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My Journey From Being a Bullied Child to a Mighty Community Leader

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I was a smart but clumsy kid. I spoke earlier than 1 year old. I didn’t walk but stumbled until age 4. I had seizures from lights and sounds from 1-and-a-half years old until I was 16.

I went through developmental disability services for most of my childhood. In third grade, the other kids figured out that they could cause me to have seizures by using flashlights and canned air horns. No kid ever got in trouble for making me have a seizure. Not once. I started beating kids up for it. The school insisted I be put in the hospital.

My mother got a job at a large children’s hospital so I could get the best care. I was diagnosed as a savant. I saw one of the best psychiatrists for savants in the Midwestern U.S. It came at a price, though. That price was being restrained, given shots and being put in isolation. They outright broke me down. Then I got daily training on things like eye contact, avoiding distractions, handling over-stimulation and calming down from meltdowns. Altogether I spent eight-and-a-half months there.

It was the most traumatic experience of my life, but at the same time I was taught by the very best. I would not have achieved the goals I did if I hadn’t had that psychiatrist. I probably would have ended up in a group home like most of my classmates in special ed did. But I had to go through hell to get to where I am today.

I was bullied a lot more in school after that. I was conned so many times because I wanted to be accepted. I was picked on because of how clumsy I was. I was often told I was st*p*d or a r*tard. Even to this day, most people who meet me in real life assume I’m slow. Some people are shocked that I talk.

In seventh grade, I started doing well in school because my classes were separate. I could have advanced classes, remedial classes, and a special ed homeroom to meet my needs. In high school, I finished all my school district’s math classes by the middle of my sophomore year. I placed third on a statewide math test. I was still taking remedial literature and handwriting classes. In my junior year, I was the first kid in my county to make it out of the special ed system. I’m sure there have been many since, but I was first.

Despite how well I did, I wanted out of that school system. I went into the army at 17. I had to have an EEG before they would let me in. I didn’t make it very long in the army after training, although I learned a great deal of discipline. I had a drill sergeant that took me under his wing and taught me so much.

I got my big job as the system administrator for a worldwide television network because they got tired of their system administrator having to call me when I worked at their internet service provider. After five years of more bullying at such a big job, I couldn’t handle it anymore. I had a major breakdown at 31, including a suicide attempt. After working so hard to get myself out of the mental health system, there I was back in it. I had another four attempts before I was able to stabilize myself.

I joined a 12-step program. The good friends I made there helped me so much. I went on to become a state leader. I represented the southern tip of Illinois to the state and national teams. I went to political rallies and lobbied the state Congress. I taught how to lead 12-step groups at the state training weekends. Some of my writings including my testimony have been published in their books.

Since then my depressions have become treatment-resistant. They last from October to February. Despite all I’ve learned, how well I have my life situated now, and my great support system, I still need to go to the psych hospital in November or December almost every year. I have spent Thanksgiving in the hospital more often than not since 2002.

I have been around so many different people with disabilities. There were the other kids like me in developmental disability services, and the good friends I made with mental illnesses in the 12-step program. There were my mom’s patients with physical disabilities and chronic illnesses. I did assistive technology for a lot of them, including sip and puff mice, screen readers and voice recognition. A nurse, a quadriplegic on a ventilator and I worked with a well-known voice recognition software company to get the software to understand his voice despite the sounds of the ventilator. They were the first company to achieve that.

I have gained so much empathy for people with disabilities, not just from all the hell I’ve been through, but all the hell I’ve seen so many people go through. Now that the 12-step program I was in has been all but shut down because of state funding cuts, I am so thankful and more than proud to be a community leader here on The Mighty.

Originally published: April 2, 2020
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