This letter has sent me on a journey of rediscovery that spans 20 years. Imagine, where you are now, enjoying Transition Year, fresh off the stage of Oklahoma, having done one Young Scientist Project and about to do another, in the blink of an eye, you’ll be a graduate, an employee, a wife and a mother. All your dreams come true. Maybe, not in the way you expect them to but your life is always eventful. I am content.
At 16, the notion of Individuals Make the Difference, the concept and the lifelong consequences are beginning to take shape in your mind. 2003 will emblazon a chain of events that will make you an activist and journalist and will make you stand out from the crowd as an individual who can bring others along with her. None of your achievements would mean anything without the wonderful people in your life, cherish champion and challenger alike, they are equally useful. You are bolstered by kindness and even at this early stage, you are grateful for what and who you have. Your gratitude and empathy will carry you far.
Education levels the playing field for you in the most satisfying of ways. School is important to you. Learning is a passion, you will excel through hard work and grit. No is not an answer you accept now or ever. You may have to sleep after school due to exhaustion, but a psychology lecturer will enlighten you, explaining that sleep consolidates information! Things will get hard. Your hand will give up. You will do your degree in Applied Psychology from UCC but it will take five years not three. This experience will teach you that life is a journey, not a destination and the right doors will open at the right time. You’ll get to NUI Galway, do the Masters in Journalism and it will change everything about how you feel inside. You’ll be authentically competent and confident and it will be a time in life that will sustain you in rougher terrain.
Your friends are extraordinarily important now. The great news is they always will be, even the ones you have today will remain with you and you’ll gather a handful more, who will enrich your future. Travel in packs, it’s the best. You will have so much fun that you’ll earn a nickname of “giggles”. I like to think you learn to be a good friend. Although painful to go through in your teenage years, you realise some people only have a certain level of tolerance for your overt way of being the girl with the disability. More than once you will lose a friend because they just didn’t have the longevity in them. The ones that do last the test of time are made of solid gold so investing in friendship is an unending joy.
At 35, you will be back living with Mum, Dad and Diarmuid but for good reason. David and Ricky are here too. Living with your parents in adulthood is a pleasure because it has a purpose and is time limited. You know you can fly, which makes it infinitely nicer to return by choice. The support of Mum, Dad, David, Diarmuid ,Philip and Aileen, and Colm and Elaine is unparalleled. They are individuals who will always have your back, a safety net of support, love and hope with a decent dollop of expectation. Family grows and blossoms on both sides, it’s magical, Honestly, nothing beats big family dinners at home or in West Cork.
Having Cerebral Palsy enables you to discover so much, your experience is unique to you. You will have to grapple with fatigue forever. You will discover ways to deal with it. Pain will be a feature and much of your current worry is justified. Things will get physically hard to the point of not being sure you’ll complete The Leaving Cert. You will. You will teach on disability courses without ever having to study them because you have what they love to call, “lived experience”. You understand the medical model of disability but don’t espouse to it completely. You understand the social model of disability and don’t identify with it entirely either. You like person first language because that is the way you live. Deciding that you don’t fit into the boxes, even those of other disabled people, is possibly one of the most powerful decisions you can make. You are a person with a physical disability and a sister of a man with an intellectual disability and wife to a man who considers himself to be physically challenged, nothing more, you admire that. You don’t fit into the “movement”. You play your part in supporting positive attitudes towards disability in every way you can. You believe in human rights. You settle there. Your voice matters and it becomes more effective as time moves on, giving a great sense of purpose. Accessible information will merge your worlds of disability, psychology, words, language and activism in a very practical way. You will champion easy to read information at local national and European level, never underestimate the value of that. You will see the impact and encourage others along the way.
In your 30s you will realise that you can access mainstream health supports and you can work in partnership with your body. The result is the greatest partnership of all! You will grow a baby. First, you will meet David, the love of your life. He will expect more of you than anyone else ever will. He will turn to you and you to him and you will both laugh like never before when together. You are meant to be. That doesn’t mean it’s all sunshine and rainbows. It means you believe in each other as individuals and a team. In December 2019, your son, Ricky will arrive, making you a Mother, he is the culmination of all your determination in one exquisite tiny human.
Enjoy it all,