Alien on a Leash

By Mark E. Smith

The dog sits on the stainless-steel examination table.

“Maybe we should muzzle her, so no one gets bit,” the veterinary assistant says.

“She’s deaf, it won’t help,” the vet says.

And, I’m astounded that veterinary medical professionals are acting as if my 22 lb., 4-year-old French Bulldog is a viscous alien – just because she’s deaf.

“She’s totally normal,” my sister chimes in.”You can examine her like a normal dog.”

“I don’t know?” the veterinary assistant says to the vet. “Maybe I can hold her for the exam?”

And, Lola, my little white fluff-ball with a black ring around her eye like the dog from Our Gang, just sits there, looking at the vet staff like they’re all insane. And, she’s right – these medical professionals are acting like idiots, as if they’ve never seen a dog before, as if a deaf dog completely throws out every rule of veterinary medicine, as if my sister and I entered the clinic with an unknown creature on a purple dog leash. It’s a freakin’ dog who hasn’t been eating normally and has been vomiting – this isn’t a paleontological mystery!, I want to scream.

“Just examine her – she’s a normal dog,” I say.

Of course, Lola is a normal dog physically, but being deaf-from-birth, she has developed extraordinary skills. As cliché as it sounds, she runs circles around my English Bulldog when it comes to using her senses (which might not be that impressive since all my English Bulldog wants to do is sleep on the couch or bark at the clothes drier). Lola is astoundingly visual, reading facial expressions, if not lips. We speak commands to her, and as long as she’s looking at us, she responds. And, she has an uncanny sense for vibrations. She knows before the rest of us that a car has pulled in the driveway, and when she’s sleeping on the floor and my wheelchair or footsteps pass by, she awakes. In fact, if you didn’t know Lola was deaf, you’d never have a clue – she’s just an alert, happy, hyper little dog buzzing around the house.

But, the vet knows that Lola is deaf, and it clearly freaks out her and her staff. Lola looks and acts like any other dog at the vet clinic, but the fact that it lists her as deaf on her medical chart changes everything, making her “disability” more perception than reality.

Finally, the vet examines her and notes, “It’s tough to tell what’s really going on because she’s deaf.”

If she wasn’t deaf, would you ask her a litany of questions, expecting a verbal response from her? I wanted to say but refrained. Really, because a dog is deaf, it’s tough to tell why it’s vomiting? What kind of asinine correlation is that? Clearly, a Critical Thinking course isn’t part of the curriculum for veterinary medicine.

With my sister and I advocating for Lola, she’s finally X-rayed, gladly finding no internal blockages – no rubber balls or cotton socks in her digestive tract – and she’s ultimately diagnosed as having a stomach virus, prescribed a diet of boiled hamburger and rice. In short, the dog’s vomiting got it prescribed a personal chef – ingenious!

And, as I pay the $258.14 bill at the check-out counter, with Lola standing beside me, her panting, pug-nosed face pointing toward the door, wanting to go home, I’m again reminded of how shockingly ignorant the medical field can be toward those of us with disabilities – dogs or humans, no matter.

The Best Kinds of Crazy

By Mark E. Smith

One of my college buddies was the private pilot on comedian, Howie Mandel’s, national comedy tours in the early 1990s. My buddy’s observation was that Mandel was genuinely crazy, that he never saw Mandel waiver from his on-stage persona, that on the jet, Mandel would simply waffle between being hysterically funny and clinically irrational. In fact, Mandel billed himself as “a wild and crazy borderline psychotic.”

Of course, we now know that Mandel publicly discusses one of his diagnosed mental illnesses, mysophobia, an irrational fear of germs. Yet, based on my buddy’s stories and Mandel’s over-the-top persona, it’s reasonable to wonder if Mandel has other conditions, as well?

