Would You Rather? Time to Talk Day

Would You Rather? Time to Talk Day

Here’s a question for you today, dear readers – would you rather a) walk around with a debilitating stress or b) be mocked for getting the appropriate help? Somehow, I have a feeling we’d be shocked at how many people would choose option A. Subconsciously or not.Welcome to a very important edition of our blog, dear readers, dedicated to a day that is integral to the mental health calendar – Time to Talk Day.

Time to Talk Day Logo

Every year on the 6th February, we celebrate this day dedicated to combating the backwards, outdated and illogical stigma surrounding mental health and the shame associated with seeking help. This year, the theme is a good old game of Would You Rather! Inappropriate? I don’t think so. Sure you can have some rather funny, ridiculous or sometimes disturbing games of Would You Rather – I first discovered the game watching Zoey 101 on Nickelodeon (don’t judge me) in which protagonist Zoey had to decide if she’d rather “eat 10 spiders or wear only green for the rest of her life”. I personally would probably choose the spiders! Not that I don’t look great in green, and to be frank I’m terrified of spiders (again don’t judge me) – but like Zoey says, either she eats the spiders, throws up and that’s that, or she cries for 75 years! The thing is, dear readers, when you think about it, Would You Rather can be a good way of getting you thinking, and as someone who has lived with Generalised Anxiety Disorder since at least his teenage years, I can tell you at the not-so-tender age of 29 that a bit of perspective goes a long way when you are struggling with low mental health.

So have you decided on your answer to the question at the start of the blog then, dear reader? Of course you have; it’s common sense! By now it is a scientifically proven fact that stress is a killer – too much cortisol in the body can have serious consequences for one’s physical health, thus it is important to regulate our stress levels – our mental health! If we take one cold and flu tablet too many by accident, we are expected to go straight to a doctor. Too high a concentration of paracetamol or any other drug or hormone is disastrous. So it is with cortisol, which the body releases in response to stress. This is a fact! Yet still people refute the existence of ill mental health as a legitimate reason to ask for help, based on little more than they can’t see it. Unfortunately, this makes it very uncomfortable to ask for help sometimes. But this brings us neatly to our second question:

Round 2: Would you rather a) wear a bikini to work for a day, or b) listen to Crazy Frog for 3 hours a night for the rest of your life?Now granted, there might be people out there who wear bikinis to work by default if you’re a model, or maybe you just feel super-confident about your body – in which case, good for you! There’s probably someone out there who would love to listen to Crazy Frog for the rest of their lives … but I daresay for most of us, either of those options is more than a little uncomfortable! Sure, I’d look hot in a bikini (yeah right) but I wouldn’t really feel comfortable wearing one to work, but if I had to choose between a work days’ worth of solid discomfort and hours of it every night for the rest of my life, then I would choose option A! Why? Because it gets the discomfort over in the shortest amount of time, then I can move on with my life. Option B – I slowly get driven to despair and insanity over the course of my life. Think of this as a metaphor for mental health – asking for help can be so difficult for so many reasons, like maybe you’re worried that people will think less of you, or you might lash out at yourself and decide that you’re not worth anyone’s time, or you might simply decide that it can wait and that you’ll feel better in the morning or after a good session of gaming for example … unfortunately it doesn’t work. Trust me, I’ve tried for years. So many years I was lying awake each night because the thoughts in my head wouldn’t stop. Ever. Every single night I couldn’t sleep … and it affected my work. Even these days it is still a problem. But I have been a patient of counselling for many years now. When I have a spike of Anxiety, I’m comfortable enough to seek help. As a result, I get the precious hours of sleep that I need these days.

