This will be a quick one.
Thankfully, my mom let me be a normal kid and didn’t put any restrictions on me that she wouldn’t have put on my brother and sister. When I wanted to go to summer camp, I went to summer camp (I later found out that this was difficult for her, but she didn’t have a good reason not to). And when my class went on trips, she let me go if I wanted to.
When I was in school most people at least knew I had a “heart condition” even if they didn’t know the details. I remember one specific trip we took to Washington D.C. when I was in 8th grade. Of course, we flew, so we had to go through airport security. For those of you who don’t know, going through metal detectors isn’t such a great idea with a pacemaker, which I’d had since I was 7. It didn’t phase me one bit to step out of the line and inform the airport worker that I had a pacemaker and needed to have a “pat down.” The teacher backed me up when she looked at me a little funny (most people don’t expect a 13 year old to have a pacemaker), then I was taken around the side of the security area so they could do my pat down. At which point one of the boys in the group announced “Look out! She must have a bomb.” He thought he was funny. The airport security people did not. He got quite a stern talking to.
That is one of the few times I’ve been embarrassed about being “different.” And not so much because of my heart, but because attention was directed my way (I was a very shy kid). I’m not saying I’ve never been embarrassed by my scars (I still don’t wear bikinis, but perhaps less for the scars and more for the nakedness) or that I’ve never wished I was “normal.” But I do feel like I can honestly say I’m not ashamed of my limitations because to me they are minimal (can you really miss something you’ve never had?). People actually seem to think I should be more limited than I am (which is another aggravation altogether).
On that same trip, there was a LOT of walking. And I often had a hard time keeping up. Thankfully, the teachers knew and understood why I was always at the back of the group, and other students were completely supportive. The football guys would take turns letting me ride on their backs when I got too tired. This seemed to be a normal thing for me, as it happened at summer camp a lot too. It was a good thing I was super light! 😉
Other than the one off-hand comment by a kid who thought he was being funny, I can’t recall any negative feelings directed my way from my peers. Perhaps I never heard them or have blocked them from memory, but I think because I didn’t make a huge deal out of it, no one else did either. It was just a part of who I was and am. I’m thankful that I’ve never felt the need to hide my heart condition and never felt discriminated against because of it.
I actually know several people who feel that it is something to be hidden from friends, coworkers, employers, boyfriends/girlfriends, and sometimes even family. This is something I cannot fathom. Is it possible that a potential boyfriend at some point in my life decided not to ask me out because of my heart? Sure. But to be honest, if it’s a problem for them I wouldn’t have wanted to date them anyway. And I never went into an interview announcing “Hey, I have heart problems” but I also didn’t hide my scar, nor did I hesitate to answer questions if/when they were asked.
My wish is that CHD Awareness can help those who feel they need to hide feel less alone and isolated. I pray that they can feel confident in who they are as a person and not worry have to worry about being rejected by others because of a part of them they have no control over. And I pray that those that cannot be supportive will see the error of their ways.