Interestingly, the psychology community has been studying a link between mental illness and very successful people for two decades, and their findings are fascinating. “Hypomania” is a persistent mood that causes an exaggeration of thoughts that’s most often linked to bipolar disorder, where one can be energized, euphoric, overflowing with ideas, extra social, and a risk-taker. These traits may not only be seen in those suffering profound mental illness, but are also seen in extraordinarily successful people. After all, from show business to entrepreneurial business, being energized, euphoric, overflowing with ideas, extra social, and a risk-taker are all traits that allow one to succeed where others would fail. Therefore, there is a debate in the psychology community that certain kinds of diagnosed mental illness may not be “crazy” at all, but actually an evolutionary advantage.

I’ve witnessed this similar phenomena in physical disability terms, where physical disability isn’t debilitating for some, but actually elevating, where their lives aren’t restricted by it, but empowered.

What’s extraordinary about physical disability is that if we’re to succeed, it requires us to more intently focus on abilities, where our lives aren’t about what we can’t do, but what we can do. The average person without disability goes through life with a fairly fixed outlook toward what’s possible, rarely questioning it, rarely recognizing the chances that present choices.

However, when it comes to physical disability, we’re forced to question at points in our lives, Can I do that? – and, what’s remarkable is that the question most often leads to, How do I do it? which leads to accomplishing what was once thought impossible. So, this progression of constantly questioning what’s possible leads to never-ending expansions of our lives, where the possibilities eventually become endless, where we forget about the initial question of, Can I do it?, and begin only asking, How do I do it? And, it’s at that point that we see nothing but potentials. Put simply, while other people stop at what’s practical or seemingly rational, we intrinsically push ours live much further, toward what’s truly achievable on a scale that others don’t fully grasp. In ways, we may seem crazy.

And, because we can live on such a larger scale, where …well …anything seems possible, it can perplex those without disabilities who live strikingly limited lives. When someone questions how you do something, or sees your goals as unrealistic, it’s not reflective of you as one with a disability – again, you think and live on a larger scale than most! – but it merely reflects the closed mindsets of those who haven’t had the opportunity to become so visionary.

Indeed, physical disability intrinsically opens us to possibilities, proving not a limiting factor in our lives, but truly an unlimited factor, where what some inaccurately define as debilitating is ultimately liberating. And, surely there’s enormous value, reward, and blessing to living in a counter-intuitive realm, where crazy can prove a higher level of sanity, and physical disability can prove a higher level of ability.

The Common Sense Cure

By Mark E. Smith

More than once, I’ve published an essay on how I’m not a man with a disability waiting for a cure, that I’m grateful for the life that I’ve been given, and I wouldn’t ask for a different life path. I was born with cerebral palsy, I live with cerebral palsy, and I’ll die with cerebral palsy – and I’m grateful for the life encompassed within, as-is. I’ve also written about how I don’t believe that it’s healthy for anyone to put his or her life on hold awaiting a cure – life is what we have in front of us at any given moment, so let us make the most of it.

Nevertheless, despite my own self-acceptance and encouraging all to live life to the fullest as-is, I’ve increasingly supported cure-based causes, not toward any specific condition, but toward the betterment of the human condition overall, where if we can treat and prevent a range of disabilities moving forward, we’re evolving humanity – and changing individual lives – in very meaningful ways. Spinal cord injury research toward a cure is a great example of one cause among many that I support, where I recently spoke at the national Unite 2 Fight Paralysis Science and Advocacy Symposium in Phoenix.

Now, you may be wondering, why I, as one with cerebral palsy, who’s not looking to cure myself, spoke at a cure-based conference geared toward paralysis? My appearance actually made perfect sense to me and the 150 people in the audience. See, the foremost area of research toward treating and curing spinal cord injuries is stem cells – and stem cell research potentially effects every person on the globe, likely treating and curing more than 80 illnesses, diseases, and disabilities. And, what’s amazing is that we’re already seeing results, where children’s own umbilical cord blood stem cells have been used in recent years to treat their illnesses and disabilities – including cerebral palsy. In fact, my sister, a cancer survivor, had her daughter’s “cord blood” banked, so that in the event that my sister has a recurrence of cancer, she has cord blood stem cells to dramatically aid in her treatment (and the same cord blood can likewise serve her daughter or husband toward illness and disability, if ever needed). Therefore, my talk wasn’t about curing any one condition, but about uniting our voices in support of research toward enhancing the human condition through research-driven cures as a whole.

