Filed under "In the News"
More articles »

Chasing Happiness: Guest Article from Community Living Ambassador Michael Gillette

Monday, December 21, 2020


Let’s talk about being disabled. I wasn’t born with a disability. I gained that in my early 20s, and since then it’s been a rocky path. I suffered a traumatic brain injury, meaning I had to learn how to walk again, basically starting life over. Luckily, disabled isn’t dead, and things being a bit more difficult isn’t the end of the world. My disability led me to work on the Community Living Ambassador program. Sharing my success story and advocating for those in my community has given me a new lease on life. Being disabled isn’t something you can run away from. The only option is to face it head on. I knew from the start that I would walk again and live a regular life. I chose to prove what I could do. My biggest complaint is people judge me. They see I’m disabled and don’t treat me like an adult or realize that mentally I’m still the same cocky bartender at heart.


Learning to lighten up: Making fun of myself and joking about my situation is one of the ways I cope. Take my advice and lighten up. Laughing at yourself can take power away from what ails you. I don’t expect help from anyone and prefer to do things on my own. I know that if I can simply do it myself once, I can practice it over and over until it starts to be easier — whether that’s bathing or dressing myself. Maybe I just don’t like people seeing me naked, but my can-do attitude applies to most things. Success is an addiction. It feels good to beat the odds. I wasn’t expected to do the things I have done so saying, “Ha ha, I did it anyway!” feels good.


Overcoming physical and mental challenges: I’ve had days where getting out of bed was hard. I give myself a day to be lazy, but only if I do all my chores and get exercise the next day. Complacency is the rival of progress. You won’t get better without hard work. It’s not always fun but it is necessary. Caring for your mind and body requires time to relax and recover. Having a strong body doesn’t mean much if it’s occupied by a weak mind. Find simple things you enjoy. I watch science and history videos to keep active mentally. Also important is being involved in my community and talking with friends or family. I message someone every day to check in and make plans.


Weathering the ups and downs: Having a bad day? Try again tomorrow. Life’s a series of ups and downs, no matter if you are disabled or not. Robert Frost had it right when he said, “In three words, I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on.” Moving forward is one of the things you can control. Become the hero of your story. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. Falling is easy. Getting back up, that’s the hard part. There are many programs and institutions designed to help disabled people. Seeing their importance and knowing how they assisted me led me to get involved.


There’s no shame in receiving the help they offer. When voting, assistance with the process was useful. That’s not begging for help; that’s seeing a complicated process and using the help to complete my goal. Learning how to accept help has made me successful. Knowing everything will work out: If I could have known one thing when I began my recovery, it’s that everything will work out. Dwelling on the past wastes time. The present and the future are all that matter. Being angry about being disabled is natural, but you can harness that anger and turn it into resolve. Resolve to beat the odds, to be a success story. Nothing motivates like anger or love. I’m deeply angry at the disability, but I love showing people it doesn’t define me. Since the beginning of my journey, I’ve become a very vocal advocate, not only for myself but for disabled people across the spectrum. Too often we are overlooked or treated as less than, and I aim to shape the world to be all inclusive. This isn’t about me; this is about us.


Chasing happiness: Being a Community Living Ambassador has given me a platform to show the world that it can be a better place for all people regardless of their status as disabled or “normal.” We’re all just chasing happiness. I’ve gotten mine from helping others with their recovery. Others did such things for me. I’m just paying it forward. Visit this link to watch Michael share his story: