BLOG: It's OK to Be Different
Written by Miss Massachusetts Teen USA 2017 Caitlyn Martin
Hey everyone! I’m Caitlyn Martin, Miss Massachusetts Teen USA! Being given this title has been one of the best gifts I have ever received for so many reasons. Because of pageants, I have gained 50 beautiful, kind, giving, and intelligent sisters (if you think about it I have a friend in every state which is pretty cool). I have also been given opportunities of a lifetime such as traveling to Austin to work with the USO’s Operation That's My Dress and sitting practically front row at Miss USA, as well as being able to learn so much about myself and form a sense of confidence and pride in the person that I am. The best thing that this title has given me, however, is the opportunity to share my story. So ladies and gentleman, here’s a story about how a 3-year-old girl learned to accept the things that made her different, and how years later a 12-year-old girl learned that she could use that lesson to make a difference.
Epilepsy is a neurological disorder marked by unpredictable and frequent seizures. 65 million people in the world have epilepsy, and 1 in 26 will be diagnosed with Epilepsy in their lifetime. I became a part of those statistics when I was diagnosed with Epilepsy at just 3 years old. The day my neurologist diagnosed me with Epilepsy was just the beginning of years of testing, doctor’s visits, and frequent changes in medication until we finally found one that didn’t affect my body negatively. My Epilepsy caused me to have seizures in supermarkets, movie theatres, and cars. In addition, my medication left me completely uncoordinated and unable to swim, ride a bike, skip, or participate in any physical activity (Hence why I am to this day the absolute least athletic person you will ever meet.) I was different, and I was going to be different for the rest of my life. I couldn’t change that, and so at the ripe age of 3 years old I was forced to find a way to accept it. It was then that I learned that I was different, and that was Ok. It was through my experience growing up with Epilepsy that I learned and embraced the phrase “It's OK to be Different”.
When I was 12 years old I finally began to want to share my story. My history of Epilepsy was something that I never really talked about to anyone, partially out of embarrassment and partially because I didn’t think it meant anything. I was finally off my medication, but still had petit mal seizures (staring episodes) multiple times a day. As I got older, I started to realize that Epilepsy had taught me so many valuable lessons, and that the lessons I had learned would be valuable to other people as well. I wanted something good to come out of my Epilepsy, and I wanted to make a difference. When I was 12, I signed up to be a peer counselor for Camp Matty, a therapeutic horseback riding camp for kids with Epilepsy, and it was one of the best decisions of my life. All the kids there were so full of happiness and light, and I found myself making a connection with every single one of them. One little girl named Mirelle even sent me a picture of the two of us with a horse and wrote about how much fun she had at the camp. It was at that camp that I fell in love with volunteering, and made it my mission to spread the message “It's OK to be different” to everyone I met. I continued to work with Camp Matty, but also extended my volunteering to the Epilepsy Foundation of New England, The National Walk for Epilepsy in Washington DC, Best Buddies, speaking to children at local elementary schools, and more. I am currently in the process of writing and producing a play that I plan to have performed at school throughout my state and eventually around the country.
I realized through volunteering that being different not only applied to people with Epilepsy, but everyone. Everyone is different and unique in their own way, and that is more than OK. Differences are not only OK, they are beautiful and they are what make people who they are. So, whether it’s a difference in race, religion, disability, height, personality, likes or dislikes, or anything in between, a person’s differences should be loved and accepted not only by the person who holds them, but by everyone that they encounter. I always encourage people to be “positively different” and it is my hope that everyone will one day be able to embrace their differences. If my story has encouraged and instilled that confidence in one person that I have encountered over the past five years, then I am grateful. Being Miss Massachusetts Teen USA has given me a platform to share my story, volunteer with so many new organizations, and enrich the lives of others while enriching mine as well. I am grateful for my Epilepsy, grateful for the lessons it instilled in me, grateful for being given a voice to teach those lessons to others, and grateful to be writing this blog right now as a 17-year-old girl living and loving her life through the motto “It OK to be different.” I am simply grateful.
So, that's my story! I hope that it inspired you to be #positivelydifferent.
With all my love,