Why medication is not the enemy | mental health / chronic illness

Disclaimer: as said towards the end of this post, I am not advocating for the use of medications, I am only discussing my personal experience and the stigmatisation of such medications.

A couple of days ago an opinion column was posted in the LA times, discussing one man’s experience with attempting to come off anti-depressants. As a community, many people have written threads on the issues there are within the piece such as this one by @coffeespoonie including his use of addiction and dependence as interchangeable terms, as well as implying that an anti-depressant is not a prescription drug. Whilst these threads have taken apart the piece very effectively and better than I ever could, I wanted to talk about my own experience of long-term medication use, why it isn’t the enemy, and how much it annoys me that medication are continually demonised in traditional media.

I’ve been on some form of mental health medication since I was fifteen. Originally, for six months beforehand, my GP placed me on a beta blocker as a measure until I could see a psychiatrist, who put me on my first of many tries at an SSRI. I was very unlucky and had a major reaction to it, but it does come down to being unlucky – what happened to me would never happen to more than a couple of people. When I then went into inpatient care a month later, I was instead placed on another form of anxiety medication and, although I’ve tried several others over the last four years, it is the one I am still on today. I couldn’t imagine life without it.

Actually, that’s a lie, because I know what my life is like without it, where there have been periods off it, as well as my life beforehand. I was in Year 9 at a grammar school when I started having panic attacks and they quickly became daily, and often twice daily, occurrences which meant I was out of lesson after lesson and often unable to even make it through the gates. I moved school, and though my anxiety was reduced they were still happening. Fast forward two years of therapy, I attempted to come away from my medication, and it just wasn’t sustainable – my brain moves at a pace that I often can’t even explain; I have five trains of thought running at once, most of which aren’t even relevant and causing unnecessary levels of panic, at such a fast speed I can’t focus on them.

I’m at the best I have been for four years at the moment; those two years of therapy had a huge impact, and in the last year I have had my chronic pain management programmes which were quite holistic and focused a lot on my anxiety. Apart from during exam season, my panic attacks have been increasingly rare. But with my move to university, I don’t know how I am going to be. Often, doctors question me as to when I’m going to come off the medication as if it’s simply for an acute illness. Mental health medication is often seen as the last resort, something avoided if at all possible, and whilst I am a big advocate for therapy, I don’t think it should be demonised the way it is. Therapy got me out of crisis, but my medication is what keeps me afloat. If anything, it was my medication which meant I could get the most out of therapy.

In a similar vein, I’m also on a long-term painkiller, which are equally as demonised in the time of the opiod crisis. It began with 6-8 tablets of paracetamol a day, before endless different painkillers that were all completely ineffective or gave me side effects. Eventually, I found an NSAID that seemed to at least take the edge off the pain and I was on that until I finally saw a specialist rheumatologist who recommended the one I have been on for the last two years. I could probably survive without it – but could I live? Could I have done my A Levels? Almost absolutely not.

I am not advocating that people turn to medication before therapy, whether that be talking therapy or DBT or physio, or even advocating it’s use at all. I’m not a doctor, and I will never recommend a certain medication or slander those which have caused me issues, because everyone is different. All I want is for it to stop being so stigmatised, particularly by people who have never experienced the trauma and issues that mental health problems and chronic pain can cause.

Am I dependent? Or even an addict, as David Lazarus implies in the LA Times? Perhaps I am dependent. But I am no longer constantly frozen by anxiety and out of action due to pain and panic attacks. Is that such a bad thing? Those who say that my age means I should not be depending on medication are correct, because no I shouldn’t have to be – I don’t want to be either, but I have chronic and mental illnesses.

And yes, there is significant irony in the fact that I have been sat writing this piece for two hours and have only just realised that I didn’t take my meds this morning, but here we are. Let this be your reminder!

How to survive your A Levels… with a long-term health condition | disability and education

This is a part two to my previous blog post of tips about how to survive your A Levels, more specifically about surviving them with a long-term illness. Disclaimer: this is all from my own personal experience and I can’t claim that any of these tips will definitely work for you. For context, my main issues/symptoms include chronic pain, chronic fatigue/”brain fog”, sensory issues, co-ordination issues, anxiety and concentration and memory issues. I’m also aware of things that I was privileged to have at my school because it was a good school, as well as being able to afford a laptop, though I’ve tried to recognise that throughout.

Tell your school!!

Some of you reading might think this is a given or you might have little choice in the matter, but for others, this isn’t something that comes naturally particularly if you have something that is invisible and/or misunderstood. I honestly think that this is so important – so your teachers know how to support you (and potentially cut you some slack every now and then!) and so your school don’t take issue (or less issue) with you for taking any time off you need, whether it be to rest at home or for appointments, as well as getting any separate exam arrangements (I had a separate room, used a laptop in extended writing subjects, had rest breaks and had my exams on yellow paper).

