Growing up through my teenage years was a hard time for me but I guess that’s not a shock. Those are the years when people discover what their future careers might involve, who their friends are, toy with romance and relationships, decide what kind of person they are. If you went through that and ame out the other side then I tip my hat to you (I’m not wearing a hat – I’ll wave a sock). It’s true, I survived my adolescence as well but everything I thought I knew about myself changed every time my health did.
I used to be quite athletic, playing tennis or hockey several times a week. I carried this on for a year or so after walking got hard and I started falling over because running around waseasier. Once I surrendered to the chair, I realised disability sport was impossible to get into unless you were a kid or had thousands to spend on professional equipment. The situation is marginally better now but I’ve been out of organised sport so long I am not sure it’s my thing any more.
A cruel teacher at my old sixth form college told me I’d never achieve my dream of working with young kids as a primary or nursery teacher so I needed to find another interest. Nobody knew at that point what was going to happen for certain with my walking. I stayed away from kids for a long time, stayed away from a lot of non-academic ambitions, because she had destroyed my confidence so completely. Now, I’m not even sure I’m good enough to be a mother – 16 years later. There’s always that one teacher you want to slap! Just like there is always that one who made your whole school career worth it. I used to write a lot and this English teacher used to really encourage me to keep at it by reading my work and chatting to me. I credit a handful of staff – and my brother – in the English department with my creative success.
Friendships were… flyaway. Once I started struggling to get around, a lot of people I thought were friends dropped me like a stone because slowing their own lives down to accommodate me didn’t fit in. I would get invited places and have to refuse explaining that I had other commitments or that the access was not good enough. Pretty soon, they stopped asking me to go anywhere with them. It gave me more time to focus on my studies but that got me teased and ridiculed for being a boffin – intelligence was not held in high regard by pupils. My yearbook is full of ‘stay in touch’ promises but other than the odd Facebook talking session, I’ve never seen most of the sine our exams. However, I now have at least two friends and I’m marrying one of them so he has to hang out with me.
My formative years were difficult. Everyone’s are and I’m not saying mine were worse than yours or than any teenager growing up today – nobody knows what problems anyone else is having negotiating their lives. What I can say is that if anybody had bothered to take half an hour to talk to me, they might have understood a bit better how the uncertainty over my health was affecting me and everything in my life. If ‘friends’ had kept their promises, I might care that they’re three times divorced or in debt. I’m pretty much an awesome person and I wouldn’t be who I am without the good and bad experiences in my youth teaching me to trust myself above all others and to just do the things that make me happy. Which reminds me – I have cookie dough in the freezer.