Seeing the World through its Changing Leaves

If you think about it, everything around us, every single little thing, is constantly changing and remoulding – the seasons, swollen summers into crisp-dancing autumns, to winters of fragile blue.  Political circumstances, turmoil and uncertainty, our financial situations, the simmering circles of our social lives, friends and families, those we both love and lose in a never-ending circle of life.  But, then reflect on how we cope with these ever-changing situations, how do we adapt, especially when we are so selfishly focused on charging towards that one goal, by one route only, in our own real-times…regardless of everything else that is happening around us?

Someone asked me recently why I hadn’t just given up long ago – why I hadn’t just taken a far easier path.  After all, in a world so cautious yet ignorant, we perceive making life effortless a far easier option than pushing each other, testing the ‘Keep Out’ zones and those ‘No Entry’ spaces.  Truth is though, the mountain is still the same, for every one of us, it’s just the way we choose to approach that mountain’s ascent, the path we choose to take up it, how to look beyond the route that has already been taken time and time again by so many other explorers before us.  I want to see that mountain, I want to climb those jagged rocks and feel the space between the cliff edge and the dangerously thin air.  Why?  Because it’s the challenge that makes the journey, that makes our stories richer

For so long, I was so focused on reaching the summit – becoming a doctor, despite my disabilities, but I very soon realised that I would not be taking the one-way gondola up to the top, with everyone else.  I instead had to take a different journey, a road very much alone.  I could’ve done this using ice-picks, rope-swings, all the way.  But even I know that we’re not superhuman and that this was not sustainable.  I was plunged into a year and a half of uncertainty, bedridden in hospital following 20 stomach surgeries, I was eternally discouraged from applying to Medical School, purely because I was deafblind and that deafblind people just don’t go to university, let alone Medical School.  Only, when finally embarking on my Medical School journey I was hit by every barrier imaginable – the hatred, the disbelief, the discrimination, the exclusion, and the rejection from all things that otherwise identified me for who I was, that otherwise allowed me to soar.  I was then diagnosed with a progressive condition, still unclear, like those mountain roads iced over, leading me to Intensive Care 15 times since starting Medical School, hanging, quite literally, over that jagged mountain edge.  But, I’m now in 4th year of Medical School, so near to the summit, yet I can now at least look down and say that I’m halfway up the mountain, and not still waiting at the very bottom, waiting for others to find out the answer for me, still not having sought out what it looks like up here.  The view, in my eyes, has been treacherous, daunting, sometimes a white-out, where I have been snowed under, but it has also been beautiful, untouched, natural in its rawest form, and a viewing platform where I can see for many thousands of kilometres across lands of untold story and unexplored possibilities.

For now, it’s been a different essence of being ‘snowed under’ – not the exam stress, the rejections, the ill-health, but the recent coverage in the press, of my story, my mountainous journey of reaching high and going beyond our sky’s limits.  It has been the first time other people have seen the world through my eyes, from my mountain viewing platform, and experienced the feeling for what it’s like to be walking the mountain range that I’m rolling my long white cane along. 

Autumn is without doubt my most favourite time of the year; the stifling heat has died down, leaving a stillness that’s been cooled by a soft exasperation.  The winter has not yet trickled in, bringing sheets of steel rain and silver light, and yet in between we have that small window to see, hear, smell and taste the changing colours of the Earth in its most naked form.  Hence, I do love a good autumnal analogy.  Like the autumn leaves, people are now seeing me in my different colours, different capabilities, different strengths and weaknesses.  And I welcome that.  Before, I was just the deafblind Medical Student – the one pushed aside on the ward-rounds, being mistook for a patient on more than too many occasions, purely because I was disabled. 

In my recent TED talk I described us all as not leaves, but as stars, being so identical to each other from a sheer distance in the night sky that we were never deemed individual, unique.  And perhaps I do have a tendency to personify us to nature, but really, we are all part of the quite genuinely ever-changing seasons, constantly adapting, and so we become these many different forms throughout each year, each decade, each generation.  We need to recognise this beauty and importance beyond the face value of our leaf, star, mountain range and so on – to stand in the wind, the storm, the blizzard, the rain, even when people misjudge and mistake your face value.  I mostly skip past the many comments filing through the various press releases on my journey, partly because I have very little time to absorb this and simply choose not to waste my energy succumbing to the more negative, ignorant responses.  One person questioned how I could possibly talk, speak words, if I was deaf?  Another asked if I really was blind, because I looked too good to have no vision, and I was asked who did my hair and make-up…when in fact, sorry to disappoint, I do this myself, and in haste, every morning at 7am.  But, these rusty, sweet-smelling newspapers, carried through the train carriages and sticky coffee tables are helping us to see the start of the changing leaves, not just in my book, but all your books too

One amazing and wonderful thing about all this is that besides the curiosity, the no-nonsense and pessimism, I have been rained upon with message-floods, of reaffirmation, thanks and approval that you all too, can climb these mountains, journey beyond the same old views back on the ground.  So, this one is for Max Kenny, a fellow deafblind teenage boy, who too, is striving for bigger and better things, using his superpowers to burn the brightest stars, move the mightiest mountains, just like superheroes do.  Max – this is to say – be the tree that withstands the storms, sheds it leaves, brews its colours through ever season.  Be the changing leaves in the book, be the next chapter in the life novel of newfound possibilities, and be the adventurer who can at least say “I’ve journeyed halfway up the mountain, and I am still going until I reach that summit”, rather than still be the one still standing at the bottom, with so many others, waiting for answers with no substance, journeys without challenges. 

Be, a superhero.  I’m not here to be a leaf, a star, a piece of rock clinging on to a cliff-edge.  I’m here to turn pages, move mountains, and throttle full-force, at my pace only, towards my goal, whatever the changing environment, changing seasons, changing opinions, around me.  If I can find the answer to making most, if not all things deemed impossible, possible, then that will be my biggest, and most fulfilling, expedition yet, in becoming the UK’s first deafblind doctor. 

And Max? Tim? Lila? I trust you can join me in doing this too…

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