I have always thought that marriage was unnecessary. It’s a tradition that binds two people with a legal contract. Boring religious ceremonies are performed, “When are you having kids?” becomes the next question, and you can only have sex with one person for the rest of your life! Don’t get me wrong; I have no problems with commitment when I’m with someone. But I just don’t feel like I would need the “married” label to define my relationship. After all, marriage is supposed to last FOREVER, and I really don’t think we know the future enough to predict that FAR. With this in mind, I’d like to see how my relationships play out instead of making a preemptive decision. I believe life is best lived in the moment, and in knowing this, I would rather have my future be a surprise than a plan. However, it wasn’t until I learned how to follow my life journey that I truly realized this.
Becoming paralyzed taught me a very valuable lesson; don’t be attached to anything because life can change in an instant. When my accident happened I was 22 years old, just getting out of college, and was planning what I thought I was supposed to do with my life. I planned to graduate from college with a Finance degree, get a job, earn money, and eventually marry my girlfriend at the time. These were the goals I felt I needed to achieve to attain success and happiness in my life. Then I had my accident, and that screwed up all my plans.
I now had to adjust to my new life in a wheelchair. This experience provided me with so much uncertainty about where my life was heading that I just couldn’t accept my situation. It took me 3 years and a breakup to finally propel me to reach acceptance, which enabled me to detach emotionally from the plans I had originally made for myself. Acceptance is a process that allows you to mentally let go of all the expectations you have created for your life, and live from the perspective of the present moment. This process made me realize that because the past has already happened, and the future is uncertain, all we really have control over is right now. With every passing moment, we make the conscious choice on what we decide to put our attention on. And in knowing this, I made it my life practice to always be here, right now. From this perspective I was able to move forward in my life.
One of the biggest steps I took to move forward was deciding to go back to school at the University of Houston to become a Certified Public Accountant. This was my first opportunity to live independently so I chose to live on campus, which made it very convenient to go to classes. However, the classes were not very appealing to me and I constantly questioned whether this was the path I was supposed to follow. As time went on I completed all the classes I needed, but it became evident to me that this is not what I wanted to do and that this path was not aligned with my passions and purpose in life. This led me to start brainstorming about what I felt my purpose should be and how I was going to do it. I decided that I wanted to share my life experience, so I decided to start RollWithVik.com to express what I’ve been through and how it has led me to live my life the way I do today. Each post I have written has gotten an incredible amount of positive feedback from the readers, which has been overwhelming for me to receive because it allows my experience to serve a purpose for other people. Additionally, I felt I was successful in conveying humor in some of my posts that led me to start thinking about doing comedy.
I believe when you are aligned with your life’s purpose, random events occur to lead you in the right direction to fulfill it. I had always thought comedy would be a fun thing to try one day, especially because of the attention I would get for being the “elephant in the room” thanks to my wheelchair. Eventually, this thought evolved into what I felt was a calling. I started to think really seriously about expressing myself comedically, but I had no idea how to start. Then in April 2012 I attended a Houston Rockets vs Dallas Mavericks basketball game in Dallas, TX. At halftime, I noticed a good friend of mine in the next section over who just so happened to be hanging out with Indian comedian Paul Varghese. I rolled up to them and met Paul Varghese for the first time and knew that this was not a random coincidence. A few jager bombs later, we were having an improvisational conversation and he thought I was funny. He gave me his card, encouraged me to go for it, and to stay in touch with him. My next step was the following July when I enrolled in a comedy improv class to test myself in a situation that was completely out of my comfort zone. In improv class, you are literally put in unscripted scenes where you have to think about something funny to say that is related to the scene. At the end of the course, we did a showcase in front of an audience. The thought of performing in front of people was so nerve wrecking at the time, especially because I had no idea what I was going to say before I got on stage. But it turned out to be great as I was able to make people laugh by thinking of funny things to say in the moment. Being able to do this gave me a lot of confidence moving forward and it was now time to develop my comedy act. I began writing jokes based on my life perspective of being in a wheelchair and performed at my first open mike night in September 2012. This first attempt at delivering my jokes went horribly because I forgot half of my lines while I had the microphone. However, I was persistent and continued to go to open mikes to practice and get better. By my fourth week of doing comedy, I was approached by a comedy show promoter who wanted to feature my act in one of his shows. And just like that, in October 2012 I was in my first comedy show. It went way better than I expected it to. I received so many compliments on how great my act was and how good I was on stage, despite me doing comedy for such a short period. I was so happy to receive these compliments because I thoroughly enjoyed doing comedy and believed I had now found my passion. As time went on, I got booked on a few more shows before I hit the highlight of my comedic experience so far. On March 10th, 2013 my road to comedy came full circle when Paul Varghese, the catalyst to my comedy career, gave me the opportunity to open for him at the Houston Improv. It was the biggest show I have done to date and I delivered another successful routine that received many positive comments from many audience members. It even impressed Paul Varghese. He told me the show was great and encouraged me to keep doing comedy. Hearing people expressing gratitude to me for being able to witness my set is just evidence to me that comedy is definitely part of my purpose.
