If I could summarise 2016 in one word, mine would be challenging. 2016 has proven to be a challenge in many ways for us all politically, emotionally and spiritually. It took many beloved people from us and saw dramatic changes in the world as we know it. But, now we find ourselves starting a new year, a new journey as the Earth too starts a new orbit around the Sun, we too can begin again. We can breath new life into our minds and thoughts and proceed to go further into the depths of life with a renewed sense of self.
Today I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect over my year of 2016, the things that happened, the things that I did and my goals for the future. For me, writing these blog posts is rather comforting because it allows me to see just how much I have grown as a person and to prove to myself that I am making achievements in my life. I think they are a positive thing for us all to do, just to prove to ourselves that the year was spent making progress and not just sitting around watching Netflix and complaining about how much a sandwich costs. Because I am certainly guilty of that!
The year began as it usually does, with me contemplating how the next year would pan out. I was finally getting to grips with being a Postgraduate Student and all that came with it, having to learn a new Reference system and understanding that Children’s Literature was not as straight forward as one might think. But, things were looking promising and I became more in love with the area of study than I was before.
In January I was also lucky enough to be invited to meet one of my favourite actresses Game of Thrones star Natalie Dormer. The RNIB kindly invited me to meet her to discuss a role she was researching for an upcoming film. This was an incredible experience to meet someone who I have admired for years in her many roles that she has played.
But, in February things took an awful turn for the worst and something happened that utterly shattered my world. As I’m sure some of you probably already know, on February 24th 2016 my close friend and fellow YouTuber Charlotte Eades died of a terminal Grade 4 brain tumour. She was 19 years of age and over the past nine months before her passing I had grown incredibly close to Charlotte. Even though we had only known each other for a short period of time, I trusted her implicitly and I felt such a closeness to her, a closeness that I had never felt with anyone before. Even now almost a year since she passed I still find it painful to think about the beautiful, kind and incredible girl that cancer callously took away from this world. But, her spirit lives on in her videos and the people she touched with them. If 2016 taught me anything its to remember that life is precious, don’t waste it, don’t dwell on the past, live in the moment and enjoy every minute of it.
As February rolled into March I found myself learning to readjust to the world without Charlotte. It felt strange, no longer being able to contact her, to see her funny cat videos on Facebook or find a new video of hers in my YouTube subscription box. That was incredibly difficult and something that I had to learn to accept and overcome. Of course I fear that I’ll never fully get over loosing Charlotte, but I deeply want to continue Charlotte’s work in some way as her friend. So to do that I must remember her for what she stood for and everything that was good about her.
Charlotte gave me the greatest gift that a friend could have ever given to one single person, courage. Charlotte’s determination and resolve to be true to herself and what she believed in gave me the courage to speak about something that happened in my past, something that I hadn’t had the courage to speak of for many years. In March I wrote a blog post and in it I spoke for the first time about my two year battle with Anorexia Nervosa as a teenager. This had been a time in my life that I didn’t even want to discuss on my blog, in truth I was too afraid of what people may say about it. Mental health is still an incredibly misunderstood disability and I feared people would misinterpret my thoughts and experiences. But, Charlotte’s passing had made me more determined than ever to speak about mental health as Charlotte had herself lived with Anxiety before she was diagnosed with cancer. So, I felt as if I owed it to her to be truthful and honest with my readers about my past struggles with mental health. So, I wrote a blog post and made a video on my past struggles with Anorexia and to my surprise the support I got from the blog post was immense. I received so many emails and messages from others who experienced Anorexia themselves, many who, like me, also had a disability as well. I felt utterly liberated, by writing this blog post I had learnt to accept this part of my life and the lessons it had taught me about loving myself for who I was.
The start of the year saw me saying goodbye to one of my dearest friends and as time rolled by and Spring came I started to make new friends. Now, although nobody can or will ever replace Charlotte, I found comfort this year in the friendships I made. In April I became a campaigner for the Scope For Change Campaign. This campaign is run by disability charity Scope to enable people with disabilities to gain skills and experience to develop their own campaigns and to further their campaigning skills. I spent four days in Loughborough with a group of truly wonderful group of individuals from all different backgrounds. I had the most amazing four days and have formed some incredible friendships with the people I met during my time there. These individuals taught me so much and have really opened my mind further towards the world of disability and how diverse it is. I am truly grateful that Scope gave me this opportunity as not only did I learn a lot about social media, campaigning and planning during my time on the campaign programme, but I also learned a lot about myself and what I am capable of.
In May things started to get incredibly exciting for me and it was definitely one of the best months in 2016.
