My name is Charlotte Earl and I am about to graduate from the University of Nottingham with a 2:1 honours degree in history. I am happy, healthy and relishing in what I have achieved.
Life with a new disability.
It has been five years since I had the first flare-up of repetitive strain in my forearms. At the end of my GCSEs I could feel my arms ache as I wrote my final exams, however it was not until the autumn when alongside my waitressing/pot washing job I decided to get a cleaning job at my school. The pain became significantly worse and ultimately injured my arms. I still look back and think why did I persevere even though I was aware it was affecting my school work as I could no longer write? The answer was clear at the time. It was the norm to have a job, it was the norm to save for driving lessons and I’m an individual that does not give up easily. Therefore my greatest strength, perseverance, became my greatest weakness. However I do not feel anguish towards my younger self as I was only trying my hardest to do what I thought was right, earn money and refuse to give up. The pain then became chronic. I tried to hide this by using my left arm instead or when my boss was not looking my sister would cut the baguette at the pub that I had been asked to serve. It then became clear that I could not continue these jobs but unfortunately by this point my arms were not going to easily recover.
My fellow students were brilliant and photocopied their notes for me as I couldn’t write in class. Whilst my neighbour, who was a touch typist, told me she wanted to help me complete my coursework and exams. At this stage I had no idea how I could possibly complete lower sixth let alone reach University. This was an extremely tough year. I had to teach myself to be extremely patient with dire technology as I learnt how to use speech recognition. The worst aspect was the loss of independence as I had to rely on others for help. The pain was so bad that year that my friends and family helped to wash and dry my hair and most embarrassing of all was having to ask my mum to cut up my meals when we went out for dinner. I had no idea why this pain was so bad which makes me understand why fellow students found it hard to comprehend. Most people were extremely supportive and understanding, however there was always the odd person, who we will all experience in this life that uses it as another excuse to put you down.
However, in the summer of 2013 I achieved five A’s in my AS Levels. I think that was one of the most pivotal moments of my life. I have never been so shocked. I then promised myself that no matter what challenges I face, how much pain I am in, or how impossible the situation may seem to overcome, I can. I left school with to A*’s and 2 A’s and managed to reach my dream, to study history at University of Nottingham.
Three years later takes us to today. I completed my degree in the same way as my A Levels as my RSI remains prominent. This time next week I will be graduating with a 2:1 alongside all the best friends I have made along the way. This did not intend on being a sob story however it was necessary for the end of this blog, and those to follow!
Do the things you love, to lead the life you love:
What we decide to do and the life we want to lead is ultimately in our hands. Although perseverance was my worst enemy at the age of 17 it was also my best friend as it took me to where I am today; a qualified young adult ready to embark on an exciting career. The world is my oyster. How did I persevere? There are at least five things I want to discuss, but the first step is to find your happy place. It is inevitable that our disability will get us down. BUT we are in control. Rather than let it ruin another moment, we must return to our happy place through doing whatever it is that we love the most.
I took part in the lightning process course in April 2013 and wish to discuss this in more depth in another blog. Ultimately I learnt to find out what ultimately brings me happiness and know it is always there to return too. I soon discovered that for me, this was swimming. I was told swimming was great for injuries.
And it was; I had found a sport that, for whatever reason (perhaps blood flow), relieved the pain in my forearms.
It gave me an opportunity to challenge myself to become stronger in a new sport.
I could use my imagination to be ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD.
There was something special about the water. I once read when studying mindfulness that one way to feel calm is to go on a retreat or a spa day but these are expensive and are not at our fingertips in times of need. Alongside mindfulness, which I shall also explore in another blog, I realised that going to the swimming pool and allowing my hands to glide through the water whilst I look forward into a deep blurry blue water brought me into a calm state. However, on days when my mind is still racing I have to use my imagination to pretend I am someplace else. I often return to a memory of a holiday in Greece. My sister’s boyfriend challenged me to race him to the furthest buoy in the sea. The waves were gushing against me, the salty water irritated my mouth whilst and attempted to submerge my goggles. However, I felt strong and free. With the sun on our backs and slightly dangerous fiery nature of the water we used all the energy our healthy and young bodies would exert to reach the boy. I had injured my ankle that holiday and my sister later said to me “God Charley, even with 3 limbs you were miles ahead. And didn’t he hate that!” I had the biggest grin. When life feels tough I close my eyes and do lengths and lengths imagining my only task in that moment is to reach the boy before him!
So what I’m trying to say is find that thing that returns you to your happy state whenever things get hard. Relish in it. And stick with it. Love your body and where it can take you. But never punish yourself nor your disability, when there are a thousand other amazing attributes you have. You will achieve everything you want too, if only you persevere and on those down days (or even those days you want to make EVEN BETTER) return to your happy place; I’m off for a swim!