Interestingly, my position of seeing tremendous humanitarian value in curing as many conditions as possible places me at philosophical odds with a radical fringe of the disability community – that is, a select few who believe that cure-based efforts do nothing but harm those living with disability by suggesting that we’re damaged goods, needing to be fixed, that we need to forget about cures and emphasize disability as a “natural part of human diversity.” However, here’s the problem with such fringe thinking: It contradicts science at best, and is inhumane at worst.

If we look at the origins of “disability” in an evolutionary context, it’s classified as three primary causations: A genetic or developmental anomaly; an injury; or, a disease or illness. To presume all of those as a “natural part of human diversity,” is scientifically invalid. We know that, barring modern medical intervention, genetic or developmental “variants” that are detrimental to survival weed themselves out, so they become extinct. We know that “injuries” are an anomaly that are totally avoidable beyond the given circumstance that caused injury – as in, there’s nothing “natural” about getting paralyzed in a car accident. And, we know that many diseases are preventable based on human behavior, diet, and environment. In these ways, it becomes impossible to argue that “disability,” as a scientific absolute, is a “natural part of human diversity.” Scientifically speaking, forms of cerebral palsy, paralysis, and HIV simply don’t occur unavoidably by nature in each of us – they result from extraneous factors – and many genetic variations would become extinct if modern medicine wasn’t able to preserve so many lives at birth. In this way, stating that we should “simply accept disability as a part of nature” truly goes against what we know from science, that very few disabilities are literally a “natural part of human diversity,” but occur via other causations – ones that are increasingly preventable and treatable. Using paralysis as a perfect example, we’ve used research in the automotive field – occupant restraints, headrests, and so on – to reduce injuries, and it only makes sense to use research in areas like stem cell therapy to treat any injuries. A cure for paralysis, therefore, isn’t altering a “natural part of human diversity”; rather, it’s using science to resolve an injury, restoring one’s full abilities.

Secondly, the belief that the quest for cures somehow detracts from those of us living with disabilities is a specious argument. Do some able-bodied individuals think that we live lesser lives without a cure? Of course they believe such. Do some individuals with disabilities feel that they, themselves, live lesser lives without a cure? Of course they believe such. However, they’re not emblematic of most of us, where we’re intellectually balanced enough to see both exceptional quality of life in living with disability while simultaneously supporting the quest for cures. Yet, the disability radicals will tell us that we can’t have acceptance and dignity while also supporting cure-based efforts. And, the radicals’ bitter, illogical perspective couldn’t be more distorted or inhumane.

I think back to my daughter’s birth, where due to my wife’s genetic condition, my daughter had a 50-percent chance of being born with a severe disability, where brain surgery would be needed to stop the progression of the condition for her to live. I had cerebral palsy, and my wife had genetic generalized dystonia, so we both knew how well we were living with disability, that we didn’t doubt our daughter could do just as well despite the projected health issues. We knew the risks and we were willing to love and raise our daughter, disability or not. However, as parents, of course we hoped that our daughter didn’t have the genetic condition. After all, given the choice, what rational parent wants his or her child living with disability? Although our daughter was born without the genetic condition, we were prepared to love her either way, but we were likewise relieved that she was born without disability. The question is, then, because I was relieved that my daughter wasn’t born with a disability, was I diminishing my own self-worth as one with a disability, did my mindset suggest that I didn’t want my daughter to be a lesser person like me, as the fringe’s thinking suggests?

Of course not. I was simply a father wanting the absolute best for my daughter – it’s how fatherly love works. Again, no rational parent would choose disability for his or her child, just as no rational person would wish unbridled disability as a fixture of human existence when we have potentials for prevention and cures.

