In Memory of a Mentor: Tim

April 24th someone I considered a mentor passed away. His name was Tim Brown and is the main reason accepting my disability was easier than most. For those of you that don’t know, Tim and I were both diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. In the medical books it would be described as a pediatric condition described as a progressive weakening of skeletal muscle. While with medical intervention we live longer than expected, it still takes us too early and too young. It’s a grim prospect especially to a single mother to hear that your child has been diagnosed with a condition that could possibly kill them before the age of 20. We were told by a local muscular dystrophy group that there was a man in a wheelchair that I needed to talk to. I was only seven years old at the time and already having difficulty walking and keeping up with my peers physically. You can imagine how frustrating that can be for a child especially not knowing why I was so different. I don’t think I can begin to comprehend the thoughts going through my mother’s head. My doctor, while very understanding, couldn’t really provide comfort for having a disability.  I needed acceptance and understanding.

Where do you go after being diagnosed with something so seemingly terrible? Fortunately, I got to meet Tim. Having a role model is one thing but having a strong role model with a disability can change the world for a young disabled child. It seems like only yesterday I met him in his 20s, married, two children, and a job. Just that sentence alone makes him a good role model. The most interesting thing about Tim was that he never complained about his disability. He never let it define who he was. At the end of the day you realize that disability doesn’t hold us back, but rather limitations society thinks they can place on us. He taught me that I could make a life of my own choosing. My mom saw my potential and he told her to be open and honest with me about my health. Muscular dystrophy gets progressively worse over time. Every time I lost the ability to physically do something like walking, standing, dressing, eating, etc. he would always be there to guide me through it. Most able bodied people, albeit good intentioned, only know how to show pity. Tim was different. He knew it wasn’t a “problem” that needed fixing but rather a thing that required a different way of thinking. My main regret is not connecting with him more in adulthood. He changed my life and I feel I didn’t do nearly as much as I should to repay for that. 

I cannot begin to imagine the pain his family is facing. His family meant the world to him and he meant the world to them. Time is the most precious gift we have. True love is hard to find yet Tim and his wife certainly found it. RIP Tim. God gained an Angel this week. Thank you for changing my life.

Mutual Inspiration

Admiration

Do you have friends that you aspire to be like? Or maybe have qualities you wished you possessed? I don’t mean in an envious or jealous way, but rather you respect that person that you wish to be more like them. Sometimes, I feel we forget our own qualities that we don’t realize those friends might feel the same way. You have positive qualities that your friends admire otherwise why do they choose to be around you? 

A Brother

I have a friend that is one of my many acquired brothers. Over the years I have collected brothers and sisters. I don’t have friends I have family. Honestly I’m like a cockroach because they can’t seem to get rid of me. Anyways, I really am inspired by this friend because of how far they came. The ease at which this dude navigates social situations surprises the hell out of me. Seeing his success motivates and inspires me to engage more socially. Recently they told me that I inspire them so much that they said I’m a big reason for starting a podcast. Speaking of which you can follow it on YouTube here on Thatz Game Boi. I ended up inspiring a friend who inspired me. If you’re that friend you know who you are. Keep being your badass self.

The Mighty Mouse

Another friend of mine, let’s just call her Mighty Mouse, is one of the hardest working people I have ever met. She sees her future and pursues it with a laser focus. It’s one of the reasons I keep writing and go back to school. She inspires me to keep growing and reach new heights. The best part about this person is whenever I doubt myself they don’t feel sorry for me. She does something better, reminds me of the best parts of me. She gives some of the best motivational talks that come from her lived experience. This friend also told me I inspire them. Apparently I am liked from wanting to help others based on who they are and not who they were. Also they are inspired by my journey of growth the last four years. 

Side note, I just realized they’re both capricorns. That’s a little funny.

