Kathleen Amy Hay
On childhood moves, friendship and the brain injury that changed everything
Amherstburg, July 2013
I was born with Klippel–Feil syndrome. What that is for me is a facial difference resulting in slanted eyes and lower-set ears. It’s a physical stigma only; it doesn’t hamper my intellect whatsoever. Some other people that have Klippel–Feil syndrome have different effects; but mine is, thankfully, in the simplest fashion. I grew up in Quebec, and in the small community that I lived, everybody knew everybody. I don’t really remember ever being teased or ostracized, so I never fully knew and realized that I had a facial difference until 1970 – and that was when we moved to southwestern Ontario.
Kids right away clicked into it. They saw me as a different-looking person, and they were not able to understand it. They didn’t accept me, so they made fun of me. I was only 13 years old. In Quebec I was on (the) basketball team, I was in Brownies; I had an active childhood, there’s no doubt about it. But then when I moved, it all changed – in the blink of an eye. And my teenage years were just not normal.
I developed such emotional baggage that by the time I got to high school, it was already formed. I was not going to get involved with extra-curricular sports, I was not going to get involved with boyfriends and going to dances and everything. My attitude about myself just decreased so much that I did not want to do any of that stuff. I became a bookworm and that was my life.
If it was not for my friends, I would never have been able to survive, because they kept me in the norm of life. They allowed me to have fun. But when they went on to have boyfriends and social time, that’s when I was left out. No doing on their part. It was just an acceptance. They accepted and I accepted it. I was different.
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I was 27 when I had my brain aneurysm. I was at work. It was a Saturday. I remember going to the filing cabinet for some files. My reflexes became very slow, but I shrugged it off. I My head started throbbing – obviously that was when my brain began hemorrhaging. But the plant manager who was out on the plant floor saw me, and he saw something wasn’t right with my stature. He came up behind me and I fell into his arms. If he hadn’t been there, I can guarantee you I wouldn’t be here today.
I was never ever told exactly why it happened. But when I do think back, I do think back that it was job stress. I was young, I was vulnerable, I was a workaholic. I went to work in the dark and I came home in the dark. I remember that vividly. I had such low self-esteem and low opinion of myself and I was still trying to find myself. I concentrated so much on my work and then my aneurysm happened.
I do have to say my brain aneurysm gave me the tools I didn’t have before. And the tools were to just get out and enjoy life And I've even made more friends now than I had before, so I am not at a loss for friends, not at all.
I had to relearn how to walk, how to talk, how to think, how to eat, how to drive. I remember, I counted: “I walked past one house today, I walked past two houses tomorrow, I walked past three houses the next day And eventually I would able to walk around the block.” I had no time to worry about the way I looked, not at all.
That’s not to say it doesn’t bother me today; of course I do have my days. I do lose my balance sometimes. But I've just kind of learned to live with that.
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I think I'm just beginning to see what I want to do with my life. I’d like to write a book one day, and in that book there will be a lot of the things in it that maybe could have been helped in my childhood, but were not.. I had to bottle up all those feelings and now they're coming out. But I can’t dwell on the past. The past is past. Hopefully there is another chapter to my book. Hopefully there is.