Darlene Bock

Day 38:

When Darlene Bock, 52, was in elementary school, she came home crying nearly every day after school. The kids said she was too tall, too skinny, and too ugly. It was, to say the least, incredibly hurtful. And it impacted her confidence, until she learned something that her own mom had learned many years before.

You don’t let people tell you who you are,” Darlene said. “YOU tell you who you are.”

Darlene’s mom had gone through a lot of the same challenges in life that Darlene was facing, and then some. Her mom was legally blind, very tall, and not attractive. Both suffered from Marfan Syndrome, a connective tissue disease that affected their eyes, heart, lungs, kidneys, and nearly every other body system you could think of. Marfan Syndrome was the reason they were both so tall and skinny, with very little subcutaneous fat. It’s believed that Abraham Lincoln also suffered from Marfan Syndrome.

In elementary school, Darlene knew her mom had these physical limitations. But it wasn’t what stuck out in her mind. Because despite the cards being stacked against her, her mom was a firecracker of a woman. She was bursting with self-confidence and didn’t let anything stop her from pursuing her goals.

“She was an amazing woman,” Darlene remembered. “She didn’t see herself as having a disability because she was blind. She just took it to mean she needed to find other ways to do things. She taught me that the only person who gets in your way is you.”

Darlene’s mom never stood in her own way. And she did find other ways to do things. She may have been blind, but it never stopped her from being a career woman, first as a medical transcriptionist and then as a medical secretary at a state-run mental hospital. I asked Darlene how her mom managed to be a transcriptionist and a secretary with one completely blind eye and the other shrouded in glaucoma.

“You don’t need eyes to type,” Darlene said, smiling.

Her mom broke down every barrier she was faced with, including learning to do intricate crafts without her sight.

“She could top-stitch like you wouldn’t believe,” Darlene said. “She was incredible at crafts.”

As a person who had overcome so many obstacles, Darlene’s mom knew that one of the biggest lessons she could teach Darlene was to be confident in being her own person, and to not let others get her down. When that finally sank in for Darlene, her life started to turn around. There weren’t so many tears after school. Kids still teased her, but it didn’t affect her the same way.

With Marfan Syndrome, there has been a lot that Darlene hasn’t been able to do in her life. Active things like hiking and zip-lining are generally out of her reach, because she doesn’t have the cardiac fortitude for them. But Darlene has found other ways to make her life meaningful and joyous. She was somewhat of a rebel in the small town where she grew up, traveling by herself and being one of the first girls of her age to move out and live by herself. She fully enjoyed her single life before she met her husband, Bruce. She went on cruises and saved her money for a trip to Europe. And then she met Bruce on a vacation in the San Juan Islands. She went to stay at Rosario Resort on Orcas Island and he was working there, and the rest is history.

Through it all, Darlene has refused to let herself be stopped by her physical afflictions.

“When you have a physical problem, you can either have a victim mentality or you can say to yourself, there is so much more to life than what you can’t do. I don’t look at what I can’t do. I look at what I can do. You need to find joy regardless of your situation. You have to make your own joy.”

That said, Darlene knows that you can’t be happy all the time. And she thinks that being sad sometimes is completely okay.

“We can’t be happy all the time,” she said. “That’s boring. And venting is okay.”

But you can bet that Darlene is no longer one to let other people make her cry.

Things you can do:

  • If you have a physical problem that stops you from certain activities, brainstorm all of the things that you enjoy that you CAN do.
  • Take your mind off your own ailments by volunteering with people who have it worse than you.
  • Write down Darlene’s mantra and put it somewhere you’ll see it often: “You don’t let people tell you who you are. YOU tell you who you are.”

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