Getting up from the Floor

Posted: July 2, 2008 in Disability Deliberations


By Mark E. Smith

It’s been said that if you want to succeed in corporate management, you have to be a problem-solver. After all, problems arise in any business venture, and while lots of lesser managers will call attention to the problems, place blame, and make excuses, if you’re the one who immediately shifts from dwelling on the problem, to focusing on the solution, you’ll be among the most valuable players on the company team – you’ll be the one moving the bottom line past adversity, into success.

The same mindset proves absolutely vital toward living with disability. It doesn’t matter if it’s relating to the challenges of independent living, or in addressing the emotional struggles of disability acceptance, or all in-between – the fact is, when it comes to facing disability, success doesn’t come from dwelling on problems, but from focusing on solutions.

Maybe it’s not the biggest problem in the world, but a friend of mine, always wanted a Corvette, never having the opportunity to get one when he wished. He told me of saving for his dream car in his 20s, only to fall in love, spending the money on his wedding. Then, in his 30s, after owning a home for a few years, and having two children, he again scraped and saved enough money to buy his dream car, a 2006 yellow Corvette. However, just days after beginning to seriously shop for the car, he was paralyzed in a construction accident, resulting in low-level quadriplegia.

Once out of rehab, he went through an adaptive driving course, and while his driving instructor assessed him for an accessible minivan, my friend longed for the Corvette that always escaped him. In fact, despite the medical bills and financial setbacks of his injury, he never touched his Corvette money, as it was still in the bank, his desire remaining strong for his dream car. However, the driving instructor told him in no uncertain terms that a low-level quad couldn’t drive a Corvette, that there was no room for a wheelchair or hand controls, that there was no way that he could transfer in and out of it. The instructor saw nothing but problems.

Yet, my friend didn’t buy into the driving instructor’s negative focus on the problems that he may encounter in trying to drive a Corvette. Instead, my friend began looking for solutions. He learned of the exact height of a Corvette’s driver’s seat, which sits low to the ground, and he mocked-up the height in his garage with an old car seat, teaching himself to transfer between his wheelchair and the low height. Then, he spoke with hand control manufacturers, discovering that hand controls for a Corvette were possible. And, he purchased an ultralight, folding wheelchair that was so thin that it would fit in the behind the front seats of a Corvette. Indeed, in no time, my friend was driving his beloved yellow Corvette.

The fact is, when it comes to disability, the easiest perspective to take is to dwell on the associated problems. It would have been effortless for my friend to dwell on all of the seeming problems in his life, chalking up quadriplegia as robbing him of all of his dreams, including preventing him from ever owning a Corvette. Yet, he didn’t dwell on the problems in his life; instead, he focused on solutions, using optimism and tenacity to discover the ways to successfully live his life – disability, Corvette dreams, and all.

In my own life, I’m always ready to enter my problem-solving mode. Due to my cerebral palsy, I’m not the most gracious of transferrer, with it being tough to go from my wheelchair to my bed or such – and, as a problem-solver at heart, I like to jest that I’m already thinking of how I’m going to get back up from the floor before I’ve landed on it!

But, there’s absolute truth to my mindset that extends to all areas of my life, where when I encounter a problem, I immediately move toward looking for a solution instead of being thrown for a loop by the issue and dwelling on it.

In a fitting metaphor, life doesn’t always allow us to make it from our wheelchairs to our beds – sometimes we land on the floor. And, at those points in life, we can either lie on the floor and shed tears, cursing everything around us, or we can simply focus on how we can get back up, onto the bed – that is, we can figure out how to get our lives back on track. No, it’s not always easy climbing up from the floor – that is, it’s not always easy overcoming challenges when life knocks us down – but only a lazy or foolish person chooses to wallow on the hard floor when a comfortable bed awaits. Personally, I choose the rewards of climbing onto a soft bed over the misery of sulking on a hard floor whenever the situation presents itself.