A Sticky Would You Rather question

Round 3: Oh no! You’ve cut yourself and the wound is looking pretty nasty. It might get infected without proper treatment. Would you rather a) seek immediate medical treatment or b) slap on a plaster and hope for the best?Unfortunately, when it comes to our health, there are no easy fixes. We can’t just get rid of the underlying problems by taking the simple route and treating the symptoms. This is true of both physical and mental health. Since the digital age came about we can do all sorts of things from the comfort of a chair – book flights, order food, buy clothes and games you name it. But things like treatment of ill mental health can take years, even with the right support. I have been a patient of therapy for at least 5 years on and off, but relapse is unfortunately a fact of life with mental health as well. I’ve become better at coping with such relapses but I’m certain with my severe Anxiety that I could not have kept my current job for nearly 4 years without the therapy, with how often I have found myself unable to sleep and suffering from debilitating panic attacks.As I said previously, it’s not enough to rely on our hobbies to cope with our mental health. They may help us relieve stress in the moment, but aside from the risk of developing a full blown addiction, they can sometimes mask the problem. They may not resolve it. Trust me, I’ve tried.

Anyway, I have to give Time to Change credit for their choice of themes this year! Would You Rather might, at a cursory glance, seem like a silly child’s game, but aside from being a good ice-breaker, Would You Rather is a game that gets you thinking. It gets you to develop perspectives on subjects that you likely had never considered before – unless you actually considered eating spiders?But to conclude, the perspective I have developed from thinking about these matters of mental health through the lens of a game of Would You Rather is that a lot of the answers are just plain common sense! Does that mean they’re easy? No, not necessarily, especially for an over-thinker like myself. But it’s still totally logical to seek help with ill mental health, despite what conventional wisdom holds – and I do use the word “wisdom” loosely. While it’s also the case that confronting our mental health directly can be extremely uncomfortable, it is ultimately necessary to confront the issue directly and not search for quick fixes, unless we wish to have to put up with the problem forever – like we were wearing only green or listening to Crazy Frog for the rest of our lives!Much like the analogy of wearing a bikini to work, though it is more than a bit uncomfortable a prospect, at least you only have to do it once, as opposed to the other option which lasts for a lifetime!

In any case, I hope this blog gets you thinking about these important issues as much as this year’s theme got me thinking, and if you struggle with mental health, hopefully my blog will help you decide that it is, indeed, Time To Talk!

Make sure you visit https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/ to take park!

Winnie The Pooh Day 2020

Bet you never thought you’d read a blog from A2L about a kid’s show, right dear readers? Even if it was A.A. Milne’smasterpiece? Well as it turns out, deep in the hundred acre wood where Christopher Robin plays, there is far more wisdom and anthropological value to be found than one might ever be able to conceive of back when they were young enough to watch it – if there is such a thing as ‘young enough’ to watch such a great show. But I watched Winnie the Pooh countless times in my childhood, but only now as an adult do I appreciate the profound life lessons that children ought to be learning from a young ageabout accepting others as they are and staying true to friendship no matter what!

Those of my generation might have come across studies that suggest Winnie the Pooh and his friends all represent different kinds of neuro-developmental disorders – a pretty big revelation for me at the time, but when I look back, in some cases it is abundantly obvious. Tigger, for example, the lovable bouncing tiger who was happy and excitable all the time, demonstrates many of the symptoms of ADHD. Piglet and I actually happen to share a diagnosis of Generalised Anxiety Disorder.

How about Eeyore, who although constantly sad and down in the dumps with Depression, was my favourite? Truthfully, there was something very lovable about the depressed donkey. I kind of consider him my spirit animal to this day! Pretty sure I picked up my sarcasm habit from him!

Owl, who considers himself the most intelligent and has something of a narcissistic streak, also exhibits some of the traits of Dyslexia, often having trouble with spelling. Some say that the little baby kangaroo, Roo, is autistic, no doubt referring to his absolute lack of perception of danger and his attachment to his overprotective mother Kanga’s pouch. Maybe I’m slightly biased, as I myself am Autistic, but I can’t help but have a new appreciation for the baby kangaroo who laughs at almost being swept away by a river while his friends freak out!

What about Pooh Bear himself? With his obsession with honey, and how far he’ll go to get it? How about his perceived indifference and inattention to his friends, only picking up on it throughout the quest? Pooh himself demonstrates symptoms of ADHD, coupled with binge eating habits to compensate for issues of self-esteem.

