Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Powerchair Update | 18 Months On

It's hard to believe that 18 months ago my life was unrecognisable to what it is now. I never could have imagined I'd find myself being in London several times a week, getting home late at night or even just spending a whole day out the house without being in pain so severe I'd be close to passing out. All of that feels like a lifetime ago now. My life has changed so much since I received my powerchair 18 months ago, but in the past 6 months in particular I feel like a lot has changed. For a while I was catching up on all the life I'd missed, trying to do as much as possible and now I feel like I've reached the point where my powerchair has helped me to make big changes in my life and do things that once seemed impossible. I'm still going to share what I've been up to over these past 6 months but I also wanted to talk about the big life changes that are starting to happen as well. As always, get ready for a very long post.


If you follow me on social media then you probably already know about one big life update, I met my wonderful girlfriend, Jemma, at the start of this year. I'd always joked about meeting someone through theatre, and then it actually happened. We met through our love of Bat Out Of Hell the Musical and most of our dates since then have been heavily theatre related! We've been together for nearly 6 months now and I have honestly never been happier. Having someone I can share everything with, someone I can share exciting news with, has been incredible. I still enjoy doing things alone, I think I always will, but these past 6 months have really shown me how amazing it is to have someone by your side that you can share everything with.


Another big life change is that recently I've been thinking a lot about working, what kind of work I could do, what I want to do, whether I'm ready. For a long time I thought I would never be able to work but my powerchair has improved my life so much that having this conversation is now a reality. In an ideal world I'd be writing freelance as well as earning through my blog, something I can do from home and on my terms, and I'm working on making that happen hopefully in the near future. I always knew that finding a job, an accessible job with the right hours, as a disabled person is not easy but it wasn't until I started considering it myself that I realised just how difficult it would be. Hopefully by the time I reach 2 years since I received my powerchair I'll have a positive update for you on this!


Now, on to what I've actually been up to over these past 6 months! I'm sure it will come as no surprise to you that theatre features heavily in this update, again. There really are too many shows to share, so here are just some of the highlights and if you're stagey like me and want to know about all the shows I see I'd recommend following me on Twitter and Instagram (@shonalouiseblog) as that's where I share most of them!

Now I don't think there's any need for me to tell you all how much I love Six The Musical. I raved about the show a lot last year during it's short London run, saw it on tour and as soon as it landed back in London at the start of the year I found myself being there a lot. It's an incredible show and if you haven't seen it, you must. I've fitted in quite a few trips over these past 6 months, including 2 singalong performances, countless trips to see the alternates perform, filming an Accessibility in Theatres video with Perry and so many nights spent with friends at the show. The show is also going on a UK tour again, alongside the West End production, and I can't wait to see it in Oxford this Autumn. I thoroughly recommend you see it if it tours near you!


I've also crammed in seeing a variety of other shows in that time however! I've visited Above The Stag, the UK's only LGBT+ theatre, to see a few productions including Grindr The Opera and found a new favourite and wonderfully accessible theatre in the process. I've found myself at The Old Vic four times, including twice to see Present Laughter where I had one of the best nights of my life when I met Andrew Scott at stage door.

I also squeezed in attending a few shows at the first MT Fest at The Other Palace, as well as visiting to see the improvised musical Showstopper and a workshop performance of The Phase during Pride. I saw the original production of Les Mis for the final time and cried a lot and finally saw Hamilton as well as Book Of Mormon. I found myself being at various performers concerts and heading up to Leeds to see the first night of the UK tour of Grease. My Mum also fulfilled her dream of seeing Joseph and The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat again, a really fun show that I'm glad I managed to catch.


I also attended West End Live for the second time, something that ended up being a really emotional event as West End Live was one of the first big things I did in my powerchair when I got it. I ended up in exactly the same spot as I was last time on the accessible viewing platform and it really made me think about how much life has changed in just a short space of time. It was also the first time I'd done both days, spending one of them with my Mum and the other with Jemma. It was an incredible weekend as always and I've set myself the goal of applying to photograph the event next year!