Every single person that lives in this world has a significant purpose to fulfill in his or her lifetime. The key to figuring out how to fulfill this purpose is to discover and follow your innate passions. I have now discovered my passion in comedy. And actually, I’ve now come to realize that comedy is more than my passion, it’s my religion; I believe that laughter is the same as prayer and life is best lived by not taking it so seriously. The events that occur in our lives are always changing our course, and if we are emotionally attached to the plans we make we will always resist the change that is inevitably occurring. I like to think that everything happens for a reason, so the changes that occur in our lives are only happening to lead us to discover our true passions and purpose. Because of this, I like to view my life as an adventure, going with the flow with every twist and turn thrown at you, with the faith that you are being led to become who you truly are. In knowing this, I realize that I have found my own passions by living in the moment, and not by planning. That’s why I don’t want to get married.
Marriage for anybody who has truly experienced it would tell you that it’s a lot of work. And relationships on their own are a lot of work, so I can only imagine what it would be like to know that you’re legally tied to a person for the rest of your life. Because of this, I believe marriage promotes focus on the future rather than the moment. Unfortunately, most women want to get married and depending on how much I don’t want to be lonely, I may have to bite the bullet. But even if that happens, I will not let it affect my life practice of being in the present moment. I believe that’s the most important lesson I’ve learned on how to live life. It is the reason I was lead to discover my passions that I practice today. And it has allowed me to take the backseat and let life guide me to wherever I need to be. I may not get married anymore, but I will forever be married to the moment.
I have always thought that saying, “I LOVE YOU” felt too sentimental. It’s a phrase that creates mushy feelings and breaks hymens. Relationships become committed, emotions get attached, and marriage is all of a sudden a real conversation. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never had a problem saying it when I’m with someone. But I’ve always preferred to use the Indian pronunciation, “I LOWE YOU”. The Indian accent does wonders for comic relief, and in this case, makes the word LOVE sound funny, as I believe the meaning should be. Love is often taken too seriously, in my opinion, and my life experiences have taught me not to take ANYTHING seriously. However, it wasn’t until I got out of a very attached relationship that I truly understood this.
In July 2003 I went on a trip to Southeast Asia to attend a cousin’s wedding. While I was there I met a girl that I was completely enamored by. I thought she was so pretty and enjoyed hanging out with her. During the festivities, we spent a lot of time getting to know each other and I felt we had a strong connection. However, I wasn’t about to get into an intercontinental relationship. Instead, we said our goodbyes and established a great friendship. Over the next couple of years, though we hadn’t seen each other, we still kept in touch periodically. But then in the fall of 2005 she moved to New England to attend college and I thought this was my perfect opportunity to see her again.
When she moved to New England we started talking a lot more frequently and we still felt a strong connection for each other. As a result, we met each other that October and had a great time together. We felt so compatible with each other that we decided to engage in a long distance relationship. As time went on, we struggled to see each other as often as we would’ve liked, but our love for each other kept growing. She was only going to be in America for 2 years before she would have to move back home, so the topic of our future was brought up very often. We planned that we would get married and live out the rest of our lives together. This was the goal we wanted to attain because we believed in our relationship. But life had a completely different plan for us.
About 9 months into our relationship I fell off my 3rd floor balcony and became a paraplegic. When she heard the news she was completely devastated. I felt so guilty for how much my situation affected my family, close friends, and especially HER. I contemplated ending the relationship because this wasn’t part of the plan we had, and I didn’t want to put her through the emotional turmoil she was already experiencing. But when we spoke she assured me that she wasn’t going anywhere, and that she was going to be there for me, no matter what. I was in such a vulnerable state that having her support me in the most drastic situation of my life was extremely comforting. I felt that I couldn’t express my emotions to my family because of how emotionally affected they already were, so I confided in her with everything I was going through. She would always tell me that she was my “rock”, and was happy that she could fulfill that role for me. I appreciated her so much and wanted to just BE with her, but my lack of independence and our distance made it very difficult to see each other. Our relationship, for the most part, was based on phone conversations and video chat, which would get very frustrating after extended periods of time. However, as frustrating as it was, it was about to get a lot worse for us.
In June 2007 she graduated from college and moved back to Southeast Asia. We now had to deal with a 12-hour time difference and a third world Internet connection. It was so tough to have a relationship in these conditions, and to add to it we had no idea when we were going to see each other again. I used this as motivation as I traveled and tried out different treatments, but nothing was working. I was so afraid of losing her because I was convinced that she was the person I wanted to be with for the rest of my life. Additionally, I was too afraid of moving forward in my situation without her because I didn’t think anybody else would love me like she did. However, time took its toll and our conversations were about what we were supposed to do next. Because of our uncertainties, it became clear to her that we had to break up in order for us to be able to move forward with our respective lives. This was extremely hard for me to accept, but I understood her perspective and painfully agreed. And just like that in November 2008 our relationship was over.