But the reason I love Winnie the Pooh even now at the not-quite-so tender age of 29 is not because of the discovery that they arguably demonstrate symptoms of differing neuro-developmental disorders. Yes that discovery played a role in reigniting my childhood love of Pooh bear’s adventures in the hundred-acre wood, but what really makes A.A. Milne’s masterpiece immortal in my own eyes is the fact that it teaches us the importance of unconditional care and love for friends, even when they try our patience with their bad habits or appear sullen and resistant to your friendship. You see, dear reader, when it comes to neuro-developmental disorders, it’s easy for those that have it to have what we would see as flaws or unappealing characteristics. The thing is that they never asked to have the problems unique to them, and no matter what those problems may be, they’re still our friends.

One episode that I’ll never forget, and that I strongly recommend to new viewers, is “Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore”. As I’ve kind of implied already, Eeyore is my favourite character, but the plot of this particular episode is one of the most profoundly heart-warming moments I’ve ever seen on any TV show of any description. When Pooh and the gang are out enjoying a game of Pooh Sticks and Eeyore suddenly floats down the stream, apparently saddened to the point of total apathy that he is being swept away, he is rescued by Pooh and friends, and reveals that he was bounced into the river by Tigger. Despite Tigger insisting he didn’t do it on purpose, everyone gets angry at Tigger, who bounces away disgruntled that no-one understands he didn’t mean to harm Eeyore or his need to bounce. Eeyore responds with “why should Tigger think of me? No one else does …” and walks away. When Pooh asks why he would say that, a despondent Eeyore just keeps walking with his head hanging.

Eventually, Pooh manages to get Eeyore to tell him why he’s so upset, after taking a barrage of sarcasm and bitterness from Eeyore – it’s Eeyore’s birthday! And nobody noticed. Despite Eeyore’s passive-aggressive beratement, Pooh rushes off to get his friend a present, encouraging Piglet to do the same. Pooh hurries back to Eeyore with his gift – a pot of honey – after getting Owl to write “Happy Birthday” on it – somewhat illegibly … before proceeding to eat the honey inside the pot. Piglet also rushes to get his own present for Eeyore, a red balloon, but unfortunately trips and pops the balloon!

But what follows is one of the most heart-warming endings to aTV show episode that I’ve ever seen. Despite being presented with two unimpressive presents, for perhaps the first timeonscreen, Eeyore smiles! His friends have made an effort for him on his birthday, lifting him out of melancholy and making him happy. He keeps smiling all the way through his last birthday party, and in the end, he teaches Tigger, who had knocked him into the water earlier, the secret to winning at Pooh sticks! As Tigger and Eeyore leave together, the gang decide that despite the day’s events, “Tigger is alright”, with Pooh saying “Everybody is, really”.

It’s an episode with such a convincingly happy ending that even after watching it several times, the audience is left as contented and happy as Eeyore and the rest of the gang is at the end. Eeyore has a happy birthday after all, while Tigger is absolved of inadvertently knocking him into the water. But the lessons of this episode are so profound that you can learn them as an infant and they will serve you for your whole life!

But that’s just one episode! Throughout nearly every episode, you will see this acceptance of each other’s flaws. When Pooh with his low self-esteem doubts himself, Christopher Robin always reassures him. When Piglet gets scared all the time, Pooh and friends comfort him. When Tigger can’t control his impulsive need to bounce, his friends tolerate it. Rabbit constantly rescues Roo when he obliviously gets into danger. And of course, when Eeyore is deep in Depression or his tail falls off, his friends help him out! Is it any wonder then, that one can watch Winnie the Pooh as a child and still feel a strong bond with the characters decades later as a full adult?

It is highly doubtful that A.A. Milne meant for his creations to be retrospectively diagnosed with neuro-developmental disorders after his passing, but what is for certain is that he gave each character in Winnie the Pooh purposeful flaws in order to make them not only sympathetic and relatable to us, but to teach us important lessons about what we might perceive as imperfections in our character, ultimately make us perfectlyhuman. When we make friends that understand that, and accept us as we are, able to see the good as well as the bad in us, the bond that is struck is immense. In my estimation, this is exactly the kind of thing that children ought to be learning and encouraged to take to heart, and it is why A.A Milne’s masterpiece deserves to be immortalised in memory with its own special day.

