Lockdown, Covid 19, loneliness, social distancing, masks, pandemic, restrictions, rules and regulations. Symptoms, furlough, announcements, daily walks and ZOOM. All words which sum up the past year, I’m sure there are many more words ingrained in our brains now. Etched into our life. I was never big on using cameras or attracting attention to myself, the thought of seeing my big face on a screen or hearing my own voice while staring at a sea of people in boxes did not appeal to me at all.
If you were to put me a box and label me up `disabled carer` would be on the front. I’m a mum with disabilities to a boy who also would fit inside that box with me. We don’t like being trapped in boxes, We are humans. However, I don’t mind labels if it helps people understand others with kindness, compassion and respect. I find freedom in the arts and in writing where society seeks to box us up with discrimination and preconceived negative attitudes.
That’s why I wanted to be part of The Story of Us; a series of workshops commissioned as part of Coventry City of Culture led by a collective of Coventry’s City of Culture Trust alongside four charities – Grapevine, Central England Law Centre, Positive Youth Foundation and Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre.
Before going on the Story of Us workshops I didn’t zoom. So because of all this I was apprehensive about attending. I was worried it would be another humiliation and that no one would be interested. However I was very wrong, here my own pre conceptions were challenged. Apart from knowing the workshops were about storytelling, I did not fully know what I was letting myself in for. After being given a crash course in my enemy that is zoom I was ready. Or was I?
In the workshops I found it difficult to use my voice but everyone was really accommodating. I enjoyed being in such a mixed diverse group of people. When hearing more about each person’s stories and backgrounds it made me feel sad, angry and more passionate about fairness in society and how it places value on certain kinds of people and not others. I met people I would not have met before, heard things from different perspectives and pushed my disabilities to the maximum in terms of interacting and communicating, sometimes in pain.
The activities were really informative in learning about the different ways in which stories can be told and used to generate positive changes in society. I realised I wanted to be part of these workshops because I felt it was teaching me how I could use my feelings of an unjust system and my own experiences of that to help others and to find other people that could advise, share passions to find a starting point where we could advocate for change and gather ideas of solutions. It had not occurred to me before that I could possibly do this before. I hoped that by attending each week I would gain insight into how I could communicate what’s really happening for people like me beyond the media wall of bias. I always wanted to do something but did not know how or what, when you are disabled and struggle with socialising it’s so hard to know where to begin and when you do pick up the courage to try, no one listens and it damages your confidence to try again. In the workshops lots of people listened, I felt heard and accepted for the way I need to do things as a neurodiverse person.
Telling your story matters because someone will need to hear it, whether that is one person or many. Everybody needs to be part of something and belong, your story could make somebody feel they can relate to someone. You could inspire somebody to not only help themselves but help others. There are so many creative ways in which you can share your story. It is storytelling that shapes morals from the beginning of time, storys shock into action, generate empathy and inspire us to band together and make change happen. Storytelling educates the world in other experiences and understanding, a very powerful way to reach out to people and rebel against injustices promoting waves of changes that we need to see.
About the Author
Leigha is an artist and poet from Coventry. She wants to see change in attitudes towards SEN (special educational needs) families and more opportunities for them, not just an afterthought or a tick box exercise. She also wants to raise awareness of the damage of bullying. Leigh wants to make people aware of their own words and actions and how it affects people. People need to consider that other people are not as fortunate and consider that other lives exist outside your own experiences. For a long time Leigha gave up because no one listened to her, no one believed her, so she struggled to get her voice heard. But she’s fighting back using her words and positive actions. “I like people’s stories if they make others think or react positively instead of negative attitudes or treating people unfairly or if it changes the way people view others.”
Read Leigha’s Poem titled ‘Different’
We do the same as you, just different?
We communicate like you, just different.
There’s talking, pictures, sign.
Or turn you detective, see what the behaviour defines.
Family meal times.
Fish fingers every day for a year.
Repetitive music LOUD on the ipad, helps set the atmosphere.
New foods make him scream and gag….
Although he ate sausages in the bath, so now there not so bad.
We do play dates too,
others do not come.
We are just mummy and son.
They don’t understand our games and we don’t understand theirs.
We make our own fun.
After school activities, it goes on for hours!
“choose your engines mummy”
we do stimming like you.
Yes, you do it too!
You might bite your nails, tap your feet or fiddle on your phone.
His body might need to rock, flap, jump or make a repetitive groan.
We stim like you, just different.
We do day trips too, planned to the clock.
Not 8:58 or 9:01 but at 9:00 on the dot.
Too much information leads to meltdowns at the shops.
dealing with whispers and stares.
It’s apparently socially acceptable to make judgements out loud…. and glare!
We do learning too, but it’s my child that teaches me.
He taught me how to think creatively.
We do the same things as you, just different…
And you know that’s okay.