Overcoming Life’s Adversities

A client at SPD’s new Transition Programme for Employment (TPE), Zi Heng, was a teenager leading an active lifestyle. Working as a lifeguard then, he was about to enter university [...]

A client at SPD’s new Transition Programme for Employment (TPE), Zi Heng, was a teenager leading an active lifestyle. Working as a lifeguard then, he was about to enter university with hopes for a bright future when a freak accident turned his world around. He describes in this blog post his challenges thus far and his plans for the future.

This article was first published in Post Scripts, a blog that features everyday stories by youths that inspire and motivate.

I’m writing this to everyone out there to rethink about life, how vulnerable it can be and that we should treasure and maximize our life to the fullest. I hope this simple story of mine can inspire you to be a stronger person when facing the many challenges in life.

I was just like any other teenager. After finishing my O levels, I started working part time at Sentosa as a lifeguard. I then moved on to Temasek Junior College before serving my National Service in the Air Force as an Air Warfare Officer. Prior to studying at National University of Singapore, I taught at my alma mater Tanjong Katong Secondary for more than half a year. I must say life was pretty smooth sailing.

A photo of Zi Heng before the accident

3rd August 2013, my life changed forever. It was the last day of the Science Orientation Week and I was there as a senior for the camp. It was the beach day and we were at Palawan beach. It was just a usual dive but the next instant, I realised I was unable to move. Neither could I struggle nor call for help. I had to hold on to that last breath I had in me until someone pulled me out of the water.

I suffered a spinal cord injury as one of the bones in my neck fractured, resulting in paralysis in most parts of the body. I couldn’t feel or move anything chest down, and lost bladder and bowel functions. My body temperature regulation was bad as I could not perspire, resulting in being too hot or too cold at times. My lungs were weak and excessive talking caused me to be breathless and even dizzy. My mobility was affected. I could move my arms but with limited functions – I could not control my hands and fingers.

Life became really tough as I lost my independence. Simple things like picking up something from the floor, refilling a water bottle, washing some dishes, and getting out of bed are no longer activities that can be done alone without assistance. Sitting in the wheelchair is also tiring over long hours as I have to rely on my shoulders for balance given that I have no control of my trunk. Doing something easily requires more time, more effort, more energy as compared to the past, and it might not even be completed successfully. Imagine yourself landing in such a situation. What will you do? How will you feel and react?

“Life is bright and cheerful if you try to see things in a positive light, and move in a positive direction. To always be moping around with a gloomy expression on one’s face or with a face set in lines of complaint and discontentment, or to only do things grudgingly, without enthusiasm, is a joyless and tedious way of life.” – Daisaku Ikeda.

In the past months, I constantly strive to live my life in high spirits everyday. I hope that by doing so, my family and friends will not be worried and I hope that it’ll give them the strength to face and resolve problems in their life. Though I did cry once, but I picked myself up within the same day, determined to stay strong for those who chose to continue to stay by me as I feel that by doing so, it’s the best way to express my sense of gratitude towards them. I’m sure there are many people out there stronger than me, but I hope my own effort of strength and positivity can be an actual proof to everyone around me, that it is possible, and they can do so too.

As a baby, you do not stop trying to stand and walk despite the numerous falls you have. As a kid you do not stop learning to count despite the difficulties. Similarly in life, you should not give up when faced with challenges. It is normal for life to be filled with challenges and difficulties. The purpose of all these challenges? To equip you with new skills and strengthen you to be a better person. Overcoming the falls, you learn to walk and eventually run. Learning your math helps you with many tasks in life. One should see every challenge as an opportunity to grow, a stepping stone to greater things out there.

It may seem unreal or like a dream for someone who was running around just like anyone to suddenly be bounded to a wheelchair. An advancement in technology or a miracle might be needed for me to stand and walk again, but I deeply treasure all that I’ve done in life and look forward to creating more value as the future unfolds.

P.S. “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning how to dance in the rain.”

Zi Heng had to take one year of leave from school due to his injuries and had to undergo rehabilitative therapy. He returned to school in August 2014. He is passionate about teaching and is currently under MOE’s Teaching Award studying Physics at National University of Singapore Faculty of Science.