I’ve been called ‘monkey’ many times. I’ve studied all my pictures and, honestly, I don’t look like one. I haven’t got a tail either, and as for being able to swing from trees – I never tried it as a child and it’s too dangerous now that I’ve reached the ripe young age of 60.

Of course it hurt to hear the word those first few times. I was younger then, more easily wounded by words hurled at me by others. I also had to endure monkey gestures from other youngsters. It was part of the price for looking different, for not fitting into the ‘normal’ world.

I was called ‘scarface’, ‘apeman’, ‘Dracula’, ‘Frankenstein’, ‘monster’. Some of the other names aren’t fit for a blog, but you get the drift. I tried not to let the pain show, but occasionally I couldn’t stop the tears, even if they were shed privately at home. I was just a child, after all. And I was aware I looked different. My face did look odd and out of place next to others.

I’ve been called ‘spastic’ too, but that never troubled me too much because I knew I was smarter than those kids who called me names. But yes, hearing it was like a small stab in the chest. It was meant to wound me and it did.

Growing up as a child you can expect to hear the occasional insult. When you’re facially disfigured the number of denigrating comments tends to multiply. Of course your school pals or neighbourhood kids would never insult you – unless you had a row. No, the worst offenders were other pupils or kids you came across in town.

You can let words humiliate you or you can learn to deflect them. I was determined to be strong and not let those words get through my defences. I knew I couldn’t stop others saying what they wanted about me, but I could learn to control my reactions. And that’s what I began to do.

Was it easy? Hell no, it was very difficult at first. Try as I might every barb cut me to the core. But I can be a very determined and obstinate person when I put my mind to it, so
I learned gradually to switch off until I just smiled at my tormentors. When they realised they were not getting the expected reaction from me they stopped.

The staring and pointing continued though, and I found them much harder to deal with. It would be many years before I got on top of those, but words – they can’t hurt me anymore. You shouldn’t let them either.