Once again, the media – in all of its many guises – is getting its knickers in a twist about us layabout disabled scroungers, refusing to work and laughing at the saps who do. The Daily Mail even reported that people have been awarded Incapacity Benefit purely because they have “blisters”! How ludicrous, eh? I mean, it’s not like having blisters could affect your daily life, or leave you dependent on your family and carers, permanently disfigure you or carry off nearly thirty of your friends, or… Oh…wait a minute….
I’m not in the habit of feeling sorry for myself, and I’ve never thought “why me?”, but when these stories hit the press, I can’t help but curse my body for being useless in so many ways. You see, until a few months ago, I thought that maybe this year would be the one where I would find a job in an office that could accommodate me and my needs. Then I started a personal project in earnest, and the reality of the situation my body has put me in really hit home.
Having been given such a lot of help and support by DEBRA UK over the years, I wanted to give something back, other than giving talks and doing interviews. Not that those things don’t help or have their merits, but I wanted to do something more. When I a) became more involved with my burgeoning love of vintage clothes et cetera, and b) realised that finishing my Masters degree was becoming increasingly unfeasible, I decided the time had come to organise my very own fundraising event for DEBRA. How hard could it be? A few phone calls, a few emails, maybe some letters and hey presto! a event is ready to be enjoyed by all. Now, only a few months on, my naivety astounds me, and it makes me realise how much I’d been denying the true impact EB has on my life.
Firstly, making phone calls: I can only hold the phone with my right hand, the thumb of which repeatedly blisters and then becomes raw. Holding the phone either aggravates the blister, or causes the dressing to ride up and leaves the phone handset covered in wound “ick” (technical term there!). That would be lovely in an office, wouldn’t it?! Then there’s my mouth, which, when blistered, causes me to sound like the Elephant Man. Try phoning a company for a donation when what they hear is “El-oh. Ahm or-ha-ni-in ah fuh-ray-in uh-ven”, and that takes an age to say. If those two aren’t a problem, there are always the oesophageal spasms which suddenly take hold, leaving me gasping for breathe and rigid with pain, unable to speak. Or, there’s just the absolute fatigue that comes with chronic illnesses. Thus, my marvellous mum has done the majority of the ‘phoning around for me, including several hours when I was exhausted on my hospital bed and imbibing opioid pain killers. Are you a business owner who wants to employ a twenty-five year old and her mum to do one job? If so, we’re your women!
Emails aren’t without their difficulty, either. Having deep ulcers at the tops of my thighs makes sitting upright very painful for me, and so I have to lean to either side alternately. Try typing on a laptop, which is balanced on your hip and making you very hot, with your osteoporotic spine twisted around and see how much you get done. That’s if my eyes aren’t blistered, or the brain fog isn’t so dense that I can’t remember how to explain my own disease. If anyone knows a company where sending an email saying “I’ll get back to you when my bum calms down” is acceptable, please let me know!
Arranging meetings is like something out of Challenge Anneka (look it up, kids). I can’t imagine important meetings at a work place being deferred because I’m having to lay with my legs in the air to ease the pain, or because I’m having my oesophagus stretched again, or have a Colitis flare-up (wherein my mum has taken phone calls and passed messages through the bathroom door). I could only do that with my event because I’m organising it with friends who understand my situation, and know that things can change at a moments notice with me. It is far easier to find friends who accept the “EB permitting” caveat than it is a job or employers.
There is also the issue that the vast majority of the organising of the fundraiser has been done either at my home or from hospital rooms whilst I await surgeries, usually with me in bed (mine or one at St Thomas’ Hospital) wearing my pyjamas. I also send many of my emails during dressing changes, even though the distracting pain can cause errors in my messages, or late at night when my discomfort is keeping me awake.
I’m sure this sounds terribly depressing and negative, yet despite all I have said here, the continuing experience of pulling this event together hasn’t been a horrible one. Vastly because it has proven to me that the majority of people are not just good, but kind and generous beyond my imagination. So many people, especially those I have met via Twitter, have put their hearts into helping me and my friends to help DEBRA. And I have made friends, wonderful ones, because of this; friends who I had never met until they heard about my event, but who have given so much time and love to it. There are independent crafters and jewellery makers who have taken the time and effort to make pieces for us to raffle, small businesses who are giving to us even though we are in austere times, and who have pledged more support than I could have dreamed of. A Forties style singing trio, who emailed and asked if they could play for us for free (then thanked us for saying yes!), and bloggers who have offered to write about it – including The Broken of Britain’s Lisa J. Ellwood, even though she has tons going on and should be resting! – sharing their expertise and readership with us.
I’ve also encountered several emails and tweets with messages like “I know it’s not as bad as EB, but I have…”, with revelations of what people are living with. For the record, the severity of one illness doesn’t negate the difficulties another person is experiencing, but it has widened my circle of “differently abled” friends in the best way – not purely because we have health problems in common, but because we have shared interests.
While this project has shone a spotlight on my limitations, it has emphasised knowledge my heart has been trying to convince my brain of for some time:
1) Though I may not be fit for work, or good for employment, I am good for something. I just need to be able to pander to my body when it demands attention – which I couldn’t do in normal employment. Having a disability does not mean that I cannot contribute, it just means I can’t contribute in the way the majority of the media has decided I should.
2) Britain is not broken, but full of wonderful people, in all classes, ages, races, religions, jobs and bodies – the only thing that is broken is the view the government has of the people it should be serving. The minority of the “bad” people is so small, it’s laughable that the government and media waste their time working themselves into a frenzy over them.
So I dedicate this to all of the amazing people I now know – you haven’t just helped DEBRA, you’ve helped me, too.