If you read my post back in February you'll know that I went back into education via Open Uni at the start of the year, doing an access course that finishes in Autumn. It has been going so well so far, better than I could have expected with having just got 93/100 on my first essay for the course! I had hoped to complete a degree with The Open Uni starting after the access course but due to various reasons that's not possible anymore but I am still really enjoying being back in education and it's given me a lot of valuable skills. I was disappointed at first but I'm a firm believer it means there's something better in store for me!


Now this feels so far away but back in March I attended Naidex for the first time with the company who make my powerchair, Quantum! Naidex is the UK's largest disability event and it brings together different companies who exhibit their products, as well as featuring guest speakers and giving people the opportunity to try things out in person. I was on the Quantum stand across the 2 days speaking to people to give the perspective of someone who uses the powerchair everyday, the whole team are great and know the chairs inside out but I think people really valued hearing from someone who has more of an everyday experience. It was amazing to see people experience iLevel on a powerchair for the first time and it took me back to the first time I tried it out myself and realised the benefits it had. I also got to see so many friends and meet people who I'd only known through social media, some of them for years so it was lovely for us all to come together. It was nice not to be the minority for a few days as well!


One of my favourite dates with Jemma was going to see Orla Gartland perform in London. We spent time in the queue beforehand and had so much fun with her friends and other fans. The venue was really small and intimate and the support act was Tessa Violet, someone I'd known from when I first started watching Youtube years back. It was such a wonderful night and the iLevel on my powerchair meant I could enjoy it at the same height as Jemma. It had been a long time since I'd been to a concert and it was lovely to have a break from theatre to have a different kind of musical experience!


A very exciting powerchair related thing that I talked about in my last update post is that a home was found for my old powerchair! You might remember that last year Quantum kindly upgraded my Q6 Edge 2.0 to the brand new Edge 3.0, making me the first person in the UK to have the chair. It was such a kind gesture but I was hesitant because I had fundraised for my powerchair, I wanted to make sure I was honouring that and so we came up with an idea. The switch only involved changing the base of the powerchair, so it would still be half my old chair and we would be left the old base. Quantum amazingly offered to add seating and anything else to the base to donate it to someone. We considered a few different options but I wanted it to go to someone who was in a similar position as me when I was fundraising and that's when I thought of Faith! She was using an unsuitable and basic NHS powerchair that hadn't even been measured for her properly, she wasn't getting out much and she was really missing out on the things she loves to do like I was. She's had the chair for a few months now and she's already out and about so much! Quantum added iLevel to the chair so like me she's now enjoying concerts and festivals in a totally new way. It's been incredible to hear about what she's been up to and I'm so glad I got to be on the other side of things and witness how life changing this chair can be.


One of the biggest things that's happened this year is that I became a published author! For several years I'd been working on an essay about growing up as a disabled young person that would be in an actual physical book alongside 20 other essays. I attended the launch of the book in July and everything has just been so overwhelming ever since! I spoke on a panel alongside another essayist and one of the editors and spoke about my piece and issues affecting young people today, as well as signing copies of the book and then finding it in store for the first time that day. I have also been so blown away by just how many of you have bought and read the book, or have sent me photos of it in store! I'm not sure it will ever fully sink in. Being a published author was a childhood dream of mine and its surreal that I achieved it at 21 years old.


Finally, I attended London Pride for the first time last year and I thought about how amazing it would be to go to Pride with a partner one day, well one year later and it happened! Jemma and I had the most incredible Pride, it was everything I'd hoped it would be and we took some of my favourite photos of us to date. I cannot wait to spend many more Pride's together in the future!

There has been so much more that I could share but I think you'd be reading the post until my next powerchair update in 6 months time! All I can say is I'm the happiest I've ever been and it really feels like life is heading in the right direction for me, I'm excited to see what these next 6 months bring.

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