Wendy, NLN Navan
‘Before my accident, I had the perfect life. And I have the perfect life now, as well, but in a different way as before’.
Wendy is a National Learning Network student from Navan. She was elected onto the Advocacy Committee in 2020 in order to be a strong voice for other people in the services. As part of her work, Wendy presented the Committee’s work plan to the Board of the Rehab Group in 2020. After a few months working on the Committee, Wendy was chosen to be one of just 20 members of the newly established Disability Participation and Consultation Network, which was set up by Minister of State Anne Rabbitte to ensure people with a disability are involved in the development of policy and legislation that affects them.
This is Wendy’s story.
‘Before my accident, I had been a Montessori teacher in an all-Irish pre-school. I ended up managing the school and I absolutely loved it. I used to ride racehorses, and I did pony racing. Horses were my life. In 2015, I fell off a racehorse. The ambulance was called but they said they had to airlift me out. I was in a coma. I ended up in the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire. I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t feed myself. But with their expert care and support and encouragement, I actually ended up running the Mini Marathon to raise funds for the hospital. They work miracles in there.
‘One of the rehabilitation centres sent me the details about the NLN Fresh Start course in Navan. I had been looking for something to do and the course seemed like something I could get my hands into. I talked to Lisa in NLN and I told her I was a bit apprehensive because I hadn’t been in school for a long time, but she encouraged me. I’m not one to sit around. There were people there for me who were able to respond to me. The instructor on the Fresh Start course sat me down and said, ‘we’ll look after you’. And they do. It was in Navan town, so getting the bus in and out was some independence for me. After the Fresh Start course, I started the Office Skills and I.T. course in NLN. I was apprehensive again, but I thought – two feet first. The support I’ve had has been second to none. I told James, the instructor, that I suffer from fatigue. So because of that, he put me sitting near the door of the class, so I could go out, go for a walk, get a cup of coffee. He said, ‘all you have to do is nod the head at me, and I’ll know’. I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is so comfortable’. James is a Godsend. I passed two of my exams now. I am proof that the training does work.
The place is great, everyone wants to talk. You’re never short of anyone to have a chat with, and it’s just so relaxed, and you’re able to learn in that environment.
‘In the centre, I got talking to Michelle, the Advocacy Officer, about my experience. Then, at the Advocacy Conference, they wanted people to take part in the Committees, people who have experience with mental health issues. I decide myself to give it a go. Sure, I’ve been through it all. I was fortunate enough to be in touch with people who knew exactly what to do with me and how to treat me and how to bring me on. At the meeting, I introduced myself and said, ‘I’ve come through it’. I know about memory loss, I know about anger, I know about pain, about doing things wrong, I know about forgetting. I just spoke as honestly as I could. I’m living it, so it’s easy for me to speak about mental health. They put me up for the vote and I was told that I was chosen to be a representative on the Committee. I was delighted.
To look at me, you wouldn’t think there was anything wrong. But, my head isn’t 100%; for instance, when I’m in a social setting, I can’t really remember things, and I find it very hard in group settings. When I’m in NLN, I’m so relaxed because, everybody there, they mightn’t see it, but they’re all there for the same reason. It’s given me back my independence. We would all go on group outings, to the gym, to lunches out. That really helped. With Covid, we do a big Zoom call every Friday, so we find ways to stay in touch and socialise. Before my accident, I had the perfect life. And I have the perfect life now, as well, but in a different way as before. In my work as an advocate, I’d love for people to know what they can achieve and know what is out there. I’ve seen people being held back because they didn’t know what to do or where to go. I want to make other people’s lives a little easier.’