Every now and again, we come across a story about the human spirit which is so enormously inspiring that we can’t do anything but share it. Even less often, we come across one of those stories which also has a direct message that all of us can learn from. Mark Pollock, who currently works as a motivational speaker has one of those stories.
In 1998, Mark Pollock, lost his sight at the age of 22 years old. The loss hit him hard as, having previously been extremely active, he believed that he would be unable to lead what he considered to be a normal life. 11 years later though in 2009, Mark had proven himself wrong by becoming the first blind man to complete the trek to the South Pole.
The journey marked a turning point in Mark’s relationship with his blindness, he’d proven that he could overcome challenges that any sighted person would struggle with. But just as he was finally picking himself up after being stuck down by blindness, Mark was hit by an even more devastating blow.
On the 2nd of July 2010, Mark fell from a second storey window whilst sleepwalking. He suffered a fractured skull, a number of serious internal injuries and internal bleeding, broken ribs and a spine broken in three places. When he was finally out of danger, he found that he was paralysed from the waist down.
Describing his feelings upon finding himself needing to deal with this new hurdle, Mark said:
“…I think I wrote on my blog ‘blind, paralysed and broken’, and I think for the last six months, the reason I said that I was broken was because I was mentally pretty down, all sorts of infections and difficulties and setbacks for the last six months and I really couldn’t see beyond the next day, the next infection.”
“So up to this point I’ve always been someone who looked forward and set a goal and was inspired by that goal, but having broken my back and been lying in bed for so long everything was really quite negative because I could only bring myself to look at the bad stuff that was happening, the fact that I couldn’t use my legs, the fact that I was sick the fact that I couldn’t see a future.”
Mark suffered a bout of infections which, alongside the obvious challenges of his new condition, left him emotionally and physically drained, as he put it, “I just felt like I was going down and down and down”. But rather than going under, Mark drew on the strength he’d already demonstrated in coming to terms with his blindness, to help him to see that he could cope with this new challenge:
“I had to re-frame the problem, not to just look at the really difficult times but to try and understand that I would get through each of the little challenges and to take them on and get through them one by one, and I think, the conversation I had with one of the clinical staff in Stoke Mandeville (centre for spinal injury) was to think back about how I felt a month after going blind and three months after going blind and six months after going blind, and it did improve, so I was sort of drawing on previous experiences to know that you do feel awful but it will get better and if you can just stick in there you can eventually start to take control of things again.”
Now this advice might well be the type of thing that you’d dismiss out of hand if it was coming from some tanned, rich, pampered self-help guru, making millions from talking about how to deal with problems they are unlikely to face themselves, but these words come from someone who has lived though and is living through a situation more difficult than most will ever even come close to.
Whilst we complain about a bit of extra fat, or an inability to stay away from the cookie jar, problems we are actually perfectly capable of doing something about, here’s someone who is living proof that it’s possible to tackle any problem if you can put things into perspective:
I’ve always been conscious that you can choose to see things happening to you, and on that basis you’re out of control, you’re a victim. But at the end of the day, you have to decide whether you’re going to lie back and let it all happen to you, or whether you’re willing to make a decision and get on with it and look to the future.
Training, improving your diet, quitting a bad habit like smoking, the words above could apply to any of us, even in these comparatively petty challenges we face from day to day. Are we going to be victims of our circumstances, or make a decision about where we want our lives to go? I’m not sure I could ever handle the situation with as much courage as Mark has shown, but given his example, I don’t think I can let myself get away with saying “It’s too hard” so lightly ever again..