Blind College is Weird

I started this post in the break between lessons and very quickly realised that my brain was too scrambled to finish it in 20 minutes. It’s the first time I’ve been given proper room to breathe (most of it was purposeful because I don’t want to be alone right now) and so I thought I should update you all – or try. God, where do I even start?

I moved into blind college last Saturday – you can read about how I was feeling here. Over the last week, I’ve managed to have two mental breakdowns, make a few really solid friends, actually keep on top of my work and also to go to a University of Oxford open day (what the fuck am I doing?). All in all? It’s part success and part shrieking confusion. As usual.

How it works here is a bit different to how it is in mainstream (Sixth Form). It’s residential, meaning that we stay in halls – I’m staying in the over 18s hall – and we have all our lessons on the college campus. The huge difference is how few students there are – I’d say that there are fewer than 100. Mostly, that’s what I’ve been struggling with – the small environment, the potential drama, trying not to get overwhelmed and everything else that comes along with that.

Here, I’m doing a Performing Arts course. That’s going really well – I’ve managed to understand the course, keep up with work and actually get on with the people I’m with. However, I’ve come to realise that I’m not confident at all but that I’m really good at faking it. It’s been so easy to pretend I’m fine, that nothing properly phases me but the truth is that right now, things don’t feel good and I don’t know what to do about it.

It’s not that I’m not coping. Well, I am coping but only just about. It’s so hard to juggle everything – classes, spending time with people but most of all, keeping up with my out of college friends. I’ve barely had time to think or message or anything; the main sources of my panic are coming from feeling immense guilt over not talking to people. I just don’t want to lose anyone because of not communicating well.

I’ve tried not to be alone. That involves spending time with people pretty much constantly, to the point where I now feel weak and drained. I put around 40 different faces on in order to feel somewhat put together. I’ve made a couple of really good friends and on top of the friends I already had who were coming here, they’ve kept me going. At times, I’ve been unable to function – finding it hard to eat, to speak to people or to even breathe properly – but I do have support.

I suppose, the good thing about this place is that you can’t really avoid people, meaning that somebody – at some point – is going to pick up on the fact that you’re feeling shit. Yesterday, I went to see the college counsellor who was really helpful; now I have more of a plan in place for any counselling sessions. However, I didn’t quite process any of my emotions, which resulted in a delayed reaction that I couldn’t stop. Later that day, I had to walk out of my last lesson of the day because I was wildly panicking; I went to the residential support team who are in my hall and absolutely wailed to one of them. It’s been a long time since I’ve cried that hard at somebody and it was therapeutic, to say the least. Despite that, I’ve been feeling alone and like nobody wants me here. That’s ridiculous, I know, but for some reason I can’t stop those intrusive thoughts.

Honestly, I am having a good time. I’m just overwhelmed and dealing with some pretty horrific emotions: often, around this time, I have a pretty rough time mental health wise. It’s difficult not to feel unhappy when I’m surrounded by so many things that make me hide it all until it comes out in a disjointed post like this. The fact is, I’ve been having some horrible days but there are positives.

I’ll be okay – I can’t even pretend to be functioning normally right now but the difference to the usual is that I know I have people to talk to. Coming here was the best decision; it’s just taking a while to adjust and on top of my existing shitty mental health, it’s a lot to take in.

At some point, I’ll write a better explanation post. Writing coherently takes too much energy at the moment. For now, I hope everyone’s okay – I’m sorry I’ve been so absent. Stay safe and stay happy.

Love from Elm ๐Ÿ™‚

How I’m Feeling about Moving Away to College | Screaming

Today marks a week before I move away from home for a year to go to what I affectionately call “blind college”. Essentially, I’m going there to increase my independence (learning how to cook, clean, get better IT skills) and also to do a few courses. Because it’s me, naturally, I’m just a little bit terrified at the prospect of moving away because although I’ll go back in half terms and the other holidays, I won’t see my family for a while.

Firstly, I’m not prepared. How do you prepare for going away for so long? How much do you pack? What do you pack??? Should I bring anything from my room? I DON’t KNOW! I probably should have sorted that out all before but I’m a massive procrastinator and always do things at the very last minute. Oops?

I’ve made a start on sorting out all my clothes, ready to get a lot of them packed. It’s only now that I realise just how many clothes I have and more specifically, how many of them I don’t actually like. Buried in my wardrobe are a whole Narnias-worth of t-shirts that I haven’t worn in months, possibly years. Not to mention that’s only at my mum’s house and at some point in the next 7 days, I have to transfer all of my clothes to one house to sort them out there.

The fear about change and that kind of thing is starting to set in. Of course, I don’t expect to be exactly the same at the end of the year but I’m so worried that I’ll accidentally get myself involved in drama, or that I’ll start being toxic to people, and not be able to get out. One of my friends who I call Robin, who went to that college for 3 years, has helped me to rationalise how I’m feeling. Another, S, who went to a similar school, has been a massive support as well. It’s still so nerve-wracking though.

I am really looking forward to it. It’ll be so different – a chance to express myself; a way of becoming more confident; a way of meeting new people. Right now, having done my exams and having received the results, it feels like I’m in a kind of limbo.

It feels like I’m on the cusp of something but not quite at the point where I know where it is. It’s almost, really, like I’m still waiting. Whether that be for the punchline or for the surprise that cements in my head that I can do this, that I’m capable. I just hope it’ll arrive before the week is out.

It’s not that I’m scared or soul-crushingly nervous. Rather, it’s that I’m anticipating a change, with no way of knowing how deep that change will run at the end of it. Maybe I’ll stay the same; maybe I won’t. All I want is to continue to be there for people – for the core of myself to stay the same.

I want to document it, as much as I can. My thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, without it becoming too confusing. Will I succeed? Again, I don’t know.

I just hope that this blog can remain my safe space.

Next Saturday, things are going to change but I’m as mentally prepared as I can be. This is a new beginning and I’m determined to make the most of it as I can.

If you’re starting University, Sixth Form or another year at school, how are you feeling about it?

