An Interview with PMc Creative Assistant, Fashion Guru, and All-Around Awesome Person JILLIAN MERCADO
by Jonathan Metzelaar
It’s not always easy to find the silver lining when terrible things happen in the world. The truth is, much of what occurs in life, both for the better and for the worse, is entirely random and chaotic and unfair. Some of the best and kindest people suffer, while the dregs of humanity profit and prosper. This is an important thing to understand and accept, because the sooner you realize this, the sooner you can learn to take what life throws at you and scavenge it for morsels of goodness and hope.
When I first found out that my friend Jillian had her wheelchair stolen I was floored. In the roughly five years that I’ve known her, Jillian has been one of my kindest, most patient, most selfless friends, and the absolute last person on the planet that something like this should have happened to. Thinking about the whole thing brought to mind so many questions, few of which were confined to the event itself. How could anybody be so evil as to steal a wheelchair from somebody who relies on it to get around? How could such a horrible thing happen to one of the kindest, most incredible people I knew? It was hard for me to reconcile the event with my general view that people, deep down, are good, and that there is justice in the world.
But then something happened. Jillian set up a way to collect funds to purchase a replacement wheelchair. The price goal was daunting, but people started to come through. Gradually, with the help of friends, family, and complete strangers alike, Jillian managed to raise most of the money. Rallying together, people managed to take a terrible, unforgivable act and overwhelm it with their goodness, transform it with their generosity. In the end, Jillian, as she seems to do so naturally, emerged unscathed from it all, a beacon of inspiration.
Jonathan Metzelaar: You recently had your motorized wheelchair stolen. How did it all go down? What kind of emotions and thoughts did you experience, both when it happened and in the days since?
Jillian Mercado: Yes, sadly, this is true. I got my chair stolen about a week before my 25th birthday–talk about a surprise. What happened was, I went to meet up with my friend at Chelsea Market, and we took a walk around town. It started getting late, and I asked him if I could use his restroom. Luckily he lived in the area, so when we got to his place I left my chair inside his gated entrance. By the time I got back, it was gone.
From the moment I realized what had happened, I wasn’t myself. It was all just a blur of confusion, frustration, and this strange feeling that my soul was floating. My initial reaction was honestly laughter; I didn’t believe it fully until my friend’s brother repeated that it was gone. That’s when I went into shock, which I followed up with a complete breakdown. Every thought possible went through my mind. I thought of all the months it had taken me to get it, the fights I had with the insurance in order to be kept on updates, and the fact that my parents didn’t have money to pay the rent, nevertheless buy a new chair.
I don’t remember thinking about how I wouldn’t be able to go out and be independent, or how I would have to wait to get a new one, if that was even possible. I didn’t think about any of that until a month later. It’s been about four months since it happened, and I would still love to know why anyone would do that.
JM: How long have you had to use your chair to get around? What are your physical limitations, and did you have those limitations since birth? I thought I remembered you mentioning to me once that it had something to do with malpractice by the doctors at the hospital you were born in, but I could be misremembering.
JM: I’ve had an electric wheelchair for about 15 years, but I’ve been in a chair all my life. Since I have Spastic Muscular Dystrophy, my only real physical limitations are that my muscles tend to tighten in certain locations of my body, mostly in my legs and arms. It’s gotten so much better since birth though; I used to eat from a tube and not be able to stand on my own. Now I don’t eat from a tube, and I’m able to walk about five steps on my own, and an entire block with a hand to hold or a walking device.
And yes, you’re right about the doctor, great memory! The reason for my disability was because of malpractice by a student doctor who dislocated my hip while my mother was giving birth to me. They didn’t find out I was disabled until the age of three.
JM: What is an average day like for you, from the time you wake up until the time you go to bed? Do you ever struggle with your lifestyle, or have you adapted well to things by now to the point where everything comes relatively easy?
JM: It honesty depends on the day. I usually wake up, check my email, check my social media platforms, and update myself with current events while eating breakfast and listening to music. Then, if I have a photoshoot or a meeting that day, I’ll get ready, which takes more time than you might expect because it’s harder for me. After that I check the MTA site to see if all the access elevators are a go (I have to check every time I go somewhere, since I’ve gotten stuck so many times), put my earphones on, and out I go. It’s honesty a true adventure going out with me, because you learn and notice things you wouldn’t normally notice. As my friends say, it’s an adventure.
