New Year, Same Old Me.

In early January 2018 I started my first job. After 5 months of HR dragging their feet with the paperwork I was relieved to finally start work, even if my hours were limited. When I arrived my new employer had even more concern for exasperation with HR as my computer login didn’t work, and the fact that the IT department were inaccessible complicated matters. We asked about incorporating access but were told the cost was too great, which due to all the budget cuts is believable. I finally managed to get onto the computer only to find that one of the programs essential for my role hadn’t been set up properly, so once again IT had to come to the rescue. After this I spent the first few days going through my compulsory training, but there was no job-specific training, so I simply learned from following what my colleagues did. It seemed to work well. These were all just teething issues that settled down as time passed.

In mid-January Diary of a Disabled Person became 1 year old, and a week later I accepted my first ever award for my efforts, The Leibster award. I was gaining confidence in my work and felt ready to expand my horizons.

By mid-February I was developing my new website; I had paid for a web domain and used a template I liked to create what you now see before you, added better menu and search functions, added my social media, and added a donate button. I also decided, after much deliberation, to set up a Twitter account. I was a little reluctant to do so as I had heard so many things about online trolls and generally toxic behaviour towards each other, but I also knew that it would enable me to reach out to a wider audience. However, once I had set up a profile online I realised that my concerns were mostly unfounded, and I was introduced to many new people and opportunities. I began writing accessibility reviews and giving interviews for podcasts and magazines, and I quickly gained a substantial number of loyal followers.

Image description: a selfie taken on the sofa in our lounge, in front of the window. I'm wearing a black blazer & white shirt, with my hair neatly tied back in a bun.

Before I knew it Easter was fast approaching. I had been given more hours at work and was feeling more positive about the role. I also received a work phone, which was a relief as up until that point I had been using my personal phone as my work one, using up the minutes on my contract and meaning that I constantly had to fend off work calls on my days off. I had many understandably frustrated customers when I had to tell them I wasn’t at work that day so couldn’t help, as I didn’t have access to the necessary resources.

Knowing that my hours were increasing allowed me to pull what was, in retrospect, quite a mean April Fool’s prank. Having waxed lyrical about the extra strain put upon me by my increased hours I informed my readers that I would no longer have the energy to write, and that Diary of a Disabled Person was coming to an end. I let them believe this for 4 whole hours before breaking the news that this was a prank. I thought the prank wasn’t particularly convincing but clearly I’m a better liar than I had anticipated, and I still feel a little guilty about the whole scenario. I aimed to ease the upset a week later when I accepted my nomination for a second award, which thankfully seemed to go down well.

Shortly after Easter came the Leeds Digital Festival 2018, something which my office were heavily involved in. I had helped arrange several seminars and workshops all over the city, some of which I got to attend in person, and that was the precise moment when my wheelchair decided to break down. My wheelchair had to be taken to a workshop for testing and repairs, and I was informed that I was lucky to receive a replacement wheelchair for the month I spent without my own, a luxury that was apparently not awarded to most people who were left to levitate if they wanted to leave the house. I was more thankful for the fact that I didn’t have to pay for any of the repairs, which included a brand new set of batteries. I was particularly thankful as the landlord wanted the annual rent up front, on a tighter deadline than the year before, which we could afford but didn’t leave much in my account.

In June things began to deteriorate at work. I would come home in tears almost every night, usually frustrated that I appeared to be making an excessive number of mistakes. Eventually it got so bad they insisted they write instructions down for me, but fortunately it was this that highlighted I had been following instructions without making too many errors, and that the majority of the time the mistakes were in the instructions themselves. However, mutual trust and respect had been shaken enough to create a tensely uncomfortable environment.

It was also in June when I got my first tattoo, a simple piece of calligraphy down my right arm reading “Disability Doesn’t Mean I Can’t”. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the pain wasn’t unbearable, and I had no issues at all with the healing process thanks to some good advice from my boss. Given that they are the only accessible tattoo parlour nearby, even going so far as to bring a tattoo station downstairs for me, I was relieved to get good service; it means I can go back!

Image description: holding my arm up to camera, showing the tattoo down my forearm reading "disability doesn't mean I can't".

In July Jarred graduated from university; I watched from the front row next to my future brother-in-law, and we celebrated by eating together later in our favourite restaurant. Then Jarred, who had been looking for work since finishing his studies a few weeks before, managed to land a job as a care assistant. We both settled into the new routine quite quickly, and things seemed to be going well.

Right at the start of August life dealt me two of the hardest knocks I’ve ever taken a matter of days apart. Firstly, our beloved hamster Tribble managed to escape in the night and hasn’t been seen since. While a hamster may seem a trivial pet to grieve over I was distraught, having lost a loving companion, and I was still struggling not to suddenly burst into tears at random intervals when I lost my job.