Love from Elm ๐Ÿ™‚

I Wanted to be like Everyone Else

On Thursday, a prizegiving event is being held at my school and I can’t make it. Not because I’m staging a wild protest – although that’s something I would do – but because I’ve got a prearranged appointment for something exciting. Even if I didn’t have that, Ow still wouldn’t go because the prize I’ve been ‘awarded’ has not only upset me but it’s hurt me, more than it would seem if you look at it on the surface. Will that make me sound arrogant or ungrateful? Perhaps but I’m willing to take that risk to show how sometimes, well-meaning actions can have the opposite effect.

Prizegiving is huge here for years 12 and 13; parents come, there are guest speakers and it’s held in a Church. Especially for year 13, it means a lot because it’s our last year here. You can get achievement prizes, academic prizes for a specific subject, attendance prizes and that kind of thing. Last year, I won a prize for achievement which I was so so proud of myself for because I worked so fucking hard on my GCSEs I knew I deserved those grades.

This time, from my Head of Year, I’ve been awarded a prize for ‘overcoming adversity’. That’s all I’ve been told: ‘overcoming adversity’, overcoming a difficulty, achieving despite your difficulties – and the only difficulty they know I have that could restrict my education is that I’m blind. Yes, it could be something else, like the fact that I struggled with mental health last year but that was nowhere near bad enough, or rather nobody saw it get bad enough, to warrant a prize for ‘overcoming adversity’. If they’d awarded it on the basis of mental health or external circumstances, hands down, somebody else would have got it – someone who deserved to get it.

It’s not that I’m not grateful. I’m happy they thought me worthy of a prize, when for the last year I’ve been thinking I’m either stupid or that nothing I do is worthwhile. It’s the prize itself: it feels like they’re awarding me for surviving the education system with a disability. It feels like they’re awarding me for existing, for ‘beating the odds’, for being disabled and still succeeding in education. And that would be fine, if I deserved it; that would be fine, if my disability affected every single thing I did to the extent where the act of going to school was difficult; that would be fine, if there weren’t so, so many other people who would deserve it more than me – who have had it much worse than me.

That’s the first reason I’m upset or angry. The other reason is much more personal and is the reason I cried earlier when I found out. I cried instead of being ecstatic and the “why” is quite simple.

The reason I came to this school was to get the best possible education I could. I didn’t want to go to an entirely mainstream school because the ones around my area weren’t that good and couldn’t have supported me anyway, such as preparing my work. I didn’t want to go to a school specifically for visually impaired students because I didn’t feel like that suited me, as I wanted to be surrounded by a lot of people and didn’t want to feel trapped. In short, I came here because I wanted to be like everyone else, without my education being thrown to the curb if I didn’t get good support. And, for the most part, Ow succeeded.

However, I’ve always been known as the “blind one”, or my year sometimes treat me with caution like I’m a doll or something delicate. People don’t often know how to act around me which hurts so much. I’ve always wanted to be recognised as more than my disability, with the blindness being a side thing: “Oh, there’s Elm, she’s short and takes the piss out of herself for it; she writes.” I’ve tried so hard to break free of stereotypes set for myself and others and again, for the most part and majority of people, it worked but the thing that hurts is that the school – the place where I’ve got such a good education – sees me as their blind person and as the one who did well despite a disability, not did well and that was the end of it.

There’s a silver lining to this. I was in the atrium, talking to two of my friends who I got close with when I went to Berlin about this and started crying out of anger and just general sadness. I told them that I felt like I wasn’t really getting an award, that people still viewed me as different when I wanted to succeed just as much as anybody else. They hugged me, sat with me for about 20 minutes and just talked everything out; chatting to people who don’t know me as well but are willing to put the effort in helped to make me feel more included. I love them for that; they took time out of their day to comfort me, along with another girl who didn’t know me at all yet said that she’d never viewed me as “the blind one”.

I’m still angry, still upset that after all I’ve done to try and stop my disability being the first thing people see, they would award me a prize that’s either focused on my disability or something similar. However, I do know that at least some people in my year besides those I’m with at break and lunch, who’ve known me since year 7, don’t view me as separate. I might not be able to stop the teachers from thinking that I’m “so brave” for coming to this school and getting good grades, but I have proved to some of the people around me that there’s more to me than the eyes. The others don’t matter because they never tried.

I’m only here until May and then I’m out. Then it won’t matter how the school see me. I’ve been here 7 years almost and I haven’t managed to prove to them that I’m successful not despite my disability but for my own merit. However, I’ve managed to prove to myself I’m strong-willed, more than that blind girl and I’m respected for myself, to the people that matter.

From Elm ๐Ÿ™‚

Parties, Dogs and Getting my Life Together | A Life Update

The title of this post is probably a bit odd but honestly, it was the first thing that popped into my head to summarise what’s been happening for the last week. In my typical disorganised style, I’ll be updating you on the hopelessly boring life of Elm. Apologies if you fall asleep.

Knowing me, I’ll forget what happened this week – and a lot did – so I’ll write it down for myself, too. I’ve missed chronicling my cringy exploits for you to laugh at. I should start doing it more often. So, here we go: I’ll start from exactly a week ago.

Last Thursday, I went to a party in London where I only knew one person. It sounds like a stupid idea but really, it was one of the best things I’ve ever done, as is most of my spontaneous and adventurous plans. It was my friend Silva’s birthday: she’s a girl who goes to school in Dorset and who contacted me a few months ago about me going to speak at her school – you can read more about her here. I went into the city by myself, met her and all her friends and went to her house. Not only was she lovely (and her puns are something special) but all the people she invited, as well as her parents, made me feel so comfortable that I forgot to be scared.

First of all, her house is huge and actually has a hot tub. I’d brought a swimming costume for the hell of it and it was great because I didn’t feel self-conscious about the idea of showing that much skin. I think that not knowing many people really helped with that, although throughout the evening I made friends such as a girl who shares my love for LGBTQ YA books, a girl who’s been trained as a sniper and a guy who honestly owns a lake. I sang at the top of my voice, had painfully deep conversations within 15 minutes of speaking to a girl and got dehydrated at one point so that I nearly fell over. It ended up with me sitting on a sofa at 3:00 in the morning, singing my heart out to a Taylor Swift song with 3 people I’d known for a grand total of 9 hours. Because it was so late, most of us stayed the night (someone slept in a cupboard) and in the morning, I was driven back to the station by Silva’s mum with another girl. It was honestly fantastic and, unsurprisingly, has increased my confidence: it turns out that I’m able to be myself around people who didn’t know me before.

