Priorities vol. 2

Whenever I have been faced with needing to make changes, to practice acceptance of my changing capabilities, my wonderful, loyal, supportive husband has only ever asked one thing of me. “I’ll support you in whatever” he says. “You are living your life, you know best. But please, don’t make any decisions based on your emotions.”

Yesterday, after a very long day at work (all-day conference in the city), I fell over in the dark street having just got off my bus. I got up slowly from the ground and felt a familiar pain coarsing through my arm. I’m still not over my most recent bout of whiplash, so it feels like the aches, the pain and the limtations have been lingering for weeks. I called Kev, and asked him to come get me, as I was just at the end of the street. He raced down and as I saw him coming, I burst into tears. Because I knew I could now, that someone was here to understand.

We walked to the next corner and I lost my balance coming off the deep kerb. I screamed. Not because of pain. Kev caught me, I was fine. I screamed like a wounded animal. Because I feel more and more that I cannot be safe, that I am not allowed, I am not able to carry on with the threads of life I am trying (too) hard to hold onto. I fell over yesterday exactly at a point where I was allowing myself the thought “I am doing well. All these treatments are allowing me to keep up.”

I screamed because it felt like my body had heard the thought and just decided “Let’s remind her how wrong she is.”

Kev was worried that neighbours would come into the streets, wondering about the woman screaming in such pain. He tried to shush me. I stood in the road, clinging to him for my balance and sobbing. Sobbing about how unfair it is, how useless my body feels and how much I don’t want to live like this anymore.

I know the way I have to live cannot change. I grieve for that fact every day and I do not apologise for it. But sometimes, I am just too tired. Tiredness is the precise reason I was able to fall in the first place. I’m not sure it used to be and it makes me so sad.

The sound was awful. I knew it was me and yet to hear it, to have it be so desperate to escape from my chest and throat, it was like I was listening to somebody else. All I could see through the tears was the blur of the street lamps, and all I could hear was this awful sound. That poor woman, I thought, she sounds in so much pain.

Because it always changes. Part of my experience with disability and depression has always been, rightly or wrongly, that if I am depressed, I cannot be caught off guard when the depressing times or events come. It cannot impact me, they were expected. I don’t mind admitting it’s a horrible way to live. But that’s always been my rationale.

This weekend, I had what I call a peaceful moment. A realisation of true peace, calm and contentment. They are very rare to me. In fact, I cannot remember any outside of the 4 years Kev and I have been married. I’m sure this is not a true representation, but it does show what an amazing impact my husband has had on me as a person.

The first one was the day after our wedding. We’d booked a nice spa hotel for a mini-moon, to let us adjust to married life. Spas are ridiculously important to my physical maintainence and I remember just climbing into the warm jacuzzi. The sun was setting, sending beautiful red streaks across the sky as we looked out onto the Welsh hills. We held hands, our new wedding rings shining on our clasped fingers. There was nothing to do, no-one else to worry about. All we had to do was be.

The second was a weekend away around the first anniversary of my dad’s death, when work had been hectic and my grief heavy. It was to the city of St. David’s, which is in fact this beautiful little village. It was pouring down with rain pretty much the entire time. So all we did was walk between the hotel, the little chocolate shop and the pub with a roaring fire. It was as if the world couldn’t touch me there.

The third was the perfect day we had in Cuba, swimming with dolphins and eating lobster, drinking rum on a catarman as the sun set. An experience in a beautiful part of the world I could never have imagined I would get to see were it not for the husband so determined I deserved to see it.

The fourth was our first family holiday, where nothing mattered other than our little girl’s happiness.

The fifth was just this weekend. We went for a nice autumnal walk in one of our local parks, me wanting to crunch leaves underfoot, Squidge wanting to play in the park. There was no rushing, no clock watching. We went for hot chocolate at the café and I looked at them both, my husband and daughter, and I was so peaceful, so content. Right in those moments, I had everything I need in the world.

