Mission Impossible 4: Looking for a Job.

It is widely accepted that job-hunting is a stressful, disheartening, and sometimes even degrading process for just about anyone. It is also known that certain groups such as ethnic or religious minorities, women, or LGBTQ+ people may find the job-hunting process even more complicated, and the same is applicable to disability.

At the start of my job-hunt I immediately ruled out any jobs that I couldn’t physically do. For example, being a personal trainer would not be an advisable career path for me. I often struggle to reach things in shops so stocking shelves in shops was out of the question. I would be a trip hazard in an industrial kitchen so working as a chef or waitress was not a viable option. This left me with office jobs. Administration. Paperwork. Pen-pushing, as some like to call it.

I then had to consider the commute; trains are just too unreliable as a wheelchair user to get to and from work, as are taxis. Buses were the only viable option, and even then rush hour traffic would make the journey long and gruelling. So I now had additional limits of suitable locations too.

I signed up to a few employment websites, and sent my CV off to as many people as I could like an over-excited puppy. A large chunk of these replied to tell me that I couldn’t work in their office because I was in a wheelchair; their office was inaccessible. One office wrote to tell me that they were equipped to take manual wheelchairs only, so if I was prepared to subject myself to agonising pain on a daily basis they would be happy to consider my application.

All these restrictions, of course, came on top of the usual expectation to have thirty years of work experience by age twenty, and to have five PhD’s to boot. This left me with an incredibly limited number of jobs that I could apply for in the hopes of actually getting a job.

The majority of the jobs that I applied for rejected me on the basis that I had little work experience, as I couldn’t physically manage to work on top of my studies. I had written for a university magazine, been a secretary of a society, and had started this blog, but most places did not consider these to be proper work experience. Only one invited me to an interview. Clearly the stars aligned on this occasion because a couple of days later I received a phone call (in the middle of the supermarket, no less) telling me I had the job. While the contract was not exactly lucrative and the wage certainly did not come to much, I was just happy to have a job.

There was a long period between finding out that I actually had the job and starting work, as there was a lot of paperwork to complete, so in the meantime I took to going out to cafes, coffee shops, or the library on a daily basis to write. I would write things for my blog or I would write articles for Cracked, the latter of which I received a little money for. As someone who gets bored quite easily and is then an absolute nightmare to be around, the writing aspect of my life quite literally saved me from going completely out of my mind.

Little did I know that after only seven months in my job I would be let go. It was suggested that I continue working for other administrative roles in the NHS, but given that most of these were in an inaccessible office and the remaining shifts were so few and far between as to amount to nothing, it was far more viable to pack it in altogether. At least this way I would have the relevant paperwork to hand, hopefully meaning that when I did eventually land a new job, half of the paperwork would already be complete.

Even though I only have a little work experience to date, I was at least offered multiple job interviews throughout this second period of job applications. However, as I got negative result after negative result, I became increasingly disheartened. Then, one Monday afternoon while sat tapping away at my keyboard in the local geek hidey-hole, the phone rang. I had got a job, but not just any job. I would be joining one of the top medical research facilities in the country as a data management assistant, which was nothing short of my dream job. Now all I have to do is not mess this up.

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Emma

 

Mission Impossible 3: Find a Home.

As the end of my time at university approached Jarred and I began the search for our very first home together. Limited by budget and location as well as wheelchair access we were prepared for a difficult and stressful experience, but even our strong cynicism could never have prepared us for what lay ahead.

The first hurdle came in the form of the letting agents, or rather the lack of accessible letting agents. I was entirely dependent on Jarred to go and speak to the letting agents face-to-face, and because of this the letting agents would always contact Jarred before me despite the fact that I would be the one paying the deposit and administrative fees. I couldn’t tell if this was because I was a woman, disabled, or simply because I couldn’t get into the office, but it was frustrating none-the-less.

Over the Easter break in 2017 a flat within our budget and desired location became available for viewing. The day before we were due to visit the flat Jarred found the building while doing some shopping in the city centre, so we wouldn’t be late for our appointment. To his dismay he saw that the main entrance to the building had a large step in the door, despite reassurances from the letting agent that the building could accommodate a wheelchair. Fortunately the receptionist saw him standing outside with a bemused look on his face and came to his aid. Jarred explained his predicament and the receptionist kindly showed him the accessible route into the building; down a steep ramp into the garage beneath the building, where a lift was situated next to the stairwell.