They told me their funding had run out and were letting me go, but they were taking on new staff at the time so I’m not sure how much that influenced their decision. I think a disagreement with one of my colleagues, who had told IT that I would go over to see them despite the fact that I had already arranged for them to come to me, had more to do with it.

They tried to ease the blow of losing my job by saying I could transfer to other admin roles within the district, the only problem being that the only ones with regular or substantial hours were based in the inaccessible building. Tired and fed-up, I quit on the spot.

Once again I began job-hunting. The days were drawn-out and seemingly endless, weekends and weekdays merged into one, and I became increasingly depressed. Even accepting more awards taking me to a sum total of 5 did little to cheer me up.

There were a few issues surrounding inaccessible offices, but eventually I found that this time around I had much more luck obtaining interviews due to the work experience I had, so this wasn’t as much of a problem this time round. Less than a month after losing my job I was offered a new one, this time a salaried, full-time role in medical research which my knowledge and skills were much more suited to. I obtained references from my past employer, had my hen do at the local cat café, and bought my wedding dress.

On October 1st I started my new job, helping to chase-up erroneous or missing data, ensuring that anomalies were explained wherever possible, and producing a mistake-free dataset for the statisticians to work on. I was also involved in some trial management skills, booking meetings and promoting studies to boost recruitment, and fell in love with the varied role. The training was substantial which helped to boost my confidence in my ability to do the job. I was never bored and, because it is based at a university, there were absolutely no qualms about accessibility. My colleagues and superiors are lovely and even offered to guide me through the Access to Work scheme, although fortunately for them I had completed the scheme previously anyway.

The winter months grew colder and the wedding fast approached. I saw a few friends and family as the wedding approached, although most of the visits were fleeting as people were saving money for the actual wedding. Clothes were bought, cakes chosen, and invitations sent out. For obvious reasons I am actually writing this before the wedding takes place on 27th December, so I cannot tell you how it went. It is strange to think that I write this as Jarred’s fiancé, but will publish this as his wife. Still, I cannot wait to end 2018 and welcome in 2019 on such a high.

Happy new year…

Image description: Happy New Year written in white text in the top corner of a picture of some fireworks.

Diary of a Disabled Person Needs YOU.

It’s that time of year again; the run-up to Christmas and New Year is picking up the pace. As such, it’s time for me to plan and write Christmas and New Year Specials, and while I’ve already got a plan for the New Year Special, I’m struggling to differentiate this year’s Christmas edition from last years. That is where YOU come in.

I want to know what Christmas-themed topics you want to read about. All suggestions are welcome provided they relate to the festive season and in some way relate to disability. Short story ideas are equally welcome. It doesn’t matter how vague or tenuous the suggestion is; all ideas will be considered! If your idea serves as the inspiration for the Christmas post, I will give you a shout-out both on here and on social media if you would like that.

Let me know what you think in the comments section, or alternatively you can send me an email via the contact tab on the main menu.  Monetary bribes are 100% accepted on the donate tab, also on the main menu.

I’m genuinely interested to see what you all come up with!

Another Successful Orbit Around the Sun.

2017 has been one of the most significant years of my entire life, and has also been one of the strangest. From exhilarating highs to devastating lows, I will find much of it difficult to forget.

The year opened on a low. My maternal grandfather had died just days before Christmas and less than two weeks later I started suffering from the symptoms of what turned out to be gall stones, meaning I couldn’t even attend the funeral. I spent pretty much the entirety of January struggling to eat properly, and felt permanently sick. Then, in early February, I had to have my gall bladder removed in an emergency operation as there was a risk of it bursting and making the gall stones everywhere stones. This was my first experience of surgery which was followed up quickly by a second when the symptoms continued, and one rogue gall stone was found wedged in my pancreatic duct. I was not amused.

I started to feel a little better as Easter approached, although with my dissertation deadline and final year exams steadily creeping closer, I couldn’t really rest as much as I would have liked. I also had another issue on my mind that was adding to my stress. I knew I was bisexual, but the fear of coming out to friends and family was over-whelming. Eventually, with Jarred’s support, I slowly told those around me about my sexuality and was pleasantly surprised to find that most people didn’t bat an eyelid. It appeared I had been making a mountain out of a molehill.

There was also the matter of finding an affordable and accessible flat to rent from the middle of June onward, which given the inaccessibility of all the letting agents proved more difficult than even I could have imagined. However, once we started viewing flats it didn’t take long to find the perfect one. I put the deposit down less than an hour after viewing the flat, and then started on the complicated business of obtaining tenancy references to prove that Jarred and I were suitable tenants.