Friday was spent recovering and I can honestly say I did nothing that day apart from complain about how tired I was. I’d got about 3 hours of proper sleep and couldn’t really interact with anyone without yawning. Saturday was a little more eventful: I went into London, yet again, for a meeting on a campaign in which I’m involved. The other two people that were there are amazing and before we got into organising anything, we had a 10 minute conversation about the woes of school (as I always do). It was great to meet up with them again and hopefully, we’re going to get the campaign underway: I can’t reveal too much about it because of anonymity. After that, I went home to my dad’s house and exhaustedly read some of the book that I was supposed to read for English ages ago. Oops… Sunday was pretty much the same as Friday: dreadfully boring with no excitement at all. I mean I wrote a post but that was about it!

Monday was the day of my mobility lesson. If you didn’t know, I’ve been having some mobility lessons over the summer – learning routes round my local area because I’m blind and had not much independence until now. My mobility officer is amazing (the amount of times we go off topic is brilliant) and she works with Guide Dogs, the charity, because at some point I really want to get a Guide Dog of my own. One of my best friends, L, has one and you should really go and check out his blog because it’s amazing. Anyway, it was what I thought was my last mobility lesson with her on Monday and we went to a bust depo, explored a bus, talked to two bloody lovely bus drivers and got driven around town. It’s the most fun I’ve had in a while, dealing with the confusion of the public who saw a nearly empty bus driving past, having conversations with the bus drivers and wandering around. After that had ended, I spoke to my mobility officer and I may be able to get a Guide Dog sooner than I thought!!! As you can tell, thinking about that makes me so so happy because it would be a huge step forward for me, confidence-wise.

One time, I’ll write a whole post about why I really want to get a Guide Dog. I think it’ll really increase my independence and give me a lot more confidence which is, at the moment, the main thing that’s blocking me from doing a lot of things. However, it is a long process and isn’t as simple as saying “Oh hello, here’s your dog, byee!”

On Monday evening, I prepared for school which was to be the next day. I had a bit of a cry that night because I was honestly terrified, not of school but of the coming year as last year was so shit. Even so, on Tuesday morning I got myself up and spent a while getting myself ready because I could feel the nerves getting to me. Sadly, it was a bit of a pointless day: we went in at 11, had a half an hour assembly and then an hour of form. We then had a barbecue to welcome the Year 12s which was run by our Student Reps (two of them are Wren and Red). I loved it but I don’t know if it was worth me going in, although I caught up with Pine who I hadn’t seen all summer, Wren, Red and my other friend Swan. The day ended with some of the Student Reps doing the Cha Cha Slide and Wren and I catching up and having one of the deepest conversations I’ve had in weeks. That bit was fabulous!

It turns out that I’m not at school until next Monday, where my timetable starts properly. Because I’m now allowed to have my Guide Dogs mobility officer instead of my local one, I’m going to organise which day I’ll have a lesson on. That’s made me feel a little more productive but still, over the last two days, I’ve had nothing much to do. All the work I’m supposed to do seems a little pointless: I know I have to do it but I can’t get the motivation to do it. I’m almost at a loose end but the thought of getting back into a routine, despite the bleakness of everything, has helped me through things.

At some point this weekend, I’ll do the Psychology work and English work that needs to be done. I also need to sort out a couple of worrying things to do with both my mental health and with some of my friends: it’s mostly trying to alleviate some awful paranoia I’ve been feeling. I just need to try and get as much negativity out of my life as possible because I get enough of it from my own mind anyway.

All in all, it’s been a hectic week. From parties to screaming over my new timetable, from periods of complete inactivity to hours where I’ve been reading non-stop and from thinking that I’ll never be independent to having that door thrown open again, things aren’t too bad. I’m honestly a little disgusted that I didn’t update you on it sooner; I’ve been painfully unmotivated recently as I mention in every single conversation.

How has your week been? Let me know in the comments!

From Elm ๐Ÿ™‚

My Changing Views on My Sight

I feel like sometimes, people with sight assume that visually impaired people either really want to be sighted or really don't – more leaning towards the former. That may be a generalisation on my part but I've found that whenever I explain my (long) stance on it, I get a surprised reaction. I don't fall into those two neat categories. Instead of trying to force people to feel how I feel, I'll walk you through why I have such a complicated view on things because every single person is different, whether you're completely blind, partially sighted or are somewhere in between.

Shortly after I was born, I lost the majority of my sight to a condition called Retinopathy of Prematurity. Of course, being weeks old, I don't remember seeing. Although I have a tiny bit of useful vision, I have no real concept of true colour, faces or how things actually look – and, having never had anywhere near good vision, I don't even know how to describe that to you in a way that you or I could understand. Throughout my life, I've been content with that to varying degrees but as you'll read, the level to which that is has changed rather drastically.

In primary school, some years before the age of 11, I wanted to see in an abstract sort of way. I didn't understand what it was – before the age of 4, I thought I was like everyone else. To be presented with the fact that you aren't like other kids was something I didn't think affected me at the time. However, now, I can remember feeling quite lonely: I couldn't join in much at break with the sighted kids; I learned Braille and used a Perkins (a large Braille machine) which set me apart from everyone else; I did different art and had teaching assistants with me, including one who helped me at lunch to begin with. I knew my little school and though it brought me comfort, I felt sad because I couldn't run with the others. Though I never cried about it or never really registered it as an issue, I hadn't met any other VI people before the age of 8. My weird isolation turned into a wish to do things I couldn't, to see what I couldn't – I told a teacher once that I'd really like to see and she sounded so sad afterwards. I'm not ashamed to say that I felt like that: as a child, I still had a lot to learn about myself and it's so difficult to not want to see if you're presented with the fact that you can't every single day.

From the age of 11, I started to meet more and more people who had sight loss and really got involved in the community. I went to what I called "blind camps", weekends away, events with those in my local area and talked to my VI friends on Facebook. I go to a mainstream school with a unit for VI people because I thought it would give me independence. The majority of my friends were sighted (they still are) but even so, I loved knowing people like me because there were people who got it, whereas in my primary school – though they didn't pick on me – they just couldn't understand much. Instead of wanting to see, my attitude polarised: I absolutely didn't. This might be difficult to explain.

