One of my comedy heroes, Greg Davies, described his teenage years as the 'Dark Years'. I think this is an apt description - for me it was acne, uncontrollable hormones, paranoia and the desperate need to 'fit in'. However, unlike Mr Davies and most of my secondary school peers, mine was actually a bit dark... literally! I have been visually impaired since I was three years old. I was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis at three, leading to uveitis glaucoma (a condition of the eyes) with which I was diagnosed at four years old. Essentially my eyes and knees have spent the last 27 years being ruddy annoying! I don't want to clog this up with medical jargon but both these conditions are chronic and have resulted in permanent sight loss in my left eye and complete sight loss for a year when I was twenty-one years old. I retain decent vision in my right eye and live independently. My arthritis is controlled by medication and physiotherapy and all things considered I am very lucky to have the sight and mobility I have.
Now puberty is tough for anyone, but let me paint a picture of a teenage Georgie: very short, skinny, flat chested, buck-toothed, essentially a ball of teenage angst. I let the world know I wasn't happy and was what some might call, 'a bit of a Madam'. I was totally obsessed with the singer P!nk and even cut all my hair off to emulate her. Not a look that suited me and resulted in the nickname Rat-Man from my older brother. I shall never forgive him! I managed to get in with the cool crowd by being something of the class clown and that skill of being funny got me into the fold. I behaved like some court jester to fit in because teenagers are cruel, probably because they are also going through puberty and lashing out at a world they don't know how to fit into either.
All I wanted was for a boy to like me, to have some breasts and straight teeth. This fear of being 'different' was why I coped so poorly with my visual impairment during puberty. I tried to ignore my poorly eyes and dodgy knees through fear they would differentiate me from the other kids. In fact, I went blind in my left eye at 15 years old and didn't even sniff at it. I privately accepted it and publicly kept up appearances of being a cool, funny teenager. I didn't take certain medications, I was rude to my doctors and totally unappreciative of the amazing health care I received. A health system radically in decline but we'll come to that later.
I was convinced my inability to do PE would isolate me and if you mix that in with rampant hormones and self-loathing you have a nasty piece of work. I didn't reach out for help, didn't try to accept who I was and it was only my parents who saw my fears. I was in total denial that I was disabled; I feared it - which is part of the problem facing disability today. A fear I now tackle now in my own comedy. The trigger for me was when I lost the sight in my remaining right eye at 21. It took that for me to accept my disability but, more importantly, to be proud of it. It is a part of who I am and we must stop seeing disability as a flaw.
I deeply regret not being more accepting of who I was in my teens and implore any disabled young person not to do the same as me. Don't let the ravages of puberty and peer pressure get to you. The moment I became more accepting, I felt at peace with who I was and quietly proud. Sure, you might not be like the 'popular' girls at school. You might have to inject a medication or wear a wrist splint and big glasses and sit on the side-lines in PE. It's a part of who you are and you are more interesting because you have an extraordinary way of looking at the world. And if you're anything like me, quite literally you will look at the world differently! Our teens are such a tiny part of our lives. Don't waste them by being a moody hormonal paranoid teenager. Instead shout: "I am disabled. I am proud and I AM no different".
I would also add, don't make the easiest years of your life harder with hormonal paranoia taking over. The hardest years are yet to come. It's actually in recent years I have truly discovered what isolation feels like. My life is having to change due to government cuts to the benefits system, Disability Living Allowance and the NHS.
Nowadays I work with several disability charities, including the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), and my work as comedian and writer are inspired by my disability. I have essentially made my disability a commodity and it has been the beginning of my life's work. I bet teenage Georgie would never have expected this, me doing shows about my one eye, the state of the nation and weird doctors. She might have even hated the idea. But she can shut up because the time has come that we all talk about disability more and this should start from those crucial years of puberty and teen angst when you are just working out who you are. Disability wasn't the end of my world... it was just the beginning.
For advice, information and support about living with sight loss, visit RNIB's website or call the charity's helpline on 0303 123 9999.
Catch me at The Edinburgh Fringe from 4-28 August - check out my website for details.
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