I think that anyone who acquires a disability after a number of years of living a fully functioning, able-bodied life ends up wanting to ask “why me?” at some point. In my case, my fate was changed instantly at the age of 17 in a traumatic and catastrophic paralyzing diving accident. But I’ve never really asked “why me?” even though my spinal cord injury felt unfair and undeserving.
When I was immediately diagnosed a quadriplegic and was plunged into a very long and difficult four and a half month rehab period – two months of which were spent in Denver away from my family – I didn’t ask “why me?” Instead, I prayed for a full recovery and focused on the next step in rehab to improve my situation the best that I could.
Hand in hand with that, when I was forced into living a difficult, limiting, and inaccessible disability lifestyle I didn’t ask “why me?” I just tried – and still try – to soldier through every day the best I can.
When I returned to high school and went from being one of the more popular students with an active social life to fairly invisible and barely hung out with any of my friends I didn’t ask “why me?” Even though it was one of the most difficult periods of my life I just tried to get through every day with courage.
When a few good friends made “a pact” not to talk about my accident or me in a wheelchair, and then disappeared from my life, I didn’t ask “why me?” I just learned the hard way who my true friends were.
When a girlfriend broke up with me because she wanted more of a “normal” life I didn’t ask “why me?” even though it was a tough pill to swallow.
When I didn’t get the typical college experience (e.g. dorm life, house with friends, lots of parties, going to the bars a lot) because I lived at home with my parents the whole time I didn’t ask “why me?” I took it one semester at a time and tried to get as much out of it as I could.
When I didn’t get into the University of Wisconsin Law School – the school I had my heart set on – two years in a row I didn’t ask “why me?” I just moved on to my second choice – William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, MN – and I think it turned out to be a much better experience. It is a great school, I made lots of good friends, and it kept me closer to my family.
When all my fellow law school students were allowed to use laptops to type their exams and I still had to hand write mine with my quad writing device because writing was easier for me, I didn’t ask “why me?” even though I am convinced that I didn’t get the grades that I deserved because professors couldn’t read my handwriting.
The last two months of my last semester of law school was one of the darkest and most stressful periods of my life because after being a part-time student I had to go full-time in order to graduate on time, I had to finish an independent research paper, I couldn’t see my new baby nephew for a month, and I had to take all my finals feeling crummy with Bell’s Palsy (partial paralysis of the face). I didn’t ask “why me?” I just focused on the fact that I was almost done with school and how good it would feel to hold that cute little guy again.
When I graduated in the bottom half to bottom third of my law school class even though I worked very hard and overcame twice the challenges as everyone else I didn’t ask “why me?” I knew that I had a law degree, passed the bar, and was a licensed attorney, which is more than a lot of people can say. I knew I would still get a good job opportunity eventually.
When a good friend of mine very cavalierly used the circumstances of my diving accident as an excuse to get out of a college class without penalty and onto a spring break flight (i.e. because he had to visit his friend who just had a bad accident) I didn’t ask “why me?” I just figured good riddance to someone who wasn’t a true friend anyway.
When I found myself job searching unsuccessfully for up to four years in the toughest economy since the Great Depression in a market over-saturated with other attorneys I didn’t ask “why me?” even though it really sucked. I just stayed positive, patient, and kept plugging away. In the meantime I started a nonprofit company, the Minnesota Spinal Cord injury Association, to keep me busy.
When I spent twelve years single and dateless I didn’t ask “why me?” I just stayed optimistic that the girl for me would show up eventually. That said, I definitely wasn’t asking “why me?” over the last year. I met someone very special and it developed into a great relationship. The more time that I spent with her the more beautiful (inside and out), fun, smart, cool, sweet, and amazing I found her to be. She became my biggest cheerleader and my best friend. My love for her and happiness with our relationship easily masked my building frustrations over my lengthening job search, dwindling finances, and the challenges and self consciousness of my disability lifestyle. Going to bed every night and waking up every morning knowing that someone loved me so much and was happy to be with me was a wonderful feeling. It was the happiest, most fun, and best year of my life because of her.
But about a month ago I found myself truly wondering “why me?” for the first time since my SCI. Within four days of each other I lost out on two job opportunities and went through a surprising breakup. The combination of the three had me feeling sadder, lonelier, more ashamed, and in general lower than I have felt at any point in my life. I’ve always been an everything happens for a reason/God has a plan guy, but a plan that left me unemployed, with strained finances, and without the great love of my life is one that I didn’t understand.
The following Sunday I attended a church service for the first time since moving to Minneapolis and was moved to tears, which is why it was a good thing that I was sitting in the back by myself. A few days later I represented my brother-in-law in the court hearing (my first time in court) that finalized his stepparent adoption of my nephew. It was a big moment for our family and it made all of the challenges of getting though law school, passing the bar, and my ongoing job search worth every second. The following week I had a job interview, did well, and I got the job last week. So I can now put unemployment behind me at least.
All that being said, I’ve been pushed to the brink of asking “why me?” quite a bit throughout my SCI lifestyle, especially lately. But I know that I’m a really good guy who works and tries hard in all facets of my life. I have a great family who loves and supports me, and a bunch of good friends. I have a strong educational background and a good skill set that gives me lots of employment potential. I think that I was a good boyfriend and offered a lot of really great qualities to the relationship. I’m healthy. My nonprofit is about to start up and hopefully help a lot of people. So no, I don’t need to ask “why me?” But it’s really hard not to sometimes.
Do you ever find yourself asking “why me?” How do you move forward positively?
Photo source: shraful kadir