I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t be working in Falmouth; with a partner I love and a job I’m passionate about. I shouldn’t have been your FXU President Community and Welfare for one year, let alone two. I shouldn’t have graduated. I shouldn’t have done a degree or been a Student Rep and a Student Mentor. I shouldn’t have applied for university in the first place - much less completed three years of college. I shouldn’t have lived past the age of nineteen.
Growing up I was never the special kid in school who had the bright future ahead of them. I was bullied, and one of the art geeks who hung out at the skate-park and skipped PE. My weekends and evenings were spent hiking, horse riding, rock-climbing and, more than anything, it was spent drawing. Being a graphic novelist was my dream. No, I wasn’t special, but I was one of the best artists. It was a stamp of pride I wore. It made me myself. Then, in my final year of A-Levels, I became ill. The illness was glandular fever, giving me liver failure and leaving me bedridden for three months and out of school for close to five.
After appearing to improve, my health once more started to decline. I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME), something my body had gotten post virally. I describe it as similar to my body getting a computer virus; the computer fought off the virus, but it would never work the same again. I was left permanently disabled, relying on a walking stick and wheelchair. The life I had thought I would have shattered like glass. I dropped out of my A-Levels. I could no longer walk without mobility aids, and some days I would wake up all but paralysed from the neck down. My mind was taken from me and replaced with memory loss.
Constant exhaustion, headaches, and pain in every joint ruled my life. And more than anything, my hands were taken from me. I could no longer draw. The thing that made me myself, that was tied into my entire self-worth, was gone. It wasn’t just my life as an artist that was gone, but the entirety of my life as I knew it. The future was less than bleak, it simply felt empty. I enrolled in college to do an A-Level in photography to appease my parents. I watched my school friends go on to university - the same friends who had spread rumours that my disability was a lie to get out of doing my A-Levels. It was there, in college, that I discovered what a hate crime was. I had experienced them before, being queer and growing up in rural Derbyshire, but nothing could have prepared me for the next year. People would trip my crutch out from under me. Every older gentleman who smiles uncomfortably at younger women seemed to think the disability was an open invitation to talk to me, to stand too close, to touch me. Once, school kids kicked me to the ground, and as my bladder decided that was the perfect moment to empty itself, they stood around me yelling ‘retard’ and filming me on their phones. Some younger kids in college would yell harassment, hide my walking stick, and would push me from behind.
The first person I dated after becoming disabled used me to pick up other girls in clubs: he was the ‘poor boy who loved his broken girlfriend, who wanted to be there for her but missed sex so, so much’. Of course, these girls gave it to him. Who wouldn’t? His girlfriend was broken. And finally, another disabled person saying they wished they were as disabled as I was, so people would ‘pity them properly’. Someone who should have understood, someone I thought was a friend, but instead romanticised the hell that I found myself in. The darkness consumed me, and I went to stand at the end of the main road that passed by my college, watching and timing the cars that went past. I had decided I was going to end my life. I couldn’t take the pain anymore, the rejection, the constant fear, the feeling of failure, the humiliation. I waited for a truck to go by at speed; I was going to step in front of it and end it all. To escape, to be free. That was what I told myself, what the world had told me. I truly believed, at that moment, that it was better to be dead than disabled. As I took that step into traffic, to end my life, the song on my iPod changed. One song out of the 23,457 I had on shuffle. The first two bars hit, and I knew the song instantly. It was one that I had sung to, cried to, laughed to, played more times than I could count. I didn’t need more than two bars. I only needed the first, to stop where I was and for the truck to go past. I have done the math since. The chance that at that moment that song would play. It is 1 in 550,230,849. The chance of me being alive today is 1 in 550,230,849.
The song that played was ‘Hold on’ by Good Charlotte; a song literally about not taking your own life. The irony caused me to double up in laughter, and at that moment, I realised I could still laugh. I had the ability to smile, to feel, to have something that caused joy. Although it was from the sheer mockery of a song about not taking your own life starting to play as I was about to kill myself, I remembered that there was something within myself that hadn’t died. Something that all the pain and hate couldn’t take away from me. I was alive, and for the first time in a long time, I had hope. So, I turned, I walked back to college, and one hour later I stood in my college elections and was elected to represent my course to School Council. My journey into the life I have now, the life I am blessed to have, started there. That is the moment which led me to be elected as FXU President Community and Welfare and to dedicate my life to helping others. To make a difference, to be the voice of the voiceless, to supporting others, and to try to make the world one where everyone feels as if they have a place.
I wish I could say it has been easy, that I don’t face a daily battle to not step into that road, but I can’t. Every day I fight, as everyone who is disabled does, not just against the world which seeks to erase us but against ourselves who believe these voices who call us broken. Too often I have been asked if I would take it all back, to have never been disabled, and despite everything, I still say no. I would never take it back, for if I had never lost everything I would never have found who I truly am. I would never have learned humility, passion, strength. I would never have ended up doing what I believe I was put on this earth to do, which is to help people. To be the difference. If that song hadn’t played, or just one song earlier that day was three seconds longer, or if I hadn’t laughed, if the traffic lights had been two seconds slower or the truck going that little faster, I wouldn’t be here today. We wouldn’t have become warriors alongside each other to fight for the rights of every disabled student on our campuses. If that song hadn’t played it wouldn’t have been just my life lost, but the ones that over the past three years we have saved together.
For a lot of us who are disabled, we reach crossroads on our journey. We can give in or we can fight. That day, stood on a grey road on a grey day in Staffordshire, I became a fighter and started my journey to fight for others who felt like they couldn’t fight for themselves. For everyone who chose to fight, we are warriors. To those in the disabled community who faced the internal battle and won, we are Valkyries. To those who have not yet faced the battle within one’s self to keep fighting, to those who haven’t won that battle, please do not fear. For your disabled family are beside you, sword and shield in hand, ready to protect you. And I hope these lyrics help you, as they helped me:
Hold on if you feel like letting go. Hold on, it gets better than you know.
Don’t stop looking, you’re one step closer. Don’t stop searching, it’s not over. Hold on.