Farewell and Hello!

Back in October of 2015 I was fresh out of an emotional breakdown, I was still being rehabilitated from a pregnancy injury and was doing daily physio to enable to me to walk unaided. I’ve never been a particularly well person but the illnesses and weaknesses were so dismissed in my youth that I’d gotten very good at pushing them to the side to put others’ needs before my own. After a harrowing and lengthy period of declining mental and physical health, October 2015 saw me in a state where I’d had to give up the small amount of work I had been able to do and feeling like I had no purpose in life but to be a burden to my family.

At this point, arguably the lowest of my life, I was beginning to worry family and the few friends I had left, they weren’t used to me giving up. So, I did what I feel people usually do in their darkest moments and I turned to my faith. I’ve been identifying as Pagan for almost twenty years but it wasn’t until stuck in a hospital bed, on a drip and worried that I wasn’t going to make it through this (which I didn’t in many ways but that’s another story for another time) that I really contemplated what my faith was and what it meant to me. Before, it had been there, a comfort blanket that I could fall back on but never really engaged with. I couldn’t read, I was too ill to focus on really thinking anyway, so to pass the time in the hospital, I did what I hadn’t done since I was fourteen; I attempted to engage with others in my faith community.

My first foray into the community in my teens was a scary experience and had well and truly put me off. It’s probably part of the reason that my faith took a back seat in my life. I went to a moot in a pub in the closest city and was surrounded mostly by men in their forties or older who were telling me about skyclad rituals and sex magic. Suffice it to say my big sister, who introduced me to my faith, put a stop to any involvement with people like that very quickly. I’d never been particularly good at taking care of my own safety; I lacked social sense (turns out, I’m probably autistic but that’s another-nother story for another-nother time!).

This time was completely different. I found a group that had just been formed, the PFs newly created Disabilities Team. I found people there who understood the pain I was feeling, the hopelessness, the soul crushing fatigue of constant pain and isolation. Little did I know it at the time but I’d finally found where I belonged; I’d found my tribe, my home.

Over the next few years I somehow ended up not just supporting the team but accidentally running it! The team changed from a hodge podge of good intentions into a structured team with aims, a mission statement and complex team politics and this spread to inspire the community support team that we are still developing today.

As Disabilities Manager, I’ve had five Deputies and every one of them has changed my life.

Beth showed me that knowing your own limits sometimes means letting go.
Petra showed me that setting boundaries isn’t selfish, it’s essential.
Jenny showed me that not only do I have a sparkle but that I don’t have to apologise for it.
Jean showed me that quiet dignity and wit can help you through the most infuriating situations.
Heidi showed me that keeping an open mind and being willing to change our views can lead to beautiful and exciting things.

When I started the team as it is now, I only had my manager, previous Community Support Officer, Mike, and my team Secretary, Jean, who stood by me and supported me for three years before we tragically lost her in 2018. We also lost Petra in January 2017 and we carry the spirit of these two amazing ladies with us still.

I wanted to write a blog post to say farewell to my role as Disabilities Manager and I feel I’ve waffled… I’m definitely not the same person now that I was when I began. Much of these changes within me are thanks to my team but also to some of my other colleagues, Sarah (currently our VP and National Children and Families Manager), Krys (also PF VP and the Deputy National Children and Families Manager), Alex (our most recent LGBTQIA+ Manager, who went on to bigger things last year), Rich (our current Media and Publications Manager), Keith (PF General Secretary and Knower-Of-All-Things-PF), Robin (current PF President), Emma (our Advocacy Officer) and Mel (our District Liaison Officer) but most of all, my friend and mentor, Mike Stygal.

Mike was President when I joined the PF and afterward become VP and Community Support Officer. From the moment I was thrust into the role of Disabilities Manager he supported me professionally and personally. He inspired me, empowered me, taught me, chastised me, laughed with me, swore viciously with me and generally acted as the father figure I never knew I needed! It takes a strong and intelligent person to take someone as wilful and self-destructive as myself and encourage, empower and inspire them to get out of their own way enough to achieve the potential you see in them, without killing them before they get there! But he did it and now I find that the role he encouraged me to change into what the community needed, which I thought I was changing to make it easier for him… He’s been sneakily training me for all along. I thank him, from the bottom of my heart, for believing in me and trusting me in a way that I never experienced from others before.

And so… On the one hand, I’m sad to say good bye to the role that helped me to grow as a person, as a servant of this community… On the other hand, I’m now to be given the opportunity to use the experience I’ve gained to help more people, to support and empower others in the way that I’ve had the privilege of being supported; the opportunity, honour and joy to give back to the community that made me whole, gave me back hope and welcomed me home.

Here’s to the future

Debi Gregory

Your Friendly Neighbourhood Community Support Officer.