By Zachariah Atteberry
I am writing this book to help others in this world who may be facing obstacles or overwhelming odds in their search for finding happiness or success. It is going to be done in just a couple of months. People who have a disability or handicap against them can find it harder to do well in life. This can be compounded by misunderstanding among peers or friends, self doubt, depression, among other things.
In this story I hope to give you a glimpse of my life and what I went through in the beginning, how it impacted my life, and what I did to better my life in spite of the obstacles. I want to show you that you can do absolutely anything, regardless of where you are at in life. I find the one thing a person needs is to have the opportunity to look into someone else’s life and see what they did to get back on their feet after falling down.
I plan on donating many copies to developmental organizations and animal shelters. You can find this project of mine by visiting my Kickstarter page; please click on this link.
For those who have not met me, my name is Zachariah Atteberry. I am by formal diagnosis, developmentally disabled. The specific label that was affixed to my disability was called Asperger’s, a high functioning form of autism. I was diagnosed with Asperger’s in middle school when I was a teenager. Asperger’s makes it difficult for me to socialize with people. I often made excuses not to attend events like holidays, meetings and other social events. I didn’t have good eye contact, fidgeted my hands, and rehearsed being invisible so people would not notice me there. I had trouble accessing social situations and fitting into high traffic situations for the better part of my middle and high school life.
Talking to people made me feel like I would drown underneath a storm of my own anxiety. Because of Asperger’s, I have trouble comprehending some physical tasks like driving a vehicle, cooking or mowing at first. Communication was the hardest for me to get used to. However, I try not let my disability stop me or get me down in the dumps. I use my disability as a reason to try harder in life, to show the crowd of doubters and nonbelievers what someone like me can accomplish in the face of adversity.
I realize that it is easy for some people to feel alone and undermined in a world that just seems to keep spinning on by when they are a unique learner. What I have found through observation is that the less we know, the more we stand to gain. What this theory means to me is that even if a task took longer than someone else that did it, I still rewarded myself and counted it a victory. Each new skill is a huge stepping stone towards a bigger objective, much like a video game in which we have to start on the simple mission and work our way to the harder missions.
In fact, when I first voyaged out to be someone of worth to society, anxiety and doubt shrouded my mind. I was completely clueless on what to do or what steps to take so I could reach my goals. And when you add in that I was depressed, the feeling of not being able to make my dreams come true was compounded. Unless you are a paragon of confidence, the feeling of being unsure of yourself and in a spot of vulnerability ebbs at you like frost through a leaf. An interesting fact I often find is that people who have disabilities such as Asperger’s often have at least one unique talent such a writing, drawing, or singing. I learned in school that if you judge a fish by their ability to climb a tree, you will never realize their true talent. Having learned that, I have always urged people to look deep for inner talent and to harness what they do have, instead of what they don’t have
The Northeast Missouri Humane Society is where my story unfolded; where I gained the confidence to unlock untold potential and become an integral part of the shelter team. When I first traveled into the realm of animal care, I was shy and did not make an impression worth remembering at first. For several years I was under the erroneous assumption that a person like me couldn’t ever be successful due to having been diagnosed with Asperger’s. I had the ingrained thought that my progress was frozen in time. From my line of work and in life I have learned about trial and error, love and forgiveness. I have learned this lesson not just from myself personally, but from other coworkers and animals that spring into mind when I think of an advocate.
Becoming what I am today has cost me a lot both physically and emotionally. I lost count of the times I was told to get over it as if an injection from a first aid kit would remedy every difficulty. I remember making all F’s in high school, dropping out, and becoming lost in a crypt of depression so deep that not even an excavation crew could find me. Then I came back from that defeat and made all A’s in my senior year after much fighting and working things out. Now, almost 4 years later, I am about to graduate as a veterinary technician.
Being an advocate for the animals at the shelter and at the many places I was shuffled to and from when I was younger was also tough. Being an advocate cost me my want to quit and give up, my ultimate desire to isolate myself into a corner and simply wish the tension away. And I have learned that we do not affect change by alienating ourselves, we affect change by batting on the frontlines for change.
My experience and quest through depression, bullying, and misfortune is not at all unique; the battle is repeated hundreds and hundreds of times throughout the United States. This book was written to honor the ones who lost their lives during the fight to happiness and to help individuals that are still reaching out for fulfilment. I know what it is like as I have been down that road before. And there were many people who doubted that I would succeed… but at the same time others saw hope, experience, and unlimited possibility. I see the potential for greatness in every individual, human and animal alike.
I became a protector of animals and people, to speak up for those with no voice, because of my past life in foster care. I know what it was like to grow up with very few that you can trust, praying to the high heavens that a miracle would come. I enjoy working with animals and helping out people who have been classified as disabled. Animal shelters are constantly evolving as more information becomes available about animal health, behavior, nutrition, and medicine. The excitement to go forth and do more each day to improve their adoption rate is what inspires my work. Sometimes I am caring for a dog or cat when they are hurt, abandoned, or sick, but I am blessed to be with them when they reach their best.
It is true what everyone says, that success does not arrive in a parcel overnight. True success and greatness comes from hard work and devotion over a long period of time. The reality of the matter is that we can choose to adopt the two pronged strategy of failure which involves giving up and allowing to decide what is best for us or we can believe in ourselves. It took a long time for me to become confident enough to embrace my individual talents, to start advocating for myself.
And I could have just gone down the opposite road, to decide not to work and let others support me for life. I could have just sat a home and followed in the footsteps of several people who abused me in life, and become a tyrant. But I did not become a tyrant or an oppressor in any shape or form. I did the unthinkable and turned my abuse and fear into the fuel that I used to work tirelessly for animal and human rights.
I know that it can be tantamount to falling off a cliff or going on a roller coaster to try new things, or to learn a new skill. Taking the extra leap of faith required to try something out of our comfort zone can be frightening for many. Most of the time no one is prepared for what life has to throw at us, and that is common. Sometimes just the thought of trying something new that we could fail at can be crippling to our self-confidence.
Contrary to popular belief, fear is not a bad thing and is a normal human reaction to a tough transition in our lives. What determines what happens next when a situation instills fear into us is what we use that fear to help us accomplish. I remember having a chill down my spine very time I even thought of talking to my boss or the animal abusers, and it took many screw ups to get it right.
It is no secret worth hiding that we have all been entered into a mandatory handicap match against overwhelming odds in one way or another. I am asking you not to give up, to continue the fight with confidence. Within each and every one of us, we can conjure the courage to harness our talents, enjoy life, and laugh a little. The goal is to learn how to dance in the rain so you can ride through any thunderstorm with the confidence that the light will shine in your direction soon.