And I think that’s why it hurt me to hear myself so distressed over a fall. Because I know it was because I was tired, a reult of wanting to work too hard. It is not my fault. It is not what matters most. Yet still, I get so absorbed in what people must think of me, all these shortcomings that make me so pitiful and abnormal. Except, I am slowly realising, those are not the opinions of others. It is me, projecting my own. And I don’t want to waste my precious energy on being so angry with myself. What use can it possibly be when I had that moment in the park, that wonderful moment of knowing I have everything I need?

My family is everything. They are what ground me and who make me feel whole. I refuse to care any longer about whether I am working hard enough, or how much longer I can work to put coffers in the pot. A job is not what I want. My family is. I would like nothing more than another baby and I am determined not to wear myself down working. I know too that Kev would adore another child. So much so, that he refuses to wrangle with himself as I do over the finances. “If it’s something we want” he says (he knows it is) “then we will manage.” I have spent a lot of time and energy arguing with him, but what for? To see if I can make him as worried as I have been? It’s useless. The two of us are too determined in our aim. And what a beautiful aim it is.

The idea of managing has always stuck in my throat, like it cannot be enough. But I don’t care anymore. Somewhere safe and warm to sleep, with food in our bellies and love for each other. That’s all we need and we have all of that. I don’t want to struggle anymore. I want walks in the park, at my own pace, not having to think about what the rest of the world needs from me. Because what I have to give is not for the rest of the world, it is for my family. It is for that poor broken woman whose screaming is still ringing in my ears.

Priorities

Earlier this month, we took Squidgelet away for a week, our first family holiday, to a caravan park in Newquay. It was one of the best weeks of my life. We were determined not to be constrained by time or routine. We were going to do whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted. It was bliss. Squidge loved having her own room in the caravan. The light switch was right next to her bed and she was determined that it would always be day time, so she could go and play. We told her to knock on our door each morning and we’d talk about what she wanted to do that day.

The first morning, she knocked on the door: “Mummy! Daddy! I want tea!” As we looked up from under the duvet, she was holding her swim nappies in her hands, having swiped them from her suitcase. “We go swimming.”

We all laughed, it was so nice letting Squidge take the lead, having all the fun she wanted to. She has become very matter of fact and straight talking, which I just love.

We spent our days at the beach or park, riding trains, going to the on-site soft play or pool, always going to bed via the penny falls. Squidge even dunked the 1000 point skeeball where Kev and I failed.

She’d go to sleep and we’d sit on the outside steps listening to the sounds of people glad to be on holiday, talking about how happy we’d made our precious girl that day.

Coming back was hard because I had my PIP Assessment to dread. I’m not going to elaborate yet because this stressful journey is not over for me or millions of others. Suffice to say, I despise that I am made to fight so hard just to live.

Emotionally it’s a terrible position to be put in. As ever though, Kev was my saviour. We went straight out, back to the hotel we had our wedding reception in 4 years ago.

This was how we celebrated our wedding anniversary whilst we were away:

But we’d always said we’d go back to the hotel each anniversary, to our favourite corner of the bar. Our spot.

He let me soothe myself with cocktails with daft names then I went off for a massage I so needed. Then off to the lovely Italian restaurant we ate in the night before our wedding. Two bottles of rose down and I’m laughing, my head hurts less from always being so busy.

I honestly thought I might cry after the assessment, through relief or pent up anger. I was truly surprised when I didn’t. Instead, I was taken aback when I suffered tension headaches and dizziness for the rest of the week. I honestly think it was all the stress begging to be released.

I didn’t enjoy returning to work either. I know no-one does after a holiday but oh, I just wanted to be with my girl, to lose the concept of time and stress, to enjoy.

So whilst financially it may not be time, I think I have shown myself I am done with working. In comparison to my family and feelings of peace, my ability to financially contribute means so little. I really don’t care to sustain it at the cost of my own health and happiness, when once I was sure I had to.

But my priority now is this wonderful family. It’s a relief to know that for once, all of me is in agreement. Life is for living after all.

“Look Mummy, who’s that?”

Yesterday, I walked with Squidgelet to the end of our street and purchased a walker.

*exhale*

My teenage self is disgusted with me. Scoffs that I have given up.

My 2 year old daughter didn’t bat an eye.

That morning she walked halfway to the library for Rhymetime holding onto the pram. All I had to do was tell her where to hold.

