We had the good fortune of connecting with Mariah Mayhugh and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Mariah, why did you decide to pursue a creative path?
I was diagnosed with epilepsy when I was seven years old. Like most kids with a chronic condition, this left a lot of time for books and movies on the days I was in the hospital or was resting in bed. For awhile, I thought I wanted to pursue a career as a nurse, since I had been surrounded by wonderful nurses growing up. But after living with epilepsy, I realized that the one thing I really needed as a kid was to see that I wasn’t alone. To read books with characters like me and to see neurodiverse girls in movies. I needed. to feel strong and validated in the stories I consumed and I wanted to help provide that for other kids. When I discovered that there were no kids books about absence epilepsy readily available at our local library, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc, I decided to write my own. That’s how “Mimi: A Story About Absence Seizures” was born!

Now, I serve the El Paso County region as Miss El Paso County 2022 and will hopefully go on to become the next Miss Colorado in May. This has allowed me the opportunity to expand and grow, as I have developed my social impact initiative called DREAM: Dedicated to Raising Epilepsy Awareness in Media. DREAM is about portraying people with epilepsy in a honest, positive light in TV, movies, and books so that we can get rid of the stigma that surrounds it. It is also about empowering kids and young adults to chase their own dreams, no matter what may present itself as an obstacle! Choosing a creative career has been a challenge but it has been 100% worth it!

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Ever since I was little, I wanted to be a writer. I wrote my first “book” when I was in 1st grade – printer paper, hole punched and tied with string, bright markers used for the illustrations. But the thing is, even though it was a kids first attempt at writing a “book” it was profound. It was titled “A Kitten Tail: Being Different” (I even knew to use the pun for Tail vs Tale!). It was about a kitten who looked different from all the kittens in the litter and how she learned being different was okay. As I matured, so did my stories – they ranged from stories about a girl who learned to navigate meeting a blind peer, to a girl who’s foster brother had diabetes, to a girl who had a congenital heart defect. None of which I had any first hand experience with, so I poured hours of research into understanding each of these situations so I could accurately write them. But I never wrote about a girl with epilepsy. I used my own feelings of difficult situations, misunderstandings, the hospital, and my longing for peer to peer acceptance but with other situations and conditions.

Finally, after nearly a decade, I started to open up about my own condition. After writing a research paper in college that opened my eyes to the fact that I wasn’t alone and that people with epilepsy, especially kids and young adults, struggle with mental health illnesses and self esteem, I wanted to change that. It was time for the stigma around epilepsy and seizures to end. I wanted to use my voice to reach as many people as possible and thankfully writing has provided a platform for me to do that. Since writing “Mimi” I have been inspired by the people who have reached out and shared how it has helped them and/or their child with a new epilepsy diagnosis. It was not easy to make the decision to be a writer, as it is a hard career to break into and it is hard to guarantee stable income. For now, I am fortunate to live at home and also work part time at Starbucks to supplement my income. What I am most proud of in my writing career is being accepted into Emerson’s MFA in Creative Writing program – one of the top writing schools in the country. I am hopeful that pursuing a masters will allow me the opportunity to forge connections that will allow me to become a full time author and publish my young adult thriller trilogy “The Banding” which is a traditional YA trilogy – but it puts neurodiverse and disabled characters at the forefront.

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I would honestly say even a week wouldn’t be enough time to show someone all of what Colorado Springs has to offer! First and foremost, I would get the “tourist” stuff done. I would take them to Garden of the Gods, the top of Pikes Peak (if they could handle the altitude!), the US Olympic Training Center, and Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. But then, the real fun would start as I showed them more “hidden gems.” I would take them down my favorite trails behind my house, which backs up to Fox Run Park. I would invite them to come hang out with me and my friends at “Inconceivable Toys & Games” – my favorite hole in the wall game store in town, where we like to chill out and play board games. I would take them to Manitou Springs, which is well known, but show them the best places to buy fudge and drink from the mineral fountain. Depending on the time of year, I would invite them to go up in a hot air balloon because we are one of the best places to do it and it offers a view that is unmatched across the country. As for food, I couldn’t let them leave without visiting the Viewhouse, La Casa Fiesta, La Baguette, and Denver Biscuit Company – all of which are places that hold special meaning for me and are just so much fun to go to, knowing that you can’t find them anywhere else!

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I want to dedicate my shout out to so many amazing people. First and foremost, my mom and dad, who have helped me in my epilepsy journey since day one and never once did their faith in my abilities waiver. They have always supported me as I grew into my role as an advocate and I couldn’t be more grateful! I would also like to send a shout out to both the Miss Colorado Organization and the Chelsea Hutchison Foundation. Being in the Miss Colorado Organization has helped me to amplify my voice and create opportunities to spread DREAM to so many kids. Sammy from Springate Esthetics has also been critical in helping me look and feel my best in this crazy journey. Everything from my spray tan, to my makeup, to my flawless eyebrows has been thanks to her! The Chelsea Hutchison Foundation has been a huge supporter of my book and mission for epilepsy awareness and I couldn’t do it without them. Thank you all!

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/misselpasocounty/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mariah.mayhugh.12

Other: TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@mariahmayhugh

Image Credits
Majek Photography (for photos 5 & 6)

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutColorado is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.