Break ups are a motherfucker. This was a very upsetting time for me because nothing in my life was what I planned for. I was now paralyzed and lost the girl I planned to be with. I remember being angry with God for the way HE had let my life unfold. However, in time I was able to break the attachment I had for the past, and finally move forward with my life. I realized she was right; we had to break up in order for us to appreciate the present and look forward to the future in our own perspectives. And I was now able to understand the purpose that she fulfilled for my life during my toughest times. She gave me unconditional love and support that made me feel connected to somebody at a time where I felt disconnected from everything else in my life. In knowing this, I realized that even though we weren’t together anymore, I would always love her. But this love was different. This love was without attachment to any certain outcome that we were supposed to be. In fact, it wasn’t even love anymore, it was LOWE.
Love for anybody who has truly experienced it will realize it can be quite deceptive. It makes you feel so good that it’s so easy to get attached to it. I have now learned that true love is without attachment. It is for this reason that I choose the funnier sounding “LOWE” over LOVE. Lowe, to me, is the ability to love without expectation. Life is full of surprises and you really never know what is going to come next. As Forrest Gump said, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.” It is this lesson that has taught me to always “go with the flow” in my life. Going with the flow means accept everything and resist nothing. I spent so much time living in the past and not accepting the present that I could not progress as an individual. But I now understand that life is better lived from a detached perspective so you can truly live in the moment and look forward to the future. I feel very lucky for being able to experience the relationship that I went through because of everything that I learned from it. It has taught me the true meaning of the word “LOVE”. This word may not be LOVE for me anymore, but it will forever be LOWE.
I have always thought that Valentine’s Day was a sham of a holiday. It’s a day that screams out romantic love and empty wallets. Roses become ridiculously expensive, nice restaurants have a special overpriced menu, not to mention overbooked with reservations, and you don’t even get the day off! Don’t get me wrong, I usually succumb to the pressures during this time when I’m with someone and will treat her to a pricy outing. But I have always done it knowing that she would be happy, and in turn I was sure she would make me HAPPY for my efforts. Although I have done this, I would always think, “Why can’t I do this on a day that’s cheaper and less chaotic?” After all, this is a day that instructs people how to love and to do so you have to follow a mainstream protocol. I feel like this fabricates the meaning that comes with Valentine’s Day and thus, I have never been emotionally connected to it. However, it wasn’t until the event that took place in my life on February 14, 2011 that would change the meaning of this day forever.
Last Valentine’s Day my cousin, Vishal, passed away after a 13 year battle with cancer. When he was just 18 years old he was diagnosed with “Synovial Sarcoma”, a very rare and aggressive type of cancer. He went through years of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, as well as had to undergo a number of surgeries because the tumors kept coming back. And then finally in December 2011, the doctors said that there was nothing more they could do and he just had to wait it out. I remember hanging up my phone after I had heard the news, and I thought, “Wait for what?” I couldn’t comprehend the idea of him not being around anymore. I had to keep reminding myself that this was actually happening and it was REAL. I would daydream and imagine how it was going to be after he would pass, and it made me feel so empty. I had been to other funerals and knew what it was like to lose somebody, just not somebody this close. After all, he was more than my cousin to me, he was my big brother.
Growing up I had always looked at Vishal as my role model. He was one of the eldest in my family from all the cousins in our generation, but would rave about being the most immature. I looked up to him so much because despite how much he had been through, he never let it bring him down. He had so much passion to just live everyday and enjoy every moment he had because he knew he was going to live a shorter life than most. He was the type of person that you always wanted to be around because he was always a good time. There truly was never a dull moment when you were in his presence. After my injury, though we faced different situations, he was the only one in my family that could relate to my feelings. I remember when I was still in the hospital he said, “Lil bro, you’re going to get through this. And I’m here to help you.” It was so comforting to know that somebody who had been through as much as he had was going to help me through my struggle. But at the time, I didn’t realize how much of a role he was going to play in my life moving forward.
From the very beginning of my new life as a paraplegic, he played the role of my motivator. He constantly encouraged me to keep living, and to not let my situation hold me back from doing so. Because of everything he had to deal with in his life, he appreciated every moment so much, and he always tried to convey that message to me. At first, I was resistant to his approach because I didn’t want to live my life in a wheelchair. However, as time went on his efforts were persistent and I started to come around. Additionally, by witnessing my progression I was able to appreciate how far I had come, and I started to realize that I could continue to evolve in my situation. At the same time, I witnessed him periodically have to go back to the hospital for surgery and treatment as his cancer kept coming back. This was such a crucial perspective for me because as I was learning how to move forward so that I could live my life independently, he kept getting held back in his life because of his illness. But no matter what he never let it bring him down. He dealt with whatever he had to, and he continued to live his life to the fullest, until the end.
