Now before I launch into this post, I feel I should issue a disclaimer.
Firstly, in sharing this information I am not looking for sympathy or in any way trying to make out that I’ve had a rough time of life. I am simply detailing some of my background so that you can gain some context for the posts to come. I am on the whole a very jolly person and although some of this history section may not be that cheery, I promise it’s just a small part of a very happy and fulfilled life.
Secondly, our tale is set in the north of England, so where one may traditionally refer to the female parental figure as mother or mum, I shall be using “mam”, or on occasions of particularly heightened emotion, “me mam.”
At the age of two, me mam and dad noticed that I was having difficulty when moving around the house. After a long spell of hospital visits I was diagnosed with a condition known then as Still’s Disease which is today referred to as Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA). Basically I had inflammation in my ankles, knees, fingers, wrists, elbows, shoulders, neck and jaw which meant it was painful and difficult for me to move in these places. Shortly after this diagnosis, my parents also noticed that I was having difficulty focusing my eyes. Again, after many hospital visits it was ascertained that the arthritis had also caused inflammation in my eyes and as a result I had contracted a condition called Uveitis which was causing me to lose my sight. Despite several attempts to save my vision, laser surgery and the removal of cataracts, by the time I was five years old I was registered blind and had zero percent vision in both eyes.
Now it would be a lie to say that my condition didn’t cause me some problems. Arthritis can be quite painful and when I was young I had to undergo lots of hospital treatment, extensive physiotherapy and several changes in medication in order to try and make me as comfortable and mobile as possible. Being blind quite naturally threw up some challenges too. I wasn’t able to attend my local school as they didn’t have the facilities to support me. I therefore attended mainstream schools in two neighbouring cities. I studied alongside sighted children however these schools had the facilities to support me with my individual needs. I learned braille at a young age, developed independent living skills during mobility lessons, learned to touch type and to use a screen-reader on a computer. In short, school staff, as well as friends and (most notably) family, encouraged and supported me in becoming a capable and fiercely ambitious person.
Fast forward to today and I am an independent and happy 27 year old. I have a wonderful support network, access to lots of assistive technology and the most amazing, beautiful but excessively furry guide dog called Maggie. My arthritis is stable and my eyes cause me little to no pain. Of course my condition means I find some things more of a challenge, or that I have to go about them in a slightly different way to most people, however I have yet to find a situation without a way around it, (except perhaps watching sub-titled films, nightmare! Unless of course one wishes to learn twenty or so different languages just on the off chance of one of them cropping up at the cinema)
So there you have it, my brief history. I must confess that I find it strange to be writing all of this information as, although it clearly impacts my day to day life, you may be surprised as to how little I actually think of myself in these terms. I felt it important however to give some context to the posts to follow and to ensure that anybody reading this blog doesn’t get confused and report me for regularly taking a dog to school.