Hi, my name is Marina. I'm 19 years old, a graduate of the Class of '99, and soon to be a student at Wayne State University (ah, bet I finished by now, since I wrote this in 2001!). I'd describe myself as quiet, serious, and intelligent, though not supermodel-sexy. I love to read, and I write romance stories and murder mysteries. I'm also crazy about animals, any kind of outdoor activity, and chatting online for hours on end. I live at home with my mother, father, and twin brother Michael. For the most part, I enjoy being alive. But there are two handicaps that have made parts of my life very difficult.

First of all, I have cerebral palsy....the hemiplegic type. This is usually caused by brain injury during childbirth. My birth was particularly traumatic, since I was the firstborn of twins and a month premature. As a result, I have some stiffness and lack or muscle control on the right side of my body. The handicap isn't as pronounced as it once was, but I still limp slightly and can barely use my right hand. Doctors told my parents shortly after I was born that I would be mentally retarded. Fortunately, they were wrong. I learned to talk at nine months and to read at three months, and in elementary school I was tested at an IQ of 142.

My other disability is known as bipolar disorder, or manic depressive illness. It is believed to have a genetic cause, though no one else in my family is affected. It causes me to shift from periods of extreme depression to moments of hyperactivity in which I am prone to violent outbursts. This condition usually begins in adolescence or adulthood, but in my case, it started much earlier, in childhood. I was in and out of counseling for most of my early years, but I wasn't correctly diagnosed until I was sixteen years old. It makes me angry that it was missed for so long. I could have been spared a lot of pain if it had been found sooner.

School was difficult for me from the day I began. The other kids constantly teased me about the way I walked, and about my slow speech. Back then, I was easily hurt, and I cried every night. When I began having mood swings, things got much worse. On numerous occasions I got violent at school and was sent home. My schoolwork suffered, too, because on some days I felt too depressed to attend, and even when I was there, I had trouble concentrating. I tried so hard to fit in, but I never could.

When my bipolar disorder was diagnosed and I was effectively treated with drugs, you'd think my problems at school would be over. In fact, they were just beginning. I was told after I emerged from a ten day stay at a psychiatric hospital that I would not be allowed to return to school. The parents and teachers were afraid that I would be a danger to the other kids. This was extremely difficult to accept....after all, I had no control over having this condition. They gave me the choice of attending a school for troubled kids (in other words, delinquents) or studying at home. I chose the latter and
eventually got my revenge by scoring higher on the SAT and ACT exams that anyone else in my graduating class.

I had very few friends throughout my childhood and adolescence, but one person was always there for me. His name is Blake, and at times, he is the only one who understands me. He's got cystic fibrosis, and despite being in and out of hospitals his entire life, he has maintained an incredible amount of strength and courage. Unlike me, he never lets people bother him, although he has been teased as much as I have, if not more so. Recently, we have become closer than ever before. As long as I have him by my side, I'll always have the power to overcome any obstacle.

If I could teach the world one thing, it would be to not be afraid of people who are different. On the inside, we are all alike, motivated by the same hopes and dreams, with the same feelings. Believe in yourself, and you can accomplish anything.


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Joan Fleitas, Ed.D., R.N.
Associate Professor of Nursing, Lehman College, CUNY 
Bronx, New York 10468

Last updated: November 16, 2004