I haven’t always been an archeologist, and how I became one was far from a conventional route. The following is a summary of my life journey from school until now.
I left school with very few qualifications after to missing almost 2 years due to the aftermath of Glandular Fever. I went on to study building at the local college but again due to ill health was unable to finish the course. At the time this was described as post viral debility. I now know that it is actually chronic fatigue syndrome, which is often linked to the Epstein–Barr virus, responsible for glandular fever. As a result of my poor qualifications my twenties were mostly spent in low paid work. This was interrupted again by my health. This time a different set of doctors and a different diagnosis. I now apparently had an arthritis condition, which amongst other things was responsible for my continuing chronic fatigue. I was finally correctly diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome about 8 years ago.
I have always had a strong general interest in history in the broadest sense. Some of what were to become my special academic interest have their roots in the books from the library that I read when I was off school. My explorations in my early 20s got me out and about to visit sites that I had read about, and gradually I began to find that books I was reading did not quite agree with what I was seeing. That set me off to start both recording sites and researching them in the county archives. I taught myself both survey and research skills.
Fast forward to my mid 30s and I was still having problems with my health, but decided that I really should try to improve my qualifications to improve my job prospects. My return to education after 15 years, initially doing part-time evening classes at local universities, but then making the big step of going full-time was quite a journey and I rapidly realised that my interest in history had more of a focus on archaeology.
Gaining a first class degree and winning three awards for my dissertation was unexpected. Next a masters degree and then a PhD, during which I started my own business. Self employment is a choice that many with long term health problems make and it certainly allows me to work around my issues, most of the times. Currently like many archaeologists I am finding work thin on the ground. Perhaps fortunately this has coincided with a downturn of my health and the revelation that as well as chronic fatigue syndrome I also have Aspergers Syndrome, a higher functioning form of Autism. I have discussed this in my book A Different Perspective which is filled with my kite aerial photographs.
These health low points are often cyclical and will hopefully improve soon. Keeping busy physically and mentally is an important part of managing long term health conditions and recently I have put all of my energy into writing the open content Meerstone Community Archaeology Manual. This has developed from a community archaeology project that I ran in Middleton Park, Leeds, that won a highly commended in the British Archaeology Awards. The manual is a colossal project that currently stands at nearly 80,000 words in 378, A4 pages and continues to grow. Writing this has been very therapeutic and kept me pottering along when I could have just given up and felt sorry for myself. That’s just not who I am.
So its not been an easy journey, far from it; and it wouldn’t have been possible without having the right support at key times (you hopefully all know who you are). Naturally there have been many who have not provided suitable support. I wonder if those teachers who wrote could try harder on school reports ever considered that I might had done better if they had tried harder? Despite the odds being against me my achievements have been beyond my expectation, but I’m not finished yet.
Note that I have so far avoided the D word Disability. In the UK you are considered disabled “if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.” When you look at this closely it becomes a wonderfully fluffy definition underpinned by the words negative and normal. Looking out from the inside normal is what you experience everyday and will usually be very different to the normal experienced by others. Negative is a concept that relates more to those looking in rather than those looking out. Something is only negative if you make it so.
For people with long term healths issues Disclosure, the other D word, is a very difficult dilemma. Tell people you have complex long term health issues and you will frequently experience negativity or a smotheringly suffocating level of assistance. There never seems to be any balance. Some will assume that you cant do things and therefore won’t give you the opportunity. Others assume that you need constant help. Please, that is just patronising.
The politically correct, overly empathetic, who talk about ability rather than disability, and a condition rather than a disorder can be a real pain. They rarely listen, too busy falling over themselves trying to “help” you. Others will misinterpret your behavior as they have totally ignored what you have told them about you condition.
I have chosen not to hide my health issues. By making this disclosure I am not looking for sympathy or empathy. Personally I have no time for those who wallow in self-pity and you wont read a blog from me that documents every bad day I have. What I want to show is that I have worked hard and my achievements are not insignificant.
I have a good portfolio of work and publications which show what I can do. I sometimes have to do things in a different way to others or over a longer time period but the results will be, at the very least, to the expected standard.