As soon as I started writing this, I realized there were three days. The first one was a family secret. When I was about 7 years old my writing and reading skills were so above average that I spent most of my time in class helping those having difficulties (at the request of the overworked teacher). Then my mum got a letter asking her to come in to see the teacher. I had been asked to write a story and unlike the other children who wrote about spaceships, playing and houses; mine was a disturbing tale of a grandmother rocking in a chair when she died. My Nana was my other caregiver, as my mum had to work and she had recently had a stroke. I was smart enough to know that she could die and this was my therapy. The teacher suggested they take me to a child psychologist but my family were horrified that I would be stigmatized. It was the first of many incidents when my mental illness peeked above the parapet.
Life moved on and my beloved Nana died when I was 13 years old. A couple of years later there was a city wide competition to write an affecting speech and then read it publicly. I wrote a moving piece about how the world could be much better with more compassion and less corruption, especially within the Catholic Church. My teacher made me read it in class and I blushed furiously because I am really shy despite the chattiness. The class, unusually, listened in stunned silence and then applauded. I was delighted and mortified at the same time. I eventually went on to read it in a public forum and came in second. The English principal pulled me aside and told me it was really excellent and I should have won were it not for the winning speech focusing on Nationalism (very popular in the 70s). I joined the debating society but soon realized that I couldn’t effectively talk about anything that I wasn’t passionate about.
The third time was when I was asked to take a temporary job as a researcher to create a plan and grant application to start a rural transportation system primarily for elderly and disabled people. The original researcher had dropped out at the last minute and they needed someone quickly. I was recommended by one of the committee members who didn’t really know the full breadth of my skill in writing but knew I was smart. The other volunteers were suspicious but I brought them all around eventually. The application form was ridiculously short to fully present your project so I added a thesis. It was incredibly complete with statistical analysis, case studies and a little bit of humor. We had an advisor (he was and still is useless, if he even has a job). He created a fire-breathing dragon (aka me) when he said dismissively, “they will just look at the summary”.
Well he was wrong: unknown to me and everyone else connected with the project the Scottish government was very happy with one of the best proposals for this funding. Once the grant application had been submitted, I went straight into another community project. The original project used borrowed buses, volunteer drivers and helpers and had about $20 in the bank. My friend (who had recommended me) came racing through with a fax, one December day, that stated that not only were they giving us the equivalent of about $400,000 for a new bus, staff and all the rest but they had voluntarily added on about $50,000 extra because they thought we had underestimated our costs slightly. As she showed it to me, I just burst into tears, knowing what an accomplishment it was and how much good it would do our relatively poor, rural community. I never cry at work. The committee members were flabbergasted.
My OCD became useful, and I really helped at the beginning stages of the project which went from strength to strength. By the time I had moved on, it was winning awards for its excellence, flexibility and uniqueness. I could claim only a small part of all this success but this was the crowning achievement in my career when I worked for a variety of non-profits. My memoir is available on Kindle – “Letters from Cairo” by Kerry Duncan.