I’ve always been very vocal with my teachers, but I know others prefer to go through the disability or pastoral team, and that’s fine too! The problem comes when no-one knows. If your school have issues with what you’re telling them, take in as many letters as you have (if you’re currently undiagnosed and/or awaiting specialist appointments, I’d recommend getting your GP to write you something, which I used to have to do).

Get your textbooks in a format that suits you, and/or make them suit you

For me, this was two-fold. My chronic pain meant that I couldn’t really carry textbooks, so in Year 12 I had my philosophy textbook on my laptop but borrowed one if there was one available (as I do struggle to read off a computer for that amount of text), and in Year 13 always borrowed one as there were a few more in the room. I did carry my history textbooks as they were much less heavy, but in Year 13 when I had both topics on the same day, I got a second copy of one of them through my school’s bursary to keep in the room (if your sixth form doesn’t have a general bursary, ask the disability team – you should be given one). If you have one, getting the Kindle version on an iPad/tablet might be a good alternative, or even on your phone.

The second part was making sure the textbooks worked for me. This meant highlighting in my history ones a LOT and scribbling in them, and in all of them, putting in a lot of post-its indicating topics/chapters/different types of information, and using a yellow overlay.

If you have a hospital admission…

I had two hospital admissions during my A Levels, although they were both planned and not at the conventional type of hospital – I had two inpatient pain management programmes. The first was at the end of Year 12 so it didn’t matter as much, but the second was in January of Year 13 so, a pretty big time of year. I co-ordinated my schoolwork through the pastoral Sixth Form team – two absolute gems – who emailed my teachers and had them send me powerpoints, worksheets, exam questions and anything else I needed. It was decided there was no pressure for me to get through any of it, but I would have it if I could, and then it’d already be there for when I got back. I personally think this is a good way to do it – everything is in one place and all teachers are aware of the situation.

It does make life a bit difficult, and I do think it might have affected my grades a little bit, but it’s not something you can change nor is it your fault. If you have an admission, it’s easier said than done, but try not to think about it too much – worrying won’t do anything and will likely make your recovery more difficult. Do some school work where you can – I only managed to do a little bit of my EPQ and a couple of lesson powerpoints – but don’t let it harm your recovery.

Managing therapies/medication alongside your studies

I had a lot of physio to be doing when I came out of my pain programme in January, and I found it really hard to keep up with it when I felt like I should be studying all the time. The way I eventually managed it was by slotting it into a certain time – for a while this was straight after school, as I often didn’t work straight away anyway, and later I used it as a study break. Experiment in the first few weeks with this and find what makes you the least tired and works best. I also ended up dropping down to only every 3 or so days during exams. If you have talking therapy or physio appointments which are more regular than other hospital appointments, I would recommend you trying to get them at the start or end of the school day (I used to miss form and PSHE quite often as that gave enough time to not miss a lesson) or during a free so you’re less likely to miss something. It’s not always possible, but every little helps.

In terms of medication, I used to have a midday dose of one of my painkillers so it would be in the school day. I ended up finding a rhythm where I would have it at lunch which just meant I had to shift my evening dose slightly. Set reminders or even alarms on your phone to make sure you take it – if you’re going to take it at lunch you could even put a note in your lunchbox, whatever works.

Learn how you catch up and revise best (How do you learn?)

Everyone has heard of the “different learning styles” of visual, audio and kinaesthetic, and that’s a good place to start – can you catch up by reading the textbook, or watching a youtube video, or from the powerpoint your class did? Or do you need the teacher to teach it to you? This can also partly come down to the subject, your ability and the teacher – do they put everything on the powerpoint or do they talk in more depth? And do you feel confident in your ability or need to ask a lot of questions? For me, I would generally catch up with history or philosophy by myself with the materials, but I couldn’t cope on my own with chemistry both due to my ability, my need to understand everything in depth and my endless questions, so I would have after-school sessions.

In terms of revision, it’s probably going to be trial and error for at least your first term, if not all of year 12. Don’t be worried if you revise for a test and it all goes wrong – that’s partly what year 12 is for, and to be honest, that happens for nearly everyone, illness or not. But it might be that everyone uses mindmaps, and you prefer simple sets of notes, or recording yourself speaking them.

If you like flashcards, or want to give them a go, I highly recommend Anki – you type the flashcards however you want (so you could do question and answer, or subtitle on one side and the content on another) and then when you revise it, you rate how you found the card, and it will use it’s algorithm to decide when you should next review each one. It also has a text to speech function, so you can have it read back to you if you prefer. It’s free on PC, but it costs a bit for you to get it on your phone.

