Being the person I want to be – Breaking Barriers – The Borneo Post – 12 July, 2015

Being the person I want to be
July 12, 2015, Sunday Peter Tan,

The writer conducting Disability Equality Training for SOCSO.
The writer conducting Disability Equality Training for SOCSO.

Living with impairments and having experienced the disabling effects of barriers in society for too long can skew our perspective towards life. We are constantly being reminded that we cannot walk, cannot see, cannot learn and so on and so forth. Our lives are a series of “cannots”.

The focus on our deficits and repeated drumming becomes self-perpetuating and self-fulfilling. This is akin to repeating a tall tale often enough and it becomes accepted as the truth. Eventually, we fall into the belief that we are less capable, accept it as fact and settle down to a life of mediocrity.

This is how most disabled people end up. We stay at home and brood over our misfortune. We find no meaning in life. An idle mind is a devil’s workshop. The more we agonise over our plight, the more we sink into negativity and depression.

It is no surprise disabled people have harboured suicidal thoughts at one time or another. They saw no way out from the predicament they were in as they had to depend on family members to take care of their every need. To them, death would end their misery.

But it does not have to be so. We should never ever allow ourselves to be defined by our impairments. We should never let the struggles we have to go against all the time hold us back. Yes, living with impairments is an inconvenience. There are limitations to what we can do and what we want to do.

On the other hand, there are also many other things that we can still do if we look hard enough. There is a Chinese idiom that says heaven never leaves a man with no way out. We humans are resourceful. One way or another, if we do not give up hope, there will be a solution to the problems we are faced with.

There is always a way as I eventually discovered. I started at zero after the accident. I had to learn to use whatever that was left of my hand functions from scratch. They are still weak now although I can use them for simple tasks like feeding myself and type on the keyboard.

My highest level of education is Form 5. I had no skills to speak of. I thought that would be the end of a fulfilling life as I required constant care. I grieved for many months for all that I had lost until I started attending physiotherapy and found improved strength in my paralysed limbs.

I then found something I liked and could do with little physical effort. I chose writing. Weaving stories gave me a sense of freedom to express my thoughts. I had no training in this field. What I know I learnt from books and from the Internet.

I am still very much a writer learning the ropes even though I have been writing continuously for the past 28 years. Look at where I am now! I will keep going at this to hone my skills with the aim of publishing a book in my own name one day.

Never in a million years did I ever think I could become a trainer of trainers. I joined the Independent Living Programme and Disability Equality Training to learn more about disability issues. I started from the bottom and worked my way up.

It has been a long and hard journey of 10 years. I would be lying if I say I never thought of giving up. The long hours attending trainings and conducting trainings took a heavy toll on my health. Nonetheless, the satisfaction of being able to educate other disabled people and society on disability rights more than made up for the difficulties I had to bear.

I am an example of what a severely impaired person can achieve. Of course, there are other more severely impaired persons who have accomplished more. And I salute them for their tenacity and effort. They are role models to be emulated.

What I have learnt from these years of striving are patience, perseverance and persistence. Things will be better no matter how bleak they may seem at first. I kept doing what I loved and loved what I have been doing. I understood my limitations and worked around them. There was no point in forcing myself to do what I no longer could.

There were many “cannots” in my life. I have since discovered there are even more “cans” I can work on. Everyone has talents no matter how useless we think we are. We just have to invest time and effort to let those talents flourish.

I never knew what I wanted to be until 10 years ago. Now I know. I want to be an effective disability equality trainer. I want to be a better writer. Finally, I am the person I want to be. If I can do it, so can everyone else in a similar condition as mine.

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Author: Peter Tan

Peter Gabriel Tan. Penangite residing in the Klang Valley. Blissfully married to Wuan. A LaSallian through and through. Slave to three cats. Wheelchair user since 1984. End-stage renal disease since 2017. Principal Facilitator at Peter Tan Training specialising in Disability Equality Training. Former columnist of Breaking Barriers with The Borneo Post. This blog chronicles my life, thoughts and opinions. Connect with me on Twitter and Facebook.