Towards the start of May I discovered, to my delight, an inspiring individual with a visual impairment who had an interest in fashion as much as I did. I met the amazing Bianca Von Stemple a fashion designer who also happens to have a visual impairment. I interviewed her and ran an interview on my podcast channel that I co-run Fashionability and then also ran a piece on my Huffington Post UK column. Both pieces were received incredibly well and not only did I conduct an interview which proved that sight loss doesn’t stop you from pursuing a career in fashion design, I also made a good friend.
I was contacted by the charity Guide Dogs who asked me if I would like to be involved in a news piece for Channel 4 News on their No Go Britain Series. No Go Britain is a series that was relaunched this year in light of the 2016 Paralympics to look at issues that people with disabilities face in everyday life. The piece was going to be focused all around assistance dogs being denied entry into public spaces and the laws that surround assistance dogs. After meeting with my would be producer I was invited to serve as the reporter on the news piece, in which I would appear on national Television. The piece was incredibly well received and after a week of traveling up and down the UK, interviewing a number of assistance dog owners and long days spent recording voiceovers and making edits the piece was aired.
But, that wasn’t all I was then asked to report on a second piece the evening after which covered the Guide Dogs UK Access All Areas lobby. The day saw around 100 Guide Dog owners come together to parliament to lobby MP’s to help Guide Dogs prevent these access denials from happening. So, that day I got the chance to film outside the houses of parliament in front of Big Ben, you cannot believe the utter thrill I felt. After all, in that moment I was classified as a freelance reporter working for Channel 4 News!
But then again I can’t help but add that there would be no need for all this press attention, all the articles I have written, the work I did with channel 4 and the lobby that Guide Dogs put so much effort into organising if individuals would just understand that it is illegal to refuse an assistance dog into a public place on the grounds that they work with an assistance dog. So whilst this was a truly unforgettable experience to have worked with Channel 4 and to have had the experience of being a reporter. I can’t help but feel saddened that the reason behind why I had this experience was because people like myself are regularly discriminated against due to their disability.
May then faded into June, the nights grew shorter and although British Weather is never completely sunny things certainly did feel a lot brighter.
On the 8th of June I attended an awards evening at my local Guide Dogs Mobility Team in London and to my surprise I won the Passionate and Determined Award. This was an incredible privilege to receive an award, in truth I do things for the charity because they have given so much to me. I strive to do what I can to give something back to them, but to receive recognition for the things I have done over the last few years really did mean a great deal to me. I was also incredibly moved to receive so many wonderful comments of praise on my social media after posting on my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram about my success during the awards ceremony.
My campaigning work had also started to pick up during this month, over the last few months leading up to June I had been in contact with the organisation Inclusive Minds. Inclusive Minds is a fabulous organisation which is aimed at brining more diversity and inclusive into Children’s Literature through events, networks, consultation and panels. I was asked to speak at the A Place at the Table event about my views on children’s literature and how it currently presents disability and why its important to produce books which accurately represent diversity in them. This was a huge accomplishment for me, as this is a topic that is very close to my heart and to have the chance to speak about something that I wholeheartedly believe in, in front of publishers, agents, illustrators and authors was an amazing experience.
June is also the month of my birthday, my 22nd birthday was a truly lovely occasion. It was spent with friends and family. I had the most beautiful Summer garden party picnic with a true bohemian theme. My friends and family joined me to celebrate the occasion and I had a wonderful day. But on the day of my actual birthday I hit London town with my mother to see Aladdin on the West End and indulge in some food and shopping in Covent Garden.
The rest of that Summer was spent in utter bliss, relaxing, spending time with loved ones, days out with my crazy and amazing friends and taking endless images for my Instagram. Although there was still an element of work involved I did take part in a number of interviews, attended my a number of fabulous bloggers events and and took part in some charity projects. But, it was a beautiful Summer and most of it was spent peacefully enjoying the warmer days and delighting in the fact that I had completed the first year of my Masters Degree.
As Sumer gave way to Autumn and the leaves began to fall from the trees, things started to become exciting. I began my second and final year of my Masters Degree with very promising grades from the first year. I was also called upon once again by the charity Scope to take part in the #EndTheAwkward campaign for a second year running. But this time I found myself partaking in a spot of acting. I filmed a video with the Unilad which was based a real life scenario in which someone spoke to my guide dog and gave her directions instead of me. I have received a number of comments from people asking me if this is actually for real and yes indeed my friends, its not a work of my imagination. This comedy sketch was based on a real life event!