My final exams came and went and a few days later, I turned 21. The day was particularly warm and sunny, with a refreshing summer breeze. We had a picnic in one of the local parks, and then went to see Guardians of the Galaxy 2 at the cinema across the road. I thoroughly enjoyed the film, which was no surprise as I could happily have watched 2 hours of baby Groot dancing anyway, and then went to a gastro-pub for a good meal. Tired, Jarred and myself returned home, and crashed in front of the TV for a few hours. A couple of days later we went on a shopping spree with my parents to continue the celebration, and had a thoroughly good time.

Image description: Sat in my powered wheelchair in a student bar. I'm wearing a blue dress with large flowers printed on, with a purple cardigan. My hair is half-up, half-down. This was taken on my 21st birthday.

The week before Jarred and I were due to move into our new flat we attended a local wrestling show, where in the interval he proposed to me. After recovering from the great surprise that someone would actually want to spend time in my company having already spent many hours in my company, I said yes. My engagement ring was a ring given to me on my 18th birthday by my godmother, which had been picked out by my godfather before his death when I was 12. The ring is beautiful, and it’s sentimental value far out-weighs anything that could be purchased.

Moving into our new flat was, unsurprisingly, very stressful. My parents helped us move some of our luggage across town in their car, but the rest was carried over box by box to save the cost of a removal van. After some difficulty with the keys, or more precisely the fact that we were presented with keys that didn’t work so we couldn’t enter the apartment block, we took our luggage inside and unpacked. As we unpacked we found a few unwelcome surprises, such as one blind unable to be opened or closed properly, and another that simply suicide-dived off the wall at random intervals. The freezer door also fell off whenever it was opened, and half of the lights didn’t work. Over the next couple of months the problems were gradually fixed, and slowly the flat became home.

The day we moved house was also stressful because that afternoon, I had a job interview. So, once everything was in our new flat and the keys to our respective old flats had been handed in, I smartened up and went to the interview. Considering it was my first ever job interview I felt that I had performed rather well, which was confirmed a few days later when I received a phone call in the middle of the supermarket, letting me know that I had the job. This was a relief, as job hunting had been made particularly problematic by the fact that most of the jobs I applied for turned out not to have wheelchair access, making the already difficult task of finding a job seem impossible.

A month after this I got my first ever paid writing assignment, published by the American magazine Cracked.com. This did wonders for the viewership of this blog and my Facebook page, and very quickly a small but loyal fan base was developed. The day after this article was published I graduated from university with a first class honours degree. I was riding on one of the biggest highs of my life; I had a good degree, one proper job, one side-lines job, and a fiancé. All the stress and misery of the first few months of the year evaporated.

Image description: myself & my husband at my graduation. We're outside on a lawn by the student union as it was a hot day.

As the summer months passed I met Jarred’s grandmother, sister, mother, and little brother for the first time ever, and also had the opportunity to re-unite with Jarred’s other brother and his father and step-mother. I was welcomed into the family with open arms, and was relieved to find that most of them seemed to like me despite my callous Northern mannerisms. Jarred met my godmother and my maternal grandmother, both of whom enjoyed his company. At the end of August came my parent’s silver wedding anniversary, which they chose to spend with us much to our delight, sharing with them a favourite restaurant of ours. Then, as our own little addition to the family, we adopted a gorgeous black-and-white hamster who we called Tribble after the creatures from Star Trek.

Image description: Tribble, a short-haired black-and-white hamster, stood on her hind legs leaning against the wall of her cage. She's poking her nose out between the bars, which she liked to do when we weren't paying enough attention to her cuteness.

Once families had been met, it was time to organise the wedding. After one potential wedding venue ignored our requests for more information on their facilities, we turned to the Royal Armouries. This museum is set on the banks of the canal, in a modern building with great sweeping halls and glass walls. We both fell in love with the wedding hall and the reception venue, the latter of which had windows overlooking the houseboats on the canal, and booked our wedding for the end of 2018. We had a bridesmaid, best man, ring bearer, and ushers in place soon afterwards.

As the end of the year approached I became increasingly stressed as I hadn’t yet started my job. After what seemed like an endless stream of paperwork, I was finally given my contract. I would be working as a host and administrator in the NHS, a humble job, but one that would give me the experience to move onto better things if I so desired. I signed and returned the contract, and in November attended the compulsory training session. I started working in January of 2018.

Finally, as the year drew to a close and the festivities of bright Christmas lights and a special market were slowly dismantled, I could reflect on the year and all that it had brought. I had faced pain and illness like I had never known before, but also many great successes in a very short time period. Indeed, while the end of 2018 will be highly exciting, I did hope that for a few months at least, my life wouldn’t be quite so chaotic.

Happy New Year!