"Who Am I?" is an exploration of some moments in my life that have shaped who I am today. In the video above, I briefly give a teaser to some of these moments and share some of my favorite pictures. From losing my grandfather to Alzheimer's Disease to the birth of my brother to my own struggle with attention deficit disorder, I take you on a journey through my life and my adventure of figuring out who I am.
My grandfather was a man of routine. Every morning he would go for his walk, making sure to stop by the Italian bakery and pick up a fresh loaf. Every day at noon, like clockwork, he
would eat his banana. He would sit in the dining room watching “Learn To Read,” taking notes on scraps of looseleaf paper in blue ink. He was always trying to improve his English.
In the afternoons when the weather was good, he would go outside with his radio tuned into the Real Madrid game while he worked in the backyard planting all sorts of things. He grew the sweetest strawberries and the biggest, reddest tomatoes. I remember eating them as if they were apples, biting right into them, letting the juice drip down my little 6-year-old chin. He grew zapallos when he had access to the Uruguayan seeds. When he could bring the seeds from Spain, he grew spicy pimientos de padrón. He would stay out until sunset in the heat of the summer watering the plants and feeding them.
In the afternoons when the weather wasn’t good, he would sit in the living room with the Real Madrid game on the Panasonic television. Many times, I would sit on the carpet in front of the glass coffee table, drawing. I had a metal tin filled with crayons and a yellow plastic Nesquick container filled with colored pencils. As I drew, the colored pencils would inevitably dull and I would hand them to grandpa. He would sharpen them with his pocketknife and return them to me with a perfect point.
He was always humming and moving his feet. You could always tell where he had been sitting because the rug would have swirls where he dug his heels. When my little brother was born, my grandfather would walk around the house with him in his arms, humming to him, rocking him. My grandma would warn that he was “mimandolo” too much, but he had been that way with all of us.
Before my grandfather forgot who he was, he would sit at the dining room table telling stories about people and places and wild things that happened.
When we still lived in Brooklyn, he had planted enormous sunflowers in the garden behind the house. I still remember standing between them and looking up into the golden petals. I remember watching him mow the small patch of lawn we had and taking my own play lawnmower and imitating him.
When we moved to Queens, he finally had the big backyard he needed.
I lost my grandfather far before my he passed away. He stopped being himself. He stopped remembering who we were, who he was. It was very devastating to see him disappear like that because physically, he was with us, but mentally he was gone.
Losing someone to Alzheimer’s and dementia is frightening because the person completely changes. My grandfather, who was always very calm, was now often angry and even violent. He stopped gardening. He stopped speaking. He stopped watching “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune” like he had every night. The saddest part was, there was no chance to say goodbye because it came over him slowly at first and then all of a sudden. When he passed away, I was upset, but I couldn’t help but think that he was finally at peace after being in such turmoil for so long. It is difficult to remember him in that way.
When I think about my grandfather, I remember being in the backyard of that house in Brooklyn and his sunflowers that were taller than I was, and that’s the way I hope to always remember him.
|Teeny Tiny Teacher|
Growing up with a brother that’s six years older than you can be tough—I know first-hand. He was excited to have a new sibling to play with at first, maybe even a bit too excited.
I was the type of tot that liked to play alone. From the early morning hours until bedtime, I would play house in the hallway. I would take my dollies for walks in their little strollers, set the table with my little green Fischer Price dish set, cook dinner in my little kitchen, vacuum the floor with my little popper vacuum. I was a neat and organized three year old, something my brother was not. Playing together was always a test no matter what we were playing. I wanted a little sister, not a pesky older brother!
When I was six years old, I thought my dream was finally going to come true. I remember standing in the kitchen with Dani, my dad, and my pregnant mom looking at the sonogram results. Was it a girl?
It was a boy.
But, nonetheless, I was excited because I would finally have a playmate that wouldn’t chase me around the dining room table flapping my plastic pizza at me (yes, Dani did do that), wouldn’t make all my Barbies jump off the roof of the house when we played, wouldn’t force me to play monopoly so he could win.
When Javi was finally born, I was overjoyed. The first night he was home, my grandfather sat in a chair with him. I remember sitting right next to them reading Javi his first book, “The Teeny Tiny Teacher.” I knew he couldn’t understand, but it didn’t matter to me.
Javi was diagnosed with Asperger’s, and life became very different for all of us. There were constantly therapists in the house giving him services. He was brilliant but unable to look us in the eyes or learn how to tie his shoes. He didn’t want to play with me. But I was his big sister, and I had to protect him. It was always hard to see him struggling, but it was more amazing to see him succeed. By age two, he was reading by himself. He could build incredible models with his Legos. He could tell you everything about trains. He could draw perfectly scaled, intricately detailed airplanes. He could tell you the history of video games and consoles. His strengths outweighed his weaknesses, but he wasn’t like your typical child.
For him, school was a source of great stress. By the time he was seven, he was suffering from depression and comorbidity. He had no friends in school and most of his teachers had a hard time understanding him and making him feel welcome and comfortable in what was meant to be his home away from home. When he was having a hard time, he was mocked. As much as people with Asperger’s have trouble reading emotions, he knew he wasn’t accepted or understood.