From this perspective, we have to wonder why, by default, do those opposed to cure-based efforts seemingly want others to endure unbridled illness, disease, and disability, and suggest that if you support the quest for cures, you’re truly devaluing disability experience? Why do they stick to their position of, Disability is natural, and by seeking cures, we’re not accepting disability as valid way to live – we need acceptance of disability, not cures?

What they’re missing is a balance in their disability experience. They’re so wrapped up in themselves that they have no ability to consider the lives of others. Again, I can be totally accepting of my own disability while wanting absolute function and health for everyone else – it’s called having empathy and compassion. In very simple terms, I can’t walk, and I’m fine with that; but, I want everyone else to walk because it makes their lives easier on a fundamental level. What the radicals don’t understand is that you can have a disability and compassion toward others at once, where you can be completely comfortable in your skin, but still not wish hardships on others. And, most importantly, you can be totally accepting of disability while simultaneously striving to help others avoid its challenges through cure-based efforts.

See, I support the quest for cures not because of the promise that they show toward me, but because of the promise that they show toward all of humanity.

Capturing Frida Kahlo

By Mark E. Smith

When a well-known disability figure died a while back of “cardiac arrest,” it seemed a shock to many outside of his circle. After all, he seemed the portrait of health and an inspiration to many. However, upon his sudden death, most who knew him on a more personal level understood that cocaine and methamphetamine ultimately contributed to – or caused in the immediate – his death, that his passing wasn’t truly a surprise or a mystery. See, his foremost coping mechanism for some 30 years was hardcore drugs – and a lot of us witnessed it first-hand at times. Yet, the headlines both in and out of the disability community never mentioned the lifetime of drug addiction or almost certain overdose. Rather, the headlines read, “Disabled Icon Passes Away…,” going to note the heroic, awe-inspiring nature of his life. It’s as if the three dimensions of his life – the good, the bad, and the ugly – were selectively erased by death, where only sainthood remained in print.

In death, just as within life, others projecting sainthood upon those of us with disabilities truly ties into stereotypes, where the general public sanitizes our lives to make themselves feel better. After all, disability can be painful for outsiders to witness, where they want to avoid its realities – and there’s no better way for a outsiders to avoid the realities of disability than by convincing themselves that people with disabilities are doing fantastic, even when some aren’t.

Artist, Frida Kahlo, is arguable the best example of how the mainstream takes the depth of disability and human experience, and gentrifies it to an inspiring story fit for iconic status and the silver screen – even when it isn’t – simply to make all feel better.

Frida Kahlo, born in 1907, outside of Mexico City, is the most celebrated female painter of all time, with her work now fetching $10-million per painting. At the age of 6, Kahlo contracted polio, recovering with a limp. While studying pre-med at age 15, Kahlo was in a terrible bus accident, where a metal rod pierced through her abdominal region. Kahlo spent a year in bed, her body encapsulated in a cast – and it was at that point that she began to oil paint.

Kahlo’s painting were of self-portraits and still-life, primarily painted on tin, in a votive technique practiced by Mexican street artists. And, it was painting that brought her and renown muralist, Diego Rivera, together, married in 1929, with Rivera 20 years her senior.

At the time, Kahlo was mostly known as Rivera’s wife, with little recognition toward her artwork. Rivera, on the other hand, was an internationally known painter, political activist – and womanizer. And, Kahlo was loyal to Rivera till no end, following him wherever his career took him, sharing his political beliefs, and even forgiving his adulterous affairs, right down to the one with her own sister. Meanwhile, Kahlo underwent over 30 surgeries, and even had a lower leg amputated. Yet, through all of this, Kahlo painted 143 paintings, many depicting pain, and 55 were self-portraits, including reflections of her disability and chronic suffering. Kahlo wrote, “I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.”