Self Motivated

Look at the qualities in your friends you admire and look at yourself. What are the qualities they see in you? Are you naturally likeable, do you never give up, are you dedicated to a cause? There is a good chance it inspires. Write those qualities down and put where you can see it every morning. Not only that, remind your friends why they’re so awesome. It’s almost guaranteed they don’t always see it in themselves. We all need a little mutual inspiration from time to time. 

Fear Doesn’t Define You

Fearing Failure

Fear. It’s something we all experience. We experience fear differently based on the individual and situation. You feel shame when it limits you and self doubt when it hits. Sweaty hands and a racing heart. Sometimes it’s just us questioning are you ready or are you actually good enough to succeed. You may feel that the fear is all you’ll ever know. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t define you. I will be honest, overcoming fear is a lifelong battle and can be a difficult thing to power through. The key is every time you feel fear it’s an opportunity to grow. If you fail or succeed you improve. Even the best baseball players in the world fail more often than they succeed. 

From Ashamed to Empowerment

A few weeks ago I told myself that I would ask to join a random group of strangers over beer. I felt fear and made excuses. I was ashamed I couldn’t do something so simple as saying “hello, mind if I joined”? All the progress I’ve made socially and I couldn’t even do that. A friend that I really look up to reminded me that we are all afraid of something. I took that as a sign that overcoming my fear might inspire them to do the same. The next weekend I decided to grab a beer at a local brewery. It was a nice day so I was outside and it was perfect because it wasn’t too loud. Opportunity to grow was knocking and I didn’t give myself time to think about it and just went for it. After the initial fear I was pleasantly surprised that they included me in the conversation like an old friend. When we went our separate ways I realized what I did. Interestingly, I felt comfortable and empowered. It wasn’t the beer because I didn’t drink much. It was me.

Stronger than you Know

One failure isn’t the end. Don’t let fear and shame define you. I know I don’t have the courage to do that all the time but that doesn’t mean I am a failure. However, I’m only human and I will never stop growing. You’re not a failure for not having everything figured out. Sometimes a little faith is required whether that be god, some other higher power, or yourself. Trust that your learning and you have the strength. Be kind to others but most importantly be kind to yourself. After all, you’re stuck with yourself

Inspiration Porn

You Said What?

What does it mean to be an inspiration? As a disabled person that question can be a little complicated. There is a fine line between true inspiration and inspiration porn. If you’re not surrounded by the disability community than you might be a little confused. You ever see those motivational posters with a disabled person doing normal tasks like swimming or running and it says “no excuse” or something like that? That is inspiration porn. It elevates mundane things disabled people do in order for able bodied people to feel better. I recommend reading this well written article for a better idea of what it is. I guess disabled people aren’t expected to do much. In a lot of ways it diminishes and devalues our accomplishes. The funny thing is I can tell if someone really knows me based on how they are inspired by me.

Child with prosthetic legs running with a excited positive smile with a text saying “the only disability is a bad attitude “

True Inspiration

Inspiring someone just for having a job or being outside is a low bar. My closest friends take inspiration from me for the right reasons. It took about a million people to tell me before I believed it. I have a likable personality and part of that is no matter what I go through I would do anything for good people. Wanting to help others succeed has a habit of being contagious. Shouldn’t we be supportive without envy? We are all on a separate path. You never know what part you’ll play on someone’s journey, or yours. In the end you may not remember every kind act but it may be with that person forever. That is my type of inspiration.

The Low Bar

Getting out of bed is not inspiring and neither is “overcoming” my disability. I’m not some extraordinary person because I’m disabled. If that inspires you then ask yourself why. Many truly terrible people also get out of bed yet hate everything including themselves. Pretty low bar. Kindness grows and pity dies. At the end of the day ask yourself, if the disability wasn’t there would you still be inspired?

