Luckily you don’t remember the first few years of your life, because unfortunately they were shrouded with despair and hopelessness. You were born missing your left arm, then at just 18 months of age, while struggling to get used to a newly fitted prosthesis, you accidently knocked boiling water on yourself and suffered third degree burns to 15% of your body.
Yes, it was tough and the pain that was numb to you as child will come back later in life, stronger and more debilitating than you could ever imagine.
A baby Jessica with third degree burns after struggling with a prosthesis
A lesson you will have to learn time and time again, is to see yourself with your own eyes and to love yourself with your own heart.
As a people pleaser, you put so much pressure on yourself to do everything perfectly. I want you to know that you do not have to be perfect. Your perceived imperfections are what make you different, and it is this that you need to embrace.
When you get into high school, please stop worrying about what other people think and instead be who you want to be, not who you think you’re expected to be.
Not everyone is going to like you. I know that is not a nice thing to hear, but knowing this will hopefully give you permission to stop trying so hard.
Embrace your individuality, because it will be your ticket to your success one day.
You will experience a lot of pain and deep sorrow, as you struggle to understand who you are and why you look different. Let go of the anger you feel towards those who make you feel like an outcast. What you don’t see is how unkind their own lives are.
I know you think your parents are judging you too harshly. They are strict and they won’t ever allow you to feel sorry for yourself. But they love you, more than you could ever imagine – you won’t realise this until you have children of your own. Appreciate the time you have with them, because you don’t get to see them as often as you would like.
You will find peace when you dive into a swimming pool. The troubles of the world will fade away as you power through the water, lap after lap. But remember that no amount of hiding or running away will ever eliminate the inner demons that you are desperately trying to silence.
Use your talent in the water in a positive way. Try not to punish yourself or your body and disguise it as ‘training’. Swimming will be the one thing that opens your eyes and your heart to the world. It will be your solace, and the time in your life where you are literally on top of the world. Use your strength to improve your talent and skills. You will go on to represent your country and wear the Green & Gold on numerous times over the space of 7 years. You will in fact reach the pinnacle of your sporting career when you are selected onto the 2004 Paralympic Swimming Team to compete in Athens.
But, one day you will look back and realise that your swimming career is over too soon. Cherish every friendship you make and every new adventure you experience.
Society has done a pretty good job at warping your perception of beauty. You waste so much time and energy criticising yourself in front of the mirror. It saddens me to tell you that for a decade you silently struggle with an eating disorder and depression.
Please stop punishing yourself, stop disrespecting your body by starving and over exercising. This has repercussions and will result in complications later in life. I know you are hurting, but this will pass. Soon you will realise that the mirror is not your enemy, and that beauty has nothing to do with your external appearance.
You will experience incredible loss and you will hit rock bottom. You will wonder how life will ever be the same again, but trust me – it will be even better. I know it will seem scary, but hang in there.
One day you’ll meet your soul mate, and he will help you smile again.
He will be the person who makes you wonder what you were doing with your life before you met him. He will challenge you and you will challenge him. Together you will become more tolerant and understanding of each other and the world.
You will have to learn that the wounds of your past; your disability, burns, eating disorders and depression, are what damaged your self-esteem. Yet through it all, you are a better person.
You are a person with a voice that others want to listen to. Don’t ever forget about your responsibility to give back to the people who supported you along the way.
You accomplish so many incredible things early on in life, you win many awards, some you take for granted. Please take more time to appreciate this recognition.
You will marvel at just how far you have come, through all the darkness your life is one of hope and success.
Your body will amaze you when you and husband learn that you are expecting your first child. It will bring you closer together and will be the beginning of the next chapter, and it will be the proudest accomplishment in your life.
The immense responsibility that you feel to be a positive role model for your children – is a good thing.
You use your creativity to think outside the box by writing a children’s book, “Little Miss Jessica Goes to School”. Essentially the main character is about your own life, but you articulate the story in a simple way to help others understand what being different is actually like, and it will change the way people think and how they view the world.
Life is unpredictable … don’t be afraid to stray from the ragged path that everyone else is walking. Embrace the challenges you will face and don’t let the fear of failure suffocate you. You will only truly learn after making mistakes. But try not to make the same mistake twice.
Even though you will struggle with some very tough emotional issues, each experience is a piece of the puzzle, a compilation of the person you’ll become.
You will have few regrets in your life. You will soon come to understand that success is a journey and that moving with the flow of your life, and not against, is the answer.
And this will be your greatest achievement.
Love Me xx