I Give Up – The lie.

“I Give Up” — every person has thought this at some point in their life. Life has challenges, and everyone hates not being able to see the light in the darkest of days. “I give up” is so much easier than “I can do this.” I have had people ask me how I can be so happy and smile all the time. I tell them why not? They ask how I can live on my own. I tell them why not? I never gave up on independence… even when my mother asked if I wanted to live in an assisted living. Sure, that would be easier, but I wouldn’t be happy.

My mother and father could have let me die. They could have taken the doctor’s advice and let infection set in and let me die. This is one of the reasons why I can’t give up. My parents believed that their oldest daughter would be someone. They taught me how to be independent, how to speak up for myself (that one took a while to learn), how to just be a decent person.

I was born with Spina Bifida. Spina Bifida literally means “split spine”. It’s a defect where the backbone and the membranes around the spinal cord don’t close all the way. Most commonly the location is in the lower back. Depending on the severity, some don’t even know they have it until they’re much older (for example, Hank Williams, Sr.)

Spina Bifida isn’t who I am… that’s like someone with a severe peanut allergy isn’t who they are. They can’t have peanuts, I can’t walk. That’s it. We adapt to our surroundings and get by with what we can’t have. In all honesty, I don’t care that I can’t walk. I never knew how, so I can’t miss something I never had. My favorite thing is when people ask me how it is to not walk and I say “Like normal.”

I credit a lot to my parents. I wasn’t something they thought would break if I went outside to be a kid. They taught me I could do everything…. Besides walk… but walking is so overrated. I can play basketball, play in the sandbox, and swim better than my siblings. I grew up in northern Wisconsin where there’s snow for 8 months of the year, so my father taught me how to downhill ski in an adapted ski. My father took me fishing, kayaking, camping just like he took my brothers. I did more than my siblings did. I think because my parents didn’t know if I would make it to young adulthood.

I did, and all that my parents have done for me has taught me that giving up would make their work in teaching me how to be an adult pointless. There have been plenty of lows and many more high points in my life. I’ve seen a few too many days in the hospital. It’s been over ten years since I last had to stay for an extended period of time and for that I am grateful. During that hospital stay, my great grandfather visited and he said to me, “You are 12 years old; that is only one-eighth of your lifetime. You have plenty more years to live. So you can never give up.”

I think I got lucky in my school years. I never felt bullied. I never had someone make fun of me because I was in a wheelchair. I’m sure that people made fun of me without me hearing, but I never cared enough to think about it. Looking back, I know I was excluded from parties and some “friends” just tolerated me. I only talk to one or two people from my high school still, and a few more from my elementary school days.

I was a smart child (I’m not bragging, it’s true. I was answering high school test questions in 2nd grade). In 1997, 7 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed, my elementary school did everything to make sure I was just a kindergartener. By fifth grade, I was talking to the kindergarteners about being in a wheelchair. She was one of the first people who let me publicly speak up for myself. There are so many times where I’m thankful for teachers I had, for the times I spent learning how to open a door by myself, learning how to hold a tray and get to a lunch table, learning how to play soccer when my legs don’t kick. I didn’t give up.

Being an adult with a disability is obviously harder. I’ve tried many things that have not worked out, but it doesn’t mean I’ve failed or I’ve given up. I’m learning just as every 20-something learns. My entire life I knew I wouldn’t live in Wisconsin longer than necessary. I always wanted to live where the climate is warmer (snow is NOT accessible at all), and I finally just MOVED the day after I turned 23 years old.

I now live over 700 miles away from my mother, almost 800 miles away from my father. As difficult as it has been, I did the right thing. This is the happiest I’ve been in my life. I have a great “Tennessee” family as we call it. I’m in a place where everyone is different and nothing matters except having a good time with good friends that will be there for you when you need them. I’m finding out that my disability doesn’t matter to those who do matter. This is how life should be, a network of knowing that you’ll always be surrounded by people who enjoy your company and friendship.

I didn’t give up, and I’m starting to find out the reason why. I am not my disability, and I never will be. “I give up” is just an empty threat. A lie. 

