There’s a part of Cathryn’s life you do see: she’s 21, studying at university, and is really politically engaged. But there’s also part of her life you do not see: her hidden disabilities, which are her constant companions. Both parts are equally hers, and neither should stop her having a fulfilling life filled with exciting opportunities. She just needs support to do so.
This is her Secret Life.
I’m Cathryn, a 21-year-old undergraduate studying Geography and International Relations at University. At University I sit on multiple committees and am Deputy Vice President for Liberation, which helps to give marginalised students a voice. When I’m older I want to be an MP. I have already advised political bodies; I sat on my local Town Council as the first Youth Adviser and advised on a Bill that went onto to become law.
This is the part of my life that you do see.
What many of you don’t see is that I am always surrounded by four companions, my disabilities. I am diagnosed with Sotos Syndrome, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and anxiety. Sotos Syndrome is a rare disability only affecting 1 in 14,000. It means that when I was younger my bones grew faster than my muscles could, leaving me with weakened muscles. It also has traits in common with autism in the way I interact with others. Sotos is my constant companion, and affects every part of my life and everything I do in a small way. For example, I have to wear insoles in my shoes as my ankles are weaker, and without my insoles I would walk with my feet curved inwards. Because I have to wear them, it often means my choice of shoe is limited. The the price of shoes that I do buy also increases, because I need the quality that only expensive shoes offer to walk comfortably.
I also speak with a slight lisp. I have been lucky that this has improved over time as my muscles have become stronger, but when I was younger at times I found it hard to be understood, which was difficult to deal with.
Me and my disabilities have an interesting relationship.
Sometimes I am in control of my disabilities, and sometimes on my bad days, they control me. But most of the time we tick along together, sometimes giving and sometimes taking. For instance, one aspect of Sotos Syndrome is that I will obsess over something, a TV programme, or a singer or something else. When revising for my University exams this summer I became obsessed with a certain singer, so in return for revising hard each day, I would spend one or two hours listening to the same seven songs of theirs and listening to all of their interviews. This coping mechanism means my disability doesn’t stop me from getting my work done.
I live these two lives simultaneously and they are both equally my life.
Just because I have a disability, it doesn’t mean I can’t have a fulfilling life with exciting opportunities and wonderful friends and family, it just means that I need support in doing this. Hidden disabilities are still disabilities. They still deserve the respect we give to physical disabilities – they can be just as debilitating.
Disability affects so many people from so many walks of life. Your family, friends, or colleagues may have one. It doesn’t mean they are any less amazing. In fact, they are more so, because as well as living their life, they are living it with their constant companions by their side. And just like in any relationship, there may be arguments and you may have different ideas but at the end of the day, you both go through times of triumph and hardship together. Having a disability has allowed me to be stronger as a person, and it is where my need to fight for change comes from. I am one with my disability; we have grown and changed together. I would not change my constant companions for the world.
This is the part of my life that people simply do not see.
This is the Secret Life of Us.