I came to Cardiff five years ago to carry out a Sound Technology degree at USW. The uni was a clear choice for me from the beginning due to the amazing studio facilities and my desire to move from the small village of St.Margaret's-at-Cliffe on top of the white cliffs of Dover to a big city. After graduating with first class honours, I had the confidence to enrol onto the masters - the MSc Music Engineering & Production course. The support I received from Stuart Jones (course leader) and Andrew Gwilliam throughout my four years at the university has been invaluable. They became a part of my family and the uni became a second home. Without their continuous support and understanding over my illnesses and how they affected my studies I don’t believe I would have gotten through. They went above and beyond to make sure I was supported and could achieve my full ability - catching me up on missed lectures, having one-to-one support sessions, and helping me plan for my studio assignments so that I had enough time with contingency plans in place in case of flare ups.
At 17 I was diagnosed with seronegative inflammatory arthritis. In the seven years since this diagnosis I have been further diagnosed with fibromyalgia, endometriosis (of which I’ve had surgery for), chronic fatigue syndrome/M.E., depression, and have also had ongoing heart problems since a heart procedure carried out when I was 15.
As you can imagine, these illnesses affect my quality of life on quite a substantial basis. They are very unpredictable and can flare up and down. Sometimes I think this makes it harder for people to understand as they may see me one day seeming to be fine and the next day not being able to walk. I am trying to be an advocate of "Not All Disabilities Are Visible" and make people more aware of 'invisible chronic illnesses'. Unfortunately, there is no current cure for any of my conditions, therefore I am on treatments to prevent worsening and to ease symptoms. I’m currently taking 20 tablets a day, not including painkillers. Over the last year during my master's degree my health has deteriorated even more and I now use a mobility scooter to get around - however not without pimping it up first - I have a SL1M SH4DY numberplate - ha!
Suffering with physical illnesses is one thing, but what I’ve learned the most through the last few years is how much of an effect it has on your mental health.
While at university, I also received support from the various other services USW offered me, including counselling sessions and the USW Hardship Fund. Furthermore, I am particularly grateful for my support through the mental health mentor scheme. Without my mentors Meredith guiding me through my undergraduate degree and Josh through my master’s degree I’m not sure it would have even been possible. Without having that one hour a week to vent, to plan and to work through things, I'm 100% certain none of my assignments would have been completed. Suffering with physical illnesses is one thing, but what I’ve learned the most through the last few years is how much of an effect it has on your mental health. Depression has been a real struggle for me and many days I suffer from suicidal thoughts and thoughts of what is the point? I had so many dreams, aspirations and drive - so to wake up chronically ill one day and come to terms with the reality that it's never going to go away and your life has changed forever is a lot to deal with, and something I think seven years on I'm still battling every day. There was even a moment towards the end of my masters where I very nearly pulled out of the entire course. I often felt like a burden on my family and friends and as though I was letting everyone down.
Without the constant love and support from my mentor, tutors, friends and family (shout out to my parents who take multiple calls from me a day!) I don’t know where I’d be now - but it definitely wouldn’t be graduating with a Distinction.
And of course, the other main thing that helped me through was music itself. Hip-Hop and rap music in particular is something that gets me through every mood and every flare up! I am a massive Eminem fan and find his lyrics not only resonate with me but inspire me to go on no matter what. I've even recently taken up writing rap lyrics as a way to express my frustration and anger towards my health issues. The uni course itself also kept me going as I have such a passion for music engineering and being in the studio - I loved every minute of it. I was also lucky to be the course representative this year for the MSc degree. Recently I've been working on two jazz albums which is new territory for me and very exciting. This last year doing my masters course has really solidified for me that working in sound and music is the only place I want to be.
The resilience I've built going through something like this is a skill I will carry with me throughout the rest of my life.
To have graduated just before Christmas feels almost surreal and is a real highlight to my four years at USW. With my 24th birthday around the corner next week I have decided to prioritise my health, give my new medications time to work and build myself up to being able to work full-time. Once this is a possibility I will apply for a job within the audio industry. I've realised that while it may take me longer than I'd like or longer than the average person - I'm determined to not let any of my illnesses stop me from achieving my dreams.
I would like to think that this story could give hope to others and let them know there is support out there and sometimes the impossible is possible - whether it's mental or physical health difficulties - you can get through it! The resilience I've built going through something like this is a skill I will carry with me throughout the rest of my life.