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From Surviving to Thriving

| This is the 580th story of Our Life Logs® |

I was born October 23, 1957, in Queens, New York. My childhood was carefree and happy. I had artistic inclinations as far back as I can remember. My parents joyfully encouraged this, even asking me to paint murals on our home’s doors. My mom, Phyllis, often kissed my creative hands. As far as I was concerned, I was a regular kid, and my parents didn’t treat me any differently.

But there was something different about me. I just didn’t know it yet.

As a young child, my father would read to my brother and I before bed. Not your typical fairy tales. He would read non-fiction about natural history, paleontology, and even some of Darwin’s theories of evolution. My eyes stayed wide and yearning while he read. On my own, I studied the Greek etymology of various phylum in the animal kingdom and even memorized the Greek alphabet before I was nine years old. I had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge.

Despite my interest in academics and my intelligence, I could sense that something was amiss with me. I could detect deficiencies in myself, differences from other so-called "normal" children.

This was only further internalized when many negative perceptions of me piled up over time. Hovering eyes made me believe that I was really something to be looked down upon. They made me believe that I deserved to be mistreated. Without really knowing why, I carried a sense of self that was so very different than how I had once thought of myself. Under other’s judging gaze, I was no longer the bright child who painted with bright colors and read every book on the shelf. I was smaller.

I remember the day a first-grade teacher told me and my parents that I was "mentally retarded" and would never be able to function in a mainstream classroom. Years later in fourth grade, my music teacher told me that I was "tone-deaf" and would never be able to carry a tune! The latter was especially hurtful, as I enjoyed singing up until then, but afterward came to dread it.

With my interests and differences, I was constantly taunted by bullies. It took a toll on me after a while. I would come home in a snit, taking it out on my family. I felt guilty for being so irascible and argumentative, making me feel all the more miserable and withdrawn.   

I tried my best to avoid confrontations with my tormentors, turning the other cheek, thinking that discretion was the better part of valor. It didn't work well, as they took my pacifism for weakness, and went after me with impunity. Anger welled up inside of me, anger at them for treating me that way, and myself, for allowing them to do so. That anger eventually gave me the courage to confront them, and even when they cornered me. After a while, they got the message that I was no pushover or doormat, and tangling with a wiry wildcat like me would be hazardous. 

I overwhelmingly took refuge in my schoolwork and independently pursued nature studies in my junior-high years. This, in turn, defined (as well as refined) my art. I was able to cope with my obvious disparity from my peers though the only means in which life made sense to me.

However, I would not have wait for answers for much longer.

As I was entering high school at 15, my parents told me the truth, the reason why I always felt a little different.

I learned from my father that I was born with cerebral palsy, a nervous system disorder that affects motor abilities to varying degrees. I was lucky enough to be able to handle more motor skills than others, but it still affected me. I learned that my parents were reluctant in disclosing my condition for fear it would inhibit me from trying to achieve my potential.

I could have felt upset or betrayed, but I didn’t. In a strange way, I was relieved, almost vindicated. I had always known from certain signs that something was awry about me and I found sanctuary in knowing that it was not my fault.

After learning more about my cerebral palsy, my dad told me that he believed it happened due to malpractice on the part of the obstetrician. He’d wanted to sue, but my mom convinced him not to. She feared the burden of legal fees and the difficulty of proving the case. Back then, doctors were treated like gods and people were also a lot less litigious. My mom was happy solely for the fact that I was alive.

I grew up in a family where wit was highly prized. So, you see, my dad did me a great service by not telling me officially that there was something wrong with me and that I had a disability. Because of that, I strove to be my best, learn as much as I possibly could. With this new explanation came a new courage and bravery. I was able to divert the insecurity of my childhood to reason, giving way to academic excellence and inherit curiosity. A struggle, sure. But it was one that was well worth it. Once more, life felt as attainable as when I was a child painting lions and tigers on the doors in my home.

I can’t say in all honesty that I overcame my disability, but through perseverance, I can function with some degree of independence. I delegate the tasks I can’t do and have works with psychotherapists through confidence issues. I live and I live well.

By the time I graduated high school, I had garnered quite a few rewards, bolstering my morale and poise. I became more easygoing and social. I collected friends, dabbled in love and romance, and lived my life as any other young adult would. But just as I was coming into my own, tragedy was on the horizon. My parents had separated and divorced. Then, shortly after Grandpa Max (my father's father) battled prostate cancer, he passed, leaving quite a void. He was one of my mentors. I think I inherited my artistic inclinations from him.

Determined now more than ever to pursue my artistic dreams, I continued on to college to pursue the arts. It was there that I found friendships in others who were living with a disability. One art major (who was wheel-chair bound) told me about the Committee for Disabled Students, inviting me to one of their parties to meet "the gang." The CDS, in turn, told me about the Queens Independent Living Center, which helped me apply for SSI and Medicaid. A few years later, I was transferred (by my father) to SSA and Medicare. 

After graduating college with honors, I went full force and became an artist. Life continued for decades with me just being myself and not letting my cerebral palsy demotivate me.

Fast-forwarding to the 2000s: by the time that decade had ended, I had faced tragedy once more. I had lost my brother and mother to cancer and my father to heart failure. So, once again, I faced grief head-on and had no choice but to pick up the pieces and rebuild my life. Fortunately, I had a support system in place that was full of good friends. Without them, I would've succumbed to a nervous breakdown.

Like many times in my life after receiving bad news, I pulled myself up and kept moving forward. I lived all my life in the same home I grew up in and lived a life full of art.

I am grateful for my gift of being able to draw highly detailed renderings of what I see in nature, particularly animals and their spirit of freedom. Before my dad passed, he confided in me that he never in a million years would have thought I could reach such heights of accomplishment and mastery.  I’m proud to say that I have, and it was in part thanks to his encouragement.

Me, with one of my many art pieces.

The main message I want to share with others, particularly people with disabilities, is PERSEVERANCE! It is perseverance that urges one to continue to live a happy life. By utilizing our unique and natural talents, we can find small moments of joy in the face of adversity.

For me, I find pleasure in the infinite bounty of nature, which, while delicate and ephemeral, changing with every season, is imperfectly perfect. I know not everyone starts their day like this, but I wake up excited in wonderment of what surprises are in store for me every day. With this attitude as a constant, not only do I spend my life surviving, I thrive—yes—genuinely thrive!

This is the story of Fred Adell

Fred grew up as a very intelligent and creative child in Queens, New York. However, his curious and positive nature was contested very early on when many of his peers and even teachers bullied Fred for his differences. It wasn’t until Fred was a teenager when his parents explained that Fred was born with cerebral palsy. This information gave Fred a newfound courage to persevere through his struggles, pursue his passion in the arts, and would set him up for success to live through the trials on his horizon.

Fred has been known to perform in choral groups, though, the pandemic put a halt to most of those outside activities. Fred still performs periodically at "Coffeehouse Nights" in Bayside, New York.

Fred’s sense of humor is expressed in his artwork. One thing that Fred is known for locally, even by the bus driver on his route, is that he is “the guy with the great ties!” One of Fred’s artistic projects was taking all of his ties and painting each one a different animal.

This story first touched our hearts on March 15, 2020

Writer: Pamela Goldman | Editor: Kristen Petronio; Colleen Walker

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