When the doctors said that there was nothing more they could do, there was a wave of fear that resonated throughout my whole family that the end was near. I would think, “How was life going to be without Vishal?” I knew there was going to be a huge void when he left, but I didn’t know how it was going to feel. The anticipation of the whole situation made me so distracted. It was as if nothing in my life mattered anymore because it didn’t compare to the gravity of the loss I was about to experience. My mind would always wander as I tried to make sense of all of this. I tried to separate myself from reality and thought about the greater purpose that his life served. And I thought, “Vishal’s life is a lesson to teach us how precious life really is.” I knew how much of a role he had played in my life to get me to appreciate my life again. He is the reason why I am where I am today. And in that moment I decided that I was not going to be sad about this. He celebrated his life everyday and every moment, and it made sense to me to attempt to have the same feeling about his life when he no longer was here. Then 22 days before he was supposed to turn 31 years old, his time on Earth expired.
The anticipation was now over and it was now time to face the fact that Vishal as we knew him, no longer existed. I heard the news, packed up, and head down to Laredo, TX, where he was residing, to attend his funeral. When I got to Laredo I was handed a Pittsburgh Steelers (his favorite team) jersey to wear as part of my uniform for the event. This only made me smile because since he knew he was going to die, he decided to plan his funeral, and make it a celebration. And why wouldn’t he include his favorite team as part of the festivities. Additionally, he created his own playlist full of The Beatles classics with the theme of the funeral centering on the song, “All you need is love.” To top it all off, we were instructed to take a tequila shot once the ceremony commenced, and had to make sure he wasn’t left out in the process. I couldn’t stop looking at him lying in his coffin because the whole experience felt very surreal. I just kept staring at his face waiting for his eyes to open, but they never did. In that moment, I accepted that his body was lifeless and knew that I was going to go forward in my life celebrating every moment I had.
Valentine’s Day for anybody who knew Vishal will be a day that encompasses a completely different meaning than the traditional meaning of February 14th. However, it still has everything to do with love. Vishal loved and appreciated everything and everybody he came across. His life was a celebration, as I feel everybody’s should be. Unfortunately, he had to go through his struggle for everybody around him to realize how precious life really is. But in knowing that, I choose to learn from the purpose that was his life. His life has taught me to always love and appreciate everything I have and all the people that are around me. Additionally, I will celebrate every waking moment that I have, until I have no more. February 14th is a day that will forever remind me how I’m always supposed to be. It is a day to remember the energy that Vishal brought all the time. This day may not be Valentine’s Day for me anymore, but it will forever be V-day.
Have you ever thought about what it means to be who you really are? We all know who we are, essentially. But I mean the actual personal qualities that you express when you are at your happiest states. It could possibly be those times where you first fell in love with doing something or someone (no pun intended lol). Imagine all the molecules of gratitude you encompass in these moments where you feel completely free to be yourself. It has always amused me to think about how we act when we are in tune with our personality. On the other hand, when are you not yourself? Perhaps those times when you are restricted from doing what you want. Imagine how you are in these moments when you feel trapped and unfulfilled. This was the attitude I needed to break free from to appreciate my new life.
After experiencing my accident, my physical identity had completely changed. I now had to face the fact that I was always going to be sitting down and pushing wheels to get around, rather than being able to stand and walk like everybody else. I was very resistant to the idea of living my life in a wheelchair, as it was really tough to accept that I couldn’t control half of my body anymore. This then led me to believe that my new situation was completely ridiculous because I now felt trapped in my own body. However, when I was in the rehabilitation hospital I was exposed to many other people with all types of spinal cord and brain injuries that led me to realize that it could have been a lot worse. I fell from a 3rd floor balcony, landed on a patch of grass that was right next to a sidewalk and 6 inches from a sprinkler head, and somehow I managed to only be paralyzed from the waist down. Others constantly reminded me that I was lucky to just be alive, let alone not having to face a quadriplegic or brain injury. I was known to have one of the lower injuries at the rehabilitation hospital, and I was able to appreciate that I have full upper body function after observing how many others didn’t and had to learn how to live their lives again from their new perspectives. Being in the rehabilitation hospital I was exposed to people in similar or worse situations on a daily basis. However, my next step was to go home and face my new reality head on.
Moving back home to face the real world for the first time in my situation was intimidating because now I had to make a life out of my paralysis. It was a drastic change from how my life used to be because now I needed help to do almost everything. I had to live at home with my parents by necessity because at that time I needed assistance to bathe, get dressed, and even use the bathroom! I received this assistance in the rehabilitation hospital but it was different now because I wasn’t exposed to people in wheelchairs everyday. Now everybody that I was exposed to could stand, walk, and lived what I felt was a “normal life”. A normal life to me was anybody who was physically able to live their life independently. I used to have a normal life and now all I could ever think about was how much I took that for granted. Consequently, this led me to feel envious of others because I wanted to be independent like everybody else. I would think, “How am I ever going to be able to be independent like this?” I thought the only way I could truly be independent is if I was able to walk again because I felt it would be too difficult with the limitations I now had. And for 3 years I held on to this thought waiting for a miracle to happen so I could live my life normally. However, eventually I had to reach acceptance and detach from this thought in order to be able to achieve independence in my situation.
