Learning to cope

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When I arrived on campus for the start of freshers’ week, I was a bundle of excitement and nerves. I was upset to be leaving home, especially my family, but excited to meet new people and that finally after over a year of planning, phone calls and stress, my university life was about to begin.

“So what?” I hear you say. “Every Fresher feels like that!”

True, but I’d probably say I have more reason to feel nervous than most. I was born with congenital muscular dystrophy, a severe muscle-wasting disease which means I have to use a powered wheelchair and rely on others to help me with the most everyday tasks. Deciding to move away from home was a difficult decision to say the least, as it meant leaving the security and comfort of my home as well as carers who knew my needs inside out. I was therefore catapulted into an environment that was completely stranger to me with no-one but myself to instruct a group of strangers how to take care of me – scary doesn’t even cover how I was feeling.

Making the most out of her university experience, Catherine attended County Extrav

However, I knew it would be the right decision and that the university experience could help me in the long run. I wanted to meet new people and gain more independence, which I knew would be difficult if not impossible at home. I’d fallen in love with the course and the campus when I came to visit, and had a gut feeling that Lancaster could feel like home to me, unlike many other universities I’d visited.

After I had arrived on campus, I was introduced to my new carers. To my surprise, my carers were the same age as me. However, I’ve now come to appreciate that this was a good thing as to outsiders it didn’t look as if I had a carer with me which I believe made be more approachable to other freshers.

My carers had been informed fully about my disability, unfortunately my flatmates were unprepared. Usually when I meet people for the first time, they are not really sure how to react to me as I am very visibly disabled. However, all I wanted was to be treated like any other fresher but I have been brought up to understand that people will always react differently to me; firstly because of my wheelchair and secondly the way in which I sit which can often take people a while to get used too. Thankfully, once they got to know me, they treated me like one of the group making me feel at home.

Looking back, freshers’ week is a blur of getting to know people, forgetting their names and generally getting used to living away from home, which of course was then followed by the dreaded freshers’ flu and actually getting round to doing some work.

To any disabled freshers, I would say that living away from home is a worthwhile experience and a great way to gain some levels of independence. Lancaster University is full of amazing and diverse people who are open-minded enough to see the person behind the disability. Also, to everyone else out there who may come across a student with a disability, please don’t feel afraid of approaching and striking up a conversation as like all other students out there, we’re just here to take part in the university experience and hopefully make lots of friends along the way.