Kahlo died on July 13, 1954, formally reported as due to health complications. Internationally, not much was known about Kahlo till the 1970s, when Mexican-American painters discovered her work as inspiration, and in the early 1980s, the media latched on to the story of “Frida Kahlo, the heroic female painter who overcame so much to pursue her art despite disability and male oppression.” Magazine and newspaper articles were written, as were biographies. Then, in the 1990s, exhibitions were held, paintings sold to celebrities like Madonna for $1-million, and by the early 2000s, movies were made. Today, Kahlo is among the most revered painters of all time, where her paintings are now priced with Picasso’s, and countless merchandise – from screen-printed T-shirts to children’s books – portray her as among the greatest heroines, a saint in the minds of many.

However, where Kahlo’s public persona stops today isn’t where the real Frida Kahlo’s entirety stopped during her lifetime. Filtered from the popular articles, biographies, and children’s books is a three-dimensional Kahlo, one where far more human flaws flourished well beyond disability, where her now-described heroic life was anything but heroic.

By all accounts, Kahlo was obsessed with Diego Rivera, where despite his attempts to leave her, she used every means to keep him. Kahlo’s close friend, Dr. Leo Eloesser, stated that of the over 30 surgeries that Kahlo endured, many were unnecessary, merely ploys to retain Rivera through sympathy, where Rivera was actually astoundingly loyal when Kahlo seemed in need. Kahlo was also a lifelong alcoholic and drug addict, fueled with constant rage, attempting suicide several times. And, as a proclaimed communist, Kahlo supported and admired Stalin and his regime at the time when Stalin was killing millions (she was so enamored with Stalin that she painted “Stalin and I,” a self-portrait of herself and Stalin). What’s more, when Leo Trotsky, second in line to Stalin, was expelled from the Communist Party and deported from Russia, Diego Rivera provided him exile in the Kahlo family home, where Kahlo began an affair with Trotsky. Yet, she then turned upon Trotsky due to his opposition to Stalin, and upon Trotsky’s assassination, Kahlo publicly denounced her lover (who was just one of many of Kahlo’s affairs, including a bisexual affair with entertainer, Josephine Baker). Lastly, even Kahlo’s death in 1954 has been sanitized in popular culture, where it’s rarely mentioned that she committed suicide after years of being bedridden due to drug abuse.

Indeed, Frida Kahlo seems a tale of two people when we know the facts: A heroic overcomer of disability who created great art while in the shadows of a philandering husband, or a drug-addicted manipulator, whose inability to cope led to her suicide. Yet, it’s only the first portrayal – inspiring heroine – that people want to know. Why is that?

Again, because it makes them feel better, that’s why. As a culture, we want disabled heroes and heroines, and we’re willing to omit those character traits that don’t fit the mold – and in Khalo’s case, there were many. In the public process, however, of sanitizing disability experience, the entirety of the individual is removed. Much like many other great artists, Khalo was both a saint and a sinner, and just so happened to have a disability. Nevertheless, if we are to celebrate the disability, then the public dictates that there’s no room for the sinner on the page – just sainthood.

No, I don’t know how my acquaintance or Kahlo wished to be remembered, but I trust that they lived all parts of their lives – including the terrible – with some reason and purpose. And, the biggest tragedy in their lives may not have been their deaths, but the loss of valuable lessons that could have been learned from the troubled parts of their lives that most will never know – the selectively forgotten.

Wanna Watch Me Get Dressed?

By Mark E. Smith

Come on, someone’s said it to you. Maybe it was a friend, a colleague, or a love interest. And, admit it, you took it as a compliment.

Me, not so much. See, whenever anyone’s said it to me, I’ve struggled not to laugh, finding the sentiment genuinely funny, no matter how sincere the person has been when saying it: You know, Mark, I really don’t see you as disabled….

“Really, what part of this equation don’t you get?” I always want to retort, looking down at my body. ”…Never play the board game Clue because you’re the worst detective, ever!”

I’m a guy, with spastic cerebral palsy, who uses a power wheelchair – and, somehow one doesn’t see me as disabled. Really? It would be like me, at a “gentleman’s club,” saying to the dancer, You know, I really don’t see you as a stripper. …I mean, sure, you’re on stage, nude, accepting money from strange men; but, really, I don’t see you as a stripper – more like, say, a school teacher or an anthropologist.