So once more, happy Winnie the Pooh Day!

The Future is Accessible: International Day of Persons with Disabilities

The Future is Accessible: International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Hello readers, thanks for joining us after a long absence of Access2Learn’s blog. We’ve brought the blog back today to discuss a very important, and in my own mind, chronically underrepresented day – the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Celebrated every year on 3rd December, this day is dedicated to improving the lives of and removing barriers to over 1 billion people worldwide. That’s right readers, if you read our blog last year you might remember that the world population is approximately 7 billion in total; and 1/7 of said population has one form or another of disability. One in every seven. That’s a lot of people eh? According to the World Health Organisation, that makes disabled people the world’s largest minority.

Last year, you might remember that the theme was the attitudinal barrier to people with disabilities, very neatly summed up as “diversity, not disadvantage”. I really enjoyed writing that blog, and I strongly urge you to head to our website (https://www.access2learn.co.uk/social/) and check it out. However, this year’s theme is neatly summed as “The Future is Accessible” – another masterful slogan that deserves to be a hashtag – #thefutureisaccessible. The goal this year is to promote the participation and leadership of people with disabilities and acting upon the 2030 Development Agenda.

If you’re not familiar, the UN’s 2030 Development Agenda is an ambitious, multi-lateral effort by various UN countries that contains goals like eradication of poverty, gender inequality, improvement of education, cleaner energy and an entire list of noble goals, set to be achieved by – you guessed it, 2030!

But back to the real issue here – at least from the point of the purpose of this blog. If the future is indeed going to be accessible, what needs to change in order for it to happen by 2030 – or ever, for that matter? On a structural level? On an attitudinal level? In terms of outreach and resources? How far are we willing to go to make normal the changes that will allow those with disabilities to not only participate, but thrive?

There are a lot of things that need to be addressed to achieve this goal, but of course if I try to list and discuss them all in detail, it would take eternity! So I’m going to discuss some that I think are uniquely important, using my own perspective of life with a disability on things that closed doors for me personally.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I feel the need to reiterate something that I stated in my previous blog about this day, something that I feel cannot be overstated – the attitudinal barrier to disabled people. I spoke at length last year about how prevalent disability hate crime was and the employment gap recorded by the ONS between disabled and non-disabled people in the UK. In terms of hate crime, sadly it has only got worse – in fact the Home Office recorded in July 2019 that disability hate crime has increased by 1035 incidents from last year, bringing the total to 8,256 for 18/19. I do believe I also mentioned at one point that despite missing a 1st class degree by a whisker and having a capacity for writing that rivals the top 10% in Britain according to my diagnosis, the best work I could get for years after uni was washing dishes at a pub. Even today you can find articles on VICE or in the Guardian that talk about the experiences of disabled people who have made to feel like a drain on society. I personally feel that the treatment and exclusion of disabled people not only represents one of the biggest injustices in society, but also one of the biggest wastes. After all, was it not Einstein (Autistic, Dyslexic) who gave us E=MC2 and whose name is synonymous with “genius”, or Thomas Edison (Dyslexic) who at 6 had to take home a letter from the teacher saying “he is too stupid to learn” and then invented the lightbulb? What other strokes of genius would we be witnessing today, where it not for such a malignant vagary of perception that one must be non-disabled to be productive?

But dealing with the attitudinal barrier is only the first step. Taking the next step requires a focused and coordinated effort to provide something that I only wish I could have received as a child, and that thankfully I did receive at university, thank goodness – outreach. When somebody takes the time to reach out to you and help you, it makes a world of difference, both personally and professionally. Trust me, I know – I have been reached out to as a student, and I now provide the same courtesy to students for a living.

I arrived at university with barely enough UCAS points to make it, after making it into sixth form with only 5 C’s. Yep, 5 C’s – no thanks to anyone but me. As soon as someone took the time to reach out to me when I arrived at university, I found myself barely missing a 1st class degree by 2%. Pretty big difference eh? The confidence boost provided by the support available through Disabled Students Allowances, both in practical and psychological terms, makes an enormous difference for thousands of students each year, the same way it did for me back in the day.

