My Thoughts about a Boy in Australia

Late last Friday afternoon I saw a quick news bit about a boy in Australia who has been bullied due to his dwarfism condition and that his mother posted a video of him breaking down, wishing he could die. The bit ended by praising all those who contributed to a GoFundMe campaign so he can go to Disneyland. I then Googled the story and posted an initial opinion on my Facebook feed with one story link describing the situation in more detail; I commented that I had mixed feelings about same. I subsequently deleted replies that were debating whether or not the story was true. My mixed feelings were not about the veracity of the story but rather how the mother handled her son’s distress by sharing for all the world to see…and then “reaping” the benefits of, if you will — in a more suspect way than not.

Those who know me know that I have a dwarfism condition — now for 52 years since birth in 1967. Those who don’t know me can read about me at www.justcallmegeri.com. Diastrophic Dwarfism, a rarer form than Achondroplasia, the type that the young boy has, is what I have lived with for over 5 decades. I don’t dispute this now 9 year old boy has been made fun of his entire young life. I found stories about him from a few years ago, one referencing a dog he received to be a companion and to help him deal with his different-ness. Certainly I can relate to being made fun of in public and yes, even by adults. (Some have heard and/or read about the Kohl’s story) “What’s wrong with her?” or “what happened?” are questions I heard well into my 30s, even 40s, mostly from children, but at times from those old enough who should know better. I still hear some of the former when out in public, which is unfortunately not as often these days after several surgeries went awry the past ten years. The most egregious questions were those asking about Thalidomide (a drug expectant women in the 1950s were given that resulted in birth defects) and many actually insisting that I must have been a Thalidomide baby when I stated I wasn’t. One would think I would know the cause of my condition, a recessive hereditary one.

In my presentations to school children about my life story and experiences growing up, I share that I was more fortunate than not in that I wasn’t bullied a lot from Kindergarten through 12th Grade. Yes, there were a handful of incidents that I knew about (because happened to my face), but I was mostly left alone to be just Geri. I also share that I’m grateful I didn’t come of age in the social media age. Surely I would have been targeted much more. On the flip side, because social media was not around during my formative years, there were no videos or pictures to post that may have gone viral. Nothing that would get me invited to appear on Ellen or any number of talk shows. Instead I heard and still hear my Mom’s (now gone nearly 5 years) voice that I wasn’t to expect a red carpet everywhere I went/go or that nothing that would be handed to me on a silver platter. Life was indeed tough and I wasn’t dealt a “fair hand” to be sure, but that I shouldn’t feel sorry for myself or think that others would automatically. In fact, I would more often than not chaff at special treatment such as being invited to the head of the line in a busy bakery during holidays when I was still upright and walking. (Admittedly, I don’t mind as much these days as my limitations have increased.)

In my 52 years trying to figure out my purpose, I have wanted – and this is not easy to type – to die at various times. The few times I was made fun of especially in Middle School I didn’t tell anyone, not any of my sisters let alone my parents or teachers. Life is definitely more complicated these days especially with the blessings and curses of social media. Bullying can be rampant, anonymously so. Praise and positive attention can also result from postings of good and bad behaviors.

I do not believe this young boy made up stories of being mistreated to the point of him wanting it to end…to the point of him declaring he wants to die. And while awareness continues to be needed of all those on the outside, on the periphery, those to be targeted because of differences, I disagree with how this mom went about to bring her son’s experience to light. In my opinion only, I felt she exploited her son’s pain and made it very public to intentionally garner sympathy that would perhaps result in enough attention to “reward” that pain. I don’t know if I’m making sense. And I absolutely know my Mom would never have done similar even if an option back then. No doubt some reading will take exception to my take on this story. Some might even argue that I’m jealous (I have even asked that of myself) that social media can shower praise and vacation trips on various folks with various kinds of trying circumstances these days. I wrote similarly after the Boston Marathon bombing that suddenly turned those significantly injured into heroes.

There are countless folks around the world who live in trying circumstances, due to congenital disabilities (either physical or developmental) or acquired life changing injuries who the public will never know about. Do more folks described above deserve GoFund campaigns to send them on trips to Disney or other destinations, no. Is this a nice perk of being different, perhaps?! Should it come about by exploitation … no … again, not in my humble opinion. When there is a legitimate need for assistance, then folks should ask.

I sincerely hope this boy’s experiences are “real,” not because I want him to have suffered or continue to, but because I don’t want people to have been fooled and more importantly, I don’t want folks’ generous natures to have been taken advantage of so that they may be less generous in the future. I do not believe people deserves rewards just because. I sincerely hope, too, that others do not take this as an example to garner sympathy for a magical trip. After the high of such a trip, the underlying behaviors remain. I hope the mother, school officials and parents involved handle such bad behavior with those perpetuating such first and foremost.

Rewards?

Rewards?

Full Disclosure: Thoughts on Depression & Suicide

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Many people have asked me to write a book. Below would be part and parcel of any book I am finally currently working on. My truth. Some may be surprised, perhaps disappointed, but I cannot be phony.

Full Disclosure: I was not an active follower of either Kate Spade or Anthony Bourdain. In this day and age of social media and celebrity, I certainly knew who both were and what each brought to the table, pun intended. Enough money was never enough to purchase the eponymous bag that made Miss Spade a household name and worthy to be Jeopardy clues. I should have been quite a fan of Mr. Bourdain, but truth be told, watching his programs discouraged me in recent years. I was reminded of all I have lost since the first of three major surgeries left me even more mobility impaired than I had been for the first 42+ years of my life. Additional truth be told, I’m a fashionista wanna-be born in the wrong body and a frustrated hostess with the mostess not to mention a grounded adventurer.

