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Living life to the fullest – Mary Sullivan

Living life to the fullest

Mary is a Clúid resident from Cork. She is a successful artist who presented one of her paintings to President Michael D. Higgins on behalf of Clúid as part of our 25th anniversary celebrations. Here’s her story.

I have a physical disability, but I lead a very active life. I’m originally from Douglas and I was born in Cork City. I was 3 months premature and during birth I had a lack of oxygen to the brain resulting in me having cerebral palsy. This means I need to use a wheelchair to get around. I need help with everyday tasks which means I couldn’t go to the schools I wanted to. I spent my childhood years in specialised education, so I didn’t get to do my Leaving Cert. Apart from that, I had a pretty normal childhood with my two sisters.

I studied Sociology and English in University College Cork. It took me a grand total of seven years to complete as I had no experience of formal education. When I was young, people with disabilities did not have the same opportunities to attend mainstream schools as they do today. I felt a bit like I had been thrown in at the deep end when I went to university. In the end I completed the degree and as my closest friends know I complained a lot sometimes! Most importantly I was out and about and realised there was more to life and I no longer wanted to live in care.

“The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do”

The first step towards moving into my own place was to talk with a disability advocate and it all went from there really. The whole thing took about three years but, in the end, it was a dream come true. I quickly realised there were a few things I would need if I was to be any way independent. I spoke to Clúid about this and I got an automatic door and a hands-free intercom installed. Now people can visit, and I can come and go as I please. I’m living in my apartment six years since last August. The time has flown by and this apartment has given me greater independence in so many ways. I choose my own food and spend a long time choosing my clothes for the next day.

I have had three goals in life, and I have achieved two of them so far. To further my education was goal number one. I never thought it would be a university degree and I would have been happy with something less academic, but of course I won’t knock it. Goal number two was to move out of the care setting and although this took some time and some tears, it happened.

My third goal was to sell some of my artworks and just this week I have reached this goal. I am very passionate about art and love experimenting with colour. I do art classes every second week and they have changed my style of art a lot. The only thing that worries me is that I have produced so much art the walls of my apartment are completely covered and soon there won’t be any room left for me.

I go out and about come hail, rain or snow. I bought my personal assistant an umbrella so the weather would never stop my plans. I like to go for coffee in Gloria Jeans. Most of the staff know me and even know my order. I may be a creature of habit but occasionally I do like to change my order just to confuse them. It always makes them laugh. I also like to have a few drinks and of course to shop. I like to go to plays and generally to get out whenever I can. I try not to let my limitations get the better of me, but I realise that without my disability I would not be me. A friend gave me a present of a saying that reads “The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do”. For me it’s so true!

Click here to find out more about Mary’s story.

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