Written by Jessica Burke-Trebell, a Foundation ambassador and former young person in care.
I haven’t always known who I was, nor have I always been “comfortable in my own skin.” This month’s family and identity theme truly resonates with me on many levels.
Ever since I can remember, my peers have constantly inquired as to why I was raised by my grandma. They would then ask me the inevitable questions: “why didn’t your mom raise you?” “who is your dad?” and “what’s your background?”
As a child, these questions really bothered me and had disastrous effects upon my psyche. Eventually I started lying to fit in. I would tell people that my grandma was my mom and that my social worker, (who would pick me up from school occasionally), was my aunt. This was a coping mechanism that made life simpler for me. It wasn’t until much later in life that I became comfortable and accepting of my story.
High school was the hardest, as being “mixed-race” everyone wanted to know what I was mixed with. I literally started saying that I was half Jamaican to avoid explaining my story.
Not knowing my biological father or my heritage catalyzed much insecurity throughout my adolescence. To top it off, having a mother with a severe mental illness made things even more stressful. I was always craving “normalcy” and embarrassed that my mom was who she was. I just wanted to have a regular family like everyone else seemingly had. Looking back, I wish I wasn’t so naïve to the realities of life, but I guess it’s those tough times that really mould and shape us into who we’re meant to be.
Wonderfully, today is a much different story. I am 100% confident in who I am and I am happy to share my story with anyone and everyone. My mom and I are not as close as we could be, but it’s a relationship that I continually strive to improve. Her illness is not an illness to me anymore; it’s who she is and I have learned to accept her for her not for who I want her to be.
My mom is amazing and I know I’m biased, but she truly is one in a million. My mom has the spirit of an angel. She is kind, compassionate and my #1 cheerleader. This past autumn I ran on the Children’s Aid Foundation’s Team Hope for the Scotiabank Half Marathon, and the only person who came to watch me was my incredibly amazing mom. She supports me in everything that I do—even if that means me flying across the world to educate children for years off and on.
This past December I started volunteering for “Out of the Cold”, a free dinner for the homeless/poverty stricken and I invited my mom (as she lives below the poverty line). I was literally astounded by her ability to be the light among the other guests. A man at our table was swearing and cursing and making everyone else uncomfortable. She turned the situation around and applied ointment to his arm and spoke words of kindness to him. In that very moment I was so unbelievably proud of her and her kind spirit. Funnily enough, all of our table friends at the homeless dinner could not believe that my mom was my mom. Most people see an image of her and their reactions really hurt my feelings.
I honestly cannot recall the exact moment when I first started my journey to self-acceptance, but one thing’s for sure: my life has become a perpetual state of bliss ever since I learned the beauty of owning my story.
Life is incredible and sometimes we are dealt cards that we cannot choose. Luckily, there are also some cards that we do get to pick from the deck; those are the ones that truly matter. Having the ability to unapologetically be who you are is one of the keys to inner joy. Knowing yourself, accepting yourself, owning your story and becoming the person you are meant to be is another. I am truly grateful for my mom, my story, and for the strong person I have become as a result. This is my mom and I am immensely proud to be her daughter.