@gigbuddies training with @stayuplateuk #disability #equality!
Disclaimer: Dearest family who may not want to know about my love life, please don’t read this blog (Granddad that means you!) I wanted to write this as I have been approached about a documentary about disability and sex and mixed with the recent series of The Undateables I wanted to post about how having a stroke has affected my dating/sex life as a 23 year old girl.
I may or may not have mentioned that I am single. Me and my friends are so single in fact that we joke about being forever alone, although i’m sure that not one of us will be (yes Rosie and Nicola, even you).
Before my stroke I had been in two ‘serious’ relationships, one from the age of 16-18 and another in my first year at university. Outside of this I never had any issues meeting boys, I was confident and constantly meeting new people, such is the life of a student. I had however been seeing my ‘first love’ on and off from when we broke up at 18 until mere weeks before I had my stroke at the age of 21. It was complicated but he was a huge part of my life. He was the last person I had slept with about 4 months before my stroke and it seems incredibly weird for me that we no longer speak, although i’m sure its for the best.
Following my stroke, whilst I felt like the same person, It was obvious to me and I’m sure to everyone around me that my confidence had been hugely knocked. I was horrendously self concious about the droop in my face with every smile being over dramatised in an attempt to force the left side of my face to mirror the right, on top of that I was trying to get used to being in a wheelchair with eyes glancing at me then looking away awkwardly or worse, I was using a walking frame, possibly the least sexy thing for a girl in her early 20s to experience. Friends and ex-flings started asking if I could have sex, something I was sure I could but had no real desire too, I didn’t feel sexy in my new body and I had my recovery to concentrate on but after a long 22 months of not experiencing it, I began feeling comfortable in my self again.
I’m sure my three weeks in Thailand are what triggered the return of my confidence, I guess it came kind of hand in hand with feeling relaxed, distancing myself from many stroke related things in my life and feeling comfortable drinking again…sad that alcohol was what helped me feel comfortable in myself but it gave me such an invincible feeling that on one of our first nights in Bangkok whilst Sarah was chatting up a boy, I approached a group of german boys in a bar, asked if they spoke English and if they would mind if I sat with them and that was it I made some new friends for the evening. This mind-set stuck with me for the rest of the holiday, happily chatting to boys, getting a few snogs and exchanging phone numbers. The stroke was no longer at the forefront of my mind and my ‘disabilities’ didn’t seem to bother anyone- if they even noticed them at all.
When I came back from Thailand I realised it was harder to meet people here than there and I made the decision to try online dating, I wrote about what had happened to me on my profile but I still got plenty of attention, it was weird and I wasn’t sure if it was how I wanted to meet someone but I liked the ego boost and after a few weeks I went on my first date. I was so nervous, an emotion that kicks my muscle spasticity into overdrive, making my arm and leg tense meaning its much harder to walk. The date was awkward but fun - just as I’d expected but a couple of hours into it I got a really bad headache which i’m still not sure if the guy really believed, we kept seeing each other and things moved quite quickly - at least until he told me he didnt want a relationship, that he couldn’t see us together and that he thought we would irritate each other. Although we stay in touch now I cut him out completely for a while, He was the first person I’d had a kind of relationship with since my stroke and if i’m honest I felt betrayed for putting my trust in him and was upset for a few days.
I soon snapped out of feeling sad and I went on a night out with some friends and met a friend of friends who I instantly clicked with and had a really fun night with. Although he knew i’d had a stroke it wasn’t until the next morning that he realised I was wearing a splint when I walked which I honestly thought was great as I genuinely thought it stuck out like a sore thumb. It was nice to know that it wasn’t on his radar. We have been meeting up since and I think have formed a good friendship but he’s another one who doesn’t want a relationship, although he said he liked me and I like him its bad timing I guess as we’re both at complicated stages of our lifes. I started to think that this lack of commitment was saying something about me but I now think i’m just at a strange age where people don’t necessarily want commitment and I’ve even started to realise it’s probably not the right thing for me at the moment either. My physio keeps telling me to have fun in my early twenties before I settle down as once I’ve met someone I won’t have the chance to do it again and I think she’s right.
There have been a couple of others I have met on nights out or online and every boy I have met since my stroke has helped me figure myself out again in one way or another, deciding what I do or don’t want and how I want to feel when in a relationship. For example I realised that online dating, whilst right for some people, wasn’t right for me and deleted my account after a couple of months and decided to do things I love and concentrate on making myself happy, not being made happy by somebody else. As Jessie J tweeted ”I know I can’t win. And I can’t make everyone happy but I will always be honest even if some don’t agree. Live your life in real life. Not online. Its not a fact its just my opinion. That’s all x.”
