My Story, My Rules
I am lucky. I am lucky to have good health, a loving husband, supportive parents, secure job, inspiring friends, freedom and confidence. And it is great to be me, because I have it all – and I was probably just born lucky, right?
I have it now, but it was not always like this, and I also have no expectation that it will always be like this. What keeps my life a journey is the unexpected turns it takes, and how it just keeps making me stronger with every challenge that I have been faced with.
It was February 2003. I sat at the back of the class of an Irish convent, hoping that maybe the rest of the girls will not notice that I am there, and perhaps the teacher will also just leave me alone, since I am new.
How foolish was that? Of course they were not going to ignore me! I suddenly joined their class half way through the school year, sat at the back with my rebel face expression and whatever part of the world I just came from (it is very hard to guess with my mixed skin color).
“What is your name?” the teacher shouted across the class.
”Biola,” I responded, as quietly as possible, hoping that the conversation would end at just that.
“Can you spell it?” she continued. But I could not understand what she said. I actually could not understand a word anybody said to me at that point, and I found it so embarrassing that I really wanted to run – run back home to Poland, where everyone could understand me, and I could understand them; where I had many friends, my whole family, and my cool school that had both boys and girls in the same building.
What the hell was this, girls in one school, wearing long skirts – the same skirts?! Nuns bossing us around, making us pray before class in the morning? Talk about culture shock – this was a big one. For a 14-year-old teenager, this was not acceptable.
How was I meant to express myself if I couldn’t do it verbally or through my outfit? How could I tell them that I loved dancing, that I wrote poetry, that I’d traveled to Africa, that I came from a really cool place, and that I was actually a really cool girl?!
All the years of learning English in primary school and in private classes really did not make it much easier at the start. It was hard to express myself, so I locked myself in, and I continued to do that for a number of years.
I started reading books. I used to be way too busy with my social life for books before our move, but now reading helped me escape the world around me that I did not fit into. Ironically, all the books that I read just helped me with my English, and within a year I was fluent.
I had an escape plan to move back to Poland as soon as I reached 16, but that did not work, as my first brother, Michael, was born in the meantime, and his sickness made me focus at supporting my parents. I was to deal with myself later; Michael was fighting for his life.
My brother was born with Down’s syndrome and autism and spent two years in and out of hospitals with heart and lung problems. We moved to an apartment in the city to live closer to the hospital. It was so bad. It’s probably too sad to share here. It was too sad to share with anybody else at the time, too. I avoided making close friendships because I felt that it would be dishonest if I didn’t tell friends what sort of life we really had, and I was just embarrassed.
Inside, I was still the same person that I was before emigration – I was bright, ambitious, confident, artistic, and excited about life. But on the outside, nothing was fitting in, and I couldn’t really be myself. I made a decision that I would show them all ….
I would show them all. That this is just a phase, a phase where I needed help, where we struggled as a family, we struggled with Michael’s life, we struggled with conditions that we lived in.
None of this was going to make me stop fulfilling my aspirations of becoming a strong woman; with obtaining a good education; with work where I could travel, surrounded with inspirational people who I could openly share my experiences with. Nothing was to bring me down, and nobody could bring me down, no matter how hard it was going to be. I was going to be happy – that was it. And it is still it!
There is nothing stopping any of us from fulfilling our dreams and reaching for the sky. If your dreams are big, keep them – nothing is impossible. Every woman’s motto should be “There is nothing stopping you.” We just need to be prepared to work hard for it, believe in ourselves, and never take no for an answer.
Previously published on World is You Today.