Mary Ellen’s essay “Learning through Acceptance” is featured in the Strength section of “Women Will Save the World.”
Having been diagnosed with first epilepsy at a young age and MS as an adult, you have often been discouraged from having a “normal” life, first by your parents and then by the MS society and their literature from the time (1986). What was it that allowed you to push through the adversity?
I never felt “normal” as a child or an adult. I have always had a hard time being “accepted” because people see me as different from whom I truly am inside. As a high-schooler I stayed to myself a lot and kids saw me as stuck up. I could not have friends over to my home because I never knew when my mom would blow up or have one of her tirades so I tried to stay to myself, to protect myself. I was a varsity cheerleader during all of my high school years so that helped to get me out of my home situation and have a better self image. I have always wanted just to be normal and I have come to embrace this feeling as a gift from God – leading me to do more with my life so I can inspire other girls and women to also become whatever they want to be.
Were there any positive influences you can recall or did you pull your strength solely from within?
Growing up, my positive influences came from my church and although we did not attend regularly, I would read my Bible and my Missal (this is a Catholic book) and I would find solace in these. I also found a lot of peace in Nature. I remember being outside in the woods next to our home and I could hear mom and dad yelling at each other, so I just stayed there and hid.
Other positive influences still came from my parents. Even though they fought a lot, I was taught many good things such as discipline and manners. My father was a very good man who loved deeply. He was funny and supported me on many occasions. I miss him and know he still watches over me. My mom – although hardened by her own childhood – taught me a love of fashion for in her younger years she very fashionable. I remember watching her getting ready to go out with my father – putting on her makeup, jewelry, matching shoes and bag – she had a good figure and was a very striking lady.
We did not have any other immediate family close as my mother’s parents lived in Buffalo, New York and my father’s family lived in Ennis, Montana. One good thing about my childhood is the fact that we would drive all over the country visiting these family members and when we were traveling my parents would not fight.
What advice can you give to others struggling with a stigmatized illness?
When you receive a diagnosis of any “illness” – do not “buy into” the negative picture of what that illness is and DO NOT ALLOW those around you to drag you down into that negative picture. Take a step back from the “diagnosis” being quiet with yourself and ask yourself, “Okay – Lord be with me and assist me in learning what I need to learn from this so I can go on with my life. Then learn everything you can about what your diagnosis is and WHAT IT IS NOT! Learn what you need to learn about your body – learn what works for you. Read and study and learn – then take a break and see what answers come to you. When I was first diagnosed with MS – I kept seeing and reading things about Vitamin D and mega doses of Vitamin C. Finally I gave in to God and said,” Okay I get it – I’ll take some Vitamin D and 500 mg Vitamin C tablets.” Later I read in an MS magazine how Vitamin C is a natural anti-viral vitamin and MS is a virus (although not contagious) then another article on how people with MS do well with lots of Vitamin D!
The answers will come to you – you must be quiet and listen in order to hear.
What inspired you to become a teacher?
My mother did not so much inspire me to be a teacher as she said, “Mary Ellen, you will be a teacher or I will not pay for your college.” There really was no choice. I was lucky I did enjoy teaching middle school and I was very good at it. I miss my students. The students make everything worthwhile for a teacher. The politics, administrators, and parents make teaching a losing profession. (Also, some teachers just shouldn’t be teaching. A good teacher can teach anything. It is as much a talent as anything else.)
What’s it like to hold the key to a city?
It was not so much a key to the city as it was a framed document citing King Street Nature Trail Day in Danbury, Connecticut. We cut the ribbon to the trail and the first people took my guided tour. I had put in two escape routes for smaller children who could not make a long trek and for handicapped students so they could use the trail. There were about 15 – 20 stations on the trail were students and teachers could stop and learn about what was going on at that spot. I remember I had one on “Natural Litter;” one was on “Hydrophytic plants;” and another one was on “glacial scrapings.” Yet another one was on Eutrophication (the process of a wet area or a swamp turning back into a land mass.)
The trail is located next to the King Street Elementary school in Danbury,CT. I designed the trail and wrote all of the stations and student worksheets etc. It is a 2 mile long trail with two shorter escape routes. There were several bridges along the trail erected and re-erected by my first husband, Gene Sain (My name at this time was Mary Ellen Sain.) I worked for hours on this trail and when the school had their volunteer dinner, they forgot to invite me. Instead they invited the school PTA president who attempted to gain credit for all the work on the trail. I still stayed and took more than 1200 students on personal tours and I still have boxes of thank-you letters from these students.
What is your favorite quote from your book “Healing Words, Life Lessons to Inspire?”
My favorite quote from my book “Healing Words, Life Lessons to Inspire” is in the first poem on Awareness (page 18) when I talk about “Awakening to the truth inside you…….” or later on in that one “walking through your fears instead of hiding from them…..”
I like this because you cannot do anything without awareness first. You must be aware that you are judging someone – you must be aware you have motives – you must become aware that you are projecting your guilt onto someone else. Without awareness you stay stuck on your little wheel of life going through the motions that your parents and their parents did before you even were born.
Mary Ellen Ciganovich is an educator, speaker and writer on the topics of Awareness, Spirituality, and how these affect our life situations. She conducts a popular seminar called “Live, Love, and Learn” that teaches people how to take charge of their lives and control their health through the use of medical and alternative choices. For more about Mary Ellen, please visit www.askmaryellen.com.
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