Being visually impaired let me do so many things I otherwise wouldn't. I met authors (although that's not common – it was for a thing which I was chosen for); I can meet beautiful and amazing people; I've done so many activities that have made me more well-rounded as a person. I wouldn't have started this blog if I wasn't VI: I'd be a different person and I liked myself how I was. Back then, the thought of a "cure" genuinely terrified me. I thought about how much I'd have to learn: to recognise things, learn to read and write again – which as an adult would be more difficult, learn to keep my balance (I have no depth perception) – it would be overwhelming. I'd also have to adapt to seeing out of both eyes, something which I've never had before. I have a huge fear of the unknown and I don't understand how people can cope if they see colour for the first time. I know that if I woke up one day to full sight, I'd be screaming in terror because everything would be too much and would, probably, feel unreal. Anyhow, I was utterly anti-me getting sight "back".

Now, it's not so simple. I totally understand why I felt how I did before: to me, they're both rational thought processes and are what many people do feel, both those who have lost their sight recently and those who haven't. However, I sometimes change from being frustrated at my lack of sight, to vehemently wanting to stay this way, to just not giving a shit on a daily basis.

In a word, it's messy. I can't give you a clear-cut stance: getting my sight would be useful, yes, but I don't know if I could deal with the changes. It's not so easy as to say "you'll learn" because if you present someone with something they have literally no concept of, they may not come out of the shock for a long time. To have changing viewpoint doesn't help me figure out what I really want: all the ways I, and you, feel are valid but it's tricky when for me, there isn't a set answer I can give. Luckily though, I have less fear than I did before.

This may not even be how I feel in two years: I could have a viewpoint turnaround – who knows? For now, though, I'm happy to just live my life. It's not easy to be able to just accept things and I'm still learning how. Unlike before, I don't think about my sight that often – just when it comes up. It's just a thing that is and it's taken me years to fully accept that. I may have said I was okay with it but really, I wasn't; it's only now that I realise that I'm bothered sometimes but it's nowhere near all the time.

I'm just one person. There are hundreds of thousands of other visually impaired people around the country and the world who'll have a wildly different view to me. Some don't want to see and some do; some have gone all their life without sight and some have lost their sight only a year ago – each can have their separate stance on this which is all completely fine. Some people can't deal with sight loss because it's the loss of a sense; everyone takes their own time to come to terms with everything. People change and people are okay for changing.

I hope that me talking about my thoughts has helped you understand me a little better. Again, remember that I'm just one visually impaired person and someone else will probably give you a totally different answer. If you've got any questions, leave them in the comments below; I'll do my best to answer them! In addition, if I offended anyone by the words in my post, I'm extremely sorry.

If you'd like to talk about your experiences, you can always email me or leave a comment. I'd love to know your thoughts – either on having vision or, if you have another disability, how you feel about it in general.

From Elm ๐Ÿ™‚

The Simplicity of Friendship | An Update on my Week

Hi all!

I’m sorry for my huge absence over the last week; I’ve had a friend over since Tuesday. She left today and once I got home from dropping her off at the station, I just knew I had to write a post talking about everything that happened. This week has helped me so much, in far more ways than just one.

The friend that came to stay was someone I call Rapunzel – you can read about her on this page. She and I have known each other for almost 3 years now and as soon as we started talking, I could tell that we immediately “clicked” – to use a clichรฉ phrase. We’ve gone through so much shit but the fact that we’re still such great friends after it shows that we care about each other. We’d been planning this for ages; she made her second independent trip down to London – 3 hours away by train – from Tuesday until Saturday. I couldn’t be more proud of her.

Tuesday – Arriving at my Non-Impressive House

Because my parents were at work or abroad respectively, my sister got on the train with me just before lunch to travel to a large station in London where Rapunzel would be arriving. Travelling with my sister is always interesting: she and I have a tendency to get both stressed and paranoid; however, nothing went wrong! I was so excited to see her, as we hadn’t met up since February, that I don’t think I had room to get very stressed. Finding the platform that she was on was the only mildly worrying part but because of the fabulous inventions called phones (they’re very, very rare, I know), we got to where she was. Honestly, I haven’t shrieked or hugged someone so hard in a very long time… I probably got weird looks.

Have you ever tried leading 2 almost completely blind girls, both with canes, together with a large suitcase which was in danger of being forgotten through London? My sister hadn’t and the helpful tips provided by me, from the last time that about 4 of us had walked through a busy place, might not have been as helpful as I wanted. Anyhow, we managed – after about 15 minutes of looking – to find a Pizza Express and after having had lunch, we went to my house to get Rapunzel settled in. By this time, it was about 5:30 and, typically, I was exhausted.

The rest of the day was rather uneventful. We went for a walk with my dad in the park: it’s one of my favourite things to do because it’s so peaceful: nature seems to calm my thoughts and I know that we both enjoyed that. When we got back, Rapunzel and I chatted for literal HOURS, yellow and shouting and generally acting as if we’d seen each other the day before, not almost 6 months before. I had to transfer some of my stuff upstairs because we were sleeping in my sister’s terrifying room in what used to be the loft. Okay, it’s not terrifying but I’m a complete moron.

Wednesday – Nostalgia and a Beautiful Conversation

On our first full day, I decided to prove my narcissistic tendencies to Rapunzel by showing her some of the stuff in my room. Granted, she’s been wanting to see all the stuff I’d mention to her in passing – like the bear that’s as big as me when I was a baby, my old coin collection and some random braille books I had lying around. Instead of treating me like the sad , strange person I probably am, she actually seemed to be interested in looking at what I was showing her. I don’t know why, either. That day was very nostalgic for me; there were a lot of memories from my childhood it was really nice to have someone who had seen so much of my recent personality to get a glimpse of the room I grew up in, to see a little of what I was like as a kid.

She and I have both experienced a lot, both when we knew each other and when we didn’t. There have been some times where miscommunication has caused us to do a lot of stupidly shitty things, or times where we haven’t been honest with each other. On Wednesday, she opened up to me about a very personal situation that had happened to her; we also had a hugely deep conversation about our emotions. I’ve never been very good at expressing my feelings to other people in real life; it was so lovely to be able to do that. It was also amazing to have her speaking to me as she did: it let me understand her and how she acted. Tears were involved from both sides but with her, I don’t feel a pressure to explain why; she and I now almost have a brutal honesty with each other for which I’m so grateful.