Knowing is Understanding

Part of why people subscribe to inspiration porn is because they don’t understand disability pride. They cannot imagine being something other than normal. People sometime tell me to my face “I couldn’t do what you do” or “I would probably kill myself”. I laugh because they don’t understand the pride the disabled have within themselves and their community. Empathy not sympathy is what is helpful. Find a disability pride event and listen. Visit an independent living center and ask what you can do to help, volunteer, maybe even donate. We don’t want nor need pity but respect, understanding, and most important we need opportunities. 

Think

If you believe someone will succeed they have a better chance. If you feel sorry and pity towards someone then you can’t help nor learn. 

The Power of Privilege

Privilege is a thing many choose not to acknowledge as if it can only be negative. Ignorance of privilege perpetuates the crime of limiting opportunities for disadvantaged groups. Acknowledging one’s privilege can turn it into a force for good and positive change. It’s hard to imagine that I, a person with a severe physical disability, is privileged but I am. I am a straight, white male and disabled enough to qualify for 24 hours a day for personal caregivers. Privilege, whether we accept it or not, is power.

If I were not white would I still have been in regular education or labeled a “difficult” case and segregated into special education? The truth is uncomfortable. Even disabled communities are guilty of racial disparities. Take for example the early disabled rights groups and leaders. When you look at history it looks a lot like our list of Presidents. The disabled are coming to terms with this uncomfortable truth and diversity is growing. Many adults with disabilities I look up to are strong women and/or people of color. One of those strong women became an excellent mentor and quite possibly why I have my first job. I hope one day I am in a position to elevate voices and open doors for those who deserve a chance like I have been given. 

My privilege also comes from how I was raised. As I became more connected to the disabled I learned a sad reality. My mother is not common. Many parents either control too much or outright hate their disabled children. It’s painful to see the trauma that causes and how many years it takes to be able to form meaningful relationships. I never realized how much knowing I was loved shaped who I am. I am able to be alone yet still find happiness with myself. I have been able to avoid abuse and being taken advantage of by people that prey on the desperate. It happens more than you think to both disabled men and women. 

I’m not saying my privilege is the reason for my success, because the world assumes I’m incompetent just for being visibly disabled. That being said, I may have been given more opportunities and leeway. I could have been hated by my mother, in a nursing home, labeled a problem, or had doors shut because of the color of my skin. 

I hope that after reading this you not only accept your privilege but use it to open doors for others. We all deserve the opportunity to not only grow but also have the freedom to fail. If I fail at something I know I have the opportunity to try again. So as you grow make sure you widen the path for others less fortunate. Otherwise how can you claim you earned your position?

One Day at a Time

Even the most inspiring people can have their moments of self-doubt. What matters is how one carries on through the storm. I always find that in those moments it’s important to reach out to those who truly care about is. Sometimes it’s easy to not ask for help. The thing is, you cannot struggle on your own for very long.

We’ve all been there. It feels like everything goes wrong in waves. It’s easy to say you will come out stronger on the other side. It’s probably true, but in those moments it doesn’t feel that way. I’m blessed to have good, motivating people around me. Currently I’m riding my own storm. It’s important to remind yourself that it’s going to work out. Someone close to me, going through their own storm, recently gave me good advice on how to get through it. “One day at a time” they told me. If you’re feeling overwhelmed just remember that today is just one day. Every day is another day closer to the end of the storm. The right person seems to tell me the right thing at the right time. Those are good friends to have.

In the meantime I am finding ways to improve upon things in my life. It’s important to always keep moving forward. If you don’t know me, I have a neuromuscular disability known as muscular dystrophy. My wheelchair van broke down and have been stuck home for about a week. It’s giving me time to address my organization issues. I’ve been able to think on ways to become more efficient with my time. I’m moving forward. While I’m leaving for financial approval for another vehicle I can improve with my free time.

Sometimes all you can do is take one day at a time and make minor improvements each day. The storm will come to an end. Never stop.

What stops you from giving up?

There I was at another networking event surrounded by loud noise and a crowd. You would think profound moments wouldn’t happen. An inspiring individual named Armoni asked me a tough question many people rarely ponder; The motivation to keep going.

