Lessons from heartbreaks – Breaking Barriers – The Borneo Post – 18 October, 2015

Lessons from heartbreaks
October 18, 2015, Sunday Peter Tan, mail@petertan.com

DISABILITY is hard on relationships. No matter how much optimism there was in the beginning, sooner or later it would wear thin. Promises to love each other till the end of time become meaningless. When one side loses hope of a bright future together, a breakup is only a matter of time.

Tribulations like this are no stranger to me. While spinal cord injury broke me physically, the women I gave my heart to broke me emotionally. Between the two, emotional pain was more difficult to bear. It gnawed at the very core of my being and left me drained of the will to do anything, even to live.

I had just gone steady with a girl for a couple of months when I became severely paralysed. After I was discharged from the hospital, we spent most of our time together at home. Those were our dates. My immobility made going out difficult, if not impossible at that time. We carried on like that for three years despite her parents’ objections.

She was a young woman. Her life was just beginning. It must have been tough on her to have a boyfriend who could not take her out for a movie or a stroll at the beach. I was neither in a position to offer financial nor emotional security to her. The future with me looked bleak.

Cracks in the relationship began to appear when it became apparent I would never recover. The signs were obvious. We quarrelled often. Unpleasant words were exchanged. Conversations over the telephone always ended up with the handset being slammed down. I clung on tightly even then.

“If she left,” I reasoned, “no other woman would want me any more.”

The spats culminated to the day she told me straight to the face, “You’re a toad dreaming of eating swan meat.” This is a Chinese euphemism for an ugly man wishing to marry a pretty girl.

“I don’t want to regret in the future,” she added, and walked out.

There was nothing I could do to save the relationship. She was resolute. The breakup hit me hard. It is true that the first cut is the deepest. I fell into depression and became withdrawn. The insides of my chest hurt each time I breathed. I felt empty and despondent. Hopelessness overwhelmed me.

I ate little and barely slept. My complexion turned sallow. I became thinner and thinner by the day. My parents did everything they could to cheer me up but I was determined to wallow in self-pity. They were so worried for me to the extent they got our family doctor to come check on me.

“If you continue starving yourself, I’ll have to admit you into the ward and put you on drip,” Dr Shanti warned. I gave her a dry smile and nodded when she made me agree to start eating again. I may not have had the appetite to eat but the thought of having to stay in the hospital was even more unpalatable.

Jenny, my physiotherapist, also dropped by to find out why I had missed several sessions with her. The look on my face and the monosyllabic responses told her as much.

“Nobody is worth dying for,” she told me.

Those words resonated in my mind. It made sense. No one is so important for me to give up my life for. She went on to make me realise I was not only hurting myself but the people around me as well. It was only then I saw how immature I was when it came to matters of the heart. As I recovered from that episode, I was mentally prepared for a life of singlehood believing that no other woman would find my condition desirable.

Hope springs eternal nonetheless. I told myself that if ever I got involved again, it would be because of love and not because I was desperate for a companion, and that she must be able to accept me – impairments, warts and all.

As fate would have it, I went into a relationship again shortly after that. We were good friends and had dated on and off before my accident. She came into it with full realisation of my limitations and what she was getting herself into.

Like other couples, we had our ups and downs too. Half of the 12 years we were together were spent apart because she was working overseas. I gave it my all anyway. Ultimately, the distance, lengthy periods of separation and temptations of the foreign land tore us apart.

Naturally, I was sad, having invested so much time and heart into it but I knew better than to allow depression to take over like the last time. In a way, I was also glad we finally got it over with. The feelings had long been gone. I know she tried to make it work but being with a disabled person, especially one with severe impairments, takes more than love and courage. It requires perseverance and great physical effort to support me in performing my daily activities. These are traits not many people can keep at in the long run.

Heartbreaks may be painful but they are not the end of the world. I survived twice. What didn’t kill me made me stronger. I never fully recovered from them but with each occurrence I learnt to love better and deeper. I also learnt there are people out there who are able to look beyond physical attributes and love the person for who he is inside regardless.

To be in love is a beautiful experience irrespective of the outcome. Lord Alfred Tennyson said it succinctly when he wrote, “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” I am glad I didn’t let the painful experiences dissuade me because my true love and I found each other in the end.

Read more: http://www.theborneopost.com/2015/10/18/lessons-from-heartbreaks/#ixzz3uN50IPXz

Thirtieth year living with spinal cord injury

Thirty years post spinal cord injury. It has been a long journey. I got a little melancholic reading the article I wrote in The Borneo Post last week about this fateful day.

I am still paying the price for the mistake of diving into the swimming pool a long time ago. I am not complaining though. I have to live with the choices I made, good or bad.

A first-year medical student asked me recently if I regretted doing what I did that day.

“There is no point regretting,” I told him. “I cannot change what I have done.”

I may regret doing many things, or not doing others, but this, never. I can wallow in guilt or use the effort to deal with the emotions on more productive deeds.

Frankly, I never thought I would live to see this day but here I am. I have made it! I guess we can never know how far we can go even when we are living one day at a time.

29th Anniversary of My Spinal Cord Injury

I broke my neck twenty nine years ago today. Life is looking bright on one aspect yet dim on another. After eight years working to make society inclusive, I have finally pulled it all together to establish a company that provides Disability Equality Training (DET). This is to give what I do an official and organised semblance. Peter Tan Training was registered with the Companies Commission of Malaysia (CCM) on 30th August.

On the other hand, my serum creatinine has breached the 300 umol/L level at the beginning of the year and has been steadily creeping up the scale since. This is an indication the declining health of my kidneys. The nephrologists that I have been seeing at University of Malaya Medical Centre since the beginning of the year have encouraged me to go for a dialysis orientation to prepare me for the eventuality. There is not much I can do on my part except to continue with my low-protein diet and intermittent catheterisation.

Life must go on nonetheless. I foresee conducting more travelling around the country to conduct DET workshops. There is a great need to sensitise the Malaysian public on the need to break attitudinal and environmental barriers and ensure that everyone can achieve equal participation in society. And I must say that I am enjoying it, especially when the participants realise that the problems faced by disabled persons are manmade and that there are multiple solutions to solving it.

Here is a toast to surviving spinal cord injury for twenty nine years. I had never expected to live this long and do the things that I am doing now. It had not been an easy journey but I made it anyway. I am thankful for all the good things that have been coming my way. The bad ones taught me to be wiser and stronger. What more can I say? Life has been good of late and I am truly grateful to be still alive and able to do what I love.