Living as Josh Does

By Mark E. Smith

Twenty-one-year-old Josh has been an increasingly remarkable spirit in my life since I met him four years ago. I’ve never known a young person with such wisdom and insight, making our recent conversation par for the course based on Josh’s amazing character.

Josh was diagnosed in his adolescence with a very progressive form of muscular dystrophy. However, unlike many others with his prognosis, the disease didn’t progress as rapidly as usual – that is until approximately two years ago. In fact, when I first met Josh, he was still walking, using a mobility scooter for longer distances. Yet, in the last two years, the disease caught up with him, dramatically diminishing muscle tone. I’ve seen Josh go from drinking from a soda can normally, to struggling to lift it with two hands; and, I’ve seen Josh go from walking to not being able to transfer himself from a power wheelchair.

Make no mistake, the physical realities of Josh’s condition are disheartening. But, the lessons learned and the personal growth that’s resulted from his challenges have been inspiring, teaching us both invaluable lessons along the way.

Josh and I have traveled a lot together, working trade shows, summer camps, and advocacy events. We’ve lobbied the halls of Capitol Hill, and rock-starred it in Los Angeles. However, the heart of our friendship has been formed from our weekly phone calls, where every Thursday, Josh and I talk on the phone, tossing around subjects ranging from relationships to dealing with disability to music. My role is supposed to be that of mentor, but Josh has so much wisdom and is so reflective of the struggles and victories that we all face, that I often think I learn more from him than he does from me.

One of Josh’s recent victories – and a process that we talked about for many months – was his driving independently via an accessible van. After a year and a $120,000 in technology, Josh now independently drives a van with ultra-high-end hand controls that are closer to resembling those that control an airplane more so than a car. And, for his first long-distance drive this summer, he drove 3-1/2 hours to vacation at a lake where he vacationed often as a child.

When we spoke the week after his vacation, he explained to me that the trip was ultimately a realization for him: Most of the activities that he could do as a teen – boating, fishing, and so on – were no longer feasible or easily accomplished, that he realized in very real terms the progression of his condition.

I, of course, asked how he felt about his sudden realization of the progression of his condition? And, his answer was a lesson for all of us. Josh explained that what realizing how much his condition has progressed made him intimately understand is the importance of making the most of today because we don’t know what tomorrow brings.

I couldn’t have been prouder of Josh’s insight because it demonstrated a perspective that we should all live by: Being bitter or regretful of our pasts – or of what’s seemingly been lost – is pointless. Valuing our present – no matter the circumstances – is truly what it’s about.

Moving well beyond disability, think about how many of us dwell on past relationships, childhood trauma, lost jobs – you name it – where rather than accepting, healing, and evolving to live fully in the present, we just get stuck in the past. Josh could have likewise gotten caught in the past, returning home bitter as to what his condition has done. Instead, he recognized the past as just that – gone, done, over – and was even more inspired to appreciate whatever abilities that he has today. It’s kind of like rather than dwelling on how bad your past relationship was, you focus on how great the current one is – that’s how you move forward.

And, if there’s a single lesson that Josh teaches us, it’s to live in the present, simply appreciating all that we have today.

Consider the Source

By Mark E. Smith

Have you ever noticed how quick others are to make negative, diminishing comments as to your value as a person, from little snipes to direct put-downs? Often those closest to us are the worst offenders, using words to painfully try to degrade us. I remember as a very young child, my father constantly implying that I would never amount to anything due to my disability, and as much as the sting of that stays with me till this day, from as young as I can recall, I somehow had the insight to know that he was among the least qualified men on Earth to assess my “value.” The reality was, he was an unemployed alcoholic, who went on to be the poster boy for deadbeat dads – not exactly someone who should have been throwing stones in his glass house. If I could have expressed it at that young age, I would have gladly said, Remind me again how that beer can in your hand qualifies you as ultimate judge of my potential? You might say that I learned to “consider the source” at a very young age as to others’ assessments of me.

Of course, my father was no exception. It’s downright alarming how quick many are to strive to diminish others’ “value,” and it’s even more alarming how readily many take it to heart, feeling lesser because of what others have said. …Don’t be silly, you’ll never accomplish that. …Why would anyone ever love someone like you? …You’ll never amount to anything… I mean, I’m keeping my examples here tame compared to how vicious some can be – words from others that sting, scar, and damage. Think about how many children have had their dreams crushed, or how many spouses have had their self-worth shattered, by so-called loved ones diminishing their value with spiteful, hurtful, abusive words. Maybe you, too, have been there?

