My Grandmother, a Young Mom and my Favorite Football Player

January 16, 2015

I hear the word inspirational used often, so I wish I could find a better way to explain how much respect I feel for the people I meet in our office every day.

The clients we serve are suffering physically, mentally and financially. Some are in so much pain they can’t do the most basic activities without help. Others have diseases they know they will never recover from.

Usually, clients come in with a family member who tells me how they have managed to stay themselves even when facing terrible illness. Grandmothers still love talking about their new grandbabies, even when they are too weak to hold them. Couples are still in love, even when one partner is ill. Mentally ill teenagers still crave independence from their parents. This is what impresses me the most. Our clients stay themselves even when they’re facing illness and pain. I often wonder if I could do the same if I were faced with their challenges.

When my grandmother fell ill, her response to her illness shocked me. I always think of her when my clients come in with terrible arthritis, degenerative disc disease, congestive heart failure or lupus. My grandmother had all of these diagnoses and often couldn’t get out of bed for weeks or even months.

But she was unstoppable.

You would never know she was ill when you called her. She loved people, and would never pass up a chance to talk. She wanted to know everything that was going on in your life whether you were a stranger or her best friend.

She loved a party and would save up all her energy for big events. The last memory I had of her was at a family wedding. She stayed up late into the night, chatting with my cousins and me. She had an extra tank of oxygen ready and called it her “party tank.” She loved being around people and that never stopped, no matter how much pain she was in.

Another person who inspires me is Steve Gleason. When I was a teenager, I had the privilege of meeting him. He’s pretty famous in New Orleans from his days playing for the New Orleans Saints. He had long hair, and played like a wild man. It was always fun to watch him, but he is best known for turning the game around by blocking a punt in the first game back in the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina.

I met Steve years before he was famous when I was a teenager working out in the weight room at Washington State University where my dad worked. Steve wasn’t as big as most of the players on his team.

But he was unstoppable.

He played with a crazy enthusiasm. You could tell he loved it! He seemed to be having so much fun you didn’t notice he was logging long hours in the weight room and carefully working toward becoming a starting player and captain of his team.

I couldn’t believe it when Steve was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Later Sclerosis (ALS). I’ve been even more shocked by his response to his diagnosis.

He went on a cross-country road trip with his wife, had a baby and started a charity to bring attention to ALS. Now he can’t walk, talk or take care of himself. He uses his eyes to type Twitter messages that are hilarious and irreverent. He moves his wheelchair around way too fast, shooting around like a wild man.

He had his football buddies take him to the top of Machu Picchu, and rode the rapids in Hells Canyon. I always check Instagram to see what Steve is doing. His charity helped launch the now famous Ice Bucket challenge, and has brought so much attention to ALS that Sports Illustrated just named him “Inspiration of the Year.” He is raising funds and lobbying congress to do research on ALS, and he’s still a leader and a wild man who is fun to watch.

Just this week I got word that one of our clients, Lisa, was approved for disability benefits. She is bipolar and has mood swings that made it impossible for her to handle social interactions. She can go from screaming to laughing in minutes. She’s lost many jobs and relationships as a result.

She tried to self-medicate by doing drugs. All of that stopped when she found out she was pregnant seven years ago. She stopped using drugs. She tried to work to support her son, but could not. In case she gets sick, she’s created a support network for her son to make sure he gets what he needs. She calls her brother and asks him to take care of her son when she is feeling manic or can’t focus on her son.

But she is unstoppable.

Lisa was about to be evicted when we got word the judge approved her case. She spoke to our benefits manager when she got her approval letter and had to move into another room because she didn’t want her son to hear her say “eviction.” Her first concern was still him. I’m so impressed with the lengths she goes to make sure her son is safe and happy – even when she’s battling a very difficult mental illness.

I often think about my grandmother and Steve when I meet our clients. I hope in my own life I can show some of the determination to do the things that I love and just plain old bravery our clients. It’s impossible to meet our unstoppable clients and not feel inspired.

If you can’t work and need help getting back to unstoppable, give us a call at Nash Disability Law today.