An open thank you letter

To The counsellor I went to speak to in March 2014,
You may never see this letter, you may not even remember me. But make no mistake that I remember you.

In my first year of university, when life was unbearable and I had nothing left to give, I went to you for help. I gathered the last vestiges of my resolve and forced myself out of the bed I hadn’t left for six days to attend the appointment I’d already rearranged with you twice. 
I remember sitting on the chair in your office, my cane in one hand and a box of tissues you’d handed me in the other, feeling empty; feeling dead; feeling black. I remember the nervousness with which you guided me to my chair and your uncomfortable laugh when I explained that you would need to complete your survey with me as I wouldn’t be able to write my answers myself. 
You asked me to wrate my feelings on a scale, zero being not at all and 10 being all the time. I remember being surprised at my own answers when I responded to statements such as, “I feel hopeless or worthless” never scoring less than 7. 
I knew I was in trouble, that’s why I went to you. I knew that staying in bed for over a week was not normal. I knew that missing countless lectures and cancelling numerous appointments for fear of leaving my room was not normal. I knew that ignoring phone calls and messages from concerned loved ones to avoid admitting what I was doing was not normal. I knew that a black cloud had gripped me, and I went to you to give it a name.
When you ask me why I was there, I told you everything. In a monotone voice and divoid of emotion. Continuous obstacles and injustices had warned me down to the point that the only thing left was anger, and as I told you what had happened during the last few months and how it had made me feel I think you saw how much that anger was consuming me.
I told you how the support I had expected had not been delivered. I told you that I felt isolated and unable to identify with my peers. I told you how, despite feeling unable to leave my room for the last 10 days because of the anxiety that gripped me at the thought of interacting with people, I didn’t want to give in. I told you that I wanted to be there. I told you that I wanted a degree. I told you that I wanted to prove myself, to myself and to the world. 
I wanted you to offer me support, to tell me that it was normal for me to feel this way and that the way I had been treated was unacceptable. I wanted you to tell me that my feelings were justified and that it wasn’t my fault. I wanted you to reassure me that you understood, that I hadn’t failed. But you didn’t.
Instead you told me that “maybe University might not be the right place for me”. You suggested that perhaps I should consider dropping out of my degree, as I had confided in you that I was so close to doing. You admitted that maybe I would be better off going home and giving up.
Thank God I ignored you.
You telling me that I shouldn’t be at university only rekindled the determination in me that had been stamped out by repeated disappointment. Your words rang in my ears and reverberated around my head for months, years afterwards. Your pitty and doubts in my ability became the fuel that only drove me to push myself harder; to get myself better; to believe in my self because you didn’t.
You are not alone in thinking that people like me are not worthy or not capable of achieving. The cane in my hand predisposed you to judge me before I had even started speaking, as it does for so many people in society. Those of us living with disabilities continuously face the misconceptions and misunderstandings of those who do not live with our challenges. But this attitude extends wider than just speaking to my friend rather than me when we are out, or ignoring my refusal of the help you have offered. This attitude leads to systematic failures that put barriers in the path of people like me from living normal lives and achieving our goals. 
Every time you take me by the arm and lead me somewhere I don’t want to go without my consent, you undermine my autonomy and disrespect my personal space; every time you fail to provide me with material in an accessible format, you reinforced the feeling that I and my needs are an afterthought; every time you tell me, that because of the adaptions I need, I am being difficult and giving you more work than you already have, you are reiterating the message that I am not welcome. I am not worthy of the time and effort it would require you to include me. I am an inconvenience that should be reprimanded for having the audacity to expect to be given the same opportunities as those who don’t need The adaptions necessary for me.
You epitomised this attitude for me, and as a result you made me stronger. Your ignorance reawakened and the stubbornness that defines so much of my character, not because it is part of my nature, but because it has to be. Your audacity to suggest that I would be better off giving up on my dream, despite me specifically explaining to you that this wasn’t what I wanted, thickened my skin and hard and my resolve to prove you wrong.
For so long your words were my motivation, though a part of me still believed you. So when, in my third and final year, everything again became too much and I threatened to crumble beneath the pressure to disprove your assumptions, your words again reverberated in my head and convinced me of their truth. 
But you didn’t win. I did. This time when I asked for help I received the reassurance and support you denied me. With that support I was able to again pull myself out of the darkness and overcome the final hurdle that would get me to my goal.
I am graduating with a first class honours, because of you. Whether it was your intention or not, your words have gotten me through the last three years and helped me achieve what I always hoped I could do but often thought was impossible. So I want to thank you for meeting me that day and for judging me as so many others do, because in doing so you gave me a reason to make myself and everyone around me proud. You forced me to find the self belief and self-worth I had lost, you shocked me out of my depression and inspired me to be the person I knew I was, but that you were too blind to see. 
Thank you for giving me the strength to prove my capabilities to anyone who doubts me. Thank you for motivating me to do my absolute best to show exactly what I can do. Thank you for reminding me that I alone can determine my worth. Thank you for having such low expectations of me and challenging me to exceed them. Thank you for inspiring me to continue facing my challenges head on and reminding me why I thrive on doing so. Thank you for teaching me that my disability doesn’t define me, and that it is my responsibility to demonstrate this to anyone who thinks otherwise. Thank you for reminding me why I wanted a degree in the first place. Thank you for driving me to work so hard that I not only exceeded your expectations, but also exceeded my own. 
Thank you, in short, for ignoring my own words and deciding my capabilities based on your judgement of my disability. Because in doing so, you’ve reminded me that nobody has the right to decide my limitations but me.

