How does someone go through life being constantly stared at? Candida Sullivan is a pro at managing and living her life in a manner that elevates her and others beyond her external deformities. Amniotic Band Syndrome affects her hands, arm and foot. Because of misaligned joints and spine, everyday activities create a lot of pain and swelling.
Candida is the author of two children's books, Zippy and the Stripes of Courage and Zippy's Big Difference and a memoir, Underneath the Scars. She is a passionate advocate for tolerance and bully-prevention.
What personal qualities have helped you carry on and move forward?
The human spirit is stronger than we realize. We can endure so much more than we believe. My desire to raise my children, help others and celebrate life keeps me going. Sometimes all I can do is put one foot in front of the other and take one step at a time. But I never lie down and accept defeat. Giving up is just not one of my options. My faith and thankfulness to be alive help me to always look for the bright side of every situation, and to keep trying. I don't listen to the negativity of others, but rather the encouragement of my heart.
Did you go through a period of self-pity? If so, what helped lift you out?
Yes! It is so hard to realize that I will never be completely well. The days I can't walk or function without extreme pain are difficult. No one wants to live with a debilitating condition or be surrounded by limitations. But this is my life and I refuse to allow anyone or anything to take it from me. Life is hard and it will always come with hardships, but I'm learning to embrace my challenges. No one gets to pick the easy option. We all have circumstances to overcome and challenges that need embracing. Sometimes we just have to dig deep, into the depths of our heart and will, and amaze ourselves. We are all capable of so much more than our minds can even comprehend.
Was there a specific moment, thought or epiphany that helped guide you to a better place mentally and psychologically?
The realization that I could have died changed my life. I had spent many years crying over my scars and neglected to be thankful for my life. When it occurred to me that God spared me, all of my views changed. I transformed from a victim into a survivor. My scars are not a punishment but instead are a wonderful expression exemplifying God's love and mercy for me. I believe God spared me for a reason and want to spend my life telling of the hope and love inside of me.
What were/are your day-to-day coping skills that keep you afloat?
A positive attitude and faith are my saving grace. However we decide to look at any situation is exactly how it will be. I always search for the good in my life. I'm on a strict diet, exercise routine and assortment of vitamins just to keep going. And every morning I have my coffee with God. I pray, meditate and ask for strength and guidance for each day and trial. God may not always remove the storms from my life but He will show me how to overcome them. Thankfulness always triumphs self-pity.
What thoughts propel you forward?
God spared me for a reason and I want to live my life for Him. My life should never be just about me, but more about my God and the plans He has for me. Since the release of my children's books, I have traveled the nation and made forty-nine school visits in nine different counties. It is my heart's desire to stop bullying and encourage everyone to celebrate their differences and become more accepting of others. I may not be able to change the world, but I can certainly leave my handprints all over it.
How do you deal/cope with people's stares, with those awfully uncomfortable looks?
Learning to deal with staring has been one of the most difficult obstacles for me to overcome. Throughout my life I've had people stare at me, laugh and point at my scars, drop my change and scream and address me with their ignorant comments. For years I hid my scars and tried to avoid these uncomfortable situations. Now I don't allow their bad behavior to affect me. I have learned that words and actions can only hurt us if we allow them to. It is when we believe the ugly comments that they affect us. Stares and whispers no longer have any control over me. All a stranger might see are my scars, but it is up to me to show them my heart. If they are staring at me, that just means I have their undivided attention and should use that moment to reflect God. I smile and always try to show them the woman underneath the scars.
In general, how have you managed to rebuild your life?
Acceptance is very powerful! Once I fully accepted my scars, they no longer had any control over me. I don't whine and complain about my hardships but I thank God for my blessings. Things may not always be the way I want them to be but I believe God always does what is best for me.
What advice can you offer someone going through a difficult situation, in the hope of coming out of the darkness intact and able to live well?
Nothing is ever as bad as it seems. God doesn't give us hardships to break us, but to show us how to survive the storms. We are someone's window to God. When others see me struggle to do simple things, but still manage to do them, and even praise God during my suffering, it gives them hope for their own life. When I was a little girl I prayed every night for God to heal my scarred hands. Now I know without a shadow of doubt, if given the choice, I would keep my scars and hardships they bring. They have opened my eyes to the real meaning of life and thankfulness. I'm stronger, more compassionate and have a deeper understanding of love, kindness, grace, mercy and purpose. I know that every single day comes with challenges and obstacles, but I'm so grateful for each one. And I pray every day God will bless me to help someone in some way. All I wanted for my life was to be unscarred, but God had a greater plan.