The 12 of September 1973, what a great day it was, it was the day I was born. I came into this at 7 months and weighed only 3 pounds. I must have been in a rush for something, I’m still that way today.
Being born so premature meant I was in an incubator at the hospital for 3 months. What a struggle for my mother it must have been, especially with already having another child under 5. Some people say when you are born your character and personality are already set for life. In my case absolutely world true, I was born to fight and I’m still that way to the core. My mother said I didn’t walk until I was 2 years old, I don’t remember but I apparently crawled everywhere. One particular day I was sitting in front of the TV watching a program which was playing music and I suddenly jumped up and started walking. It was then my mother realised I was walking with a limp but at least I was standing on my own 2 feet. From that day forwards my mother obviously knew there was something wrong, from then on, she would be taking me back and forth to the doctors. During my regular visits to ascertain the problem with my condition it was never clearly identified to her. I can only recollect one of my appointments where there was a suggestion that they could break my leg and put it in a splint to lengthen it or give me an operation on my eyes. I didn’t recognise that my eyes were different to most people, you see I was also born with Strabismus which is the medical term for crossed eyes. My mother decided to have the operation on my eyes as she said that as I was a girl that would be a better choice, in retrospect I agree with her decision. My first operation happened at the tender age of 4, I do not remember it.
When I started school, I just remember it being a complete struggle. I absolutely hated it; I was constantly falling over as I found it difficult to maintain my balance. I was bullied for being and looking different, I struggled academically as I found it difficult to retain information and the teachers were not much help! I used to think it would it have been better for me to be in a school more adequate for my needs, but I wouldn’t change any part of it now.
The playground for any child is a battlefield, trying to navigate friendships, dealing with hierarchies and being part of something, that was never me. You see I didn’t fit in I was different. The name calling started, “Spastic”, “Pegleg”, “Retard” and “One Eyed Jack” the list goes on. The name calling cut really deep and I believe that was the beginning of the negative view of myself and self- worth. There was always tears but being born into a Caribbean family, my mother would tell me never to come home crying. This meant I internalised all my feelings, frustrations and didn’t understand why I was being treated so unfairly. You see feelings, emotions and any display of affection was not in my household growing up. Everything was always swept under the carpet.
During my high school years, the name calling continued but this time I had my younger sister that had my back. I think she thought she had to fight my battles and I was grateful for it. I had teachers that did not understand what I needed and instead made me feel as if I wouldn’t amount to anything and more or less told me so. I left school with no A to C’s and the belief of the teachers that I wouldn’t amount to anything worthwhile. I was definitely going to prove them ALL wrong.
It didn’t take me too long to decide what I wanted to do for a career when I left school, I always enjoyed looking after children so I decided I would gain qualifications to become a nursery nurse. I continued this for a few years then moved to working with primary school children. I worked with mainly special needs children; yay I had found my niche. I worked in the primary school for a number of years until I received a call from a head teacher from a High school offering me a position within their special needs department. This was amazing, I had never ben head hunted before! They obviously saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself.
I had confidence in being really good at my job and I absolutely loved it; it was hard work but very rewarding. I stayed with the school for five years and then made the decision to go to university to study Media Performance and Production at the age of 30, I was asking myself can I do this? This was a milestone in so many ways for me. As well as the new venture, I had been going back and forth to the doctor with gastro problems which started when I was 16 years old. I had been suffering with my left leg, my knee, ankle and hip were becoming painful. I will never forget this day, I walked into the doctor’s surgery her name was Dr Thompson, I explained all my symptoms to her and she gave me medication for the pain. She said to take the pressure of the left leg I definitely would have to start driving. I was about to get up and leave when she said “do you know what you have Jacqueline” I was a little confused and asked what she meant. She continued to say, “You have Cerebral Palsy, I don’t know whether we have done you a disservice Jacqueline, should you have been told and be labelled all your life, would you be the determined person you are today.” She printed off some information on Cerebral Palsy and handed it to me. I left the surgery with my prescription and information and went home. I’ve got to tell you when I closed my front door behind me, I burst into tears. It was a relief more than anything, but it all became clear, the gastro problems, the ache in my limbs, the muscle tightness and the zero movement in my left foot there was an answer to it all. There started my journey of gaining knowledge and understanding of the condition and most importantly acceptance.
My degree was fun I was able to be creative, but it also had its difficulties. I remember working on a presentation in class and we had to use an auto que, the lecturer shouted out from the gallery, “where are you looking?” I was so embarrassed; I was not confident anyway due to my Strabismus but had to continue. It did however bring back memories of a couple of incidents. First one was when I walked onto a bus, showed my bus pass, the bus driver proceeds to ask me if my leg hampers my sex life – what a cheek! then I was on a date and the man asked me “why are you walking like a disabled” The common denominator with these two scenarios is both men were Caribbean.
I finished my degree with a 2:1 wow what an achievement! It was emotional but I had done it, for all the teachers who made feel like I was stupid I had proven them wrong and most importantly I proved it to myself.
The journey to love and acceptance of myself has not been an easy one but I’m here now in my mid-forties sharing my story with you. There has been a lot of dealing with the past and letting go has been a big part of that. Listening to podcasts and reading has been my saviour on many occasions.
I’m comfortable in my own skin and now have the confidence to talk about being black with a disability, we as a community find it hard to talk about it. We need to leave the ignorance at the door and the conversation starts now…
Let’s start the change and look out for more from me soon!