I’ve always been a huge fan of figure skating. The movement, artistry, grace, and elegance in tune to beautiful music stirs something in me I can’t quite explain. When the 1988 Olympics in Calgary happened, and Elizabeth Manley won a silver medal, I remember being so proud and excited. It was a beautiful Canadian moment!
I was in grade six when this happened and it was truly a difficult time in my life. Not only was the trauma I experienced in the past haunting me, I also remember it being when I realized how different I was. My rage and anger were coming out and the eccentric behavior that was my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder was being noticed by others. People I trusted would call me fat, ugly, stupid, weird, and a whole host of other things no child should hear. They likely would deny this fact or deflect that it was all joking, but I know the truth. While some of this may have taken place before grade six, what I do know is that this time frame is when I remember everything becoming more difficult. Daily life meant hurt and pain. So, when it came to finding ways to lose myself in fantasy worlds, figure skating fit the bill. The women were graceful, beautiful, and all smiles. They were everything I wanted to be.
One day we had to do a project for class where we studied a well-known figure and talked about their journey; I easily chose Elizabeth Manley. While I don’t recall all the details, I do know that we had to do a verbal report and state whether or not we believed that the person could have done anything differently. Everyone before me said that they didn’t believe their person should have done things different; then I went up and said, “I think she could have done things differently”. My teacher was pretty astonished and asked me to explain so I told her that Manley could have listened to those who provided criticism as they may have been able to help her. Even now, the words make me cringe. You see, I was identifying with my own situation in that I believed all the horrible things the world was telling me and, that if I just listened better and tried harder, I would be accepted and loved.
It wasn’t until many years later that this memory came back to me and I realized just how wrong I had been. I’ve spent most of my life allowing others words and deeds to dictate how I should think, feel, act, and speak. I believed I was weird, no good, ugly, and not worth anything. It has been a painful realization but also one which has taught me so much about myself. Elizabeth Manley speaks openly and honestly about mental health and the challenges she has overcome in life. I feel I owe her an apology for what I said so long ago, even if I was just a messed up kid. She is one of the people I have looked to for inspiration and courage as I go through my own journey, my own struggles. Her influence on my life far transcends her amazing figure skating career. She is a beacon of light for others. No Elizabeth, you should not have done anything differently and I thank you for helping me believe in myself!