But it is hardly coincidental. Negativity is a barrier in and of itself and can keep people from achieving their potential by making them doubt it’s there at all. For those who must cope with mental health conditions like myself, this negativity can be particularly ferocious. So imagine how refreshing and empowering it is to meet someone who knows what you are going through, who you can speak to on the level and is there to support you? Retrospectively speaking I would have killed for support like this at school. Of course, then as now schools are obliged by law to have a SENCO (Special Education Needs Co-ordinator – one person), though as I recall at my school I only met mine once or twice and didn’t even figure out who he was until decades later! Plus my school wouldn’t help me as I was not formally diagnosed, so it didn’t really help much either way in the end.

In July 2019 the Department of Education recorded an increase in pupils with SENs for the third year running, up to a new total of 1,318,300, approx. 14.9% of the total population of pupils. Only 3% ,however, (271,200) have an Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan. Those with an EHC plan may get the adjustments they need to succeed in education, but what about the rest? Are school SENCOs equipped and/or informed of the individual’s needs? Do they have the resources or the manpower to cope with rising numbers of SEN students year on year? How about those healthcare professionals responsible for diagnosing and providing an EHC to students? Does the difference in students with and without an EHCP suggest difficulty getting support to everyone who needs it?


In my humble opinion, there are both material and immaterial barriers that prevent the participation of peoples with disability within society. If the UN wishes to change this, it will need to enforce both practical and intellectual opposition to the structural and psychological barriers that disabled peoples face. A fundamental shift must be enforced in the attitudes and perceptions that disabled peoples cannot or otherwise are not productive members of both staff and society. Perhaps a gentle reminder that they have a dyslexic man to thank the next time they switch on the lights?

Structurally speaking, there remain many barriers to participation of disabled persons, but I wholeheartedly believe that a huge step in the right direction would be to just reach out. It would provide a practical and psychological boost for people who want to participate in society, much the same way it did for me.

Thanks for tuning in for the return of A2L’s blog!

Making the most of 2019 – Taking Action to make this year your year!

Making the most of 2019 – Taking Action to make this year your year!

To all our dear readers, students, colleagues and friends, on behalf of Access2Learn, I wish all of you a very Happy New Year! I do hope you found some time to unwind and relax a little before we begin the new academic year, or work year depending on your situation – after all, relaxation is but one ingredient for having a successful and happy 2019 … but more on that in just a bit.

I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I personally am delighted to be starting a new year. It wouldn’t be appropriate to put the full details in this blog, but suffice to say, I’m not sad to see 2018 go – not one little bit. One good thing about 2018 though; it gave me a great deal of perspective, which I hope will be of use to you in making the most of 2019!

This might sound incredibly cliché to you, but as someone who didn’t have the best 2018, if I could offer just one bit of advice it would be this: take action. No matter how small or trivial it may seem, mental health, mood and general happiness are always higher when you’re checking things off your list or moving in general. Who knows what you might be faced with this year but whatever challenges may arise, here’s a quote that you should all try to remember;

Lao-Tzu “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step.”

  • Lao Tzu

Over the course of this New Year, you might find yourself on any number of figurative ‘journeys of a thousand miles’ – challenges to which the solution is seldom easy or straight-forward. If you’re anything like me (maybe you have a mental health condition such as Anxiety), the mere thought of embarking on this journey – and the millions of ways it could go pear-shaped – will be enough to leave you feeling consumed with doubt and despair. But even the simplest action – the all-important single step with which the journey begins – will bring you closer to accomplishing the goal. It might be study-related, disability/mental health-related, or it might just be a personal goal of your own discretion … but taking action tends to breed more action – when you feel yourself gaining momentum and making tangible progress, however steady, it’s not hard to feel good about yourself. Keep this point in mind, and you will be able to achieve any goal you set in the end, and your mental wellbeing will be better for simply keeping in motion.

