As you go through university, things become harder. Expectations rise, fear of failure hits hard and you come face-to-face with difficult decisions that will determine your future.
The second-year had almost come to an end and I had to decide whether I wanted to do a placement year or just finish the three-year course and graduate. This was yet another difficult decision because at this point my disability had progressed a lot. “At the rate my disability is progressing, will I have enough time to do a placement, finish my final year, to then graduate?” After all, with Friedreich’s ataxia, it is a race against time, right?! Graduating was important to me. One of the goals that I wanted to achieve before my condition worsened. So, I had this ongoing debate in my mind. Thanks to the final push from the disability advisor, and his endless support, I decided, headstrong and determined, to take on this new challenge. As uncertain as the future was, I now wanted to give it a shot.
First day of my placement! Imagine the excitement and nervousness that rushed through. Just like anyone on their first day, I got lost. Typical me! It didn’t take too long to find my way to the office, but when I did the manager wasn’t there. People were confused because they weren’t told about my arrival. It was a little disheartening, but they arranged for me to came back the following week. So, here I was, on my second first day! They gave the standard first-day tour and introduced me to the staff. I was shown my desk and given a personalised email. With that came the fancy job title – Media Marketing Assistant – Oooo, so professional! As an assistant, my role was to read and respond to emails, help book meetings, venues and food etc. I had a support worker who was entertaining and bubbly which made working fun. I really enjoyed the company of my colleagues. I would regularly sit near the receptionist with others younger girls and we would talk about all sorts of different things.
I remember the manager would banter on the fact the Brunel university was always last to arrive at meetings because he knew it would wind me up. Surprisingly, for Christmas, I got him for secret Santa. This was my opportunity to get him back. So, just to remind him of how wonderful Brunel was, I gave him a Brunel university mug. You know, because he loved Brunel that much!?
I was given a chance to meet and interact with new people, go to conferences and sit in exclusive meetings. When I was initially looking for a placement, I wanted to find one that would keep me working behind the scenes because I was quite shy and slightly embarrassed by my disability. However, I learnt a lot about myself by being thrown into the deep end during my placement year and overcame that slight embarrassment I once had. I was able to build on many skills during this year and I’m glad I took this opportunity.
My fourth and final year. My disability had progressed more and I was no longer able to work independently. As most of us may know, the final year in itself is tough. Even with the progression of my disability, I decided to stay at the university halls, allowing myself to experience a different level of independence. This was a big step; however, I was ready push past my limits.
There was less time for socialising and most of my day went into studying. I am ever so grateful for the facilities my university provided. It helped me a tremendous amount that year, along with my carer that supported my stay and my support worker who had just graduated from Business and management. At times it got challenging and I felt like I wanted to quit, but my support worker was always there to keep me motivated.
Living in the halls was an interesting experience and frustrating at times. The number of times we would have to wake up, early morning because students would set off the fire alarms with their smoking. I remember one time it was such a cold morning with snow everywhere, and then what happens? ‘Wehoo, wehoo, wehoo’… Carer rushes me out of bed and next thing I know, I’m outside surrounded by a bunch of people, still half asleep, and the alarm sound still ringing in my ears.
One time this sweet Nigerian guy had come back to the halls from shopping and the alarms went off. We were all standing outside and this guy comes, “I am sorry, I was drinking Lucozade in my room, then the alarms went off”. It was hilarious because he thought a Lucozade bottle set off the alarm.
That was the last of my time at university. A time in my life I will forever cherish.
Here is a snippet of my thoughts from when I was in my final year:
“I have now nearly graduated and can’t believe how much I have achieved in the past four years. Being at Brunel has led to a huge amount of personal development. I also think the support received from my disability advisor and support workers has been the best. My overall experience at Brunel has been the best. Being disabled isn’t always a bad thing because I’ve met so many new people through my disability and I think being a university student has improved my life significantly. I will miss Brunel a lot when I leave as it has helped me grow from a shy 18-year-old girl into a confident 22-year-old woman.”
As life unravels slowly, it opens up new avenues that we should not be afraid to take. We’d be surprised by what an unanticipated future brings.
It’s the challenges in life that make life interesting. It came, I attacked, I defeated, I rose.