Content Notice: This story contains references to Suicide.
Recovering from the brain surgery I underwent when I was 12 years old has been the biggest instance of my resilience to date. I had a lemon-sized tumor in my cerebellum, which is located at the base of the brain, and the tumor badly damaged one of my ventricles, causing major brain swelling. The cerebellum is that part of the brain responsible for balance and motor functions. Post-surgery, I was left with significant learning and functioning difficulties, and I only overcame these with a three-and-a-half-year recovery regimen involving various therapies. Still, my teenage years were spent feeling like I was merely treading water. I didn’t have the opportunity to fully heal. It wasn’t until six years later, when a second surgery resolved the remaining swelling, that my full recovery could begin.
Following my surgery, my family and I were fighting to make sure that I received the help I needed from the hospital and the public school system. I was given an “individual education program”; these are created to ensure that students with disabilities have access to the accommodations needed to give them an opportunity to succeed that equals their peers. I was raised in a family where academic success was often held above all other accomplishments. Given my intellectual struggles during recovery, it was difficult for me to find self-worth if I could not “adequately” succeed academically. I felt like even if I tried my hardest to excel, the best I could ever hope to achieve was simply average. This was reinforced when I tried to talk about my experience; I quickly learned that my self-expression was often more confusing than helpful. This created a divide between myself, my peers, and my family. Most days, I thought I deserved isolation because my existence was a burden on everyone around me. Sadly, no one thought my mental health was a major concern until I demanded to see a therapist at age 17 because I was regularly having suicidal thoughts.