“But it’s not the same!” – chronic illness, learning disabilities, and continuity 

So on the 5th of September 2017, I failed my driving theory test. 

Now, at first glance, that’s not a massive problem- lots of people fail first time.

Until you ask me what I failed on. My friend’s response was ‘How did you fail hazard perception?’

My driving instructor’s response was that at least I did well on the ‘hard’ section.

And at first I didn’t understand either. I worked out eventually that dyspraxia, the introduction of yet another new drug to my body, and a typical bad flare day (pun unintended) were to blame. 

I should have passed. I got a pretty high score on the multiple choice test section (47/50)…..On the hazard perception, I got trigger happy in a blind panic. I can, almost every time (still learning) can spot and react to developing hazards whilst I’m actually driving.

But the past week or so has been a tough one to start with: my GP decided a few weeks back, I should give amitriptaline another go.

What a huge mistake.

I’d been in ‘limping-walking-stick-zombie-mode’ ever since.

Safe to say they soon got canceled as a bad idea.
I’ve been learning to drive for a while now- a while being 3 1/2 years- and only now is me taking my driving test actually a possibly. 

I passed my theory test on 19th of October. This was after it was explained to me that looking for hazards wasn’t just my understanding of physical objects like cars and people walking in the road. Oh!

This time I wasn’t trailing new medication, and it was a relatively good day pain wise, so my brain wasn’t hugely pre-occupied. I still had to work really hard to ignore the clicking of other people around me (when I’ve had uni exams I’ve always been in a separate room)

I feel that there should be better training for Hazard perception tests. There’s hardly any prep for them.

I suppose something I have learnt is that, even with all possible barriers taken away, some things will always be difficult. But that also doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try.

I’ve been learning to drive a manual car for almost 3 1/2 years now.

I’ve literally completed my degree in less time.

And yet I persist.

Maybe next year I’ll be driving for real, instead of watching the hazard perception videos?

A girl can dream.

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Poem: priorities 

This morning when I got up

My main priority was to finish off those few tweaks to my assignment

Tonight, I have achieved  the following: showered, fed, and dressed myself

This morning when I got up

My main priority was what I would wear to go out with friends in the evening

Tonight, I sit with a hot water bottle, drugged up to cold undead eye sockets, on prescription medication

This morning when I got up 

My main priority was to make it to my lecture 

Tonight, I come in from a hospital dash- it was one of those days when my perscribed medication was doing nothing 

This morning when I got up

I watched the able students of the student body pass my window without a care

This evening I am wiping the dirt off of my walking aid, and hobbling to the kitchen 

That morning, just after my 21st birthday, my priority was to be treated for my pain 

This evening, 4 years later, I still wait

Poem: priorities 

This morning when I got up

My main priority was to finish off those few tweaks to my assignment

Tonight, I have achieved  the following: showered, fed, and dressed myself

This morning when I got up

My main priority was what I would wear to go out with friends in the evening

Tonight, I sit with a hot water bottle, drugged up to cold undead eye sockets, on prescription medication

This morning when I got up 

My main priority was to make it to my lecture 

Tonight, I come in from a hospital dash- it was one of those days when my perscribed medication was doing nothing 

This morning when I got up

I watched the able students of the student body pass my window without a care

This evening I am wiping the dirt off of my walking aid, and hobbling to the kitchen 

That morning, just after my 21st birthday, my priority was to be treated for my pain 

This evening, 4 years later, I still wait

Poem: priorities 

This morning when I got up

My main priority was to finish off those few tweaks to my assignment

Tonight, I have achieved  the following: showered, fed, and dressed myself

This morning when I got up

My main priority was what I would wear to go out with friends in the evening

Tonight, I sit with a hot water bottle, drugged up to cold undead eye sockets, on prescription medication

This morning when I got up 

My main priority was to make it to my lecture 

Tonight, I come in from a hospital dash- it was one of those days when my perscribed medication was doing nothing 

This morning when I got up

I watched the able students of the student body pass my window without a care

This evening I am wiping the dirt off of my walking aid, and hobbling to the kitchen 

That morning, just after my 21st birthday, my priority was to be treated for my pain 

This evening, 4 years later, I still wait

This is a disability assessment 

This is a disability assessment
This is for Personal Independence Payment
This is death
This is humiliation 
This is judgement day 
This is the fine line between scrounger and innocent 
This is the difference between food bank or a food shop
This is being able to heat your home
This is the key your freedom 
This is the key your destitution
This is your fate- decided
This is a prompt for a UN enquiry
This is a test 

This is a trial 

This is ‘yes’ ‘no’ ‘sometimes’

This is the way the government defines disability
This is wrong 
This needs to stop 
This kills disabled people
When will that be enough?

Image credit: http://www.scriptonitedaily.com/2013/03/29/our-last-good-friday-easter-monday-beginning-of-the-end-for-uk-poor/

An open letter to myself about Manchester and the university I actually love 💜

I still have my final third year exams to sit on Friday and Tuesday at the university of Manchester, and a concert to go to at the ethiad stadium on the 3rd (it’s Robbie Williams- my mum loves him). 
I’m still attending all of them.
Yes, I will be careful and as safe as I can be.