I also recommend websites like GetRevising and TES, which have thousands of resources ready to go. I wouldn’t recommend never making your own resources, but if you’re having a bad time of it with your illnesses it can be really helpful, or if you fancy giving another type of resource a go. TES and Prezi are highly likely to have powerpoints for most topics, if you want a bit of an alternative from your teacher’s or if you haven’t got one.


Every long-term illness/condition and every person’s symptoms with each of them is different, so it’s impossible to generalise, but I hope these tips are somewhat helpful, and I wish you all so much luck for your A Levels! You’ve got this.

How to survive your A Levels, by a disabled student | disability and education

As of a few weeks ago, I can officially say that I finished my A Levels but it was definitely not without struggle. Throughout my two years I’ve been dealing with my hypermobility spectrum disorder and chronic pain/fatigue, as well as several mental illness/learning difficulties, and with this came absences for countless medical appointments and I spent chunks of time away on 2 pain programmes. Nonetheless, I made it! So, here is my slightly cynical advice on how to survive your A Levels, whether you have a disability or not.

Take the right subjects for you

This one doesn’t help if you’re going into year 13, but for new year 12s, this step is the starting block that will honestly set up your two years – there’s a fine balance to strike at A Level between taking subjects you like and the ones you’ll do well in. If those go hand in hand, great! But if they don’t, you need to be very prepared to work extremely hard if you’re not as naturally inclined towards a subject. I took chemistry, which I love – even if I complained about it all the time and wouldn’t admit it to my teacher – but I had to accept early on that I wasn’t going to walk away with an A* and I probably worked twice as hard for it as my other two for a much lesser reward.

Get a good planner and always be prepared for setbacks

Regardless of if you’re a disabled student or not, A Levels will provide challenge after challenge. There’s coursework you think you’re done with that comes back, there’s random tests you get two days to revise for, essays due when you have mocks, I could go on. The best way I can tell you to manage it is to get a good planner – I recommend a Personal Planner (not spon, they’re just great as you personalise every element) but definitely get something with a good amount of space for each day. Plan what you’ll do in your frees, give yourself mini deadlines, plan your evenings, and plan when you will rest, which I will controversially say is possibly the most important.

If you then have to schedule in your medical appointments or a hospital stay, it becomes much easier to look at your week and work out when you will catch up. Personally I liked to schedule in after-school sessions with teachers because I prefer to have concepts explained to me when I first learn them, but you can also just work from your textbooks.

I honestly had 2 planners and 3 to-do lists going at any one time to manage things – you really don’t need to go that far but try and find what works for you early on!

Build rapport with your teachers

I definitely recommend that you get to know your teachers and let them know how they can help you. After the first lesson I had with every new teacher during my GCSEs and A Levels, I would stay behind and give them a quick run-down of my conditions and my needs even though they were emailed about me – it puts a face to a name . If you’re not a disabled student, still have a chat with them at some point and just show interest and let them get to know your learning style; it just doesn’t necessarily need to be so urgent.

My teachers have probably breathed sighs of relief now that I’ve finished because I spent a lot of time with most of them, after-school or by email or bothering them in their frees. I would not have wanted to be one of my teachers, put it that way, but I think they mostly got used to it after three years of me tipping up in their classrooms often in tears. I don’t think I would have gotten through my A Levels without a few of my teachers and the sixth form team, so I’d honestly recommend that even if you’re not fussed about knowing your teachers well, you still go to them if you find yourself needing some help, academically or otherwise.

Take as many opportunities as possible in Year 12

Most sixth forms (and I imagine colleges as well) offer a lot of opportunities to their students to help you with your upcoming UCAS/apprenticeship applications, and a lot of universities offer stuff too. I did 2 summer schools at Durham and Bath, as well as going to a seminar on Brexit, me and my best friend went to Manchester for another EU based event, our school took us to Bristol which included a taster lecture, I was a progress mentor and the leader of the mental health advocate team, I did a Cambridge essay competition, and there was plenty of stuff that I didn’t take part in too. Do as much as you can (without sacrificing your work or health) and I guarantee it will help you find your passion and confirm what you want to do at uni, as well as supporting your application in Year 13.

I also did an EPQ, though at my school we did it in Year 13 unlike most, which I would highly recommend if you have a topic you’d like to research more in depth that you won’t be able to in your subjects. It’s a lot of work but if you love your topic it’s so worth it. I really enjoyed researching it, writing it, being slightly (very) argumentative about my points with my supervisor and presenting it at the end. It’s funny how much confidence I gained from having to do a 10 minute presentation about the pill in front of a room 90% made up of men, but here we are.