Really, people don’t see me as disabled?

Look, I get the sentiment behind the statement – that the individual sees me as more than my exterior – but if that’s true, it should be self-evident in our interaction, not needing to be said. And, when someone says, You know, I really don’t see you as disabled, isn’t that really a paradoxical statement that says that they do see us as disabled? After all if one truly doesn’t see one’s disability, then the statement would never be made in the first place because the disability wouldn’t exist within one’s perception (call it a philosophical predication, if you wish).

Of course, I always want to turn the tables on the statement. Imagine if I was alone with a buddy, watching football on television, and I turned, looked my buddy in the eyes, and I said with a soft, sincere voice, You know, Frank, I really don’t see you as a man…. How long do you suppose it would take Frank to jump up from the sofa?

Or, how well do you suppose returning the sentiment to a love interest would fly? We’re cuddled up in bed, her supple hand on my cheek, and she whispers, “There’s something that I really want you to know – I really don’t see you as disabled….”

And, I begin kissing her neck passionately, and I reply in an breath-heavy voice, “And, there’s something that I really need you to know, I truly don’t see you as female….”

A lot of these Inspector Clouseaus are similarly – and, yet, completely contradictory – clueless as to how those of us with disabilities accomplish everyday tasks, as if it’s the Eighth Wonder of the World. Someone (who doesn’t really see me as disabled, of course), asked me how does one without arms or legs eat?

“With his or her mouth,” I answered.

“No, like how does he or she get the food to his or her mouth?” my friend asked.

“Levitation-based mind control,” I replied without blinking. “Floating freakin’ burritos – that’s what one eats when one has no arms or legs!”

Again, really? As adults, we’re somehow not smart enough to figure out that those who are quadruple amputees devise ways to eat – really? And, what gets me to no end is when those with disabilities, themselves, are the ones asking the most absurd questions. Logic tells me that because I’ve figured out how to live independently with a disability, so have many others with disabilities – therefore, there’s no mystery whatsoever in my mind how people get by in life, no matter one’s condition.

Yet, some with disabilities can’t seem to catch on to the concept that we all adapt and create pretty darn basic everyday living skills. One of the most common questions that I get asked by others with disabilities is, How do you get dressed? Really? Out of all of one’s problem solving skills, the one equation that’s unsolvable is how do I get dressed? …I always want to answer the question by asking, Well, how do you get dressed? Then, when they tell me the obvious – that they get dressed like everyone else! – I want to blow their minds with how I get dressed:

I had to rule out getting dressed standing up because I can’t stand up. So, because I can’t stand up in order to get dressed, I alternate between using high-class call girls (whom are strikingly reliable), and little people. Now, I know that using little people to get dressed may conjure up Santa’s elves stereotypes, but as long as I’m in a committed relationship with a woman of short stature – who so happens to be extremely attractive – it’s totally OK. However, when I can’t afford high-class call girls, or I’m not in a relationship with an extremely attractive woman of short stature, I have to opt for my last resort: I put on my pants, socks, and shoes while I’m on my bed, then I transfer into my wheelchair and put on my shirt. Does that answer your question, Detective Colombo?

OK, so maybe I’d better keep my retorts to myself. As absurd as the comments and questions are – You know, I really don’t see you as disabled or How does one with no arms or legs eat? – those uttering such words ultimately mean well. And, my giving any response besides, Thank you – that means a lot to me, or my seriously explaining how those of us with disabilities live independently, would almost certainly turn a well-intended moment into a creepy one really fast, sort of like sitting on the porch of a house in the country, on a warm moonlit night, and saying, You know, Malissa, I really don’t really see you as my cousin – wanna watch me get dressed?

