by Scottish Green Party member Sarah Anderson
Looking back, disabilities of one kind or another have played a large part of my life. I am disabled in more than one way, both hidden and visible and to greater and lesser amounts. When people ask me to list my disabilities I’m greater for the tick more than one box! The full list if anyone is interested is ME, dyspraxia, PCOS and underactive thyroid. I’ve also had one of my ovaries removed, am very likely going to need my other taken out and I’m going to need a double hip replacement due to being born with a skeletal issue which I knew nothing about until I fell and broke my hip! If people were to read the list of my disabilities they might think I was unfortunate to have to deal with so much but I’m also incredibly fortunate. I have an amazingly supportive family and friends and the type of personality which when told I cant do something I curse under my breath and do it anyway!
The first of my disabilities which impacted on my life was dyspraxia. I was in secondary school when diagnosed because I was so dyspraxic I had found coping mechanisms to use to cope with primary school. Looking back we always knew that there was something not quite right in my learning ability. I had to go to speech therapy because I couldn’t shape certain words and I was forever misreading words and saying strange sentences which made sense to me. I remember insisting it was witches and bulldozers instead of warlocks for example or the time I asked my mum why a caravan park was asking for trousers only to find out later that they were advertising tourer caravans were welcome! My dyspraxia is a condition which can present to lesser and greater degrees depending on factors including how tired I am which leads onto ME.
I was 14 when ME first presented. I grew up in a very rural area where I loved being outside and I went from being very active to being bedbound. As a 14 year old girl you can imagine how scary this time was. I was very lucky to have the support of my family who sought out a diagnosis and to find an amazing doctor who although could not prescribe me any medication which would work suggested I look towards a more holistic herbal route. Unfortunately having supportive doctors has not always been the case for myself as it is not for so many disabled people but this doctor was amazing. Having ME can be a horrible illness. There is no test nor medication which works and as it is so individual for just about every individual it is almost like having to prove yourself. This can put you under so much stress and take up so much of your energy which is already so incredibly limited. I remember being sat on the family couch when a workman had came to see my sister. He told me that I had yuppy flu and to just go out and get some fresh air. I’d have given anything to do just that! When the same man returned a few months later and I was again ill on the couch his reaction to the fact I clearly hadn’t taken his advice sums up how difficult it can be for ME survivors to just be believed!
My PCOS and underactive thyroid are fairly recent developments in my life. By that time I had changed doctors and was now under the care of an amazing doctor practice who not only made it clear that in no uncertain terms did I have to prove that I was disabled but if I needed a house visit then I would get a house visit! Incredibly lucky yet again! Infact I’d go as far to say my current doctor saved my life as I not only have been able to live a fairly active life thanks to his care but when I woke up one morning with what I thought was a sore stomach to have him yell at me to go to the hospital or he’d come round and take me there himself he prevented a nine and a half centimetre cyst from bursting and possibly taking my life. I really can not even begin to say how important having a care team who work with you is not only to save limited energies but just because having another person on your side when you battle the world can be so vitally important.
Looking at my life from a political level yet again I’m lucky to have grown up in my family. I always grew up knowing how important it was to play your part in your community and although the party politics in my family do vary quite a lot – Conservative aunt, Liberal gran, Old Labour great grandfather, SNP sister and myself a Green! – local politics and helping in your area has always been important and valued.
I was 16 when I joined a political party for the first time and I was local branch secretary. This was important to me for two main reasons. Firstly as someone with a learning disability being secretary could have been seen as a role too much to conquer and as a young women it was important that I was not only seen as equal to the mostly older male members but I was elected to a role. One memory I have of that time was receiving a thank you letter from two branch members who commented that the minutes I had taken were some of the nicest they had ever read. These members were retired and had been involved with politics since they were young so that was an amazing compliment to receive!
Skipping forward to where I am now in politics I am the co-convener for both Rainbow (LGBTI) Greens and Founded member of Disabled Greens and I am the election agent for a candidate who has stood for Westminster election. I am very involved with Women For Independence and am involved with mental health activism. I am busy but I have amazing support and I can genuinely say that every challenge I meet I do not face alone. I also genuinely believe that the work I am doing is not only helping myself but also hopefully everyone who is in a similar position to myself and hopefully helping even a little to break down doors and to ensure that when people think disability they also think ability!
There are times when I cannot be as active as I would like to be though. There are times when my energy levels just do not allow me to even leave the house never mind campaign or be politically active. At those times there is still the opportunity to do something when and where I can. This can include answering emails, logging onto social media, perhaps making phone calls if I’m physically able or just reading some campaign material from my bed if my energy levels are zapped.
One lesson I want to share which was given to me many years ago is to follow the spoon theory. Briefly every person wakes up in the morning with a limited amount of spoons. For each task they may use part of a spoon or even a full one or two. For a person who does not have energy sapping disabilities they may get to mid morning and have only used perhaps two from their daily quota of twenty. For myself I may get out of bed, shower, have breakfast, get dressed and could already have used 10! Other days I could get to lunch and only have used 2 of my twenty. This spoon theory has helped me to understand that days when I’ve limited energy it is important to take care of myself and not force myself to overwork, that it is important to say when you need help and to trust that those around you will support you and that even Superwoman needs a day off occasionally to recharge so that they can be ready to fight for the world the next day!
I hope that this blog has helped to show that even though there are real challenges involved when you are disabled and involved with politics that even someone who is housebound can do something and that it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that this is possible. I am really looking forward to being part of this campaign because disabled people have a huge voice and so long as those doors are opened we really can and do make a difference.