“No let go of pram” she promised me faithfully. There was no question that she would. She understands she needs to listen.

I showed her where to hold the walker. It was exactly the same. I was so proud of her.

I text Kev to say it had been bought. He told me he was proud of me for making such a huge step for my independence even if my pride was hurt and my 14 year old self sulking indefinitely.

“I know it’s a good thing…” I typed, “…but I feel so defeated and defined by it and it breaks my heart.”

It felt unnatural to rely on it, even if I know it’s not for all the time. It felt, rightly or wrongly, like my capabilities came in second after this unsightly lump of metal.

I started to cry, as softly as I could. I couldn’t help it. I was grieving, letting my teenage self let out her disappointment. After all, I never knew this is where I’d be at 30 years old. I don’t know what I could have expected when the medical profession and support services stayed tellingly silent. But I never thought being 30 would look quite like this.

Squidgelet frowned when she saw me wipe my eyes. “Mummy ow?”

“No darling. Mummy not ow. Mummy sad. What would you like to watch? Wiggles?”

She pondered it for a moment. “No Wiggles. Photos.”

All our photos slideshow on our TV.

Looking at me, photo after photo, she asked “Look Mummy, who’s that?”

With her beautiful big heart, Squidgelet distracted me from my tears.

Mummy proud, Squidgelet. Mummy so proud of you.

I am too important

I fell over in the supermarket last week. It was not my fault. This I know – displays should not obstruct aisles to the point of injury.

And yet, as I sat on the floor recovering, flanked by 2 lovely strangers who stayed to check I could get up safely, familiar feelings crept in.

Embarrassment. Vulnerability. Shame.

The dull ache of whiplash and resultant stiff muscles ruled my weekend. I cried all weekend, so overwhelmed by misery.

I hate to feel useless. But I feel it more and more. My confidence, ever fragile, is destroyed by every fall. I am going out less and less. I can feel the independence I wrangled for creeping away from me, each of us withdrawing into ourselves. We’re separate again now, you see.

That’s not OK. I grieve every day. I was never allowed to recognise that process when I was younger. I was supposed to be grateful that I had legs that worked and that wasn’t worse. I have been haunted by “it could have been worse”.

I don’t try and deny that grief anymore. I think that by accepting it and letting myself say with the finesse of a child that it is unfair, I am saying it cannot overwhelm me.

Sometimes it still does, this weekend being a prime example. So overrun with emotions – shame and hatred among them – I was desperate to lash out at the body that fails me and punishes me in doing so. Rationally I knew it would achieve nothing, but I was so overrun with hatred for the body I can never turn away from or escape.

It gets so very lonely, being on the fringe of so many parts of society. I can be disabled… but I can walk; I can be a mum… but I walk funny. I’ve never been able to fit anyone’s view. And it has broken me. All I have ever wanted to do is fit.

But I will not. Denying my reality is causing me so much pain. I already have so much pain. I do not apologise when I say I cannot live like this anymore.

I cannot live with I can’t. All that makes me feel is that I can’t be society’s perception of what I ought to be. But I am learning that other people cannot validate what they haven’t come to understand.

I don’t want to waste away here, resenting the safe haven of my home. That is not enough for me. But I do need to feel safe. And so I have finally decided to invest in a walking aid. The thought even as I write that makes me shudder with the embarrassment teenage me felt so acutely when I rejected the option.

But it cannot serve my pride in this way any longer. If I stop living, Squidge misses out too and even if I have to accept a decline so young, I will never accept its effects on my darling girl.

So I’m going to safeguard my independence however I can and teach Squidge that all expressions of emotion are OK, are healthy if they are being processed.

I fully expect that one day she may not want to be seen with her mum and a walker and that’s OK. I have to deal with the disability whatever, so there will be nothing I can’t deal with in her honesty.

But for now, I choose to let this decision empower me. After all, if it helps me carry on, then that’s all that matters. A wonderful friend said to me today “It is not for all the time. Often, it is just a visual reference to inform others you need more time.” Disability is not the either/or scenario I have always imagined. We can work with it. I hope. It feels positive to feel even that.

