Gabrielle Bushell has been scorned and scared but her story will inspire. (Picture by Reco Moore.)
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IMAGINE BEING CALLED insulting names all your childhood. All Gabrielle Bushell wanted was a normal life, but if that had been her lot, she would not be the inspiration she is today.
Gabrielle was bullied from childhood to adulthood – because she was different. She was discriminated against and insulted in some of the most unthinkable ways. She was denied several jobs out of the fear she would “scare away” customers.
What many would not know is that Gabrielle suffers from haemangioma.
Gabrielle told EASY magazine she was hospitalised from three months old until she was two and a half years old. She underwent five surgeries before she was a teenager to remove the non-cancerous growths on her face and also had to have reconstructive surgery.
However, during one of the surgeries to remove one of the three growths, the machine malfunctioned and caused extra damage, resulting in partial paralysis on the lower half of the right side of her face. In 1986 she wore a tracheostomy tube and had to endure the uncomfortable device for seven years to help with her breathing.
Her time at primary and secondary school is not remembered as the “best days of her life”. She said that had it not been for friends at each educational level she did not know how she would have survived.
“I went to school at Bayley’s Primary School and Christ Church Foundation School and during my time at each school I was teased severely.”
“At primary school I had a friend named Reneka Gooding and during secondary school Dwayne Burgess, my high school sweetheart, who stood up for me.
There were incidents where I was teased so badly . . . students wanted to beat me up but I stood my ground.
“After that they left me alone.”
Gabby, as she is called by friends and family, said she had a big support group at home in St Philip. Her immediate family not only made her feel like a human being but also her close friends, who she said were like family to her.
Her brother and sister took her out to fetes, shows and limes.
“Partying was a way for me to forget about everything that was going on in my life. I could offload everything on the dance floor, I could destress, forget about the negatives and be me.”
However, her life was not always “a bed of roses”. She said her business was born out of the notion that her face wouldn’t be a problem for employers – if she was her own boss. After school she wanted to get into the hotel industry but no matter how hard she tried during each interview, she was denied. She even remembers overhearing a conversation among a group of recruiters for a particular post that almost broke her spirit.
“Although I have a rare condition I was not one to let it get the best of me although they were times I wanted to coop up and cry in a corner. I have a go-getter personality and since I was comfortable meeting people and enjoyed socialising, I felt the hotel chain was it for me but it didn’t work out.
“I went to an interview. It went well but I felt something was wrong. Later that week I called and was told I wasn’t successful. But I was also told I was the topic of a meeting and the manager of that department was beyond disturbed at the small-mindness of the establishment.
“I wasn’t selected because of how I look. I was told my face may scare away customers.”
Mum Yvette Bushell spent several nights telling her how beautiful she was and that she had a purpose in life. Somehow Gabby found the courage to face the world again. Her mother, a certified nurse, encouraged her to pursue a degree in general nursing at the Barbados Community College (BCC).
“My time at BCC was great. I was doing well in my studies and I was the cheerleading captain. I had fun and for a point in time I didn’t even remember I had self-confidence issues about my face.
During her second year she hit two bumps – she failed one of her courses and became pregnant with her second child and was unable to continue the programme. Although she was extremely happy to be with child, she felt as though the odds were stacking up against her.
When Gabrielle gave birth to Damian A. Dakari, her mindset was transformed. She became more determined to find a job to support her son.
“My sister was into doing nails and I used to watch her and try my own thing. I found I was good at it and went and got certified. I opened my business in 2013 and so far I cannot complain. I am very happy I found my calling and I am proud of myself for not giving up although the journey was difficult.
“I like meeting new customers and interacting with clients and I have kept the essence of my inner diva as a part of my business; that is why it is called S.G. Kryashonz (to coincide with my nick name, Swexy Gabby. However, I am planning to revamp the business and give it a more polished feel and so I may have to change the name.”
Gabrielle, a mother of three, shared some advice to other young women who may have had a hard time finding their way in life.
“Let people see you for who you are. The work environment may be rough but always present yourself in such a way that people only have good things to say about you.
“Do not let anyone tell you that you cannot achieve your goals and if faced with that negativity use it to your advantage and prove them wrong.”