One night, he sat at the kitchen table giving a dissertation on what it feels like to be autistic, what it feels like to be different in this world. I will never forget his words: “If you want to end a war, all you have to do is put your guns down, but there is no way to end Asperger’s.”
When he switched schools, his life changed. After just a short amount of time, he came home and said, “I have friends.” There was nothing better than hearing those three words strung together.
Even though he’s turning twelve in a few short weeks, in my eyes, he will always be the teeny tiny baby I read “The Teeny Tiny Teacher” to.
|Learning to Swim|
My freshman year of high school was tremendously troublesome. I was struggling to study; every sentence I read was like climbing a mountain. I would start to read and by the time my eyes noticed the period, I realized I had no clue what I had read. I was struggling to remember; when the test paper landed on my desk, I instantly forgot everything. I felt like someone had emptied my brain.
I was having frequent panic attacks, anywhere, anytime. As soon as someone mentioned school, my legs would turn into spaghetti and my heart would start racing and my throat would close and my hands turned ice cold and my brain would be flooded with thoughts of all the things I couldn’t do that I once had been able to.
I was a good student. At least, I had been.
I was beginning to question myself.
It had come to the point where school would make me sick. I was absent at least once every two or three weeks, overcome with nausea and migraines. My body was shutting down on me. When I was in school, I spent a lot of time trying to finish homework and study but it was futile. My grades were dropping and I was spiraling down.
I found myself crying often, scared of what was happening to me. All the good grades I received were buried by the bad ones. I was losing focus in every way. I was losing myself and I knew I had to do something.
My report card wasn’t telling the whole story: the 90s were there, but behind them, I was struggling desperately.
Everyone tells you high school is going to be hard. The teachers warn your parents not to expect perfect grades. It’s not supposed to be like middle school. I understood this, but I did not understand myself. In the beginning of my sophomore year, I went to be evaluated. I decided that this was the only way I could move forward: without knowing what was going on, I wasn’t going to be able to make the right changes.
It turned out that all my feelings were right. I knew myself well enough to realize that all the anxiety and tears, sleepless nights and headaches were real: I was not just experiencing normal high school stress, I had ADD. With the short-term memory of a seven-year-old at fourteen, it was a wonder I hadn’t noticed earlier. My attention span was not long enough for me to get through a sentence without forgetting what the first half was, let alone an entire paragraph, or worse, a whole page. My thoughts were disorganized and confused and as soon as I would start to write them, I would forget what they were. All of this was heightened by the stress of realizing that I wasn’t getting anything done.
Knowing there was a justification for my feelings and thoughts was exactly what I needed to start a successful sophomore year. I decided that I wanted to start on a small dose of medication so that I could improve my attention span because I wasn’t going to be able to do that alone. I was now in control of my ADD and it was no longer in control of me. My grades went up, but what was better than that was that I finally was feeling better. I felt good about what I was doing to help myself. It wasn’t about getting a hundred on everything; it was about feeling like a successful student, it was about being proud of my work, it was about struggling healthily and not drowning. I could swim again.
About the Author
My name is Gabriela Rico and I am 17 years old. I am a freshman at Macaulay Honors at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, majoring in Forensic Psychology.
People always ask me, "why Forensic Psych?" and to that, I have many answers. I've always been interested in the mind and why we behave the way we do. Many things have happened in my life that have sparked this interest, and I feel very connected to it. When my little brother was a year old, we knew he was different. He was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, so growing up, I was constantly in the presence of therapists of all kinds. I learned all the terminology just from overhearing, and by the time I was twelve, I knew psychology was for me.
As he grew up, it was more and more difficult to find the right school for him. He was sad at school and had even started to display signs of comorbidity and he was only eight years old. Teachers didn't understand him.
When I was in the sixth grade, my mom was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. After looking at all her options, she opted to have a double mastectomy with radical reconstruction. She would have to have a mediport for chemotherapy. A few days before starting chemotherapy, she found out she didn't have invasive cancer anymore. In fact, she had never had invasive cancer; she had DCIS, a non-invasive form. She never needed all the treatments and surgeries. She never needed to put herself at risk the way she did.
Her right to make a decision about her health was taken away from her as soon as she was misdiagnosed. When my mom got involved in her lawsuit, I became very passionate about seeking justice for her and for others who have ever gone through the same or similar things. During the course of the lawsuit, I learned a lot about the strange nuances of medical law. I learned that there was an entire world that tied together my love for psychology with this new-found interest in justice. That's when I knew I wanted to be a forensic psychology major.
Throughout my lifetime, I have dealt with many things, things that many people can relate to. I think it is important for me to share my stories because if they can make a difference to one person, I have been able to turn something unfortunate into something helpful.
I have always felt that we are forced to endure many storms. There are many times when we may feel like giving up. The thing is, you will never see a rainbow if you don't ride out the storm. And if there's someone there to ride it out with you, it won't seem half bad.
How to Cite this:
Rico, G. (Fall 2014). "Who Am I?" Digital Spectrum: First Year Digital Essays, Stories, and Projects, 2, 1. Retrieved from https://johnjay.digication.com/digital_spectrum/WHO_AM_I_by_Gabriela_Rico/
Edited by Denice Vidals