Wheelchair Debut

I used my wheelchair for the first time at uni today, and I learnt a lot of things, some of which I expected, some of which I didn’t. Here are some of the highlights.

Miniature horse gif
This miniture horse makes me feel seriously inferior due to being significantly cuter, and significantly faster at wheeling than myself. Also that hairstyle.

9:35am – I remember why I haven’t tried to use a wheelchair at UQ until now. I emerge from the blissful cool of my car to the 30 degree heat, and fact the facts. There are stairs everywhere. Having parked in the disabled parking, I have two options: I can go 100m to my right to a ramp into the building next to the building I want to go into, or I can go 100m to my left, to a ramp which leads to a set of stairs into the building I want to go into. These big life decisions are the complex dilemmas that I always dreamed of facing when I went to university.

9:45am – I still haven’t made it to the top of the ramp. It is my Everest. The heat is making me dizzy. My arms feel like they might be about to fall off. A groundskeeper has paused under the shade of a tree to watch me with a mixture of confusion and concern.

Sleeping gif

9:50am – I have made it into the air-conditioning. I’m still not actually in the building I want to be in, but that’s a minor detail. I might just sleep here for a while. Just a few years. Nope, turns out I’ve parked myself in front of a supplies closet and the person trying to access it is too scared or nice to ask me to move, so is just awkwardly shifting from foot to foot as if they need the bathroom. Turns out my arms are still attached and capable of rolling me to the next building over.

9:52am – A lot of people stare. By which I mean most people stare. Wheeling down the hall kind of felt like walking down a catwalk in fashion week (my outfit was pretty stunning after all). Unlike fashion week, I was allowed to smile. I’m happy to report that about 90% of them would return my smile once I noticed them staring.

I can pretend this is what is happening right?

10:30am – UQ really likes to have faulty lifts (see earlier shenanigans). The poor librarian’s face was a picture of terror as I rolled away from the blocked off lift towards him, because he already knew what I was going to ask. It’s okay. In this particular instance there was another maintenance lift that I could use. The problems would arise if I wanted to access the other tower, which didn’t have a lift available.

Elevator gif
Exclusive preview: UQ’s new elevator design.

10:45am – It turns out I can do a wheelie. It was unintentional. It was terrifying. I am a little surprised I didn’t fall out the back of my chair, and I have no idea how to repeat the exercise. But I did a wheelie. I don’t know that I ever want to experience that surprising am I about to fall heels over head again.

11:45am – Original doors as an architectural feature suck. It’s not just that the wood is chipped by age and the thousands of students who have crashing into it over the years. These doors are difficult with crutches, but they’re impossible with a chair. My favourite architectural decision is where they put wheelchair accessible bathrooms behind these doors.

Fast wheelchair gif
Me, every time I go down a ramp.

12pm – I love smooth marble tiles. Carpet is exhausting. Grass is difficult. I don’t even want to talk about pebbles. Tiles are glorious. And going down ramps is nirvana. I’m so close to the air-conditioning of my car and then the delightful pre-made lunch I have waiting for me at home, followed by a nice long nap.

12:45pm – Beeeeeeeddddddd.

Stitch sleeping gif


Seven Spoonie Study Tips

I’m not going to lie, I really enjoy trawling through #studyspo. I honestly love stationary so much that living as close to Officeworks as I do is probably a hazard. But when it comes to actually studying, my passion is a little less prolific. By which I mean that unlike the wonders I find in #paleodessert, study is not a thing that I look forward to trying out for myself.

Any number of chronic health conditions (everything from depression to IBS to multiple sclerosis) come with a symptom called Cognitive Dysfunction, more simply known as ‘brain fog’. So even aside from the stifling lack of motivation and pervasive fatigue, thinking is just damn difficult.

It’s time to study smarter, not harder. Here’s seven steps to making studying easier as a spoonie.

1. Change

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Change your clothes. This seems really basic, but hygiene is notoriously difficult to maintain when chronic fatigue, chronic pain, or mental illness are flaring up. Keep this simple, and do what you can. Brush your hair, tie it out of your way, and remember that dry shampoo is your friend. Have a shower (shower chairs are the best, I don’t know why everyone doesn’t use them). If you can’t manage a shower, baby wipes and fresh deodorant make all the difference. Regardless, change your clothes. Even if it’s just to a new set of pyjama clothes.

2. Tidy

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I think the saying is ‘a cluttered desk makes a cluttered mind’. I don’t know how true that is, because I know plenty of organised people with messy desks. But I find studying so much less overwhelming when my study space is clean and tidy. Check out my faves #studyspo and #stationary for inspiration, or at the very least go through and throw out things that are used up or useless, and tidy the rest! If you really can’t handle the tidying up – avoid the issue by studying in nature!

3. ListMy desk

Write down everything that you need to get done. This can look really overwhelming, but we’re going to get to dealing with it all soon. I find a separate list for each subject is most useful. Break up tasks into manageable pieces. For example, instead of saying ‘catch up on readings’ say, ‘read chapter 1, read chapter 2′ etc. Research shows that our brains like short term success more than long term success, and marking things of on checklists releases dopamine, which means a happier you!

4. Prioritise

There are lots of ways of doing this, but it’s now time to prioritise your checklist. I do this with three different coloured highlighters. One colour stands for ‘it needs to get done today’, one for ‘it needs to get done this week’, and another for longer term projects. Some people find timetabling their day a really effective strategy, but it doesn’t work for me because I really don’t know when I will need to block out time to nap, or when a task might take longer than usual because of brain fog. Not being able to stick to a timetable can create feeling of failure, whereas a checklist provides regular feelings of success.