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10 Comments

  1. Kenny Teagarden

    April 25, 2016 at 9:45 am

    Hi Sam, it’s Kenny… Livys daddy:)….. I wanted to say meeting you was my most memoral thing about Tennessee. You’re such an inspiration and someone for my daughter to look up to I definitely want to stay in contact, (we will see each other again). You being a motivated speaker or a mentor for young women with disabilities to give them hope and never give up I think is amazing.

    I appreciate you taking time out to hang with us you & Hanna are awesome. I just wanted to say thanks again….
    #FIGHTLIKEAGIRL!!!!!

  2. Tom and Teri Graf

    April 28, 2016 at 9:47 pm

    You are Samm West. Every little hair on your head, and freckle on your face is Samm West. I am Teri Graf, every single cell of my being is Teri Graf. There is no one else in the world like Samm West and no one else in the world like Teri Graf. First and foremost, we are the most loved children of God. Our lives were mapped out long before we even took our first breath. Samm for a reason and Teri for a reason. You my dear Samm are just starting out on your long journey through this amazing trip called life. Your parents did not give up, you did not give up and you will gain emotional strength from your acceptance of God’s plan for you. I have lived, made mistakes, married, divorced, had children and I know I am not done yet, God continues to plan my every breath and my every step and I know I am not along, God is leading me, God is leading you. Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

  3. Louise A Wolf

    May 17, 2016 at 10:48 am

    Sam,
    You are still the kind, gentle, compassionate and awesome young lady you were when you attended Thomas Jefferson Elementary in Wausau, WI. And I was fortunate enough to teach you and meet your incredible family. I am so proud of who you have become, what you have accomplished and what is still waiting for you! However, it does not surprise me a bit! From learning how to catheterize yourself in elementary school to being an inspiration to others. Obviously you are still inspiring others! Keep up the good work! I do keep tabs on you when I see your father, Sally or Chase! That’s how I knew about this blog! Love ya!!!
    Mrs. Wolf (who you can now call Louise!!!)

    1. Samm

      May 17, 2016 at 8:24 pm

      I’ll still call you Mrs. Wolf. You were one of the biggest influences of my childhood and I still remember being so stubborn and mad most of the time. So thank you for being an amazing positive influence to me. It means everything still and I miss you a lot of times when I’m learning as an adult. Love ya and thank you again for everything

      1. Louise A Wolf

        May 18, 2016 at 8:53 am

        What? I honestly don’t remember you being stubborn at all!!! Of course I am getting older…maybe don’t remember those things! Ha!!!
        Louise (NOT Mrs. Wolf)

  4. Tami Monk

    May 17, 2016 at 8:02 pm

    Hi Sam!
    I’m not sure if you remember me (Mrs. Monk), but I was your Aide at Thomas Jefferson School. I enjoyed reading your article. A positive attitude is required for success in everything you have done. If you thought you could succeed, you most likely did. If you had a bad day, you tried to find something that you did well to keep your attitude strong. You never feared failure. Working towards your goals helped you be successful. Also, the more time you put into something, the better your results. Your positive attitude, hard work and self-discipline are the unique qualities that make you stand out as an individual. Your confidence makes me proud. The life lessons you have experienced helped you become the person you are today. Many blessings, Sam!

    Jaguar Pride,
    Tami Monk

    1. Samm

      May 17, 2016 at 8:20 pm

      I remember everyone including you. Hearing from Jefferson teachers really made my day today. I think about all of those times regularly. Thank you so much for teaching a stubborn girl like me to be strong.

  5. Tom and Teri Graf

    June 2, 2016 at 10:25 pm

    Hi Samm, you have got more going for you than most people in this world. You accept yourself as you are, you have confidence that you can do anything, you have courage to stand up to a sitting position and for all of these attributes, we applaud you and we wish for you the “magic of the world as seen in a seated position.”

  6. Wilma Hamilton

    August 23, 2016 at 9:44 pm

    Samm, that is beautiful! Whenever I think of you I remember times when you were a little girl in a wheelchair with a big smile and greeting that warmed everyone’s heart. I also picture you fearlessly racing your wheelchair down the ramp at church. We were with you at Children’s during one of your surgeries and prayed for you during each of those times. How exciting it is to see all the things you have done in the years since.

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