“What’s your name?” This question for me is a kind of modern day torture; forget the rack, forget thumbscrews, forget hanging, drawing and quartering; forget even Chinese water torture, my name can bring me out in cold sweats of terror that the Spanish Inquisition could only hope for. By now, I bet you are thinking, “So what’s her problem?” and perhaps more to the point, “What the heck is her name?” I asked my mum the same question aged six when I was unable to recognise what my teacher was calling me, in a class of ten kids she could not be bothered to learn its pronunciation.
To answer your second question, I am Anika Alexandra Baddeley. The Anika is pronounced Aneeka, although my teacher at that time persisted in calling me Erica for some reason. My name was such a problem as a child because I was an undiagnosed dyslexic (not the best career move for a writer) and yes, there is more, I also have cerebral palsy (CP), oh boy does that ensemble get interesting when you are filling in a form. This is a condition that causes problems with mobility and coordination and has meant that I have been a full-time wheelchair user for 14 years.
There are essentially three things you need to know about me, aside from the more obvious things like if you have steps and no downstairs loo, it can be socially awkward to have me in your life. The first thing is I love to laugh, which judging from the lack of the accessible toilet facilities encountered on an almost daily basis is a good job! The second is a near, or so I am told, obsession with time and organisation. Well what can I say, being three months early for your own birth is a dangerous precedent to set! Thirdly there will be at least one bag involved in any meeting with me, normally a rucksack that is filled with a mixture of books, research, my writing and a bewildering array of assistive technology, that is frequently trying to make good its escape. Last week I found my portable talking book player engaged in a mating ritual with my ipad, the spare catheter leg bag didn’t know where to look!
So, I have a name that took me 11 years to learn to write and which I still have to take a run at to say. You are reading this and thinking, things aren’t looking very rosy thus far but, honestly I enjoy a joke, even at my own expense. I chuckle guiltily at the minor misfortunes of others and take a degree of pleasure at witnessing the pricking of the protective bubble of pompous people. I am a 35 year old woman with two disabilities but I want to make this clear to anyone reading that I intend to write about some of my stranger experiences (and believe me, my able-bodied friends tell me that some are seriously strange) caused by my disabilities and to sometimes make a serious point without scaring you away.
To tell you a little more about myself I was diagnosed with CP just before the age of two and sent to special school from the age of 3. Before I began attending school a specialist physiotherapist visited me at home with the aim of increasing my mobility; Mr Berkshire began implementing a treatment plan with a list of do’s and don’ts for my parents to follow. There were regular stretching exercises which looked like something you might find in a medieval torture chamber, except they replaced the rack with something called a Standing Frame, a metal device I was strapped into for an hour every day to promote good posture and introduce me to the idea of being upright. By the time I was five I was able to walk although the finished product was wobbly to say the least; picture the ball in a pinball machine, that was me bouncing off walls and I would wave my arms about like a windmill for stability, this had the effect of turning the good old inventions of mittens on strings into a playground offensive weapon.
I attended school for 16 years, this didn’t achieve a great deal in terms of the skills you might have expected me to gain. I could read and write at the level of a seven year old and had a severe stammer. On a more positive note, it gave me a basic working knowledge of several common and some not so common disabilities, their treatment and prognosis. In my school you were divided into those who were able to type and so obviously destined for the public sector, those who would fit into working at Remploy and “the rest”. This resulted in my special needs career adviser sending me a letter decreeing that she had “wracked her brain and come up with a dead end”, in terms of placement for me. How do you solve a problem like Anika? Her answer was “stay in education,” where my needs could be better met. This statement tipped the balance and resulted in my move to mainstream college where dyslexia was diagnosed. My ‘Eureka’ moment!
What am I now? I studied Crime and Deviance at university where I became slightly obsessed with social measures, the construction of deviant behaviour and the work of Stan Cohen. I attained both undergraduate and post graduate degrees. All this while proclaiming very loudly that I WASNT GOING TO DO ANYTHING DISABILITY RELATED, that would be too much like a busman’s holiday. I then promptly proceeded to graduate, and end up on that busman’s holiday with support worker and assistive technology in tow; an adventure from which I have yet to return.