The best thing about this – you can apply this lesson to just about anything – academia, mental health, personal goals etc. Having a problem with revision or study? Start by identifying the specific nature of the said problem, then try asking your tutors for advice, or your classmates, or your faculty. Maybe try Googling it, or looking on YouTube. Doesn’t much matter where you start, the important thing is you made the start. Similarly, if you’re having a problem with low mental health or stress, which is often a multicausal problem, it would be an excellent start to consult your GP, or perhaps a therapist, or a close friend or family member; you might just want to make a mind-map of all the things bothering you and tackle each issue as you see fit. Again, how and where you start is up to your discretion, but the worst thing you can possibly do is nothing.

That is not to say that you should work yourself so hard this year that you burn out – more isn’t always better after all. Action must be affirmative as well, and doing things in excess rather than with precision and thought is seldom affirmative – for example, studying so hard that you can’t take anything in. Do not forget this year to be kind to yourself and to relax when you can – after all, ironic as it may sound, relaxation from time to time is itself a form of affirmative action when you think about it. Without it, you won’t be able to spend any energy on any other action and you’ll simply burn out.

For the final point, this is going to sound unbearably cliché too, but as with the first point, I cannot stress this one enough; Don’t be afraid to fail.

Inspiring words from Michael Jordan

I can almost hear the crickets singing in the background. “Seriously, that’s it?!” you must be thinking. Let’s face it, no one likes to fail … no-one I know of anyway. For some, failure is a phobia … a deep-rooted fear that can leave some paralysed. But the truth about failure is that, like enormous spiders, it’s a fact of life. Like spiders, it may scare the pants off of you, but a fact of life it remains. We all fail from time to time, it’s inevitable. So why be afraid of the inevitable? Even if you do nothing, you’re still failing – in fact, in my experience, doing nothing is the worst form of failure. Since failure is a fact of life, why not take it in stride? Why not learn from it?

“I’ve failed over and over and over again and that is why I succeed.”

  • Michael Jordan

    JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books

Here’s a name you should all recognise – J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books. Rowling is one of my favourite authors, for

obvious reasons, but it amazed me to find out that her book was rejected 12 times by publishers before she managed to release the first book. Imagine that! The Harry Potter books, rejected 12 times! Thank goodness Rowling never gave up in the face of what must have felt like routine failure, or we’d have really missed out! Who knows what you might accomplish this year, academically, professionally, even personally? Who knows how many times you will fail, or how spectacularly? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, does it? Failure is just a twist on the road to success, and you will get there if you keep walking!

But I hope this blog has given you some idea of how to make 2019 your year. Who knows what challenges and opportunities the New Year will throw your way? But remember, no matter how big the challenges are, you only need to act once to make the challenge smaller. The first step is always the most important, but once you’ve done it, you can move on the second, then the third … and eventually the hundredth! As you go, remember to credit yourself and relax when you can. But final point, particularly for those like me who suffer from low mental health; don’t spend too much time thinking about it. Yes, thinking and planning is important, but spend too much time in your head and you’ll find Anxiety and Depression rearing their ugly heads!

Once again, a very Happy New Year to you all, and we really hope that this year is your year!

Diversity, not disadvantage: The UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Diversity, not disadvantage: The UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Welcome, dear reader, to a most important edition of Access2Learn’s blog. Did you by any chance know that each year on the 3rd December, the UN recognised International Day of Persons with Disabilities takes place? No? Truth be told, that is a guess, as nobody I have asked thus far has even heard of such a day, let alone knew when it took place. Kind of a shame, isn’t it? It’s an important day for over 10 million people in the UK and nearly 40 million across Europe – and chances are very few of them even know it exists.

Incidentally, the theme of this year’s IDPD is the empowerment of people with disabilities and the removal of barriers from their progress. The ethos of this day can be summarised in one simple and yet powerful line: “Disability equals Diversity, not Disadvantage” (If that doesn’t deserve to be a hashtag, I don’t know what does – #diversitynotdisadvantage).

Yet as I said before, very few people even know that the day exists, which perhaps highlights one of the biggest barriers to those with a disability, both within UN countries and without – the attitudinal barrier. In my own experience as a jobseeker with an invisible disability, I could pretty much count on my application being rejected if I made any mention of my condition – with the obvious exception of my current job, for which I am extremely grateful.

