29: I Believed Despite the Odds

29: I Believed Despite the Odds

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Possible

I Believed Despite the Odds

An attitude of positive expectation is the mark of the superior personality.

~Brian Tracy

I was born with cerebral palsy in Johannesburg, South Africa. I had my first seizure at age four. Later, I was diagnosed with localized epilepsy. We had no 911 so my mother would drive me to the hospital when I had one long seizure or back-to-back seizures. Sometimes, I’d even have a seizure on the way home from school.

I went to a school for disabled children, but we moved to the United States when I was ten. I had to adjust when I was integrated into a mainstream school and just went out for one special education class.

Having a physical disability, a learning disability, and a seizure disorder made me feel like such an outcast. Everyone knew who the “special ed” kids were and mocked us on the playground. Why do kids have to be so mean?

When I was a teenager, despite going to mainstream classes, I was still being told what I couldn’t do. My neurologist said that I had brain damage and I wouldn’t be able to do analytical things. I wanted to be a counselor more than anything in the world, but he said I wouldn’t be able to handle it.

That doctor crushed my dreams. When I told mother what he said, she said that she empathized, but the doctor was the expert.

When I graduated from high school in 1994 I enrolled in a local community college. Two people there changed the trajectory of my life. One was my college counselor, who thought I was an amazing, articulate student with a knack for establishing interpersonal networks. She encouraged me to enroll in the Human Services program at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington. The other person was my boyfriend, who helped me with my math homework. He figured out a way to see the subject matter through my eyes and he also showed great faith in my abilities. He himself was visually impaired, but he never quit on his dreams. His positive attitude was a great influence for me.

Sometime around 1997, I felt this passion and fire grow in me—the likes of which I never experienced before. I knew exactly what I wanted and I was determined that no one was going to stop me—not even my concerned parents. I wanted to get married to my wonderful boyfriend and attend Western Washington University together. I aimed to apply to the Human Services program and he was interested in computer sciences. We had already planned how we were going to apply for financial aid and receive campus housing.

My parents had a hard time grasping that I could go to university and get married. I think they were generally concerned about my wellbeing, naiveté, and general lack of experience. They did not want to see me get hurt. But, I was willing to get hurt, if necessary. To me, that was part of growing and gaining experience. More than anything, I wanted to be educated and experience the same opportunities as everyone else. I wanted to see what I could do in a world that told me I was limited. I refused to give up on myself.

Not only did I receive my bachelor’s degree in Human Services, I went a step further and got a master’s degree in Psychology! While in school, I became a member of two honor societies and won an essay scholarship that covered tuition. I soaked up every piece of knowledge I could. I was thirsty to learn and to connect with other students.

It was amazing. It was also one of the hardest experiences of my life. My challenges had less to do with the subject matter and my ability to learn; they had more to do with learning the art of interpersonal communication in a world with so many perspectives. I had been overprotected my entire life and was ill prepared for other people’s judgments, thoughts, life experiences, and worldviews. Nevertheless, I was resilient. My relationship with my husband survived. And, I got more of an education then I could have ever imagined. It was an education in life.

Ironically, after finally becoming the counselor I always wanted to be, I realized that I wanted to pursue a new direction. This new direction had something to do with writing and inspiring others to see their inner power, as well as their freedom to choose their own life path. I came to this realization after a few major life transitions.

I am fortunate to have family and friends who support me and stand by me through all the successes and failures. They remind me that I am worth it. They remind me that I’ve made it this far, despite the odds.

Here’s what I tell myself every day:

Challenges make me resilient.

I have the will and inner strength to overcome my challenges.

It’s all a matter of perspective; if I can’t do something one way, I try another way.

I will adapt.

I will never quit or give up on myself.

~Mandy Traut

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