When I reached the point of acceptance I thought about how far I had come since my accident had happened. I was now dressing myself, driving, and even got a job. Slowly but surely, baby step after baby step, I was able to overcome so many obstacles. After analyzing my thoughts I realized that I was only able to overcome an obstacle once I decided to believe that it was now possible. This then led me to think, “why didn’t I believe that I could overcome these obstacles from the start?” I then came to an amazing realization about my thoughts. I thought, “My thoughts are just my thoughts. I am the one that decides which thoughts I will believe. I attach myself to the thoughts that I choose to believe. And I detach myself from the thoughts I choose not to believe.” Then it became clear to me that I needed to let go of the thoughts that held me back from living my life right now to the best of my ability. I now understood that I could do anything I wanted to do if I just believed that I could. And I thought, “I choose to believe the thoughts that make me feel happy, excited, and joyful. And choose not to believe the thoughts that make me sad, angry, and depressed.” This idea was ingenious to me and I decided that this was going to be my mode of thought going forward. I was always going to decide what thoughts to believe in based on how they made me feel. I had so many thoughts about what I felt I couldn’t do anymore since I was now a paraplegic. These thoughts made me feel inadequate and led me to believe that I could no longer live a high quality of life. But with this new way of thinking I could now believe that I could do anything that I wanted to.
One of my favorite things to do since I was a kid was to attend amusement parks. I have always enjoyed the thrill of riding on rollercoasters and other amusement park rides. After my accident, I didn’t believe that this was possible for me anymore. It really upset me to believe this because I thoroughly enjoyed being able to go on these rides. After I reached my new way of thinking I told myself that this could now be possible. And in June 2010, I went on a family trip to Orlando, Florida and I knew that this was the perfect scenario to make this possibility a reality. So along with two of my cousins, we ventured out to Universal Studios to make this happen. I was a little bit nervous but with my cousins by my side I knew that if I needed any assistance transferring on to any of the rides they would be there to support me. It turned out to be better than I expected. Not only did we ride every thrilling ride Universal Studios had to offer, we were also able to cut in front of every line since we had handicap access. I was so thankful to know how strong I was to be able to get on to every ride without any assistance. Being able to achieve this was so imperative for my mentality because it validated how I now was supposed to think moving forward. I was not going to let my thoughts hold me back any longer. And 2 months later, I developed the courage to move back to Houston to be independent once again, despite being a paraplegic.
Moving back to Houston was a very surreal experience for me because I used to believe that this was not possible in my situation. However, now that I knew it was possible didn’t mean it was going to be easy. My parents and sister helped set me up in my new apartment, and after that it was all me from there on out. There were so many obstacles I knew I had to overcome now that I was pursuing independence. For example, when I went grocery shopping for the first time by myself I realized I couldn’t push a shopping cart and wheel myself around the grocery store at the same time. Instead, it made more sense to use a shopping basket and place it on my lap as I rolled around the store picking out my items. However, the shopping basket was limited in space and didn’t fit all the items I needed. So I decided the logical thing to do was to pay for what I got so far, put them in my car, and go back in the store for a second trip to get the rest of the items that I needed. It didn’t matter that I had to take a second trip; all that mattered was that I was able to overcome the obstacle. As time went on, I discovered more and more obstacles I had to overcome; it almost seemed like I was overcoming obstacles on a daily basis. It gave me so much joy to know that I was able to do this and finally achieve independence in my situation.
Today I am so appreciative for my life because it has taught me to be resilient. I now believe that I can accomplish anything that I want to. And by thinking this way it’s actually difficult for me to feel negative about anything. Additionally, by filtering out negative thoughts from my mind, there’s nothing to hold me back from achieving any goal I wish to. It’s truly amazing for me to think about how far I’ve come on my journey, and I look forward to what is to come in my future. I think life is so enjoyable if you want it to be, regardless of what situation you have to deal with. Shortly after I moved to Houston, I attended a quadriplegic rugby game to see what it was about. This was a sport that was made strictly for quadriplegics, which is also known as “Murder Ball”. I had so much admiration for them because despite their situations they were still having fun. I then imagined what it would be like in their situation. Would I have been able to accomplish as much as I have if I didn’t have full upper body function? I met one of the players after the game and realized that he shared a lot of the same views as I did. We discussed how we got into our respective situations and he was amazed to hear about my accident. He said, “Man you’re lucky, you could’ve broke your neck.” And in that moment, I knew I was lucky because it could have definitely been worse. But after witnessing people in worse situations living their lives to their fullest, I realized that wasn’t the only reason why I was lucky. I now know that I’m lucky because it can always gets better.
