A debut memoir recounts a woman’s efforts to overcome physical pain and depression, eventually finding her way to a positive self-image.
Drake’s mother’s health was compromised by juvenile diabetes, which caused serious difficulties in her pregnancy. When the author was born in the 1960s, three months premature, she weighed only 4 pounds; she was not expected to survive. She was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and her parents were told she “would be intellectually impaired” and “might need to be institutionalized.” But with the aid of leg braces for 10 years, surgery when she was 12, and physiotherapy, Drake was able to walk on her own (albeit with a limp), attend school, and lead a fulfilling life as an occupational therapist. Now in her 50s, she recently married. Her childhood was complicated not only by her own disability, but by her mother’s illness and her parents’ deteriorating marriage as well. She recalls understanding at an early age that she should not cause her mother any stress, which could disrupt her blood sugar levels and cause a diabetic coma: “I learned to not be a burden. I learned to be quiet. I learned to play outside. I learned to not be in the way.” She also learned to think of herself as unworthy: “I carried such damaging shame; I believed in my inferiority, my brokenness, my separateness.” The author’s descriptive prose portrays the agony she endured each morning during her childhood when she strapped on her metal leg braces; her intense feelings of loneliness as she searched for love in all the wrong places; her 10-year bout with bulimia that landed her in the hospital; and more. Ultimately, she explains, it was through her love for her disabled patients that she began to fill the empty spaces in her heart: “I found a reason for being.” The narrative jumps around quite a bit in time sequence, and passages recounting the author’s recurring nightmares become too long. But this remains a remarkable story of strength and determination.
Honest, informative, and emotional; an inspirational affirmation of “the value, depth, and beauty” of the disabled that challenges stereotypes.