Invisible

Anyone who follows me on twitter may be aware that I’m a fan of lifelong learning. Last September I took the hugely insightful Basic Training for Prison Work course, run by Prison Link who are a referral agency for the Probation and Prison services. Prison Link is a christian charity which works with Black Minority Ethnic prisoners literally acting as the link between their prison life and preparation for their new home life. They listen to them, support them and help the make the transition to a positive new start (hopefully). I learned so much but the more I learned the more I realised I knew nothing and had few skills to help. I decided to start a counselling course and was lucky to find one starting immediately, completing level one and level two in quick succession and through a lot of hard work and commitment.

Counselling is one of those things you can’t just walk into. You have to work your way through the learning process, from the bottom up, building experience with theory behind it so that you don’t go out into the big world and fuck up someone’s fucked up life just a little bit more.  I’ve learned about myself since I started studying. I’m now horribly aware of my selfish attitudes in conversation; of how I used to plan my next step in the middle of listening to your current sentence

‘my husband hates me, my life is falling part, I don’t know where to go from here….’

‘I just need to pick up some bread, and milk…and…sorry, what did you say?’

Yeah, I could be a bit shit, and without constant self awareness I still can be but I’m working on it. I also now know that what I thought were my weaknesses are my strengths. I’m told constantly by Beardieboy that I allow others to put themselves before me. I don’t see it like that. I make a decision to nurture and put the ones I love first.  I am in charge of that decision, I don’t feel put on. What am I here for? I’m here to take part, to be a mother and a partner and to do that well I do need to give of myself. I like that about myself.

So anyway, I decided to do level three. It’s a big step but it’s a step closer to working less for better reward. I work full time, taking an NVQ3 at work as well and have children, a husband, make music, perform, have friends, etc so take another course, with a demanding homework schedule is only for the committed. I also happen to have a mobility problem.  I mention it because it affects me but I mention it last because I don’t want it to rule my life (and god knows, it tries to).

I have stealthy arthritis in my hip, toes, hand, wrist, shoulder, blah blah blah. I also have a back problem from a nasty car accident over a decade ago. Go on, get your violin out. I write badly, and the longer I write the more painful it becomes and the less legible it becomes. I need to move regularly to stop myself ugly pained faces, you know, the usual shit. Oh and I get very tired, but hell, I’m a parent, I think it’s possibly in the job description.

I applied for the course and arrived at the venue. The seating was limited and all low with no arms. My nightmare. I can’t stand, I can’t sit. I had to ask to be shown to a proper chair like a great aunt. We filled in forms and were told they were oversubscribed. We needed to take a test and if we passed that, an interview. Isn’t this government’s funding policy great. A course is oversubscribed so…turn people away. Whatever you do DON’T put on another course.

I arrived to take the test and again there was nowhere to sit and I had to ask. They wheeled out a huge chair that had a sign over it with an arrow pointing at my head saying BLOODY NUISANCE. I sat on it and ignored the sign. We were directed to our test room and another lady with a walking frame was left at the back. She was audibly embarrassed so I strolled along beside her chatting to make her feel less so, making me last to arrive. I explained I needed the bathroom, was nodded at and went as quickly as I could. I got back and was shown a seat but before i could even take off my coat he said ‘turn over your paper’. I pulled him over and said ‘um, I need extra time. I have a problem with writing, because of my hand.’ He said ‘I WISH you’d told me SOONER’. Hm, like when?Perhaps I should have texted him from the loo. He stood looking indecisive for a few minutes until I said ‘The longer it takes you decide the more time I lose anyway thereby making me more disadavantaged’. I begrudgingly received an extra 10mins, but at the end of the normal time he looked at my paper and said that he could see that I don’t need more time so I could stop with everyone else.  I was so disgusted I agreed and handed my paper in without making my writing more legible, which was what i needed that time for.

I left the college feeling pretty invisible, no other word for it. I was made to feel different by another person’s indifference to my disability. I wasn’t asking for cotton wool, just a fair chance. I was determined that it wouldn’t happen again. It did.

Tonight I had my interview and they spent half of it asking me if i felt I could meet the learning outcomes of the course given my health problems. ie are you worth our effort? are you worth a place on this course? will you spoil our success rates? (how’s that for a multi-part question?) I had to fight my corner until I finally said, ‘I will not be refused a place on the basis of my disability’ to which a horrified face stared back at me. ‘oh no, there are a number of reasons why a person might be turned down, we just meant how would you feel if you couldn’t achieve the 80% attendance rate?’ Much like the rest of the class would I imagine. Shouldn’t they actually be asking me ‘how would we best support you in ensuring you are not disadvantaged?’ or how about ‘let us know if you’re ill and we’ll work it out’. All of the above.

They looked at me for further reassurance. I smiled and shrugged my shoulders, the penny dropped and they finally did say ‘if you are ill we could possibly arrange extra tutorials, but you might have to accept that if you have a long period of illness a deferment might be necessary but would be possible’, but it really was a long time coming . I looked at them and they looked up at the neon LIABILITY sign over my head and said they’d get back to me. I left feeling invisible again.

As it turns out they’ve accepted me on the course. I knew they would. My folder was great (it said so in the comments, if not on any of my overhead signs) and they realised I might make a fuss if they turned me down without good cause. I now have to get higher marks than anyone else to prove to myself that they didn’t just take me on out of fear.

I was going to become a counsellor for families of prisoners and offenders. I was going to do it to give people a chance to break the cycle. Now I can see that what I need to do is counsel people to enable themselves, so they can see past the boundaries and labels other people give them and they give themselves, so that they can become visible.

(sorry if that was a big maggoty dog turd of a post but I had something to say, and well, this is the pooch poop dumping ground).

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