As mentioned in my previous blog, university was such an enjoyable experience. What I enjoyed the most about going to university was getting ready.
With my disability progressing, dressing up was something I looked forward to. It was important that I looked presentable at all times and I was into fashionable, trendy clothes. I’d invaded my mum’s wardrobe and take all her expensive clothes and perfumes. She would regularly top up my bank account so I could go on a shopping spree. I think that was her way of saying, ‘go buy your own clothes’. But, that never stopped me from borrowing hers. After all, she didn’t realise it was missing until a few days later. Whenever she saw me wearing one of her clothes, she’d say ‘I’ve got a jacket just like that’ and in response, I’d say ‘Oh, is it?’ as if I was surprised by the recognition. This is what made dressing up so entertaining. I also liked experimenting with different products and styles on my hair. But, my go-to hairstyle was the sleek straight hair look.
During my first year, I wasn’t focused on my studies much. All I needed to pass the year was 40% and, knowing that it would not count toward the final degree, it was easy to adopt that mindset. It didn’t seem too hard, considering most of it was simply a recap of Alevel’s and GCSE’s. So, it became a year of relaxing. My priority was to make friends and settle in. Quite a few friends of mine, from high school, were studying the same course, but I got separated from them. They were all in the same tutor band with the same timetable. At first, I was annoyed. I wanted to be with my friends too. However, I later realised that having that separation allowed me to grow out of my comfort zone and explore university independently. One of my best friends from high school had taken a gap year, and we’d meet up regularly to hang out. Some of my university friends also lived locally, so it was convenient for us to catch up. The first year was full of social gatherings with my friends and family. This fulfilled that social FOMO I once had. For those of you who don’t know, FOMO means fear of missing out.
I would go to the office to drop off taxi receipts. My disability advisor and other staff would be there, though I didn’t see my disability advisor much. He was always hidden away deep in the office. He felt that I was settling in quite well, and I was, so he left me to it. My support coordinator would be there and we would exchange witty banter. I’d even call her once a week and make exaggerated excuses about getting late or not attending lectures. Stuff like, my wheelchair doesn’t work or pull the ‘I’m not feeling well’ card and fake cough over the phone. She knew I was messing around, but would let me off regardless. This all added to my unique university experience.
The second year of university! A year of keeping my head down and working hard. I spent most of my time in the library. I’d meet my support worker there who would help me access different facilities and get books. We’d have study sessions in the group rooms and used the amazing IT facilities that were specialised to support my learning. This included height-adjustable tables, headphones, speech recognition, a special keyboard and mouse and big screens, all adjustable to suit students comfort. The adaptations enabled me to access the computers independently.
It was also the year that I could feel the increased changes in my disability, making it much harder to cope with. My vision was deteriorating more rapidly and my mobility and speech were also worsening. At this point, the thought of dropping out of university had crossed my mind. So, I went to my disability advisor to tell him of my decision. It was difficult to open up about the struggles. Talking about my feelings did not come easy to me, but eventually, I was able to speak somewhat freely. He was so understanding and supportive. He encouraged me to continue the course and advised me of alternative ways I could study. The fact that he made it seem so easy and simple gave me the confidence to continue the course. I realised then that I was not alone in this journey.
Don’t be scared to seek help. It is the best thing I’ve ever done and so much positive came from that decision.