Guest Blog by Sophie Poole, a fashionable artist who paints with her mouth! One of her paintings accompanies this blog post as an image. To find out more, please chat to us via the 'Contact' page.
In 2009 I was nearing completion of a degree course in fashion design at Leeds College of Art, when my life was abruptly changed. In a near fatal accident I was left paralysed from the neck down. A long and slow recovery followed, with setbacks to overcome and a fair amount of mental readjustment to rebuild my future.
Firstly, I was used to what was fashionable to wear, not what was functional. My new best friend was a wheelchair, unfortunately they don't do a well recognised designer model like Christian Dior or Versace. I felt like I had traded my life in for somebody else's. My world had been completely turned upside down.
It took me just over 9 months to get out of hospital after my accident. Although there were some triumphs, it still felt like a prison to me. Trapped in a routine to fit around others & forced to conform in order to rehabilitate. The last time I'd conformed was when my mother used to dress me when I was a baby!
I was never one for exercise, so when physiotherapy became imperative, I was not a happy bunny! Instead, I was faced with a very limited & very boring 45minute session of arm movements. Ideally, it should have been much more intense Physio. Unfortunately, the rehab unit just didn't have enough staff on board to fulfil this. Of course, my idea of exercise was more along the lines of dancing all night with alcoholic refreshments!
During my time rehabilitating in the Spinal unit, I felt a distinct lack of motivation towards patients with a high level injury. I felt particularly isolated & more so because I was literally the only female patient with a high level injury. I wasn't interested in sports and big mechanical chairs that make you look indestructible! I just wanted to feel like a woman again. I was more concerned about how my dresses will look in this damn chair.
Most importantly, I was desperate to return home to some kind of normality. Sadly, I was not prepared for the next stages of my rehab - the reality of living with a disability. I had failed to realise that no matter where I went, my disability would follow. It took years to grasp an understanding on this. I felt defeated before I had even begun. Accepting my disability felt like I had failed.
Having also sustained injury to my vocal cords I needed to adjust to having a permanent tracheotomy, which impairs audible speech. Today, life is very different and the feeling of not having a voice is equally as overwhelming as having severely restricted movement. No more phone calls ranting to my friends about what shoes to wear on a Friday outing. I couldn't shout when I was feeling angry. It was a huge contrast to how I used to live. I had become what felt like, insignificant by all accounts. It was tough. I particularly felt like I had lost my identity as a young woman.
Adapting to life in a wheelchair with a spinal injury can take years. It requires a huge amount of patience and an excellent support network. It can feel quite isolating at times. That's why it is vital to maximise your knowledge on disability. Wheelchair users may have a physical or mental disability, some may even have both. However, I have met many who have achieved some amazing things, despite the difficulties they face daily.
Over the past 6 years, rediscovering creative capabilities through mouth painting has opened up for me an invaluable means of expression & communication. I continue to be inspired by others & their achievements. I am also developing my self confidence & rediscovering my surroundings. I still have many trials & tribulations to face.