My family has always been coloring outside the lines. This means that what I’ve been brought up to believe isn’t always a popular opinion. A lot of fear was driving these beliefs. One example was how I was brought up to believe that if I ever got immunized I would die immediately or become mentally disabled. Of course, I now know that isn’t true; however, being a child and hearing this as the reason you can’t go to a particular summer camp is very troubling. I don’t want to say I blame my parents for their decision – they truly thought they were doing what was best for me – but I can say that it has affected me.
My parents made the decision not to immunize me and my brothers before the fear of vaccines causing autism came out. They did it because they thought it soiled the blood, and they didn’t like the idea of something foreign going into the body and changing it. I obviously love my parents, but sometimes they are these sweet hippies who often have more faith in homeopathic medicines than real-life prescriptions. It’s kind of like in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” when they used Windex for everything. In my family, however, it’s apple cider vinegar, garlic or turmeric.
This lifestyle has both benefited and limited me. I learned how to take care of my body using natural ingredients that I could actually pronounce; however, I became a risk to others by not being immunized. When the news came out that there was a measles epidemic in California, I was scared. Even though I had never been to California and had no plans to go there, I had no idea how quickly this illness could spread. Up until this point, I still hadn’t gotten immunized. I didn’t think about how I could affect someone if I got ill; however, everything changed when I heard about children in California getting sick. My heart broke upon hearing this news. At this time, my boss had become a new mother and was bringing her son around for everyone to ‘Ooo’ and ‘Ahh’ over his beautiful big blue eyes and tiny clasping fingers. I realized looking at him that if I got sick and then somehow passed it along to him or anyone for that matter, I would hate myself and regret never getting the recommended shots. So with my boyfriend holding my hand and a nurse practitioner smiling before she injected me, I got immunized.
I didn’t die, and, as far as I can tell, I didn’t develop a mental disability. But I did realize something. The fear of getting someone else sick pushed me to get immunized. I still had a fear, just as strong, perhaps, as my parents’. Recognizing I still had a fear made me realize that, try as we might, we can’t reason with people who are steadfast in their beliefs. Believe me, I’ve tried. Ultimately, I just don’t have a right to tell someone their fear isn’t real, because, the thing is, I have fears as well, and for me they’re just as real.
I’ve also learned to try to understand others’ perspectives. I’ve learned to look past what I considered “wrong” and instead ask why. Sometimes this doesn’t always garner the heartfelt answer I’m anticipating, but other times someone’s answer stops me dead in my tracks and I realize I don’t have a right to judge them or their beliefs. I don’t have a right to judge someone based on how they were brought up, because I simply wasn’t there.
Dorothy England can be contacted at email@example.com