I am very excited to introduce my first “highlighted” person, someone who has gone on to live a most meaningful and productive life despite tremendous adversity. Dr. Daniel Gottlieb is a psychologist, author and radio talk-show host in Philadelphia, PA. Thirty-one years ago he survived a horrific car/truck accident; he awakened as a quadriplegic.
I am grateful Dr. Dan agreed to speak to me around the theme of rebuilding his life.
What affected you and the way you came through?
“First and foremost was a loving, supportive family. Second, I had a large support network; I was always a social animal. Third, I had a career to go back to where I could help people, and the skills I needed to return to my career were unimpaired. In addition to that I had wonderful insurance and that’s a big factor. I was able to have nursing care at home and still do; I was able to get top of the line wheelchairs, vans and convert my house . That’s a big deal. So I had all those things going for me.
I think my learning disability helped because I always saw the world a little bit differently than a lot of other people.
I was always a compassionate person. From the time I was ten years old people used to come and talk to me.
Because of my personality right after the accident I was able to sit with people and listen to them and people were more open with me than ever before. They felt safer with me than ever before. And because of the kind of person I was, I was very open about my vulnerability. I talked about my pain, my suffering, my fear, my internal life.
So I think all these things helped. It was my ability to connect with people.
I feel like I had no choice. I didn’t have the strength to lie. I didn’t have the strength to pretend to be strong. I like to confuse people with that word. One of the things I’ve learned is It takes strength to look someone in the eye and say please help me. Most people think it’s the opposite.
I don’t consider myself a strong person. None of it is about Me, none of it. All of it is about blessings that have befallen, all of it.
The first thing I had to decide was whether or not I was going to commit suicide. And I told my family I was going to wait two years and then decide. That epiphany was one of the most important in my life. But I knew when I said I want this, I want that, give me hope that I’ll walk or that I won’t be so sick . The voice back said no, no hope. Live or die; choose this life or not. And I chose life and I didn’t choose it because I was strong. I chose it because I’m a being and that’s what we do. For 98% of us, given the choice, we choose life, regardless. So I’m no hero.
What I have learned is that the more I’ve loved, the more I love. Any emotion, any behavior can turn into a habit. Hatred and despair are habitual reactions. And so is love and gratitude. And the more you love, the easier it is to love.
I am not at all confident that I’ll be alive to see the spring. Given that, this day is pretty precious. I don’t want to make myself out be the Buddha, because I ruminate with the best of them.
Self-pity or sadness?
I don’t do self-pity; I do sadness. I’ve had 3 or 4 episodes of major depression… but that’s way different from self-pity. I don’t do the ‘why me’. Although I do, I do the why me but I do it on the other side of it. I look at all I have in life; why me, what have I ever done . I look in my refrigerator, it’s full. I’ve got a comfortable home. It’s freezing outside and I’m sitting here warm looking out a beautiful window. What have I done to deserve all these blessings?
When I’m in a dark hole, I want someone who loves me enough to sit there next to me. And not tell me there’s light on the other side. Words are not going to do anything. And 90% of the time they’re going to be patronizing. And they’re also going to be a by- product of your own anxiety and helplessness. Just sit with me. Just have the courage to try to fathom what I’m experiencing. And do it with courage.
Pain heals on its own. We can do things to make it worse. You can pick at a scab or you can keep it in the dark, pretend it’s not there and you know what wounds do when they’re in the dark. They just fester and get infected. “
So Dr.Dan, when you bring light, you put it out there and it can start to heal.
To get further inspired, visit his website at http://www.drdangottlieb.com
Letters To Sam, Learning from the Heart and The Wisdom of Sam are his uplifting and beautifully written books on life lessons.