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When I Thought I Wouldn't Be Able to Pursue My Dreams Because of Illness

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My junior year of high school was supposed to be incredible. I had gotten all A’s before, and had offers for parts in community theatre shows for which I had yet to audition. I had a best friend who was my platonic soulmate, and I’d finally earned a spot in the school marching band’s leadership team — I was at the top of my game.

Then suddenly I wasn’t.

I’m assuming you haven’t ever heard of Eustachian tube dysfunction (ETD). That’s OK, I hadn’t either. ETD is not life-threatening, and chances are you probably know someone with it or have had it yourself. Do you remember those tubes they put in kids’ ears? That’s for ETD. However, ETD can become more severe. Early on, it felt like an occasional tickle inside my ears in loud situations, like the school marching band or drama rehearsal hall. Later, the pain felt like a blunt knife and was repeatedly stabbing my head multiple times a day, triggered by normal vibrations from sound or movement. My hearing also decreased, and I relied on lip reading and shied away from conversations and events with multiple people. I simply couldn’t handle them. And I had to deal with this for the rest of my life.

The doctor suggested I stay away from theatre and music until I healed, which meant, since my ETD was permanent, I’d have to stay away forever. That was the hardest blow. You see, theatre and music are my ways of connecting with the world. To take away that part of me was like taking away the Force from a Jedi. I was totally and completely lost. I stopped practicing and performing my art and disconnected with my theatre friends and my marching friends without any explanation.

But there was one person, Mercer. He had just moved to town and taken the theatre department by storm. And he sat behind me in AP Calculus. He didn’t know about my illness — no one did — but he joked and punned and told me about this wonderful theatre program he had been a part of the summer before. When audition time came around for that program the next year, I was on the fence about auditioning. “I want to,” I told Mercer, “but I couldn’t.” Eventually I lost patience with him for constantly pushing me and blurted out my diagnosis and what it meant. It was the first time I told anyone, and I was angry at myself for speaking.

I’ll never forget his response. “So what? Audition anyway or you’ll regret it.”

He told me I belonged in this theatre program. So I auditioned, and Mercer and I got in!

The month working with that theatre was a dream. I made friends who were both talented and extraordinarily kind. All of them wanted to be professional actors, but I was of course on the fence. When Greg, one of my new friends and an absolute inspiration, asked me why I wasn’t sure about being an actor, I decided to trust him. I told Greg everything, crying.

I will never forget what he told me either: “The fact you are here tells me you love this theatre too much to ever give this up. You belong here.”

Now, here I am, two years later, sitting in my college dorm. I’m a freshman theatre major in a school I love. The theatre professors know about my hearing (which thankfully has improved since my junior year) and they are kinder than I could have ever hoped for. They tell me, through their willingness to work with me despite my difficulties, “You are valid, you are capable, you belong here.”

So, repeat after me: You belong here. You belong here. You belong here.

Thank you, Mercer and Greg, for pushing me beyond what I thought I could do. Thank you to the theatre for teaching me my passion was valid. Thank you to my professors for giving me a chance. Thank you God for giving me something I am so passionate about. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And you. Yes, you reading this right now. I don’t know you, but I know something about you. You ache to be a part of something, to reach a certain point. You have and will have obstacles to overcome. But if you love it more than anything in the world, even if the obstacles make it seem unattainable, then you belong at that place you’re trying to reach. It’s up to you to find your way up. Find the people who push you further than you think you can go. Even if you think you can’t reach over that next hurdle, try anyway.

And remember, no matter what your difficulties may be, you belong here.

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Originally published: October 31, 2016
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