However, here’s what’s ironic about those who strive to diminish your value: They are not just morally wrong, they’re factually wrong. Assuming you’re living an integrity-based life, no one ever has a right to assess your value as a person – not your parents, not your significant other, not your friends, no one. While none of us are perfect – we all can always grow and improve – you are intrinsically “enough,” where you deserve to be embraced, wholly, as-is. No one gets a vote as to your intrinsic value – ever. You – and your higher power, if you practice such – are the sole deciding factor toward who you are, and what you can achieve, point blank.

What’s even more telling is when we consider the source of such verbal attacks. It’s never anyone of real merit. The Dali Lama or President never call to tell us how worthless we are. Rather, it’s always a bitter, deeply-troubled person – an alcoholic parent, spiteful spouse, or teen bully – who has no right to judge anyone. We know that anyone who’s compelled to belittle others to make oneself feel better is really projecting one’s own horrendous self image onto others.

I live my life very simply. I set my value high, where I know that I bring a vast offering to the table of life. Cerebral palsy is part of who I am, but not all of who I am. Yet, if someone is to be in my life at a sincere level, he or she must truly love and accept me wholly, as-is – no exceptions. In return, I love and accept others wholly, as-is. It’s these reciprocated, unconditional relationships that elevate our lives to levels of love, trust, and safety that are greater than many have ever known.

The next time someone takes a verbal swing at your value – not accepting you wholly, as-is – consider the source and don’t give such ignorant words credit. Little people say belittling things. Know that you are a giant in comparison, where you have unlimited potential to not just rise above all, but to truly soar.

It’s What We Ask For

By Mark E. Smith

I’m very mindful of progressing week by week, month by month, year by year in my workout routine, regularly increasing the amount of weight on various excersises, constantly pushing myself to lift heavier and heavier weights, per each exercise on my universal gym.

However, I recently made a seemingly grievous error. In bopping out to my iPod and switching excercises, I forgot to change the weight on my machine. Instead of dropping the weight down from lat pulls to chest flies, I accidentally left the amount of weight far above the maximum weight with which I can do 20 reps of chest flies.

Not knowing that the weight was set too high, and mindlessly bopping to my music, I cranked out my 20 reps of chest flies. Sure, in the moment, each rep seemed a little harder, but I didn’t think anything of it, completing my set.

When I realized my error, I also realized a fact far more profound: My limitations weren’t where I thought they were. While in my mind I thought that I could only lift so much – which is where I set my limit – the reality was that, by mistake, I proved that I could physically lift much more. My body wasn’t holding me back, my self-expectations were.

My workout that day reminded me of how, in many aspects of our lives, we’re not limited by reality, but by our own self-imposed limitations, where our potentials are vastly greater than we recognize. I’m not looking for a better job because this is as good as I can get. I’m staying in this unsatisfying relationship because I’ll never find anyone who is a better match. I’m always broke, so I can’t save money. My relationship with my family will never get better – it is what it is. I’m 40, I can’t get back in shape. …Our self-imposed limitations go on and on, even though they’re not based on reality but limits we project upon ourselves – that is, low self-expectations.

Yet, when we take accountability – pushing ourselves beyond our self-imposed limitations – our lives expand to deliver what we ask of them. That is, our expectations for ourselves define the quality of our lives, so set them higher than you or anyone would expect. Believe that you’re qualified for that better job. Assert that you deserve the most fulfilling relationship. Have faith in your ability to save money. Expect your family to respect you. And, know that you can get in the best shape of your life. Again, the list goes on and on, but the fact is this: Where you set your limitations is what you’ll achieve, so set them high!

I heard a great parable. A man was walking down the street, when a homeless man asked him for a quarter.

“All you want is a quarter?” the man asked.

“Yep, just a quarter,” the homeless man replied.

The man pulled out a money clip filled with $100 bills, then he pulled out a shiny quarter, placing it in the homeless man’s hand. “Next time ask for more,” he said, holding up his money clip. “Life pays however much you ask.”

Too many of us sell ourselves short, setting limitations not based on our true potential, but based on low expectations that we place upon ourselves (or, worse yet, having been degraded by others, and believing it). The question is, however, why do so many set their expectations so low in many aspects of life?

The answer is, much of it is trauma-based conditioning that we don’t even realize (the clinical term is compulsive re-enactment). The easiest example that most of us can relate to is how amazing people consistently get caught-up in bad relationships – that is, where they base relationship decisions on devastatingly low expectations stemming from past experiences (usually trauma-based). What we know is that “conditioning,” from childhood on, creates our expectations, and as we live to those expectations, they get cemented within us, where we have an uncanny subconscious drive to seek those patterns – including painful, harmful ones – throughout adulthood. Studies show that if you grew up in a dysfunctional home, you will go on to pursue dysfunctional relationships. In fact, psychology shows that we’re the only creature that keeps pursuing patterns of trauma – no animal will keep pursuing that which has harmed it, but humans do, simply repeating self-defeating patterns over and over again. What makes this especially tragic, is that when healthy relationships or opportunities arise, our conditioned low expectations cause us to either avoid them or self-sabotage them – and it’s created a culture where, statistically, half of us can’t sustain marriages, let alone get through one day without self-doubt toward many aspects of our lives.

Now, when it comes to compulsive re-enactment – that is, consistently pursuing living to a lower standard than we deserve or are capable of achieving – I am simplifying a profoundly complex emotional condition. However, it ties into an easily understood goal: Let us raise our self-expectations, no longer relying on dysfunctional comfort zones or self-defeating patterns, but have the courage – because we’re all capable! – to push beyond them, raising our expectations. When you find a healthy relationship, but don’t feel unworthy or are scared, raise your expectations, and take a chance on it, truly investing yourself in new ways that you’ve never known. When you don’t feel qualified to pursue a better job, raise your expectations, and know that you are equipped. And, when anyone questions your stature in any way, raise your expectations, sticking up for yourself, empowered. In short, if any aspect of your life isn’t going your way – truly toward your healthy interests – you owe it to yourself to ask, Do I just keep settling for as-is, or do I evoke the courage to raise my expectations, inviting positive change?

The correct answer is, of course, you raise your expectations, no matter how much courage it takes. By raising your self-expectations – and following through with the work needed to live up to them (which can be unfamiliar and scary), you’ll be surprised at how the quarters in your life turn into $100 bills. It can’t be said enough: Life pays what you ask of it. Ask for a lot – you deserve it.

What The Real Question Is

By Mark E. Smith

My friend was recently interviewed on a television show. And, based on my friend being a triple amputee, the subject of sex came up, and the interviewer was bold enough to ask, “Can you?”

My friend answered, “Yes, I do well,” and both he and the interviewer chuckled.

However, I sat on the edge of my seat waiting for the real question to be asked relating to the subject: “What about true trust and emotional intimacy – are you capable of having that?”

But, the question was never asked, keeping on par with how skewed both our personal and cultural perspectives on sexuality are.

I mean, many question whether those with disabilities can have sex, and it’s an assumed that those who are able-bodied can have sex. Yet, few ever ask anyone or ourselves, Are you truly capable of exceptional trust and emotional intimacy? – which is a far bigger part of sexuality than the physicality of jumping in bed (which is absurdly easy). In fact, the physicality of sex is often a mask or mechanism to avoid true intimacy. For many, physically engaging in sex is far easier than engaging in emotional intimacy – there’s less vulnerability involved. Physically acting is easy; opening ourselves up to be emotionally vulnerable is a much tougher, scary process. I read a wonderful quote that said, “Truly making love means allowing ourselves to be emotionally vulnerable and finding security and pleasure in it.”

I see many of my peers – regardless of disability – who use sex as a way to avoid real feelings, or confuse it for feelings. If we have esteem issues, body image issues, vulnerability issues, having sex is a quick, validating fix. I must be a real man because she’s having sex with me – see I am worthy! But, such superficial validation is never lasting (and often merely has negative results on our emotional issues in the long run – the validation leaves with the sex). Sure, feeling desired in the moment can chase away all kinds of insecurities. But, once the moment passes, all of our emotional struggles are still there, only magnified for the worse. Put simply, physical sex for the wrong motives can often drive us farther apart from real intimacy with others, and emotionally isolate us further.