Remember that you know yourself and your body best

This is slightly controversial, and I’m not sure schools will like this particular tip, but if you can sit there and say you know that a day off will benefit you, take one. I’m not saying take one every week because you feel like it, but if you’re at breaking point, just do it. For me, that was sometimes the difference between getting through to the end of term vs me suffering burn-out and being off for days on end later on. You might not need a day off, but maybe you might need a free period of just relaxing with your friends instead of working hard, and that’s okay too – as long as it’s rare, and because you actually need it.

Just stay out of drama

It isn’t worth it. I promise. Shove in some earphones if it’s around you, block them if it’s about you, get your work done and move on.

…But keep a social life!

I didn’t really have a social life in year 12 between my disabilities and my work, and although I couldn’t really have prevented that, I do wish it had been different. I adore my group of friends and I’ve been very lucky to have them, but I wish I’d spent more time with them. Let yourself have time off every now and then, I promise you won’t drop by 2 grades for every hour you’re out.

On a slightly different note, but it fits here – I’d really recommend picking up some volunteering. I’ve been a Cub Scout leader for 3 years now and not only have I gained skills and qualifications from it, but I’ve gained a family who I absolutely adore. I also did an hour a week in one of the GCSE Science classes through all of sixth form, which… well, it built my resilience, we’ll put it that way.

Don’t let anyone tell you how to note-take or revise

I typed all my history and philosophy notes in both years because of the pain in my hands, but to be honest I think I would have regardless because there’s so much information to get down! But in the bigger picture, I only ever took notes that I thought necessary and I put them informally if I needed to even if it caused confusion during folder checks. Whether you’re a disabled student or not, just get in the habit of working how you need to – you know yourself best. When we were really close to exams, one of my teachers kept telling me I needed to be exclusively doing essay plans, but I knew I needed to drill the content more – so that’s what I did, and it worked.

Don’t procrastinate on your coursework

NOTHING makes me wince more looking back at my A Levels more than my history coursework. I absolutely hated it, to the point that I think my chemistry teachers heard more about that than me moaning about their subject for a few months. But, I really wish I’d just got on with more of it over the year 12 summer and the first couple of months of the year. I came out with a high grade in it in the end, but it was such a slog and it took up time I needed for other things.

________

To be honest, I could probably continue for quite a while with this, but I think those are are the main things – and that’s probably enough sarcasm for one post. I hope that was vaguely useful (or entertaining), and I wish you so much luck for your A Levels!

What has being a Scout done for me? | scouting

It’s currently the summer holidays so I think it’s the perfect time to look into opportunities for September either for kids or for yourself, so I thought I’d talk a bit about my time in Scouts so far as both a youth member and an adult volunteer. Yes, I’m probably a little bit biased, but I can genuinely say that I don’t know where I’d be without it.

I joined the Cub Scouts when I was 10 and I was the only girl in my pack at the time (and was then the only girl Scout a year later) because some of my friends were in it and I fell in love with it. I was one of those kids who thrived on reward, so getting badges was my favourite thing, and I just enjoyed having friends somewhere that wasn’t school. To be honest, that’s a bit of a lie – I still thrive on reward and I still love getting badges, although as an adult you don’t get half as many!

Scouting has seen me at my worst and at my best, because it’s been one of the only constants in my life over the last 8 (nearly 9!) years. It saw me through when my best friend passed away; during all my symptoms of chronic and mental illness and this year they’ve celebrated how far I’ve come. My group have done everything they can to make as much as they can accessible, and I’ve had so many cool experiences.

The main campaign for Scouting at the moment is #skillsforlife and I’ve gained so many skills. People think of Scouting and just think of skills like map-reading, pioneering and things like that, which I have learnt (and still fail at), but it’s more than that – leadership and communication and trust. I’ve achieved my Silver Duke of Edinburgh award and I’m on my way to Gold and becoming a Queen’s Scout, which has been my goal since I was a much younger Scout.

The opportunities I’ve been offered have been incredible. I’ve been in Gang Show twice – a Scouting variety show happens all over the country – performing for a week each time in a proper theatre. Last year I went to Belgium and went to several of the war memorials for the anniversary (and a chocolate factory, so my ultimate goal now is to be a chocolatier), and next year if all goes to plan I’m going to Canada.

I actually still think about the waffles I ate in Belgium, so I just thought I’d make you hungry even though it’s not hugely relevant here.

But apart from these big experiences, there’s the weekly meetings which are just as important to me. I was a Young Leader for two and a half years, and in September I’ll have done a year of service as an adult. I’ve run several badges with the Cubs – Chef, Disability Awareness, Scientist – and I like to think I’ve made an impact on some of their lives, even if it’s just one thing they’ve picked up along the way.