 “What keeps you going? “ he asked.

 In other words, what stops you from giving up? 

At first I really couldn’t think of an answer. It’s not everyday we look deep within and identify what truly drives us. So I really had to think. I may have had steam coming out of my ears. Something finally hit me, my brain is random like that. 

My response was that “I’ve already been through too much in life to quit, and I feel like I owe it to myself and others like me to set a good example.” After doing some thinking later on, I realized my answer is only partially complete. 

Truth is that I have more than a single motivation. Surprisingly, I believe one motivation is fear. I know it’s the more selfish one. On some level, the idea of stagnation scares the shit out of me. It stems from my own insecurity of thinking that I lack the ability to succeed. I have to remember that im still growing. Even people that I feel have way more talent seem to have that fear. Nothing like the sobering thought that if you stop it’s over to keep you going. I am so afraid of accomplishing nothing that I got over my fear of public speaking. So much so that I got a B.A. in Communication Studies.

Before I get to the more healthy motivations, I should talk about one more selfish one. I have a hunger to prove the haters, doubters, and critics wrong. It’s like an uncontrollable fire to say, “oh yeah, I’ll show you.” I may have pushed myself to my limit a few times but it earns me respect. Just imagine me, a sophomore in college at Sac State, attending an argumentation course. Sitting in my wheelchair and squeezed in like a can of sardines. The classroom is awkwardly silent as we wait for the professor, let’s call him Dr. Smith. Immediately after walking into the room, he walks over to me and warns me that his course is challenging and another instructor would be a little easier. My blood got hot and I felt the fire. 

Smiling ear to ear, I looked him right in the eyes and said “good, I like a challenge.” One of my best friends gets worried when I smile when a stranger says a rude comment.

Turns out, after talking with that professor at graduation, he told me he had a lot of respect for me. Apparently I pushed myself so hard that I was the best debater in class. I’m not going to lie, it was an exhausting semester and I needed a drink when it was over. I am only human.

I think the most important driving factor is believing in the potential of others. Throughout life I’ve always met the right person to encourage me at just the right time. I never want to be the cynic that crushes a dream. You have a dream or positive message, I say how can I help spread and grow it. Many people have done the same for me. So, if I can help foster potential, I have no excuse not to. I keep going because the more I do the more lives I can help.

My main takeaway is that sometimes we have many reasons for not giving up. Sometimes it’s fear of leaving this earth without accomplishing anything and sometimes it’s about helping dreams happen. I’m learning that it I can accomplish great things and help others. 

I hope you enjoyed reading this. The person that posed the question about what keeps me going runs an awesome organization to mentor youth and support dreams in Sacramento, CA  called Project Optimism. Check out what they’re about and help them help others. 

Also, leave a comment on my post about what motivates you to not give up. Hopefully we can inspire each other.

Never Stay Down

Never Stay Down

Sometimes we fall or get knocked down. We might even think that getting back up and moving almost seems impossible. Emotions take over and we either check out completely get stuck, caught up in our own self-pity. It causes us to feel lost. Though it doesn’t have to stay that way. At some point must make a decision to push through or stagnate.

How does one get back to their best self when it seems that part of ourselves is broken beyond repair? First of all, we need to assess the damage and have no regrets. Don’t regret the decisions that put you down, instead find a way to learn what you can. Understand the pain. Own it. Now that you know what you’re feeling, it’s time to dust off and get back going. When I lost the ability to physically feed myself, I withdrew from friends during lunch out of embarrassment. I finally had to look at what I was feeling and realize that it my friends found it a problem than they were not the people to get me through. I could have easily gave up and wallowed in my self pity my whole life. Luckily my friends did not make a big deal out of it and were just happy they had their friend back.

I realized that the embarrassment was just a feeling I created for not knowing how to cope with such a drastic change.

