Laverne Bissky has incorporated a life-changing challenge, that of having a child with disabilities, into a goal and dream that takes her and her family to all corners of the earth. It's all about the A-bilities without the "dis." This incredible woman, together with her family, shows us how to not just live, but to flourish, beyond the fate we've been given.
Ms. Bissky is a motivational speaker, writer and coach. She founded the charity, No Ordinary Journey Foundation and is the author of the book, Exceptional Parent Exceptional Life (soon to be released).
What personal qualities have helped you move in such a positive direction?
A deep belief that the experience of having a severely disabled child could be a stepping stone to living a deeply fulfilled life. I guess you would call this optimism but I think it goes so much deeper than that. Perhaps faith. It is a choice to see it this way.
In this belief was the seed that sprouted into our charity, No Ordinary Journey Foundation. It has been very gratifying to know that I have done the best I can for my own child, but it is even more gratifying to use what I have learned and lived through to help those with children like mine in places like Vietnam. Their challenges are similar but their opportunities much fewer.
Did you go through a period of self-pity? If so, what helped lift you out?
After the first few months, my periods of self-pity have been intermittent and brief but deep. They usually resulted from asking questions that are unanswerable like "Why Me," regretting things that cannot be changed or worrying about the future. Doing something productive usually lifts me out of it.
Was there a specific moment, thought or epiphany that helped guide you to a better place mentally and psychologically?
Shortly after Kasenya was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, I vowed that on my death bed I would be able to say that disability never held my family back. I didn't truly know what I was committing to at that time. And now I might word it differently: We would do the best we could and not put aside our hopes, goals and dreams because of the disability; that the disability would be one aspect of our lives. It would not define it. That simple commitment has kept me moving forward.
What were/are your day-to-day coping skills that keep you afloat?
For me coping is about balance, not static balance but dynamic balance because life is always in a state of flux. It's about knowing when to push hard and when to rest; when to fight and when to let go; when to use and when to conserve resources; when to work hard and when to have fun. Practicing mindfulness helps me to know when to shift between these. It's about paying attention to what is going on inside of you.
What thoughts propel you forward?
That every experience is an opportunity. I have noticed that when I am most sleep-deprived, I am also most creative. When I am most vulnerable, I am also the strongest. When I am most hurt, I am also the most loving. Our society is so afraid of negative experiences: failure, pain and death. And yet it is in these experiences that we have the greatest opportunities for growth. We can't live fully when we only embrace the "good" experiences in our lives. And so I see few things as good or bad; I see them all as opportunities.
In general, how have you managed to rebuild your life to such a flourishing degree?
At first it was about determination. We tried as many non-invasive therapies for Kasenya as time and money would permit. We wanted Kasenya to reach her full potential, and we left few stones unturned.
Then it became about acceptance. Not that we stopped doing the therapies that worked, but acceptance allowed us to rise above the disability.
We didn't try to overcome the disability because that means fixing or changing it and results in a constant struggle. Rising above something means accepting it, which frees you to use it as a platform for greater things.
Finally, it was about setting priorities. When my son Devin set out the challenge of visiting all seven continents, we could have come up with all kinds of excuses. We have given up many luxuries in order to be able to travel to six continents (so far) as a family. Travel was the fertile ground from which the seed of our charitable work grew.
What advice can you offer others going through a difficult time/situation in the hope of living well?
It's going to be emotionally messy if you are really going to grow from a challenging experience. The sooner a person accepts that, the better off they will be. Embrace the experience. But have something to look forward to, something that will allow you to rise above it even if it is just knowing that you are becoming a stronger person. And go gently with yourself when you have setbacks.
I knew from the beginning that the challenge of parenting a child with a disability could be a catalyst for personal growth. But I thought it would be a straight-line process. I thought I would move steadily forward, sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly. It has actually been a circular process. I move forward and then I have a setback and circle back a bit. But each time I reach higher and I usually don't fall as far back.
Challenging experiences can be so powerful because they allow us to see things clearly. While others are bogged down with mental clutter, we begin to notice and focus on what is really important in life. Let go of trying to change things and just experience them. It's a choice.
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