In this way, we often have the process backward: Sex doesn’t lead to true trust and intimacy; rather, true trust and intimacy leads to great, healthy relationships – and all of that leads to truly healthy sexual experiences that then encompass the mind, body, and soul (it’s the difference between staring at the ceiling versus making the Earth stop in its rotation, time standing still).

Therefore, forget the question of, Can you have sex? It’s an absurd, moot point. And, start asking the question of, Are you capable of true trust and emotional intimacy? It’s only then that we’re on our way to deep, loving, lasting relationships.

Chased By It

By Mark E. Smith

Among the incidents in my life that has haunted me most is the suicide of singer and quadriplegic, Vic Chestnut. Some things just hit too close to home for comfort.

As I’ve written and spoken extensively about – although Vic’s suicide was a combination of factors – arguably the largest factor was an overwhelming sense of isolation and loneliness. And, as I’ve processed Vic’s final act over several years now – an act made as much out of heightened self-awareness as depression – I’ve never been able to answer the question of, did Vic simply kill himself, or did the world around him indirectly take his life?

In the realm of psychology, there’s a term, “parentified-child,” which applies to children who, based on extremely dysfunctional parents – addicts, mentally ill, physically ill, emotionally inept – must assume adult-like roles, literally parenting their parents. At a time when a child should be nurtured, he or she is thrust into the role of nurturer. As a result, the child learns that his or her feelings and needs are second – or, non-existent, really – to everyone else’s, and identity and self-worth are sacrificed. Such children grow up being drawn toward very unhealthy, unbalanced relationships and lifestyles, rarely capable of truly looking out for their own interests. And, the internal isolation that ultimately exists – where he or she struggles to let people in, to be nurtured – often leads to self-destructive behavior. You might say that such individuals implode rather than explode from emotions.

As adults, we can find ourselves in similar situations due to any number of circumstances, where we’re always the nurturer, never to be nurtured – and, again, it implodes the soul. Vic lived this, where he absorbed too much of the pain from others and the world around him, with little space to express his own, that it literally killed him. Going from “fame” on stage where you give yourself to others so completely, then being alone in a hotel room with not a single person in the world with you – or who you feel emotionally safe enough to call – is a harrowing experience. It helped kill Vic, and it’s chased me a few nights.

I was born a “parentified-child.” I learned early in life that loving someone meant saving him or her at your own expense – but that’s not how love should work, does work, or can work. My mother was as dysfunctional as one can be – substance abuse, mental illness, divorces – and from as young as I can recall, I just wanted to make her feel better, where her emotions were far more important to me than my own. And, it’s not a bad trait as a son or a person to want to save someone who you dearly love. However, there has to be a line we draw between being forced into that role as a child, versus choosing that role as an adult in relationships. And, I’ve chosen that role for too long, where loving has always been easy for me, but being loved, not so much. And, so my comfort zone has always been giving as much as I can to others, and using it as a smoke screen to avoid my own feelings of vulnerability. And, it works really well.

Until it doesn’t. And, ultimately, like Vic, I’m alone in a hotel room, staring at a cell phone, unable to call anyone. But, it’s not that there’s no one to call. I just can’t. They have spouses and children and jobs – and who am I to interrupt their lives with my desperate moment of all-consuming isolation and loneliness, where I’ve gone from the soaring affirmation of a public event, to an emotional crash landing, alone.

But, I’m cognizant of it all. On a recent trip, my friends bought me a rock-star-size bottle of Southern Comfort, all in good spirits. And, with it sitting on the restaurant table, not only did I know that I couldn’t drink out of fear of drinking heavily, period, but that if I took the bottle back to my hotel room, all of Hell could break loose for me. Isolated and ungrounded, with my past still not allowing me to reach out in such moments, I could easily unscrew the cap from the bottle over the bathroom sink, chug it one-fisted, toasting to Vic, the whole bottle – gone.

So, I left the bottle on the restaurant table, and split – sober and safe. And, I made it through the night, alone in my hotel room. “Mark takes care of Mark,” I said to myself while shaving in the mirror the next morning. And, I was back at it with the new day, there for everyone – and I meant it.

Then, as the day turned to eve, then to night, the bottle showed up again with my friends. “You left this at the restaurant last night,” they said.

