Just take it easy…!

I’ve been sitting here for the last half hour staring blankly at my laptop, opening website after website, reading dodgy articles on thejournal.ie. That’s not why I sat down. I sat down to finish off a journalism assignment that I started two months ago. This sounds like I’ve been dragging my heels, procrastinating this assignment. I have not. In fact, I have researched four thoroughly different articles, all half-written, because I couldn’t decide which one I wanted to write more. Don’t get me wrong: this information will undoubtedly come in handy on a later date. But this article was going to be amazing. I mean award-winning amazing. That’s not quite what I see when I read it back. I’m now afraid to open it in case I feel an uncontrollable urge to delete the whole lot (again). I’m a relentless perfectionist to the point of neuroticism: in other words, I think I am losing my sanity.

The first half of my life was dominated by people pushing me to achieve my potential. I’m not saying that this is a bad thing at all: if it wasn’t for these people (my parents, teachers, Occupational, physio and speech therapists, etc), there is no way that I would be sitting here in my own house writing this blog. Somewhere along the way, I took over, setting ridiculous standards for myself. I wrote a play in Transition Year and later helped to produce it when it was staged by my classmates, some of whom were less than thrilled when they landed male roles (it was an all-girls school). It took the best part of a month to recover from  the exhaustion and my mental health was in tatters. Did I take it easy that summer? Nah! I instead got a summer job with the Tullamore Tribune, where I worked until two weeks before fifth year started, putting aside the money for a holiday in a feckin respite centre in Roscommon (not Ibiza) a year later. I know what you’re thinking. I’m wild. Woo! Then fifth year saw me abandon all forms of human contact as I threw myself into studying for the Leaving Cert. Worried by the prospect of ending up permanently unemployed, I spent eight hours a night (4-12) studying in Fifth Year, much to the despair of my broken-hearted parents who were actually expecting me to collapse dead on the floor with exhaustion. I have  to do this, I would say to myself. I have to prove to everyone what I am capable of. I will not be defined by my disability.

Somehow, I managed to dodge a prolonged stay in a facility with padded walls and men in little white coats and I made it to Trinity College. Phew, I thought, I can relax now. And I did for the first two years, until my marks counted for something, and guess what? The  old Sarah  came back in third year, and so did that irritating voice. You got a scholarship to study here, for God’s sake. There’s no point in doing things by halves. And without the nagging of my parents and (then) fiancé (now husband) I was free to stay up  working till 2-3am on  essays, presentations and my dissertation. I lived off sugar and cereal like every other student. I would turn up for tutorials, bleary-eyed, wondering which book was being discussed today (I only read a selection of novels. Anyone on that course-and you know who you are- who read every prescribed novel/play please step forward for your gold medal). Although I let my hair down a little, I didn’t exactly have a roaring social life in college. I will admit that I did go on three foreign holidays during my college years with friends from home, but the details of those are a little hazy (though not nearly hazy enough)!!

Earlier this year, I was thirty. Like many, I looked back on the aims I  had set myself for when I reached the  big milestone: have a  Master’s degree in Journalism and be actively working in the field; maybe write a novel or a book of poetry;  do a Masters in Disability Studies. None of these were goals I ever reached, and sometimes I feel as if I’ve let myself slide into complacency. On the other hand, I have such a wonderful husband who supports everything I do and without whom I’d be lost, my daughter who makes me smile from the start of the  day to its end with her hilarious antics and a lovely place to call home. I am so lucky, and it wouldn’t hurt me to stand back and count my blessings every once in a while.

Ugh, look at this blog. Look at the dust on the mantelpiece. Look at the laundry piling up in the back hall. Maybe I’ll do some dusting. Maybe I should fold more clothes. Or maybe I’ll just … take it easy and watch some TV and deal with it all tomorrow. It will be still there tomorrow, along with my unfinished assignment.

Maybe, one day I’ll learn that everyone has their limitations.

That nobody is perfect.

Sometimes I  need to take it easy, and hopefully one day, I’ll be okay with this.


