Today I’m going to talk about what many would consider one of my favourite topics: independence. No, not for Scotland. Not even for Catalonia. This is about the independence of individuals, namely disabled ones.
There was an incident, probably over five years ago now, when I was in high school that proved beyond a doubt all my criticisms of my high school were warranted. I was speaking to my pupil support teacher (equivalent of a guidance counsellor for the Americans out there). I made what I felt was a throwaway comment about going to the University of Edinburgh open day, and he replied:
“Would that not be a waste of time? Your parents and I have discussed it, and we all agreed that it would be best for you to live at home throughout university, and attend Glasgow.”
Perhaps this is the moment that inspired all the times my fictional characters in writing freeze as their blood runs cold. Because that is certainly how I felt in that moment.
I had no desire to remain living at home during university. In fact, if anything, I had an overwhelming desire to not do that. But in 2013 I was not nearly as confident voicing my opinion as now. So, I let out something unintelligible and ran off down the corridor to hide under the stairs, shaking. A common occurrence throughout high school.
That evening, when I went home, I confronted my parents about them discussing my future with the teachers behind my back. My mother’s response? They hadn’t. The teacher had made it up. A blatant lie to make it seem like he had support when he clearly didn’t. And that whole day of being terrified I’d end up trapped at home forever was for nothing.
Suffice to say, I never trusted another word a teacher in that school said. I was a kid who inherently trusted authority. I am an adult who inherently distrusts authority because of what all my experiences taught me.
In the end, I defied the teachers to attend the University of St Andrews, approximately 80 miles and 3 hours on public transport (if you’re lucky) from my parent’s house. I graduated this year in June with a 2:1. I lived two years in student accommodation, and two years living with actual friends in an actual house. So, take that, Williamwood High School, with a great reputation but where I had a terrible experience.
And now? Yeah, I failed at getting a job, decided I didn’t want to settle for some well-paid but extremely boring job in banking, and now I’m back living with my parents. And despite all my remarkable achievements, that one fact makes it feel like I’ve failed in life. Because all that independence I gained? It’s been snatched away once more.
My mother feels like she can just walk into my room unannounced, harass me to get up, insists on me informing them in advance whenever I plan to go out and frowns if I get back late. I’m doing an online TEFL course so I can go abroad and teach English, but it’s taking even longer cause my father keeps inviting men to do work on the house and chasing me out (and I can’t even go where I want, always with my mother).
I feel like I have gone back in time, and I feel so incredibly trapped in my current situation. It feels sometimes like all my attempts to get out of here are being sabotaged, and just sitting in my room right now, I feel the need to look over my shoulder and check my parents haven’t wandered in despite the closed door.
There are these assumptions that autistic and/or otherwise disabled people are incapable of being independent, and while this is the case for some and that’s okay, treating those who can and want to be independent as if they are unable, and sabotaging any attempts by them to achieve that, is not okay.
I value my own independence highly. For me, all attempts to restrict this feel like an attack. I gained something remarkable over the past four years, in spite of what everyone told me and what I was taught to believe. To lose that again is devastating. I only hope that I can get out of here soon, and in the meantime, perhaps I should invest in a lock for my bedroom door.