5. Pace

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Not pacing the floor – figure out what pace you can work at. That means find out what time period you can continue effectively for before needing a break, and how long does that break need to be. This doesn’t actually mean study until your brain doesn’t work any more and then take a break. Research shows that for healthy students this is 50 minutes of working, and a ten minute break. More practically, a good place to start is working for 20 minutes, breaking for 10. You might find you can concentrate for longer than 20. In that case, try bumping it up slightly and seeing how you go. If you can’t last 20 minutes, try ten or fifteen instead. Working in five minute blocks is still working.

6. Rest

Different study spots
Change up where you study, or bring a friend!

Having a rest break from your study is crucial. I talked about timing in the point above, so here I’m going to talk about activities. It’s really tempting to take a break by watching something on the computer or tv, and that does work for some people. I start to struggle after I’ve been using my eyes for a while though, so I’m a big fan of grabbing my crutches and having a walk around my back yard, feeling the grass on my bare feet, or sitting out there on a picnic rug and having a snack. The vitamin D is great, the fresh air is invigorating, and there is a lot of research coming out that ‘grounding’ yourself can have all kinds of health benefits. I can’t comment on the science of all these things, but I know it makes me feel better and can go a long way to clearing my head. I don’t really care if it’s a placebo effect if it works!

7. Sleep

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Keep to your normal sleep patterns. Do not stay up late studying (or catching up on TV shows that you’ve missed while you were studying). That means that unless you’ve worked out a particular system with your doctor, you should probably be aiming to go to bed around 9pm, and wake up at 7am. This helps keep your circadian rhythm regular. Of course you may still need naps during the day to refresh, so take these in half hour doses when you feel like you need them to stay sharp!

One last thing

If you have fallen behind in classes, keep up with the current topics! Don’t focus on trying to catch up on things you’ve missed at the cost of things that are currently being discussed in class. You’re much better off keeping up with the current stuff and revising the topics you missed at the end. That way you can ask questions in class, and worst case scenario you’ll know those topics a little better than the ones that you only got to skim through after missing them the first time around.

Any spoonie study tips you want to share? Comment them here!

Student Politics Season

An image of UQ, full of Reform and Thrive campaigners.

The UQU elections are happening. That two weeks of the year when regular uni students get to dodge their politically active peers. Where campaigners run around like energiser bunnies, their brightly coloured T-Shirts emblazoned with bold verbs holding some tenuous connection to the party’s ideals. Don’t worry, if you can’t figure out the link they’ll repeat it for you on the thousands of flyers that will be scattered across campus at the end of each day. Arguments about which is more necessary: cheap drinks or union accountability?

Don’t get me wrong – I think student politics is important. There has to be a system for ensuring that students are represented by people who are passionate about the same issues and innovations as the majority of the student population. I’m sure there are other ways to achieve that, and I’d certainly love it if student politics wasn’t just a playground for Young ALP and Young LNP to fight it out and stack their resumes. But overall, it is mostly successful in making sure that parties are happening, clubs and socs are funded, and the latest big cool food chain makes it onto campus.

Bandying arguments about corruption, or inability to throw a financially sustainable party is one thing. These statements are pretty harmless, and probably actually result in a better informed electorate. The thing that has made me absolutely sick about this year’s campaign is the use of the new Abilities Officer portfolio as a political ping pong ball. Individuals from both major parties have done this, while the other parties have decided that, lacking the expertise, their voices on the issue are unhelpful and unnecessary. Only one party has put up candidates and had nothing more to say on the issue.

Some Reform campaigners have noted that Reform created, or even will be creating an Abilities Collective. It has existed since 2014, and taking ownership of that victory away from the students who achieved it for a political win is pretty gross. But that was a misunderstanding of the issue by individual campaigners, while the official materials, and the candidates themselves, have been completely on the ball with their dialogue.

I was hoping the same was true of Thrive. Following more research, all I can say is that putting up a candidate for an Abilities Officer, a role designed to represent one of the most marginalised groups at university, who has no plans for what they would do in that role, is disgusting.

When I tried to find communicate via Facebook with one of Thrive’s candidates, my comments were deleted, and my messages ignored. I cannot find any reference to any policies regarding students with disabilities. Having checked their Facebook page, the unofficial compilation of policies, and their presidential statement, as well as messaging one of their candidates, I really don’t know where else to go.

I am very glad that Thrive’s candidates for that office have apparently not felt unsupported or disadvantaged by their disabilities throughout their university experience. That is absolutely fantastic to hear. But I am absolutely horrified that these students might be using their experience of disability as a political tool, rather than an opportunity to harness their position to advocate for other students with disabilities.

If Thrive really couldn’t find any students who were passionate about improving accessibility and agreed with the party’s other policies, why didn’t they just not run candidates? The other parties, not having passionate and relevant candidates, were perfectly happy to leave this to the people put up by the incumbent (people who are active within the Abilities Collective).

The only information I have received about Thrive’s candidates is that they believe the officer position, and the collective, should be abolished. As this didn’t come from them, I don’t know how true this is. But if it is true, it is deeply inappropriate for these candidates to run for a position that they don’t think should exist, without any intention to work for the students the portfolio aims to empower. It is a deliberate deception. I thought they were better than that.

Even if that information is fabricated, I don’t think I can trust a party to advocate for students with disabilities if they don’t even warrant a single policy point or Facebook graphic. If you’re not interested in the issues these students face, don’t pretend to be by putting up candidates.

Strike one up for a swing voter being 100% turned off your party.

If you have information about any of the above being incorrect, I’d love to hear it so that I can make any necessary edits to ensure that this article is as accurate as possible! Comment here, or message me on Facebook.