I’m Right Where I’m Supposed to Be

I’m Right Where I’m Supposed to Be

This isn’t where I’m supposed to be, I thought. My power wheelchair’s mechanic whine echoed through the underbelly of the LSU football stadium, known by Tiger fans as Death Valley.

As I rolled through the Valley of Death, the lump in my stomach got heavier the closer I got to my classroom. My constant erratic jerks while driving my wheelchair was proof of my ataxia; I was 22, and even though it was five years since I transitioned to living almost full-time using a wheelchair, I wasn’t very smooth at maneuvering it.

I took this route to grad school classes every weekday from my apartment in Baton Rouge. I was in my second semester and wondered if I was in the right program. I was meeting a high school student who I had to “interview.” This was my first counseling-like scenario, and I doubted myself. Thanks to Friedreich’s ataxia (FA), I’m really insecure about my own functionality. Could I really be in a position to benefit someone else? I didn’t think so.

Join the FA forums: an online community especially for patients with Friedreich’s Ataxia.

I entered Peabody Hall, then motored down the hall to my classroom. Before I knew it, I was face-to-face with a high school student I had never met before. I put on a guise of confidence, of know-how — or at least I hope I did.

The idea was to get a general interview with a student for my child counseling class. The student was very forthcoming and readily gave his name, grade, and all other identifying information. As I continued asking broad, general questions like, “What’s your favorite subject?”, he surprisingly began to open up to me, telling me rather personal things.

I held up my hand. “I just want to let you know,” I said, pausing him for a second. “I really appreciate listening to all of this and I’m looking forward to listening to more. But I want to remind you that I am just a student. You don’t have to tell me anything personal.”

He glanced up at me from his chair. I could tell he was a quiet guy, so I didn’t want him to feel forced to talk to me about anything.

“No, it’s OK,” he said. “I trust you.”

I’m not sure what I did to gain his trust in the 15 minutes that we met. But his words made my day. I wondered if counseling was something I could do, if I could really fit into the role of trustworthy therapist.

I smiled as I left my first interview as a counselor-in-training. I put on my headphones and went to the on-campus bookstore feeling unbelievably happy. I felt trustworthy. I felt capable.

***

Insecurity is a real challenge of mine. Maybe it has to do with the progressiveness of FA, because it seems to be a common echo among all FA patients. As our physical abilities become more and more limited, our dependence on others increases. Since we rely on others more than most able-bodied people, our self-worth seems to evaporate. At least it is that way for me.

It’s important for me to recognize what I can do, regardless of Friedreich’s ataxia. I can still listen to others. I can still talk them through whatever hardships they may face. Maybe I can still matter to others.

And if I can, so can you.

***

My friend Dylan spent the day with me last Saturday. He and his girlfriend drove an hour to go eat burgers and catch a movie with me. I hadn’t seen him in a while. He had received his graduate degree earlier last year in international business management from Boston, with time spent abroad in both Costa Rica and London.

We had a great time catching up. I pointed out that he was now the age I was when I first met him. He pointed out that we were both getting old, and I was getting a little gray in my beard.

Thanks, buddy.

Getting older, as aggravating as it sometimes is, is a privilege denied to some FAers.

So, here I am, with my graying beard, having a good time with my friend for life, whom I met when he was a high school student in a practice counseling interview. I’m not completely free of insecurities, and I don’t know that I’ll ever be. But moments like these remind me that maybe self-worth isn’t wrapped up in physical independence.

(Courtesy of Matthew Lafleur)

Maybe I’m right where I’m supposed to be.

***

Friedreich’s Ataxia News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

Matthew Lafleur BNS Writer
Matt Lafleur was diagnosed with Friedreich’s ataxia at age 11. He has a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s in mental health counseling.
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Matthew Lafleur BNS Writer
Matt Lafleur was diagnosed with Friedreich’s ataxia at age 11. He has a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s in mental health counseling.

2 comments

  1. Joseph Samra says:

    Inspirational Post. I like it. The idea was good for a general interview with a student for the child counseling class. Thank you so much for sharing this story. I would like to share this post with my near and dear friends.

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