by Georgina Tomsett-Rowe
‘Hi, I’m Georgie. I’m a teacher’.
Without thinking about it, this is how I introduced myself for the past ten years. I worked in some incredible schools and some literally in-credible. I taught fascinating pupils and met fascinating colleagues- one of whom I somehow persuaded to marry me. The vast majority of my friends are teachers and our years run September-July with August being a hazy blur of picnics, BBQs, and laughter.
When I developed a neurological condition in 2016, this world was turned upside down. The following weeks and months blur together and I can’t unpick one memory from another. Whilst I had an incredible support network, the only new people I met were the countless medical professionals from countless hospitals.
‘Hi, I’m Georgie. I’m a patient’.
With the support of my consultants at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neuroscience in London, I developed more mobility and greater confidence in myself. With the help of my incredible team, I was enticed by the real world and desperate to get out there. I suddenly had a blue disability badge for the car; I walked on a stick; I had disabled ID cards.
‘Hi, I’m Georgie. I’m disabled’.
Staying at home whilst my wife was at work was maddening; hearing anecdotes of life on the front line and listening to friends’ frustrations, excruciating. Feeling vulnerable in the ‘real world’ I was living vicariously through their tales. I didn’t begrudge them in the slightest but for the first time in a decade I was longing for a season of reports or an Ofsted inspection, something I could get my teeth into. Instead I was on the sofa, existing on the fringes of other people’s stories.
‘Hi, I’m Georgie. I’m a supporting character’.
With intensive neurological rehabilitation at NHNN, I could be of slightly more use than a handbrake on a canoe, actively participating in our home life rather than feeling like a potato. At this time I was asked to help run an online group supporting young people with neurological conditions. Meeting new people and spreading my wings online was a joy, giving me renewed optimism.
‘Hi, I’m Georgie. I have hope’.
With ever growing confidence in my mobility, I was now eager to find something that would engage my brain so I turned to writing. In July 2017 I wrote a piece for an educational site which was further picked up by a variety of publishers. In it I made no reference to my brain turning into candyfloss and the people reaching out had no clue that I was ill. They wanted to run the article for its own merit, not out of pity! For the first time in 14 months I felt as though I was coming out of my cocoon.
‘Hi, I’m Georgie, I’m a voice’.
September 2017 rolled in and with the increase of cognitive function, I was itching to push myself further. Deciding to take the plunge, I began retraining as a counsellor. Going to college once a week was exhausting but so incredibly exhilarating. I was out and about interacting with real people! They weren’t just seeing me as the girl on the stick, they were embracing my wobbly brain as part of who was. It wasn’t a case of selling myself short, it was a case of selling a whole new product!
‘Hi, I’m Georgie. I’m a fighter’.
Following the success of the online neuro support group, we decided to branch out and create a website providing support for those living with chronic illnesses and invisible disabilities. As the evenings drew in this turned into a passion project and Life Without Limits launched at the end of 2017 with a fantastic response. The success of the site has given me the chance meet and work with some truly inspirational members of this international community and provide a voice to those who felt silenced.
‘Hi, I’m Georgie. I’m an advocate’.
So why am I writing this? It has been over two years since life changed and with that always comes a sense of reflection. Having never had to challenge my perception of identity before becoming ill, I was unprepared when I realised I had little concept of who I was, or who I wanted to be, outside the classroom. It hasn’t been easy and it is by no means over, but had it not happened would I have had the catalyst to examine what identity truly means? I now know the answer needs no labels, no validation, no title.
‘Hi, I’m Georgie’.