When my mother was pregnant with me, I got into a condition called erythroblastosis fetalis. This happens when the mother doesn't have a component of the red cells of the blood named Rh factor and the baby does. An Rh-negative mother may react as if she were allergic to an Rh-positive baby – in that case, her antibodies cross the placenta and attack the baby’s blood. This situation can cause serious illness, brain damage, or even death to the fetus or newborn. Nowadays, the Rh-negative mothers can take an injection at a certain point of the pregnancy to prevent them from creating those antibodies. In 1962, when I was born, however, this resource was unavailable.
The doctor was aware of my mother’s pregnancy risks and suggested that I should be prematurely taken out of my mother’s womb, at her 8th month of pregnancy. This procedure proved to be right: according to him, if I had stayed a week longer in my mother’s womb, I would not have survived. Nevertheless, they had to change all my blood as soon as I was born. When this exchange took place, my heart stopped beating and I was considered dead. I was lucky because the same doctor was present at my birth and did not give up. He gave an adrenaline injection in my heart and I came to life again, but with a brain damage in the area of motor coordination.
As a result of my brain lesion (an athetoid cerebral palsy), I had involuntary movements, my motor coordination development was delayed and I had difficulty learning how to walk. When my mother realized that something was wrong, she looked for medical help and when I was about 4 years old she took me for daily physiotherapy sessions in a hospital. I remember being very self-conscious at that time, being ashamed of my condition and – believe me – I also remember my prejudices: I didn't want to be taken as a Down Syndrome child or as a paralytic child. When someone new came into the room, I quickly stood up to show that I didn't quite fit in with the group.
That was what made Far from the Tree reading so special to me. I burst into tears when I read, in the first chapter, Andrew’s descriptions of his strategies to be accepted in kindergarten and in school – they were very, very, very similar, if not identical, to my own strategies. And I am not gay, which made me realize in a very concrete way the main principle that pervades the whole book: all the differences are different but the same and everyone is different in some way.
For a long time, I used to glamourize my own difficulties/disabilities in order to accept myself. As I felt "inferior", I tried and found reasons to feel "superior". Sometimes I was convinced that my differences were more valuable than other differences and that they were more interesting than the platitude of normality. If I usually got into rationalization mechanisms to not get in touch with my suffering, on the other hand, to make me feel a different different, I read a lot, I learned languages, I went to concerts, art exhibitions, art movies, plays. I tried to understand what makes a great artist original (different?) and I even tried to be original myself, but I guess I was only weird with my hippie old fashioned clothes. All this behavior was meant to create motives for me to be proud of myself. Unfortunately, however, pride results in a misleading sense of superiority – which again is prejudice. Beside and within that tendency, there is that complex discussion about illness x identity, the process that leads from one approach to another and also to the understanding that even if someone is ill, they are not inferior because of that. Hopefully, it is also a process in which I will end up feeling at the same time equal to everyone and unique as everyone.
Concerning my physical condition, the work I have done with my body throughout my life turned out into fascinating research. I underwent several treatments over the years, like traditional physiotherapy, Doman-Delacato method, Bobath method, Thérèse Berthera's anti-gymnastics, Alexander's technique, Rolfing, Marcel Bienfait”s Global Postural Reeducation, Antroposophycal therapies, Pilates, Core Align, Jin Shin Jyutsu, among others. I also engaged in several psychotherapies during my life, from psychoanalysis to psychosynthesis, in order to deal with my prejudices towards myself and others and with others' prejudices too. If I preferred not to have had motor coordination problems? Of course! But despite that, it has been a very intense and rich life experience and I finally came to terms with it.
I still have some difficulties with my fine motor coordination, I have a hearing problem, I have high myopia and some other health deficiencies too. But I can function very well wearing a hearing aid and glasses, I can walk well and I love trekking, although I cannot challenge my balance too much with risky trails. This puts me in a very odd condition: I am not disabled but I am not “normal” either.
And I must confess: I still am a little bit proud and prejudiced. In fact, I have to reflect on those themes everyday, like a daily cleansing. Sometimes I go through this whole cycle of prejudice / pride / self-acceptance without being aware of it, and then, all of a sudden, I understand what is going on. As it happened when I moved into a new flat that I carefully decorated with design objects and vintage furniture. I could only laugh at myself when I realized how proud I was to hear people saying: “your house is so different!”