Humans, by nature, are curious. We are also quick to notice differences and then become inquisitive.
As a result of my disability, I have been asked many questions.
I don’t mind.
Questions provide an invitation for you to get to know me; a chance for me to bring you into my world; an opportunity for me to expose my heart and soul so that you can see that I’m not as different as you think I am.
Sometimes it’s not the questions themselves, rather who is asking them that matters most.
I was honoured to be a guest speaker at the Africa Young Round Square Conference held at Penryn College. The audience was mainly 12-and 13-year-olds from countries like Namibia, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa.
I was blown away by their insightful, thought-provoking questions after my presentation.
I thought that I would share my answers with you as I would answer them, today, cheekily taking advantage of the time I’ve had to think and, of course, hindsight.
Did you ever feel like just giving up?
Yes. Many times.
The most difficult part of being paralysed from the neck down is not the immobility; it is the relentless battle that goes on in my head.
I don’t believe that I will ever be able to get to the point where I can fully accept my state of being trapped by my own body, having to live like a sort of modern-day mummy.
I recognise that I will still face a lifetime of mind-wars which will probably leave me weary and feeling defeated, at times.
But, I know that I must continue to do my utmost to make peace with this way of life.
I make a conscious decision, everyday, to put a smile on my face and to be positive, in order to get on with life, as is. If not for me, then for my loved ones, most especially, my son.
Do you think that it was your destiny to be paralysed?
Do any of us really know what our destiny is?
I can’t accept that it would be anybody’s destiny to live a life of extreme disability.
No, I don’t buy into that whole notion that there is a plan for your life, set out from the day you are born.
I believe that life happens – to all of us. Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s bad. No, life is not fair. Then, no one ever promised that it would be.
It was my choice to take off my seat belt minutes before the accident.
This is my reality. I must live it.
If you could change what happened to you, would you?
Yes. This kind of life is extreme. The frustrations of complete physical immobility are sometimes incommunicable.
I try to focus on what I can do and what I have rather than what I can’t do and what I don’t have.
I continue to remind myself that there are people worse off.
But, to be honest, it doesn’t stop me secretly yearning to do more and wishing that things were different.
Have you changed as a person because of what happened to you?
Yes. I’ve changed. I believe we all change as we grow older.
There will always be familiar personality traits, unique to each of us, which are fundamental to whom we are as people.
But, continual exposure to knowledge must reshape you. Awareness and understanding can re-form you. Events and happenings will mould you.
Most profoundly, unpredictable joys and sorrows redefine your essence as a human being, time and time again.
Life changes you. It’s called experience.
If there was only one thing you could do again, what would you choose?
At the top of a very long list would have to be the ability to put my arms around the people who I love.
I don’t need my legs. I don’t even need my hands. All I want is the use of my arms. Surely that is not too much to ask?
I wish more than anything that I could reach out and hug, especially my son.
There were two more questions:
How does your son cope? Was he bullied or treated differently as a result of your circumstances?
I’ve decided to answer those questions separately in a blog post, coming soon.
Please feel free to ask me anything, any time – nothing is too personal. There are no stupid questions. The only thing that makes you stupid is ignorance.
Ask me. Come on. You know you want to.
**Photo credit: Penny Andre**