Have you ever thought about what it must have felt like to be born? We all know how we come in to form in this world. But I mean the actual feelings you must have had when you arrived. You were probably crying out of fear because everything you were exposed to was completely unknown. Imagine the many chemical reactions occurring in your brain while your thoughts are raging with insecurity because everything around you is so alien. It has always amazed me to think about the way our brain works in accordance to the way we think. On the other hand, what did it take for you to eventually be calm? Shortly after you were born you were probably comforted with love from your parents, and calmed down because you now felt secure. Imagine how relaxed and safe you must have felt in this fearless mentality. This was the mindset I was supposed to strive for, without ever realizing it.
After experiencing my accident, everything felt so new because I was now in a situation that was very unknown to me. I was not prepared for it, and didn’t even know how to think to live life like this. I feared everything about it because I was not sure if I would be able to live in this situation. However, from the beginning I had so many family and friends treating me with so much love and encouragement. When I was in the hospital, I had a ridiculous amount of visitors everyday, which composed of family, friends, and others, who came by just to see how I was doing. I was so happy to receive so many emails, “get well soon” cards, and gifts from people who just wanted to make me feel better. And in those moments I forgot about my fears because I was comforted with all the love around me. But I was soon going to be leaving the hospital and moving back home, where I had to face my new reality. All the love I had received had been in the form of sympathy, and it got old pretty quickly once I was home. This then led to the development of my greatest fear.
My greatest fear of being a wheelchair user was people not treating me as they used to. I felt that my identity had changed in other people’s perspective from “Vik” to “Vik in a wheelchair.” I did not want people to treat me differently than who I was and I felt like it was happening all the time. Every time I met a new person I would get anxious because I was afraid they would ask me questions pertaining to why I am a wheelchair user. And if they didn’t ask me, I was sure they were thinking it. Additionally, I have grown up in a very judgmental and traditional Indian society and I knew what everybody was thinking of me. Heck, I was thinking it myself: “Am I a burden to my family now?” “Will somebody ever want to marry me like this?” And my favorite, “What are the chances of me getting better so I don’t have to deal with any of this?” These were the thoughts that bounced around in my head all the time. I did not want people to pity me and that’s how I felt people treated me. So I would think, “If this is the way people see me, how could I ever be happy?” This would lead me to feeling sad about my situation and wishing that I didn’t drink or did something differently that day to have avoided this from happening to me. Consequently, this increased my anxiety of not getting better in the future and thinking that I would always be sad because of what I thought other people thought of me. And for 3 years, I would always revert to “I’m going to get better so this doesn’t have to be my reality anymore.” I was too stubborn to accept, and too lazy to motivate myself differently. Living paralyzed looked like a lot of hard work, so I was trying to find the loophole, the easy way out. But after those 3 years, I finally reached rock bottom and at that moment I knew that I had to conquer this fear to reach the point of acceptance, and ultimately move on with my life.
After analyzing my thoughts over and over again I came to an incredible epiphany about eliminating my fears. I thought, “Fear is a limitation that I put on myself about what I think can be possible in times of disappointment and struggle. It is comprised of two elements: regret and worry. To regret means to fear something that has already happened. And to worry means to fear something that may or may not happen in the future.” It was then it became clear to me that if I did not have any regret from the past or worry for the future then I would be living in the moment. So to be free of fear I must always live in the moment. Then I started thinking about what it meant to live in the moment. And I thought, “To live in the moment means to be free of fear. I do not have fear when I am having fun because I am only thinking about the moment. To have fun then means that you are doing something that you love. When you are doing things that you love, you are happy. Hence, when you live in the moment, you are happy.” I thought this idea was brilliant and decided that this was going to be my way of life. I was just going to do what I loved to do all the time, and that way I would never be fearful again. I wasn’t out to please anybody else but myself, and I thought because people pitied me they didn’t have expectations for me, which meant I had no pressure to live my life a different way. It now made sense for me to accept my situation today and live my life fearlessly day-by-day, moment-by-moment, and let the future unfold, as it should.
