It was a real pleasure joining Matt’s first online gathering last week. It included a preview of the “I Am Matt Budzak” speaking topic and slideshow he’s prepared to share with groups that invite him to speak in the future. The event was excellent, and I’m looking forward to experiencing the remaining speaking topics he rolls out during his monthly online gatherings.
On this topic – and I don’t know about anyone else – but I feel like I already “got it” (and became a huge fan) a couple years ago after clicking on his first YouTube video. I guess it was when I heard myself saying “I am Matt Budzak” out loud that I got it – that despite our perceived differences, we’re really all the same. The things I thought were a big deal, weren’t. The things I didn’t think about – those were important.
I just don’t know how else to explain it. I assume some people will get it, and others won’t. Maybe it’s the non-confrontational way he (says he in recent years) developed to share the insights he’s come to that taught me so much – not the least of which was what it might be like to live with a lot of physical limitations – again, what really is a big deal and what’s not – and how to get past my assumptions.
Matt’s First “Any Question” Online Gathering
Matt said he isn’t recording his live online Zoom calls because he wants everyone to feel comfortable asking any question, giving feedback on his slideshows, and sharing thoughts on the topics he presents. My wife Kim and I asked if we could take notes as Matt went through his slideshow, and afterwards, I asked if he would like me to do a guest blog post as a way of sharing how the evening went.
He said yes! So here’s some of what Matt covered…
Matt was adopted as a baby and raised in Puyallup. He said he “wouldn’t have it any other way except the weather” lol. He was born with Multiple pterygium syndrome, which he explained causes the joints in his arms and legs to not work right.
We were struck by the photos he shared from his childhood, with legs looking perfect – without realizing at first that they were locked in place. Matt said he made the best of it, and was a typical little kid, liking to play with toys, and learning to scoot around on his bottom since he couldn’t crawl due to being stuck in what looks like a sitting position.
Matt pointed out that in his slideshow, we might notice most of the photos show he had a “trach” in order to help him breathe from the time he was a baby until he was about 20 or 21 years old. In one of the photos, Matt’s mom pointed out his arm cast, saying the thumb on his right hand didn’t work, so among other surgeries, doctors tried to transfer a tendon to fix it, but the procedure didn’t end up working.
Matt said that when he wasn’t in the hospital, his family life was normal, taking family vacations and stuff. He said he was trying to be a kid as much as possible, remembering that there were other kids in the hospital “going through things way more advanced and intense” than even him.
One guy who attended the Zoom meeting while wearing what looked like hospital scrubs asked Matt what he did to entertain himself all that time in the hospital as a kid. Matt said he was on a lot of meds and slept a lot, but otherwise TV. “This was the 90’s, so we had Fresh Prince, Boy Meets World, Backstreet Boys, N Sync – that was the discovery of entertainment for me. I loved it. It kept my mind off of the pain.”
“That was an intense time for a young kid to go through. I tried to continue to enjoy my childhood the best i could.” Matt then showed a photo of himself in what he said was a typical position eating on the floor … and wearing some colorful shoes. “I was eating oatmeal and rocking Elmo sandals. I loved those! To this day, I follow Elmo on social media – so there you go.”
Matt went on to share that as he got older, he and his doctor realized that the surgeries and painful apparatus they put on his legs to try to straighten out the joints were not going to be successful. No matter what they did, his legs were going to go back the way they were – and possibly turn backwards – so if he kept them, he might not even be able to sit in a chair.
“I never saw the importance of having legs.”
So Matt went to his mom with the request that his legs get amputated. “It was the best decision of my life,” he said. Then for several years, he tried wearing prosthetics. “You know, those prosthetics weighed a hell of a lot more than I did on a good day. I struggled a lot with those. We would go to church and I would have my prosthetics and a walker and would try to go up to communion. I fell a lot – face forward in line while trying to walk up. We were hoping that over time I would get used to them with increasing strength, but they ended up taking away my independence. It just wasn’t working.”
