Over the years I have become more and more anxious in and around London. I live about 40 minutes away from the city in a small town. Not a lot goes on in the town I live in.
Growing up I loved visits to London it really is fantastic, a City I love.
However, as my sight progressively got worse, I became more stressed in crowded areas, that horrible feeling of claustrophobia.
Moorfield Eye Hospital became the only reason I would go to London, a day at Moorfield Eye Hospital is not a pleasant day out.
At one point I was living independently on the outskirts of London, from a convenience point of view and as a guide-dog owner, this was fab. Hopping on and off the bus to get anywhere, the buses were so regular and reliable, I loved it.
Being on the outskirts of London was perfect, it was not as busy as central London, yet it was ‘happening’ enough for me and Unis to get about with ease and no stress. Independence was grand.
On a Moorfield eye appointment day I would take Unis, usually my Mum drives us into London, so I am able to avoid the crowding on public transport. Being driven in saves me the anxiety I feel on crowded public transport.
Being out with guide dog Unis in the busiest parts of London I feel incredibly stressed, worrying more for her safety than myself particularly as I've had a few bad experiences of her being trodden on, I'm sure by accident but as I can't see I can't save her from harm and it's incredibly upsetting.
People in London are always so busy rushing around, rarely considering others. It's something I am not used to and it troubles me.
I know lots of people who live in London and have guide dogs and for them it's all very normal but I am a small town girl and that is what Unis is used to, just the way it is.
I have lots of friends in London and I'm often invited to meet with them but I'd talk myself out of going because of the anxieties I feel about using Unis and in effect missing out on lots of social events.
I am very fortunate to have friends who understand my challenges and do go the extra mile to help/ support me whenever they can
Yesterday I was invited into London for the day.
Knowing my anxieties my friend offered to meet me at Paddington Station which would have meant me just getting on the train local to me and getting off at the last stop.
However, I was feeling brave and wanted to try to get further into London independently, with my cane, Mr Cane that is.
I would have to tackle the underground, I was going to need lots of confidence but it also meant independence.
I got up and took Unis for a long free run, and made sure she was happy with a few goodies, the company of my parents and her big box of toys, it was her day off.
I dusted off one of my red and white canes and off I went.
I still can’t believe I did it.
I was cane trained at 12/13 and I absolutely despised everything about it.
At the time I did cane training I was in absolute denial, completely refusing to believe I needed any help let alone a cane.
Even when I went on the waiting list for a guide dog it was extremely rare that I would use my cane - except for the Moorfield trips with my Mum. I never minded this because in the busy hustle of London smoke, who was going to know me?
I did not want to be seen with it locally period.
Having had Unis now for 4 and a bit years, I have fully accepted my condition and accepted needing Unis on a daily basis for my independence.
I have accepted Ushers syndrome, Deafness, blindness and Unis.
However, could I truly be brave enough to brave London with the dusty Mr Cane I have done my absolute best to avoid it up until now?
I really did surprise myself.
It was raining, Unis was wet from her free run. It was just as well she wasn’t having a day in London on such a wet windy day she would have been smelly (sorry Unis) and another reason to avoid going in. ‘Nope’ I thought to myself, no excuses today.
My Dad gave me a lift to the local train station where I spoke to someone at the desk and got my ticket using my applewatch and I was on my way.
The ‘Tube tamer’ app is brilliant, sadly not accessible on my applewatch which is a shame so I had to use my iPhone to check my route.
I screen shot 3 different routes just in case, and saved them as my wall paper, so I could quickly remind myself of the route/ tube line/ direction I was heading.
Screen shooting is something I do regularly to make life easier for myself.
I did get lost. Of course I did!
But for what it was worth, I really enjoyed testing myself.
I interacted with a fair few Londoners that day, don't let anybody tell you Londoners aren't friendly, they are and they offered me help and reassurance that I was heading in the right direction.
Tube maps are impossible for me to access, and my Applewatch was inactive underground.
TFL (Transport for London) staff were all hugely helpful.
I did not feel like the cane was my label that day, I actually felt that the cane was my reassurance and my safety.
I did not care at all that I had this red and white cane in front of me, I could sense people staring but did I care?
For the first time since 14 using Mr Cane, I did not care. I was more focused on getting where I needed to be, safely.
I got there in good time and had a lovely day.
Whilst with my friend I folded and packed Mr Cane away in my bag and enjoyed being guided by my friend. I was guided around successfully, no bruises or bumps!
It was a good day.
It took years but finally at 21years old I managed a whole route into London from the small town I come from, just me and Mr Cane.
Let me tell you, despite the great day I had and the beaming pride I felt, returning home in the dark after a long wet day in London I was mighty pleased to see Unis again.
Unis will always, as long as I have her, be my number one mobility aid, but now I have a ready and able alternate in Mr Cane.