“Life is different because I am me.”
That is the first line of a poem included in a book by Battleford resident Linda Nelson, who writes under her author name, L.J. Nelson.
She has written That is Not Me - A Journey of Perception.
It is an autobiographical book describing her life as a Little Person.
Nelson has a form of skeletal dysplasia called achondroplasia, which involves the cartilage of the bone. The term is easier to read than it is to pronounce.
“Every school that I taught at, I would do lessons with kids,” said Nelson. She showed drawing of bones and explained she could walk and talk like everyone else.
Nelson became self-aware about her shorter stature during her grade school years. As she grew up, she endured abuse and name-calling including the use of the “m” word — midget — which persisted into her teaching career.
“You can call us dwarf, you can say Little Person, but you do not call us the ‘m’ word,” said Nelson.
What helped her growing up was the support of her family, which allowed Nelson to experience an ordinary childhood like everyone else.
“I was expected to do everything my siblings were doing,” said Nelson.
“I was expected to join in socially and do everything and give back to society. But I also know of families where the Little Person is protected in the home and they’re kept pretty close to home and are not expected to achieve. And I hope it doesn’t happen anymore but in the ‘60s and ‘70s there were people that just didn’t go out and explore the world. And that’s pretty sad, I think there’s a change.”
Nelson was active in school, completing work assignments and taking part in activities such as track and field, although she noted the high jump challenged her.
It was only gradually that Nelson fully realized how different life really was for her as a Little Person. By her 20s, Nelson was in a dark place personally.
She wrote a in 1983 poem that graces the beginning of the book.
“That poem was written in my 20s, way back,” said Nelson.
“I wasn’t living in this community, I was living in a different community. I was teaching for the first time, and I was struggling personally with being a Little Person.”
She put the poem away, but came back to it years later and read it again. This time, she felt a different reaction.
“My life has changed and my perspectives or perceptions of life have also changed. And I thought … this would be a really good book.”
Nelson’s approach to the book was to take each line of the poem and create each chapter from it, ending each one with a different perception of life.
It was an unusual approach, she said, one the publisher said they had not seen before.
The book’s title, That Is Not Me, was inspired by the fact that people would continually come up to her and confuse her with someone else.
“I’ve had people come up to me and call me by a different name,” said Nelson. “They’ll say ‘hi Carol, how are you doing’ and I would say ‘that is not me.’”
It turned out she was being confused with other Little People, over and over again, she said.
“It’s really unbelievable that I could be misidentified with another Little Person. People say to me ‘I love your show,’ which they’re talking about Amy Roloff,” from Little People Big Word.
“And I’ve met Amy,” said Nelson, and “we don’t look very much the same. But because we’re short, it’s an assumption. It’s a sociology thing that every short person must be the same person.
“At times I’ve been angry about it. Now I just say ‘that is not me.’”
Nelson said she’s felt a lot of anger in her own life — over not being married, over not having children. And, she said, she directed it at others.
“I was angry at other people,” she said. But she realized “they’re not the people who have the problem. I’m the one who has a problem. My perceptions at looking at life, my perceptions of looking at relationships needed to change.”
The first chapter goes by the title Life Would Be Different if I Was Not Me, which “gives you the background what being a Little Person is like, and what is a Little Person.” What she explored was her memories of childhood, and relationships with family, friends and strangers.
“I really had to work on what do I think of strangers, and what do I think as a middle-aged adult,” said Nelson.
The next several chapters take the reader from Nelson’s teen years through adulthood, recounting her life experiences. In the last chapter, she went into her medical issues.
Nelson recalls she was told by a doctor to get her life in order because she was probably not going to survive. She then fought for five years to find the surgery she needed, but there was no one in Canada who could do the surgery.
Nelson had the surgery at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore, Md. to get it done, and “then there was a fight with the government to let me go,” she said.
The overriding message of the book, she said, was one of how to overcome challenges.
“I think I have a message, not just to Little People but other people, that every challenge can be solved.”
She credits the surgery from 2005 that gave her a new lease on life for inspiring her to share her story. What finally motivated her, however, was getting hit by a vehicle at a four-way intersection in Battleford two years ago.
“My first thought after the accident was, ‘my book’s not finished,’” said Nelson. “Something bad could have happened.”
Nelson went through months of recuperation that limited her mobility, but she could still type using her thumbs.
“I finished the book on an iPad,” said Nelson. Her first draft was completed in December 2016.
A teacher with 30 years experience who now has a home business specializing in tutoring and in digital technology support, Nelson doesn’t consider herself to be a writer, although she has written poetry in the past.
To get the book published, she went with FriesenPress, who help authors self-publish.
Her book launch took place at the North Battleford City Kinsmen Band Hall, April 28 from 2 to 4 pm. There, Nelson signed copies and did a question and answer session as well as a book reading.
That is Not Me ends on a hopeful note “The back of the book has a new poem in it,” said Nelson, one reworked from the original and more optimistic.
It’s that positive message that Nelson hopes will inspire readers.
“In the past few months we’ve had these horrific incidents happen in our community, with young people saying life is not worth living, and that’s how close I was in my 20s to that,” said Nelson.
“If I can get the message out there through my book, to some people that it’s just one day at a time —it’s just have one good day and have another good day.”
For more information about the book and where it is available for purchase, visit www.lj-nelson.com.