Facing the Flames Within

By Mark E. Smith

Tiger Woods. What’s up with that whole dysfunctional drama-rama? I mean, the guy attended Stanford University, but isn’t smart enough to know that vices don’t void your problems? Even I know that – trust me, I’ve tried. No, I haven’t slept with 14 adult film starts – not even one, thank goodness – but I do know that escapism never, ever works. In fact, escapism just makes any problems in our lives worse – really, really worse in most cases. Just look at how it’s played out for Tiger.

Now, make no mistake, I’ve tried escapism to avoid my own problems at times. I remember at least one night where I didn’t feel like all was going the ways I wished, and I went out and got rip-roaring drunk. And, when I awoke the next morning, not only were all of my problems still there, but I felt like my head was a banging drum and my stomach a churning sea, not to mention the other I can’t believe I did that thoughts racing through my mind. Escapism didn’t resolve my issues; rather, it added to them – as it always does for all of us.

See, our issues in life are like fires, and when we seek escapism – alcohol, drugs, sex, overeating, overspending, you name it – we’re not dealing with the issues that need addressing, merely avoiding them with vices. And, then the fires – the not addressed issues in our lives – just rage, until we lose complete control, and it all comes crashing down in flames. That’s the deceptive nature of escapism: It distracts us while our lives fracture.

Surely, some with disabilities are professionals at practicing escapism – they avoid facing the fires within when coming to terms with disability. After all, if you’re a woman who questions her “value” as a future wife and mother due to disability – wondering if you can ever be that so-called “ideal” woman – what’s an easier escape from those scary emotions than to engage in promiscuity, where you prove to yourself that you’re worthy by sleeping with man after man, feeling validated in the moment, right?

Or, if you’re a guy who’s struggling to come to terms with disability, who’s entirely insecure with his identity, why not just stay high on every prescribed and elicit drug that you can get your hands on? After all, when you’re high, you don’t need to feel anything, or deal with anything, and your doped-up friends require nothing of you, right?

Indeed, escapism is oh so tempting, and I’ve seen many around me engage in it – including myself – in one form or another….

…But, again, it never, ever works. Escapism is little more than degrading and destructive at best, and dangerous at worst. What does work is facing life’s challenges head-on, with courage and clarity of mind, where we don’t avoid our problems; rather, we confront them. When we hit speed bumps in our relationships, careers, or disabilities, that’s not the time to veer and run off course. We shouldn’t seek escapism in the vices that so tempt us – from as seemingly mundane as pulling the covers over our heads instead of going to work, to as blatantly dangerous as drugs and promiscuity. Rather, when we experience rough spells in our lives, that’s the time to get more focused on only pursuing positive directions, and, most importantly, addressing the emotions at hand. Put simply, when there’s a fire, many people want to run from it, but our game plan has to be to run toward it, where we immediately focus and strive to extinguish the flames with an unyielding intensity.

I recall going through one particular tough spell in my marriage, and my friends wanted me to go out carousing with them, insisting that it would be good for me. Again, after all, what feels better to most guys – that is, what’s more validating – than getting boozed-up and hitting on other chicks when your relationship is on the rocks? But, again, it’s a deceptive, harmful path of escapism that just builds a snowball of dysfunction, adding fuel to the fire. What does resolve issues is when we face the emotions in our lives rather than running off in an effort to escape them. As I told my buddies at the time, Look, you Neanderthal knuckleheads, the last thing I should do is drink and chase chicks during tough times in my marriage – I need to focus on my career, my daughter, and all other positive pursuits while working through the emotions surrounding my marriage, not run in the wrong directions.

And, such a mindful approach always works, where it doesn’t prevent or immediately resolve the issues in our lives, but it allows us to address them in healthy ways, where, when we come out on the other side, all aspects are brighter. As I like to say, Run from your problems, and you’ll fail; run toward your problems, and you’ll succeed – it’s just how life works.

No, I have no idea what specifically drove Tiger Woods to jeopardize every aspect of his life to pursue unquestionably destructive sexual escapades. However, common sense tells me that he was using it as an escape from something troubled within. And, some of us with disabilities can find ourselves pursuing the similar paths of escapism, avoiding issues in our own lives by chasing destructive vices – alcohol, drugs, sex, or whatever self-medication one chooses. However, like Tiger Wood’s life proves to the world – and, as some of us have experienced in one way or another in our own lives – escapism not only catches up with us, but it ultimately crashes down upon us.