After that conversation, we decided to relax again: the next day, we knew, was going to be busy so we thought we might as well get an early night. Usually, I don’t get much sleep but that night, I slept like a log. It was kind of ridiculous but I had a lot to think on, above all the refreshing conversation I’d had with her.

Thursday
As soon as we got up, I decided to be mildly productive: whilst Rapunzel was sobbing in happiness over an email she received and also while she was going through her poems, I sent off the application for the Residential College for visually impaired people I want to attend for a year after A-Levels; I also went and recorded something for a potential Voiceover job. Yes, I probably sounded ridiculous reading one half of a script but I think it’s good experience (I cringed when I listened to myself though). At 2 o’clock, a Mobility Officer from Guide Dogs – who’s working with me in the summer so I can become more independent – came over and honestly, Rapunzel was the best person who could have been there beside me.

I’ve never been the most independent; if I ever wanted to get a Guide Dog, I’d have to know three routes. Now, the rather insignificantly large major huge problem with that is that I don’t. I don’t know my local area either; I decided enough was enough and I was going to actually do something instead of just being a lazy human. The lady who came to talk to me, to organise mobility, was amazing: right away, the three of us went completely off topic and ended up talking about school, technology (or my lack of proficiency) and laughing: the atmosphere was so friendly. Once the boring forms were out of the way, we actually got on to doing, well, mobility.

Well, I can safely say I know the incredibly short route to my closest bus stop now. Impressive, right? But seriously, I was actually proud of myself: as everyone says all the time, I don’t give myself enough credit ever and lock myself into a cave of “HELLO I AM SHIT AND A FAILURE DO NOT BE DISAPPOINTED!” When I was prover wrong, for once, I felt hyper: Rapunzel and the mobility officer walked behind me, talking; I felt confident and like I was in control. After that, we sorted out plans: I’ll have four lessons this summer, the next being next Wednesday: having a concrete plan of what we’re going to cover made the panic less oppressive. I could have cried. I almost did, after she’d gone; I squealed and hugged Rapunzel until it hurt. She knows how much it means to me and so I didn’t hide any of my blatant, screaming, happy hysteria.

Maybe, after such a long day, it was a bad idea to talk to a good friend of ours for 5 hours. We did it anyway, wearing face masks and going from talking about serious topics of mental health to trying to muffle the laughter that couldn’t help but escape. S – the friend – is fantastic and we all spoke equally; it didn’t feel like I was left โ€ฒ. It’s one of the best conversations I’ve ever had, simply because even when one of us was upset for whatever reason, the other two supported them and made things feel less awful. It was open, honest and painful but also hilarious. Saying that, going to bed at 3 A.M made me feel ill the next day.

Friday – A Picnic and Afternoon with Friends

Last Saturday, at volunteering, Rose – a friend I’ve known since I was a baby – suggested that us three plus her sister Poppy should go for a picnic in the park. As I’m a child at heart and love picnics more than anything in the world (is it possible to be picnic-deprived because I hadn’t had one in years), I agreed almost before she finished the sentence. There may have been some clapping and shrieking involved. At midday, we all went to the park with an assortment of food. Whilst sitting on the grass, I took about 80 years to eat a bagel; a deer nearly ate our food (why wasn’t I scared?) and I felt so amazing. I’d wanted those three to meet for ages; Rose and Poppy are like my sisters and know every single little annoying thing about me. They make sure to embarrass me horrendously, every single time they meet one of my other friends. I 1000% hate them.

In the afternoon, we went to Rose and Poppy’s house. I know it almost as well as I know mine: the amount of time I spent there as a child meant that I had to know it. We jumped on the trampoline – or rather Rapunzel and Rose jumped whilst I didn’t because I’m about as unfit as you can get. I re-connected with my inner child again by lying in a hammock and grinning far too widely; Rose and I were also sobbing with laughter over Poppy’s story which she wrote when she was 7. Nobody else would understand why it was so funny but because Poppy wrote it, Still was howling. We sang a particular song non-stop which I don’t want to name because it’ll get stuck in my head.

Whenever I see really close friends, I spend the whole day with them: such was the case with all four of us. Poppy and Rose came to my house for dinner: it involved us singing so loudly that I nearly kicked Poppy. They also embarrassed me further by showing Rapunzel the cringiest, most awful video of me ever. Luckily, I stopped screaming and running away long enough to realise that they’d stopped the video. When we were done with dinner – a mix of vegetarian Thai cooking and chicken – we watched more hilarious videos before the two girls left and we went off the bed. Yet again, I didn’t sleep for very long. I’m really stupid because the next day, we got up at 7 in the morning.

Saturday – Feeling Alive but Saying Goodbye

One of the main things that makes me feel the most connected to myself and the most real is to go volunteering at Parkrun with Poppy and Rose. Wonderfully, Rapunzel got to join in. Unlike with many people, I don’t feel mortified when I shout stuff around them which ends up sounding too sarcastic; all four of us were standing together, clapping and in my case, screaming in encouragement. Poppy calculated the percentage of the run that had been done so far, I yelled aggressively and embarrassed myself by o responding to someone who recognised me and, to top it all off, I felt happy because I was with my friends. It energised me, even though my body felt tired; volunteering always seems to do that to me.

I hate things ending. As we got home, I could feel the impending sense of sadness already creeping up on me; it was so much worse when Rapunzel took her bag down and we drove to our local train station. It took us an hour or so to get into the centre of London and all throughout, Rapunzel and I spoke, laughed and shared moments of slight sadness. We hardly ever get to see each other so which. we do, it always means a lot. When we hugged goodbye for the last time, I could feel my throat closing up. I’ve got so many memories from the last 5 days – both happy and sentimental – but still, saying goodbye is the absolute worst especially when she lives so far away.

My Thoughts Afterwards

I’m home now and I’m feeling really weird. The house feels kind of empty: I’d got used to having her here and so too, I think, had my dad and stepmother. She’s such a beautiful person and she helped me so so much: there’s hardly anyone I can be so honest with, who won’t judge me for anything. She’s remained a good friend for so long; her coming to stay was a really good thing for both of us: her so that she can experience new things and me because she made me feel like I was a good person. She let me laugh and never treated me like some fragile person: our discussions on mental health are some of the most constructive I’ve had in months. Without even trying, she’s been someone who’s let me be myself.

