author: Elizabeth Baker
I have lived with my secret for almost 47 years, developed a business and respect in my field, without anyone knowing. My secret is based on a ‘don’t tell’ attitude in society that suggests having people know would diminish my standing in the community. In other words, I would not be taken seriously. My secret is far from being of my own doing, it was in fact done to me. But this does not seem to lessen the stigma associated with it being made known. I have wrestled for years whether it was wise to make my secret public knowledge and the decision was still not easily arrived at. I involved my family in the decision, knowing it would affect their lives as well, but they have offered me nothing but support. I know I could lose acquaintances and perhaps even some friends based upon this secret becoming public knowledge and I am prepared to accept this loss.
I don’t look any different, in fact I am perceived as attractive, intelligent and very professional. I am considered by some as ‘disabled’, but consider myself simply ‘differently-abled’. Yes, I am challenged on a daily basis, however I have learned coping strategies to manage the variety of challenges. My memory is affected, but I have taught myself simple ‘cheats’ or I can say I had a momentary lapse and laugh it off. My health issues can be disguised as ‘getting older’ or having pulled a muscle during a recent work-out. No one ever looks closely enough to notice subtle differences, quirks or behaviours I might have. The societal attitude of ‘not too close’ most definitely works in my favour.
I digested my diagnosis long ago and have gone through the prescribed stages of grief, without it progressing my understanding whatsoever. I have spent years being enraged but it has not assisted in my daily living one bit. Society is not prepared to handle my diagnosis, let alone comprehend all the symptomology linked with it. Behaviours associated with it are minimally understood and generally undervalued, seen simply as excuses when in reality they are far from it. Those of us in the world with this diagnosis genuinely wish for better understanding. We are given morbid prognoses, leaning towards institutionalization at some point in our lives, whether from drug addiction, psychiatric illness or legal misdeeds. We are subject to significantly higher incidence of addiction, suicide and violence with little or no hope given in comfort. Statistics are spewed out in what seem random convulsions, with no personal link to ourselves, and we are left to wonder ‘so whose projected outcome should I follow today?’ Our futures are bleak, so ‘they’ say and again I wonder who ‘they’ are and why have they decided this for me? What about what I want? I want to say perhaps I’ll be a Doctor or a Lawyer, but I know the statistics, so I decide it’s best not to try. I could be a famous musician, but I am prone to addiction, so perhaps this is not a good choice. Maybe a rocket scientist, but I have multiple learning disabilities.
I have come from a difficult background and have been in the care of the Children’s Aid Society. I have no medical history to my growing file on my physician’s desk and am met with the response of ‘Oh, I see’ when asked. My parents who adopted their pretty little girl had been given very little warning of the difficulties they would face. Parents are given the diagnosis, symptoms and statistics, leaving them wondering what on earth they have gotten themselves into. The worst case scenario is always in the foreground of every discussion and the black hole of diagnosis just keeps getting deeper. Parents who do adopt must be very special indeed and most certainly require extreme patience, patience and more patience! As adoptees, we are a challenge unlike most others that when adoption at a later age is included into the mix, it is made so much more difficult. Then we have baggage that can range from mild to extreme. This baggage could include neglect, abuse, witnessing violence or even abandonment. With our diagnosis, emotions are difficult enough, but then to add these lovely additions to the still growing list, it’s a wonder we survive at all. Some of us don’t.
I sometimes have great difficulty in organizing my thoughts, let alone my sock drawer. But when one appears ‘normal’, others expect you to be and this places more pressure on an already delicate anxiety level. I can snap an unwarranted retort just as well as the next person on a bad day, but I back it up with additional resentment and confusion. Often I know I am being unreasonable, but simply can’t stop the anger in the moment. I fight with emotional turmoil every day and I am full of insecurity and a fear of rejection. I am 47 years old and still fear my parents giving up on me and yet, they are still here, supporting and loving me. I have decided my partner in life is a saint, though I’m quite sure the church won’t accept him. His miraculous deed is simply living with me day after day, yet to me it is miraculous. I love my children and know they love me too. There is nothing they could ever do that would cause me to stop loving them, I am fiercely sure of this.
So what is the end result of my secret, you might ask and what have I done with it? How has it affected who I am today?
My name is Elizabeth Baker and I am the owner of Thames Centre Service Dogs, a training facility for service dogs and special needs children. I am also a recognized authority in training procedures and protocols, a consultant with many organizations, published author and public speaker.
And by the way, I also have Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.