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A Letter to My Former Self – Crystal F.

Crystal is a 2018 NJCTS Scholarship finalist and a graduate of Bridgewater-Raritan Regional High School. Below is her scholarship essay – a letter to herself. 

Dear Crystal,

I know you love to learn. You will learn anything and everything, anywhere at any time, and you will do well in school, even when you convince yourself you won’t. You’ll have a 4.5 GPA, for which you work your butt off, and during your junior year of high school, you’ll be invited to join both the French Honor Society and National Honor Society, which both focus on service, leadership, and merit.

The most trying volunteer work you will ever do is act as a teacher’s assistant at Adamsville Elementary Extended School Year Program. Here, you get to teach children aged 6-8 with special needs, and it will be difficult and frustrating, but rewarding. You will remember those kids’ faces for years, and you will develop a profound appreciation for teachers.

You’ll become an officer for the Freedom Foundation Club that works to raise money for veterans and provide them with home essentials and clothing for job interviews. You’ll realize that goods such as toothpaste and paper should never be taken for granted.

You love to read and write, especially poetry. You’ll write a poem that will be accepted into a poetry compilation novel called Accomplishments. Seeing your work in writing will give you chills.

You’ll like to run and dance. The running came as a surprise, I know, but what began as a simple exercise activity becomes a beloved part of who you are. You make varsity hurdles for track during your sophomore year of high school, and will be chosen to be spring track captain in your senior year. You’ll feel honored. You’ll take four dance classes that you love, and you’ll experience first hand how dancing makes you feel alive like nothing else can. You decide you want to continue dancing in college.

You will also discover languages. This happens slowly at first, but then you’re hooked. You join an American Sign Language (ASL) club for a few months, watch ASL song covers on Youtube, and learn the basics on your own. You also find your affinity for French growing. And you don’t know when, but suddenly it’s become a language you love dearly. You’ll pass the Seal of Biliteracy Test for French in your senior year. You will independently study Italian in bouts on an app called Duolingo, and one day, you hope to learn Arabic. Your dream will be to work for the United Nations, in one of their human rights organizations. You have high aspirations, but you feel that you lack direction, and you worry about “getting there”. We aren’t there yet, but we know we will be one day.

You’ll be proud of all of these accomplishments – over the moon for some – but what will truly give you pride will be graduating from therapy, because that will be the hardest thing you will ever have to do in your seventeen years. You’re fourteen and just starting. And all you know is that you have a stutter along with a tiny seizure, because you repeat words in your head, unable to get them out as your mouth fruitlessly opens and closes. All the while your arm shakes, seemingly of its own volition. You try to keep it hidden, but inside you feel humiliated and embarrassed. And when you see people whispering about you, people wondering what’s wrong, it makes you want to scream because you don’t know. You’ll cry on the way to your first therapy session, beg Mom not to make you go. “You’re fine” is what you say “I don’t need help.” But I know you do, and you’ll know too, soon. Finally you will put a name to what’s wrong, and finally have an answer for everyone’s questions. But fixing your Tourette’s will be a long and trying road. You will sit in that therapy chair feeling vulnerable and exposed, and the saying “things get worse before they get better” will be all too real. You will want to quit. You will learn about competing responses and controlling the urges, but it will be hard, and you won’t be in control all of the time. The tics can be controlled through vigilance and practice, but you may never be entirely free from them. Accepting that fact, that perhaps this may always be a small part of you, will help you come to terms with it. You can’t always be fighting yourself so hard. Constant war only wears you down; compromises and acceptances will have to be made.

You will go through therapy for three years and you will be so proud of yourself afterwards that you won’t be able to put it into words. You will become self-aware, and learn to recognize the motives behind all your actions. You will better understand your own intentions, and you will learn to be honest with yourself. This will become invaluable knowledge as you enter adulthood. You will learn how to cope with anxiety in healthy ways; you will remember how much writing helps you organize your thoughts and emotions. How it calms you down when you need it most, how it helps you to get back to reality. You’ll realize that setbacks are a part of life. Be aware of them. Learn from them. Do not despair. You will learn that you can only try your best, and sometimes it may not feel like enough. Change does not happen overnight. You will discover that you are stronger, more perseverant, and braver than you ever knew. And you will see that you are all of this, because of your Tourette’s.

Love always,

Your seventeen-year-old self

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