I can’t forget the 28th of May for two reasons.
First, my country Pakistan became a nuclear power on the 28th of May in 1998, and second, I became quadriplegic (paralysed chest down) on the 28th of May 2002 following a diving accident at the Pakistan Military Academy at Kakul (PMA Kakul), during my military training.
The 28th of May is not only a symbol of power for my country but for myself also. It’s the power, resilience and fortitude that Allah Almighty has blessed me with, so that I not only survive but live an active life on a wheelchair and pursue my dreams, in spite of being unable to feel or voluntarily move any part of my body below my chest.
I have no fingers movements, and only partial breathing because a majority of my chest muscles are paralyzed. I have a number of medical complications like involuntary body movements know as spasticity, autonomic dysreflexia in which my blood pressure becomes dangerously high, and my body has lost its ability to regulate its temperature.
That’s why I celebrate 28th May as my second birthday because I think I was reborn on that day. Today is my 16th second birthday, and I have also celebrated my 36th first birthday recently.
In this sixteen year journey, life has taught me some great lessons and I would like to share ten of them with you.
1. One can always make a new start.
Anybody may fall and face adversity at any stage of life. The pleasure of life is in rejoicing not regretting, in getting up after a fall, in looking forward not backward, in ,taking a new start and in looking at the blessings and opportunities in disguise brought by a fall or adversity.
Sixteen years ago I lost everything I possessed, my military career was over and life became very challenging. But the important lesson I learnt was to accept and embrace reality and make a new start in life, with new goals and dreams.
2. Will power and motivation
During my military training at PMA Kakul, the most difficult task was running a mile under six minutes. It was more of a test of willpower than physical strength. Because with almost no energy left in the body during the last phase of one mile it was willpower that could make one pass it. Willpower comes with motivation, which was to serve the country as a military officer.
Today with more than 90 percent of my body paralyzed even some simple daily tasks like transferring myself from bed to a wheelchair independently can be as challenging as running that mile before. But it’s the motivation of being independent in life which boosts my willpower and helps me do such tasks.
3. Saying goodbye to excuses
“I can’t achieve this goal because: I am not healthy, not intelligent”, “not lucky”, “not the right age. These are four excuses that prevent most people from pursuing dreams or from doing what they want to do in life. Success and joy lie in saying goodbye to all these excuses and doing what you want to do.
Ill-Health and bad luck were the two excuses that could have let me down in life by restricting me to bed and home. The important lesson I learnt was saying good bye to all the excuses and not letting my disability interfere with my abilities.
4. Positive attitude and optimism
A positive attitude always looks at the brighter side, at the blessings in disguise, at abilities rather than disabilities, to optimism, trust in Allah and gratitude towards Him in every situation.
I think without a positive attitude I would have been nowhere in life and would have not traveled far with a chest downwards paralysis.
5. Some great new friends
True friends are a great blessing of Allah Almighty. Throughout life I have been blessed with good friends in the form of family members, fellow villagers, class fellows, course mates etc. One of the great gift that I got after getting confined to a wheelchair was in the form of some new sincere wheelchair friends. Some of them are exactly in the same condition as me, and at the start of my injury I got a lot of inspiration and guidance from them. They brought me back to life and I asked myself that if they can live an active and successful life in spite of quadriplegia why can’t I?
6. Pain and discomfort make you stronger on the inside
Pain, discomfort and problems are part of life. They groom you and make you stronger on the inside. Every time you tackle and conquer problems you become bigger, better and more successful in life . All the achievements in this world are because of some problem.
Before this spinal cord injury I couldn’t imagine passing a day with even one of my fingers not functioning. But now I have lived for sixteen years with quadriplegia and feel myself to be much stronger, resilient and capable of bearing pain and fighting problems in life.
7. Respect not sympathy
The thing that one gets in abundance after coming onto a wheelchair is sympathy or pity. To convert that sympathy into respect one has to be courageous, work hard and set an example. In spite of being unable to hold a pen and write on my own I improved my education by graduating, by getting a Masters degree, and doing computer courses. When walking again is no longer an option, walking tall always is.
8. Good self-image
Not being able to walk doesn’t mean that one is inferior to others. A good self-image is very important. At the end of the day people see you as you see yourself. In spite of being confined to a wheelchair my self-confidence and self-esteem have always been high. I may be lesser in my physical abilities but not in my mental and intellectual abilities. Not selling myself short and not letting circumstances define my dignity is another life hack that I learnt in my sixteen years of paralysis.
9. Exploring disguised opportunities
“Opportunities of prospering in life become less with physical limitations.” That’s what I heard many times. In fact the opposite is true. Physical disability can be an opportunity for recognising your true abilities and potential. There are always opportunities available, you just need to think about them, discover them and prepare yourself for them by polishing your skills.
Being from a rural area, being paralysed chest downwards, and having no university around, attending regular classes were not possible for me. But the opportunity to improve my education and skills by appearing in exams as a private candidate was there, and I could read books, and use the internet and YouTube tutorials as teachers.
10. The real pleasure in life is in giving
The real pleasure in life is in giving, in serving others and in making life for others easy and comfortable.
Who deserves to be served the most and how you can serve them best is a question worth asking. The answer to this question for me is: other individuals suffering from spinal cord injury deserve to be served the most, and the best way to serve them is by guiding and motivating them back towards active life. The method I adopted for fulfilling this purpose was by making a group of spinal cord injury persons on social media, by making a website and by writing the first detailed Urdu book on how to lead an active life with spinal cord injury. No wealth and personal success can give me that much satisfaction and joy which I get when someone tells me “I have been suffering from spinal cord injury over a decade, my life got easy, healthy and active after reading your book”.