The way I deal with the very difficult aspects of being severely disabled is to find something beautiful in the way I react to them. That way, I can transform pain into pleasure, distress into calmness, and fear into confidence.
This might seem a bit controversial. I can understand how other disabled people might be irritated by these words. But I can only speak from my own experience, and please, bear with me.
The principal that guides me in my resilience is that only I can control the way I feel about my personal situation. It’s totally down to me, and that’s fundamental. Once I understood this and started to take responsibility for my own mental health, I felt empowered. It meant I had something to work on.
Let me give you an example. Earlier in the year, Nic and I gave a Ted talk. Now, Sepsis destroyed my short-term memory to such an extent that I find it very hard to remember things. If you tell me the way through town to the supermarket, I’ll have completely forgotten it in 5 minutes. So remembering a lengthy script for Ted was something of a challenge. I had to find a way to do that.
Just outside our house, there’s a long straight footpath that goes down to the ring road. It takes me about half an hour to walk it, to the end and back again – very slowly, like an old fella. I decided to do that every day, and to rehearse the Ted speech in my mind as I walked along. I just kept on doing it, over and over, and after three or four weeks, I found I could at last remember what I had to say.
The stumps of my legs suffered badly. They became bruised, purple and black, and cut. When I took my stump socks off at night, there were patches of blood. But it was important to me that I could deliver that speech from memory, and I managed it. Nic and I both managed it, together. It was a milestone for us. We supported each other, we gained confidence and we made an impact.
My point is, when I think of it, there’s something very beautiful to me about those half-hour walks – the fact that that they gave me a daily routine, that I kept that up on my own, and that I used the time to try and retrieve the ability to remember something important to me. I could overlook and overcome the physical pain because I had a strong underlying motivation. I was, and still am, trying to improve myself.
Nic and I stand up in front of audiences on a regular basis and we talk about the very worst thing that ever happened to us. Sepsis. Amputation. Near death. Financial collapse. Losing our home. The risk of our marriage failing. Depression. Anxiety. It’s bruising, emotionally draining, it cuts deep into the soul.
But remember – I choose to control the way I feel. So, regarding our public speaking, Nic and I choose to remember all the Sepsis victims who don’t have a voice, we choose to speak up for them, and represent them. There are hundreds of thousands of people who have died and more who have lost limbs, but we can speak up for their experience. Maybe stop it happening so much.
That means something. It means bad can be beautiful.
And when I look at myself in the mirror, or picture myself stumbling along looking so bad and ugly, I also see something beautiful.
Something I can respect myself for in the way that I am, damaged, cut, suffering.