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Deferring my dissertation

10 May has been a date branded onto my memory for months now. Why? Because it is the deadline date for my dissertation. Or at least, it was.

When I started my third and final year of university, I made a promise to myself that this year it would be different. That I would get organised, manage my time brilliantly, get all my work done on time and meet all my deadlines. When I came back in September I felt wildly optimistic that I would power through the year and emerge on the other end with a first class degree. 

I say wildly optimistic because my time at university hasn’t exactly been a smooth ride. My struggle in Higher Education isn’t really something I have gone into great detail about on this blog. I intend to, one day, after I’ve finished my degree. But for now, those of you who don’t know me personally need to understand that it has not been easy. I’ve struggled socially, mentally and emotionally and I’ve been so tempted to drop out on numerous occasions.

I think the only reason I haven’t dropped out is because I’m stubborn. I have a fierce desire to prove people wrong; to show that I am just as capable as anybody else of doing everything, even getting a degree, despite my Visual impairment. In fact, this often leads to me wanting to overachieve, not just to do as well but to do better than everyone else to prove that I can. What this means is that I end up putting a enormous amount of pressure on myself. Worse, because I feel as if I need to be able to do everything on my own, because nobody expects me to be able to, I used to feel unable to ask for help for fear of being labelled incapable. Thankfully this has gotten much better recently, proven by my action of requesting a deferral for my dissertation.

In September 2015 I felt like requesting a deferral would make me a failure. I thought that getting extensions would make me a failure. I thought that coming out with anything less than a first class degree, would make me a failure. I want to stress again that nobody explicitly said this to me. It was all me, all these expectations and ambitions were in my head. 

I can think of a few reasons why I feel like this, one being that being undermined and degraded on a daily basis because of an impairment that has nothing to do with my intelligence or mental capability makes me feel so patronised that it drives me to want to prove myself. 

I’m not someone who lets been disabled get them down often. I’ve said before on this blog that I feel 100% content with who I am, blindness and all. The main thing that I struggle with is societies attitude and treatment of me because of my Visual impairment. This is why I’ve think I’ve developed this instinctual determination to exceed expectations. Because if you’re treated and meant to feel inferior for 90% of your life, then if you don’t have some kind of drive and faith in yourself, you will start to think of yourself as inferior.

