Two crutches and a superpower
Updated: Dec 4, 2019
by Gemma Olivella
High school can become a dark place for those children who are “different” than others. Gemma Olivella writes a letter to her daughter who endured bullying, anxiety and depression but came out the other end as a confident and stronger young girl. She is now thriving thanks to professional help but also something you wouldn’t think of… a mighty dog and a superpower.
The year you started high school was stressful for our family: you were a girl with an undiagnosed learning disorder, a visible facial anomaly, dependance on your twin sister and a lack of social abilities ...the combination created a perfect storm that we couldn’t avoid.
You hit rock bottom. Bullying, depression, self harming episodes, anxiety, insomnia and suicidal thoughts. You endured immense emotional pain, the one that cannot be soothed with painkillers.
That was you four years ago. Today you are a student with good marks, appreciated by teachers, thriving in class, happily surrounded by a bunch of freaky sixteen year old girls like you. It’s been quite a journey from hell to here, and you walked out of the storm in one piece with the help of two crutches and a superpower.
First crutch was therapy.
All parents may need professional help sometimes. We don’t have all the answers, as hard as it might be to admit, we can’t always cater for all our children’s needs. Help came from the young teacher who finally got you to open up and talk. The teacher who warned us that the bullying episodes were more severe than we thought. The school psychologist who sounded the alarm by telling us how close you were to full scale depression.
Help also came from the learning disorder specialists who diagnosed you with Attention Deficit Disorder, which had been missed for twelve years.
Help came from therapy but also medication, as unpopular as it might be. Giving your 12 year old girl stimulant pills is much harder than just taking her to see a psychologist once a week. But you deserved the chance...and It worked. It was the first step out of misery. You were able to focus and results improved instantly. You stopped hitting your head against the wall with exams and you became the good student you were always meant to be. Your grades weren’t that spectacular, and you didn’t receive much praise from teachers, but we treated you like a hero, and learned that best students aren’t always the smart kids that get top marks. We learned that children are much more than their grades.
Your second crutch has four legs and a tail.
I had been resisting your pleas for years to get a dog. But when you were ten and my grandma died, after a long summer of agony, we thought a puppy would cheer us up again. I have never seen you as happy as you were the moment we put him on your lap. He came to be the ordinary family pet, but somehow he’s always been much more. When a couple years later, things started to get real rough, he was right there, to be the unconditional friend, a shoulder to cry on, the comforting silent presence in the night. When you were cuddling him, we could feel the pressure and the anguish melt away just like that. With him by your side in bed you slept better and rested more. I credit him for saving us money on medication...and I wish that any child going through difficult times could benefit from this free, painless medicine with no side effects.
Crutches can help you stand. They may even help you walk. But it takes a superpower to raise above everyone’s expectations.
As a little child, you started drawing horses. We thought drawing was a side effect of your horse adoration phase. Around nine you won a drawing competition, and I realized that your drawings were much better than the other ones. We started buying art supplies and “How to draw a horse” books. The more isolated you became from the other children, because of their bad looks and hurting words, the more time you spent at your drawing table. You filled dozens and dozens of sheets and notebooks with sometimes grim dark drawings, that were the reflection of your deepest pains and fears. We signed you up to comic school, later we enrolled you in an art studio, and kept buying art supplies and digital devices. Because at some point we realized that drawing was your lifesaving superpower. Drawing was that ability you were so good at, that it would make you flow and forget about the hardships.
But everybody knows that drawing in school doesn’t have the same reputation as math or science. We had to resist the pressure to take away the roller pens and pencils, and force you to try harder in math and literacy lessons. Most teachers didn’t know or didn’t care about your artistic talent, some thought it was a suitable hobby for a lonely, strange girl, some even tried to talk you out of higher education. Yes, we showed you that there were other schools out there that didn’t only value physics and chemistry. There were art schools where your creativity would be encouraged and celebrated. But it was you, you were the one who put all your heart into making it happen, ignoring the teachers’ lack of interest and the continuous bullying episodes.
And here you are now, finally in the place where you belong. You’re getting the recognition every child deserves, even if they are helpless in some of the “serious” subjects. We always hoped for the best, but I admit you’ve surpassed our expectations too. From you, we’ve learned what courage and resilience looks like, and we have learned that it is good to watch your kid’s obsessions with an open heart and mind...because they might be growing the seed of a unique superpower.