Every story has heroes, twists, and surprises. I am on my way to becoming a Speech-Language Pathologist. I will come to know each client’s world well: their dreams, their fears, and their expectations. Why is the communication of others my passion? I see a world of everyday heroes. Everyone has a history. I want to help them share it. This interest became mine in a journey of unexpected turns and sudden twists.
Growing up, my parents ignited my interest in stories by reading me a plethora of books. My earliest memory of literature is catching the flavor of every word my parents uttered as they read while snuggled in their laps. In school, my four siblings and I probably enjoyed literature best. When young, our mother read aloud to us and assigned baby book reports. Later, she gave us classic books to explore on our own. First, we enjoyed fiction, such as Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Later, we discovered historical fiction such as The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder and some of us came to enjoyed history books as well. From the earliest ages, I also delighted in crafting tales of my own and relating them to my stuffed animals, myself, or my siblings: whichever were more available.
In middle school, I found the love of my academic life: a curriculum called One Year Adventure Novel (OYAN) by Daniel Schwabauer. This tool taught me how to lay out and write a twelve-chapter novel in a school year. After laboring fifteen months (it took me longer than expected) on an ancient laptop, I produced sixty double-spaced pages of unrealistic, boring novel material. Looking back, my novel’s hero fit the novel, a rough first draft of the heroes I wanted to write. Hoping to have a second chance, I still write. Late at night, or in odd fragments of time, I sketch out heroes and their worlds: geography, cultures, and castles to fill future stories. I look for heroes in real life too.
In OYAN, I learned that for an audience to admire a hero, they must understand what the hero is up against. I began to understand what kind of difficulties real heroes faced when I was still young. Throughout my childhood and into my pre-teen years, I faced medical problems ranging in severity. As a infant and into my pre-school years, I faced severe sleep apnea which sometimes disrupted my focus in school. At the age of ten, I contracted a twenty-four/seven headache that persisted for a year. During that time, I completed much of my school on the way to doctor’s visits in town and out. Finally, the headache burnt itself out leaving me less carefree than many of my age. Time passed and pain became a faded memory that only resurfaced on occasion.
Much later, I was fifteen, wrapping up my freshman year of high school. One afternoon after class my mom and I ran errands and visited a friend (an unusual activity, just the two of us and no siblings). Thinking something might be up, I asked her if anything was amiss. While she drove, she gently told me that I might have an autoimmune disorder which could kill me. I could tell she worried. A month later, I sat in a doctor’s office, far from home, knowing I had the disorder, Scleroderma, waiting for him to tell me whether I had the type that would kill me. Three days later, my sixteenth birthday, I wandered with my family on the beach. Watching the waves, I silently wondered whether I would ever walk there again. The doctor had told me I had Linear Scleroderma which had a sixty percent mortality rate over ten years, according to the figure I heard. The summer months passed quickly, full of readjustments to the new health-oriented lifestyle I had to live.
I found it hard to return to school. Most of my friends had no idea I had anything wrong with me. Even if they knew something of my struggle, they didn’t know what to say. Sometimes that put me in an awkward position. For example, I ate a different diet because I had to but that raised awkward conversations at parties where I couldn’t eat much and would leave hungry in spite of my hosts’ bounty. Occasionally, someone would ask me why I had to eat differently, and I answer, “I have a different diet because of my health”. Then, I would pick through my dressing-less salad, lonelier than ever, and watch my friends eat dessert. However, I felt most isolated when I looked towards the future.
Especially towards my junior year, college became the frequent topic of conversation. Listening to my friends plan I wondered about my future. College looked hopelessly far away and too long to finish. So, I threw myself into my studies, extracurricular, and volunteer activities.. If I couldn’t go to college, I wanted to do well in high school.
As part of my volunteer work, I began to volunteer at a private therapy clinic in Tallahassee. There I found many heroes. Some were small in stature. I met children who faced far more than I ever had. I thought I had it rough, but they schooled me. Homeschooling had afforded me privacy in my struggles, they had to succeed or fail under the eyes of their whole community. School was the ultimate challenge for some of them. Success meant more determination than I ever had to use. For others, communication itself was a difficult process. True, I had a disorder, but, even if it made me uncomfortable, I could talk about it. Others had disorders that isolated them but they could not share their struggle. If someone measured our effort, their one sentence spoken clearly dwarfed any eloquent speech I could make. Looking at my own difficulties, I found these children heroes. I wanted to help them share their story but I didn’t know how. Only a high-schooler, I didn’t know how much I could do on my own and I didn’t know where to go after high school.
Sometimes late at night I wondered about where my tale was headed. Staring at the moon through my blinds at night, I wondered if I would be alive when my friends were graduating from college and starting families. The next chapter of my story was a surprise.
The summer before my senior year, we went to a new doctor. She re-diagnosed me with a different, non-lethal, form of Scleroderma. We drove home too shocked to celebrate. In fact, I remained shocked for about half a year. It dawned on my parents and I that I would be going to college and that we had to pay for it. During the fall semester, I had hastily taken the SAT and ACT, earning scores high enough for a few scholarships. On New Year’s Eve 2017, I rang in the new year applying for more scholarships. I won some in the spring and settled on my degree.
Looking at the wide range of pediatric therapists, I decided on Speech-Language Pathology. I had seriously considered Physical Therapy but spending my life working on the mechanics of movement did not appeal to me. My true love was the story of the children themselves. As the oldest of my siblings, and a friend of my friends’ younger siblings, I understood how to quickly pick up a mutual friendship with most children. Their worlds encompassed far more than many adults realized. From my own memories, which reached back to well younger than three, I knew that young children tried to understand their worlds and longed for attentive friends to share their experiences with. I wanted to help frustrated little people open up their worlds to others. A career as a Speech-Language Pathologist seemed like a good choice to me.
Once decided on a career, I had to decide on a college. Three factors limited my choice of a college: cost, programs, and support. I had an initially wide range of colleges to choose from but colleges with the Speech-Language Pathology program were not always close to Tallahassee. No car and a health mandated diet cooked from scratch made any college away from home a recipe for high stress and possibly failure. After looking at the options, I decided to go to FSU. Since it was located in Florida, I could afford it. It had the SLP program. Only a thirty-minute drive, it allowed me to stay at home and learn to cook more before moving out. So here I type, glad to be here, glad to learn.
I type here in my room. Thinking on the journey that led me to write these words I wonder if any other road would suit me. Yes, I have known some pain and some loneliness; more trouble than some but less than many. However, the difficulties in my path taught me lessons that I would not have learned otherwise. My diagnosis taught me to accept my limitations and look for creative ways around them. I learned that opportunities were gifts. Now, I try to maximize the benefit I can receive from each challenge. During hard days, I found that a sense of humor was indispensable for a positive perspective. Today, I have a sympathy with those who have communication impairments that I would not have had before. Love of stories, words, and children converged with my firsthand knowledge of struggling to give me a career path I never would have chosen. My road to FSU is unique. I come here as an ally to help the heroes I have met and those whom I have yet to meet.