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.

Facing Fears

The pain I have been in and how useless it has made me feel these last couple of weeks came to a head on Friday night. When Kev arrived home at 6pm to bathe Squidge and put her to bed, I couldn’t speak, sinking into my sadness.

As Squidge requested that “Daddy read” her bedtime story, I ran a hot, hot bath hoping my muscles might relax. I climbed in and burst into tears.

I fell into an exhausted sleep at some point that evening but even then… the tears and the sadness didn’t stop. In truth, I think I cried for 18 hours straight.

I think I was grieving. Grieving for the mum I wasn’t capable of being, for the support and experiences my beautiful girl couldn’t have because of me.

Having no choice but to accept that I will always be sore. Maybe not quite this much, but always some. That the levels of pain will always have some level of control on what I am able to do. And that didn’t seem like much at all.

We had a wedding reception to go to. But I couldn’t face it. Told Kev I couldn’t face the crowds, the small talk, the exhaustion and feeling like an eternal party pooper.

And Kev was as understanding as he could possibly be and told me that was fine. Said Squidge should go to his parents as planned and I should take care of me. But I just cried harder, I felt lost. If I wasn’t going to go, then I wanted to spend the weekend giving my time and energy to our little girl because the pain had let me fail her.

But Kev was right when he said I had no energy left to give, that to try when I was running on empty would be to everyone’s detriment. And I felt awful. Because more choices were being taken from me, because I couldn’t be the mum I so want to be.

Feeling like that though, how on earth was I supposed to go and have a nice, relaxing day to myself? When, not only would I be letting my daughter down, but also friends who were expecting me to celebrate their most special day with them? The prospect felt hollow and oh so lonely. I knew that if I was left alone, the horrible grieving tears had no chance of stopping. I didn’t know who to reach out to, because who can understand all the facets of this life?

The lessons of my Cognitive Behavioural Therapy course were also ringing loudly in my ears.

Face. Your. Fears.

Avoidance only offers temporary relief.

So, I took baby steps. My breathing wasn’t quite regular even when I got in the car with Kev, London bound. I didn’t know at that point whether I could talk myself into going to the reception. But it didn’t matter. I didn’t have to be alone.

And I went. I went into a room in a dress that made me feel pretty, in shoes that didn’t make me wince (Calla are literal lifesavers… I never thought shoes could make me happy) and I enjoyed the small talk, I enjoyed seeing so many happy people in one room. There was always a glass of Prosecco in my hand and it took hours of propping up the bar before my feet started to ache. I tried desperately not to pay attention to the time, to not bring myself down by feeling like a let down.

As it was, I admitted defeat just before 10pm – a solid effort for me. Kev was equally triumphant on my behalf and came back to the hotel with me without a word of complaint. I was a warm and happy drunk and felt accomplished with it.

I’d listened to the CBT advice and accomplished something for me, faced my fear of social situations, feeling like I couldn’t fit in a roomful of energetic happy people.

And I went to bed and slept for a good long time.

Exactly what I needed. Well done me.

What does it mean to be a grown up?

I am *gulp* 30 this spring.

I have always been someone that thought those 5-10 years older were the coolest and totally had their lives and identities figured out. As it is, I’m not even sure it’s cool to label someone as “cool” anymore. But the point is, when I was 7, I thought 11 year olds were the best. When I was 11, 15 year olds were all I could ever want to be. When I was 21, 25 year olds around me seemed to have picked out their careers, loving partners and beautiful houses. They knew what they were doing.

But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised that age is simply that. The wisdom that the older generation informed us came with age is distinctly lacking with my fellow millennials. We’re all frantically paddling underwater, as it were. No-one has a bloody clue.

As far as my own identity goes, that’s always been a bit of a muddle too. I was very forunate to meet my husband at a very young age, to know I’d met someone that so wanted to understand everything I am, to support me in discovering everything I could be. Being with Kev has given me experiences I couldn’t have dreamt of had I not left my hometown. Before the big 30, I have a collection of Very Important Papers – our marriage certificate, Squidge’s birth certificate, the titles to our home and my driving licence. In just those few, I realise I have more than some people ever do.

Equally however, some of those people have something I am still grappling with: self assurance.

I have always wanted to be one of those millennial lifestyle bloggers; you know the type – work hard, play hard, has had a favourite wine picked out since their early 20’s that they can drink by the gallon on a Saturday night, chased up with flaming Sambuccas as they happily get to know a dozen new people in a heaving bar, probably somewhere in London where said wine costs £15 a glass.