Scouting is absolutely my second family, and I don’t know quite where I’d be without them. I’ve loved every camp, every experience and I honestly think that every child should have the opportunity to be part of an organisation like it – Scouting, Guiding, Cadets or anything else. It gives kids skills that they won’t learn in school, and experiences they probably won’t find anywhere else. It’s fun, it’s challenging and it’s a family. If you’re an adult, I’d 100% recommend getting involved as a leader – it’s so fulfilling and you’ll be changing the lives and mindsets of so many kids.

You can find a group in your local area if you click here. Pop your local group an email and I’m sure they’ll welcome you in with open arms! And if you’re not convinced by me alone, there’s plenty of testimonies available on the website too.

Could I do more than my best? (post results ramblings) | education

I’ve already written this post once, the day after results day. It was raw and angry and harsh, and a lot of it wasn’t me talking, it was anxiety and annoyance at an education system that I fought against for two years for what felt like nothing. It’s a complex thing, but I feel more at home with myself again now I’ve had time to process it.

Two years ago, I opened an envelope that I genuinely believed was the end of the world. It wasn’t, but I was over the moon. This year, I knew it wasn’t the end of the world – I’ve worked hard to try and overcome the concept that a few letters on a page are all that I am – but I was gutted. And it’s sad, because I’m happy with three out of my four grades, but I automatically discarded those from my mind before I’d even processed them. A few days later I’m upset that I felt no need to celebrate on Thursday, because I know there is more to it than that piece of paper.

I have spent two years fighting an education system that isn’t for disabled and chronically ill youth like me. Although my school have been as supportive as possible, my body has not really been able to cope with 7-8 hour days, or my memory with the density of the subjects I chose – I honestly wish I had done my A Levels back when AS was 50%. It sounds dramatic, but I spent full days in such intense pain that I could barely see the board, and some days my fatigue was so bad I couldn’t read a sentence out of a textbook. I missed weeks off school to be in hospital, and the equivalent of several more in appointments.

I have to remember that these exams pitted me against hundreds of thousands of students, the majority of which will not have experienced these issues. The ones who did may have done better than me regardless, but this isn’t me making excuses – it’s me forgiving myself, letting myself realise that I did the most I could, and that’s okay. Being able to write for 2 hours upwards with chronic wrist, shoulder and back pain; keeping focused and not dizzy for that amount of time – I won just by getting through all my exams, and sixth form in general.

For me, I think part of the reason I felt so upset was because I knew that there would be people I’d either let down, as well as the people who would judge me. Since my GCSE results, I’d been almost put on a pedestal by some of my peers that I didn’t want to be on; shushing me if I expressed concern or anxiety about my grades. And I felt like I let down my teachers and the sixth form support team, but they (naturally) told me I was being silly. My chemistry teacher is a very matter-of-fact person, but with the most human of emotions, and that makes for someone who can talk sense into me. I couldn’t be more appreciative.

It’s cliche, but those grades truly don’t tell my whole story, just like everyone tells you before you get your grades, but you can’t see it at the time. I’ve done three hours of volunteering a week during both years, working with teenagers at school and the Cub Scouts. I did assemblies about mental health and a talk about my disabilities to the entire staff body. I never shut up about things I was passionate about, had debates in class, educated people on feminism and ableism and sexualities. I wrote essays on topics I was fascinated by.

I did three subjects I love, and I still love them, regardless of the grades. Maybe chemistry was a wildcard, and I knew it was risky – but I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. In general, I loved my sixth form experience, and the piece of paper I received on Thursday doesn’t tell you any of those other things.

Four letters at the age of 18 aren’t the end of the world. It’s time to start new adventures, and there’s already several opportunities coming my way. I did my best, and that will always be enough. And I know, that everything will be okay.

Why I (sort of) miss my walking stick | disability

In May 2017, I started using a walking stick – on the day of my GCSE biology exam to be exact, and I was so nervous about what people would say. It’s not exactly seen as normal for a 16 year old to be using a cane, is it? But I had very little choice; I couldn’t hold myself up and the amount of pain I was in wasn’t worth it compared to the slight embarrassment I felt when I first started using it.

Using a walking stick as a teenager is really difficult, and I can’t sugarcoat that. Elderly people glare at you because they think you’re faking; people make comments as you walk past. A lad imitated my legs collapsing as he walked past me once, and I’ve never felt so self-conscious. My condition that was once invisible became public property to discuss and question and laugh at. A boy from a younger year once shouted after me asking if I’d just come back from a war, which was not only humiliating, but extremely offensive to veterans.

It got easier with time. I became more comfortable with going out; it took longer for me to feel okay when I was just with my friends instead of my mum, purely from a protection perspective (although my friends are amazing, and so supportive). I got to a point where I just rolled my eyes when someone made comments, and I empowered myself through having photos taken with it.