‘DARE’ to go to College

I will always remember my four years as a student of Trinity College with fondness. But I must admit, there were times when I felt like a giant imposter. I was studying with some of the most intelligent minds in the country, and I remember sitting in the tutorial groups, listening to my peers talking, thinking, ‘Wow, I have not got a clue what these people mean by “post-modern” and “post-colonialism”. I wonder if my parents would be mad if I just left and became this “madwoman in the attic” I’ve just read about’.

Part of the reason I felt like an imposter was that I had asked for special consideration for the English Studies course on my CAO Form. Applying for a course via the CAO is a daunting experience for any student, but when disability or a Specific Learning Difficulty puts you at an academic disadvantage, it can mean putting more time and effort into your studies. On the face of it, I was a straight-A student, but only because I spent eight hours a day studying for the points. Honestly. Ask my husband or my dad (I would say ask my friends but I don’t have any because I spent eight hours a day, i.e. 4pm-12am, studying for two years). Even this wasn’t enough to secure me the 525 points I needed to study in Trinity; I only got 475.

Thank goodness for DARE.

DARE, which stands for Disability Access Route to Education, is a supplementary application process which complements the traditional CAO application process, allowing the candidate with a disability to compete for their course of choice, even if they do not meet the points requirement for the course. Availing of DARE also allows the candidate to inform chosen colleges of any difficulties or obstacles he/she may have faced during secondary school.  In addition, it alerts the college to a student’s existence and to be prepared to offer any academic supports, including note takers, assistive technology and library assistants.

Applying for college via DARE was  hard work. As part of the supplementary application process, applicants are obliged to include evidence of disability from an appropriately qualified psychiatrist, psychologist, neurologist or paediatrician.  These reports must be less than three years old. You may also have to complete a personal statement, outlining the challenges you faced throughout your educational journey and the impact your disability had on your academic life.

I remember when I applied for DARE, I did not really understand how the process worked. When I got my Leaving Cert results, I was convinced that I would be offered my third choice (Maynooth) instead of Trinity, which were my first two choices. I don’t think my mother was prepared for my moving to Dublin; she certainly wasn’t as ecstatic about the prospect as I was (yay! freeedom in Dublin City Centre!)

As time passed by, I gained more self-confidence and really started to enjoy College. I lived on Campus in Botany Bay and every morning I woke to the gentle poc-poc of tennis balls outside and the not-so-subtle gonging of the clock in Front Square. I would meander aimlessly around Front Square for hours, looking a little lost and demented, taking it all in while my wheelchair shook my bones going over the cobbles. I was a bit of a loner, I didn’t join any clubs or societies, I’m not really a big drinker, but I used to frequent many a coffee shop between lectures (nobody told me that you are supposed to be in the library reading when not at one of your twelve one-hour lectures, but when it mattered. I figured it out).

Trinity was one of  the best experiences of my life. I studied literature under some of the finest writers and literary critics of our time, but more significantly, the sense of belonging and community was so strong that I never felt like a ‘student with a disability’. Yes, I felt intimidated at first by how much my peers seemed to know about literature, but once I gained confidence, I too found the courage to ramble on about the portrayal of women/feminism/use of language or ‘rhetoric’. Once I stopped perceiving myself as different, I suddenly wasn’t.

And yet, the Student Disability Services, and in particular Orlaith O’Brien, Amy O’Shea (both have left), Trish Ferguson, Declan Treanor and Declan Reilly were always so supportive. I can’t speak for anyone else, but the support offered by these people (as well as many others) was second to none, and I was always listened to and treated with the utmost respect. There is no doubt that the provision of notetakers and library assistance enabled me to achieve an honours degree in English Studies.

If you are eligible for DARE, please answer ‘Yes’ to the relevant question on the CAO form. After 1 February, you will receive supplementary forms from colleges who are accepting DARE applications.

DARE is holding a number of application advice clinics in venues nationwide on Saturday 10th January 2015 from 10am-1pm, to allow students to ask questions and find out more about the scheme.  Further information is available on www.accesscollege.ie.