Matt said that people understandablely pushed him to to work with the prosthetics for a long time, but he I felt a lot more freedom when he finally chose a wheelchair life over a life with prosthetics. Regarding the decisions he made about his legs, he says he has “no regrets at all, none whatsoever…. Like after the double amputation, the first time I went out in public without my legs, people were all ‘I’m so sorry” but I was confused because I was actually the most happy and active I’d been in years…. I never saw the importance of having legs.”
Matt didn’t get deep into what he said was a very dark time during Jr. High School, apparently saving that for a speaking topic he plans to roll out in August or September. Instead, he went on to show pictures of him and his friends in high school, talking about feeling cool together, and sharing where each of them are now – all successful no matter what people said about the lot of them back in school.
Matt talked about not doing much of anything for a couple years after graduating from high school, and then somehow being invited to several venues to talk about his life. “I was definitely not comfortable being in front of people yet, so that was a huge thing for me. It all just kind of worked out. Made me think: that’s it, that’s what I want to do is be a speaker.
“But then for reasons I didn’t understand at the time, the invitations kind-of dried up. I wasn’t able to get a job. I was rejected again and again, and I discovered alcohol at that point.” Matt said he’ll share more about surviving his 20s next month (Feb 24 at 7pm Pacific) when he rolls out his “Mental Health, Addiction & Recovery” speaking topic, but he did talk about going down to the bars in Puyallup. “There were some people that started taking notice that I was there, and they thought it was cool that somebody like me was out and about.
“In the beginning, I think people had their heart in the right place and kind of enjoyed my company, have a drink with me … and that was good in the beginning. I discovered what a buzz felt like, and all the stress and pain was just gone and it was an overwhelming good feeling that I had. I started experimenting with beer … whartever tasted good. Then i got introduced to … all these different drinks and shots.
“I started drinking a lot. I’d be going down to the bar every day. It became my life, that’s what i did. I couldn’t do anything else, or at least I didn’t feel like it. People were talking to me and paying attention to me. Most of the time they were buying me drinks and I would take advantage of that.”
“Little did I know that a huge problem was being created – getting addicted to it. By the time I was 23 or 24, I was full-blown into it. Every single day. Trying to meet new people. Everyone I knew was partying and drinking. Unfortunately, there were a few people I came across that didn’t have the best intentions – let’s see how drunk we can get the handicapped guy. I didn’t realize that was happening until I was like 25 – when it started to get dangerous. I would have 1 beer then go straight to the shots. I started blacking out. I had no idea where I was going in life…. It was not good.
“Toward the end of my drinking years, I found out about this group called the Here And Now Project run by a friend named Kenny. He recommended I go to their meetings at the library. I was kind of still drinking at that point and maybe went to one meeting.
“Anyway, I ended up getting sick and having a kidney infection, so had to quit drinking all together. I started going to the Here And Now meetings full time. They lifted my spirits, made me feel good, treated me like I was somebody. I don’t even think they realized how much they changed my life and put my life in perspective.”
One person from New Mexico who attended the gathering asked Matt what he would like to do with the rest of his life. He said, “The sky is the limit. I have so many things I want to pursue – motivational speaking, podcasting, have my own place and live a long happy life. I’m hoping to do some traveling – check out New York. I’m taking it one step at a time. Be happy and healthy and take it from there.”
Another person spoke up, saying she listened to one of Matt’s podcasts and watched a couple videos, and wanted to thank Matt for role modeling incredible courage and willingness to risk and step into the unknown, saying those are wonderful qualities that will take him where he wanted to go. Matt said he appreciated that but also shared that he does get tired easily and doesn’t want to get himself in a situation where he does so much motivational speaking that he gets too tired to do a part-time job at the same time, as he has a tendency to get overwhelmed and has to take care.
A few others in attendance knew Matt or his family, one mentioning playing Bunco with him back in the day. She mentioned that when she saw the Zoom event show up on Facebook, she really wanted to join because she “always loved your enthusiasm for life and positive attitude, and can’t wait to hear more from you.”
Guest post author Chris Chisholm and his wife Kimberly McKillip Chisholm live in Puyallup and run Wolf Camp & School of Natural Science. They plan to volunteer with Matt starting in the spring to help guide his new Accessible Northwest Natural History Hikes co-sponsored by the Conservation College.