People keep asking how it feels to be back at uni again after my leave of absence and honestly it feels really good at the moment.
I like having a routine for my life and while university is generally quite unstructured and requires a lot of self-study, I do still have a timetable of lectures to attend so this helps to shape my schedule. In addition, now that uni is back in full swing there are many more regular social events which I try to attend.
I feel a lot better than I did this time last year, my pain is more under control and I have different painkillers I can take if I have a flare up. I am in a better place mentally and this means a lot of my interest in the maths I'm learning has returned.
I took out some books from the library thus year for the first time in all my years at uni, and I think this highlights how much more engaged and interested I feel this year.
I've also switched up my module choice from last year and I'm now taking an enterprise module instead of two maths modules. It's an interdisciplinary group based module where we have to work as a team to come up with and present a business plan for a social enterprise which solves a world hunger or malnutrition problem. It heavily involves problem-solving which I've realised I'm very good at and I enjoy a great deal.
Due to my partner suggesting that I'd be really good at enterprise and entrepreneurship I signed up for an enterprise event based around Assisstive Technologies which took place here in Sheffield at the beginning of September. On arriving I was very anxious and in the welcome area there wasn't much seating so I was in pain for a short time while I waited for the event to start.
However, once we got going I quickly got over this anxiety and began to really enjoy myself.
Over the course of the day my group had to come up with a solution to help people with hearing loss receive travel announcements on public transport. We heard from a representative from Action on Hearing Loss how people with hearing loss often struggle on public transport as there are often announcements containing important information about delays or changes which they miss. This can lead to them missing their stop or being unaware of travel disruptions.
With the support of the univserity enterprise department staff we very quickly developed an idea for a solution and presented it at the end of the day. My group won the second place prize and I think we actually created a concept which could be taken forward into a business.
The success of this day really boosted my confidence and helped me to feel that I could take part in events like this in the future, including the enterprise module. This module involves group work and a presentation, both are aspects I've found challenging in the past. However, it's been a lot better so far than previous group work as everyone has chosen to be there rather than being forced into group work on a compulsory module.
If you'd told me even a couple of years ago that I'd be choosing to do this module I would definitely not have believed you, but here I am. I think this shows how far I have come and how much my self-confidence has developed over the past few years.
The topic of world hunger and malnutrition isn't something I'd have identified as a huge interest of mine, but I can apply my problem solving skills to almost anything and that then leads me to become more passionate about it.
The first few weeks of uni are the easiest though and it's when it becomes a monotonous drag that I start to struggle. I really hope I can keep up my routine, doing things which help with my self care as well as keeping on top of all my work as the term progresses.
I am starting to feel the stress of trying to fit in my part time work alongside work I need to do for my course, but at the moment this is manageable. I don't feel overwhelmed and I'm still finding enjoyment in what I'm doing.
Today I'm excited to officially launch my craft shop: Zacchaeus Crafts!
All the items are handmade or painted by me and I will be adding new products over the coming days and weeks. I primarily make trans and rainbow themed goods, but I am considering expanding slightly in the future.
I've put a lot of my time into making these items and I've enjoyed every minute. It has been helpful to my mental health recovery, plus seeing finished products at the end is very satisfying.
If you're in Sheffield and you'd like to buy something and collect it in person, please get in touch and I will be able to make arrangements with you.
Why am I doing this?
I want to raise money in order to get a hysterectomy, which I am still ages away from on the NHS due to their ridiculous gatekeeping. I'm on testosterone, but I still get periods and they're extremely painful. They make me feel incredibly dysphoric and depressed, often even suicidal. I've been to GPs and gynaecologists and had multiple scans, all with no results. No-one seems to be able to find the cause and doctors have tried to gaslight me in telling me that the pain could be from my pelvic injuries instead. I've had this pain for over 10 years now, and I know what it feels like. I've tried various pills and contraception as well as injections and painkillers. None of these work.
It feels as though every time I lift myself up and start feeling slightly better, I'm knocked back down again a week or so later.
Last October I was told I was going to get a hysterectomy, only to have my hopes dashed when I was refused again just a few weeks later. This sent me into a mental health crisis and this was a large factor in my taking time out from university. I've been told I need to wait for a referral from the gender identity clinic for a hysterectomy but it will take over a year until they will get around to approving me for a hysterectomy and I just can't wait that long.
