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Living Books

More than a Diagnosis by Amanda Benzing

Amanda BenzingThroughout my life, I have struggled with a variety of disabilities that most would consider extremely unfortunate. At the age of 16, I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa, Anxiety, and Depression. I have Fibromyalgia, an autoimmune disease. A week before my senior year of high school I had back surgery for Schumann’s Kyphosis in which two rods and 26 screws were inserted into my spine. I am now a 20 year old psychology major who dreams of one day becoming a therapist to help adolescents with eating disorders and depression. I am a fighter and I am a warrior. Although I still battle with bouts of anxiety, I have realized that I do not need to be perfect and I am enough just the way that I am (or at least I continue trying to tell myself this). Not only this, but I also have a loving support system, especially my boyfriend, Josh, who continues to calm my worries and guide me past my stress. Although I still have pain each and every day because of my autoimmune disease, I continue to stay strong in who I am and not let this obstacle define me. I am more than a diagnosis, and so is anyone else suffering from any physical or mental health issues. I took me years to realize the fact that the road to recovery is not linear, but no one needs to let stigma or road blocks hold them back from their dreams. It was due to my mental health struggles that I was able to realize who I truly was meant to become. Although I would not wish any of my issues onto my worst enemy, I also would never take any of it back because this makes me who I am today.  I am a strong recovery warrior, mental health advocate, and brave autoimmune disease fighter. I will never give up and never back down, and neither should you.

A Message in Every Mess by Carmen Torres

Carmen TorresI am a person just like everyone else. I have many disabilities.  I have a few autoimmune diseases that require transfusions to help me get through life. I have six herniated disks in my lumbar spine and three in my neck from an automobile accident that cause excruciating pain. There is not one day that I live pain-free. I have a brain injury caused by an unhealthy relationship. This causes balance issues but also forces me to study longer hours. Behind all this mess I am still a SURVIVOR, a person that doesn't let my disabilities define me. I strive for perfection in my career, at home with my children and husband and especially in school.

Working as an LVN isn't easy.  I have to be the strong and ready nurse for my ill patients that need me. I have learned to empathize and become the best person that I can possibly be. When I tell my coworkers or patients my story, they can't believe that I am still able to wear the strong smile and speak of how great life truly is. They discover that not all disabilities are visual or noticeable.  I hold this quote in my heart "for every mess, there's a message, for every test, there is always a testimony and for every victim, there will be a victory" (unknown).  I hope that someone can use my mess as a message to also get them through their day. The best thing we can do in life is to just smile through the storm.

An Intrinsically Unique Mind by Devyn Lippert

Devyn LippertPursuing education has been an elusive experience for me, coming from an impoverished and abusive household and being a first generation college student.  I always felt separated from my classmates because I seemed to learn in a different method than they did.  I also had frequent hospitalizations and breakdowns before my diagnosis and so, I was dropped from a lot of classes and I missed out on lot of learning. I had my first episode at age 15, started seeking help from therapy at age 18 but I didn’t get diagnosed with Bipolar 1 and BPD until age 20.   I graduated early when I was 16, and I had a lot of goals that I couldn’t reach until I got help. I struggled with drug use for a while; self-medicating... but now with my diagnosis I have medication that is helping.  I have ups and downs with it. At first the medications side effects made me feel lethargic and I didn’t want to take it. It can make me feel disassociated and uninspired, but I keep taking it because, along with counseling and artistic pursuits, it’s the most likely method of stabilization to help me to pursue my goals. The educational staff at my high school were very discriminative of mental illness but I feel different here. I feel nurtured here. I didn’t think my career goals of becoming a clinical psychologist would be possible for me but I’m realizing that there are a lot of people like me in psychology, and MSJC. I now feel the need to celebrate diversity and develop my skillset in every way that was unfathomable in previous times of struggle.

A Kind of Excellence by Grisel Ozuna

Grisel OzunaResilience: (n) the kind of unnoticed excellence that carries on around you every day.

