Leah Duboy waits patiently for her table to fill up with anticipating listeners. She looks around the room in silence, fiddling with her placard labeled “Hidden Disabilities” and becomes shocked at the number of freshmen that occupy the seats around her within minutes. The bell rings, signaling Duboy to begin. She hesitates, debating how to tell her story to such a young audience, before deciding to dive right in.
“My name is Leah Duboy and I have Marfan syndrome, sensorimotor neuropathy, visual snow syndrome,and mast cell activation disorder due to genetic complications,” she said.
Duboy has been diagnosed and treated for Marfan syndrome since she was 5 years old, causing her to have an average life expectancy. She has slowly developed the other conditions over time.
Duboy is a Miami native who attends her FIU classes online. She is a transfer student who is working towards a bachelor’s degree in international business. However, she makes it clear that her business degree was not in her original career path. She previously attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) to pursue a bachelor’s in Fine Arts, even acquiring a job as an office worker at the SAIC Sullivan Gallery. “I felt so free and alive and like an independent human being,” Duboy reminisced.
Unfortunately, Duboy developed visual snow syndrome and other optic impairments at age 19, which significantly affected both her vision and ability to continue her education at SAIC.
Her decision to pursue a degree in international business at FIU was purely out of necessity. Her parents would be able to take care of her and she would be able to do clerical work regardless of her physical condition in the future.
During her time at FIU, however, Duboy has made time to participate in the Human Library. Hosted by FIU, the Human Library is an event where people can ask questions to human “books” that have challenged societal stigma.
Duboy’s book title is “Hidden Disabilities,” since she suffers from many conditions but does not look physically disabled. Her inspiration for participating in the event is to inform others of the viewpoint that someone going through intense challenges can still come out the other end in a more positive and healthy way than before.
When asked about how she stays optimistic, she clarifies that she was not always that way. Because of her multiple conditions and other factors, she had taken on a completely pessimistic perspective on living altogether. She constantly struggled with her mental health and contemplated suicide at various points in her life. Yet, as her mental health hit an all-time low and she began to worsen physically, she decided that the only way to go was up. Duboy faked a positive attitude until she felt she had attained one, which only occurred recently. The optimistic attitude now displayed is the same one she approaches her listeners with at the Human Library.
“Her experience really hit me emotionally. How a person can just go through such events and be positive is very inspirational,” says freshman Paola Quintana.
So, what is Duboy’s advice for anyone not feeling optimistic about the personal challenges they are going through?
“In general, what I would tell somebody is that your external circumstances may be extremely difficult but you are not a slave to these circumstances,” said Duboy. “There is always, no matter the circumstance, something that can be done to make your internal viewpoint and your personhood so vibrant and beautiful.”