Anyway, back to the point. It was this attitude that make me so reluctant and somewhat frightened of the possibility of requesting extensions. I’m not going to lie, third year terrified me. The pressure and stress I put on myself to be the best in everything often makes it hard for me to fulfil my potential. In first and second year I had been forced to request extensions usually because of institutional failings. With third-year being such an important year, I was determined that I would need to be on the top of my game to make sure that all of my materials were accessible, that all of my note takers were arranged, that I would have a suitable place to study and that everything I would need academically would be put in place. This did happen; ironically, and terms of accessibility my third year has been the easiest of my whole degree. 
What I didn’t count on was me sabotaging myself and my own ability.

 I spent so long focusing on how I could make sure that nothing to do with my visual impairment would get in the way of me meeting all my deadlines, I didn’t stop to think about what I could put in place to ensure that my mental health would not impact on my work either. So that’s what happened. I became ill, I eventually sort help and I was granted a deferral for my dissertation until August.

It was a very hard thing to be for me to accept, because when you’re so used to dealing with a physical disability, a mental illness is a completely different ballgame. One thing I’ve always prided myself on is the fact that in spite of how people treat me, my intelligence and mentality is not compromised by my disability. I have a visual impairment, this is what I tell people; my eyes don’t work, it has nothing to do with my brain. So just because I can’t see you standing in front of me doesn’t mean that I can’t hold a conversation, alright an essay. So, to then be dealing with a mental illness that does impact on that element of myself that I had always depended on being so stable was very disconcerting.

I definitely think a part of the reason I struggled to understand and accept my mental illness is also because of the stigma that surrounds mental health. Even me, as someone who lives with a sensory impairment and therefore nose in some ways what it feels like to be treated differently because of something that is out of your control, still subconsciously harboured these fears and misconceptions of mental illness.

I am however pleased to say that I feel much better. Even though my year didn’t go to plan and I ended up doing the thing that I dreaded most, I’m now quite proud of the fact that I have asked for a deferral. It doesn’t make me less capable, it doesn’t make me less of a person and it doesn’t make me a failure. I think it makes me someone who understands themselves, someone who is self-aware and better for it. 

So even though the 10th of May is almost been and gone, I will carry on chipping away at the D-Word, I will feel proud of the achievement of just completing a dissertation never mind what grade I get, and I will take the obligatory submition selfie in August 😉

A huge congratulations to everyone who has submitted their dissertation so far, everyone on my course who submitted their dissertations today and everyone who will be submitting in the next few weeks. Be proud of yourselves! You did it!

Dog Blog: catching up and celebrations!

