Diane, 23

Congenital hydrocephalusMarie Curie said it best when she said “Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained.” Although I had not discovered this quote until a few years ago, the idea of it has been a personal philosophy of mine. It is what has gotten me through life so far, and allowed me to reach my dreams despite what others kept telling me.

I was born with hydrocephalus. I had a shunt placed at a few days old and a revision at age four. All throughout school I only knew one thing, I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. To me, this was the most important thing in the world. It is something that has always been a constant thought in my mind. There was one sticking point to this wonderful life plan I had laid out for myself at the tender age of four: school.

I struggled in elementary school. Math was almost impossible. No matter how hard I studied, how hard I worked, nothing helped. I constantly got bad grades. I would always go back and try, try again. Nothing seemed to work. It was as if anything involving numbers just left my head and wouldn’t stick there. I was never offered help or told about any options that I found out years later should have been discussed.

To be fair, I never told my teachers about my hydrocephalus. Especially the ones who gave me such a hard time. I figured that if they didn’t help me now or thought I was beyond hope, what would they think when I told them I had this neurological condition. I carried this attitude with me through high school. My best friends didn’t even know because I was so concerned about what would be said or how I would be treated. I continued to struggle with math, although, with the help of an amazing teacher I actually earned some A’s and B’s. The thing is, she was the one teacher I told because I trusted her for whatever reason. It was easy to tell someone when it was obvious they have all the faith in the world in you.

Fast forward to college and it was a whole new world. Trusting in my freshmen advisor, she was the first person I told in a longtime. She got me set-up with the Learning Services at school and I finally got the help that I could have benefited from in elementary school. I started doing well my freshmen year! I found I was able to tell my professors, receive extended time for any math tests, and get support to really help me be the student I was finding that I always could be. I made Dean’s List all four years, earned spots in three Honor Societies, and graduated Magna Cum Laude. I worked hard on my portfolio, applied to various job, and landed my dream job a month after graduated.

I am now days away from starting my second year as a 5th grade teacher. I work with amazing people, teach amazing kids, and I have a principal who 100% knows and supports me no matter what. Looking back, I have to say, I am proud of my journey. Would it have been easier if I did not have hydrocephalus? It might have. Although, I might not have learned the value of hard work. I might not have come to be the person I am today. It is because of what I was born with that shaped me to have the attitudes and beliefs that I hold today.

Thanks to those experiences I had in school, yes, the ones of teachers not helping me, of struggling with math, etc., I learned how to be a compassionate teacher. I can look at my students who may have problems, who may be different, and offer advice to help them. I know enough to not cast them aside, to reach out and actually help them reach their full potential.

Overall, I have not seen my journey with hydrocephalus as a negative one. There may have been a few downs, but there have been many more ups. Over the years, I have learned many lessons. I have learned who I was, what can come of reaching for the stars and never taking no for an answer. Most importantly, I learned that nothing good comes from keeping things to yourself. If I had told my teachers in school, or even my friends, I might have been able to get more support instead of waiting until college to really see what I can do. Besides, if nobody ever knows, how can awareness be raised?

Moral of the story is to always be yourself. Never be so afraid of what people will think or say, that you are not true to yourself.

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