You observant folk will notice a few things when you settle down to read this: it’s my first post of the new year, and that year is almost four months old. I don’t really have a single viable excuse or reason why I stopped blogging after my final matinee of 2015, rather a culmination of a whole bunch of elements that led to me taking a break. So, I figured I’d start by filling you in on what’s been going on in my life and what helped lead me to wanting to put fingers to keyboard once more.
First of all, as I think most of you know, I graduated with a Masters in English Literature in 2014. Since that time, I’ve been trying to find myself a job, with limited success beyond regular contributions to my local magazine, and more recently, co running a film club for the over 55’s with a charity called LinkAge. I enjoy both of these immensely, but I want to move from volunteering into something paid. In an ideal world, for me that would be something to do with books and/creative writing; somewhere I can share my passion and imagination with others: a teacher, novelist, journalist, publisher, I genuinely don’t mind. Words and books just make me happy and are where I feel most at home and able to express myself; I’ve always wondered if that is a result of my disability; because I am physically limited and am confined to four wheels’ day to day, I find a sense of joy and contentment in reading and writing as it fires my imagination and gives me release from those low moments I have.
I’ve always been one of those people who find security in having a plan and in knowing where my life is going. I’m fast learning though, that we don’t live in an ideal world and having a plan doesn’t always pan out.. Throughout school and up until I obtained my Bachelor’s degree, at the time I wanted to go on to do my PGCE and train to become an English teacher. When that didn’t pan out, for a while I was devastated; my sense of purpose and direction felt like it was gone from my life. Eventually, I decided to try a different tack and way to get my foot in the door of that industry and gain more experience to better my prospects, so I took a Level 2 qualification in Supporting Teaching and Learning in schools, and did a placement in a primary school as part of that. I did enjoy it, but I was often left wondering if it was something I wanted to continue to pursue just because of the physical practicalities involved with the job. Now, I’d be the first person to tell you that I never want my disability to be a barrier to my ambitions in my life, nor should it be in anyone else’s if there’s something they want to achieve, and I sit firmly behind that belief and will always. It was just, at the time after plenty of reflection, I felt that my talents were better suited elsewhere. I made the decision to go back to university and do my Master’s degree, with the blessing of my awesome parents. It was the hardest year of my life to date, physically and mentally draining. But it was also one of the most rewarding, and once more I graduated with a sense of achievement and happiness of a kind that I haven’t yet experienced since.
As I said earlier on, in between all those ‘once more into the breach’ moments back into the world of academia and up to the present, I have been jobhunting. Naively, after university the first time round, I assumed that finding a job would be easy with my qualifications, as many of my university friends have found jobs and are now settled into places of their own, some with children and most with partners, boyfriends, girlfriends. No two ways about it however: jobhunting is soul destroying. As I have the qualifications that were consistently drummed into me by school as helpful in getting a job and still am having no luck, it has made me question everything about my life and myself as a person: why did I bother with uni at all? Do employers see something they don’t like during interviews? Is it the chair?’, and so on. It’s crushing, and in much of my experience to date, is something that hasn’t ever abated. I have had one particular interview where essentially, the feedback was ‘we like you and you have a lot of the skills we are looking for… but we don’t think you’re capable of holding down a full-time job’.
This was from the company who liaised with the agency helping me look for a job at the time; specialists in getting people with disabilities into work. I’ve never felt more patronised in my life. I’ve also had sheepish callbacks from company’s after I have accepted an invite to interview saying they have just read my cover letter properly and they regret they don’t have access for my wheelchair. The beginning of this month saw me head to a session with an employer made in conjunction with my local jobcentre, only to be turned away shortly after my arrival because the lift was out of action, and even if it had been, nobody had risk assessed the 3rd floor anyway, so I assume I wouldn’t have been allowed up there anyway, in case of fire.
The old chestnut I hear time and again though, is ‘we like you but you lack experience’. Thus, you have the conundrum: how are you supposed to get a job with no experience, and experience with no job? In theory, it’s easy. You have to get out there and look for opportunities, maybe volunteer. In my circumstances though, that is harder than it looks, and I’d love to do more than the few hours a month I do currently. Bristol isn’t the most accessible city for people in wheelchairs, it’s choc full of listed buildings and such. I don’t mean to use my disability as an excuse; I’m trying to be proactive, I really am. Every turn though, am getting rejections or not hearing back at all and no matter how many times I hear ‘something will turn up’, it never gets any easier or feels more likely. Writing for my blog helped me keep how low and worthless I was feeling at bay, at least for a time.
If it were up to me, I’d write every day, make my living from it, but when I was trying to write regularly, it’d be at the expense of my job seeking, much to my parent’s displeasure. As well, because I was low and disillusioned with life, I just found that even my writing wasn’t giving me the sense of pleasure it used to. I kept managing to talk myself back into trying again and had plenty of encouragement from many of my friends, but it just wasn’t happening. Nobody reads it like they do some of my friend’s blogs, what’s the point? was a feeling I was wrestling with daily (and a part of me still does, if I’m completely honest!), so in the end, I stopped.
As well as writing, those that know me and read this blog will know that the other major passion in my life is theatre, particularly of the musical variety. I am constantly amazed by and grateful for the array of talent I’ve been lucky enough to see onstage, and the wonderfully warm, funny, generous and thoughtful people behind those performances who have been kind enough to share their ‘downtime’ with me after shows. One such lady I want to give a special mention to on this score is Joanna Woodward. Joanna is currently appearing as Betty and alternate Carole King in one of my favourite shows: Beautiful over at the Aldwych in London and has been ‘my’ Carole three of the four times (so far!) I have seen the show. As such, I know she is an incredibly talented actress and singer, and is one of the loveliest people I’ve ever met and is always so patient while I babble on at her. During my recent low ebb, I came across a blog of Joanna’s, which you can see in full here: http://joannawoodward-onlinediary.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/crisis.html
In it, Joanna talks very candidly about the mid twenties ‘crisis’, namely: ‘What is it about reaching your mid-twenties and completely reassessing your entire life structure? Nearly every sentence she wrote struck a chord with me, and I realised I was going through exactly what she has been, and able to express it far more articulately and thoughtfully than I had been trying and failing to for months. I’ll be 26 this summer, and at this point in my life with the way things have been going lately, I have no idea what I really want to do, or how to go about getting whatever that will end up being. I change my mind regularly. I have days where I’m totally content and love my life. On the flip side, I have days where I look in the mirror and wish, with every fibre of my being, that things had been different. That I wasn’t confined to four wheels and that I was one of the secure and settled folk I know… and that’s Ok. What matters is how I approach life if I’m having a down day. For me the thing that helps me do that is my writing, and I lost sight of that, and I want to say thankyou to Joanna whose honesty and writing has helped me realise I’m not alone in how I’ve been feeling; and it’s struck me as funny how sometimes it takes an outside eye to show that to you. Knowing that you’re not alone is a pretty awesome feeling, so I hope normal service of documenting all my stagey shenanigans and other musings will resume soon; so far this year I have had amazing times at Into The Woods in Manchester, my first (long overdue) visit to The Lion King and my first visit to one of my local theatres in many years, to see Jane Eyre. I hope you’ll stay with me as I try to get back on track. This time, I’m going to do my best to stay there!