Growing up, Emily never felt as though any of the people she saw in the media represented her and knew what a difference it would have made to see representations of differently abled people that weren’t either Paralympians or Stephen Hawking! A year ago, she decided to start her own Youtube channel and her videos show how she navigates everyday things as a differently abled person. She told us her story and her journey to becoming a Youtube sensation!
Hi, my name is Emily Nicole Roberts and I’m a 22 year old from Swansea in South Wales.
I was diagnosed with CP when I was three years old.
After being ventilated, incubated and receiving a blood transfusion just after birth, you could say that I entered the world, small (weighing 3 pounds and 2 ounces) but mighty.
The health professionals didn’t know what my diagnosis of Spastic Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy truly meant and for so many years, neither did I.
I grew up feeling like a ‘normal’ child because to my parents I wasn’t my disability, I was Emily Nicole their little girl who happened to use a wheelchair and have a condition called CP.
Of course, I was always aware of my wheelchair, I sat in a little pink one at first, which I remember fondly. My mum even put tiny beads in the wheel spokes which made funny tinkling noises. My wheelchair, was never an issue, it was just a part of me.
After speech and language therapy, with endless home schooling sessions, my mum fought for me, (as she has done all of my life) insisting that I was integrated into a mainstream school.
Unfortunately, my academic capability was doubted because of my lessened physical ability.
Funnily enough, I tried to be clever (not in that way) during the academia test and hovered the shapes over the wrong moulds, simply waiting for my mum’s reaction – I was four.
Despite the cheeky hiccup and my mum’s near heart failure, I passed with flying colours.
School was a lesson, pardon the pun. I was encouraged at every turn and my primary and junior school adapted to me, more than I did to it. Nothing was an issue or nuisance. Installing a lift was just like buying a water cooler. My self-awareness of any inabilities hadn’t hit yet; I was too busy being Mrs Clause with her wheelchair sleigh or becoming the ‘chief whistle blower’ every sports day.
One day, I remember watching my peers run down on to the school field and then the pang inside my stomach lurched. I remember watching as the faces turned into dots, I was lonely and I knew I was unable. ‘My wheels can’t manage grass’ I thought silently, ‘I can’t run either can I?’.
I am different.
Feelings of bitterness and resentment shrouded any happiness and naivety I once had in my youth. The switch had been flicked off and now, I was consumed with what I couldn’t do.
My ability seemed laughable in comparison to my newfound obsession around being disabled.
I stopped trying with many things (if I had ever attempted them at all) because I was self-conscious and embarrassed. I didn’t like the way my body moved. Trying to hide the fact that my dad lifted me inside the limousine for my junior prom. Trying to disguise the fact that two LSA’S needed to help me transfer on and off the toilet, my Cerebral Palsy had turned into this huge THING brought to shame me and I hated it.
From twelve years old, I told myself that I couldn’t do many things, simply because I didn’t want to try and fail.
It was a vicious cycle. My dependence was self-induced and yet, being dependent made me feel worthless too. I was lazy because I saw the help I received as convenient, yet it was driving my self-worth so low that I feared I would never find it ever again.
My teenage years were hell. I don’t want to scare anybody reading this but I also don’t want to lie. I went to a local college because no sixth forms were accessible for me, a Careers Advisor looking you in the eye and mentioning that the common room only has a ‘standing area’ is quite degrading, trust me.
Unfortunately, I was used to the ‘people like you’ attitude so, it was laughed off.
I’d been making degrading comments about myself throughout Secondary School as I thought a joke was all I was worthy of. I became the class clown to avoid ‘inside jokes’ about me escaping. The ones I told myself to expect. The ones I made before others could. The jokes that caused me to fill the void of inferiority I’d created inside myself with food.
As quickly as I became overweight, in college I became a borderline anorexic. A size 4. I felt like nothing and looked that way too. I was a shadow of the smiley, carefree child I had been years before.
I recall looking in the mirror and thinking, ‘Who Am I? What Am I?’.
In truth, I put myself through all of these dramatic identity shifts to try and make my Cerebral Palsy disappear. I wouldn’t wear the same item of clothing twice, I had to be the highest flyer, I made myself the ‘odd’ one with piercings and hair dye to be something other than me.
I would be ‘Emily Nicole the teacher’s pet’, ‘Emily the girl with a giant wardrobe’, ‘Emily, the girl that throws her lunch away’ ANYTHING but ‘Emily the girl with Cerebral Palsy’.
In hindsight, I had the biggest problem with my disability than anyone else.
I couldn’t cope with it because all I could manage was negative expectations. The same negative expectations that came from people doubting me, from the girl who suggested I ‘go die’ because I was crippled, the physio who said ‘people like you don’t work’. My driving examiner ‘people like you never pass their tests, what do I put on this form?’ It was a tragic case of not trying to beat the attitudes, again, I took the easy route and joined in with them.
I can’t remember the moment that I finally decided to try, I think realisation came when I watched people plan their futures knowing I couldn’t put on a pair of jeans (only because I had yet to bother attempting it).
In college, I realised we were all on our own in life now. If I couldn’t even manage to lift my eyes from the corridor floors, that spelt disaster. I tried getting a boyfriend first but soon realised that someone else’s love couldn’t replace my own opinion of myself.
I had to choose me. This was it.
I received 3 A* A levels, I pushed myself hard in my studies because I felt I could compensate for my wheelchair with high essay marks. However, if I couldn’t lift myself on and off a chair, Uni was out of the question.
I was still navigating self-identity until around two years ago. Feelings of inadequacy or feeling far behind in life, goaded me but I knew encouraging or allowing them in would impede any glimpse of growth.
I learned to dress, my way.
I passed my driving test in an adapted vehicle, my way.
I got a job as an admin assistant, my way.
In her latest video, Emily shows how she has adjusted to transferring in and out of her new car:
If you take anything away from this blog, please read this:
The way in which you achieve something, how you look doing it or how you manage it, that is just a means to success. Your struggle or your difference does not and should NEVER dampen your overall victory.
I bought a camera last year and decided to make videos showing the world my ability. I wasn’t focused on my disability anymore, that didn’t matter now. Instead I wanted to scream from the rooftops about what I could do!! Showing that pessimistic broken teenage me that her CP was not life limiting, it was life changing.
Who’d have thought, the girl that loathed her own reflection would put her life unfiltered on the World Wide Web? Not me!
I have only had a Youtube Channel for a year. I am a content creator for the BBC now, raising awareness for disabled people. I’ve been on Radio 1, spoken on podcasts, been on S4C…
I’ve been nominated and shortlisted for a ‘Positive Role Model’ award with ITV (I’m down to the final eight in the UK with the results announced in September).
I’ve been recognised by The Prime Minister and Welsh Secretary Of State as a Point Of Light for my disability advocacy and positivity.
I’m writing this blog for Cerebra.
I just have one question…
Could I have done any of this without my CP?
Watch us catch up with Emily-Nicole over a cuppa in one of Tea Break Talks.