This is a fascinating insight into the life of someone who supports SPICE. It’s a touching, true story that despite a harrowing beginning has a positive outlook. This is SPICE from a different perspective. Please take five minutes out to read this and then please sign our online petition here.
Exactly 4 years and 1 month ago, I was in a coma in intensive care, having attempted to take my own life the week before. At the ripe old age of 20, having been in the mental health system, seen 13 psychiatrists, been on 19 different medications and had 11 diagnoses (including bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, OCD and generalised anxiety disorder to name a few), I had given up with life. It’s devastating to look back on that time, to think about how defeated I was at just 20 years old. A Cambridge undergraduate, full of potential, but I saw no future for myself – just a lifetime of self-hatred, depression and crippling anxiety.
You see, I have autism, but I didn’t know that at the time. All I could tell you was that I was ‘wrong,’ ‘broken,’ or ‘just not right.’ I always knew there was something a little bit different about me; I never managed to ‘fit in’ with my peers and had no desire to engage in what I felt were pointless activities like sleepovers and shopping (I mean really, why would you go shopping if you didn’t need to buy anything?). I much preferred my own company and a good book. By the time I was 11 I had developed pretty severe anxiety (with hindsight, much of this was sensory sensitivity to noise and touch), I didn’t want to leave the house and I would only wear 2 outfits (well, the same outfit which I owned in two colours). So I was sent to see psychiatrist number 1, who told me I was anxious and depressed. I didn’t feel that he could do anything to help, because he didn’t know what it was like inside my head and I couldn’t express it properly. Eventually he sent me on to see someone else, someone that he thought would be better suited to helping me. And so the cycle went on, seeing psychiatrist after psychiatrist, accumulating more and more diagnoses, trying various different medications, all without success. And then I ended up in hospital.
It wasn’t until I had been in the psychiatric ward for a few months that a psychiatrist (lucky number 13) told me that she wasn’t convinced that I had any of the things that I’d been diagnosed with, and that actually she thought that the anxiety, obsessive tendencies and depression were symptoms of something else – autism. After many hours of assessment over a period of a few weeks, I was told that I didn’t have bipolar disorder, I didn’t have OCD, I didn’t have most of the things I’d been diagnosed with: I had autism.
This was a massive turning point in my life, I was funded by the local authority to receive therapy from a specialist in autism, and through the lifetime autism service and I started to rebuild my life.
It was then that I decided to start ice skating. I needed something to get me out of the house; I wasn’t well enough to return to university to complete my degree and I wanted something to keep me active and healthy. I wasn’t a fan of sport, but I’d always enjoyed going to temporary ice rinks in the winter so I started looking into skating lessons. I started skating once a week, then after about 6 months I started private lessons. My coach suggested I try synchronised skating, so I joined the synchro team at Slough. I never thought I’d stick with it, I’m shockingly uncoordinated and thought I’d never be able to remember the steps (I don’t always, but I do always try my best!). This is quite possibly the best thing I’ve ever started, the team feels like an extended family – we all get on so well, love going away to competitions together and almost much spend as much time laughing as we do skating. It was truly unbelievable and a completely new experience for me to find that I was looking forward to and actually enjoying spending time with people. A few of the team members volunteer with SPICE, so having loved working with children with additional needs before, I decided that there really wasn’t a better way to spend my Sunday mornings.
And so I ended up at SPICE. On their website, it says “We teach children and young adults with additional needs to ice skate in a calm and caring environment.” But to be honest, that really doesn’t even begin to cover what SPICE do. They don’t just teach children with additional needs to ice skate, they also teach siblings to ice skate. They teach figure skating, synchronised skating and ice hockey, and they provide a couple of hours of respite for parents. They teach resilience and perseverance, and they accept children exactly as they are, whilst supporting all of them to achieve their potential, and then to achieve some more. It isn’t just a calm and caring environment; it’s also non-discriminatory, all-inclusive, and completely non-judgemental. It’s fantastic that all of these children and young adults are able to learn to skate, when they may not necessarily be able to access mainstream skating lessons. It’s more fantastic that these children are growing up knowing that they belong, and that they aren’t ‘wrong,’ or ‘broken,’ they just have different abilities. I wish that I’d been part of an organisation like SPICE when I was growing up, to have taken part in something without feeling like I didn’t fit in. They are truly an outstanding organisation, that I am privileged and proud to be a part of.
As it stands, I’m at the ice rink 3 or 4 times a week. I have my lessons, I do synchro, and I volunteer at SPICE. For me, ice skating isn’t just a hobby; it’s part of how I rebuilt my life, it’s where I learned to truly enjoy other people’s company, it’s where I go to relax after a stressful day at work and it’s where I am continually astounded by the amount I learn from the children at SPICE. The fact that the council are planning to refurbish the rink without providing a temporary rink is truly devastating, and a decision that I sincerely hope they reconsider.
I went back to university and I completed my degree. I now live in Slough, I teach in one of Slough’s primary schools, I shop in Slough’s supermarkets. But that’s partly because the ice rink is in Slough. If there wasn’t an ice rink, what’s to stop me moving to, say, Bracknell? They have houses there, they have schools, they have supermarkets and an ice rink. Or I could move back to London, to be closer to my family. Do I really want to live in a borough where I feel the council is making decisions without consulting those at the heart of those decisions? I’m not sure that I do.
This is only my story, there are 120 SPICE members, siblings and volunteers who have their own stories about how much the ice rink means to them, and then there’s the four synchronised skating teams, the ice hockey teams, the competitive skaters and let’s not forget the coaches – what do the council suggest they do for 9 months during the refurbishment? How do the council suggest they support themselves? Claim benefits instead of contributing to the local economy? I hope that everyone can work together to find a solution that works for all, but from the information (or lack of) that we’ve had so far, I’m not feeling too hopeful.