This was taken in Swansea by my best friend Caitlin because I walked past this wall every day walking to work experience and I happened to match it.

I stopped using it in January 2019, when I had my pain rehabilitation programme and strengthened my legs. And obviously, I was, and generally am, really happy about that – people don’t look at me, they don’t comment. But that causes other issues for me, and I sometimes miss it – not in that I want to use it, but the fact it has made my disability invisible again.

If people knock me, it hurts for at least four days, and this happens a lot because I can’t walk very fast. I don’t feel like I can ask for a seat on trains like I used to, so I’ve stood up most times than not since January on shorter journeys and the tube in London. It feels like I’m constantly dismissed and seen as able-bodied, but I’m still working on building up my strength so my legs still collapse under me and I can’t walk very far in one go.

This isn’t meant to be a sob story. This is more about the differences between being invisibly disabled and having a visible invisible disability (which is different to a visible disability, which is more about visible symptoms, I believe). I know I am privileged to be able to walk around without people making such comments, I’m more likely to be given a job, and I am less likely to find that places are inaccessible to me. There is definite privilege in the stage I am now at with my disability, and it’s quite undeniable.

But I can’t deny that I sometimes miss the ease that it could sometimes bring in people accepting that there is actually something wrong with me, even if that was often grudging. Now, I feel like I have to prove myself far more, and it’s difficult in a different way.

Whether your disabilities are visible or not, there will always be a fight. Disabled people still aren’t equal in so many areas, and often aren’t even included in lists of marginalised people. So it’s interesting for me to look at the different versions of the fight that I’ve experienced, and will continue to experience.

How does having dyspraxia affect me? | disability

“Dyspraxia, also known as developmental co-ordination disorder (DCD), is a disorder that affects your movement and co-ordination.”NHS website

Of all my conditions, I feel like dyspraxia (or DCD) is the one which is the one of the least known about – especially when people assume it’s the same as dyslexia, and they’re often grouped together.

I was officially diagnosed with dyspraxia in 2017, two years after the idea was first bought up by my Occupational Therapist at the time. The waiting time for an assessment was a long time, but we also had issues where I turned 16 and parts of the medical system change you to adult services at 16 and others at 18 – and that’s a whole other blog post. My family and I spent my childhood believing that I was just extremely clumsy and bad at sports. I couldn’t (and still somewhat struggle to) do my hair and I never managed to learn to ride a bike.

There’s been a lot of discussions on social media in recent times discussing that disabled children become disabled adults, and for me that’s really important as I turned 18 last year and I’m going to university in the autumn where I’m going to have to be completely independent. Just because I’m 18 doesn’t mean my coordination has suddenly improved and I can do all the random things that I previously couldn’t. There’s things that I come up against both daily and randomly like not being able to use knives properly or grating cheese, and if strangers ask me for directions they’re probably not going to get there.

I directed an elderly couple to somewhere very local a couple of months ago and 2 days later realised I missed out the most important road on the route. Fun. Also, feel free to follow me on Twitter!

I literally bump into anything and everything – in the corridors at school I used to bump into at least one person every time I moved classroom. But there’s things that are less obvious that I struggle with too, like being over-sensitive to light and moving my eyes and attention from one thing to another like the whiteboard at school to my laptop or a textbook. My short-term memory is also non-existent and I interrupt people a lot which I always feel awful for, but I’m not being rude – I just struggle with the perception of when to speak and following all the people in a conversation’s voices.

It is difficult to deal with a lot of the issues my dyspraxia brings because it makes me feel so behind other people my age and I often feel guilty about some of the issues it can cause for me. It’s definitely not talked about enough in older teens/young adults and is perceived as something only really seen in kids – when you’re someone older with it you’re just a nuisance, or unfortunately far too often assumed to be drunk. I’ve just invested in these badges in an attempt to combat that part.

If you’d like to learn more about dyspraxia, you can on the Dyspraxia Foundation or Dyspraxia UK websites. I hope this has given you a bit of an insight into the condition if it wasn’t really on your radar, or if you didn’t realise it was different to dyslexia!

REVIEW: Amélie the Musical (Birmingham Alexandra) | theatre

We booked to see Amélie very spontaneously about a week ago, knowing very little about it, and… well. It was a journey.

This is definitely not the best photo, but even with editing the lighting did me no favours. Hand modelling by my mum.

The synopsis for Amélie is somewhat vague and very short, describing simply that she is a French girl who isolates herself but orchestrates small acts of kindness; she then has a chance to fall in love and she has to change how she would normally act. For me, it sounded perfect – I love to see introverted characters begin to thrive across the story of a show, and I’m a sucker for a romance.

