I have a rare genetic disorder, I produce too much collagen and it makes my joints more flexible than they should be, in fact it messes up all connecting tissue in my body. I was born with it, but despite, having had numerous complications with it throughout my life they just found this year, when I got injured by a student while at work. I suffer also from chronic migraines. Despite this fact I managed to make it out of poverty to go on to graduate from Stanford twice and to become a teacher. I personally have never seen it as handicap, but as the little girl who engineered her way out of the crib, for me it was an obstacle to engineer around.
However, there are aspects that have made this a lot harder than it ever needed to be. The first is that mom, who possesses very working class beliefs about work, never wanted me to be able to use it as an excuse, so she pushed me to ignore it. Like she ignored the damage to her hands and gallbladder. The upside to that is that I am incredibly accomplished, the downside to that is that I may have made things worse by not setting limits sooner. My mom’s attitude is very in line with both my neighborhood and the school I attended. At Stanford, everyone is striving for constant perfection, so I felt pressured to do things I shouldn’t have been doing and I stressed myself out further by trying to morph into something I am not.
The other thing that has made this difficult is that I grew up poor. Of course, I didn’t know this until I got out of Stanford and realized my doctors were more thorough and caring when they thought they were dealing with a Stanford graduate instead of some trailer trash kid. So when I need medications, they fill them with no questions asked, when I was a kid they acted like I was drug seeking. When I say something is wrong they believe me and don’t automatically jump to the conclusion that I making stuff up. They take my words seriously and into account and they don’t talk down to my mom or me. The summer before I started Stanford my Aunt Carol died. She was the matriarch of my biological family and she was young. She died quite suddenly of late stage cancer. She had been telling doctors for years that her body and bones hurt, but instead of checking they just told her it was because she was overweight and exaggerating. My senior year, one of the most influential and important women in my life, my Grandma Amanda died of lung cancer, again it was sudden because of the lack of good care.
The frustrating thing is that I do have a medical condition and it keeps me sometimes from being perfect but it hasn’t prevented me from doing what I want, going where I want to go and loving and living through my life. And if I had gotten adequate medical care as a child it would be even better. At Stanford, I had accommodations for my living situation and for extensions on the occasional class assignment. In STEP they used that fact to tell me I would never be able to teach, this was despite the fact that all of my instructors said I was excellent in class and I was doing fine in placement. I had graduated from Stanford as the first person in my family to go college and from a very poor background with substandard schools with an excellent GPA. I have never failed to eliminate obstacles. Not once in my life has that happened. When I really want to do something, I find a way to do it. Sometimes I don’t want people to know because I don’t want them to tell me what I am and am not capable of. I have always done exactly what I wanted to do. I don’t tell people because they make silly assumptions. Either they tell me that there are things I can’t possibility do, ignoring the reality that someone has been telling me that for all sorts of reasons (Class, gender, race etc) and I don’t really care. The other side is that they see me perform and think that because I perform well that I might be lying on the days I have a migraine, which ignores the fact that I am an overachieving kid and have had to learn to perform despite being in pain. Give what my life is like, if I failed to do what I want and can do because of pain, both physical and psychological I’d have to be a bedridden hermit, and I refuse to do that. I am tough, I have always been tough, you have to be to live the life I live. And someone as tough as I am with a record of performing in the way I do is going to hide from you when you are in pain because I don’t want anyone closing the gate to me because of their preconceived notions of health and gender and class. Fortunately, I am a good fence jumper, but still it makes my life more difficult. But the thing is that I love my students so much that it is more painful for me not to be teaching than it is for me not to work. So those words, “Are you sure you can teach?” hung in my ear last year when I sustained a really serious injury to my shoulder while protecting a kid. For months after my resignation, I sobbed, thinking that maybe they were right and maybe I was done and the thought of never teaching again broke my heart into a million pieces. It wasn’t until I saw my CT, who told me once she heard the story that it was something that could have happened to anyone, that I finally got past that thought.
In the past few months I’ve been getting the health care I should have been getting and I feel better than I have in years, so this year has taught me that my medical problems are completely manageable and that there is no reason why I can’t teach or do whatever I want to do because I am capable of that. I have a really good doctor, but it makes me so mad that I had to wear my Stanford shirt at the neurology clinic to get my migraines to be taken seriously for once and to get the treatment that I needed. I wore my Stanford shirt when I sprained my ankle and had to go to the ER, never have a had such a pleasant trip to the ER. I makes me upset because there are so many funerals in my past because my friends and family couldn’t get adequate healthcare. I think about the talents of kids like me that get wasted because no one gives them the medical treatment they need. I think about everyday that I spent sicker than I needed to be and how I can never get those back, even though I have learned how to manage it now. I think about how I just wanted to be a teacher and give back, and how my Aunt was a nurse and so was my grandma. And I can’t help but feel like there is blood on my hands because of the privilege I now hold. So I try to do my part by talking about my experiences, because I also know that the only reason I can is because I went to Stanford. I wake up every day and try to do the most kindness to others because otherwise it would be difficult to sleep at night knowing what I know. On that count, I am grateful because I know that I have the ability to choose that. And I know that it makes me human. All strengths and weakness, we talk about it like we are pieces of a whole and we hide the more difficult pieces and we try to mask them, but a human being is more than the sum of their parts. And our humanity, in all its strength and all of it weakness is so beautiful.