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Living Books

Living Books Updated Fall 2019

Arthur Guerra

     “Too weird to live, too rare to die”  By Arthur Guerra

“We stop checking for monsters under our bed when we realize they are inside us.” A statement made by The Joker (which is my favorite Batman villain by the way). My childhood was filled with seeing my parents deal with their mental illness. At that age I was too young to understand why they did the things they did. They both suffered from severe depression and my father has schizophrenia and my mother has bipolar. Which I ended up being bipolar, with severe anxiety, along with self-harm.

When you see me I’m your average husband and father of 4 kids. I do come off as a bit edgy with all the tattoos and piercing, but It’s only a façade to hide what lies inside. At the age of 13 I started experimenting with drugs and alcohol. That’s when I was raped by a man that was just released from prison. After that, never telling anyone, my mental illness went downhill. I turned to self-harm at that time. I ended up being 5150 one night after downing half a bottle of pain meds and smashing my head into two windows. It’s been a long hard road that I have been traveling. Juggling married life with 4 kids and my mental disorders is hard work. Every day is a challenge to wake up and get through the day. My family is what motivates me to get up and get moving. Mental disorders are hereditary and can go unnoticed and misunderstood in in our society. I wish this on no one. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. To me, my mind isn’t broken, I just have a different way of thinking. “Too weird too live, too rare to die” means to me that although I might come off as weird to society, I’m too rare of an individual to let go to waste.



Amy Westen

  If at First You Don’t Succeed… By Amy Westen

Before age three, I was diagnosed with Autism. I thought I was a typical child with my older sister, Samantha. Because of my disability, I was placed in smaller classrooms in public schools until I was placed at a private school and remained there until I graduated with a diploma.  I thought I was ready to go to college, but I wasn't thoroughly prepared and I choose to drop out after the first week of classes. A few years later I went back in the summer of 2015 and again in the spring of 2016, but I dropped out both times. Then I took a job at a casino as a table games dealer, it worked out for a while until the end, because of my disability. 

I can multi-task. I am very organized. As my mom would say, “You are so good at computers!” I wish that is a possibility. I am an independent person, but shy.  As I get to know you more, I am more open to you. When I quit my job I went back to college in the fall of 2018.  Because of DSP&S at MSJC, I achieved a 3.583 GPA. As my second year at MSJC is getting started, I am more than ready to talk about my experiences with others. You should never give up on anything as long as you are still living. Be courageous, be brave, and be daring to explore more options than you could imagine!

Charles Burleson III

      Little Less Weak by Charles Burleson III

I have been attending MSJC for a little bit over two years now. Growing up, I thought I was just the same as everyone else. It wasn’t until I turned 17 that I was diagnosed with Asperger’s. Looking back, I saw that I fit the criteria. I don’t hate my disability; it has given me many unique gifts that I can give to this world. I happen to be the artist of my family, and I am working towards my AA in digital media and I am expected to graduate in Spring 2020 where I will then transfer to a California state school. 

When I was a preteen, most of my time was spent alone, playing with my iPad and drawing pages and pages of cartoons. I was a bit smarter than average, sensitive and quirky. I had some abnormal, obsessive interests, which is a very common symptom of Asperger’s. I had no “real” friends. I had no idea how friendships and relationships worked. I felt like there was something wrong with me. It got to the point to where I got so depressed and so upset at my friends that I decided to just hide myself from the world. Every day I fight the battle of social anxiety, but every day I feel a small amount of weakness breaking away. I’m not ashamed that I am on the higher-functioning end of the Autism spectrum. Some of the most successful people in this world have Asperger’s, from Bill Gates to Steve Jobs. I feel like my disability has taught me about individuality, and I realize that everyone in the world has something going on with them; a disability of some kind. Some are easy to see while others are not. Normal is an illusionI find it hard to make friends and interact with people, but each time I do it, I feel a little less weak.

Shemeka Bruce

        Push me – I might Surprise You  By Shemeka Bruce

My learning disability affected my reading and memory, organization skills. I felt dumb, it wasn’t pretty. Teachers already had an assumption of how you were going to perform just pushed you aside and didn’t notice you.  You weren’t there. When I was in regular classes they realized I was falling behind but they didn’t have time so they put me in special education.  It didn’t help me get at the level of everyone else. Teachers in high school hurt me the worst, they said negative things that were disrespectful and I had to brush it off and forgive and move on. 

I was raised by my aunt and she held me back from doing things which didn’t help.  I want to be a teacher one day because its surprising what the human mind can do if you push it.

April Nash

     Lemons into Healthy Lemonade By April Nash

 My Name is April Nash and several years ago I wasn't feeling well and wasn't sleeping.  I thought it was due to stress or the flu.  I eventually went to the doctor and was diagnosed with Hyperthyroidism /Graves Disease and familial hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol due to genetics). I didn't know anything about this autoimmune disease only that Missy Elliot and the late First Lady Barbara Bush had similar thyroid problems, both on either extremes of the thyroid problem.       

I began to study up to understand what Hyper and Hypothyroid problems are and how to manage medication and what were the causes. Learning about health issues really sparked a real interest in health science. In taking classes at MSJC I have been able to achieve an Associate’s Degree in Health Science and plan on entering into the Health Field. I am forever learning and love the journey. My “illness” gave me a new career and direction.

Matt Denney

              Progressing through Apathy  By Matt Denney

Every person with Bipolar has different symptoms and displays them differently. For me, Bipolar isn’t so much mood swings and outbursts as it is a constant fog of anxiety, self-doubt, depression in my head and a desire to isolate myself as much as possible even if I know I shouldn’t. My mom and my brother are most familiar with how I am when spiraling or going through a depressive episode, I don’t ever really talk to people about having Bipolar, so I always just assumed most people that don’t know about it think that I’m just an abrasive, argumentative jerk.

With having Bipolar and ADHD, I’ve encountered a few challenges throughout my life. The first is that I think in an incredibly erratic and convoluted way, so I have a hard time conveying my thoughts in a way that makes sense. Another is that I am very hyper-active and always have to be moving, so I struggle with things that require me to slow down or be extra careful. The biggest challenge for me though is that a lot of the time I am apathetic, pessimistic and really just bored of everything. 

I am hopefully going to graduate in spring 2020 with an AS Degree in Computer Science. As for in five years, I would like to be working as either a programmer or software engineer.  

Cameron Douglas

      A Different Way of Doing Things By Cameron Douglas


             I am visually impaired, so each semester has presented a unique set of new obstacles to overcome in order for me to reach my educational goal.  It has required me to do things a little differently.  I had to work with the professors on how to show I’d learned the material in visual classes like math and science.  Also increased cooperation with my fellow class mates was a must.  Technology is one example of road blocks on my educational path, and accessible technology has a much higher price tag.  A talking scientific calculator is around $800, making it cost prohibitive for most students.  I had to rely on DSPS or DOR to provide me with the necessary tools to complete my major.  I am a communications major with only one more semester before graduating in the spring and I was previously a “Living Book” and it was a great experience.  Since then, I received my guide dog, which has been a life changing experience.  The dog has provided me with an increased level of freedom and independence, along with more responsibility.

         Many unique factors have shaped the path of my educational journey.  I’m not the only one with challenges and obstacles, mine are just a little different than others.  Sometimes we must find different ways of doing things, but most importantly, we must not give up when faced with challenges. My college journey began many years ago and it has been an interesting one to say the least.  It has been fun, insightful, and rewarding, but at times it has been challenging, stressful, and uncertain.