Every day is also a struggle though, I can’t sugarcoat that one. I’ve just really gained a positive outlook on my life and how I want to live it that makes it seem like it’s easy for me. My friends and family have always been there for me and have emotionally helped me continue my life, so any physical accomplishments are more of a boost for me to become stronger.
JM: What motivates you? What do you love to do, and why do you love to do it? Are there people, either celebrities are people you know, that you are inspired by?
JM: Motivation for me comes from deep within. It’s been a hell of a rollercoaster. I now look at my life and can’t complain. I have done amazing things being myself. The first time that I became aware that I was different made a huge hole in my heart, because I couldn’t believe I wasn’t going to be able to be like everyone else. But as I got older, I realized that it was a gift. I’ve been given the opportunity to make a difference, and that has been my motivation—myself.
As for what I love to do, the question should really be about what I don’t like to do, because I pretty much love to do everything. My favorite thing to do on my downtime is to blast music in my ear, canceling out all sound while I walk along Riverside Park alone in the afternoon. Then I usually take the train home when my battery goes halfway down. It’s kind of how I meditate and think. Sometimes I’ll even go out without music or my phone, but those are the days when I really need to find myself again.
JM: You mentioned to me awhile back that you have never had a dream where you were in a chair. In all of your dreams you’re walking. You also mentioned that you’re amazed by people who can walk, and that you don’t understand how they stay balanced. To be honest, these things blew my mind. What are some things about your life, or even just some things you think about, that very few people know about you, whether because they’re afraid to ask or because they never thought to ask? Furthermore, what are some things you wish more people knew about you?
JM: It’s true! My dreams have always weirded me out a little, but I never truly put it too much to mind. I love my dreams, and more often than not I remember them, and some aspects of them come true. But yes, I am always walking in my dreams.
I don’t want to go starting a pity party for myself, but I have always wanted to see how it feels to run. I know it may sound weird, but the fact that anyone can move forward at such a crazy speed on their feet always fascinated me. It must be a huge adrenaline rush!
I have always been open to random questions about my way of life, and all my friends know that I’m the easiest person to talk to. I love having conversations about life, relationships, and everything in-between. See, I’m no different than you; I just have a heavier backpack to carry. People tend to sometimes forget that I’m a human too, with feelings and thoughts. I have gotten many great questions and comments But I also have had plenty of absurd ones. Just remember that sometimes comments like, “I’d rather die than be in a chair,” are things that should just stay in the magical place of your mind. Believe it or not, somebody has actually said this to me, and no, they weren’t drunk.
JM: What are your goals for both the near and distant future? What do you want to accomplish more than anything else in the world?
JM: At the moment I have a couple of goals, which is great because I am a bit of a workaholic. I am currently doing my indiegogo fundraiser, which will go on till November 18th to raise funds for me to replace my very old wheelchair that I’m forced to use now. There’s also a benefit party coming up on November 10th at The Hotel Americano. I also joined a great beauty website called Beautylish, where I will be writing about style and makeup trends.
For the future, I want to work on more creative projects. Working for PMc Magazine, I have had the amazing opportunity to work with great designers and creative minds, and this is what I want to continue doing. Becoming the Creative Director or founder of a magazine is what I want more than anything though. This probably has to do with my lifelong obsession with magazines.
JM: If you could offer people one piece of advice about life, what would it be?
JM: I hate sounding cliché, but I’ve been through so much, and the only thing that motivates me to continue is the knowledge that tomorrow will be better. Nothing in life is easy; we all go through many tests in life. I have only one life to live and enjoy, so being depressed will only put me at a disadvantage. Love yourself, and that alone should be motivation enough. You are alive. Love life.
JM: Do you have any projects you’d like people to know about?
JM: If you haven’t checked out my fundraiser page, please do and share with anyone you know. I talk about my life as someone who is in a wheelchair working in the fashion industry. I also have my personal website, called Manufactured1987, where I talk about fashion and my personal style diary.
Jillian Mercado is the Creative Assistant and Photoshoot Coordinator for PMc Magazine. She is also a writer, an amateur photographer, a fashion connoisseur, a good person, and a great friend.
Written and Edited by Jonathan Metzelaar
Photography by Hadar Pitchon
Design by Jillian Mercado
Jillian Mercado, New York City, 2012, Photography by Hadar Pitchon