Hello! Jazzy here again after quite a long leave of absence. 
I’ve been as unhappy about this lack of Dog Blogs as I’m sure you have, but the only poor excuse the boss has to offer is that final year uni stresses have unfortunately put my posts on the backburner recently. I’m not sure I buy that. I think she’s just jealous of how much more popular my posts are than hers! But never mind, let me catch you up. 
Back in September we returned to Uni for our final year. I’ve come to think of the library as something of a second home and have decided on my favourite spot to sleep under the radiator, graciously accepting any pets or fusses I might receive by passers-by. 
But don’t worry, we’ve done a lot of fun things too. It feels like a long time ago now when the boss and I spent a weekend sightseeing in London with the boss’s family. I think I love the big smoke as much as she does! We did lots of strange but interesting things like go on a Duck Tour, where we sat in a vehicle which one minute was whizzing around the streets of London and the next was cruising along the Thames! 
We visited this bizarre place where there were lots of very still and strange smelling people, the boss and the fam seemed to very much enjoy posing with. I got in a couple of these photos too, naturally. We also spent a lot of time in the air, which I have to admit I wasn’t a huge fan of. We went on this great wheel thing that hung in the air and moved! I did not appreciate seeing the ground so far below and stayed well away from the strange glass walls. As I also did when we visited the tallest building I think I’ve ever seen, though I did concede long enough to pose for another picture. I swear more time was spent posing that weekend than anything else!
Not long after, we visited the boss’s sister in another lovely city called Cardiff. I very much liked this place because of the spectacular park I got to run wild in! My boss’s sister is at Uni there, like the boss and I are in Chester. But I much prefer our digs to hers, it was little bigger than a box!
After lots of time in the library again, I got to spend my first Christmas with the boss and her family. This was an absolutely brilliant time! I had the company of my best friend Bella for three weeks, the boss’s baby brothers have even more energy than I do, and oh the food! The boss even had a miniature version of me put in pride of place on the Christmas tree.
The 6th of January was the anniversary of the day I came to live with the boss. We travelled back to Uni and prepared to face more quality library time. The boss was quite concerned for me that month because I’d put on a little holiday weight and I’d acquired a funny lump below my chin. When we visited the vets the boss was told that it could be a tumour, benign or otherwise and had to wait a whole worrisome weekend for the test results. Thankfully the lump turned out to be a benign growth and after a few weeks of steroid cream treatment it disappeared. 
After that, it was back to yet more chilling in the library. All the stresses of Uni work was taking its toll on the boss, but what she didn’t realise was that it was affecting me too. Humans are far less intelligent creatures than we canines, which is why I’m sure it took several weeks for the boss to figure out that the reason I didn’t seem to be myself, not enjoying my work so much and not wanting to play, is because trying to remain up-beat and happy when your boss is so down in the dumps is very hard work. When she finally came to this realisation though I think it might have been the push she needed to talk to someone about how she was feeling. So of course I accompanied her to lots of meetings and appointments where I did my best to make things easier by resting my head on her knee and letting her play with my ears while she talked.
I am pleased to say that the boss now seems to be feeling much better, which of course means that I am happier too. People had told her that I would be very sensitive to her emotions but I don’t think she had fully grasped this until she realised the difference in my demeanour and work when she was feeling low, compared with when she feels happier. She now understands that it is much easier for me to go about my work with my tail wagging when the boss has a smile on her face too. Fortunately I think the experience has brought us closer as a team and the boss tells everyone that she is more pleased with my work than ever. Humans eh?
A few weeks ago the boss and I spent the weekend in Derby with friends and were on our way to go home when we entered into an unfortunate altercation with a taxi driver. It seemed that this driver didn’t want me in his car! Can you believe that? Who could refuse this face?! The boss wrote about our experience so I won’t bore you with the details again. If you’re interested check out her post here:

https://elinangharadwilliams.wordpress.com/2016/04/07/access-refusal-being-refused-by-a-taxi-driver-because-of-my-guide-dog-accessallareas/
And that brings us to today, which I’m sure all of you know is a very special day. It is a very important someone’s birthday. She is charming, beautiful, is highly intelligent and is widely adored. That’s right, it’s me! Even better, it’s a rather important birthday too. Today I am turning three in human years, but to me and all my four-legged friends I am turning 21! The boss celebrated her 21st last month, but I’m not sure I want to celebrate the way she did. I was not impressed to find her returning at the early hours of the morning, smelling quite strange and falling about all over the place (more than usual)! How very undignified. I have celebrated my birthday for my graciously with a trip to town this morning, a visit to the vets to get my nails done in the afternoon followed by a lovely run in the park. What more could a girl want?
So I think that’s you well and truly caught up on what’s gone on since my last post. It’s a very busy time for us right now; the boss is powering through her last few months of Uni while also trying to find us a new place to live. As usual, it’s my job to be her guide, companion and furry comfort blanket so I’m sure you’ll understand that with my paws full already it might be some time before my next Dog Blog. But I do hope you’ll subscribe so that my next update will go straight into your inbox!
Until then, chow for now!
J xx