The only work I could get was washing dishes at a local pub – hardly fitting work for a university graduate, but as far as anyone else was concerned, that was the only work I was fit for. Nobody wanted to take a risk hiring someone with Autism for any meaningful job. I can only imagine that they saw the word ‘Autism’ on my CV, or heard it at job interviews, and immediately a red light started flashing in their minds. Funny, because in my experience, Autism has been less of a ‘disability’ and more of a gift to my intellect than anything, even with the lacking in social instinct and sensory sensitivity. But nope, no-one else thought of it that way.

Thomas Edison, inventor of the lightbulb

Is this unique to me? Not according to the ONS, who suggest an employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people of working age of over 30%. Just under a third larger. More disturbing still, according to the site Disability Sport, more than 40% of people think of the disabled as a social burden, with 180 disability hate crimes committed per day. If that isn’t disturbing, ladies and gentlemen, I don’t know what is.

But if we’re a social burden, why was it then that the name Albert Einstein (Autism, Dyslexia) is synonymous with ‘genius’ and ‘E=MC2’? Or what about the late, great Professor Stephen Hawking, who couldn’t even move on his own power, yet advanced the scientific community for decades? Or Thomas Edison (Dyslexia) who gave us the lightbulb? How about Nick Vuljecic, who despite being born without limbs, is a world famous athlete and motivational speaker who influences thousands of people worldwide? Need I go on? Just FYI, if I do, you’ll be reading this for eternity …

Nick Vuljecic, born with Tetra-Amelia Syndrome, a rare disorder characterised by the absence of arms and legs.

As someone who developed Anxiety in his pre-pubescent years and has had Autism since birth, I earnestly believe that the mistaken perception of those with disabilities is the major barrier to us. Even the term ‘disability’ in itself can be seen as part of the problem. People think of that word and immediately think ‘less than’ or ‘incapable’ … the latter is literal translation of the word ‘disabled’. The truth, ladies and gentlemen, could not be more different. Everyone – and ‘by everyone’, I literally mean every human on the planet – everyone faces struggles and barriers unique to them. “Disabilities”, invisible and visible, affect at least 10% of the UK population alone. Mental illness can affect any human being on Earth. It’s a fact. So many across the world have some kind of condition that makes them seem apart from the rest. But because of the label ‘disability’ and the stigma that naturally goes with it, so much talent goes ignored and wasted. Why? Because we judge others for their problems, instead of looking at people for who they truly are.

Autism has given me perspective, perspicacity, insightfulness and an unmatched alacrity and capability for my areas of interest. According to the good people who diagnosed me, my command of the English language exceeds 90% of the country. So should I be judged for my lack of social skill or my inability to engage with tasks that don’t stimulate my brain? Anxiety might make me appear cowardly and awkward on the surface, but it has taught me compassion, respect, caution and above all else, strength. Yes, I said strength. Despite my fear, I found the courage to go to university, to enter the world of work and to hold my nerve together long enough to pass my first driving test. Why, then, should I be thought less of because I get nervous in some situations, or because of my inner demons?

Dyslexia, with the problems it causes in conventional learning, gives the world creative genius and outside the box thinking. Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain makes tough, adaptive modern day Spartans of those who adapt to living in constant pain. PTSD, Depression, bi-polar, all other forms of mental illness – these teach us compassion and courage. Dwarfs like Peter Dinklage show us how to tower over the rest with talent. OCD gives us obsessive conviction and compulsive excellence. Some of the finest athletes in the world use a wheelchair. Maybe you’ll remember this next time you come across someone who is ‘disabled’.

Thus I submit to you that everyone has problems of some kind or another, and that ‘disabled’ people are no different. Just because our problems might be more visible, we are not really that different from anyone else. People are diverse in so many ways; ethnicity, height, weight, sexuality, nationality, what football team they support, what starter Pokemon they choose … others are Autistic, Dyslexic, wheelchair users etc. My point is that these things that make us different are simply another form of variation that makes the world go round. Yes, we have unique problems, but we also have unique strengths. On that point alone, that doesn’t make us much different from anyone else. What people call “disabilities” are just another form of diversity.