Some students have asked the university to postpone the exams, and I’m glad they haven’t.

To lock yourselves away, and not go to the things you’ve planned to go to, is to give terrorists and their organisations what they want- for us to be so terrified of them that we don’t live our lives.

I’m still getting my degree, and I’m still going to go enjoy a gig at the ethiad- albeit tainted with some somber thoughts of the attack at Manchester arena- regardless of whether extremists or ISIS or whoever would rather have me cowering in fear at home. 

That’s not to say I’m not a little anxious about going back to Manchester (I’ve been back home to revise) but to not go back is to let fear win.

Manchester is a place I frequently found myself as a young person, with countless gigs, in various venues, some comedians, a good few theatre shows, shopping trips, museum and art gallery outings, and university lectures under my belt at this point. 

Approaching the end of my three years at UOM, I now know the witch way and magic bus routes like the back of my hand. If you asked me in an ordinary week about my university, I’d probably lament how stressed and sleep deprived I am. But I love my university, and the city, all the same.

My first gig was the Take That reunion tour at the Ethiad when I was about 11

My first theatre show was Grease at the palace theatre when I was about 9

Manchester is where the majority of my greatest memories were made.

It was a no brainer when it came to which university I wanted to go to. Either the University of, or Manchester Met. Because either way I was going to my second home in the city.
It makes me angry to think people’s own memory making was ruined or that lives were taken away before they could even have those number of experiences I’ve been fortunate enough to have.

The last couple of days, my anxiety has been sky high (as documented in a previous post, I have struggled with my mental health since I was 15) so it’s made trying to focus on my actual exam tough, because all I can think about is it’s location and the “What if?”. What made it most unsettling is that I’m now a disabled person. How do I go on about getting out in a terrorist attack? Which staircase on the 4th floor is the safest? Is the university even a safe place? Will there be police and armed forces personnel hovering around the beloved ‘tin can’ that is University Place?

But, despite all the uncertainty, I have to carry on. To not go back to Manchester would be like never going home again.

University of Manchester- I’m coming home again, one last time before I set off into the big wide world with all the “Knowledge, wisdom, [and] Humanity” I can possibly muster.

Mental health awareness week? Hold my beer…

(I actually prefer cider or amaretto liquor, but it doesn’t have the same ring to it)

So this is my first 100% open documentation of my mental health issues.

I’ve been in and out of some form of talking therapy since I was 15.

My anxiety, and in my early adulthood, my depression have been probably the worst experiences of my life.
My anxiety still rears its ugly head now. Example: talking on the phone, or meeting new people. On really bad days people can just look at me (which happens a lot because I walk with a crutch now) and I just know they were talking about me (they weren’t- sometimes they do coz it’s unusual to see a young person with a walking aid)

It surprises my friends when my family say how quiet I am.

Because once of a day I spent my days hating myself and never leaving the house. Ever.

When I was 15, I actually decided to seek help my anxiety. GCSES we’re approaching, and as far as I was concerned, I was completely and utterly stupid.

[it later transpired in adulthood that I had a learning difficulty]

So I went to knock on the school councellor’s door, ran away and cried to my form tutor that I needed help. I was ashamed. 

So I was talked through some stuff, and taught that if I faked confidence long enough it would become second nature.

Now I’m a pseudo-narsastic comedic arse hole of a young adult, so I suppose it rubbed off the wrong way.
Anyway–

I basically hated high school. Not so much the learning- I love learning new stuff- but the social side of high school was horrible. I was bullied, both in person and cyber bullied, and had friends who actually turned out to want to make my life Hell (and some good friends too) I just didn’t fit in and did not belong. It wasn’t cool to be geeky.

So I saw two councellors in this time and survived.

I went to college. College was worse.

I felt like I was getting no where- everyone seemed to know what they were doing. Except me. My work placements weren’t going well either. I was too quiet and shy, and even stammered while I was there.

“Lacks common sense” was a really lovely example of some of the feedback I received.

In this time, I started to despise being a home, or around anyone. I started seeing the college’s mental health nurse. I saw my GP and got told to ‘Get out more’ but that’s easy to say when it’s only anxiety that drives you to even attend college, nevermind go anywhere else. Eventually I dropped out.

And that’s when I hit rock bottom. 

I stopped caring about myself. I actually hated my life and just wish I didn’t exist anymore. To me, my whole life had been a massive failure. Sometimes I’d try to do myself up a bit, just to walk 15 mins down the road to my grandma’s. I’d stick my key in the front door at home, take the key out and bury myself under my duvet and cry until my ribs hurt, because I just could not face leaving the house, and the Black dog would bark that no one would want me there anyway.

I started CBT and was put onto the antidepressant Flouxitine. I was 17.

After a few sessions I became angry that I hadn’t done well at college, partly because, I felt the support wasn’t there.

