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.