateful for that.