Sometimes, friends really are what let you feel like you’re really human and that as can be happy. I wouldn’t change that for the world.

I’ve had such a good week, filled with happy memories. Now, I feel quite listless but this just proves to me that things aren’t hopeless. I have her to thank for that.

If you’re reading this, thank you. Shank you for being such a great and kind person. That goes for both Rapunzel and any other friends I have, no matter how close you are.

From Elm ๐Ÿ™‚

Perilously Happy

A year ago, I wouldn’t have thought I was prone to sudden changes of mood but here we are now and for a day, maybe even two, I’ve been happy. Not utterly happy by any means (I haven’t been for such a while) but if you’re looking at a scale from ecstatic to miserable, I’m slightly more than halfway leaning towards the happy side. Compare that to my last post and you’ve got a whole lot of confusion going on inside my head.

Yesterday, I got up at 6 in the morning to travel to Birmingham. It wasn’t just a random journey: my friends and I went to an annual event for visually impaired people. For once, I was barely stressed: I was meeting L, Violet (a great friend I’ve known since I was 11) and Rapunzel (my ex-girlfriend; an amazing friend) on the train after travelling independently for a bit of the way. I knew that everything would be fine. That mindset, I think, really helped me and set the tone for the day.

On the journey up there, the four of us managed to clear out a carriage with our loud voices, laughter and hug-fest when we saw each other. It took over an hour and a half to arrive and in that time, I crashed into the walls a lot, embarrassed myself and laughed so hard I screeched. To be honest, my laugh might have been one of the reasons that the surrounding people, erm, left. I’d feel bad but I was hyper as all of us hadn’t been together since February and I really needed to let my emotions out.

I don’t want to reveal too much about the event itself because I’m scared people will figure out who I am who might have gone there; I’m paranoid. What I will say is that we had to get a taxi there and one of our friends, S, was helping to run one of the stalls at the event. The original four of us (all with limited sight) eventually got sighted guide around the place because there were so many people and Violet couldn’t guided the three of us who had utterly shit sight around by herself. We got lost several times, or rather we lost each other; it’s surprisingly difficult to coordinate yourself when people want to look at different things but there was such a friendly atmosphere there that it wasn’t stressful.

My friends were the ones that made it for me. Another girl, who had gone to Paris with us in October, met us at various times, particularly after lunch. We then went and spoke to S who had had leave us to go back to his stall beforehand (I may or may not have laughed at him for it because I’m such a nice person). When we were all together, like that, it brought everything back yet it showed me that friendship is one of the strongest things there is. Our group have been through a lot with each other yet even for it, the dynamic of laughter still remained. We wandered around, me sticking with Rapunzel a lot of the time but also having deep conversations with Violet.

After leaving the place, we went and sat in Starbucks (sadly without S). When us “five blindies” walked in, apparently people started staring; I found it hilarious in a way. We screamed again; I fangirled over the cuteness between one of my friends and their crush; I also accidentally kicked L (I still feel bad for that).

Saying goodbye was the worst part. We took a selfie in the assistance room and lots of hugs were exchanged, of course. For the first time in ages, I didn’t cry. I felt fine; I knew I could see them soon. This day really instilled confidence in me; it’s shown me that not even Birmingham is beyond my limits.

My heart has so much love for my friends and the people around me. I almost don’t know what to do with it; it’s quite overwhelming. However, I’m happy that I feel even if those feelings are confusing me.

From running around M&S to unstable group hugs on the train; from answering S’s questionnaire in the most Elm way possible to yelling so loud in the taxi that the driver probably heard us, I had an amazing day. I utterly adore all the people I was with simply because they let me feel happy at a time when my mind was, and is still, ready to fall apart.

Not feeling panicky is almost making me feel anxious; that gives you an idea of how bad my mind has been acting recently. I haven’t had many self-insulting thoughts, either today or yesterday – it’s a break from the usual and I’m so glad.

I love actually being able to do things and I also love being around the people who can make me smile. It hit me, just as we were leaving, just how much I’d missed everyone. Being around them was refreshing, the 5 of us – a the end – grinning and taking a selfie that’s forever, in my mind, the one where I look tragic as ever. I mme feeling wonderful, as if I really accomplished something. Not feeling anxious is rare for me but that day was one of the ones where I honestly felt relaxed, okay – and dare I say, special in my own little way.

If it weren’t for L, I couldn’t have done this; he’s such an amazing friend who has the ability to get me across the country and let me laugh whilst I’m at it. I seriously owe so much to that fabulous person.

Even if the happiness doesn’t last, I’m glad it’s here. I’m not used to it but I’m really thankful that I’m feeling it.

From Elm ๐Ÿ™‚

A Day of Being Myself

When I got up at 4:30 yesterday morning, I wanted to crawl back into my bed and cry but for once, I had something important to do. On Saturday, I went and visited the University of East Anglia – the second Open Day I’ve been to (the other was Birmingham). After that, and it possibly the highlight of my month, I went and met Ocean – a blogger I’ve known for 2 years.

Driving to UEA took about 3 hours but strangely, by the end of the car journey, I wasn’t angry/exasperated at my father/exhausted from being in the same place for ages. Far from it: I felt full of energy. That didn’t fade as we stood in the queue for half an hour, waiting for the coaches to take us to the university itself. It was around 9:30 then and I managed to actually speak to someone my age in front of me in the queue. Typically, it was the kind of conversation which comprised the “what subjects are you doing?” questions but it was still something and I didn’t turn into a stuttering mess.

As I did with Birmingham, we went and saw the Student Support services first to find out about what kinds of ‘reasonable adjustments’ (as it’s called) they can put in place for me, such as extra time or maybe provisions for a Guide Dog if I end up getting one. That sent us to the Accommodation stand and I awkwardly explained my ‘needs’ to them. Although they haven’t had a severely sight impaired student for about 4 years, I was really pleased with how they were extremely open to putting in place measures to help me; all the staff in fact were very friendly. It eased the anxiety I felt considerably about the whole process.