In other words, we are Diverse, not Disadvantaged, and it’s time that was understood by the world.

Diversity, not Disadvantage; whoever coined that phrase must have an IQ of 600.

You can find out more about the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities by visiting their website, and using #diversitynotdisadvantage on Social Media.

Choose Respect : Anti-Bullying Week 2018

Choose Respect : Anti-Bullying Week 2018

The topic of this very special week, dear reader – anti-bullying – is a subject very near and dear to my own heart, given my … well, my past experiences of being bullied. Some of you might have your own bullying horror stories to tell, therefore you know all about the damage it can do, physically in some cases, but in nearly all cases it causes significant internal damage to one’s self-esteem – damage that can last for years, even decades if no intervention is made. For your sake, dear reader, I will refrain from talking in great detail about my own experience, as it will be nigh impossible for me to remain objective.

I might be stating the obvious here or simply preaching to the choir, but the dangers of bullying to the victim and perpetrator alike simply cannot be overstated. The damage to the victim should be obvious – being the target of insults, intimidation, exclusion and perhaps at worst, violence that one feels helpless against can lead to feelings of insecurity, low self-esteem and serious cases of Anxiety, Depression, PTSD … and the longer it goes on, it can even result in self-harm. Bullies themselves are also at risk, forming detrimental habits well into adulthood, such as violence or substance abuse, though some do benefit from this horrible practice with the increase in artificial ‘social standing’ – being the cool kid, as it were. In any case, bullying needs to end – and action must be taken to prevent it.

Fortunately, in this day and age, there exist a number of options for victims of bullying to seek help. The Anti-Bullying Alliance, organisers of this most important week, are dedicated to fighting back against bullying in all its forms, and can offer advice and support to victims who visit their website. If you are being bullied for being disabled, invisible or otherwise, as I was, chances are you can speak to an advisor at a local or national charity. For example, in the case of Autism, you can speak to someone at the National Autistic Society, or if you’re local to Essex and live near to Colchester, you might speak to the good people at Autism Anglia via their Autism Advice Service. Ideally, if you’re at school or work, you will be able to speak to your teacher or your boss about what is going on and have it swiftly dealt with by those in a position of authority.

The main thing to take away from this, speaking as someone who, well, let’s just say has extensive experience of being a victim of bullying, is this; the absolute worst thing you can do is to stay quiet about it. The longer it goes on, bullying can cause serious adverse effects to its victims, including stress-induced sickness, loss of self-esteem and even risk of suicide. I’m writing this as a man of nearly 30 years of age. Despite all the great strides I’ve made in life, I still carry the scars of my childhood and adolescence. On that point, I cannot stress this enough; report it immediately. Speak to someone you trust, call a helpline, speak to an advisor, tell someone in a position of authority. The fight back against bullying starts when you make this first, all-important decision to speak up, which is why this point is so crucial.

And if you’re worried about appearing ‘unmanly’ or ‘weak’ or if you’re upset about ‘not being able to fight your own battles’, don’t be. Bullying is cowardly by default, as by definition it requires someone in a position of strength to pick on someone more vulnerable. So why should you, the victim, be worried about such ridiculous standards? If a bully threatens you, this goes double – a threat or intimidation is in obvious and grievous violation of your basic rights.

Ultimately, Choose Respect couldn’t be a more fitting theme for this year’s Anti-Bullying Week. No matter who you are, you are entitled to respect. If someone is making you feel lesser by insults, intimidation or violence, you have to make that first step of speaking up. For the act of speaking up in and of itself is an act of Choosing Respect. So if you are a victim of bullying, don’t delay, don’t debate in your head and most of all don’t let the bullies scare you … speak up about it, and choose respect. Not tomorrow, not next week, not when you feel less scared …  #chooserespect NOW!

And do not fear, as those of us who have been through bullying themselves will always support you.

If you would like to find out more about Anti-Bullying week and the Anti-Bullying Alliance, please visit www.anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk

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