By: Kristina Lopez
When I was in elementary school I went undiagnosed with Epilepsy for a number of years. No one questioned my “odd” behavior, it was just me being weird. My parents did not know enough about health to question my behavior as illness. I didn’t have health insurance until my WORKING CLASS LATINO father had a job that actually offered health insurance. That job was a result of him being laid off from his full time job of working in asbestos, WITHOUT health insurance. That coincided with my father learning that no, he wasn’t stupid, he had DYSLEXIA. We were on a tailspin of change back then. Dad has a disability, let’s help him. Tuesday and Thursday night classes of supporting him in learning to read. Me, sitting there each class helping him learn so he could rise, yet still lost in a flurry of “feelings” (Read: seizures).
Dad got a job that had health insurance, us: “praise the white people” who gave dad the job. Not realizing that the feeling was only temporary because Dad had to work his ass off for low pay and too many physically draining aspects of a job that ruined his body and spirit.
Dad saw a seizure in effect at grandma’s house, who had to manage care when I was 13 years of age because my parents sent me farther than walking distance to a private Catholic school so in their minds I “would have a fighting chance”. To the doctor’s we go with our amazing health insurance, Doctor says, “She’s faking. Just seeking attention.” Yeah, you know we all want to have a seizure. ER’s, doctors, blood tests, MRI’s, etc later, “Oh, well, she does have epilepsy”
And the school, well they didn’t want to face reality either. They didn’t want drool, headaches, or abnormal things. They definitely didn’t want me to be successful so they dropped all of my grades to get me out of there rather than let me take my finals. They also didn’t want me, in my cheerleading uniform to represent them. Yes, I helped get a power hungry person out of their principalship but it was quickly replaced by a White male 'holier than thou" person. And he made false promises that resulted in ‘you don’t belong here’, ‘you don’t follow the rules’.
Set on the track to make things better. Me: searched every piece of information I could find about seizures, because thank God we finally had a computer. So many tests, misuse of meds, etc later, 5th ER nurse says “I know someone”. “Someone” was a genius white male neurologist who specializes in epilepsy. We go, no run, to him for an answer. More tests, more studies, travel, money later… I’m bald, I have a scar, but it is a new life. I have a new identity, a lesbian, a rebel, a something that doesn’t fit the norm because “who goes bald?”.
But no, I was me. I was the one who couldn’t go back to where she was learning. No one stood with me in the fight because “you are too emotional, he didn’t mean what he said, people don’t judge you, I need to graduate too.”. I was in the newspaper, on TV and in magazines that clearly stated THIS IS WRONG. But, no, I was still “overreacting”. I had to work 10x as hard to get back to where I was. I had to be the bigger person, I was done fighting a broken system, I went somewhere else that accepted me. The somewhere else was public school/night school/college classes/part time job/work study IN ONE YEAR. All to graduate. You could not take my hope, even if you broke my heart. But there was no one with me. For a long time. And everyone back then and today praises the white guy that saved their image.
I WAS THE BIGGER PERSON. I finished on time and went to a college I was told was probably “not a good fit”. I did the work, I got a college degree, I had more surgery, I went to grad school. I did not walk away from a dream. I rose. I rose so high. I went to graduate school where the reality I already lived due to disability was put on blast because of my gender and my race/ethnicity. I did not walk away, I SPOKE, I ORGANIZED, I FOUGHT. I now have so many letters, BA, MS, MA, MSW, PhD yet I have so many more tears. There has been a greater outcome from my past, yes. Yet, who can say that I wouldn’t have been able to get here without the pain?
And now, you are shocked, you can’t understand ‘how this could be’, you want to know ‘what can I do?’, you don’t want me to be emotional. And here I am, sitting wondering how to be responsible for YOUR children and teach them. So understand that I am not there with you right now. I cannot pretend it all away. I need to vent. I need to be pissed. I need to scream that THIS IS NOT OKAY.