Jacqueline shares her experience of being black and disabled.
Jacqueline is a member of our Cerebral Palsy Network. To mark Black History Month, she has shared with us her experience of being black and disabled.
Some people say when you are born your character and personality are already set for life. In my case that’s true. I was born to fight and I’m still that way to the core.
I began walking at two years old, and my mother quickly realised I was walking with a limp. During the regular visits to the doctors, the problem was never clearly identified to her. Suggestions to treat my leg included breaking it and putting it in a splint to lengthen it, as well as an operation on my eyes to address my strabismus, which is the medical term for ‘crossed eyes’.
School was very hard. I was constantly falling over as I found it difficult to maintain my balance. I struggled academically as I found it difficult to retain information, and the teachers weren’t much help!
The playground for any child is a battlefield. The name calling, like “pegleg”, “retard”, and “one-eyed Jack”, cut really deep, and I believe that was the beginning of the negative view of myself.
There were 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 and frustrations, and didn’t understand why I was being treated so unfairly. Feelings, emotions, and any display of affection was not in my household growing up. Everything was always swept under the carpet.
The search for answers
The degree I began years later was fun, but it had its own difficulties. I remember working on a presentation in class and we had to use an auto cue. The lecturer shouted out from the gallery, “where are you looking?” and I was so embarrassed. I wasn’t confident anyway due to my strabismus but had to continue.
It wasn’t until I was 30 that I finally had some answers. I will never forget the day I walked into the doctor’s surgery to see Dr Thompson. I explained all my symptoms to her and she gave me medication for the pain. I was about to get up and leave when she said, “do you know what you have Jacqueline?” It was then that she told me I had cerebral palsy.
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.
The journey has not been an easy one. 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.
Finding my pride
I am proud to be as the late great Maya Angelou wrote “a phenomenal women” – one who happens to have cerebral palsy. You see, it used feel like my enemy but now I see it as my friend. A blessing not a curse. There are so many things I can do and can achieve, the world is open to me.
I may sound confident now but it took me a long time to get here. I am so proud to be the women with a voice who can speak her truth about being black and disabled. Proud to be someone who can help try to remove the stigma that comes with being someone like me.
I’m comfortable in my own skin. We need to leave ignorance at the door, and the conversation starts now.