I really wanted to love it. The fact that the cast are also the orchestra is amazing, and every single one of them is so incredibly talented. The music is beautiful, and the choreography that goes with it; the movement whilst they play and how it intertwines with the changing of the sets, it has everything within it to be amazing. For me, it was the story and its pacing that stopped me from loving it.

This musical version of Amélie is based on the film, which I admit that I haven’t seen (can you tell by my reliance on the tiny synopsis?). My issue with it came with the pace – the first half seemed to take a very long time to cover a very short period of time, whereas the second half covered a much bigger chunk of time at a much quicker speed. The romance was barely built throughout before it peaked in the space of about ten minutes at the end, meaning I had very little connection to the characters and I wasn’t overly bothered by their story. The director (Mike Fentiman) says in the programme that the show is a “simple, gentle, moving exploration of human loneliness and isolation”, and whilst I see that such a slow-moving romance should show this, the end felt so rushed that I feel like it stops this from being what the audience takes away from it.

The set is brilliantly done – most, if not all, the shows I’ve seen in the last few years have had very simple sets which then have basic sets revealed in them, or lighting/projections mostly used to represent the scenes throughout (see my review of The Color Purple ), so this was very different for us, but I really liked it. The set is highly elaborate, mostly used as a train station but elements are moved by the cast throughout to use them differently; the pianos have sets hidden within and the photobooth doubles as a door when rotated. Again, the choreography was so clever in moving pieces like the photobooth and I did really enjoy that!

The final element that I didn’t really get on with was the blurred lines between Amélie’s reality and her daydreams, letters and (slight spoilers) the sort-of hallucinations of one of the other characters. I’m fairly sure these lines are blurry on purpose, but Elton John and a gnome dressed as a samba dancer turning up at random points didn’t necessarily confuse me, but it almost took the tone of the show to a different place quite suddenly; it became more slap-stick like, and I found it quite hard to get into the story due to this constant movement.

It was a genuine shame for me that I found the pace so difficult – maybe it’s the fact that I haven’t seen the film, or maybe I just don’t have the same appreciation for the way this show is constructed that others might have. The music and choreo was so good and every member of the cast is extremely talented (they can sing, dance, act AND play instruments – often doing several of those things simultaneously) so I did enjoy it, but it just wasn’t the show, the story for me.

REVIEW: The Color Purple – The Musical (Birmingham Hippodrome) | theatre

The stage at the end of the show, and the front of the programme.

I read The Color Purple by Alice Walker when I was about 12, it having been recommended to me as a sort of alternative classic. As such a young white girl, it was one of the first things that made me truly aware of my privilege and it has stuck with me ever since. So, when it was advertised that it was playing in Birmingham I almost immediately booked a pair of tickets – and I am so, so happy I did.

T’Shan Williams as the protagonist, Celie, is stunning; she carries the innocence and slight naivety that Celie has during her early life before transforming into the empowered woman we see after she has met Shug Avery (Joanna Francis) and Sofia (Karen Mavundukure). Both of these women were also phenomenal – they had stage presence second to none and I think the audience hung on to their every word. Obviously, both of these women are key to the story in teaching Celie what is right and wrong, and the actresses carried off their characters so well. I also adored Danielle Fiamanya as Nettie, and it may be my only gripe with the show that she is not on stage for half as much as I wanted her to be! Her chemistry with T’Shan Williams was incredible and they seemed to fit so easily as sisters throughout, and their voices came together absolutely beautifully.

Every character in this show is important to Celie’s journey in some way, and every character was pulled off with such energy, and you could tell that this show meant so much to every actor and actress in it. We went on closing night, and the cast’s group hug at the end of the bows had me almost in tears. I loved all their individual voices but it was so joyous to listen to groups of the cast sing, and the scenes and music blended so seamlessly from the heart-breaking scenes to the high-spirited. I’d be hard-pushed to say I have any favourites, but I loved “Hell No!” (Sofia) and “Big Dog” (Mister, Field Hands and Celie). In the second half, I was almost stunned by Mister’s solo “Mister Song”, by Ako Mitchell, because he hadn’t sung with such emotion and musicality in the first half.

One of the things I love most about this story is the contrasting lives of Sofia and Harpo (Simon-Anthony Rhoden) to those of Celie and Mister, because they show the breaking of the cycle and how children will not necessarily become like their parents. I think it’s really important that they cut the narrative, and Harpo throughout was so lovely to watch flourish. And finally, there has to be a shout-out given to the Church Ladies (Danielle Kassarate, Rosemary Annabella Nkrumah and Landi Oshinowo) who provided the light-hearted transitions throughout and seemed to appear at slightly hilariously inappropriate moments.

