A young woman fights for independence, despite personal tragedy

The 2008 Passion Team

In 2008, I met a young woman who had more barriers than most girls. Maria* was 17 when I met her. Her mother had just died from cancer. She was diagnosed with borderline autism as a child and had a learning disability, which consequently made it hard for her to communicate verbally with others. She would often take a few minutes to answer a question, because she had to cognitively process it first. She also had a compulsive eating disorder and as a result the doctors feared for her health. Her father told me that since she was a little girl she was stubborn and regardless of what her doctors tried to do, she made no real progress. She wanted to do things her way.

I started working with Maria because of a Passion Project I started in the community. She would always show up on time, always stayed to help at the end of the sessions. Maria was grieving her mother and had a lot of pent-up emotions due the lack of friends in her life.

After a month of working with Maria, I knew that there was more to her than she was presenting. I spent a little extra energy trying to get her to show her real self.  She would often say she couldn’t do something or she would say nothing at all. But during that month Maria started to talk more and she let down her walls. She would talk about the things she loved. She wanted her independence and she loved to cook. She wanted to be a pastry chef one day.

Using my coaching techniques I watched Maria change. She struggled at times like all people do, but she pushed herself to do more and be more. She connected to resources that made her happier.  We were able to connect to YYOGA in Vancouver. Thanks to teachers and directors like Andrea Spiegel, Maria started to do yoga 3-4 times a week. She was nervous, but found something in the community at YYOGA that she didn’t have access to before. She told me the teachers didn’t judge her and encouraged her to keep coming back. She started to change her diet on her own with the help of her dad.  We tried connecting her to volunteer nutritionists but she didn’t follow up. She wanted to do it on her own.

Over the last six months I didn’t hear from Maria. She had gone her own direction. I often worried about the direction she chose but knew that I had done the best that I could.

Just before Thanksgiving this year I got a Facebook message from her. Maria never used the phone to talk but she would send text messages and emails.  Maria asked if she could meet me and she said that she had some news to share.

I met Maria on Thanksgiving Day. She insisted on treating me to brunch. No was not an option.  As soon as I saw Maria I knew something was different. Her style of dress was a little more aligned and appropriate for the season, she had a pedicure and she was beaming. She brought me a gift. A 2011 calendar so I could organize my time better (go figure) and an “All Out Of…” magnet list for my fridge. Brilliant and thoughtful!

Maria was so excited that before we even sat down she had to tell me the good news.

“So Maria, how are things with you?”

She amazed me with her enthusiasm and and the clarity with which she spoke.

“Loretta, I moved out. I have my own apartment. I am working part time on commission and I am going to school full time in culinary arts.”

She had left high school because she couldn’t do it but did complete her courses at VCC and was now in the culinary program at a Vancouver institution. Her dad checks in on her every couple of days despite her persistence that she doesn’t need it. I explained it was because he loved her so much and that’s what good parents do.

Maria told me how happy she was and that she was still going to yoga a couple of times a week but that she couldn’t go more because it was too much money. She was budgeting. Maria thanked me profusely for all my support and told me that she would like to be a big sister one day and help someone else.

This young woman changed her entire world within two years. She is still grieving her mother but is choosing to do what her mother knew she could.

Maria is living from a place of purpose and passion. She is not limiting herself regardless of her challenges. She will continue to struggle at times but her connection to being purposeful and passionate about life will never go away.

I have endless stories like this. With the help of the community, it’s my mission to have endless more. It’s about powering-up the next generation.

*Name has been changed.

More in The Gender Files

Ghosts of Violence Ballet Comes to Vancouver

The Atlantic Ballet Theatre of Canada is bringing its Ghosts of Violence ballet to Vancouver in early December.

Designer Lisa Bohn shares tips on success and on giving to community

Bring your sketchbook everywhere. Catalogue anything and everything that inspires you. Write down your ideas and never think that just because you are done school means you stop learning.

Book review: Feminism For Real

This year's must-read is Feminism for Real: Deconstructing the Academic Industrial Copy of Feminism, edited by Jessica Yee, founder of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network.
Speak up about this article on Facebook or Twitter. Do this by liking Vancouver Observer on Facebook or following us @Vanobserver on Twitter. We'd love to hear from you.