As time went on, however, I realized that there would always be circumstances in your life that will continue to create fear in you. My mentality was strong and I understood the concept of being fearless and living every moment, but it was easier said than done. I thought about the many fears I have had in the past. And many of my fears created obstacles in my mind that I overcame just by trying. Once I overcame a certain obstacle I was not fearful anymore because I knew I could do it. For example, I was always afraid to attempt to transfer into an SUV from my wheelchair because I felt it was too high, compared to a car that I was used to. One day I developed enough courage to just attempt it and I was unsuccessful the first couple times, but eventually I was determined enough to figure out that by pulling on the handlebars (aka the oh shit bars) I could get enough leverage and contort my body to land in the seat. It made me very happy to know that this was now possible. It probably wasn’t the smoothest process, but in time I was able to perfect it. However, the point was that I was able to do something that I wasn’t sure I would be able to do. All I had to do was try and be persistent and I would be able to accomplish the goal, which I had felt insecure about accomplishing previously. This led me to start thinking about why I was afraid in the first place. There were so many unknowns to my situation and all I had to do was try to see if I could do them. The worst-case scenario in any obstacle I attempted was that I would fail. This understanding led me to think that as long as I didn’t worry about the worst possible outcome, believed that the desired outcome was possible, and my will was strong, I could achieve anything. This made so much sense to me, but I needed to think this way when I identified feelings of fear and change them. It wasn’t until I was pondering one day, wheeling my ass up and down a sidewalk, where I came up with an analogy that I reverted to every time I was afraid about something.
One of my favorite things to do in a wheelchair is to go downhill. When I go downhill I completely let go of the wheels, and let momentum just take me to the end. Contrarily, when I go uphill I have to keep pushing the wheels to keep moving forward because if I let go I will roll backwards. This led me to create one of my favorite sayings, “When I go downhill I let go, and when I go uphill I keep pushing.” To go downhill, figuratively, means when life isn’t going your way let go of all the fears of the unknown possibilities that can happen and go with the momentum to see where it takes you. To go uphill, also figuratively, means that when you want to do something and you have obstacles in your way, rather than getting discouraged, keep pushing, be persistent, and believe you’re going to get there. It took practice, but eventually after identifying feelings of fear over and over again I thought of this analogy, which changed my thinking and allowed me to move forward fearlessly.
Today I fear nothing because I keep practicing this mentality. I choose not to have fear, so when I catch myself being fearful about something I change my mindset. By doing this I have been able to truly live my life everyday to the moment and feel positive about the future. And now it has been evident that the fears I had in the past were only limitations I put on myself. For example, I used to work at these apartments at the University of Houston where I was a leasing agent and gave tours to potential residents. One day speaking with one of my coworkers we were discussing the routes that we take when we do our tours. I explained that I take a different route than she does. And her response was, “oh, do you take the stairs?” I then proceeded to laugh hysterically, because in that moment she didn’t see “Vik in a wheelchair”, she only saw “Vik”. Being perceived as “Vik in a wheelchair” was my greatest fear. By living fearlessly and just being ME this instance proved there was no need to fear it from the start. I began to see life as an adventure. What was in store for me next? I was ready to overcome any obstacle that was thrown my way. I enjoyed living life like this and was truly excited to see what will happen next in my life. And then one day, while having dinner with a good friend of mine, she said, “you know it sucks what has happened to you, but at the same time its amazing that you can be happy in your situation.” And I thought to myself, “I’m happy?.” I always thought I would be happy when I walked again. Could it be possible that I reached happiness as a cripple? Then it dawned on me; I am happy because I choose to not give in to fear. I now know that happiness is a choice, not an expectation.
Have you ever thought to yourself how amazing it is the way you control your body? We all know biologically how we function. But I mean the actual processes of your mind sending neurological signals to your arms and legs. It takes almost no time at all for you to take a step or raise your hand. You don’t even have to think about it, you just do it. Imagine the sparks of energy that start from your brain and then travels through your neurological pathways to all of your extremities in a matter of milliseconds to create the result of you running or the intricacies involved in playing a sport. It has always astonished me to imagine the complexities of how we function with our bodies. On the other hand, what if things were different? What if those sparks of energy could not make it to your extremities? Imagine not being able to take a step, let alone stand. In almost an instant, this became my new reality.
At around 2:30 am on July 29, 2006, after a night of partying, I was home standing on my 3rd floor apartment balcony. I just got off the phone with my cousins, who were in a cab on their way over, and leaned over the railing on my balcony to check if I could see any headlights projecting to indicate that they had arrived. Next thing I know it I’m being awoken by my cousins laying on the ground and I couldn’t get up. I had just fallen off of my balcony and was lying on a patch of grass right next to a sidewalk and 6 inches from a sprinkler head. I had fractured my T10 and T11 vertebrae, which compressed my spinal cord and left me completely paralyzed from the waist down. Now I’ve been asked this question numerous times, and I’m sure many of y’all are thinking the same thing reading this, “But how did you fall off your balcony?” To be completely honest, I’m really not sure exactly how it happened. I have a few theories but truthfully I totally blacked out when it transpired.