During the course of the day, I went to four talks and an accommodation tour. The latter experience was very positive: I liked the feel of the buildings and it all seemed very centralised; there’s a village about 15 minutes walk from the campus itself but seeming as I’d need to concentrate on learning the campus in my first year, I thought it might be best if we looked at the accommodation on campus instead. We saw three buildings and I liked them all; the nicest, newest (and most expensive sadly) was my favourite simply because it seemed very spacious. Perhaps that shouldn’t be a good criterion for measuring whether I would like it or not but an important thing for me is that I hate feeling trapped.

At one point, whilst my dad and I were walking across the campus, I had a minor crisis about the amount of followers I had. It’s so weird to think that over 2000 people have clicked the follow button – it’s incredible to me that so many people have read my words, in whatever capacity. My dad listened to my ramblings and it felt great because I knew what I was talking about.

The best talk I went to was the one on Personal Statements. All but the English talk was held in a small hall and each person wore headphones so that they wouldn’t have to project their voice. This didn’t detract from the experience and actually made it feel more personalised. Afterwards, and without fear, I walked straight up to the woman who held the talk and asked her if I could put my blog in my Personal Statement. The answer was a resounding “yes” and she clarified that I didn’t have to say the name or anything that could identify it. This means that I can talk about what I love so much, which directly relates to the course I want to do. I left that talk feeling so much better about my opportunities!

I really did like the sound of student life and the amount of societies; it was presented by two students who spoke to us like we were human and not children about all the different things we can do. I really felt like it connected us to the idea of getting involved in student life. After having had lunch and seeing the street with shops and bars (it was adorable), I went to the English Literature and Creative Writing talk with my dad. The interesting thing about this course is that there are no end of year exams; all your modular grades and pieces of writing are added up which comprise your degree. The Creative Writing part is roughly a third of the degree. Sadly, I couldn’t talk much to the lecturer afterwards but I honestly felt more confident about everything despite the prestige of UEA as a Creative Writing university.

I really liked this uni, overall. I’ve got to be honest: the course didn’t thrill me as much as I’d like but perhaps that’s because I have high standards. The campus was more to my taste: I could tell where everything was and I knew I wouldn’t get very overwhelmed. I’ll have to give it time; I loved it but I have no idea if I loved it enough to study it. What made it so worthwhile to me was the enthusiasm of the lecturers and the people who spoke; I felt as if they loved the place and it made me fall in love with it that little bit more. Who knows? I need to see more universities before I decide on anything.

At around 4, we travelled into Norwich to meet Ocean. Because I’ve known her for 2 years and she was one of the first blogging friends I had, I didn’t feel that nervous. Of course, the excitement grew and grew as we got closer to our meeting point and I kept smiling because finally I was going to meet one of the people I admired the most. Honestly, it’s always a dream come true for me when I meet an internet friend because they n have any judgements; about you save for what you show them which, in Ocean’s case, was always my true self.

As soon as we met each other we hugged and spent a while absorbing that this was actually happening. Unfortunately, we only had an hour but it was an hour I won’t forget in a hurry. We walked round the high street and went to Cafรฉ Nero: she’s really good at guiding me and unlike when you meet someone you don’t know, she knew how to help me almost instinctively which was so lovely. By the way, raspberry lemonade exists (I found that out yesterday) and it is utterly glorious.

All throughout this, we talked. She’s so funny and sweet; I think I laughed more than I have in the past few weeks. Conversations ranged from Jeremy Kyle to the hell of A-Levels, from serious to funny topics and I loved it. I didn’t have to try and find topics to talk about; sitting across from her at a table was so freeing because I wasn’t pretending, hiding or faking anything.

I hate saying goodbye. It’s especially difficult when it’s someone you respect so much but luckily, I didn’t cry. She isn’t worlds away; next year when she goes to university, I’m sure we’ll be able to meet more which makes me smile when I think of it.

All in all, Saturday was wonderful and writing about it brings all the memories back. From wandering around a street and listening to buskers to laughing over the stupid pose that Jeremy Kyle adopts, I felt like me. Plain and simple with a passion for English but also someone who is undoubtedly a blogger and a writer. I never want to limit my options and that’s why I do what I do: that’s why I want to visit so many universities and meet so many people.

It’s beautiful to feel like that. Have you felt so very like yourself recently?

From Elm ๐Ÿ™‚

My Blog In The Real World

A week before my first exam, I received an email which changed the way I look at my blog and which could lead to something exceptionally exciting. I’ve got permission from the people involved to post about it and so here goes!

This email was from a girl called Silva, who had found my blog whilst looking for ways to procrastinate revision, which I thought was absolutely hilarious. Silva comes from a school in Dorset called Bryanston, an independent school; it also has students who live there in a boarding school setting. In this school, there’s an Equality Society which is pretty much run by her. They discuss and debate issues pertaining to wider problems in society.

Because I have strong views on that which I express through my posts, Silva asked me if I would like to come to their school and speak to the Equality Society about inequalities I face in education as a result of my disability and how I’ve overcome challenges to do with it. She said that it was a “tall offer” and that it may be far-fetched but that she loved my content and thought it was just what they needed.

As I’m an incredibly put together, professional person, naturally I started screaming as soon as I had processed what was happening, which took about 5 minutes. It was 10 o’clock at night and I was so shocked by the email that I couldn’t have replied to it if I had tried; it was only the next day, at school, that I answered. For me, that was more important than revision at that stage. After all, when would this opportunity happen again?

Of course, my first thought was that it was a scam as I was disbelieving that anything so momentous could happen to me. However, I searched up the school, managed to work out how far I lived from it and heavily analysed the email to check for any inconsistencies. After surmising that there was a 99% chance it was legitimate, I began to truly think about whether I wanted to do this. It only took me a day or so to come up with the answer: yes. I did.

Over the next few days, I was still surprised: it may not seem like much but to me, to be contacted on the platform which I love with everything I have, to be asked to talk about something I’m so passionate about and to have my opinions listened to is a dream come true. I know that here, I can make a difference. I started to plan how it would happen, emailing Silva when I could in the mayhem of exam preparation.

Silva gave me her number and after we’d spoken for a while, she asked me if I would like to talk to the Equality Society on the Monday preceding half term. Upon agreeing, we arranged a time and called. It was utterly surreal; I was sitting in my bedroom having a discussion with people I’d never talked to before, about something which was so huge to me.

