Nutritional Nutters.

Some would say that completing a degree with a disability is quite an achievement, but as a Millennial even the greatest of achievements pales in comparison to the terrible flaws displayed by my generation that will surely be the end of society itself. People will always find faults if they are looking for them and as such, it has been made apparent to me that being disabled with any sort of medical knowledge is completely incompatible, because surely everyone with this knowledge is in perfect health all of the time and would cure themselves with their knowledge should they fall ill.

Approximately a year ago I was diagnosed with iron deficiency anaemia, which I have since recovered from. At the time the response I invariably received upon revealing my deficiency to someone was, “but I thought you were a nutritionist”.  The truth was that a tablet I was taking limited the absorption of iron in the intestine and despite my dietary iron intake being perfectly adequate, most of the iron was quite literally being flushed down the toilet. Of course, despite the fact that I have spent three years and thousands of pounds dedicated to the subject, the person I was speaking to knew far more than me having read about it on Wikipedia, and I was just making up excuses for being a poor nutritionist. Just about anyone with any medical knowledge or experience in a clinic will roll their eyes at this point; while I can hardly criticise using the internet, because well… I’m on the internet, it can be the bane of our lives.

The same logic has been applied to my disability; admittedly there are a few dietary tricks that can help maintain energy levels throughout the day, but certainly there is no scientific evidence showing a particular diet that will immediately cause me to leap out of my wheelchair completely free of disease for the first time in years. The closest I ever get to feeling like that is when someone offers me chocolate cake, because although I know the many ways in which cake could potentially kill me, I like cake, particularly the chocolate kind. The fact that I am chronically ill is frequently used to evidence my incapability in my chosen field, which is almost as annoying as receiving a smug look before being told nutritionists shouldn’t eat chocolate cake. Why this would apply specifically to nutritionists and no other human being on the planet is beyond me, but clearly I know only that I know nothing.

There is also one deep flaw in the thought process behind such accusations; nutrition is very rarely used as a cure, but is actually used to treat a disease or manage symptoms. Ask any diabetic this and they will confirm that no matter how many visits they have with a dietitian, altering their diet will not make their pancreas behave itself, merely managing the consequences instead. Likewise I use nutrition to help me manage the symptoms of my condition, not to cure it. By my albeit somewhat biased logic, this makes me an even better nutritionist, as I have experience in altering the diet to suit my needs while still satisfying my cravings for chocolate cake. It is by stating that nutrition rarely cures to people I deem to be “Nutritional Nutters” that I return their self-satisfied smugness, in a dish that is far more nutritious when served cold.

The Leibster Award Strikes Back!

I am extremely excited to announce that I have once again been nominated to receive the Leibster Award, taking me up to a total of three awards received in a matter of months.

I am planning to accept the award a week from Sunday (1st July).

A big thanks to Alex Squire at The Life Quadraplegic for nominating me. https://quadlifeblog.com/

Sweet, Sweet Irony.

One consistent occurrence that continues to amuse me on a regular basis is the way different types of people react to the wheelchair, usually spitting in the face of stereotypes and then allowing me to run said stereotypes over. I can think of no better example of this than a situation I encountered recently as I returned home from a night out.

A couple of streets away from my flat there is a new block of posh flats and offices being built adjoining one of the big shopping centres in Leeds, and the scale of the job means that the pavement has been completely blocked off. All pedestrians must use a narrow section of the road cordoned off for them to walk through safely. At points this area is narrow enough for only single file pedestrians going in each direction so as not to impede the traffic on the main road, and occasionally this can cause difficulties for the wheelchair.

It was a Saturday night and all the clubs and pubs were overflowing and spilling out onto the pavement. Among these was a group of tipsy students, all male, who were staggering through the improvised path towards us. I was more than prepared to pull over to one side at a wider section in order to let them past, as their movements indicated that perhaps they weren’t fully in control of their actions. To my surprise they stopped and stood to one side to allow me and Jarred past. As I went by them I thanked them, which was greeted by a series of cheery, if slightly slurred, greetings.

