I am pleased to post my third interview with Leigh Brill, writer, speaker and advocate for people with disabilities. I read an excerpt from her new book, A Dog Named Slugger, in Ability Magazine, and was immediately drawn in. Ms. Brill, who has cerebral palsy, has spent more than 10 years “in the company of service dogs”.
I contacted her and she graciously accepted to do this interview for my blog.
What qualities have helped you carry on and move in a positive direction?
I’ve been called stubborn at times, but I have found that my determination has served me well over many years. I also like to think beyond the obvious limits in life. That’s one reason I love working with service dogs- our partnerships have helped me grasp the potential and power of creative problem solving. I often depend on my sense of humor to keep a good perspective. My dogs help with that too.
I’ve also found personal strength in recognizing that my life, my experience, is part of a bigger picture; my goal is to make the most of what I’ve been given while at the same time be part of a goodness far greater than me.
Did you/do you go through periods of self-pity? What helped lift you out so you could see beyond it?
I feel the saddest about my situation when I look back at what I had to endure as a child. I have an easier time dealing with more current issues because I have the benefit of a more mature perspective. The best way I have found to deal with the sadness I feel about some of my past struggles is to make sure I use the gifts I have in my life now and try to make a difference for other young people who may be going through some of the same struggles I faced years ago. That brings healing to other people and to me at the same time.
What thoughts propel you forward?
I have many blessings in my life. Acknowledging them, and expressing thanks for them, is important to me. That’s where I find strength to move forward, even if that means taking slow baby steps.
My service dogs also help me move forward, both literally and figuratively. In addition to the mobility assistance they provide, they have each shared valuable wisdom.
Slugger taught me that even the greatest challenges in life can hold the promise of something good. Kenda inspires me to be mindful of the question: “What will I do with the gifts I have been given?” And the newest canine member of our family, Pato, proclaims, “Live, love, laugh!” in everything he does. With such lessons, I can’t help but move forward!
What are your day-to-day coping skills that keep you going strong?
I always try to remind myself not to over-complicate or worry too much about day-to-day ups and downs. There is peace in taking life as it comes. I’ve also found that pacing is good – if I stay in touch with my physical, emotional and spiritual self, I’m better able to determine the best way to spend my days.
I’m fortunate to be surrounded by loved ones who understand this; and in fact my loved ones are a vital part of my coping skill set. I have discovered that life is much more positive and rewarding when I make a point of surrounding myself with the people and things I love.
Speak to your phrase of “making possibilities out of challenges”.
The question I often ask myself is: What will I do with what I have been given? This applies to challenges as well as victories. Personally, I wanted, I needed, to give some meaning and purpose to my congenital disability. And writing A Dog Named Slugger allowed me to do that. I guess I am too stubborn to let the hard aspects of cerebral palsy have the ‘last word’. I choose to define myself not by what I must overcome, but by what I have the strength to Become. I also believe that every part of life offers the promise of something good; and making possibilities out of challenges means reaching for that goodness, no matter what.
What advice would you offer someone going through a tough time in life?
When facing a challenge, here are the points I try to keep in mind:
- Stay in touch with yourself and who you are; do things that keep you grounded.
- Remember that life holds a bigger picture than what is right in front of your eyes in this particular moment.
- Find people and causes with whom you can connect and stay in touch.
- When you need help, ask for it. When you can give help, offer it.
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