I went along with the well-intended amusement, but, again, with Mark looking out for Mark, never to drink with Vic because I know where it could lead, I ditched the bottle somewhere – so much in a panic that I don’t recall where – and I made it through another night, isolated, lonely, but safe.

However, like the isolation and loneliness that’s come and gone much of my life, the bottle mysteriously showed up again – in my van. And, so with a friend leaving town, too, I tucked the bottle in his truck, and sent it on its way, far from me.

I got in my van, and headed a few hours home, where I couldn’t wait to see my daughter, our two dogs, and ultimately get back to the stability of my office routine. And, so just as the bottle of Southern Comfort went away, soon would the isolation and loneliness – at least for now.

Words for Robert

By Mark E. Smith

Words.

People too often underestimate the power of words – the absurd, the reverbs. Words really can define the direction of one’s life, changing it from dark to light, from day to night, from blind to sight.

Words.

A few words can inspire, liberate, desire to be one’s best. However, to the contrary, words can also defeat, destroy, debilitate, make one’s life a mess. I mean, what we’re told by others, we often believe – heart on a sleeve – sometimes we’re left to flourish, sometimes we’re left to bleed. And, it’s for these reasons why we must choose every word carefully, deliberately, thoughtfully, where our words positively impact, not negatively detract.

Words.

I recently read a charitable letter – words striving for the better – about someone we’ll call “Robert,” and it sang a tune straight to the heart, that wasn’t an end, but a kick-start:

Though the doctors said there was little chance that he would walk again, our family refused to accept this devastating prognosis. We began doing research, determined to move Heaven and Earth to make Robert whole again.

Words.

In those two sentences are words that made me realize something that I’d never had the courage to admit to myself before: I’m not a whole person, just a partial equip. See, the fact that I’ve never walked makes me incomplete, a lesser person, someone not whole, my existence a burden. And, after fully realizing those few words in that eloquent, poignant charity letter, I understood how worthless I am, how meaningless of life I live – I am useless, a never-do-better. And, it’s devastating to my core, a struggle to live with myself like this – a fragment of a man, deserving dismiss. I mean, can you imagine the pain that my daughter has endured, being raised by me, an incomplete father, a lesser person, someone not whole, to be abhorred? How could I let my disability do this to her? And, how much suffering have I caused my family, friends, colleagues, and community? And, as for the women in my life who have come and gone, who can blame them – they deserve better than half of a man, me.

As one who cannot walk, who’s not whole – whose incompleteness has let everyone down – I have one thing to say from the depths of my heart, to write down: I am sorry for who I am, I regret who I am, and forgive me, Father, for what I’m not, not living to what life expects. Words can never express all of my regrets.

Words.

And, yet, those words, you see, aren’t me – I am whole, complete, and worthy, regardless of disability. However, here’s the question that truly terrifies me: If Robert is hearing such words from his family – Unless you walk, you’re not whole, you are not worthy – does he believe them?

Fool’s Gold

By Mark E. Smith

I saw an on-line correspondence by someone I’ve met in-person, and the individual was describing “their” own disability. What caught my attention was that the individual’s description of their disability seemed exaggerated beyond belief. I was so struck by the individual’s seemingly exaggeration of their disability that I called a mutual acquaintance who confirmed that, indeed, the description was dramatically exaggerated – leaving us both wondering why the individual would make their disability out to be far more physically severe than it actually was? I mean, if one were a paraplegic with full use of one’s arms, why would one clearly lead others to believe that one was a quadriplegic with virtually no use of one’s arms?

Of course, in the spectrum of disability, this wasn’t the first time that I’ve witnessed someone exaggerate the physical facts of one’s disability, describing one’s disability as medically far more severe than it truly is. And, I’m always left with the question, Why do some wish to make themselves out to seem more physically disabled than they are? To be really blunt, How dysfunctional do you have to be to seemingly wish to be more disabled among your peers than you really are?

When I was working at a college years ago, a colleague of mine and I were sitting in my office one evening talking about minority-based literature. And, specifically, we discussed how there is a “hierarchy of hardship” in western culture, where the tougher one’s plight in life, the more respect one earns from others. In today’s world, we see this in the rap music industry, where street thugs like 50 Cent, who began dealing drugs at age 12, are idolized with “street cred” in their music careers, whereas rapper, Rick Ross, lost much of his following when it came out that contrary to his “thug-filled” lyrics, he’d actually worked as a prison corrections officer. Likewise, as my colleague and I discussed, there is a certain “street cred” to disability, where the bigger your physical challenges, the higher up in the disability hierarchy you may be seen.