I adored the set for this show, in which at the beginning all that can be seen is two cut out triangles and a rectangle; the sets appear as and when around the actors with some props being organically taken on and off set by those in the scene. The set designer (Alex Loade) says in the programme that because Celie has little control over her life, “it makes sense… [that] Celie remains fixed and the locations arrive around her”. I enjoyed how basic each set was, only adding what was needed to the story, never distracting. The only static prop is the letterbox, which as a key part to the story, and Mister’s control of Celie, is entirely appropriate.

The set at the beginning of the show which gives little away

The costumes had a similar effect, for me – in the opening song, it was noticable for me that there was very little colour except for the outfits of Nettie and Celie, the latter of which was slightly muted as if showing the fact that she was seen as somewhat beneath Nettie, who shone in her bright yellow dress, her hair down in braids. This continues across the show, with the exception of the gorgeous bright blue outfits in the letters scene where Celie is imagining where Nettie is – the stark contrast to the muted scenes of Celie’s life clearly gives the impression of desperation and imagination and wishing, and it is stunning.

I can’t recommend this show more, and it easily gets 5/5 from me (and my mum, who I always drag to the theatre!) – I truly hope it gets a tour or transfer to the West End as it will be such a shame if more people don’t get to see it. I think it’s such a brilliant show in that it has those light-hearted moments and amazing choreography, but that never takes away from the serious tale at hand.

Photo from the bows at the end of the show – an extremely deserved standing ovation for their closing show! (Photos allowed during the bows).

On leaving school, change and recovery | mental health

Change has never sat well with me. I dislike uncertainty, I hate my life being in other people’s hands; even if it’s in my own, I hate the choices and the need to put trust in myself, something I’ve never quite had.

I always knew I was going to be somewhat emotional about leaving my school, with so many of my teachers having been such a solid support system, some for three or four years – but I wasn’t ready for how much reflection it would cause on how much has changed in the last few years for me. I didn’t realise how much it would truly, honestly hurt – a cause for celebration, but also of confusion and sadness; beginning a new period of having to be truly honest with myself.

It’s caused flashbacks of my time in the unit, and at my first secondary school where my mental health deteriorated so significantly; a whirlwind of shouting and alarms, being left alone in medical rooms at my worst and being told I was faking it. It’s hard to cope with when such negative memories pop up almost insidiously at random. I remember parts of those times in such a vivid way that it’s made me stop a little bit dead in my tracks, at the strangest of times.

Simultaneously, I look at more recent times. I remember my GCSE results day surrounded by some of my favourite people; the after-school sessions where I would finally grasp a concept. I can look over the memories from this year, of the support when I came back from my pain programme, the meetings with the two teachers who I worked on my EPQ with – me being slightly (very) forceful with my debates and them playing devil’s advocate, slightly teasingly so. I am not the girl who cowered away with one small poke anymore.

It’s interesting to see what change does my state of mind even if I’m at the strongest I’ve been in the longest time. I wonder if it is out of sadness, or vulnerability, or a weird bittersweet nostalgia. Maybe it is more about how much support the school I have just left gave me in comparison, and less about the nastier set of memories which are popping up. Maybe it is the people I have left behind, or I will leave behind in September. Whichever way, it hurts.

I’m letting myself take some time, I’m allowing myself to feel this way, even if it might not be quite right. I’m letting myself bask slightly in pride, something I have never, ever let myself do.

I’ve gone from the girl who started having panic attacks and had them at one point twice daily, to the one who had to spend time in an inpatient unit, to now having only had one panic attack in 6 months and having been out of therapy for 2 years in August. There were weeks at a time where I told my sixth form team I was going to drop out every single day, but now I’ve finished. I did it. Regardless of the piece of paper I pick up in a month, I did it.

I’ve told myself this is an overdramatic reaction, because in the grand scheme of my life this is nothing. But regardless of if it doesn’t matter to me when I hit 70, at the moment it’s been a huge percentage of my life – especially when I have had so much happen to me in the last 5 years. I saw someone I haven’t seen since I was 13 a few days ago, and when they said “well, fill me in then!”, I realised just how much has happened, how long these few years have felt.

And in that, it makes me laugh because apart from my family, barely anyone who was in my life back when I started to have be that girl I said before – the girl who had her first panic attack in her form room and thought that’d be the end of it – is still in it now. I doubt those people would even recognise me. I think I’m glad of that.

So maybe I am being melodramatic. I’m sure I am, and I’m sure at some point I’ll be annoyed at myself for writing such a over the top blog post that’s less factual or cynical than I was aiming for this newer blog. But for now, I’m letting myself have this one. I think fifteen year old Charli deserves it.