I answered a few of their questions and it felt wonderful to be able to talk about my feelings. Questions I was asked ranged from how I knew what colour clothing I was putting on in the morning (that has to be one of the best questions) to how I access my work. I had an answer for each and felt almost like a fire was being lit inside me because I felt purposeful, comfortable and most of all? Powerful. One of the things I said was the smallest actions can mean the most or hurt the most and I needed to speak to the people there like I would talk to any other: without patronising, without treating them differently because everyone’s human.

According to Silva, when we spoke afterwards, more than 30 people turned up and were in a small geography classroom, with more arriving as I was speaking. It made me feel so accomplished. Though it was Silva who had advertised the event so brilliantly, it was my words to which they were listening. It’s a foreign feeling that I’ll never get used to because then, I wasn’t just that weird Elm girl. I was somebody who could change the opinions of people I didn’t know, using the only resource I can: my words.

I have barely told anyone about this but I’m still so incredibly excited. The first person to know was my dad who is totally on board with it; sadly, my mum can’t know the true origin of this as I refuse to tell her about my blog. We need to get the logistics sorted but at some point, we can make more sound preparations.

Hopefully this September, I’m going to travel down to Dorset to speak to them. Even some of the staff members know which is mildly terrifying. However, doing this is something which I’ve set my heart on. I want to help; I want to show people that even if disabled people have difficulties, it’s not the end of the world and there are ways to live and be happy.

Not only is this a dream for me but this is also drawing my blog out into the “offline” world. The people at Silva’s school know my real name as they would have to. One wrong word or accidental blogging or real life name reveal would end my anonymity but strangely, I don’t care as much. The fact that I was specifically contacted through my blog, not a VI charity or otherwise, shows how blogging doesn’t just have to be reserved for the online world. I am both my blogging and real-life persona: they aren’t two separate people.

Blogging got me to this stage in my life and will continue to shape how I act, how I feel and what opportunities can be gained. I couldn’t be more thankful for that; instead of being the “visually impaired one”, I want to be the one who can help people. Having a blog has let me be that person.

I’m really, really looking forward to this; it’s possibly the most exciting thing that has ever happened to my blog. Remember that your words can mean something; it’s words that can change people’s minds and let them understand things which they otherwise wouldn’t.

I may not be able to help everyone or do everything I want to do. However, what I can do is worth it. What I can do is help as many people as I can and speak as loudly as I can.

Don’t be afraid of taking new, potentially scary opportunities. It could change your life, or the lives of others, one day.

From Elm ๐Ÿ™‚

About Crying

Over the last year, my dad’s witnessed more of my breakdowns than anyone has probably witnessed in my lifetime. Either that, or there were more of them.

He was there for my numerous ones over French, the ones when Rapunzel broke up with me and whenever I called him up after I’d argued with mum and was calling myself a terrible person. He wasn’t there directly after my relationship with S ended but he’s seen the aftermath of that, how it’s affected me and when I sobbed on him because I had no other way to express my emotions. More importantly, he saw a breakdown which I had today – one of the worst, not for its intensity but rather the emotions that went along with it.

I went to “blind college” on Tuesday and “blind school” yesterday and today – the former to look around and the latter to go on a course about uni. Tomorrow, I’ll write a post about how that all went – it was great – but blind school affected me more because I cried last night and today, when I left, for a solid hour and a half.

There’s something about tears. They hurt now almost – because I’ve had difficulty expressing my thoughts and feelings, especially because I smash them down and then forget who I am – I feel guilty. Yesterday was both parts wonderful and shocking because I truly felt emotional – painful emotions but it was okay because for once, I could let them out freely.

I saw S for the first time since we went to Paris and I’d forgotten what it was like to be around him. Yesterday evening, after having come back from the evening’s activities, we went to the common room and talked. There, I spoke about how I’d been feeling – how I suppressed myself, how I acted differently around other people now, how I let others rule my emotions.

He brings out the actual me in myself without trying. There aren’t many people who can do that – and when you’re feeling like shit, to have someone say to your face that they care and that they always have makes you cry. It certainly did for me: I made some disparaging comments about my tears – “Oooh look, one’s falling down my face!” He didn’t try to fix me or make everything right in one sitting. Instead, he said it was up to me, whilst listening to me. It hit me then that he is somebody who truly gives a shit and even if he wouldn’t state it all the time, I know he does; he wouldn’t just turn round and say “Okay our years of friendship were cool but bye!” After I said that I hated how I presented this part of me to him every time I saw him, he said something along the lines of “You’re just sad-Elm right now and that’s okay – it’s who you are and don’t put up a fake front for others.”

After I left, I cried and felt absolutely wretched inside. My dad was there, holding my hand when he didn’t have to use both for driving. As I was unable to form words, he talked to me about everything really, listening when I could speak as I told him just how lonely I felt. The reason for that is that it’s almost foreign for me now to feel this level of emotion without numbing it: I’ve fucked up recently in terms of others and so almost feel like, sometimes, I shouldn’t let myself feel because I don’t have the right. S pretty much showed me that that was bullshit by taking the time to sit with me, understanding my paranoia but then telling me that the paranoia was unfounded.

Crying is strange. When you cry for the sake of it, it doesn’t hurt so much and leaves you feeling even worse. When you cry because all you feel is sadness and you can’t bloody breathe, afterwards, you feel an aching relief because things don’t burn so much – they’ve cooled to a dull roar. If your tears fall in a service station surrounded by people you don’t know, it’s quite therapeutic because no one tries to pressure you into telling them what’s wrong – the explanation would take a long time.

If you’re feeling awful or you’ve blocked your emotions, my best advice is to tell someone about them. Let them out. Let yourself cry like I did – like I may do later – until the skin under your eyes hurts, until the loneliness isn’t so high because someone’s there to reassure you that yourself is enough.

I’ve figured out that the people I most love and appreciate aren’t the ones who make you explain why you cry. They’re the ones who let you cry, let you explain and then show you that they’d do the same whenever you need it. They’re the ones who don’t try and stop your tears: they understand why they fall without needing a thesis on the reason.

From Elm ๐Ÿ™‚