At The Start of Happiness I love to find examples of where people are taking the chance to live out their dreams. This is what it’s all about. Whether you succeed or you don’t, it doesn’t matter. The most important thing is that you tried.
Well, I recently came across a guy named Andrew Walton who did just that. He’s decided to take life into his own hands and create something unique. He’s just getting started and I’m sure many of you may be in the same boat.
Amazingly, Andrew had an illness that caused him to not be able to speak for 2 and a half years. What was it like and how has this changed his life moving forward? It’s all detailed in our discussion below.
Brendan: Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what it is that you do?
Andrew: Sure. I’m an ex-musician – studied jazz guitar in university – but now I’d consider myself a writer who moves to a new, interesting place around the globe every 2-4 months, writing about the strange, fascinating, and inspiring things I experience along the way.
Brendan: It sounds like a great lifestyle!
Andrew: It’s been an incredible experience so far. Sometimes I forget how lucky I am to be able to do this.
Brendan: I know you haven’t always been lucky. You’ve experienced some incredibly difficult times in your life… and perhaps you still are? Can you tell us a little bit about some of the challenges you’ve experienced?
Andrew: Wow. Yeah it hasn’t always been the romantic vacation of a lifetime. My biggest challenge for years now has been my health. I’ve been dealing with a chronic repetitive strain injury for almost 8 years and I was unable to talk for about 2.5 of them. Needless to say those things complicate the life of someone whose passion is communicating.
Brendan: That’s amazing. I can’t imagine what it would be like to not talk for 2.5 years. How did you communicate?
Andrew: Well…for the most part – I didn’t! My arms were in such rough shape writing things wasn’t a sustainable option, nor was sign language. In 2012 I was exceptionally fortunate to have a girlfriend who helped me make up a “gross motor sign language” — I’d wave my arms in funny shapes to communicate things. We had around 200 words that only the two of us knew, but it gave me *someone* to speak to.
Brendan: It’s great that you had someone there to be able to support you through it all. How did your relationship change with her while going through this? Communication is the key ingredient for all realtionships, so I’m sure you must have had difficult times?
Andrew: You’re absolutely correct. It was extremely frustrating, but fortunately both of us valued communication extremely highly. We always made an effort to take the time to work out the serious questions we all have to ask in relationships and to find ways to enjoy each others company that didn’t require a lot of conversation. Sports, food, friends, walks in the park, a movie, anything really.
Brendan: I’m glad you found a way to stay ‘in the game’ of life! What other challenges did you face during this time?
Andrew: Aside from the voice and arms, the main challenge was internal. I had this self image of an energetic, active, clever, creative guy who would do amazing things in the world…and I felt trapped in a body that wouldn’t let me DO any of it. So while it was a challenge to do many basic tasks like cook and clean, or to have a steady job, the internal struggle dwarfed it all.
Brendan: I’ve always wondered what that would feel like… having a healthy mind in a non-responsive body.
Andrew: Perhaps, but I think most of us have felt trapped at some point in our lives. The big question is “what’s trapping us?” For me, it was my body. You escaped a corporate job that many people would envy, without realizing that it could be it’s own, different sort of trap.
Brendan: Very true… I like that comparison. It’s like a burning desire inside to do something different to what you’re currently doing. So how did you break out from all of this? Did it just suddenly happen where you could talk again or was it a slow, gradual, conscious process?
Andrew: It was sudden. One day last June I was so fed up, so frustrated with this situation that I locked myself in the bathroom and told the world I wasn’t coming out until I had solved the mystery. The actual recovery process has been slower going, but there was that one, giant leap that was the catalyst for it all. I’ve talked every day since that day, with only 1 or 2 days where I almost couldn’t.
Brendan: That’s amazing… so you locked yourself inside and just tried everything you could do to talk? Kind of like screaming inside I imagine? Just trying anything to get something to come out?
