Courtesy of Jessica Escamilla
Adversity is nothing new for San Jacinto College student Jessica Escamilla. Born with Spina Bifida, the thirty-five-year-old did not let it stop her from becoming a published author or from using her platform as the reigning Ms. Wheelchair Texas USA to raise awareness for issues close to her heart.
According to the Spina Bifida Association, the condition is a birth defect that involves the incomplete formation of the spine and affects “seven out of every 10,000 newborns in the United States.”
October is Spina Bifida Awareness Month and National Depression and Mental Health Screening Month. Both issues hit very close to home for Escamilla. As a result of her condition, she battled depression from an early age surviving eight attempts to take her own life. But, she does not shy away from speaking about her struggles with depression and suicide but rather uses her title to spotlight mental illness and special needs issues.
“I wanted to show that your situation, no matter what your situation is, you can do whatever you want,” she said.
Escamilla first attempted suicide at the age of 14. Her last attempt was in 2008 before making a major shift in the way she viewed others’ perceptions.
“I stopped worrying about how people saw me,” Escamilla said. “I stopped worrying about what they thought of me.”
A year later, she obtained an associate degree in child development and is now completing a second associate degree in business before transferring to the University of Houston Clear Lake to pursue a bachelor’s degree in management.
Escamilla plans to compete at the national Ms. Wheelchair USA 2018 contest in Ohio, where if she wins, she advances to compete in Ms. Wheelchair International.
Although she still struggles with depression, Escamilla said she moves forward every day. She works as an event coordinator organizing parties whose attendees have special needs, and she serves on the board of Spina Bifida of Houston Gulf Coast. Also, she wrote a book titled “The Flame that Kept the Candles Burning” chronicling her experiences with depression and suicide.
Meanwhile, Escamilla said she wants to use her title as Ms. Wheelchair Texas USA to reach others facing depression and mental illness and show them hope exists for a bright future.
“Their story is not over,” she said. “It’s just beginning.”