In this way, there is some merit to the thought that those who exaggerate their disabilities are looking to up their street cred within the disability community, so to speak. However, there’s also a much deeper, self-defeating aspect to those who exaggerate the extent of their physical disabilities: They’re trying to convince themselves of reasons why they’re struggling with self-acceptance and a lack of success in life.

Unfortunately, due to remaining stereotypes, severity of disability still gets us off of the hook in many parts of life. The reason why the media still makes a big deal about a student with a severe disability graduating college, for example, is because our culture places lower expectations on those with disabilities – and, as it works, the more severe the disability, the lower the expectations. If you have a severe disability and you succeed, you’re heroic; but, if you have a sever disability and do nothing, that’s fine, as well – after all, those with disabilities can’t be expected to live up to mainstream standards, as their plights are already harrowing enough, or so implies mainstream stereotypes.

Now, with that principle in mind, if you’re one with a disability who’s struggling with self-acceptance and not willing to put forth extreme efforts to succeed, what’s the easiest way to justify your complacent path in life?

By convincing yourself that you’re far more disabled than you really are, of course! Really, it’s a brilliant – albeit, self-defeating – strategy that actually works. If you can convince yourself – and, ideally, those close to you who don’t know any better, as with family members – that you’re too disabled to have a healthy emotional life, attend college, work, or care for yourself, then you’re off of the hook. All shame is removed from the equation because, as you’ve convinced yourself, you’re a victim in all this – that is, the severity of your disability.

However, here are the two fatal flaws when you invest in such a dysfunctional coping mechanism: Firstly, your peers with disabilities label you as a fool who no one takes seriously, and, secondly, convincing yourself that you’re more severely disabled than you are ruins your life!

You might get by convincing family, friends, and the mainstream that your disability is the worst fate on Earth (because they can still be manipulated). But, it never flies within the disability community, where those with truly the most severe disabilities will look at you and laugh, rolling away, writing you off as a “tool.” I’ve seen it countless times, where there are, say, a table full of successful individuals with medically-defined severe disabilities, and someone of notably less physical severity will join the party, and start going on and on about how disabled he or she is, only to have all others label it as a pathetic attempt for attention or as a scapegoat for shortcomings in life compared to others.

I was sitting in a hotel lounge after working an Abilities Expo once, and a paraplegic was at our table going on and on about how disabled he was, how the world was doing him wrong. With us was a young lady with muscular dystrophy, on a ventilator, with no use of her arms, and she had a career as a social worker. As the gentleman went on and on about how terrible his life was with a disability, the young lady suddenly said, “I’ll bet you $5 that you can’t pick up that glass that’s in front of you.”

The gentleman didn’t think twice, simply picking up the glass. The young lady smiled, and said, “Man, when you can pick up a glass, you’re right, you must have it tougher than many of us in life. Reach in my backpack, and grab $5 out of my wallet – you clearly need it more than the rest of us.”

Again, you can exaggerate your disability in culture at large, but it will make you a fool among your peers with disabilities.

Nevertheless, in the grand scheme of life, looking foolish among peers isn’t nearly as consequential as convincing yourself that disability effects your life more than it should. The minute that you create any false limitations in your life, the only one that’s ultimately harmed is you. Make every excuse in the world why your life is a horrible plight – including exaggerating disability – but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re the one removing yourself from the game, you’re dictating your own limitations toward success.

So, if you find yourself feeling like your disability is the worst plight ever, making it more severe than it is, how do you change that self-destructive mindset?

The answer is strikingly simple: Stop dwelling on your disability, and start focusing on your abilities. Sure, it takes accountability, where you say, I’m responsible for the outcomes in my life, and my disability doesn’t void my remaining abilities, whatever they may be. Value your abilities, and use them to their fullest – never complaining, but always thankful – and your life will go in directions that you never dreamed.