I was only 22 years old at the time and was just finishing up my last few classes at the University of Houston before I could complete my undergraduate degree. The idea of being paralyzed didn’t resonate with any vision or plan I had for my life. The doctor’s only gave me a 5% chance to ever walk again and I was now in a rehabilitation hospital learning how to live my life in a wheelchair. I kept hoping it was all a dream. Every morning when I woke up I would think “Shit! I’m still paralyzed.” All I could ever think about was what I referred to as “getting better”. “Getting better” to me meant returning to a fully functional human being once again. And I wanted it to happen really soon because I felt the longer I was in this situation, the more chance there was that I would accept it. I was angry, confused, and petrified all at the same time. And then came my next step in facing my new reality, after living on my own for the past few years attending college, I was moving back home with my parents in McAllen, TX.
Moving back home was tough to accept because I felt like my life was regressing. My plans were to graduate and then get a job like everybody else. Instead, I was back in McAllen researching potential avenues to get me walking again. I refused to live my life like this. I hated everything about it. My family wanted to make modifications to my bathroom to make it more accessible, I resisted. I didn’t even want to learn how to drive with hand controls. I felt that by doing these things I would only be giving in to my paralysis. However, eventually I had to give in because I was only making life harder for my family and myself. I was pissing off my cousins because they had to pick me up and drop me off every time we hung out at THEIR house. So there were a few battles I let my paralysis win on, but I was not going to let it win the war. I was doing all sorts of therapies, remedies, and exercises to help heal me. I travelled to different parts of the world to explore alternative treatments including homeopathic medicine, cold laser therapy, and even stem cells. Paralysis is a ridiculous situation to attempt to come out of because there is no cure or protocol on how to get better. Failed treatment after failed treatment I kept persisting as I felt the more I tried God would eventually reward me for my efforts. I spent 3 years trying to find a solution to my problem, and my efforts were getting exhausted. I was sick of waiting for a miracle to happen. I couldn’t emotionally take any more disappointments in my life. Three years had already passed by and what did I have to show for it? I felt defeated, and I contemplated if life was even worth living anymore. I had now reached rock bottom.
When you reach rock bottom you have 2 choices; to live or to die. I had to contemplate every aspect of my life and figure out how I could move forward. To live meant to accept my situation and to not let it hinder me living life. To die meant to do nothing and drown in my sorrows. I chose to live. I was so attached to my life before my accident and now I had to reach acceptance and let it go. However, I realized that I only had to accept today, not forever. By accepting today I could live my life day by day, moment by moment. I have no idea what is to come in my future so I will never limit my possibilities. I also decided that if I were going to live my life in a wheelchair it would be on my terms. My terms were that I was going to do what I want, when I want, and how I wanted to. I felt that because of what I had gone through, I was deserving of doing things I wanted to do all the time and making myself happy. Additionally, I was free of societal pressure and judgment because I wasn’t held to the same standards as everybody else. And if I was judged, I didn’t give a fuck. This new mindset made me excited to move forward.
I thought about all the things that I wanted to do now. One of the biggest things was that I wanted to play wheelchair basketball and other sports and activities. However, McAllen did not offer such activities. It became clear to me that I needed to move back to Houston to completely fulfill myself. This was going to be the biggest step of my life because I had never lived alone in this situation, but I was ready. I started applying for jobs, but we were in a recession and I had no work experience so nobody was going to hire me. Then came a conversation with one of my good friends about a post baccalaureate program he was enrolled in at the University of Houston to become CPA eligible. I didn’t want to go back to school for a long time, and this was only going to be 9 classes. So I thought this was going to be my ticket back to Houston and it was starting in 2 weeks! I talked to my family about it and they were tentatively supportive, but nobody was trying to stop me. And just like that in August 2010, I moved back to Houston, a city that I love so much. I was a little nervous in the beginning, but I knew that if I was accepting my situation this was the next step. During my first week in Houston I saw a billboard while I was driving that said “ABILITIES EXPO”. It was the largest disabilities show that covered everything from sports to wheelchair manufacturers to medical issues, and it just so happened to be going on in Houston for the first time ever the weekend after I moved back. I felt like everything was just falling into place.
Today I am on the verge of completing my CPA program this December 2011 and I am currently a Houston apartment locator. Life has been amazing ever since I took this plunge. I feel like I just know how to live life now. Because of what I have gone through, I am fearless. I have already been through the worst, there is nothing that could affect me nearly the same way; hence, I have nothing to hold me back. My mentality is all about going with the flow, not worrying about the future, forgetting about the past and just living every moment of every day. Since I’ve moved and been following my mentality I have got so much positive feedback from so many people. I cannot tell you how many people have expressed to me how much of an inspiration I am to them. Really? Me? It’s shocking to me because everything that I do, I do it for myself. I am not living my life for anybody else, but for myself. And it’s really an amazing feeling that I can affect others positively because of who I am today. This past July 2011 I celebrated my 5th year cripple anniversary. I fell off a balcony 5 years ago, so to celebrate I fell off a plane. I went skydiving for the first time in my life and I highly recommend it to anybody who is interested. That’s what I’m all about, just living life. My life has taught me so much and led me to where I am today. I love my life and everything that comes with it. I now know that everything I have gone through has been a blessing in disguise.