Salome Shekishvili, 29 years old, Tbilisi
‘’What I hate the most is when people try to be overly caring. When they see me using a cane, they immediately try to help me, whether I need it or not, or they complete sentences for me. Once, I went to the House of Justice with my mother to get an ID card. The staff didn’t pay attention to me and instead talked to my mother. Even when I asked, the answers were given to my mother. In our society, the stigma towards people with disabilities is so high that our individualism and independence are completely ignored.
My diagnosis is cerebral palsy and Logo neurosis, which means I need a little more time to form sentences than people without this diagnosis. Studying was never difficult for me. In the final grades, I went to school on my own and didn’t need any help.
After graduating from high school, I wanted to continue studying foreign languages and to prepare for exams, but I got low scores and couldn’t get in. This was a prerequisite for my isolation, which lasted for the next 5 years. I had nowhere to go and I didn’t get any encouragement from my family either. Their attitude was like this – because I couldn’t pass the exams, there was nowhere I had to go and I stayed at home, so all these years I didn’t leave the yard of our house.
During this time, my physical and mental statements got worse.
Being disconnected from society made me lose interest in everything. I didn’t have enough energy, I was afraid of new things and my memory was getting worse. I also had difficulties with walking and speech problems worsened as well. I couldn’t read a book – if I read one page, I wouldn’t remember the contents after a minute. Looking back now, I had all the signs that my parents should have taken care of my mental health and should have taken me to a psychologist. However, they didn’t admit the problem – on one hand, they didn’t consider the problem serious; and, on the other hand, they didn’t want to admit it due to the high stigma in the society. I, too, couldn’t realize that I needed psychological help. I don’t remember much from that period, but I remember very well that I really wanted to have a person with whom I could sit down and talk about what was bothering me. The only thing I could find relief in was sleep. I used to take sleeping pills in the morning to sleep during the day. There was no one in the family who would tell me that I shouldn’t continue like this. I’ve spent 5 years in such a condition, which is time that has disappeared from my life.
I was very lucky to find strength in myself – I said to myself that I couldn’t continue like that. The first thing I wanted to do was to continue learning English. Nobody in my family took this idea with enthusiasm, nor did I got support from them. They didn’t believe that I would be able to study again. But later, I proved that I could study and work at the same time.
After 5 years of isolation, I had to face several challenges when I decided to go outside – it turned out that I couldn’t move on my own. My mom used to take me to the language courses, but later I got a cane and started learning to walk with it again. After finishing the language course, I believed in myself again. During this time, with the help of the social agency employment program, I started working in one of the private clinics. It was the first time there where I had to face discriminatory treatment in the workplace. We, as low-level employees, for example, didn’t have access to certain public spaces. Back then, I didn’t know my rights and how to use them, otherwise, I would have taken legal action.
In general, to people with disabilities, the door to employment is not always open. Later, I decided to study such a profession that would help me get a job more easily. I started studying in one of the college’s office specialization courses. At the same time, I was employed in the project ‘’Partnership for Human Rights’’ in a non-governmental organization. The project was about helping strengthen people with mental issues and I was writing blogs about this topic. This organization is on the list of rare employers that care for the needs of people with disabilities. In addition to decent working conditions, here I had the opportunity to learn a lot about the Convention of People with Disabilities, their rights, and their legal application. The project lasted for 6 months and this period helped me find myself and my future interests. Now I know what I want to do – working with the disabled community and their empowerment is in my best interest, and, in the future, I see myself in similar projects. I would like to get experience in the disabled community cases in European countries, to get a better understanding of how they managed to implement a proper system for them.
I only have a few friends from school age. One of them has mental health problems and hasn’t left her home for 10 years now. I talk to her a lot, taking my own example into account, but at such times, family support is of paramount importance. Solving the mental problem begins with recognizing the issue by the family and working together.
Now I’m looking for a new job again, and now I have more work experience and I’m prepared much better. I really hope that the pandemic will not stop me and the employer will show up. Employment and socialization have vital importance for me to constantly be in good shape, not to lose faith in myself, and not to get isolated again, from which I escaped – with a lot of struggle, but I still did.
Author: Maiko Chitaia
Photo: Geda Darchia
Translation: Mariam Kajrishvili
The project is implemented with the support of UN Women and with the financial support of the Joint Fund for Sustainable Development Goals, within the UN Joint Program – “Transformation of Social Security for People with Disabilities in Georgia”.
The views expressed in the publication are those of the author (s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations Women or the Joint Foundation for Sustainable Development.