So I kept saying to people “yeah I’ve dropped out, but I’m going back” 

I just didn’t know when, or to do what. But at the time I was more concerned with just actually physically feeling happy again, instead of numb to even stuff I used to like doing.

It wasn’t straight sailing,

There were times when my mum would find me rhythmically lightly banging my head against my bedroom wall

The odd occasion where I’d hold a razor blade over my arm and not go through with it because I didn’t want to hurt my family even more than I was by even being here.

If there’s one thing I know people have said they admire about me, it’s my determination.

So after a few months of CBT I started volunteer work, at my mum’s advice, to give me something to do while I figured stuff out. It was once a week for 5 hours. I was quiet there too, but now they can’t shut me up.

And eventually I took myself off the antidepressants. I’d never liked the idea of being pretend-happy via drugs, and when they’ve been offered to me since, I’ve turned them down. But they did help me in the time when I was desperate.

The following year, I wrote a list of pros and cons for college courses I wanted to go on. 

In the end I chose to do my A levels. I didn’t feel clever enough for them at high school but I decided to revisit my old high school subjects would be a welcome leap back into academia (I’m a history nerd, basically) and this time I wasn’t forcing myself down another vocational route.

So off I went. I already had my GCSES so I was offered an unconditional place. It felt so good to be interviewed and have someone actually talk to me beyond just why I wanted to do the course.

So I started again. I was 2 years older than everyone else, but it made the icebreaker sessions (that I still hate) much easier.

Two weeks in I was diagnosed with Dyspraxia. That was a load off my mind

I wasn’t doing too badly. I had really supportive and encouraging tutors, so if I did feel unsure, I was reassured about how bright I was, and how hard I work.

 If I felt my anxiety creep up I went to speak to the mental health nurse who I saw before, and we’d have a quick chat. I’d normally solve my own problem, because despite all the irrational thinking of mental health causes, I’m actually quite the rational problem solver if I really try.

In the second year of my A level studies, my parents seperated. I don’t blame them at all. I went to see the mental health nurse again, because my dad went the day before I was off on a trip to a university fair. I couldn’t see past how I was going to apply for courses and think of the future when I was still trying to deal with the present.
So that’s how I ended up in the councillor’s office. Again. At this point, in our first meeting, I said “can I just point out that I know I don’t like bananas, before you say I should have one because they give you endorphins or whatever?”

So we talked about my dad, and his slight drinking problem, and my mum and sister. And also the one toxic friendship I had developed in college.

With support, I came out the other side of that. I started university.

And then the pain started. Over summer I’d been getting horrible shooting pains in my back and hips. And I got diagnosed with joint hypermobility syndrome. No cure, just pain relief for now.

Fine.

First year was tougher academically than my A levels- moreso than I expected. For a dyspraxic person, now being given high doses of codiene by the doctor when the pain got bad, trying to stay organised and top of everything at home in halls, and at uni, got too much.

Back to counselling I went, reluctantly this time. Because by this point I’d had 4, and was starting to think there was no point.

The scareiest thing, besides my head banging days, that has ever happened was when the voice inside my head wasn’t my own.

It was a collection of about 5 of them. All saying absolutely horrible things.

Luckily that’s only ever happened once.

My absolute rock throughout my degree, besides my mum has been my learning mentor + (the plus is for mental health) she’s amazing. I could tell her anything that was going on and they’d be no gasp of horror or panic to pack me off to more therapy. We’d simply sit and talk for an hour- if I needed to vent for the full hour, I did.

So, second year pretty much went by (it was stressful because my pain intensified, and second year is though for any university student) and I could feel myself sinking into familiar patterns.

My mobility had/has become restricted by pain. So, this time the depression wasn’t keeping me in. But each time I went out, it felt more scary. And then it got to the point where I grieved for my old life and all it’s wasted opportunity. If I’d have just said yes to going to x, y, z or made more an effort with a, b, c. I was also growing tired of people suggesting pseudo-miracle cures for what was now fibromyalgia and joint hypermobility.

So I got pretty depressed again. It was too late by the time I’d noticed, how many friends I’d isolated. I went to my usual pain clinic appointment, and- with gritted teeth- I asked to see a clinical psychiatrist.

We went through everything- everything I’ve pretty much written here, we talked about. Right from my painfully shy childhood to present. Including the bits in between college. I told him I didn’t want to talk about it, explaining that my very rock bottom contains memories I hate to revisit. So when I came back the following week, after a long think, I decided it was time I talked about my first long walk with the black dog.

I was discharged from psychiatry a few months ago. And with all the, I suppose trauma, mental health caused in my life addressed, this year’s mental health awareness week is a very poignant one for me.
I’m still not without days when I have to battle through- the fibro and my anxiety are definitely here to stay. But if I hadn’t have been through what I have, I don’t actually think I’d have ever dreamed of having a future as bright as I do now.
#mentalhealthawarnessweek
*hits publish and gets super anxious about being judged- I can’t help it*