I also enjoyed the success of having a number of articles written about me in some online Newspapers and Magazines including The Notebook, The Daily Mail and The Mirror Online. These articles all discussed my blog, the relationship with my guide dog Unity and my past struggles with accepting my disability and batting Anorexia Nervosa. It was the first time that a press interview had ever discussed my Eating Disorder in light of my blog I wrote earlier in the year. But, since the blog and the immense support from my readers and viewers subsequent to posting the blog I had the courage to open up about that part of my life in these interviews. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it once again, I am incredibly grateful for all the support you have all given me over the past year. It is because of you that I have been able to obtain all these opportunities, your belief in me has made all of this possible. So thank you immensely for that.
But, thats not all that happened in September, September was also the month that I found employment working for Lush Cosmetics. I got a position working as a Christmas Temp Sales Assistant at my local Lush in Bromley. This was a massive achievement for me, as someone with a severe visual impairment. My time working with Lush has been full of positivity and self-growth. I have learnt a lot about my capabilities and I hope that my experiences working with the company as someone with a disability can be put to good use with Lush. Once again I was utterly blown away with the torrent of supportive, encouraging and heartfelt messages from my followers congratulating me on my news of getting a job with the company. I am so delighted and overjoyed when people have informed me that my success with Lush has given them hope that they too may be able to obtain employment. As finding employment can be extremely tough on a person with a disability, trying to get potential employers to see your capabilities and look past you disability. So, to have been given the opportunity to prove myself and to work in the retail sector has been a much needed challenge.
My campaign work with Guide Dogs on the Access All Areas Campaign also continued during September. Over the Summer I had worked with the private vehicle hire company Uber on a video to educate current and new Uber drivers about assistance dogs, the work that they do and about the laws that protect them. The video was made to help prevent Uber drivers refusing assistance dogs owners entry into their vehicles. As taxi refusals is one of the most common types of access denials that assistance dog owners face. So, I truly hope my input aided the company to prevent any further access denials from occurring.
As the leaves began to turn amber and October snuck its way around the corner I was delighted to be featured in a further magazine article. Reveal Magazine ran a piece on me, my blog, my relationship with Unity and how I utilised my love of style and cosmetics to overcome Anorexia and accept my disability.
During October I was very lucky to meet an inspiration individual by the name of Mihaela Noroc, who is the founder of The Atlas of Beauty. She is a extremely talented photographer who started this project to capture everyday women from all corners of the globe, from all different backgrounds to show the diversity of beauty. My mother contacted her via Instagram to tell her of my story as we are both very inspired by her work. To our delight she contacted us and asked to meet me and to shoot some images for her project. It was a privilege to meet this talented and visionary women and to have a chance to be photographed by her.
In November I was again called upon by Inclusive Minds to speak as a panelist at the London Book Fair, the panel was aimed at discussing how the library industry can advance towards including more diverse characters in Children’s Literature. I spoke as a representative of the Inclusive Minds Ambassador Network and on my own experiences as a MA student of Children’s Literature studying disability representation in Children’s Literature. This was a very enlightening experiences, I met a number of individuals who had a wealth of knowledge about disability in the Children’s Literature genre.
Finally, December seemed to fly by within a blink of an eye, here one minute and then gone the next. But, then again December always seems to be a swift month, probably because it is a month where we try and cram in as much as possible into one short space of time. Towards the beginning of the month the BBC3 release a video titled ‘Things Not to Say to a Blind Person’ which I was involved in making. The video was received very well and I had such a fun time filming this and discussing some of the strange comments I have received from the public in respect of my sight loss.
All in all 2016 was a challenging year, with its ups and downs. I lost someone I loved, I made new friendships, I achieved some incredible things and I tried my first Milkshake. As I leave 2016 behind and step into 2017 my main goal is simple, to be happy. I do not believe in making New Years Resolutions, I like to take each day as it comes and make goals as I go. Of course there are milestones I intend to reach by the end of the year, I want to successfully complete my Masters Degree and I want to continue with my writing. But, my main goal of 2017 is to simply be happy and content in whatever I am doing. If I am happy then I believe everything else will fall into place. Life is to short to hold onto grudges or dwell on the past, this year I want to spend living for now and planning for the future as I go.
I’m already starting 2017 with some positive things in the pipeline, I have a number of interviews lined up, I am going on a trip to Bath Spa later in January and I have been offered a permanent position at Lush. This year may bring more challenges as life usually does, but as long as we face them with a positive outlook things can only move forward.
I sincerely wish you all the best for 2017, thank you to you all for your continued support. May 2017 be a year of prosperity and happiness for you all.