I was told my relationshipssex life would change after my stroke, I’m not sure thats the truth. Whilst of course there are physical limits, they are just as complicated and emotional as ever before. I think maybe its changed more with my age than to do with anything else. In regards to if I can have sex, if anything its pretty much the same - if not better! (sorry pre-stroke boys!) I’m not sure if that’s to do with the boys I’ve met or my new relationship with my body but either way I’m starting to feel more comfortable with myself than I ever had.
I think disability and sex/dating should be a much more open subject so please feel free to ask me anything…no filth please.
Old people on buses. I’m going to have a little bit of a rant because to be quite honest I am about fed up of old people treating me like I’m some kind of inconsiderate scum bag on the bus. Earlier today I caught the bus to hospital so I could collect a copy of my MRI scan, on the way back I got on a bus using my disabled bus pass and the driver pulled off before I had sat down, usually I wouldn’t sit on the priority seats but when the drivers pull off its not safe for me to walk down the bus so I sit wherever I’m closest too. I often get looks but will ALWAYS offer my seat to anyone who needs it more than I do. On this occasion an old man sat next to me, after about 5 minutes of him looking me up and down I looked back at him. “Are you disabled?” He said ‘Yes’ I replied although I have to admit I don’t really see myself as disabled, legally, I am classed as disabled. “Why” I asked him and he just pointed at the sign. “I’m recovering from a stroke so I am entitled to sit her thank you very much’ I could see the questioning look on his face and felt like screaming “yes I’m young, no strokes don’t only happen to old people” but I shouldn’t have to explain myself. I wanted to talk about this because its not the first time it’s happened from an old person and I don’t understand why they have to poke their nose in, fair enough if there was somebody else who evidently needed the seat but there wasn’t so what difference did it make to him? He was sat down. If anyone worse than me needed the seat they would have asked or I would have offered. I hate having to explain myself because my disability isn’t obvious and the annoying thing is if I was to be ignorant, he didn’t look disabled either he just looked old so I wonder what would have happened if I’d asked him the same thing…
In July I was assessed by ATOS to see if I was fit to work, the placed me in the ‘work related activity group’ where you are supposed to recieve support to help get you working again by having meetings at the job centre to discuss skills and help you apply for suitable jobs. I had my first appointment with the job centre on tuesday, FOUR MONTHS LATER. The meeting itself was a waste of time as after a quick chat they refferred me to another support group which apparently they do with everyone so I have no idea why they couldnt do that in the first place. Luckily I’ll be seeing them next week after being told I wouldn’t see them for 5 weeks. Meanwhile I have received another questionnairre from ATOS and will no doubt be called in for another assessment and then I have no idea what will happen…
So this is my very belated post about Thailand. I’ve been so manic I genuinely haven’t had time to write it up and now I don’t know where to start. This is probably going to be pretty long…
We flew with Jet airways an Indian airline from Heathrow. We had booked special assistance as I still struggle with distances. At heathrow it was fine, we got a wheelchair went through security and then Sarah took over with the pushing so we could get breakfast and look around the shops! How weird would it have been with a special assistance guy waiting for us to eat? The flight itself was absolutely fine, I took half an aspirin before we boarded and wore flight socks, even though my dr said an aspirin wouldn’t change anything it was something that made me feel safer. We stopped off in Bombay on the way there and not only was it the most unorganised, worst smelling, manic airport the special assistance was also awful but I’ll go into more detail at the end of this post about the way back where airport staff made me cry. When we finally got to Bangkok again the assistance was like England and we had a cute little thaiman that me and Sarah instantly fell in love with.
We got a taxi to our hotel which was the perfect location - just off khoa San road. We had a great time in Bangkok, shopping, eating, sightseeing and drinking. We got tuk tuks around the city to see all the sights and on Khoa San road we had our first bucket which turned into a very messy night and a very bad hangover - the drunkest I had been since being ill. We then left on a night bus to ko Samui to meet Lis and Megan. The bus was a nightmare , I only slept for about an hour, we were both in hangover hell and when we had to get on a boat to the island we didn’t have any water or sun cream which meant we got sun burnt and embarrasingly, less than an hour into the crossing I started to be sick. I had heat exhaustion and it carried on until the next day. I hardly got to see any of Ko Samui but I learnt my lesson, drink plenty of water and wear suncream!
Full moon party!
