Ask Andrew W.K.: I'm Paralyzed — Is It Possible to Live a Normal Life?
Photo by Kathy T.
[Editor's note: Every week, New York City's own Andrew W.K. takes your life questions and sets you safely down the right path to a solution, a purpose, or — no surprise here — a party. Need his help? Just ask: AskAWK@villagevoice.com]
Dear Andrew W.K.,
I write to you from a distant and cold Russia, where falling icicles ruin lots of lives every winter. Sadly, I was one of them. The lower half of my body has been paralyzed for five years. My life is limited to the walls of an apartment and a hospital ward. So, yeah, it's no party.
I don't know how to live. I have the huge support of my little family, but I can't endlessly rely on them. I need to learn to live by myself. But I can't. It's hard to find a job or to learn something, mainly because I need to spend one-third of my day on different things related to my health. I rarely speak, because I have nothing new to tell to people around me.
And all this scares me. It makes me angry. And, most of all, it makes me feel useless. Sometimes I'm so ashamed of myself and my helplessness I literally want to isolate myself from the outside world. I know there are lots of people in worse condition than me who can live somewhat normal lives. But I still envy healthy people and can't figure out how to overcome my current mental condition.
You gave some nice advice about dealing with suicide, procrastination, depression, lack of courage....They all were very useful to me. So maybe you could give me some advice for this exact situation. Is it possible for me to live a normal life?
It's not possible for you to live a normal life. Due to what happened to you, it's now only possible for you to live an extraordinary life — an incredible, intense, meaningful, and inspiring life. This is your blessing and your curse. It is up to you to either commit wholeheartedly to embracing your non-normal life for all it's worth, or to follow the feelings of fear and frustration into deeper levels of despair. I realize I can only imagine the feelings of unfairness, of hopelessness, of complete and utter sadness that must have come with the realization that your life as you knew it had ended. But I can, in my own lesser ways, relate to feeling overwhelmed by life. I deeply admire you for being able to reach out and write about a situation so few people can really understand. And when I share these thoughts with you, they are not coming from my own authority, but from the authority of what I think is an essential truth about life and existence: Each of us is being tested. And your personal test involves your injury and the aftermath you're in now. This test — like all tests — is to bring out the best you have inside. This test is not here to break your spirit. It may feel that way, but it could build your spirit into something bigger and stronger and more beautiful than ever, all for the purpose of realizing your true self — your true greatness — and unleashing its light into the world.
You're already triumphant in many ways, and you've been passing this test as you've learned how to keep going through these past five years. You have made it to this point. Many people would have given up before this. But here you are. You're obviously thinking deeply about your situation and your life, and you realize that your life-test is continuing to unfold. Now you're entering into a new phase of this challenge, a new part of the test that will require an even deeper surge of inner strength, effort, commitment, and almost unimaginable amounts of courage and focus. But it is in you. And this is all part of it.
One of the most challenging things in life is to realize that our problems, dilemmas, and disasters are not here to bring us down and destroy us, but here to bring us up and build us. All the bad can be used for good. Each challenging event can in some way make us a better person, even when it seems completely unimaginable that anything good could come from something so painful and upsetting. But that is all part of the test: learning how to see everything as part of a process in which you are growing and overcoming and enlarging the part of yourself that really is truly YOU. That part is often brought out by adversity. This is the purpose of the test. Life doesn't have to be meaningless.
So your challenge is to transform the worst thing that ever happened to you into the best thing. It sounds almost impossible, even as I write this to you. But part of the magic of this transformation is seeing beyond the pain and into yourself, to find the part of you that is pure spirit, pure vitality, pure heart, pure energy. Focus on THAT part of yourself as THE REAL YOU. And whenever you are feeling frustrated, depressed, afraid, or angry, remember that spark inside you that is stronger than all of those feelings. Ask that part of yourself what to do. It will always tell you the truth. It may be deep inside, but it is clear and powerful, and if you listen it will speak to you. It can be your guide. It can be YOU. It already is you. You just need to turn inward and bring it to the surface more every day.
The moment you were injured may seem like the most profound and negatively transformative event in your life, but it was only leading you to an event that is more important and profound: the moment you make the decision to devote your life to your own inner development. You can use the power of your mind to overcome the circumstances you're in and live an extraordinary and meaningful life — perhaps a life even greater than you would've ever had otherwise. And while it almost sounds illogical to say that, the true path of self-discovery is rarely based on logic. It is based on spirit and integrity, and those are powers you still have right now living within you.
You are not trapped. You are not useless. The world is within you and around you. And every effort you make to overcome your obstacles is being cheered and celebrated by the millions of others who have been through it, too. The great heroes of all eternity are on your side and smiling down with love and belief in you. They recognize themselves in you, and are urging you to rise above. Every effort you make is a contribution and an inspiration to every person who faces a challenge of any kind. It is a shared quest for human resilience and perseverance, and you can lead the way.
I'm sending you all the love and power I can. I really hope you can feel that. I hope you can feel the power you have in your family, and feel the power you have in your spirit. It goes beyond your body. It goes beyond your room. It goes beyond everything. It IS the only thing that really matters now. Your life is moving into a higher plane of existence, beyond anything you can touch or see. It is that voice inside you, the one that's deeper than the voice that doubts or the voice that fears. It is the final voice at the core of your being that tells you that you are good and beautiful and in the midst of the glory of life, in all its painful and perplexing brilliance. Have faith in that one true voice of spirit inside yourself. It will not be easy, but you can do it. And this journey will be remarkable. Not normal. But extraordinary and beautiful. And that's what truly being alive is all about.
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