Reprinted from "Alcohol" issue of Visions Journal, 2006, 2(9), pp. 27-28
My name is Francis Perry. I am a thirty-two year old Mi’kmaq First Nations man living with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). I was diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome at the age of nineteen. In 1975 when I was adopted at the age of three FASD was just a label, and no one understood this invisible disability. FASD is caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol. My mother drank when she was pregnant.
Part of the disability was that I was so hyperactive my parents could not believe it, and wondered how to turn me off. I was so hyper my Aunt had to take me to the beach to run off extra energy so my mom could get some rest.
School came and was a complete nightmare for my teachers and myself. Because I was so hyper I was a distraction for the class, not realizing that they were just as a big distraction for me. I was punished and soon they built a three-sided box to help me be less of a distraction to the class. But what ended happening was that I could not interact with my classmates. How do you think I interacted outside of the class? I was tormented, spit on, humiliated and teased. I never understood how or why I was the one that ended up getting blamed for starting it and getting into trouble.
My parents were told about a private school that specialized in learning disabilities. They thought that private school would be a good place for me. At that time I had been put on Ritalin, a drug for my hyperactivity. The school told my parents that no children at the school were on any medication. Within a week they were calling my parents begging for the Ritalin. After another week they called my parents back and asked them to, “Come and get your kid”.
I had moved on to high school, which I was not ready for. In high school we had to change classes for every subject, going to our lockers, grabbing books and finding the right class room was hard. Trying to figure out where to go, the constant movement and the noise of the hall really threw me off. This was overwhelming for me, for I couldn’t think. I was often in trouble with teachers. High school turned into community college with a grade six education and turned out to be as frustrating as high school.
Trouble With The Law
Things at home were pretty intense, so my parents took a vacation to Prince Edward Island, leaving me home alone. One night my friends and I broke into a canteen and stole pop, chips, bars and cigarettes. Well I am not the brightest criminal, I left a trail of candy bar wrappers all the way to my door from the canteen, which the police followed. By the time I was a teenager I managed to set a fire, get into trouble with the law, and found myself in jail feeling like a failure. Everything that I did I failed at and became very depressed. By this time in my life I managed to get kicked out of five schools, private school and Teen Challenge (which was for troubled teens.) At this time I was thinking about suicide.
When I got out of jail, I was introduced to a religious commune, and it was here that I found hope because they really cared about me. I spent four years with them, learning many things. They taught me how to meditate, which taught me patience. They moved away and I decided to look for my biological family. I ended up in Halifax, Nova Scotia living on the street for about a year and a half.
One day I went to the Friendship Centre in Halifax where I was introduced to Della Maguire and that lead me to getting diagnosed with FASD. With the help of Della the diagnosis would explain why I do some of the things I do, why I find some things just too hard to figure out and why I felt like a failure.
Getting diagnosed was like a weight lifted off my shoulders. Now I know I have a problem and that I am not the problem. Before I was diagnosed I had nothing to work with I didn’t know how to express what I was feeling or how I even felt. I was quick to react to a problem before I thought things out. I had no ability to comprehend the consequences of my actions. All I had were feelings of hatred, anger, bitterness, resentment and fear. And my thoughts I feared most, constantly questioning my existence and swamped with thoughts of suicide. I now have something to work with, I know what my limitations are. My life has been a journey.
On My Own
Currently I am living on my own in Truro, Nova Scotia. Although most of the time my struggles cannot be seen they are still there. Telling time, counting money, math, grocery shopping, cooking and laundry are a few of the areas that I have trouble with. I have a poor memory and can’t remember phone numbers or names, so I have a watch that has a date book, an alarm and a calculator to use when I go shopping for groceries. I go shopping late at night because less people are at the store and I can think clearer. With my calculator I know how much my groceries will cost before I get up to the checkout.
I now work for Mi’kmaq First Nation Healing Society as a guest speaker. I share my story to help others know that there is hope and there are people out there to give you support. Della has been my support for the past eleven years. She is a national presenter on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and each time that Della speaks I learn a little bit more about myself and it explains why I found things so difficult throughout my life time.
About the author
Francis is a guest speaker for the Mi’kmaq First Nation Healing Society, sharing his knowledge for the programs Empowering Our Communities on FAS/FAE. These programs provide education, training, healing and support to Aboriginal Communities. Francis’ life story has been highlighted as one of the featured articles produced by the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres. Francis was also featured in a documentary entitled “Reality of a Dream” aired on Aboriginal Peoples Television Network
Originally appeared in Redwire Magazine, 2004, 7(1). Reprinted with permission.