Deformed, and Fulfilled
By Christiana Olawumi. Published in Her Point of View
Tw: Bullying, and suicide
As a young girl growing up in the city of Lagos, I always wanted to be a regular girl but unfortunately, I could not be, or should I say my body did not permit me. My name is Christiana Olawumi and I was born with a deformity — short arms.
I was born in Lagos, I have lived here almost all my life, except for travelling for school and the occasional visits to relatives. At a young age, much to my surprise, I noticed that people — especially my classmates in primary school avoided being around me. As a result, I was a loner.
At birth, it was discovered that the deformity I had could not be rectified medically, so I would have to live with it all my life. According to my mum, some tissues in my arms did not grow alongside the others so my arms are short. The only alternative would have been to have them amputated.
The main effect of this condition was that I was presumed to be an imbecile by people who did not even know me. Nobody wanted to be around me. I remember one time in secondary school when I stabbed my classmates because they called me names. I mean, it was bad enough that they didn’t want to be friends with me, but I could not understand why they would not just let me be. I floated through primary school and moved on to secondary school without placing too much importance on my short arms. After all, they did what arms/hands were meant to do, short or not.
I got into secondary school and the discrimination increased by 100%. People would form groups but I was not allowed to join because I was not the regular girl. I was seen as strange so I was left on my own. Although I had a childhood friend with whom I started school, the only time we were ever together was whenever it was time to go home. This continued and gradually my I.Q (intelligence quotient) reduced, and I slowly gravitated towards the bottom of the class. My parents did their best to provide me with educational resources, but with little or no emotional support, which was actually what I needed. I was being bullied in the society and there was no support from home.
I would attend spiritual meetings, retreats, revivals with the expectation of a miracle that would transform my arms so I could fit into society and live like a regular person, but it never happened. I remember one time, someone in the neighbourhood asked me out, and because I turned him down, he said “olowo kan abo na nse ako”, in Yoruba, it means “the person with one and a half hands is being selective”. That comment cut me deeply and I cried when I got home. Left with no other choice, I started to ask my mum, “WHY?” Why was I born this way? Why can’t I be like every other child out there? Why do I have to be different? As a religious woman, she told me that “it was for God to be glorified” and this is what I have held on to, even though I clearly did not understand why or how God would be glorified then.
It was when I had to repeat SS1 because of my poor academic performance that I had my first group of friends — six ladies. Five of us repeated the class but we were in different departments. However, we formed a clique; the sixth person was a sibling to one of us, so she became a part by default. With a little support, my confidence in my ability started picking up as my grades became better than what it was.
I gradually became the most intelligent member of the clique and became my teacher’s favourite. My classmates looked up to me for answers and I did the same too. We met when it was time to go home and left school together because we lived in the same area. The members of this clique were not really bookworms like me so break-time and free periods found me buried in one book or another, fiction and non-fiction alike. That was how I picked up my reading habit and I started looking forward to the day I would write my own book.
I graduated from secondary school and went on to university. Before then, I was still a victim of silent discrimination. Even my siblings did not want to have anything to do with me and treated me like an outcast. They only related to me because we were living together. Oh, how I contemplated suicide! Sometimes, I would wish to get hit by a moving vehicle so everyone could be free from being burdened by me; but I was not bold enough to bring my desire to reality. I am now so grateful that I was such a coward then. At the university, it felt like there was a switch and how I moved from being scared of standing up for myself to standing up with my head raised up high, still amazes me to this day.
The first week of resumption, I was elected to be the assistant class representative of my department and that was how it all started. I saw people who believed in my capabilities even when I did not. I saw people who thought they saw potential in me and were willing to take risks with me. I saw men and women who were unbothered or did not even take notice that my arms were not as straight as every other person’s. I met people from diverse backgrounds who trusted me to be their leader. To be honest, I was not expecting to win the election, I was already comforting myself that at least I made an attempt. It was a new environment so I wanted to drop my old unhealthy habits and build new healthy habits.
I was their leader for the four years I spent in the university and that was one of the best seasons of my life. One would have expected that I would have moved past feeling inferior but these things do not work that way. I was stuck in there somehow, I guess nobody can help you out if you are not intentional about helping yourself. I was a force to reckon with in the school environment, but I was still held back by my childhood experience. I had opportunities but I was scared of not fitting in so I did not even bother to give myself a shot.
I lived what is called a triangular lifestyle in school — classroom, hostel, fellowship, repeat. I did not allow myself to build friendships even though I longed for that sense of belonging. I was always scared of taking up tasks or responsibilities outside my department in school because I felt I would mess it up and there were other people who could do it better than me. I was given responsibilities and tasks in church but I always assumed I would not do them well enough. I remember one time I was asked to lead the praise and worship session in church and I almost messed it up. After the service that day, I was commended instead of being scolded. I still wasn’t confident in myself.
The responsibilities from school and the fellowship I attended gradually contributed to my confidence level but I did not notice, I did not even know I was suffering from something. I graduated from the university and that was the beginning of a new season of my life. If I could scale through university, I believed I could reach for more, even though I did not know how. A few days before my final exams, my friend asked me about my after-school plans. I responded that I was going to be a class teacher, own a fashion store as well. This was a great plan but coming from someone like me, it wasn’t what I wanted but I wanted that because I did not think I was capable of doing more than that.
I attended events, spiritual meetings, and gradually the shift started happening and I knew it was. I suddenly became outspoken and bold which was unusual for me. I gradually became confident in expressing my thoughts and ideas. I attended a women’s conference organized by She Can Nigeria, came across amazing women doing amazingly well in their careers of choice, and it pumped me up that I could do whatever I set my mind to do. I left the event as a completely changed young woman, with the determination of becoming all that God wanted me to be.
I don’t know if I have completely broken free from feeling inferior, but I know that God has helped me so well that I am confident in myself and even if I get discriminated against for my short arms I won’t feel bad or worse because I know it doesn’t determine who I am and what I can do. I am looking back now, and I am grateful for all that happened back then as it has served as a motivation for me. I mean I want to prove them wrong that I could still amount to everything God had in mind for me when he created me. I’m no longer looking to prove anything to people, but rather I want to live the life that God wants me to live.
Christiana Olawumi is a young lady passionate about making an impact in society and spreading the gospel of Christ. She enjoys storytelling and uses her skill to share inspiring and educative non-fiction stories on her blog and across her social media pages. She recently published her first book How To Make A Successful Career Switch, and she’s currently working on her second book, a memoir titled Chapter 25. What Next? She currently works with A digital marketing institute as the project manager. Connect with Christiana on her blog and Instagram.
Edited by Titilope Adedokun
Editor’s Note: If you or anyone you know is contemplating suicide, please call the following emergency lines: National Emergency Hotline: 112; Lagos Emergency Hotline: 767; Nigerian Suicide Prevention Initiative Counselling Centre: 234 806 210 6493, 234 809 210 6493; and Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative: 08091116264 or 08111680686.
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