Sunday, 15 July 2012

LIFE OVERSEAS : Starting Fresh

IN my previous article (July 1), I touched on the topic of being comfortable in your own skin; being able to love yourself for who you are.
Just as I was writing that article, I chanced upon an amazing story. My friend, Ronia Murray, wrote about her struggles with her self-image. She shared how she had conquered it and emerged triumphant. When I finished reading her story, tears came to my eyes as it was truly a bewildering tale that left an impact on me.
Murray is 18 years old and one of my classmates in Ireland. She is bubbly, talkative and she seems to be one of the popular ones in my year. At first I only knew her as a classmate but later I changed my perception of her.
A man had come to our school to challenge students to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Many of us were eager to do so until we heard about the cost of the trip and the amount of training we had to endure before embarking on the hike. It was the talk of the school but I thought that nobody would step up to the plate in the end.
However, Murray proved me wrong. She raised funds, ate healthily at lunch and went for fitness training.
She set off with a group of students from Ireland and succeeded in climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, the fourth highest mountain in the world at 5,895m. When she returned home with stories of her adventure, I could not help but be filled with admiration.
Several months later, she was absent from school for a long time and nobody seemed to know the reason. There were rumours in school of her contracting a disease or even being pregnant. Some people even said that her hair had fallen out.
Finally, she returned to school, with her hair looking exactly as it used to but we found out later that it was a hairpiece.
Murray has Alopecia universalis. It is an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks the hair follicles which results in hair loss from the entire body.
“I was angry at the world and I hated myself. It was my own body which had done this to me — I wanted to die!” said Murray. Her condition seemed to be hereditary and she has a 10 per cent chance of growing back her hair.
Her greatest challenge was the people who were unable to accept the disease. She wrote: “As it is such an unusual disease that is rather unknown, it was difficult to reveal it to others as they merely thought that I had shaved my head for charity.”
Watching her return to classes made me see that she had the heart of a lion and that she was strong enough to overcome this obstacle.
On the last day of school, she came in without her wig. I was speechless but felt so happy for her. Her courage to attend school without her wig showed that she had accepted herself. To top it all off, she looked absolutely stunning.
She said: “If it wasn't for the love and support from my family and friends, I would never have overcome it.” She also went to a support group for people with the disease. It helped her to come to terms with her new look.
“This disease is not the end of my life; it really is just the beginning — my new life in my new beautiful skin.”
Indeed, she is an inspirational young girl who was able to conquer her own Mount Kilimanjaro.

The writer is studying at a high school in Ireland. She loves to try all things but is a Malaysian at heart

Read more: LIFE OVERSEAS: Starting fresh - You - New Straits Times

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