In my blogs I often talk about epilepsy, mental health and how I scrape around endlessly trying to find something that will help my cognitive deficit. It sometimes seems that all I do is hit brick walls. But not all of it has been dead ends. Undoubtedly the ketogenic diet has helped but other things have been just as important to my road to recovery. Being grateful for the important things in life helps. Connecting with others in a similar position helps. Writing helps. Faith helps. I will still go on looking for medical interventions but I realise that it is not just this that can move me forward.
One thing that has evaded me is work. Everyone needs a sense of purpose in their day, whether it is paid or unpaid. But the question that arose for me was what can I do? It’s tricky if you have a memory problem to work. But fortunately I am not one that gives up easily. If there is a difficult problem I just don’t seem able to stop myself from trying to find a solution.
I started to see a job coach from Herts Mind Network’s Building Better Opportunities programme and, with a bit of support, I hatched a plan. It turned out to be not that complicated. I decided that I could ghost-write ordinary people’s autobiographies. This was something that I could be passionate about. Everyone has a tale to tell and family and friends love to hear them. With recording apps like Otter, which can instantly transcribe interviews, as well as on-demand printing and scanning of old photos it has now become possible to publish a small quantity of books based on actual transcripts and using photos from an bygone era for a relatively low cost. I also knew that many people wanted to write their loved one’s autobiographies (or write their own) but were becoming a bit unstuck because they didn’t have the time or skills to see the project through.
This is where I felt I could come in. I knew that I could interview – in my previous job as a social researcher I interviewed people about issues that affected their lives. I also knew that I could write. Or at least that is what other people told me. However, the bit I would have trouble with was project management. You kind of need to be good at planning, decision making and problem solving to take on such a task.
And that is when the magic came in. Any good story needs a little bit of the unexpected. A surprise that seems miraculous. However, in this tale it came from a most unlikely source – one that I don’t think anyone would ever guess. It is called The Department of Work and Pensions. I will say that again and be a little bit more specific because I imagine that some people are a little bit gobsmacked by the inclusion of those words in such a tale: My fairy godmother is called the Access to Work (ATW) scheme run by the UK government’s Department of Work and Pensions. The scheme’s role is to help disabled people or those with a health condition stay in work (note that it doesn’t attempt to provide them with provisions to get into work, but that is another story).
However, maybe the real fairy godmother was the method in which I found out about the scheme – Facebook – because ATW seems to be hidden by an invisibility cloak that medical and other professionals have yet to uncover. Nevertheless, once I had got through the two main barriers for using the scheme ie 1. finding out about it in the first place and 2. the inevitable bureaucracy, ATW were in fact able to give me quite an extensive level of support to start my own business. They have given me funding for a PA, specialist software programmes as well an executive function coach to help me find coping strategies to enable me to work. In fact, for reasons I frankly find bizarre, ATW are giving me more resources to help me cope with my disability than any medical professional I have ever seen.
I have now completed my first autobiography called ‘Linda – A Grandmother’s Story’. It’s about my mum. I interviewed her eight times and then wrote the story using the tone of voice that she used during her interviews. I believe she is a most worthy person to have a book written about her. Before writing the book I knew that my mum wasn’t the sort of person to bear a grudge; she accepts life’s challenges and just gets on with things. I think that this comes out very much in what I have written. Of course my mum has told me many many anecdotes about her life over the years but I did learn some new things about her whilst writing the book. I found out who her favourite parent was, what happened on her honeymoon and how she felt about being a young mum. It also gave me the opportunity to write down all her anecdotes in one place. Last week I read the book to my children and they thought that it was fascinating. Although I knew much of what was written, I was surprised by how little they knew. Now they can keep this precious book and, please God, show future generations. I’m sure other family and friends would like to read it as well.
Now with a prototype and support for me in place I would like to ghost-write autobiographies for other people. I have built myself a website because these days it seems impossible to be a business without one. But more importantly, I have thought about how my business would be different from others doing the same thing. I decided that I would include many more copies of the autobiographies in my packages than other companies who mostly offer four books. I think that there would be many more family and friends who would be interested in reading them so I’m including 25. But for relatively not much more people could ask for extra copies because I think that the books would make a great going home present for guests at a special birthday party. I’m also going to include the full audio and transcripts of the interviews as well as a PDF of the book so it can be shared more widely. It would of course, be imperative that the ‘author’ is happy with the final book but I also believe that other people close to the author need to be comfortable as well so I will give strategies to try and ensure that this happens.
I have called my business ‘Prashker’. It is the original surname of my grandfather who died before I was born. To me, the name speaks of a generation of a time gone by whose stories were not written down and my hope is that I can help some people put their lives on paper for their family and friends to share. Please look at my website if you want to find out more.