I was a horribly shy child. As I grew up, hiding behind guitars and paintbrushes, I began finding my way in the world. I chose a profession as a psychotherapist, which allowed me to be in quiet spaces exploring quiet thoughts and feelings, all while keeping my fingers immersed in paint or strumming guitar strings in my spare time.

Marriage and children came. My children were gregarious, loud, and hyperactive. As an adoptive mother, I didn’t expect to have children who matched my temperament; after all, even biological children often are very different from their parents. But everything changed when my youngest had a vaccine reaction at 16 months. She went into seizures, and for a while, we weren’t sure she was going to make it. She was in ICU, hooked up to life support and quickly placed in a drug-induced coma for four days to stop the seizures.

When she finally awoke, she had lost all functioning. Her speech was gone. She couldn’t walk or use the right side of her body—she looked like she’d had a stroke. Worse, she didn’t know who I was anymore. We were told that she sustained a permanent brain injury, and no one knew what the extent of the damage would be or how many skills she’d regain, if any.

After three weeks, we brought her home. She was unable to even keep her head up, and we kept her strapped safely in a baby car seat, feeding her fluids from droppers until she gradually learned to swallow semi-solid foods. Little by little, my baby began to regain functioning. But something changed. Drastically. She was not the same child. She had temper outbursts, couldn’t sleep (I would lay my body over hers in her crib until she could calm down long enough to take twenty-minute naps). We started her with intensive therapies to get as much of her back as we could: speech, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and more.

Something within me changed as well. I had to become more extroverted, more pro-active. I was her advocate now and would not allow family, friends, therapists, teachers, or anyone else to say she could no longer do what she did before her illness. I stood up to authority figures in ways I never could before. When her neurologist told me it was time to teach her sign language, I shouted at him “No! She will talk again.” And after many months of intensive speech therapy, she did. She walked again too. Her right side, which had been awkward, became stronger.

But she was wild. The part of her brain that controlled impulsivity was gone. There were no brakes. Once she learned to walk again, she began to run. For three years, she did not stop moving. It took two adults to be with her at all times, to keep up with her, so that she wouldn’t hurt herself.

I finally found a medication that would calm her down—medication used for ADHD. And for the first time since her illness, she sat and played with a toy. She built towers from blocks for four hours straight. It was the first time I could sit quietly for longer than ten minutes.

I enrolled her in specialized programs where she could get individualized help. Every time there was a new milestone to reach, I was told it wouldn’t happen. But my fiery self and her inner strength proved them wrong. I taught her to ride a bike when she was 10 years old. I took her to swim classes, where she learned to take off independently in the cool blue water.

One of the biggest fights, where I had to force my introverted self to take a step back and allow my Mama Lion to roar, came at school meetings. When a child with special needs is in public school, they are typically given IEPs (Individualized Educational Plans), which require at least annual meetings with teachers and supportive staff. Mama Lion had to fight to get the services her daughter required and was eligible for. I learned early on that most of these meetings required me to be strong and assertive. What I didn’t realize at the time was that introverts can be strong and assertive. We aren’t church mice that stand in the corner with our heads down, afraid of the world: that is a total misconception. We make things happen, but in our own quiet (and sometimes NOT so quiet) way.

In raising my daughter Mackenzie, I became a powerful introvert.

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  45. Rich Day says:

    There are times when we simply can’t find the right words, I feel for you and your daughter. I can’t even begin to imagine the depths you had to search to find the strength you had no choice but to find, but that doesn’t make it any easier. In the end, I am so glad you’re her mother, so full of the toughest kind of love. You’re story is amazing and touched me deeply. I wish you and your family the very best in the years to come.

  46. Trisha Gorrell says:

    I hear you, sister. I have an autistic son, and while that is completely different, it is very much the same. For me, as well as learning to speak up, to speak our truth, I also had to stop caring at all if we were causing a scene. I had been deathly afraid of causing a scene my entire life. But with my son, if he inappropriately started dancing crazily and singing made-up words at the grocery store, I simply decided I would do it, too. And it turned out to be so freeing and actually fun. It was more difficult with him going up to every house and checking out their stuff on their porches, because people REALLY don’t like that, but I get by. I have been verbally accosted for his use of sidewalk chalk on sidewalks (people DO NOT own the sidewalk!). People aren’t used to tall 14 year-olds hanging out on their porches or drawing jack-o-lanterns on sidewalks or whatever. Puberty has brought new challenges. The boy loves butts and has been known to touch a butt or twelve. Anyway, every day I do at least 14 things I am uncomfortable doing. Work in progress.

  47. Nancy Neema says:

    Great story thanks for sharing, you are really strong.

  48. Sergio says:

    Thanks for sharing the story. You are a very strong person and I admire you.
    Regarding the vaccine experience, I have always dislike vaccines I don’t trust them too much although I know they are fundamental for the advance of society. With what kind of vaccine did your child got that problem? Can you share some information with us, so we can take note for our un children? thanks again.

  49. Monica Renning says:

    I too have had to be the advocate for my son who is on the Autism spectrum. My IEP meetings are never less than 2 hours, usually longer because I won’t give up. I have had to take my school district to court through a due process. I have also had to deal with the legal and mental health systems quite a bit, as my school district tends to use them instead of doing their jobs. I have found I can stand up to them when I need to, but as an introvert, I will be exhausted for a week after each meeting!

  50. Tonya Madison says:

    This a great story of strength and resilience! I admire your courage and willingness to step outside of your “norm” to give your daughter the opportunity to live a better life.

  51. liz lewis says:

    This is so beautiful! I have been thinking about the course of my son’s education – though his obstacles are nothing compared to what your daughter went through. So many times I have questioned if I will be strong enough to handle what lies ahead. Thank you so much for writing this!

  52. Alice Green says:

    Thank you for sharing your story! And what a blessing for Mackenzie that she has you for her mother!! It might even have helped her even more that you are an introvert. You used your inner strength to go that extra mile that introverts need to go for their loved ones, and that love for her gave you that courage!

  53. Frank Darrow says:

    awesome story of trials and tribulation and overcoming our inner introvert for the love and support of a loved one.

  54. Aswin Pv says:

    A big salute !! I am soo touched.. Thank u for sharing dis 🙂

  55. Jenn M says:

    Thank you for this, Terry. I struggle with the feeling that I am powerless, that I have no voice because I have a hard time expressing my thoughts and feelings. This was a much needed reminder that I will make myself heard when I need to, and my voice may be quiet, but it is powerful. Thank you so much!

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