When Ciara O’Donnell stopped comparing herself to other people and gave up trying to ‘keep up with the Joneses’, she found that feelings of upset and frustration just disappeared.
Judging herself by her own standards and capabilities rather than other people’s means that Ciara can now calmly and happily do what she wants to do in the stress-free knowledge that what she chooses to do, she will do well.
“I have a reputation for not listening when I am told ‘no’. I am incredibly stubborn, if I want something badly enough, I will say that I am going to do it,” says Ciara.
“However, I have to believe that I can do it and I have to work for it.
“I might have to work twice as hard to learn skills or do what an able-bodied person is doing. Now, unlike in the past, I take my time and do it – I now longer beat myself up.
“I used to compare myself to other people and say: ‘why can I not do that?’
“When I did my degree in social care, I could not do third year, this confused me as to why I was not as able as others. But I have my diploma and that is where I needed to be, that is my level of achievement and I had to be okay about that.
“So, I stopped beating myself up. I can always go back and do a degree in my timeframe if I want to,” she says.
“As a person with spina bifida, I also have some other medical issues which affect me from time to time. It can take longer to do things like getting ready in the morning sometimes, if I am unwell.
“That can be frustrating at times. But the way to look at it is, if you mind yourself, take time to work things out in your own time, you will make life easier for yourself.
“Just because you can do something does not always mean it is the best thing for you. I thought I had to keep up with everyone else. Now I do what I want to do and know what I do I will do well.”
Ciara has just proven that she can do what she wants to do – and do it well – as she has just qualified as a make-up artist.
“I think confidence is an issue for a lot of people with disabilities and from a woman’s point of view, I think some days we have enough to deal with medically without being conscious of bad skin or other things that can be camouflaged if needed.
“My hope is to work with women who have disabilities in my spare time in the future. “
Ciara, who is from Arklow, was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus. She took part in a trial at birth which she says was relatively successful for her hydrocephalus. While, she still retains elements of hydrocephalus she feels that this condition does not impact on her life.
She attended mainstream primary and secondary schools and having completed a secretarial course after her Leaving Certificate, secured employment with Wicklow County Council.
“I am now a Grade 4 Assistant Staff Officer - I was promoted in January – I work in the law department as a legal secretary and carry out supervising duties as well,” says Ciara.
“I work Monday to Friday, but take Wednesdays off from a health point of view and to manage doctors’ appointments.
“I find that this is working really well for me. The local authority facilitates me wherever they can. We have a disability officer onsite and she is very good.
“With older buildings, sometimes very little can be done from an accessible point of view and there are budget restrictions. There was staff training recently but the building was not accessible so I have been told in the future I will receive one-to-one training on site.
“Wicklow County Council is doing its best and management are learning. I am the only wheelchair user in the building, there are people with other disabilities such as sight and hearing impairments. The County Council has always maintained its 3% quota of staff with a disability which is good really.”
Living her life by adopting her parents’ philosophy of ‘no limits’, Ciara is proud that she has accomplished a lot in her 37 years.
“I am happy with what I have done. Now I am older I have to decide what I want as I cannot have everything - I do not have the energy anymore!” she says.
Apart from her work, the things that Ciara likes to invest her energy into is spending time with her family and many friends; pursuing hobbies and enjoying herself in her spare time. She loves to cook, go out for coffees, listen to live music. Ciara also loves animals and enjoys spending time out with her two dogs.
She says she cannot stress the importance of her parents and friends enough in terms of their love, support and friendship, and the happiness and joy they bring to her life.
Learning to drive was the biggest link to her own independence and Ciara enjoys getting out in the car for a spin and seeing where she ends up!
Living independently in her own apartment since 2005, Ciara met her husband Keith on a blind date. They were going out for about a year when Keith moved in with Ciara and they got engaged and married a couple of years later.
“We bought a house the week after we got married, the whole place had to be adapted which took about two months to complete.
“Panic had set in at times as I was worried we wouldn’t find a suitable place that worked for both of us. I needed a bungalow and they are in short supply! It was a busy time but it all worked out in the end and we are very happy over two years later.”