The Link Between Hardship and Success

She was 12 and in junior high school and had a problem of falling down at inexplicable times. Kids were mean.

To prevent herself from collapsing all the way to the ground during these falls, she carried herself on crutches. That way, when she fell, she fell only as far as the rubber arm rest.

During class, when she sat at a desk, the crutches lay beside her on the ground. If a teacher left the room, the boys in the class would tug the rubber arm rests from the crutches and wag them lewdly in her face.

That was pretty bad.

But the worst part of this is she could not explain to anyone – not her friends, not her teachers, not her parents and not her doctors – why she was falling. She did have a growing sense that certain things prompted the falls – blinking Christmas lights, staying up too late, slumber parties at the house of a friend who played really loud music.

She was tested for things that scared the hell out of her parents. MS. MD. Something called Guillain-Barre syndrome, which – like severe forms of muscular dystrophy – paralyzes its victims rapidly and ultimately causes organ failure.

This was 1989, and before the internet, so she couldn’t do much research on her own.

When the junior high boys began with the sexually-charged arm rest bullshit, she decided she’d rather risk a fall to the ground. She gave up the crutches.

That Christmas, she sat at the dinner table with her extended family. Her aunt – a child psychologist familiar with neurological disorders – had a striking moment of realization when she watched her niece uncontrollably fling a fork across the table.

“Test her for epilepsy,” she said.

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