Interestingly, people often post very discouraged tales regarding their wheelchairs on the WheelchairJunkie.com message board, which is understandable – when one’s wheelchair isn’t working properly, that’s a very upsetting circumstance. And, as you may have noted, I usually have an answer for many situations, stating to try this or that, or suggesting that I get the provider and rep involved to resolve the issue in-person. However, what I really strive to accomplish is in shifting the situation as quickly as possible from a problem to a solution – namely because that’s the only way to restore one’s mobility. In the most literal sense, talking about how terrible it is that one’s wheelchairs isn’t working doesn’t restore one’s mobility. Instead, while we should appreciate the emotions that others have, we should see the sole goal of postings as finding the solutions to getting one’s mobility physically restored as quickly as possibly – because that’s what will ensure that one can get back on the track of life.

The notion of finding a solution instead of dwelling on the problem goes straight to the heart of most successful outlooks: No matter what obstacles one encounters, it’s striving to solve the problems that creates success, not dwelling on the problem:

My wheelchair just broke, now I’m really stuck – my life is one big nightmare! No, I’m immediately calling my provider, then I’m having my brother come over to help me transfer into my backup chair. I’ll be mobile today, and hopefully, my provider will have my chair fixed by week’s end.

There’s no way that I can go back to college with my disability – it’ll be too hard. I have no money for tuition, no transportation, and there’s no one to help me with personal care. No, I’m making an appointment with Disabled Student Services at my community college to arrange all of the support that I need to get back in school. I’m going to find grants and scholarships, sign-up for the paratransit bus, and arrange for on-campus support. Heck, there’s no reason why I can’t start classes next semester.

I can’t get my dream Corvette because I’m a quad. No, I’m going to find a way to transfer into the car, and obtain the appropriate hand controls and wheelchair that allows me to hit the open road with the top down!

The reality is, people with disabilities – and without – face real challenges every day, and the only way that they move their lives forward is by focusing on solutions, not defeating themselves by dwelling on problems.

Still, there are those who have no wish or desire to even attempt seeking solutions, where they elect to wallow in their problems. My wheelchair situation is terrible, but I’m not going to pursue changing it. I can’t get a job because I lack the needed education, but I’m not going back to school. I always wanted a Corvette, but since I have quadriplegia, I’m not going to look into driving one. And, unfortunately, no matter how much we may wish to pull them out of their rut, it’s up to them, alone, to put forth effort to change the directions of their lives. That is, sometimes, the best that we can do toward those of such negativity is to lend a little inspiration by sitting on the bed, saying, “Man, it sure is comfortable up here – I’m glad that I pursued a way to get off the floor!”

If you’re like many of us, you’ve found yourself on the downside of life more than once, where the sky seemed to be falling and all was going wrong. Maybe it was due to your disability, or a troubled childhood, or a failed marriage, or an addiction, or debt, or a lost career. Regardless of the particular situation, if you wallowed in despair and misery during those trying times, then you know that such a defeated mindset did nothing but bring you down further – that is, you don’t get out of ruts by digging them deeper. However, if you dealt with those bleak moments by striving with perseverance and courage to find a solution – to climb your way back toward a successful path – then you know that it allowed you to move your life forward. As we can each see from assessing our own coping skills in life, these simple truths prove themselves undeniable: Dwelling on problems holds us back, whereas focusing on solutions moves us forward.

When you find yourself on the floor – and maybe you’re there now, as life knocks us all down from time to time – remind yourself that lying there does nothing but creates misery and prevents success, that you must sit up, and just start climbing back to where you wish to be, seeking one solution at a time. No, it’s not always easy, but when we forgo the trap of dwelling on our problems, and focus on finding solutions, we inevitably move our lives to where we wish: Achievement and success.

Comments
  1. Kim says:

    Thank you for the uplifting thought. I have been on the floor a time or two, and have been on the soft comfortable bed a time or two. But the time spent trying to get from the floor to the bed taught me to look for God, to look for strength within myself that I thought I did not have, and to have a plan to include others in my life so that I am not so alone.

  2. As usual Mark, you hit the nail on the head. As I read some of the letters in wcj focusing on the ‘aint it awful’ side of life, I’ve often wished you could address an article such as this. Hope you aren’t preaching to the choir as some folks just can’t see past their immediate problem. Personally I loved it and needed it as a reminder solve problems , not worry about them. Thanks, pal…

  3. Zhahn Doe says:

    Thanks from a WCJ currently living life’s adventures in the Middle East!. This article about says it all. Btw, I had a Corvette a few years back, and I had to sometimes enlist my wife to help me transfer, but man what a great experience — worth every bit of effort.

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