The next day we went together to view the flats on offer. We were on time and the receptionist let us in through the garage, and we met the letting agent in reception. We took the lift to the fourth floor and travelled along the narrow corridor to the furthest door. The flat was a small bedsit with the kitchen immediately on the left as the door opened, and the bathroom on the right. The lounge was at the opposite end of the kitchen, with the bedroom next to it, and all the rooms were connected in a loop. It was tiny and although it could fit the wheelchair in, it was a tight fit.

Not convinced, we decided to look at the other accessible flat on offer which was facing the bedsit. The door opened onto a short corridor that could comfortably accommodate my wheelchair, even with a shoe rack in it. On my right was the bathroom, which I could move around in freely in my wheelchair, and the bedroom was also accessible. Finally we went into the lounge/kitchen/dining area which was spacious and light. The electric meter and bin store were down a step but I could manage these on walking sticks if Jarred hadn’t got to them first. It was just within our budget, in the perfect location, and could accommodate my wheelchair without too many problems so we immediately put the deposit down on the flat.

After this came the paperwork, which was the most complex stage of the process, particularly because the letting agent said they needed me to sign the papers in person, insisting that I go to the office to do so. They refused to come out to the flat as a meeting point, despite this only being around the corner from their office, and eventually they compromised by letting us sign online versions of the documents. Then Jarred went to collect the keys.

Jarred was given two sets of keys for the flat, including one for me which included access to the garage. Unfortunately while the garage key worked, the key that allowed access to the lift from the garage was an old key that didn’t work. Jarred’s keys did not work on this door either, and it took a lot of arguing to convince the letting agent that I couldn’t simply rely on Jarred to go through the main door (which worked) to run downstairs and let me in from inside the building. They seemed to have no concept of my desire for independence, or the fact that I would be coming and going under my own steam more often than with company. Fortunately I had had the foresight to ensure that there was a week’s overlap from our old apartments to our new one, so I simply stayed in my old apartment for a few days until the issue was resolved.

I think this whole debacle emphasises how difficult it can be for disabled people to be independent, whether that be due to inaccessible buildings or the general attitude that those with disabilities are incapable of independence. Obviously I say this as a wheelchair user, but I’m certain that those with other disabilities are subjected to a similar attitude themselves.

Losing my Religion.

I was brought up in a Christian household, attending church most Sunday’s and participating in various Bible study groups as I grew up. My faith was an integral part of my identity, but beyond this I don’t think I ever gave much serious thought to my beliefs until I was given cause to doubt them, that cause being viral meningitis.

Contracting meningitis was sudden and unexpected, leaving my future shrouded in uncertainty as I struggled to deal with the new set of circumstances I found myself in. When my friends from church found out about my plight I was flooded with well-intentioned pieces of advice and encouragement, by far the most common being that God had done this for a purpose. What I couldn’t figure out was what exactly this purpose was.

I considered myself to be a good person; I went to church and prayed and read the Bible, I didn’t commit crimes, and on the whole I obeyed my parents and teachers. If I wasn’t being punished, what was I supposed to learn from this experience? The only thing I seemed to be learning was that people are unreliable and reluctant to shoulder anyone else’s burdens, and that didn’t seem to me to be a very Godly lesson. My faith was undeniably shaken but not completely destroyed.

As time passed and I felt better I tried to reconnect with God in the hope of having my questions answered. It soon became clear that all was not well; so began the process of being diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and during that time I would pray every evening before bed, unloading my burdens onto someone else, giving me the relief and peace of mind I needed to sleep.

After about a year of chronic fatigue syndrome people at church started praying for my healing. At first this seemed like a nice gesture but I soon became disenchanted with the idea as my faith and even my willingness to get well were repeatedly called into question. The prayers no longer seemed to be offered out of concern for me; I felt as though my healing were the prize in a competition, the winner being whoever prayed for me last before my sudden and glorious recovery. Eventually I simply stopped going to church, just keeping in touch with those who were my genuine friends.