My only option now is to go private, but for this I need around £5000. Through selling my crafted items and donations I am hoping to be able to raise this money.
I've found the last months really difficult, and this post is going to cover some of the incidents which have made things a lot harder for me. I've had to quit my job and take a leave of absence from university and this combined with various ableist incidents have really made me reflect on just how ableist the world can be and what I feel called to do about it.
At university many events are specifically designed with accessibility in mind, but there is still a great deal which is inaccessible to people with a range of needs. In the wider world, it is a lot worse especially for those of us with invisible disabilities.
Over the summer I attended a paid summer school in cyber security and unfortunately there were several incidents which made me seriously question whether I would want to work for this organisation in the future. I was very open about my disabilities when I applied and even had a assessment with an occupational therapist to see what my needs were. I know he provided a report to the people running the course so they were aware of my disabilities and needs. So far, so good. However the initial team building day was horrendous for me as it involved a lot of standing and moving about as well as some very loud activities.
When we went on a trip away, I was told there wouldn't be much walking, but there was more than I expected and I ended up in quite a lot of pain. I was then harassed by a member of staff for not walking fast enough, leaving me in tears. Despite raising this incident with the welfare contact and being told that what happened was unacceptable, I never received an apology from the person involved and I did not receive any further contact reagrding this incident from anyone running the course.
After this incident I was given the option of not going on the next excursion as it was likely to involve a lot more walking. I decided not to go, as I knew if I went I would most likely have a similar thing happen again as no adjustments to the activities were offered. I didn't feel supported in accessing the aspects of the activity that I would have been able to participate in and I feel I missed out on a day which others gained good memories and team building from.
Later on in the course, there was a further incident with a different member of staff who publicly humiliated me, after which I escaped to the toilets and had a panic attack. As well as these significant events there were many more microagressions from fellow students and staff alike, where ableist assumptions and comments were made.
I didn't get invited back to do another placement. As they didn't give feedback I have no way of knowing whether it was because my disabilities caused them too much inconvenience, some of my views made me unattractive, or just because I wasn't quite good enough in the interview process. Overall I was quite disappointed as I found the work very interesting and would have loved to go back, if it weren't for the pervasive ableism I'd experienced.
As I mentioned in a previous post I also travelled to Krakow in Poland for World Youth Day and whilst this was an amazing experience, I wasn't able to fully enjoy it because I spent most of it being utterly exhausted and in a lot of pain. There was a lot of walking and most of the time it just wasn't possible to use public transport because of the sheer number of people. The weather was very hot and I developed a rather severe heat rash on my feet, covering them in small painful blisters and causing my feet to swell up. I pushed myself hard, but I still had to miss many events and take time out to rest because of the pain and exhaustion.
I didn't feel as though my needs were taken into account enough, both in advance and whilst we were there, by group leaders and members of the group I was with. A lot of them are my good friends, and while they were sympathetic on the most part, I felt there was not always enough forward or creative thinking. It seemed assumed that young people would be able to walk long distances and stand for extended periods of time.
There is also a common impression I have gained at multiple religious events where your holiness seems to be measured by the distance you can walk or the amount of time you can spend on your knees worshipping. As someone who finds kneeling even more painful than walking it was quite discouraging to get this impression from people. I know they probably don't intend it, but when people insist that everyone should go on a pilgrimage which involves walking thousands of miles, I feel very alienated.
I assume these experiences are symptomatic of many workplaces and environments, and I can see this being something I am going to have to work to combat throughout my life. Whilst I am at university I have the opportunity to explore my limits and be supported in learning what my needs are. I am learning how to advocate for myself successfully and how to work with governing bodies to effect change.
Something that came up during my most recent counselling sessions was how talking about the activism I was involved in really made me come alive. I have always felt a very strong sense of justice and the need to rebel against rules for the sake of rules. I feel called to follow this and continue to fight for change in all areas of my life where I, and many others, face difficulties.
In order to make the world a less ableist place, we all need to stop and think about the assumptions we make about people's abilities. Just because someone looks or sounds a certain way doesn't mean that they can or cannot do something. Provide different options for people, different activities or different ways of doing something. Ask them what they would prefer to do, ask them if they have any needs that might need to be taken into account. Society plays a huge part in disabling people, and we have the power to begin breaking down these structures that are holding us back from being fully compassionate and thoughtful.