Emily’s RNC Journey

RNC student Eimly giving on site chair massage at the college

Today we’re talking to RNC student Emily Swinley who has been with us here at the College for just under four years.

Emily’s sight loss occurred when she was 16. After becoming very ill she ended up in a coma. When Emily recovered she had lost all of her sight and the ability to walk, and she struggled with language. Just two years later she came to the Royal National College for the Blind. Here is what she had to say about the experience so far.

How would you describe your time at RNC?

‘RNC changed my life, I got very ill, went into a coma, and when I came out things were very uncertain.

It’s been such a positive journey, and every year has been extremely different.

When I came out of my coma I didn’t know I was going to have sight loss, I woke up and it was like I was a baby again, so it was like restarting my life at the age of 16. The RNC has helped me with incredible support.’

Why in particular has RNC been so positive for you?

‘Just because of what I have achieved, I have succeeded more than everybody thought I would have. After my illness and coma, the doctors were unsure as to what I would be able to do, but I think you can maximise what you can do if you have a positive attitude.’

What is the one thing you have loved doing in the last 4 years?

‘Probably the outreach work the massage students get involved with. I worked with disabled people for 2 years before my sight loss supporting people doing drama. I like to help people a lot and I hate to see people struggle. RNC has given me the opportunity to do that again. We have done work placements for the last two years with people of various disabilities and the feedback you get is amazing, you can just tell that they are enjoying it.’

Why did you choose the course(s) you have?

‘After my sight loss, I had to make some wholesale changes and I decided that even though I loved drama before (and still do) it wasn’t quite the right path for me, so I chose massage because of the touch element.

Apparently, I give very good hand massages so yesterday I had a queue for it. Every time I massage I know I am helping people and getting a connection. I’ve had all the rehabilitation myself, so it’s great to give that back and help people learn again.’

What are you most proud of?

‘The ability to write my name is such a simple thing but coming to RNC enabled me to do that. I also wrote my dad a letter, there were spelling mistakes in it but the fact that I was writing again felt incredible.

The other thing I’m very proud of is when I had a work placement in my first two years one day a week. One of the people who used to attend couldn’t swim, so I taught them how.

All of the things I am most proud of are really quite simple, but to me, they are huge achievements. I have essentially had to retrain my brain again as everything was a little backwards, from writing to walking again, it’s been a pretty difficult journey.’

What does the future look like?

‘I’d like to work with disabled people. Hopefully, that will be with massage, but if not then that’s ok too. It’s just such a fulfilling thing. No matter how big or small their achievement is I feel like I’ve made a massive difference because I have helped them do what they wanted to do.

People with dementia or Alzheimer’s are people I really love to help, probably because of my own brain injury, I think I know how they feel. When I get massaged I feel better and so much happier in myself and there is a connection with the masseur. I want to give that and any other skills I’ve relearnt back to them.’

What was the biggest barrier to coming to the College?

‘Leaving home. I wanted to leave home before my sight loss, when I was 15, to go to performing art school. I was very set with my goals and then that all changed.

Coming to RNC was quite hard. I lived at home and was an outpatient at a hospital for so long my home life was my life and it was hard for me to see anything else. My rehab officer spoke to me about the College, we came down for a day, loved it, and got an application form and here I am.’

What would you say to someone who was thinking about coming to RNC?

‘I would encourage people to come to RNC, it’s changed my life. I’ve got friends and it’s changed their lives too. Especially for me, and how much I couldn’t do and how much I can now.’

For more information about the RNC’s educational courses, or to make a donation and support the work the college does, please get in touch at info@rnc.ac.uk.


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