Face your problems head-on with accountability and self-awareness, and not only will your issues get resolved within, but you’ll be a better person for it, where you’ll be respected, not humiliated, and where you’ll display dignity over degradation. Unfortunately for his family, colleagues, sponsors, and fans, you only need to look at Tiger Woods to prove my point.

Discriminating Dating


By Mark E. Smith

Indeed, many of my friends come to me for relationship advice. No, I’m probably not as tactful as I should be in such conversations, struggling to listen with patience only until I can’t contain my bluntness any longer. For example, one of my best friends explained to me that he was very sick on a first date with a woman who he really wanted to impress – and then he actually threw-up in the car on the date. I certainly could relate, having once dumped a Coke on myself on a date, but I was compelled to skip the sentimental comforts, and go straight for the reality check: “Look at the bright side,” I told him, “ if she goes out with you again after seeing you blow chunks into a bag, she’s a keeper.” As it turned out, they’ve been together ever since, now married.

However, knowing my bluntness, I don’t understand why some of my single friends with disabilities keep confiding in me that they don’t want to date others with disabilities? After all, my response is always the same: “Have you looked in the freakin’ mirror lately?”

Truly, how ludicrous is it to not want to date someone with a disability, when you have a disability, yourself?

I mean, I understand the skewed psychology behind it, that if one’s insecure and uncomfortable with one’s own disability, one is going to be even more insecure and uncomfortable dating someone with a disability, where it’s like looking in a mirror – and, therefore, one avoids dating anyone with a disability. What’s more, in a distorted view, if one refuses to date those with disabilities, and one dates someone who’s able-bodied, then one believes that one’s validating oneself as “less disabled” because an able-bodied person “accepts” him or her.

Yet, this unhealthy dating psychology really stems from self-loathing, doesn’t it? As I tell my friends, it’s Psych 101 that preschoolers can understand: If you can’t accept others with disabilities, then you’re surely not accepting your own disability.

Of course, toward relationships in general, it’s overall self-defeating to form prejudices against others of a particular group, as you’re downsizing the number of potentially-compatible people who you may meet. Surely, if you’re playing by the rules that say that meaningful long-term relationships are about compatibility on many levels – friendship, trust, understanding, intimacy, and so on – then shutting the door on anyone else with a disability isn’t only hypocritical, it lessens one’s potential dating pool, where turning away from others with a disability as potential mates may prevent one from meeting that right person – one who may just so happen to have a disability.

Now, some of my friends argue that they simply aren’t attracted to those with disabilities as a “physical type,” that there’s nothing wrong with being turned off by one “type” or another.

Fair enough, except for one fact: Despite my friends not wanting to date those with disabilities, they still want others to find them attractive, disability and all. In other words, they want others to love what they loath. Let me translate what they’re really saying: I won’t go near anyone with a disability, but you should love me regardless of my disability. Now, that’s dysfunction at its best!

Interestingly, some of my friends even try to present reasons justifying why dating someone else who has a disability isn’t their gig, stating, “It’s just too hard when we both have disabilities, and I wouldn’t want to burden someone with my needs when they have their own.”

As I replied to a male friend, “…But, it would be OK for a smokin’ hot blond, who’s not disabled, to empty your leg bag for you?”

Ultimately, when my date-discriminating friends with disabilities fail to hear my logic, that refusing to date others with disabilities is an absurd, hypocritical, self-defeating position for one with a disability to follow, I fall back on the blunt truth of the situation: If, as one with a disability, you’re so dysfunctional in your outlook that you’re put-off by others with disabilities, you shouldn’t date anyone until you are truly comfortable in your own skin. In catchy words, as one with a disability, you shouldn’t date unless your head’s on straight. But, then again, that goes for anyone, regardless of disability.