The next step is figuring out where you’re going to grow from there. Create a goal and stay disciplined in reaching that goal. Along the journey, you end up learning things about yourself you have never known before. A few months ago I had a crisis. I withdrew from friends and bottled everything that was bothering me. I took inventory of myself and decided to practice active listening as well as volunteering at a crisis line. I learned through myself, and others reminding me, that I am a great listener. I just wanted to fill my time helping others and it turns out I learned that I have a skill I was never confident I had. I tend to be my worst critic.

This brings me to the last step, and that is realizing your newfound knowledge to find your path forward. I want to repay all the kindness I’ve received from people throughout the years. I’ve been rather fortunate the way my life has turned out. Who knows, maybe good deeds get rewarded eventually. I know that I am a better, more motivated person when I feel like I’m making positive differences in people’s lives.

Stop Staring

When you’re in a wheelchair like me, being stared at is a relatively normal occurrence. I just imagine that i’m famous and continue with my day. Or if I want to make them uncomfortable I stare back. I have had a few years to learn to be okay with that. Anybody who is around me long enough eventually notices the eyes, like a family of possums in the night.

It usually makes whomever is with me get the urge to pimp slap a couple of idiots. I laugh because for me it’s a normal thing to me. This happened quite recently while I was enjoying a beer. One of my caregivers that was with me got irritated when people were asking questions about me while getting food. What really irks me is when they ask questions to a friend or caregiver about me instead of asking me.

People shouldn’t be afraid to ask. Just be respectful if a person with a disability doesn’t want to talk to you. Now, there is a right and wrong way to go about it. I had a complete stranger pretty much shout “what happened to you?” In case you’re wondering, yes, that is not the way to go.

How should you ask if you’re curious? The same way you start a dialogue with anybody else. If they don’t look busy talk about the day and tell them your name. The conversation might end up more interesting than your question. Most importantly talk to the person directly and be patient. For example my breathing machine makes it take slightly longer to answer. If they don’t feel like talking to you it’s okay to just walk away.

.If you’re out drinking with a friend and they start staring or talking about the disabled person, invite that person over to your group. I have many disabled friends and I can tell you that many of us can be the life of the party. Things get interesting when a drunk cripple comes into the room. You never know what kind of people you’ll meet until you start talking to them.

Know Who You Are

We all have feelings. Often we are too insecure to fully acknowledge what it means and why. They tend to scare people you least expect. I have been trying something new for a while and maturely, objectively evaluating my thoughts before acting. I’m trying to be aware of feelings and insecurities. It’s made me a better person.

 

I felt comfortable enough to tell myself that something would never happen, and that is ok. It’s a culmination of growth, helping others grow, and losing my insecurities that I honestly believe is going to make this a good year. After not trying to ask someone out for close to 10 years, I finally did so. I just randomly started carrying a conversation with a girl and her dog at a coffeehouse. In the end I got rejected. In the past i would have felt hurt but, something strange happened this time. I didn’t feel anything but “did I really just do that with zero fear?” Now my goal is to talk to a new stranger I find attractive at least once per week. I have an awesome wingman, she knows who she is, to push me by calling me a chicken.

 

This brings me to more recent events of evaluating feelings and realizing that it doesn’t match reality. It’s incredibly freeing to see the whole picture beyond yourself. You can be honest without fear because you’ve realized it’s just silly. I realized my past feelings were mostly misplaced admiration. I kept something to myself but in order to help a friend, past information needed to come out for her own self evaluation. I believe I truly helped a friend. It was cool to witnesses them suddenly see the whole picture instead of just parts. Sometimes you need a truth bomb from a friend. Knowing what i know I am seriously laughing at myself.

 

I think my goal in life is to help people overcome insecurities and learn to live without fear.

 

My honesty just created a solid friendship. I also, while writing this, realized that I just grew as a person again. I’m proud of myself for both. Keep growing. Take it with a grain of salt they say. Most importantly, evaluate your own truth.