Jarred and I made it round the path and back onto the pavement without too much trouble, and we carried on towards our block of flats which was visible from the road. Ahead of us I spotted a large group of charity workers ambling slowly along the pavement, pulling large carts behind them full of meals for the homeless. We came to a crossing where they blocked the lowered kerb that allows me to cross the street safely. By the time they had moved more traffic was pulling onto the street, and I had to wait before I could cross.

We crossed the road, reaching a narrow pavement littered with lampposts and traffic lights. Here the group of charity workers had stopped again, despite the fact that around the corner, mere metres away, was a wide expanse of pavement perfect for stopping on. They had blocked the entire pavement, not just for my wheelchair, but for all pedestrians who were having to step down onto the road to get around them. As I couldn’t step off the pavement I had to persuade them to let me past.

It took two attempts for Jarred to convince them to move the first of the carts so that I could get round; they completely ignored me altogether. The second cart proved just as difficult and the final cart refused to move at all. As I squeezed past my wheels knocked the cart, for which I was tutted at (coincidentally the only interaction I received with them). The group apologised half-heartedly to Jarred, clearly believing us to be rude, thinking that their undeniably kind actions towards the homeless alleviated them of all other responsibilities.

These two encounters had happened maybe 100 metres apart, if that. Yet it was the drunken lads who treated me as their equal, with kindness and generosity, while the holier-than-thou charity workers treated me as if I was dirt on the bottom of their shoes. The irony of this situation was not lost on me; the people who are poorly misrepresented in the media, and who are blamed for all the troubles of society, were the ones to do the responsible thing. The people who will be hailed as heroes for their acts of incredible kindness and dedication didn’t care for anything but the fact that they were seen to be helping the homeless while I had selfishly been eating in a pub on a Saturday night.

This is yet more evidence in support of my prevailing theory; that kindness often comes from those you least expect it from.

#MeToo.

TRIGGER WARNING: This post discusses some details of my own experiences with sexual assault. If you feel this will upset or trigger you, you are advised to read this at your own discretion. 

 

There were two major events in the Christmas and New Year Period of 2010 – 2011 that would have a great impact on my future, one of which I have always been open and honest about, that being contracting viral meningitis. There is, however, one other matter that only those close to me are aware of; I am a victim of sexual harassment.

I was a teenager with puberty beginning to truly take hold, and having never had a boyfriend and being unmercifully mocked for this, I was relieved when a boy finally asked me out. We did all the normal teenage relationship clichéd things like going to the park, watching movies at the cinema, and going over to each other’s houses for tea. The first time I visited his home his parents were both out at work and we had the full run of the house to ourselves. I had barely set foot indoors when he asked if I wanted some alcohol, which I politely turned down as I had heard one too many scare stories involving alcohol. He kept asking for the next few hours until his parents came home from work, but I remained resolute and am glad that I did. I returned home that evening relatively happy.

The Christmas holidays arrived and on one occasion I met him in the park opposite my home. We wandered slowly back to my house and up to my room with my mum doing housework downstairs, and found that mum had put several games on my bed to keep us entertained. I put the radio on and we listened to music together. We played a few rounds of connect 4. Then he said he was bored.

It started innocently enough but then he kept trying to force his hand between my legs despite me very firmly telling him not to. He pulled me into the centre of the room and told me I had to stand still for a whole minute and let him do whatever he wanted to me. I was increasingly uncomfortable but reluctantly complied, and he slipped his hand down my pants. I wriggled away and told him to stop, heading towards the bedroom door, but he blocked my path. Without warning, he pulled my jumper off, and the t-shirt that was under it, leaving me standing in my bra desperately trying to reach my clothes, while he held them away from me and groped me. Then he whispered down my ear that he was going to take my virginity before my fifteenth birthday.

I pushed him suddenly, certainly not enough to hurt him, but in surprise he dropped my clothes which I grabbed and pulled on quickly. He tried to push me back against the wall but being small for my age I easily ducked under his arm, yanked open my bedroom door, and rushed downstairs. I tried to act as if everything was normal as he followed me down the stairs, telling mum that he’d had a message from his parents asking him to come home. He left in a civilised manner, acting the part of a saint in front of my mother, before setting off for his own home. I locked the door behind him as he left.

