by Layla Blackwell
The room is full of unseen voices as the performer takes her place on the stage.
The noise of the crowd raises in excitement.
They speak of the possibilities of the show and judge her appearance.
Everyone has their opinions, they always do.
Now the performer can hear nothing but the sound of her own heartbeat and ragged breath against the din.
In a moment, she must show them who she is and earn the right to be heard.
Everything starts as it always does, with one deep breath.
What I’ve just described is a scene from a recurring dream of mine.
It’s both the place I want to get to in life and how it feels to go unheard.
The Person I Want To Be
I was born with Cerebral Palsy, and I’ve used a wheelchair for most of my life.
I will not pretend that has been easy, but my main struggle might surprise you.
It took until now for me to start becoming the person I want to be because I didn’t know myself well enough to ask for what I wanted.
Since I was born, I’ve been defined by other people’s words, and I face that issue every single day.
The noise was so bad, during my childhood, that it drowned out the sound of my voice and I struggled to have my own opinions.
But nothing compares to the damage done by the silence.
The many times when my opinions or feelings weren’t even considered, led me to feel invisible and unwanted.
My journey to where I am now has been difficult, frightening and very lonely at times.
It has, however, meant I have a lot of life experience and given me a good sense of self.
The Path Forward
For my adult life, I have been searching for the best way to use my skills to benefit others.
Volunteering for a range of different organisations and learning all the skills I can to communicate effectively.
I’ve built the confidence needed to ensure that I cannot be ignored.
It also turns out that the struggle is becoming the path forward.
Since the age of 21 I’ve been writing about the realities of living with a long-term disability.
I’ve tried to do that in an honest and positive way because there is a lot of stigma surrounding disability and I want to help end the fear that creates.
It’s my belief society can’t be expected to know what it cannot relate to, and disability is one such topic.
If we want things to get better, we have to speak up for ourselves.
So, I am prepared to be the voice that shouts to make change.
One of the major things people struggle with when they have mobility issues is isolation.
That’s the main focus of everything I try and do.
Not just for myself but for others to know that they don’t need to be alone.
I have a niece with a disability, so I like to think my experience helps her too.
By teaching the world a little, I might make her journey easier.
These are the things that drive me.
Telling A Story
When I am not writing, I like to renovate old things like doll houses and repair old teddy bears.
I like anything that tells a story really.
When I leave the house, I try and get as much life experience as I can.
Travelling and experiencing new things with my partner and chasing Mable, our dog, around the garden.
It’s my turn to take the mic now but who will be there listening when I say the words, “I am Layla Blackwell, can you hear me now?”