The two recent high profile suicides this week have raised the serious topic of depression once again. Seems that it takes the hard to believe self inflicted deaths of the famous for this to be covered across all media save the occasional news reports of rising incidences of teen suicide as well as those among veterans. A few years ago, the death of beloved Robin Williams highlighted the topic that still today seems taboo. Not only suicide but the underlying issues of mental illness which includes depression. The term “mental illness” can conjure up negative images, even severe conditions such as schizophrenia, psychosis or perhaps a murderous Hannibal Lector. Depression is a condition under the vast umbrella of Mental Illness and should be appropriately discerned. With Robin Williams, the vast majority of fans who only knew him from the small or big screens making us laugh found it unbelievable that such a person could be desperately unhappy, depressed. Do we really WANT to know that friends and family or celebrities can be feeling hopeless?

For those who know me or have read previous blogs or followed my Just Call Me Geri FB page, you probably know that my Mother (the one who chose me from a picture in the newspaper), from my earliest consciousness, impressed upon me the importance of not feeling sorry for myself. The message included the tacit warning that no one would like me, that showing self pity would give reason for people to turn away from me. Would be decades later that I would learn that there is a significant difference between whining and legitimately feeling down due to my circumstances.

By no means have I had the worst life, far from it, but I started life with strikes against me, first being born in a deformed shell that would embody my soul and personality. Being abandoned in the hospital by biological parents who left instructions behind that “no pictures to be taken of this baby” added 2nd and 3rd strikes, yetvi was never out.
I won’t list the entire litany of hardships faced through now 50 years but some include:
Being told to accept I would never get married;
Being asked why I would want to have a baby and do to them what happened to me;
Being backstabbed at a summer camp by someone supposedly to have been family;
Being backstabbed by that same person when she lied to my parents about supposed injustices inflicted by me (in my perspective, was quite opposite);
Hearing sighs, groans and whispers when people had to help me in/out of cars or up stairs (who’s going to help Geri?”);
Being advised it’s easier if I stay away so no one would have to deal with me during emergencies;
Being “gently” told I could never provide a home for a man I had feelings for;
Being “harassed” by a married man who knew I would have little to no other intimate opportunities;
Being belittled and disrespected in hospital facilities when known I was on my own;
Having inappropriate medical treatments or not having appropriate medical interventions (that led to my current incapacitation);
Being at mercy of caregivers who can be rude, rough and larcenous;
Being at the mercy of Government restrictions; and
Being told I’m too depressing to talk to…

When at 40 I had finally obtained a Master’s Degree to begin a long in trying to figure out career, I was soon stymied, having that career cut short by 3 surgeries that left me in worse shape than before. The last two surgeries I never would have consented to had I been warned my mobility would be all but lost completely. I would have opted for shorter life span over non quality of life. When over 10-30 years ago I’d fall into pits of despair, I struggled mightily, conjured up plans, fingering bottles of medication, really my only option. Remembering the haunting conclusion of Edith Wharton’s “Ethan Frome” always prevented me from trying anything self destructive with my car, the only other possible tool at my disposal.

796AB887-BC2C-4222-BA44-9D6D4CF62A3AYet, I always dug deep, as far inside as I could to keep the wavering flame from going out. Once such night in the wee hours, I remember sitting on the floor by my bed sobbing with heaving muted screams. What brought me back was thinking of “my kids” and their parents …how would they explain to them that I gave up? When I was still able to sit up prior to first spinal surgery of 2015, I willingly put my meds out of reach. My evening pills then were set aside for only one night at a time as I no longer trusted myself. I was still trying to hang on. And now when many days, especially recently, when I really want an out, there is no possibility that I can do anything to harm myself. My therapist and I have laughed about this ruefully. A cosmic joke?

This disclosure can possibly hurt my alternate career in the making …aiming to be a successful inspirational speaker but this is my truth. I’m not asking for people to feel sorry for me, but to understand that there are no easy answers.

More additional truth be told, I’d much rather laugh than cry. I actually enjoy having others laugh at my sometimes corny, other times bawdy, humor. I really should find an amateur Stand Up/Sit Down Comedy venue. Ridiculous irony from the universe, I’m rather an extrovert. God couldn’t have made me an agoraphobic?

I have my “highs” when I have several engagements booked, when I do feel of use and that my life has purpose. But then the lows come rising up (oxymoronic?) when I can’t seem to break through, catch that one break. My life is not one that made headlines because of national crisis such as the Boston Marathon Bombing. I didn’t lose otherwise normal limbs while fighting for my Country. Am I making sense? I didn’t come of age in Social Media where Promposals to kids with Special Needs go viral or a child on the spectrum shoots multiple baskets to close out a final game of a season. I DO NOT begrudge these later generations of kids who have benefited from widespread inclusion. In fact, I’d like to think I helped pave the way. Perhaps I have been “of use” to quote John Irving’s Dr. Larch.

Depression can take deep hold of anyone. For those suffering, suicide can seem like the only way out. Others may see it as selfish. Feeling like a burden is not easy even as many will proclaim one isn’t. Once a person experiences that initial thought, sometimes from earliest memory, it’s impossible to entirely erase from one’s mindset.

Please have compassion for those who have left via their own actions. And if you can handle the truth, unlike those whom Jack Nicholson’s character claimed couldn’t, reach out to those who may be struggling. As I suggest to students during school presentations, when encouraging them to look after each other, wouldn’t you want someone to look after you? For those who are struggling, please try to let someone know you’re hurting, reach deep down inside to find the courage to reach out for assistance. If Jesus cried out to his Father with no shame attached, so may we cry out for help.