Although I was upset at the turn of events, I honestly believed that this was normal behaviour and that I was simply being a wimp compared to my peers. It wasn’t until I spoke to my mum about it later in the afternoon that I realised something was really wrong. She was horrified, recommended that I break up with him immediately, and perhaps even to contact the police. I only followed the former piece of advice, deciding not to go to the police as it would be my word against his with no real evidence that anything had happened, so the case would simply be ignored as teenage whimsy. I could even have ended up in trouble myself for wasting police time.

Just a few days later my priorities had a very sudden change as I contracted viral meningitis.

A combination of both the harassment and the meningitis left me with minimal confidence and almost no self-esteem. I couldn’t even attempt a relationship until I was at university, and the confidence to actually have sex took even longer to arrive. It didn’t help that within six months of the first incident I had encountered two more, albeit less severe, incidents with two different boys; one kept forcing his arm around my waist and pulling me to him, and the other repeatedly smacked my ass forcefully whenever I bent over to pick something up. I managed to brush both of the guys in question away and kept my distance.

I hated myself for being so scared; scared that it would happen again, scared that my reluctance to speak to the police would put others in danger, scared that he would tell everyone and I would be called a whore or a pussy, scared that I was facing a severe illness the likes of which I had never seen coming.

Looking back it’s incredible to think that misogyny was so deeply ingrained into our culture that I thought the way I was treated was normal and acceptable, and that I was the one at fault for having a negative reaction. In recent months the prevalence of the #MeToo campaign on social media highlights just how commonplace this issue remains to this day. I only hope that with all the brave people stepping forward to recount their own experiences, and by that I include all gender identities, the severity and range of the issue will finally be realised, and that progress can be made to help stop these traumatic and deeply uncomfortable events from taking place.

#MeToo.

With Great Literature Comes Great Writing.

Every writer has their inspiration and aside from the whole disability thing I have going on, my main muse as a writer is other writers.

Books have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember; I even had waterproof bath-tub books as a toddler. Before school I had the entire bottom shelf of my parents’ bookcase filled with my own books, including ones that had been bought, and others that had been passed down through the family. Apparently I used to run to the bookshelf, grab as many books as I could possibly carry, and then plonk myself on my mum’s lap to read for the afternoon. On more than one occasion our beloved cat came to join these reading sessions.

I could actually read before I went to school; not because anybody pressured me to, but because I wanted to. I wrote my name in the sand pit when my parents were viewing potential nurseries for me to attend, which mum hastily erased to avoid any allegations of putting too much pressure on me. She even had to sign a consent form saying that I was allowed to read the books in the nursery, which were meant to be read to us at story-time, after they found me in the corner under a pile books quite happily reading them to myself.

Once I got to school I got a small bookcase in my bedroom, which was placed at the end of the bed to make it easy to reach. I got into the habit of reading before going to sleep, something I still do sometimes, usually with the cat curled up on my feet.

The books changed as I grew older but my love for them did not. I soon had favourite authors, first Michael Morpurgo and Jacqueline Wilson, then Charlie Higson, and as an adult Charles Dickens and Jeffrey Archer became firm favourites.

As I aged I started to find an unexpected joy in writing my own stories, and probably levelled an entire rain-forest in filled notepads. I tried to combine the detailed character development of Charles Dickens with the exhilarating action sequences of Jeffrey Archer, and the friendly, easy-to-read style of Michael Morpurgo.

As for the more humorously autobiographical style of Diary of a Disabled Person, I took inspiration from the likes of Gervais Phinn (a school inspector from the Yorkshire dales), James Herriot (the infamous Yorkshire vet), and Jennifer Worth (Call the Midwife). All of these writers presented their work as short, funny, but insightful anecdotes about one aspect of their lives; something which I strive to emulate in my own work.

In all of this it is of course impossible for me to ignore the influence of my English teachers at school, particularly during my GCSE years. I was universally encouraged to keep writing and to develop a unique style of my own. They pushed me to be the best that I could be, and my efforts were rewarded upon receiving the English award for my year group at the end of my exams.

Trophy

(Coincidentally, this trophy is now being used as a weight to stop Tribble the hamster escaping from the top hatch of her cage.)

I’ll be the first one to admit that I don’t believe in concepts like fate and destiny, but I can’t help feeling just a little that perhaps I was born to write.