Colorado State University, Undergraduate
August 15, 2020
We are pleased to announce Alyssa as the winner of The 2020 Life Coach Spotter Scholarship for $1,000. Alyssa, an undergraduate student, was selected from a pool of almost 500 candidates. Candidates were required to write an essay regarding overcoming personal challenges.
Alyssa wrote a very open and honest essay about her life experiences and challenges. From an early age, Alyssa dealt with abuse and health issues. With all of the obstacles that were thrown Alyssa’s way, she always turned to education as a way to get through it. As a model student from high school to undergrad, Alyssa continued to push herself despite personal challenges. Alyssa has now decided to go back to school for a degree in Business Management at Colorado State University. She is excited to begin this new chapter and get back to learning again. Congratulations, Alyssa!
Applications for our 2021 scholarship are open as of August 15, 2020.
Alyssa’s Winning Essay
Telling the story of my biggest challenge in life is a challenge in itself because at 28 years old, life has definitely presented me with a lot of challenges.
My old story is this, I grew up in a dysfunctional family filled with teen pregnancies, drug and alcohol abuse, emotional abuse, and parents who divorced when I was nine years old. My dad refused to accept my mom’s plea for a divorce, so instead, he stalked my mom and broke her arm which put him in jail and resulted in a restraining order. The custody battle turned ugly and my mom ended up homeless living in our family van down at the beach showering in public sinks. My dad decided to “take us” from her instead of paying her court-ordered child support. He did this in an effort to completely devastate my mom so she would have no choice but to take him back. My dad always knew how to earn money to provide for our family of six, but he did not know how to be a caregiver so having him as my full-time parent meant raising myself.
We moved houses 17 times before I turned 18 years old. I intentionally do not call them homes because I did not live in them long enough to even take my things out of the moving boxes. I knew that we would inevitably be moving again soon so no sense in doing the extra work. I also spent as much time as I could at the school library taking advanced classes to pursue getting into Stanford University. I also spent my free time doing every sport I could: basketball, volleyball, track, cheerleading. They were all during different seasons which meant I had a year-round stress outlet. When I was not in school, at the library or playing sports, I was at a friend’s house so that I did not have to be “home” watching my 16-year-old sister take “bong rips” (smoke weed) in our living room while I watched her newborn and my dad yelled at us in the background.
When I turned 14 years old, I was finally reunited with my mom and my dad let my little sister and I move into an apartment with her. Things were great for about a year, but when I was 15 years old in 2008 the economy collapsed and so did my relationship with my mom. Her thyroid shut down, she lost her job and she became an alcoholic. When my older sister had her second baby at 19 years old, I actually drove her to the hospital to give birth to my nephew because my mom was too drunk to drive her in the middle of the night. I was 15 ½ years old with a learner’s driving permit driving my 19-year-old sister to the emergency room at 11:00 pm at night to give birth. I also had school the next day and an English project due.
When I was 18 years old, my mom was still unable to provide for me and the economy was not showing signs of getting better (2010). I had no other choice but to move out on my own just three months after my 18th birthday. As a young girl with only a high school diploma and some restaurant hostess/bussing experience, I found an advertisement in the local newspaper for a bedroom to rent in some older lady’s house for $700 a month with utilities included. Because I live in the San Francisco Bay area I knew this was the best deal I was going to get. So, I made it happen. I worked two restaurant jobs and a weekend gig showing open houses. All the while putting myself through community college. In 2014, I was able to graduate from community college with two Associate degrees and a 3.64 GPA. In High School, I graduated with a 4.3 GPA, so I was not impressed by my 3.64 college GPA. Now looking back six years later at 28 years old, I am in awe that I even accomplished going to college, to begin with.
I always love school and excelled academically. School was always my escape, the one stable thing that I knew would reward me if I worked hard enough. When other kids complained about school, I felt gratitude. I always felt sorry for kids in other parts of the world who did not have the opportunity to attend school. My friends thought I was “crazy” for liking school.
Then, life shifted and in 2018 I considered ending my life.
I had never been suicidal or ever thought about doing such a thing. I heard my dad threaten it so many times and I always hated that. But my physical and emotional pain was unbearable. Since the age of 14 years old, I have suffered from an extremely debilitating headache disorder called cluster headaches. They happen in an episode or “cluster” then go into remission for anywhere from two months to two years. When they attack, they occur 1-3 times daily for about 6 weeks straight. They last 2- hours each and they are like your worst migraine multiplied by 10. Several medical studies have compared cluster headaches to the pain of childbirth and even nicknamed them “suicide headaches”. When I have one, I can’t even open my eyes because the pain is so unbearable, I can’t hear any noises or it sends the pain through the roof, I can’t go outside because the gentle breeze or the light of the sun can trigger another headache, I can’t sleep on my left side because the pain from the headaches is so traumatic that the nerves on the left side of my head are left sore and tender for days after. Plus the weight of my head and can trigger more headaches. I can’t make plans to see friends or travel like other normal people because I don’t know if I’m going to be debilitated or not. I have oxygen tanks delivered to my house with a prescription for oxygen so high it requires two doctors’ signatures. Because the headaches do not respond to traditional headache medicine, oxygen therapy is the only thing that can help relieve symptoms temporarily for up to 5 minutes. Even though the headaches last for up to 6 hours that 5-minute break is one of the best five minutes of my life.
Despite having had this disability for 13 years, in 2018 I felt an avalanche of the compounding effects of the mental and spiritual pain it was causing me. I started to look at my husband and my family and think about how much they have to take care of me when I’m going through one of my episodes. I started feeling bad about the money they would lose by taking off work to bring me to the ER, bring me food, or pick up my prescriptions. I felt like a burden to everyone. I thought about my co-workers who would have to go for 6 weeks without me there with no notice. I started thinking about what kind of mother I would ever be if I could not even care for myself. This hit me the absolute hardest. I know my life has always been a struggle, but this time I finally felt like giving up.
Telling myself to keep fighting in this dark moment was my biggest life challenge so far.
Even recalling this moment right now in a 1,000-word essay brings up so many raw emotions that my eyes are teary and my hands are shaking. To be honest, when I sat down to write this essay, I thought about skipping it and just picking a different scholarship that did not require me to dredge up the darkest and most challenging thing in my life. Then I realized two things. First, I am a survivor. I will succeed in any challenge life throws at me. Second, this year has been transformative. I lost my career job with The Ritz-Carlton in March 2020 due to the Coronavirus. On the same day I got laid off, March 17th, 2020 my amazing mother-in-law Kathy died unexpectedly at only 63 years old. She died of a blood infection caused by a blood transfusion where the doctor forgot to prescribe her antibiotics. Through the grief, I realized that going back to school is what I need right now to center me, to distract me, to keep me fighting through the daily and episodic challenges of life. School is where I feel safe even if it’s an online program and I’m 28 years old going back to college!
I have learned that what you may have believed was your biggest challenge, probably was not and that it may just be one of many. But if you can find your strengths and strengthen your weaknesses, you will find that life is beautiful and there is always something to celebrate.
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