Elin was born in North Wales and spent much of her time there before moving to Worcester to do her A Levels. She’s now studying for a degree in English Literature. When she’s not blogging or studying, Elin spends her time enjoying adventures with her guide dog Jazzy. Her blog can be found at:
I’ve been visually impaired all of my life. As a child my sight was only partially affected but stable, until my vision deteriorated suddenly in my teens before stabilising again. I am lucky that I was raised never to view my disability as a barrier. I credit my parents for instilling me with the confidence, determination and ambition that pushed me to fight for my education and to grab every opportunity with both hands.
I think the thing impressed most upon me when growing up was the importance of independence. I became aware early on that the expectations of me as a visually impaired person would not be very high and that it would be up to me to exceed those expectations. Every time I was faced with the assumption that I couldn’t do something, whether it be go to University or make a cup of tea, it only resulted in strengthening my resolve to prove those assumptions wrong.
For this reason then maybe is why my ultimate goal has always been to be completely independent in everything that I do. For a long time I felt that not being able to do something myself made me weak, that asking for help meant defeat and that conceding to assistance would make me a failure.
My stubborn resolve to deal with everything on my own eventually made me more vulnerable and helpless than I could have ever imagined. I started studying at the University of Chester in September 2013 and despite all my efforts to make it as smooth a transition as possible, my university experience did not set out as a positive one. The pressures of trying to balance all this new found responsibility, of trying to keep up with the social expectations of student life and of trying to navigate the labyrinth that is making University accessible meant that my mental health eventually bared the brunt.
As a result, at some point during that first year my headspace was invaded by an invisible but ever present demon called Anxiety. And sometimes when Anxiety really makes itself at home, it invites its old friend Depression along for the ride and so commences the neurotic party in my brain.
I describe it as a party but it’s far from fun. It’s chaotic, loud and difficult to ignore. It’s easy to get swept away in and it’s hard to find a way out. It can be claustrophobic, it can be all-consuming and it can make it hard to breathe. If I let it, Anxiety and Depression can inhibit me from being myself, it can stand in the way of me reaching my full potential and it can be the barrier that prevents me from achieving the independence I’ve always strived for.
It got to a point where I was seriously considering dropping out of my degree and throwing all my hard work away. I felt unable to admit to anybody how I was feeling because I believed that my inability to fix this on my own meant I had failed. I had failed to prove the doubters wrong, I had failed to be a normal student and I had failed to be an independent blind person.
What I eventually realised was that I physically couldn’t handle everything on my own any more. I had to open up to someone or risk endangering myself and my future. It was the fear of not being able to exceed society’s expectations and having to accept the pitiful and insignificant fate Ableism had assigned for me that pushed me to seek the help that I needed. I started seeing a councillor, I started practicing Mindfulness and I went back to University in September to tackle my second year head on.
I learned that needing help didn’t make me a failure. I realised that the stubborn belief that I had to be utterly independent is what ultimately resulted in my isolation and near downfall. I accepted that the most independent thing you can do sometimes is recognising when it’s necessary to ask for help. I’m going back to University in a couple of weeks for my third and final year and am in a much better position because I know I have people at my back to help if I need it.
I still believe that independence is something everyone should aim for, whether you have a disability or not. But I think what should be emphasised is that the definition of being independent does not mean to be able to do everything by yourself. Independence means to be comfortable in your own skin, to be confident in your decisions and to understand and accept your capabilities and limitations. Above all, I will remember that to be independent does not mean to be alone.