Andrew: Very close to that – and there was plenty of screaming inside. I actually was physically capable of talking, but it felt like my vocal chords were getting cut out when I would try. So it was a combination of trying to manage the pain, not close off my mind in protection, and find some body mechanics that relieved the tension in my upper body as much as possible. I had to be extremely forceful with my mind and gentle with my body. I feel like when we’re in pain – any pain – we shut down, close off, kind of mentally curl up into a ball to shield ourselves. The cure often seems to be doing the opposite, regardless of the particular problem.
Brendan: When you started talking and being able to move your arms properly again, how did your life change? Has it been different to what your life was like prior to the illness?
Andrew: I don’t even know where to begin. I went from fearing my life (as I had envisioned it) was over. There’d be no career, no family, no guitar, no travel…nothing. Getting those abilities back, I guess more than anything it gave me hope and let me dream big again. And it definitely gave me a new perspective on things. I appreciate everything more, I judge and blame people less – seeking to understand their particular situations more. And I see how precious the time we have is, so I’ve been driven to make the most of it ever since – and to empower other people to do the same.
You say on your website you never want to see another person not living their passion and I agree completely with that, life is too precious to waste on work we hate.
Brendan: You’ve got that right! 🙂 You’re over in Thailand now, aren’t you? What made you want to go there?
Andrew: Well that’s a funny story! Yes, I’ve been in Thailand since mid January. And the reason I went is super cliche: A woman! I could say something about how this was the next interesting experience I wanted to explore and how it would be a boon for my writing and all that, but I’d be making a liar of myself.
I met a Russian girl who was doing a visa run to Malaysia and stayed at the same place I was at. We hung out, hit it off, and decided to head back to where she was living in Thailand.
And here’s a tip: If you want to learn a language, date a native speaker!
Brendan: Classic! I’ll keep that one in mind, although I’m married 🙂 So now you’re a writer and traveller. What’s your bigger goal or purpose that you are striving towards?
Andrew: I want to use my writing to do a number of things: On a personal level it’s mostly about creative self expression, which makes me feel incredibly happy and fulfilled. But I have a bigger vision too. I feel like I have another shot at life and I can use it to impact so many people who are facing difficult situations like I did. Or heck, just normal situations – those can be tricky enough!
I’d like to share the beauty of the world, create a deeper understanding of human nature, empower people to pursue their own passions, and build a community that can undertake some bigger projects relating to environmental sustainability and other forms of social good.
It’s all a very warm and fuzzy picture in my head. I’m finding that getting out there and talking to people has been a great way to take things out of dreamland and actually make good things happen.
Brendan: What successes have you had so far with that?
Andrew: That’s an interesting question because I feel like I can’t take too much credit for a lot of what’s happened. Regarding empowering people, I try to give people the space to explore different ideas without judgment, and maybe a gentle nudge here and there towards expressing their passion. But it’s about drawing out something that’s already there, not me putting something new in.
So I’ve received some very kind emails from people who say that my writing helped them make an important decision or solve a problem, and I’ve helped encourage some of my friends to pursue their passion in music or other careers that don’t have money as a main motivating factor, but I still feel like I’m just getting started.
Brendan: That’s all it takes… a single step, one after the after in the right direction. What are the next steps for you in your life?
Andrew: Absolutely! For me, the next few steps involve launching my website, Cracking The Happiness Code, which deals with the themes of understanding human nature, empowering people, and community building. Along with this, I’m making a transition into working full-time on this website and with this community – meaning no more freelancing nonsense that saps my inspiration and arm-endurance! I’m actually running a crowd funding campaign with Patreon to help make it all possible.
It’s crazy busy but a lot of fun too, and I’ve been learning a lot and talking to some really inspiring people. It makes me all the more excited to be able to focus on something I’m passionate about and will hopefully impact a ton of people!
Brendan: Congratulations! It takes courage to really step-up and follow the path that is most inspiring and meaningful to you… I love hearing your story. Where can people go if they want to find more information about your experiences and community?
Andrew: Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share it! The best place to find me and to get more information about the community is at Cracking the Happiness Code.
Brendan: Thanks so much for your time and I look forward to seeing big things from you 🙂
Note From Brendan
If you have a personal story you would like to share or you know of someone that does, I’d love to hear from you. Please get in contact with me.