Warrior Woman Emma Inspires Young People

Emma overcame a physical disability to do her dream job and help young people.

Occasionally you meet a person who really shines, whose passion for life and their work really ignites something in everyone they meet. Emma is one of those people. Now I have been fortunate because in my life I have met a few people like this and maybe it is because of my work or the globe trotting I have done but I am always grateful for these people and the light and clarity they bring to my life.

I did not meet Emma in a traditional sense, a co-worker of hers Elsy emailed me after reading about the Warrior Women Project in the Chelmsford Times that myself and Make-up artist Michelle Lacey are doing. Thank you Elsy for bringing Emma to us we are grateful.

Emma was chosen to be the next in our Warrior women series because she epitomises why we started the project. We wanted to inspire young people with real women, real women with obstacles that they had or were overcoming. We wanted teens and pre teens to see that not everyone is perfect and that it is ok not to be. We wanted to give them role models who embodied empowerment and self worth and self belief.

This is Emma’s story

I was born with severe difficulties with my left ear and hearing loss and underwent multiple operations to correct this. When I was 8 I was diagnosed with late grade cholesteatoma and had surgery to remove all the working components of my ear including my mastoid. At the time I was one of the youngest people in the country to have the surgery for what was previously considered an “adult only disease”.

As a result of the surgery I lost all the hearing on my left side and had severe balance problems however I countered that by being very sporty and competing at high levels in Judo. I continued to have reconstructive surgery over the years and most recently I had an implant fitted two months ago to try and rebuild the hearing on my left side and stop further strain on the right side.

Growing up my parents were big advocates that I could do anything I wanted to do but I still met a lot of discrimination. I missed a lot of schooling due to illness and when I said I wanted to become a mental health nurse I was told time and time again that I couldn’t because side effects from the surgery meant I couldn’t work nights, I was even turned down for jobs because of it despite being the highest graduating student in my year. Ironically 2 years after graduating I won a rising star nurse of the year award from the nursing times.

What Emma does now and why it’s important

I am now a mental health nurse as I always wanted to be. I guess someone told me I couldn’t so I did it to prove them wrong. I work with children experiencing mental health concerns and I specialise in two areas. I work with children under ten with behavioural problems but I also have a passion for utilising digital options to support young people with their mental health and well-being.

Being a teenager has never been as difficult as it is right now because bullying doesn’t stay at school, stranger danger isn’t restricted to people you meet on the street and the bombardment of picture perfect people is 24 hours a day. I think it’s really important that we recognise the emotional drain modern life is having on children up and down the country.

I worked with young people in the local area and colleagues from my trust NELFT to create the My Mind site which brings together a number of resources that are free to access by young people, parents and schools in order to support their own emotional well being. Lots of young people and their families thought seeing a counsellor was the only option or even the best option and were surprised when we showed them the amount of support that can be accessed through the internet and of the importance of arming young people to be able to deal with challenges to their mental health.

My Mind is now accessible to young people across Essex as part of our testing phase and more information can be accessed from www.nelft.nhs.uk/my-mind

We have also been nominated for multiple awards and won the Digital health London innovation award back in March and are currently up for a nursing times award.

As part of our digital dream the trust has also been opening up to young volunteers to help us think about how we can improve services even further and how we can take back social media and use it as a forum for positivity. Some of our young people have blogged for NHS England and we can be found on twitter @App_MyMind and also Instagram @EWMHS_Nelft. Young people design their own campaigns around mental health and social media and It’s important for young people to recognise that social media can be a good thing but that also much of what we see on there is not real life, its carefully manipulated scenarios designed to make you envious.

I think it’s important that young people are encouraged to explore their mental health and ways they can help themselves but that they also understand that life isn’t defined by the number of followers we have or the number of likes a picture gets. Life is defined by our triumphs and our trials. It is defined by ourselves.

What Emma had to say about the project and experience:

When I first heard about the warrior women campaign I loved the idea of celebrating real women. Through my work as a mental health nurse for children I have seen how difficult it has become to be a teenager! 

All to often social media is used as this false ideal of what your life should be like, that we are defined by our follower count and somehow anything less then that glossy finish is a failure. 

As a young woman I am often told what I can and can’t be. Told what could and couldn’t be expected of someone with my disabilities or background.  What I loved about this campaign was that is using social media and photography to show young girls there is more to the story then the picture and that there is so much more in life they can aspire to be, regardless of gender, disability, class, race or anything else. 

I loved my day at the studio, it was great fun especially since the day to day of being a nurse is not so glam! I love the fact there are photos of me pre caffeine and pre-make up that tell you as much about my story as the beautiful ones that came later in the day. 

I have showed the photos to a couple of the young people I work with and they loved them, but couldn’t quite believe it was me. Despite the fact there was no airbrushing or contouring, they couldn’t quite tie the woman in the photo to the one more likely to be found sitting on the floor with them. But only because that’s a woman they don’t meet, because that’s the me I am when I am away from work, on a special night out. That was exactly the point, for that moment, that day, that was me, but that me is no more or less of a person then who I am today, or who I will be tomorrow. It was simply me in that moment, having fun. 

The photographs are gorgeous, but the conversations they inspired about our need to capture the perfect photo instead of the perfect memory is what I will truly take away from the day and I hope it helps younger girls realise that there doesn’t have to be one perfect version of you. There can be the PJ wearing, coffee sipping girlfriend, the uniform wearing, always smiling nurse and, sometimes even a glam make up wearing boss. All of those versions of me are strong women, who achieve what they work hard to achieve and in that moment, in that version of me as long as I am happy, then I am being the real me, and that’s all that counts.   

Here are some of the images we took of the wonderful Emma. as you can see we had a lot of fun and it was interesting to me that Emma had such a wonderful confidence about her that really shone through in her photographs.

If you would like more information about the services Emma is involved with please follow the link above.

Warrior Women, Chelmsford Portrait Project