Now we were with the girls we went to koh Phagnan for the Full moon party! Initially I was worried that it would be very manic and over rated - a bit like new years eve but I had the most incredible night. It was after this beach party that I realised how care free I felt. For the first time in 18 months I wasn’t worried about anything. Perhaps seems weird being in a different country and feeling like that but I was just having an amazing time with my friends and I was relaxed. We rented a jeep on this island and went chasing waterfalls, they were all dried up so in the wise words of TLC i would suggest ‘Don’t go chasing waterfalls’
From Koh Phagnan we went to Ko Tao we instantly fell in love with this island, we sunbathed on the beach and swam in the sea, Lis went on a scuba diving course with her dad who flew over and we decided to do a day trip snorkelling. When we booked it, I said to the girls, ‘I don’t know if i’ll be able to snorkel but if not I’ll just sit on the boat’ I had no idea that snorkelling would end up being the easiest part. When we arrived at the boat the only way to get on it was by stepping down the side of a wall onto a tyre that was hanging from it and floating around in the sea and step onto the boat as the boat hit the tyre. I was watching all these fully able people get on the boat and knew there was no way I could manage it safely. I had just decided to go back to the hostel when a thai man said ‘no no we’ll get you on’ I was a bit sceptical but figured why not but when they put me on the back of a pick up truck i didnt know wether I should laugh or cry. They drove it to the edge of the pavement where the drop down to the boat was and lowered the back of the truck, (i should mention the boat had a roof) before I knew it the boat bashed into the truck and I was stepping onto the boat into the arms of two thai man who dragged me across the boat to a hole with a ladder to climb down, as I got to the steps a boy who we had met on the beach and been with on way there was making his way up to see if I needed any help, it was very nice to know that someone I barely knew was so willing to help me out, these boys would quickly become our island buddies, one of them would soon tell me i was the most impressive person they’d ever met, it felt amazing for someone to say something so kind and to know that they meant it. When it came to snorkelling it was suprisingly easy, of course I wore a life jacket (im not stupid) and Megan stayed with me practically the whole time. We had lots of fun and saw lots of pretty fish and I felt incredible. I know I wouldnt have been able to do this if I hadn’t asked and asked and asked my physios to get me back in the pool and I am incredibly proud of myself for always fighting for what I think is right for me on my road to recovery.
Koh Tao - Krabi
After a week in Koh Tao Me and Sarah left the girls to go across to Phi Phi, we decided to break the journey up with 2 nights in Krabi so we could go elephant trekking which was absolutely amazing! Getting on and off the elephant was petrifying but with a lot of help I managed it and even got to sit on the elephants back!
Party Island Phi Phi
After Krabi we left to Phi Phi, we expected it to be a chilled island much like koh tao but how wrong we were! It was the sort of place where if you werent drinking you were the odd one out (we got called weird for having a sprite instead of a bucket) and although it was heaps of fun when we did go out, it also meant that we slept all day. We found the ‘Reggae bar’ there which we went to almost every night, they had thai boxing and sarah ended up in the ring, she had a split lip and a black eye and I have a very hilairious video to prove it, poor gal! It was on this island that I experienced being hit around the head for the first time since my stroke and it couldnt have happened to a worse person. I had been drinking a bit and had gone to sit on some seats next to a thai girl. In my drunken hayze I had forgotten that thai’s find feet offensive and put my feet on an empty seat next to me, unfortunately pointing at the thai girl. Next thing I knew I was covered in beer and jumped to my feet to immediately apologies but also to leave as she had become quite agressive, as I turned around something hit my head, I still don’t know what it was but I know it came from her as she quickly got carried away by a member of staff. Mean while I started crying and a guy I had met earlier came over to check I was OK. I wasn’t. I was freaking out. I had a huge lump developing on my head and in my drunken state became quite histerical. This guy picked me up and took me back to my hostel, helping me calm down, breathe properly and stop crying. I will always be thankful that he didnt just leave me, again an almost stranger went the extra mile to make sure I was OK and although I will always be mortified he was my thailand hero. Luckily my physio turned friend from Hospital, Adam was also on hand via whatsapp to tell me to calm down and it was him that I believed I was being silly to freak out. When I woke up the next day I knew I had over reacted but I was genuinely terrified that something was going to happen and I knew that thailand wouldn’t be a great place to get into any ill-health.
I have hundreds of other stories I could tell, many about near death experiences, but these are the ones that stand out to me, I’ll finish with the story about the flight home…
We were devastated to be leaving and I personally could have spent at least twice as long in Thailand but we boarded the flight and prepared to come home. The food was disgusting but the flight was OK until we had to swap again in India, New Dehli this time. We had a bit longer to get through security and even had time to get a dominos (hurrah!) As we went through security I began to notice a lot of people looking at me - nothing im not used to, especially when using special assistance wheelchairs but what really annoyed me was at the passport check infront of the rest of the passengers the guy said ‘Whats wrong with you?’. ‘I dont have to tell you that’ I replied. I was annoyed as you don’t have to disclose why you need a wheelchair and certainly not infront of a plane full of strangers, they eventually dropped it and let us through after looking at sarahs passport and being confused as to why I didnt look like her…nightmare. When we had to get our bags scanned the woman said ‘give me your hand’ ‘no’ perhaps I was was already aggitated but the last thing I wanted was some woman grabbing my partially paralysed hand. I had honestly never felt more like I was in a zoo in my life. Maybe I over reacted but I cant have been the only person to have ever passed through airport in a wheelchair. I can tell you one thing though, I now have no desire to visit the country.
