Join us every month for Comfort Conversations, a discussion series led by our Ambassadors who share their thoughts on issues affecting wheelchair users worldwide. Today’s topic is on the role of overcoming fear, written by Comfort Ambasssador Dale Spencer. A renowned public speaker, Dale takes his audiences on a journey of real-life experiences and revelations. Together they identify obstacles, both professional and personal, which are common roadblocks to achieving success. By reintroducing us to the skills we already have, Dale is able to illuminate the road to success.
Fear had haunted me, like many of us. The fear of rejection, judgement, failure and even success has prevented us, at times, from being successful in life. I often worried on how I was going to perform on a test or finish a chore to my parent’s satisfaction. In school it was a fear that people thought less of me if I stated my opinion, wore a certain outfit or the way I played a sport. There were days I did not want to go to school because that fear of judgement had invaded my thoughts.
These type of fears can stop us in our tracks, especially after injury, resulting in the lack of forward progress.
I thought I knew how fear affected my life. Little did I know that paled in comparison to what I experienced on December 2nd, 1988. I was walking with friends to a party. On the way, I took a short cut which was to walk on railroad tracks. This was not the safest course but we wanted to get to that beer and to those girls. I proceeded to walk across a railroad bridge and slipped on a railroad tie and fell off to the side. The drop was approximately four stories and I landed in a shallow river.
Luckily, I was conscious and tried to get out of danger. Unfortunately, my legs did not agree and would not move. My only choice was to yell out to my friends to help. They found me, I explained what happened and they ran to a nearby house to call for an ambulance. Moments later, the paramedics arrived, secured and transported me to a nearby hospital. From there, I was taken by helicopter to a Level One trauma center.
Dale’s Fear Becomes Reality
Once I arrived, I was given a battery of tests, exams and X-rays. It was conclusive that I sustained a Spinal Cord Injury and there was a good chance that I would never be able to walk again. Remember those fears I spoke of? Well, multiply that by thousands and you may have an idea what I was experiencing. Questions ran through my mind endlessly:
- You mean I will not be able to play sports?
- Will I have to use a wheelchair from now on?
- Will any girl ever date me again?
- Will I go back to school?
- Heck, will I even get out of the hospital?
I was in surgery for 12 hours to repair my back and now I have 12-inch rods fused to my spinal column. To compound the situation, I had spent two weeks in ICU with a back brace on even before going to rehab. I was only at the tip of the iceberg regarding my recovery. After that 2-week stint, I was transferred to a nearby rehabilitation clinic. The therapists/nurses/doctors’ main goal was to help me to become independent.
This all sounded great in theory – but I had no clue how arduous of a process this would be.
Dale Tackles His Fear in Rehab
Physical therapists helped my regain my lost strength, and occupational therapists helped me to utilize this strength and momentum to become proficient at simple, daily tasks during the course of any day. For example, they helped me problem solve a way to put on my clothes for the first time since my injury happened.
It’s a bit frustrating when it takes a 20-year-old man 45 minutes to put on shoes, socks, sweats and a shirt. I did, however, break a Guinness Book record for the most consecutive times an F-bomb was used in conversation. While becoming proficient in these daily activities, these tasks help me focus every micro-second. This is the basis on how I focus on any professional and personal task that I accomplish today.
This resilience to overcome any obstacle that falls in front of me spilled over to every aspect of my life.
Perspective Changes Everything, Including Your Fear
As a 20-year-old, my patience was thin. I did not want it done today, but yesterday. In saying that, within a matter of two months and MANY baby steps, I was able to get discharged from rehab and moved back home with my mom.
Mom was my anchor during this entire process. When I felt unsure of myself, she immediately gave me a shot of confidence. But mom could only help so much. My goals have not been met yet. I had to go back to school. I knew that I was on a different journey but that journey did include obtaining my Bachelor’s degree.
So, after missing only 1 semester, I decided it was time to go back to college. That August of 1989, I moved back into my fraternity house. The excitement was indescribable. Something that I did not think was attainable 8 months ago JUST became reality. I was with my friends, in a familiar environment and back on the journey.
Then it hit me! I went to class that first day and ALL eyes were on me. Those childhood fears and insecurities hit me like a tsunami.
- What were they thinking?
- Are they judging me?
- Are they afraid to approach me?
That evening, I went home and cried all night. My friends had no idea what I was feeling but they were there for me. They were my sounding board. They were my support system.
I learned a very valuable lesson that evening. I cannot accomplish everything on my own.
Dales Moves Past His Fear to Graduate, and Do Much More
Each subsequent day after that first day back to college, my skin got a bit thicker. Now, 25 years plus post injury, I do not even register those stares. I am too focused on any given task. Whether this is from giving a keynote lecture to thousands to just going to the local grocery store.
My advice to you: Don’t allow any negative energy affect your life. Do not let their narrative become yours. Support systems are invaluable to our successes. To this day, whenever I have a problem, I know that I can reach out to a friend, family or colleague for help.
See Dale Deliver a TedX Talk on Fear!
Through my rehab experience, I have learned that I can use my fears as fuel for success. With focus, energy, maintaining a positive attitude, tapping into my endless supply of resilience and receiving help from my support systems, I can accomplish anything.
When you come up to any obstacle, you can just ask yourself several questions to help propel yourself forward as the following activities will do so:
- Are you prepared for what will be coming your way?
- Will your laser focus help you navigate those treacherous waters?
- Do you have enough energy to accomplish the task? What I mean by energy is body, mind and soul.
- Are you working out, consistently?
- Are you educating yourself on your craft, daily?
- Do you meditate or reflect on what the day has in store for you or what you had accomplished the previous day? Meditation can be as little as 5 minutes and as long as you prefer.
- What is your attitude on life? If something traumatic happens to you, will you be paralyzed preventing you to move forward or will you look at it as a glass half full which will help you propel forward?
- Where is your resilience hidden? Do you realize how much perseverance you have inside you? Take a look and you may be surprised.
- Do you think you can do everything on your own? If so, get over yourself and invite that help. We ALL have support systems but do we utilize them?
The above are inner attributes that we all have. Tap into them if you have an impending fear that you are not convinced that you can overcome – because you absolutely can!
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About the author:
Comfort Medical Ambassador Dale Spencer was leading the life of an average college student when at the age of 20, an unforeseen injury changed his life forever. Left paralyzed, Dale had to adapt to new ways of doing everyday tasks, getting around, interacting with people, finishing college and entering the workforce in the Chicago area. Dale has triumphed over adversity and risen to the top of his profession. He continues to give back to his community, grow and take on new challenges. Dale says, “My Mission Statement is to help as many people as possible to overcome their fears so they can experience success and happiness in every aspect of their lives, and most importantly, embrace their journey.” Contact him via: www.dalespencer.com, www.facebook.com/DaleJSpencer, Twitter Handle @DSpencerFearNot, Instagram: @dspencerfearnot, YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCNvC4SJJPNhEUZ1PiRfkE3A
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Note: The Comfort Conversations articles are for informational use only and are not intended to be construed as medical advice. Ask your doctor about issues related to your health and medical needs.