I am making a choice. I am important. I will shout for what I need. I will teach my girl to shout too. We will muddle through. As Squidge would say (to)”getha”

Let’s stop telling such ridiculous lies

Scrolling through Facebook this evening, I caught sight of one of those “rules of this house” murals. There’s one in our hallway that we inherited when we bought our house. It has sweet rules like ‘lie in on Sundays’ and ‘say please and thank you ‘. Cute right?

But this one had a CP twist. Meant to bolster and encourage I think, but my God, my blood was boiling by the first line.

In this house, we do CP

Ugh. No. I have literally just finished writing an essay for uni about performance of identity. Namely gender identity because gender is assigned to us through societal expectations. But you know what, the same is not true of physical disabilities. Because those disabilities are tangible. I see, think and feel every facet of mine every day. Society cannot make me a disabled person and as much as it tries, it cannot shape me into the acceptable mould for a disabled person either (still proudly using my withering legs). Cerebral palsy is not something I ‘do’ – it is not something anyone does. It’s actual brain damage. Don’t cheapen it.

But that wasn’t even the bit that enraged me. People tell themselves what they need to after all.

But this really takes the cake.

The only disability is a bad attitude

Is it?! Well thank fuck for that. Send the word out. Actual brain damage can be cured simply by waking up smiling about your good fortune every morning! Why did nobody tell me?!

I recognise I am being incredibly sarcastic. I do not apologise for it in the face of such absolute idiocy!

I would be thoroughly ashamed of myself if I ever repeated any variation of those words to anyone. They are a disgrace. Coming from the mouths of people not living with the consequences of disability. I don’t dispute disabilities affect families as a whole but it is clearly not happening to the person that thought that was an acceptable mantra to slap on the internet.

How in the world can we expect society to accept and support those with disabilities when statements such as this trivialise what we have no choice but to handle every day? Is it not possible that bad attitudes are born of inescapable struggles? If you cannot see that, you have no business speaking for any disabled person. Because I would swap my every damaged brain cell for an eternally bad attitude any day of the week, just to have the option, just for a moment. But you didn’t have to think about that did you?

Because it’s not happening to you. God help the children with mantras such as those plastered in their homes by those that say they love them.

30 things I have learnt in 30 years of being me

Yesterday I turned 30 years old. I am officially a grown up. I have been always been afraid to age physically but this has harmed me emotionally too.

Last year, in a shopping mall cafe, I sat and wrote out a list of berations. I wrote myself out to be a hateful failure. For all my blessings, I was miserable, trapped in this body and more so, my head.

This year, entering a fresh new decade of living, I am proud to report that with the much needed help of the Mental Health Team I have very much separated that negative voice and now I recognise how and when it tries to sneak in and beat me back down. I have made a conscious choice not to let it win.

These are the 30 lessons I have been so lucky to learn in the last year:

  1. I am a dedicated mum

  2. I am determined

  3. I want the best for myself

  4. I am stubborn

  5. I cannot read minds

  6. The Little Monster cannot be defeated, only managed

  7. My body is not my own just yet but we can learn to muddle along together

  8. Every facet of my identity is my own. They do not need explaining to anyone but me.

  9. The truth can be a friend. I will not spare people’s feelings anymore

  10. I needn’t be embarrassed by my disability on account of people’s lack of understanding

  11. To ask for help is empowering and positive

  12. Decisions taken as a result of my limitations must always be in my best interest

  13. Self care is vital – and allowed

  14. It is OK not to be OK

15. It is vital to be able to say I’m not OK. I have a wonderful husband who wants to listen.

16. I do not need to hide this disability away because I am “lucky enough to walk”. It is mine to own.

17. Not everything is my responsibility. Disability is something society should be accepting of outright. I shall tell it as it is and it should be and no more. My energy is too precious to waste.

18. When I ache, it’s time to stop and be kind.

19. Sleep is precious. Fuck it, napping is empowering.

20. I have brilliant friends who fully support my tendency to drop in and out of their lives, energy dependent. I wish it was different but thank you for loving me regardless.

21. Pain does not have to be endured. Painkillers are acceptable and often necessary

22. I do not need to wage war with a body that struggles anymore. This is a body that has done amazing things for me and made me forever part of the best little person I know.