All in all I had a fantastic time and came back feeling very relaxed, I met some lovely people and realised that for most, what i’m going through wasn’t an issue or a reason for a cheap joke. My confidence soared and I am so excited to start planning my next trip. I’m very thankful for Sarah, Megan and Lis for being such amazing friends throughout Uni and continuing to be when my life took a different path to theirs. I couldnt have done everything I did without them and Im also so thankful to everyone i met that helped me out from words of encouragement to carrying me home from the beach.
& thats it. Thailand 2012 essay.
About a month or so ago I applied for a disability graduate trainee scheme for a researcher role at a television production company called objective via channel 4. It was the first role I had properly applied for and I genuinely didn’t expect to get through. Last Saturday I received an email inviting me to an assessment day at Channel 4 HQ, I was so excited, I couldn;t believe that my first post stroke interview would be at Channel 4! I had to prepare a presentation for the day about my favourite TV programme by objective and why so I chose to talk about Derren Brown Hero at 30,000 ft.
On Friday I woke up at 6am to start my exercises, get ready and catch the 7:44 train so I could get to the Channel 4 HQ for 9:30. I set 5 alarms to make sure I didn’t over sleep as its the earliest I have had to wake up for a very long time. Everything went swimmingly and I got to the reception at ten past nine and sat with some of the other candidates, we were quickly greeted by Simon the Channel 4 people development specialist who took us into a cinema to watch a promo film about Channel 4. This was followed by some icebreaker questions, introducing ourselves and telling each other what we’re reading, our favourite website or favourite app. After this we got moved to a seated area so our presentations could begin. We all started chatting whilst one person would be called to present. We soon figured out that of the 17 of us there were 4 different roles, 4 people didn’t turn up, there were 2 candidates for boom, 3 for Tiger Aspect, 3 for mentorn and 5 for objective.
Realising I had gotten to the final 5 I was instantly overwhelmed this was my first post stroke interview and my first since finishing uni and what an honour to be there! Everyone felt that their presentations went well although most of us admitted we were shaking with nerve. Once everyone had completed there presentations we were sent for lunch, It’s amazing how in a situation like that you can bond with people instantly, I felt like I had known some of the people there for years but it had only been a few hours, everyone had different levels of disabilities from dyslexia and dyspraxia, being partially sighted, deaf, diabetic, autistic to being in wheelchairs. If I’m honest I didn’t ask anyone what there disabilities were, I only overheard others conversations or listened when people told me. The truth is it makes no difference to me what disabilities people have so I don’t think to ask. I’ve started seeing past the disability and seeing the person instead and i’m very happy with that.
After lunch we had a group exercise where we were asked to come up with an idea and for a new TV program and pitch it to Channel 4, It was fun and we pitched a programme about 4 disabled people who were starting out at university, kind of like born to be different but just following the first university year. After the pitch we were taken back to the sofa area to begin interviews, again we were called one by one to be interviewed. It’s hard to tell how the interview went, with it being my first one for a professional job some of the questions threw me a bit and I found it quite hard to organise my thoughts. They asked if I felt I was still on a journey through my recovery I said Yes I am and I think I will be for a while but that starting my career was part of that journey. This was followed by ‘Do you think you can handle the long hours’ ‘I hope so’ I replied ‘I’m not going to deny that it will be difficult and i’ll have to learn to adjust and re-organise my life but oi’ve been told I couldn’t handle things before and I have so I I think so but I don’t want to lie and say definitely yes’ they said they were glad I didn’t lie as it wouldn’t help anyone and told me that there have been leniancies in the past with employees being allowed half days or working from home but that the decision was ultimately left to the production company so hopefully that won’t go against me.
If I don’t get it I think I will be devastated but there was not one person there that I thought wasn’t worthy of the position and I feel like it was a great experience anyway and I’ve met some great new friends and I will definitely be applying again in the future..
Yesterday I tried out a Lycra glove which is supposed to lower the tone & make the fingers looser. It works by sending a message to the brain about where your hand and arm is, it can send these messages because of the pressure that is being applied. the way it is stitched together also helps pull against the tone and helps the fingers to open. Its not something you would have to wear all day and the theory is that the affects carry over when you take it off. It’s an ugly glove but I think you can tell from this photo how much it helps!