Hi. My name is Zoe, I am a second year on the Musical Theatre BA course at Leeds Conservatoire and I identify as disabled.
When I was 12, I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. At that age, it honestly just seemed a great excuse to cut the lunch queue (at the cost of four injections a day).
By the time I got to sixth form college, I’d changed to an insulin pump which meant approximately two needles a week instead of over 20! I’d sung from a young age but only now realised I wanted to go into theatre professionally. However, the high energy of the discipline played havoc with my blood sugar and dislodged my insulin pod. I had not envisaged my disability holding me back.
I scraped through college and my conservatoire auditions on singing and acting but dance was a terrifying concept. It meant exposing my inadequate dance skills but also brought pain from compromised areas of skin and the embarrassment of having to attend to my diabetes during classes.
When I got into Leeds Conservatoire, my main concern was having to stop working in class and disrupting everyone else. Musical Theatre courses across the board are very intensive (30 hours a week) so I’d go months without seeing a doctor for fear of ending up on the bad side of my teachers. I should have worried more about my health as my concerns had me not taking care of myself so I wouldn’t seem “lazy” or “dramatic”. I think many people with disabilities get anxious about that and I know, personally, I have enough on my plate already, counting carbs and testing my blood, without putting that pressure on myself unnecessarily.
When I developed dermatitis, I decided to go to Student Services and that changed everything. They encouraged me to see doctors who found ways of keeping my insulin pod more secure for an active lifestyle and provided medication on repeat prescription. They liaised with my teachers which removed the anxiety of letting others down and discussed how best to support me. I realised that my disability didn’t have to hold me back, I just had to know how to adapt in order to pursue a discipline I loved.
Student Services also picked up on some neuro-diversity and screened me positive for ADHD for free. Whilst I am still awaiting an official diagnosis, Student Services have been helping me in understanding what ADHD is, how it affects me and how it can help in my field.
With their support, I have learnt so much about myself and having started to apply my findings to my classes, I realised that nobody ever cared about my diabetes. Everyone’s far too busy with their own goals to worry over someone’s disability. If anyone going into higher education with a disability is worried about judgement, I encourage them to feel free in the knowledge that no one is thinking about it as much as you are.
Since September, I have been working on dance and fitness and am feeling so much stronger in every way. I am also now Disabilities Officer and I’m so thrilled to be doing my part to bring awareness and removing the stigma for everyone that disability affects.