Starting college with no friends . . . and no eyes

Disabled or not, we all have to start new things and the same fears and stresses come with them all

Bobbie Hickey: “Imagine being a fresher in university, walking around with a guide and holding a white stick (cane) around a campus full of students. It’s hard.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Bobbie Hickey: “Imagine being a fresher in university, walking around with a guide and holding a white stick (cane) around a campus full of students. It’s hard.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Hello, my name is Bobbie Hickey. I am 19. I’ve lived in Dublin all my life and I have just started college after doing a PLC (post-Leaving Cert course) for a year. You know how most people start college with no friends? Well, I also started it with no friends, but the thing is, I also started it with no eyes!

A weekly column by writers with a disability.
A weekly column by writers with a disability.

I have never questioned whether or not I would go to college. I have changed my mind on what I want to do as a career many times and I’ve even questioned my choice of college course once or twice, but the one I am doing now is one I have wanted to do for years – Communication Studies in DCU.

The course is ideal for me – really broad, focused on all things media and very few hours. As well as starting college, I have also just moved out of my family home. So now I’m totally alone and pretty much fully blind, how do I do this? I don’t know. I don’t think there is an answer – in my head I just get on with it. Still, in this article I’m going to walk you through my experience of my new life so far, in the hope that it will ease some other terrified freshers’ nerves, or probably more likely, ease some parents’ nerves!

On the day I arrived in college, I got set on unpacking and arranging my room in the way that it would feel most like home. I did the normal college life tasks, such as boiling the kettle to make Koka noodles, figuring out the scene in the nearest bar and where was the cheapest place for me to get my shopping.

I did this either by myself, or with the help of a guide the college had provided for me. Imagine being a fresher in university, walking around with a guide and holding a white stick (cane) around a campus full of students. It’s hard. People are afraid to talk to you and when they do, their voices change as if they are speaking to an authority figure, not one of their peers. It is up to me to start the conversation, to think of overly relatable topics to discuss in the hope they will realise I’m just like them. It takes some people a long time to realise that I am no different, but it does happen eventually.

Food choices

I have learnt to be quick, easy and healthy with my food choices in the kitchen, not only because I’m a student but also because I can barely see my way around the kitchen. The minute I enter, it is my life goal to leave!

Making new friends is hard for anyone, going into your first lecture is hard for anyone and learning the way around a new campus is hard for anyone, but for me, it was about 10 times harder.

From the minute I leave my room, I can’t relax.

I am concentrating on every move I make so I know where I am and what is around me.

I would come home at the end of the day, exhausted from putting on a brave face, wrecked from trying to prove to people that I am normal. I have had nights where there have been parties in my apartment and the thought of going into the kitchen to make dinner has almost killed me, even the simplest task of making a cup of tea scared me, but I always did it.

I am not writing this article to come across as ‘inspirational’ – I don’t like that term. I am writing it knowing there are others in my position that have no disability or maybe who are more disabled than me. It makes no difference, we all have to start new things and the same fears and stresses come with them all. What I have learnt, is that the first time is the worst time – there is only one way to go when you are at the bottom and that’s up.

So stick with it, grin and bear it for as long as it takes until your grin turns into a smile and you no longer bear it, you love it.

Platform Series: Bobbie Hickey
1) How do you make a sandwich when you're blind?
2) Not getting the points I wanted led to the best year of my life
3) There’s benefits to being visually impaired. I get in free to Copper’s
4) I’m not blind. I’m Bobbie Hickey. Pleased to meet you

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