23. Comparison really is the thief of joy. People are living their own lives to the best of their capabilities.

24. It is no-one’s fault my capabilities have their limits. Least of all mine.

25. I hate to say it but my mum was right…. comfortable shoes and a bag worn on two shoulders is the way forward. Sorry I doubted you Mum!

26. I know this body best. There is very little point in being bamboozled by the medical terms and still not getting the help I need. No more struggling on, I will continue placing the right people and treatment around me.

27. There is pride and achievement to be found in the smallest things. Put my own hair up? Great. Put 3 loads of washing away? Awesome.

28. I will not feel ashamed for repeatedly hitting rock bottom. It is my right to cry and say this life is too hard. Because it is. But I will always fight on for my little family.

29. I will not lie. I will explain each struggle to my beautiful girl so that she understands why Mummy must cry sometimes. She will not be afraid of tears. She will know they are healing sometimes and that Mummy fights on.

30. I will always remember my place in my little family with a girl who loves me and a husband who supports and cares for me in ways I have never afforded myself so that I can enjoy our life together. I will not forget how lucky I am to belong to you both.

Here’s to a very successful 30s!

Happy Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month

No, it’s OK… you don’t actually have to be happy about it. This month, I do not celebrate cerebral palsy because the notion is ridiculous. I celebrate the determination of those I cherish as friends, of myself to live a good life in spite of it all. It’s not easy… It’s never bloody easy. But everything I have is mine. And I am embracing the Month for the first time ever to begin, with a full heart, the lessons I am charged with teaching my little girl about (in)equality, diversity, struggles, acceptance and self love.

I would swap my spine, my hips, my legs in a heartbeat. I am not ashamed of that and whole-heartedly believe there is no one alive with the right to chastise me or tell me I should believe otherwise.

You see, the untold trials of cerebral palsy may be taking me over long before I gave permission but it is not all I am.

This is Kev. My husband. The person that holds me when all I can do is sob and hate every inch of my ruined muscles. Kev who tells me I amaze him because I haven’t allowed myself to drown in these tears in 30 years. Because I stubbornly insist on carrying on.

He is the man that told me there was nothing I couldn’t do, nothing I couldn’t be, if I’d just let myself believe I could do it.

He is the reason I ever left my hometown. The reason I made home be somewhere new.

He is the reason I ever got behind the wheel of a car, the reason I kept going for 7 long years before that little pink licence was in my hand.

He is the reason I am only 2 years away from graduating with a university degree all of my own. I am the reason I started 8 years after all of my friends, but he is the reason I ever took that first step. Because he knew I could when I didn’t.

He is the reason I am a mother. The most sacred of all of my identities.

Mummy to this one. The most precious girl in the world.

This is Immy Squidgelet. 2 years old now and every inch herself. Funny, bright, helpful, inquisitive, loving, sweet… stroppy like her mum.

I never knew I could love someone so completely. That I could craft and meet part of me and think she was the best person ever. This little girl took part of me I never knew I had to spare and she made the best little human out of it, as if just to show me what I really can do. She amazes me every day. I still cannot believe I belong to someone so wonderful. I still look over at Kev and say “I’m her mummy. She’s mine!” The pride I feel whenever I get to say “my daughter”.

This little girl taught me why I must love myself. I am not there yet but she shows me why I must. If I cannot learn to accept the things that make me different then I cannot reasonably expect her to either and that’s just not going to work. I will not have my daughter so negatively affected by something she hasn’t asked for.

She is my reason for fighting on. There are days upon days where I just want to slump on the floor and give up and this one…. she need only come to me and say “Cuggle Mummy” and I have everything to live for. I will not let the part of me I didn’t ask for affect the part of me I am proudest of.

And so believe me when I tell you, I am very Aware of Cerebral Palsy Every. Damn. Month. But it aside, I can be proud of myself. I cannot hope for new body parts and so I must appreciate that I do in fact, have everything I need.

Immy and Kev…. you will never, ever know how proud and grateful this CP warrior is to belong to you both. I thank whoever is up there every day that I have you both and for giving me somewhere to belong. For showing me that CP is not all I am. For not letting me be alone with this. I love you both endlessly.