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Discrimination – Part 1

Discrimination(n.) – The unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, age, sex, or disability.

Growing up with Congenital Heart Disease, I’ve always known that I would someday come across people who would instantaneously view me differently as soon as they learned about my heart condition. I knew that there would be people who would treat me differently, who would distance themselves from me or, worse, discriminate against me.

I’ve always been able to handle the snide remarks and tuts from impatient shoppers that were stuck behind me; people have told me many times to either move out of the way or hurry up, which was fine. I’m very fortunate to fit into the category of an invisible illness; at first glance, you would never guess that I had a heart condition, and that’s something I’ve always been grateful for because I know that not everyone has that privilege. Until graduating Secondary School, I thought those instances would be the worst that I would ever face.

I was wrong, though.

After receiving my Leaving Cert results at the end of August 2014, I took the dreaded plunge of applying for college courses. I’ve always wanted to work with children, and after having a long discussion with both my Career’s Guidance Counsellor and Doctor Orla Franklin, I was given the seal of approval to go for the childcare course I had been eyeing up. Doctor Franklin had even offered me a letter of authorisation for any College’s Health & Safety concerns.

So, as soon as I had written references from my school Principal and Year Head and my letter of authorisation from my Cardiologist, I sent in my first college application. By the end of the week, I had been reached out to by the college with a date for my interview.

I can still remember the nights where I would sit in the dining room with my mum and dad, practising for every possible question that the interviewer could throw my way, the type of posture I should have as well as a confident but friendly demeanour. By the time my interview day came, I was as prepared as I could be.

On the 1st of September, I woke up bright and early to prepare for my interview; I had a brand new outfit, and with the help of my mum, I had perfected the hair and makeup look I was going for. I had never felt so sure about anything, and I was excited.

In addition, I had the Leaving Cert results I needed, the letter of authorisation from my Cardiologist, and I had practised as much as I could. I honestly thought it would be an open and shut case; I would go into that interview, hand in all of the criteria and answer every question about why I was a suitable candidate for the course. I could already envision myself coming out of the college as confident as I had gone in.

That’s not what happened, though, not even close.

I went into the college, and after being directed by a very kind employee, I sat outside the room for my interview alone, giving myself an internal pep-talk and then, I heard my name get called. Standing up and being shown inside by a seemingly very kind and friendly-looking interviewer, I introduced myself. I handed her my file with my CV, references, and other documents. Then we sat down, and the interview began.

The interviewer commented that I seemed familiar somehow, but I didn’t recognise them at all, and they couldn’t quite figure out where they thought they had seen me. It was at this point that my interview stopped being an interview. “Are you cold?” The interviewer asked, motioning towards my hands; I had always been a nervous fidgeter. Then, looking down, I realised why the question had been brought up; the bluish-purple colouring of my fingernails and the tips of my fingers.

“Oh! No, no, I’m fine. I have Congenital Heart Disease, so this is pretty common for me.” I replied, and as soon as the words had escaped my mouth, the interviewer’s demeanour changed completely. The friendly smile instantly washed from their face as they looked me up and down, and before I even had a chance to take a breath, I was bombarded with questions.

But I kept my composure, allowing the interviewer to ask their questions before finally speaking up and explaining everything I could about my heart condition, as well as informing them that my Cardiologist had provided a letter of authorisation for the course. That didn’t matter, though; I knew from how the interviewer looked at me that they no longer saw me as a candidate.

The interviewer questioned every detail I had already provided them with; they even asked me about whether I was sure that I had spelled my surname correctly. By this point, I was in stunned silence; even the familiar little voice in my head that helped me stay afloat had gone quiet, so now, I was drowning.

“And what makes you think that any parent would trust someone like you to care for their child?”

I could barely even pull myself together to answer the question, so instead, tears started to cascade down my face. Not only was the interviewer questioning my abilities, but I was also questioning my abilities. Maybe they were right. Perhaps I would never be good enough to take care of someone else’s child. Who would ever trust me? Could I even trust me? I had never felt so small.

But to make matters worse, the interviewer took the liberty to write a letter to my parents to explain what had transpired in the interview in case I took what was said out of context.

“I’m sorry to say that due to your heart condition, I would highly suggest that you go back to your school to report your Career’s Guidance Counsellor for getting your hopes up. Childcare is not the career path for you, and it never will be. Nobody will trust you to be capable enough to care for their child. But, if you don’t reconsider a different career path now, this won’t be the last time you get told this. I guarantee it.”

As devastated as I was, the interviewer led me out of their room and, without even asking for my permission, took hold of my arm and assisted me down the staircase I had gone up so excitedly just minutes ago. They handed me back my file, and then I left the college heartbroken.

I got into my mum’s car, and as soon as she asked me how the interview had gone, I broke down. I had never felt so humiliated and belittled in my life. At that moment, I wished that I could close my eyes and go back to the moment I was filling out my application to stop myself from pressing send. After explaining everything that had happened, my mum and I both sat in her car and cried together while talking to my dad on the phone while he was at work. I could hear the hurt in his voice, and that was the moment I switched off.

For the first time in a long time, I believed that all of this hurt and anger was my own doing. That I somehow deserved this for being so naive about chasing after my dreams. The entirety of my family was hurt and furious for me, and even when I realised that I had been discriminated against, I still believed that it was something I somehow deserved.

From this point on, I had a long road ahead of me, and it is with pride that I can reassure you that this is not a story with a tragic ending. Unfortunately, due to its length, there will have to be a part two.

But I promise that the conclusion is worth the wait.

“Just because the past didn’t turn out like you wanted it to doesn’t mean your future can’t be better than you imagined.” – Ziad K. Abdelnour

Be Kind to Yourself.

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