“Do the thing you fear to do and keep on doing it... that is the quickest and surest way ever yet discovered to conquer fear." -Dale Carnegie.
And today I did just that. I had the honor of being invited to speak to a group of fifth graders in Lucedale, MS, this afternoon. This may come as a surprise to some of you, considering the amount of media coverage I have thrown myself into and for those that know me personally, but I absolutely hate public speaking. I get nervous, scared, awkward, and dry-mouth like a beast. But just a few hours ago I conquered that fear. I sat in front of this group and told them my story of what happened, my hospital and rehab experience, keeping a positive attitude, and how to treat people with disabilities. The kids were so well behaved, focused, and interested. They asked tons of questions! Some were kind of funny, such as, can service dogs talk? How long was I in the helicopter? Others I hated to have to answer truthfully, like, did I think I was going to die? What emotions did I feel? It is definitely not my intention to scare them, but to know that I can prevent one person from diving in shallow water, it is all worth it. I even have one little boy keep coming up with inventions so that I could go fishing and hunting with him. I daresay I have a little admirer! I even got graded at the end of it (apparently they are studying how to speak to a group- loud and clear, making eye contact, good vocabulary, and grammatically correct). I am happy to say I got an A+! I even got my mother to record me, however, something in the video camera went haywire and we only got a little over a minute out of the 40 minutes I spoke.
I'm so happy that I decided to face my fear and do my very first public speaking event. It is so important to me to educate children, not only about the injury and prevention, but also about staying positive, never giving up, and treating people with disabilities just the same as they would their peers. Sadly, it is almost adults who need to be taught this more so than the children. Anywhere I go in public, people stare. Some even openly gawk. 8 times out of 10 it is an adult; adults who should know better that it is rude and impolite to act in such a manner. It is probably the one thing that gives me the most anxiety when going out in public- the looks. I understand that with children they are fascinated by the chair, but I would have no problem with the child, or an adult, asking me what happened. I find it a lot less rude to ask rather than continue to stare. It seems as if though because I'm in a wheelchair, people do not think I have the same interests, goals, and daily activities as I did prior to my accident. It is probably the thing I hate most about my situation is being treated differently. I am no different than I was one year, six months and two days ago (tomorrow, 12/13, is my 1.5 year anniversary). I just have to do things a little different. Adapt and improvise has been my mantra along this journey. Nearly everything is possible with a little creativity, hard work, and deep faith.
One other quick point I want to make that coincides with having people stare at me in public; it is a fantastic quote that came from another young woman with a spinal cord injury that I've had the pleasure of getting to know via Facebook. This is something that her friend said and she never forgot it. When I expressed my feelings of anxiety in public, she relayed it to me, and I daresay, I could not have said it better myself.
"I remember Randy Snow putting his arm around me and saying “Michael, see that guy, he drives that car to be noticed, and that woman does her hair a specific way so people pay attention to her. People develop ways of moving, of talking, of interacting all with the hopes of being noticed. When we come into a room, people will always notice us. We have what everyone wants; it’s just a matter of what we do with it.”
Each day, I get a better understanding of what I will do with my attention. Watch out world, this is just the beginning! Create your own destiny, folks.
Have a Merry Christmas! Next time I blog, I’ll be a year older. So long 24, you have taught me a lot! God bless.