Of course, there’s never any thought among my successful friends as to who has the severest physical disability. Sure, we all have varying degrees of physical disabilities, where a clinical observation might deem quadriplegia more severe than a below-the-knee amputation. However, when we’re each focused on living life to our fullest potentials, no one is more or less disabled than the next person – we’re all simply on a level playing field, living our best.

Spastic Half-Wit

By Mark E. Smith

I read that 92% of women and 56% of men struggle with some sort of low self-esteem, most commonly relating to “body image” or “feeling like one doesn’t measure up to others.”

In my experience, those statistics prove unfortunately true in everyday life, as I encounter many who confide in me – or indirectly suggest – such feelings of self-insufficiency. However, what’s striking is that it implies to me that I should be horrified by who I am: A spastic, half-witted guy with cerebral palsy, big ears, a goofy smile, and no talent, who doesn’t really fit in anywhere. I might as well put out a self-titled album, Rolling Disaster.

Really, I have attractive, intelligent, popular, able-bodied people tell me all of the time how insufficient they feel. Women who have model-like beauty and super intellects tell me that they’re disturbingly unattractive and unintelligent. Men who are brilliant tell me of their constant insecurities. And, it leaves me thinking that if all of these truly perfect people feel so horribly about themselves, I must really be a freakish wreck on wheels, where I truly do have many of the deficiencies that they wrongly project upon themselves. I mean, let’s be real – have you seen me? Again, I’m a spastic, half-witted guy with cerebral palsy, big ears, a goofy smile, and no talent, who doesn’t really fit in anywhere – who’s more of a literal mess than me? And, readers send me hate emails confirming those facts all of the time, so surely they’re true.

Of course, unlike the 92% of women and 56% of men with low self-esteem, I actually accept and embrace who I am. Indeed, I may be a rolling wreck, but I know that I can’t change aspects like having cerebral palsy, so rather than despising who I am, I make the most of who I am – much of which is based in gratitude for whatever I’ve been bestowed in life. Sure, I’m a spastic, half-witted guy with cerebral palsy, big ears, a goofy smile, and no talent, who doesn’t really fit in anywhere, but even those are traits not to be squandered. I say, why not be the best spastic, half-witted guy with cerebral palsy, big ears, a goofy smile, and no talent, who doesn’t really fit in anywhere, that I can be, right?

See, what I know is that our potential isn’t limited by what we lack; rather, our potential is maximized by what we have. And, too many of us count ourselves short, only seeing deficiencies – or, worst of all, buying into the criticisms of others – when we should be focused on our true potentials, our greatness within. We have this one body, mind, and life, and let’s make the most of them, where it’s not what we have, but what we do with what we have that makes all of the difference.

I could have looked at my life with spastic cerebral palsy and believed the pundits from birth, settling for an institutionalized life of physical dependency on others; but, instead, I sought to believe in developing whatever physical abilities that I could muster toward independence. I could have seen myself as having the cognitive deficiencies that doctors diagnosed me with when I was an infant; but, instead, I scored an I.Q. atop the charts, pursued a college education, going on to a successful career path serving others. I could have looked at myself in the mirror, seeing my cerebral palsied body – my undeniable “freakishness” – and never pursued relationships or a family; but, instead, I have a beautiful daughter, the center of my life. I could have presumed that I had no talent; but, instead, I write, give talks, and work in the wheelchair industry with great creativity. And, I could have looked at my power wheelchair as a device that prevented me from fitting in; but, instead, I combine my unique appearance with my personality to shine in crowds.

Indeed, every day I could write a thousand-line list as to how I’m not on par with everyone else, how I’m a spastic, half-witted guy with cerebral palsy, big ears, a goofy smile, and no talent, who doesn’t really fit in anywhere; but, instead, I recognize the positive attributes that I do have, and make the most of them, dedicating myself to family, career, and community.

Really, we’re a lot like old cars, where we may think of ourselves as clunkers, but with the right attitude, we truly shine as collector-quality classics. Take some time to look in the mirror, and see the shine in you – it’s there, you just have to open yourself to it. And, if it makes you feel better, you can say, At least I’m not a spastic, half-witted guy with cerebral palsy, big ears, a goofy smile, and no talent, who doesn’t really fit in anywhere, like Mark!

After all, if I’m doing great with all of my freakish flaws, you must be nothing short of a spectacular masterpiece of a person with your remarkable strengths, talents, and good-looks.