During my high school years, teachers called me a troubled child; not because I was a troublemaker or because I came from a bad family, it was because they struggled to understand that I was different. It was not the color of my skin that got me in trouble or the mischievous attitude that got in the way, but my inability to understand at the same rate my peers did. I was often left behind on group projects and pulled to the side to be “talked to and be told” to take my education seriously. My difficulties were overlooked and I frustratedly wanted to quit. Yet, to my surprise, I returned to school to fight once more.

It was not until now that I am able to smile about my past. MSJC helped me understand why I struggled all my life doing the most basic learned skills like reading and writing.  It was not because I “cheated the system,” as some would think but because I found out, that the system we are placed in isn’t meant to handle everyone’s ways of learning. I struggle with reading and writing, but that’s alright, there’s no shame in that. There’re other ways to learn and we all must work with what we got.

I am an artist, who struggles with interpreting things visually, however I can hear and understand just as well as anyone else, so don’t label us. We are also students, like you.

From a Different Perspective by Johnnie Brown

Johnnie BrownThroughout my childhood, I have viewed life in a different manner than others. I would always question myself why I could not read well yet I could articulate and speak well. When given a problem, I would talk to the person questioning me and help them answer the question though a dialogue between me and them. I will come to know that this is the only way I would be able to learn. This way of looking at problems in life has made learning through other means difficult. After a year of going to MSJC I found myself in the DSPS office and would eventually find out I have a learning disability.

Visual learning is somewhat difficult for me. I already knew I had another disorder (autism spectrum disorder) yet now knowing that I have a learning disability confirmed that learning through talks, lectures, and videos were my go to. After spending time learning about how my learning disability behaves, I am now developing ways to better my learning. Now I finally know that I need to view my life from a different perspective.

Not Regretting My Broken Heart by Karina Hallinan

Karina HallinanMy heart is broken.  I’m living with severe congestive heart failure.  It was caused by Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension (PAH).  It causes a narrowing of the vessels around my lungs and makes it very hard to breathe. I wear a continuous IV that pumps medication to my lungs every 50 seconds and if I’m off the medication for more than 2 minutes I can’t walk because I can’t breathe. The pump dilates the vessels in my lungs so oxygen and blood can flow through.   My PAH was caused by a life of drug use starting early in my teen years that continued through age about 30. I tried to stop off and on but without real help. People act sorry for me that I have to use this pump every day but I’m not sorry because it gave me my life; the life I was living before was no life to live. 

My mother says maybe I’m too positive and don’t tell others how I’m really feeling, but I know that if I don’t stay positive then I’ll sink because I know it’s going to get worse. I want to enjoy where I’m at now. If I’d gone to therapy in my teen years I probably wouldn’t have ended up with this disease but I didn’t get the help I needed. Going to therapy helps keep me sober.  I see my therapist regularly.   It’s all about getting healthy mentally. A lot of it is mental because the physical symptoms affect the mental and I get sad sometimes.  The pump is more of a side note, the mental health is the main thing and going to school is a piece of that.

Finding My New Normal by Kelly Buettner

Kelly BuettnerIf you asked me to describe my learning abilities 5 years ago, I would have told you that I excel in school and loved every bit of the experience. While serving in a military combat zone I suffered a traumatic brain injury.  The hardest part for me was recognizing and then, accepting that there was something wrong. I knew that I needed to ask for help, so I could continue my educational goals. I had to relearn basic skills and do memories exercises to help rebuild the neurons in my brain. Where there is a will, there is always a way!  Now, with the help of neurologist, TBI experts, support groups and educational programs such as DSPS available to me, I have learned that I am not alone on this journey in finding or redefining my new normal. All’s I had to do was ask for the help and the support, guidance and expertise was there to assist me.  Now, I continue to excel in school and love every bit of the experience, for this I am very grateful!