Shane Burcaw is often asked, “How do you remain so positive?” For him, it involves perspective, focus, and a Crabby Jar.
The following is an excerpt from Laughing at My Nightmare by Shane Burcaw.
Andrew is a Dead Man
“How do you remain so positive?”
People ask me this a lot. The origins of my positive nature can be attributed to learning to handle adversity as a young kid. My whole family will tell you that I was always a happy child, constantly looking for the next source of entertainment, never allowing my wheelchair to get in the way of having fun. Still, I’m human and humans get upset sometimes, especially during childhood.
The earliest memory I have of feeling completely devastated and overwhelmed with negative emotions took place when I was probably six or seven years old. One of my favorite things to do as a child was play Nintendo 64. When my best friend and I weren’t outside playing cops and robbers, we were sitting in my living room with our minds completely absorbed in a game of Banjo-Kazooie. Can we all just agree that Gruntilda is the worst?
Anyway, if my memory serves me correctly, there was a particular day during the summer when my best friend was away, so I spent most of the day playing Nintendo 64 by myself. I played a bunch of games besides Banjo-Kazooie, such as GoldenEye 007 (which I was never very good at because I couldn’t reach the button that was used to fire your gun and that turned out to be a pretty crucial aspect of the game), Mario 64, and Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire (God, I was so lame).
Whatever game I was playing, I remember being totally immersed in the story line when my brother came into the room. Andrew was only three or four at the time, and his favorite thing to do back then was annoy me. Actually, that’s still one of his favorite things. I don’t remember why, but baby Andrew had a pair of scissors that day, and as soon as he saw how far along in the game I was, he decided it would be funny to pretend to cut the wire that went from the controller to the game console. I screamed at him to stop as he taunted me; I’d never gotten this far in the game and I was fairly confident that if he accidentally snipped the controller wire, it would destroy not only my Nintendo, but also all of the electricity in our house and maybe even the world.
Needless to say I became frantic and enraged as he continued to pretend to cut the wire. Then, in what I still consider to be one of the most traumatic experiences of my life, pretend snipping became REAL snipping in the blink of an eye.
Andrew accidentally cut the wire just enough to make the Nintendo shut off. My unsaved game was gone forever. I instantly lost my mind. The waterfalls of tears that rapidly ensued were completely uncontrollable, basically involuntary. My life was over.
I sat there screaming and crying and screaming and crying until Mom came down from upstairs to see what was wrong. When she walked in the room, I choked back my tears and glared into her eyes as fiercely as I could.
“Andrew is a dead man,” was all I said in a confident voice.
Mom apparently didn’t understand the gravity of the situation, because her response was laughter. The tears returned when she was obviously much more concerned about Andrew having scissors than the tiny fact that my life was ruined forever.
I spent the next few hours that day crying my eyes out, sulking about the fact that I would probably never be able to get that far in the game ever again. However, at some point, it occurred to me that no matter how much I cried, or how sorry I felt for myself, my game was never going to come back.
I realized that I just needed to accept what had happened and move on. I was wasting a beautiful summer day by sitting inside being sad about what happened.
In my life today, I try to approach problems similarly to the way I learned how to handle the Nintendo situation (with less crying, of course). First, I try to assess whether a particular problem warrants getting upset about. To do this, I ask myself a simple question: In ten years, will my life be irreparably and negatively changed because of this problem? If the answer is no, which it usually is, I immediately force myself to stop worrying about the problem. Some examples of problems that fall under this category in my mind include: failing a test, having to do chores around the house, losing any kind of game in sports, breaking up with a girlfriend, getting grounded, falling out of a wheelchair and breaking your femur, etc. The list goes on and on, but the point I’m trying to make to you is that, in my opinion, most everyday problems are not really worth getting upset about.
If, however, I evaluate a problem and decide that it really is a big deal, I move to step two of what I will call my method for dealing with problems. Look at me; I have a method. In my life, most of the problems that fall into this category have to do with my disease. Some examples include: realizing my arms are a lot weaker than they were a year ago, thinking about my long-term future, and being unable to do things because of my wheelchair. These are problems that, no matter how you look at them, just plain old suck—a lot. But therein lies the key to step two of my method. As long as I’m not thinking about these problems, they can’t bring me down, so I simply don’t think about them! It’s not rocket science.
There’s nothing I can do to solve any of those above-mentioned problems, so what well will come from spending my time being sad about them?
Instead, I focus my mind and energy on doing things that make me happy like laughing, joking, eating, and spending time with friends. The more I think about it, the more I realize that there really is no other way to live.
My method for dealing with problems might not work for everyone, but for me, positivity and happiness are always possible. Always.
My family used to have an old wine bottle with a cork in the top that we called the Crabby Jar. Whenever my brother or I became whiny, as little kids are prone to do, Mom would pull out the Crabby Jar. This jar was magical, because it held all of the Crabbies we had ever put into it. Mom would pull the cork out, we would quickly blow out our Crabbies, and she would quickly jam the cork back so no Crabbies could escape. Once we completed this ritual, there was no physical way to remain angry or sad, since we had literally dispelled the source of those negative emotions into the jar. The underlying idea behind the Crabby Jar is a pretty good indication of the values that my parents stressed. You are in control of your emotions; the choice to be happy is as easy as blowing out your Crabbies.