August 21, 1972 was a very fearful day for my family. When I was born, there was very little oxygen circulating to my brain. By age two my family was well aware that I had developmental delays and by age two-and-a-half, I was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy (lack of oxygen to the brain). My family struggled with the questions “how” and “why” did this happen. Questions that were never answered and are no longer relevant.
When I started school, I had a hard time. I was smart enough to learn, but the peer pressure haunted me. I felt different. I had limitations that others didn’t have. Others also put limitations on me that were fear based and not legitimate. I give much credit to Taylor Smith, my best friend when I was growing up. He was instrumental in my “getting through” my early years. He protected me at times and also treated me as an equal not as a “handicapped” boy. Taylor would not let me “off the hook” just because I had a disability. I will always be grateful to Taylor for his friendship.
From an early age, I remember hearing questions about my future. Would I be able to finish high school? Be able to go to college? Be able to work and live independently? There were no answers, and I sensed my family’s anxieties over my future. When I started high school, I developed an attitude. “No matter what it takes, I will succeed.” I felt driven. I still struggle at times with what being successful means to me.
I was in a vocational program when I was 16 and felt more comfortable with my working buddies than I did with my peers. The guys I worked with accepted me just as I was, not so my peers. I never mixed well with the “cool” kids in school because I didn’t fit in. I was always trying to prove that I was good enough.
When I graduated from high school, I wasn’t sure what to do next. I decided to give college a try. I still felt like I had to prove something. It took me five years to achieve an associate’s degree in business administration. Getting my diploma was one of the proudest days of my life.
I relocated to Greenville, SC, and worked in a grocery store, bagging groceries. I worked very hard to prove myself and became an assistant manager within three years. I continued to work longer & longer hours pushing myself relentlessly. However, every hurdle that I jumped, there was a bigger one waiting for me. I was proud of my success, and I was also exhausted. I changed companies thinking this would help, but the work was not a good fit for my skills. I again had to work harder and harder, and this time I did not succeed.
As I look back on the last twenty years, I certainly achieved a lot, but I wasn’t happy. Sure, I proved I could succeed, but I was mentally and physically exhausted. I recently relocated to Covington, Louisiana and am currently living with my mother. My goal is to discover what will make Jeff happy. I no longer define success by the size of my paycheck. My mission is to find my passion. I’ve recently joined several organizations that focus on the needs of people with disabilities. I’ve always been quick to say they don’t understand. Today, I realize that if I don’t help people get to know me, they may never get to know me. I don’t limit my support system to people who understand disabilities. I understand that I can be a bridge that brings people together, by being on the front lines and discussing issues that are hard to discuss with each other. I am in the process of building a public speaking career in hopes of reaching out to people that do not know what it’s like to have a disability and want to learn.
As I compare the resources that were available when was growing up to what is available now, it’s like night and day. The education process is better today than it was in 1980, and I’m happy about that. This is going to educate more kids with disabilities, but when are we going to start talking acceptance, tolerance? The things that can’t be taught by the education process. As I look around the world, there are a great deal of judgments of people who aren’t perfect and of people who need help doing the basic things. These judgments are not going to change unless we put the effort to teach. For a long time, I felt that part of having a disability was being treated differently. Today, I realize there’s something I can do about that.
In the fast paced world that we live in, how do we keep up and remain true to ourselves. I spent most of my life trying to keep up with others, and I realized that I am not everybody else. “I am Jeff Arseneaux.” You can learn more about Jeff, a motivational speaker, at jeffarseneaux.com.