Beat the Odds 2017: Mikayla Brainard’s Story of Overcoming Abuse and Chronic Illnesses
Mikayla Brainard doesn’t waver once during the conversation. Not when she talks about dealing with losing her hearing in one ear when she was three. Not when she talks about being sexually abused for three years by a close family member. Or the suicide attempts, and the chronic illnesses that followed, keeping her stuck in bed for days at a time for simply enjoying a concert with friends. She only says that she may start to cry – but doesn’t – when asked how things are different now.
“I really don’t think I’d be where I am today without my sisters, knowing that they’ll be looking up to me for the rest of my life,” Brainard explains.
Mikayla’s past has been mostly left behind, kept at bay by love and support. The chronic illnesses remain, but the life she now lives is a happy one.
Like most seniors at Stewartville High School, she likes to hang out with her friends. Whether it’s driving around Rochester, or watching TV together, she likes the company.
“I’m trying to take advantage of my life and do everything that I can be doing,” Brainard says.
The former cheerleader of 10 years also coaches (which “she loves”) the Stewartville cheerleading all-star competitive team, keeping the sport a part of her life.
But the past has shaped who she is today.
“I definitely don’t regret or wish any of the things that happened to me hadn’t; I’m thankful for them at times because they’ve taught me a lot,” Brainard says.
She has a long history of pain.
“I don’t know where to start,” she responds when asked about it.
The deafness happened when she was three due to a tumor eroding her inner ear.
Beginning at 7, and lasting until she was 10, a close family member sexually abused her.
“He was pretty much my best friend; I didn’t have many friends in elementary school. So, that was really hard on me,” Brainard recalls. “I developed depression, and anxiety, and PTSD shortly after he got caught. I began self-harming when I was 11; tried to end my life for the first time when I was 12.”
Brainard attempted suicide three times in less than three months at the end of seventh grade. She ended up in residential treatment for four months. Once out, she was back home in Kasson.
The return resulted in a downward spiral.
She had close friends and was happy, but it took just a couple of months before girls were posting things online telling her to kill herself. The online bullying flowed into the classroom, and a move to Stewartville was made.
“When that (the bullying) happened we decided it was time to get out of Kasson, which was hard,” says Brainard. “I had lived there since kindergarten… I grew up there, I know the town, I walked around this town every day.”
Problems followed her.
“My name got spread around very quickly in Stewartville – some good, some bad,” explains Brainard. “Mostly bad, but I had a couple close friends.”
That didn’t stop two more suicide attempts, one in eighth grade and one in ninth grade. The latter one ended up with an admission and stay in the hospital.
There has been no suicide attempt since then, “which is huge for me, considering it used to be like every other month that I was doing something like that.”
But after the overdose in ninth grade she started getting sick a lot. She was diagnosed with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, causing her to get dizzy when standing up, and chronic subjective dizziness, which causes her to become dizzy from anxiety. Both Migraines and stomach problems from her inability to absorb fructose sugar also invaded her life.
“My diet’s very strict, and annoying,” Brainard laughs. She misses ice cream and pizza. She can’t have fruits or vegetables; bread and pasta – anything processed – are all off the table.
After rifling off the exhaustive list of what she’s faced, Brainard isn’t downtrodden. She is focusing on what means the most right now – the present.
“I’m doing great now,” she says.
And that is easy to tell by chatting with her. She makes plenty of small talk while her photo is taken. She’s well aware of the problems with shedding pets. Deciding between Winona State University or University of Wisconsin-La Crosse is challenging. Credits may not transfer to the Wisconsin school, but she is infatuated with the beautiful city overseen by Grandad Bluff. She tells me about how purple her hair was just weeks ago, the dye now starting to fade.
It makes sense that Brainard will take Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) classes at Rochester Community and Technical College next semester and take classes next academic year. She’s ambitious in her pursuit of life, dog hair and all.
“I have a future planned out for me,” she says. “When I was younger, constantly trying to end my life, I didn’t think I’d make it to 16, 18. I never thought I’d make it to graduate high school, to go to college, to have a life. And it’s just crazy now to think I tried giving up so many times when I’m doing really good now.”
RCTC is just another step for her.
“Part of it is meeting new people, getting a little bit of the college experience before I actually go into college and start paying for it – seeing how much I can really handle, especially with my health,” Brainard explains. “So, taking advantage of what I can now is huge for me.”
If everything goes to plan, Brainard will earn a degree in special education, focusing on middle childhood.
“I think that would be more rewarding,” Brainard says, noting that her little sisters partly inspired her decision.
“I’m excited for my future – very excited.”
The Beat the Odds scholarship program awards deserving students from the Rochester and surrounding areas, a $2,500 scholarship to attend Rochester Community and Technical College. To be eligible for a Beat the Odds scholarship, candidates must be a high school senior or a first-year RCTC student who has overcome obstacles such as personal or family hardships, abuse, neglect, poverty, disabilities, or language and cultural barriers. Despite their challenges, these students have persevered and endeavored to become personally and academically successful and are preparing for the next step in life of attending college.