By Brian Rudd
Brian Rudd is a transplant liaison/advocate and motivational speaker. He is a mentor for the Georgia Transplant Foundation and a volunteer for Donate Life Georgia, the state’s organ, tissue and eye donor registry. Brian serves on Emory Transplant Center’s Patient and Family Advisory Council. He has been a guest speaker for the Emory University School of Medicine and a key presenter at Georgia Transplant Foundation’s Wellness Conference. He lives each day “Paying Forward” the gift of life he received.
I can still remember it as if it were yesterday. Almost 40 years ago to the day, my parents were holding a Christmas party at our house. It was 1971; I was 8 years old, and as my parents and their friends were socializing, my friends and I were socializing as well, running throughout the house, wrestling, drinking eggnog, running outside and back in, eating pie and playing hide-and-seek.
Later that evening, while all my friends were still going full-throttle, I began to feel very hot and tired. So much so that I left my friends, went to my room and laid down on my bed, in the dark. Not long after my mother found me. In a very lethargic tone I said, “I don’t feel good” and my mother got scared fast, because this was completely out of the norm for me or any of my three older siblings.
The next day found my mother and me at the pediatrician’s office, and with one blood sugar test my life, and that of my entire family, changed. Diagnosis: Juvenile Diabetes, Diabetes-Miletus, Type I Diabetes, Sugar-Diabetes, (or as hill-folk would say) “The Sugars”. No matter what you called it back then I knew it must not be good because every time my mother told someone they would look at me as if I had been handed a fatal diagnosis. I had no idea that I would have to learn how to give myself insulin injections, check my blood sugar, count carbohydrates or discover the harsh meanings of the words hypoglycemia, insulin-shock, hyperglycemia, diabetic neuropathy and DKA (Diabetic Keto-Acidosis).
Once home, my mother called my father at work and told him the news. She hung up the phone and went into their bedroom. I walked in to find her making the bed and crying at the same time. Not really understanding what was happening, I said the only thing that came to mind: “Don’t worry, Mom, everything’s gonna be ok.” What happened next is forever etched into my memory. My mother came to where I stood, placed her hands firmly on my upper arms, squeezed and said, “Brian, no matter what happens I want you to remember one thing. The only limitations you will ever have in your life are those which you impose upon yourself.”
For the past 40 years, I have lived my life as such. Every morning I would wake up and, in a figurative way, a wall would rise up from the floor at the foot of my bed. Every day it was my job to figure out a way over, under, around or through that wall. I will admit there were some days, due to some of those conditions previously mentioned, that I did not find a way. Nevertheless, I would lean up against that wall and say, “I am still here and I will be here tomorrow!”
The diagnosis of a chronic illness can seem like a multi-pronged attack on your life. The physical attack can be hard enough to deal with but when faced with the “social limitations” you can feel like the world is saying: “Here is your box, get in and don’t ever come out. This as far as you can go.” But hey, what does the world know? It does not know you and it has no idea the potential you hold. My family always reminded me: “Don’t worry about what you don’t have. Take what you do have and build from there.” One such instance became a major turning point in my life.
It had been my dream to become a pilot, but in the late 80’s the FAA told me I would not pass their medical. I said, “Fine, if I can’t fly it, I’ll jump out of it.” So, I took up skydiving. Not only did I become a skydiver, I also became an instructor. In the mid 90’s, one of our jump pilots told me that the FAA would now grant a private pilot’s license to diabetics. I grinned and asked him why I would want to fly the plane when I can fly ME? He smiled and simply said, “Good point.” Skydiving was not the beginning nor would it be the end. I went on to become a climbing, rappelling and high-ropes course instructor. In the summer of 2011, my wife and I became certified Scuba divers and I am now looking to become a dive instructor.
Why all the instructor ratings? So I may teach, empower and show those travelling the road I’ve taken that impossible is just a word. I am here to show that a chronic illness does not own you. A chronic illness does not control you. It may be a part of your life but it is not, I repeat, NOT your life nor should it ever define you. Years ago, I was given a nickname and along with it, a definition:
WALLKILLER – (noun) survivor, odds beater, one who defies worldly constraints. One who adapts, improvises and overcomes. One who leaves the wall of convention in a crumbled mass as a symbol for those who follow.
When the world tries to label you, use WALLKILLER as a label instead. Find your way over, under, around or through. You are not alone. You have joined the ranks of many who have trod this way and many more to follow. You have been given a challenge; lean into it, grin at it, let it know you will make an object lesson out of it for others. I can say this because I have been there, I am there and no matter what happens I want you to remember one thing.
“The only limitations YOU have are those in which YOU impose upon YOURSELF.”
Share Your Thoughts. What walls has your chronic condition put up in front of you? What have you done to overcome them? Share your thoughts in the comments below or in our Chronic Conditions Community.