Work, it gets taught to us from a young age that this is what you must strive to do.
In life and in school they teach you to have a dream, an ambition and to strive and study to get to the point where you work in your dream job. Unfortunately, what they don’t tell you is that if you have a disability, especially a severe one, aspiring to that dream or career goal isn’t as easy as they make it out to be, in some cases.
Working has never been as straightforward as I thought it would be. I believed that you work hard, you love something, and you find a way to incorporate what you love in your work no matter what people say.
A lesson that I have learned later in life
Is that sometimes, life doesn’t always go that way. I found it especially hard working in the Arts. From my own experiences, and speaking to others in the Arts, if you are disabled you get completely shut down by those who are there to help you, you are told that Arts is not a true career. So for some, we go down the annoying journey of studying a subject that we don’t have our heart set on. But of course, I have come to realise that this is a load of rubbish!
I started working as a jewellery maker and now I’m a model & dancer and worked with some incredible people and companies. Can you imagine how the careers adviser would have reacted if I told them that I wanted to be a model, they probably would have passed out!
If you told me nearly 20 years ago “you’re going to be a model, a disability body positive activist, a director of an arts company, oh and also you will be working in the arts as a dancer professionally,” I would have literally peed myself laughing!
Deciding options for my future
The careers adviser suggested I study Tourism, which I ended up hating. I was advised to do this as I said I loved to travel. It was far from what I imagined it to be, lots of travelling the world and doing exciting things. I quickly realised that within tourism, the jobs which I wanted to do were physically impossible for me. First I wanted to be a pilot, I know a bit ambitious bearing in mind at that time I just about drove a wheelchair well. I had some other ideas, but eventually settled on being a hotel manager on a cruise ship as I really wanted to travel. For me that was the best way of doing so, but physically due to the training, this was impossible.
To make matters worse when I eventually finished university and went to the job centre to discuss with them what opportunities I may have, they told me I would be too sick too often, I wouldn’t be able to do the work, and the employer would have to hire someone else to fill-in constantly when I was off sick or broken. I worked hard to study for a job that I believed was my only career choice to then be told I couldn’t do that job anyway. I think that was the lowest point in my life. That was the first and last time I let others determine my future.
Due to this, I spent a year doing nothing. I just helped out at home with no aspirations, no future in mind, no real goals.
However, after moving and living on my own, opportunities came that really helped push me to get into work, even though it was work I never saw myself doing, I really enjoyed it! I managed to find my way back to the arts and I’m now doing things that I truly love, whilst getting paid and I feel (and hope!) I’m making a difference to others.
Moral of the story (and long waffle!)
If you’re really passionate about something, especially if you’re quite good at it and it makes you feel happy and fulfilled, really push for it! I’m not saying not to listen to those around you because sometimes people do have helpful suggestions, but if you feel you can incorporate what you love into your work, go for it. Trust me after a while it doesn’t even feel like work anymore.
Lastly a word of advice that nobody told me, and may be helpful for those working with a disability; if you suffer with fatigue, you really have to LEARN YOUR LIMITS! As a person with a disability, I have always strived to prove everybody wrong and to prove I can do just as much as everybody else just as well, which is exhausting! It took me a long time to realise this. It’s true that others may have the stamina to do the same job for longer, but I like to concentrate on what I can do differently with having OI #SilverLining .
You all have the strength to work in whatever job you have set yourselves to do but just make sure you think of your limits and remember that this is NOT something negative against you! Your reality may be that you can only do part time or freelance work where you have more control over your hours due to your pain and fatigue.
Don’t get me wrong I still push myself because I’m slightly stubborn and want to do everything so I’m still learning. Just know your worth, your strengths, your weaknesses, and what’s truly achievable.