It was around this time that I realised my evening prayers were little more than a comfort blanket, a ruse if you will, that would keep me calm and allow me to sleep. With this gone I turned to scripture, but where once I had seen encouragement and enlightenment I now saw intolerance and exclusion. The harder I fought to keep my faith, the further it slipped from my grasp.

The final nail in the coffin for my beliefs was coming to terms with my sexuality, something I had vehemently denied myself all my life up to that point. Once I realised that my identity was being jeopardised by something that had already caused me so much pain, I let go altogether.

In all honesty I expected to be relieved; I was free of something that had held me back and diminished my self-worth ever since I had been given reason to turn against it. What actually happened was I felt that a huge part of my identity had been pulled away.

Even worse was the immense guilt I felt; a short while before when my faith was still relatively strong I had become someone’s godmother, and the thought of breaking my promise to the parents and the child was utterly soul destroying. Now I realise that I made a promise to help raise the child and teach him what I knew of Christianity, and whatever my beliefs that is something I still can and will do. If one day he asks me about my personal faith I will have to be honest and I only hope that he will not think of me as a liar. Perhaps I will even show him this little piece of writing to help explain my choices.

Up to this point I have never breathed a word of this to my godson’s family, nor even to my own family. However I can’t help but feel that being honest about my faith is the right thing to do, and I know that I can explain myself far more eloquently in written form than in a spoken conversation.

Hen do!

Yesterday I had my hen do with my bridesmaid and her partner, & we visited the Kitty Cafe in Leeds.

Once again Sooty climbed onto my wheelchair, but this time I didn’t manage to get a photograph. However, I did get photo’s of:

Left: a selfie taken beforehand.

Right: a selfie taken with my bridesmaid while in the Kitty Cafe.

Left: a tortoiseshell called Cutie who almost fell of the cat tree while receiving a fuss.

Right: a 12 week old kitten called Panda, who was very playful after his nap, despite it being only his second day integrating with the customers.

Left: Johnnie the Maine Coon stole all our hearts with his excellent selfie-taking abilities, even if he did obscure my bridesmaid’s partner behind his big, fluffy ears while giving the camera some serious side-eye.

Top right: Johnnie takes a nap.

Bottom right: my bridesmaid’s partner, my bridesmaid, and me fussing Johnnie.

After spending many hours in the company of the cats, we went shopping for dresses and shoes:

Left: my bridesmaid finds the perfect dress!

Right: you can never have too much glitter. These bad boys will make me look extra special on the big day.

A Broken Record.

“I don’t know how you cope.”

“I couldn’t do what you do.”

“How do you manage? It must be so difficult.”

Like a broken record I hear these sentiments on an almost daily basis, and while they are a compliment of sorts, what strikes me most about these statements is the apparent lack of faith the person saying them has in themselves. This is by no means a criticism, as I was guilty of doing this myself prior to becoming disabled, although it can get a little awkward when a total stranger approaches me to express this sentiment in the middle of the street. Contrary to popular opinion, disabled people still have places to be.

If someone had told me that I would get meningitis, develop CFS, become increasingly dependent on a wheelchair, become very depressed, have to fight for my education, and then to have gall stones and surgery during the final year of university, I would have panicked. I would not have been able to comprehend going through all of that and still managing to have some semblance of a life, and what’s more, actually be happy about it. Yet here I am, spread-eagle on the sofa eating chocolate chip cookies, writing about it. I’m not exaggerating.

Cookie nom

It is our resilience and adaptability that has allowed humans to become the dominant species on Earth, and it is those same traits that have allowed people with chronic illnesses and disabilities to live fulfilling lives. It is pretty difficult at times, I won’t deny, but I’m not special for being able to withstand it. Most people would be able to withstand everything I have dealt with and more besides, especially if they were supported by a few friends and family members like I was.

It isn’t just illness either. People have the same reaction to all sorts of difficult scenarios; miscarriages, being a single parent, going back into education while raising a family, surviving a string of bad luck, the death of close ones. They express how they couldn’t cope. While these situations are troubling and difficult, I have watched those around me go through trying times and even if they need some help to do so, almost without fail they cope. What first-hand experience has taught me is that humans are essentially the mammalian equivalent of cockroaches; stubborn.