I waste so much of my waning energy berating myself for not being that person. Except, what with the journey of self acceptance I am on thanks to the support of the Mental Health team, I have to realise I cannot hope to be who I am not. I have to realise that I am OK.

Admittedly, I feel very out of place sometimes, like I haven’t managed to learn things about myself that other people have by my age. I don’t wear make up for example, because at 29 years old, I physically can’t apply it. I don’t have a signature lip culour or a go to perfume, or a protective face I can paint on to make myself feel safe or beautiful. I am just me.

I can’t style my hair. This one I am looking to tackle because I’d like to look a little different. But I really don’t think I could be bothered to waste time on ever-changing make-up trends when I could in fact be sleeping. Sleep is very important to me, to my abilities and my sanity. My Sleepstar eye mask has been one of the best purchases I’ve made so far this year. No flaming Sambuccas over here!

I think it is safe to say I am not living the life of my peers. I work from home more and more now, to manage my need for sleep and increasing hospital appointments for physical pains and mental struggles. There are no grand plans for travelling or holidays. Instead, there are savings to enable us to renovate our house into our forever home, for us to eventually become a one income family. I feel such a responsibility to contribute to all of these things before I am unable to contribute at all.

To me, being an adult is about having a pension plan, pension contribtions, shoes that don’t make me want to cry in pain. My sense of fun has waned in their favour as my energies and capabilities have left me. But I feel positive, for the first time in a long, long time. The Mental Health courses, in the first instances are allowing me to identify what the struggles are and what strategies are best employed to confront them.

I suppose, being a grown up is accepting that not being like everybody else is a good thing, that uniqueness should be appreciated and celebrated. Knowing that I don’t have to like gin, or avocado, or hot yoga (genuinely do not understand any of these concepts. I do like (cheap, sweet) rosé and sitting around surfing eBay and enjoying terrible 80’s films. (Grease 2 is on in the backgound as I write this and people, I’m not even sorry. It’s so awful that it’s brilliant). That to take advice late is better than taking none at all. (I’ve only just started using skin cream this year and I’ve switched from regular to camomile tea to better manage my anxiety.)

It’s being able to utilise good advice and routines. I recently began using Headspace as a tool to calm me down through guided meditation and breathing exercises. I can’t recommend it enough. It gives me somewhere to go when I need to destress, something I am doing to help myself. And I feel the benefits in my sleep alone.

There is a long way to go on this journey, as there is for all of us. But if there’s one thing we all need, it is hope. Hopefully some kind of aceptance comes along with that eventually, but for now, it feels good to be hopeful. I think I am ready to be a grown up.

Just in time right?

Facing up to the reality of stress

Months ago, I took myself to the GP and told her that I was overwhelmed and sad. She referred me to the Mental Health team who have in turn, given me the opportunity to attend some Stress Controll and Fulfilment classes.

I went to the very first session of the Stress Control Group yesterday. I was anxious about it all day, nerves writhing in my tummy. I couldn’t concentrate and got very little work done. So a stress course was essentially stressing me out, making me feel guilty for not applying myself to my paid work. Ironic isn’t it? But I walked to the venue, I walked through the door. Three people in the queue ahead of me asked to be directed to the same place, so I didn’t even need to feel daft and just walking into that room felt like such a big achievement. I was after all, there to help myself.

There were so many people in that room. It was amazing. You always think that you are the only one, when in fact, stress is as common as can be, causing so many related issues for us all, like constant physical pains. Who knew, right?

I felt quite panicky just being sat there and could feel myself losing my sense of “being in the room”, spiralling off into my own panic. I wanted to cry for all the struggling people they talked about in the case studies, I wanted to get up and run. It was hard to listen, though I laughed to myself when the course leader said exactly that – that concentration is always poor when we’re stressed and anxious. But she also kept saying that I was in the right place and it made me feel braver, safer.

I can’t pretend I listened well for the whole two hours because I know I didn’t. But some snippets really resonated with me.

We all have stress in our lives.

None of us can change what has gone before, so why waste emotional energy overthinking what you cannot change? What’s ridiculous is, I of course, know this, but hearing someone, a professional, say it out loud, the little monster that lives in my ear unclenched a little bit and stopped dead. Because it’s so true. You have to go on. And in spite of everything I have told myself I am not capable of, the one thing I know I am capable of is going on – nothing has killed me yet.

They told us that stress feeds itself on all your other stressors. So if you spend a long time feeling stressed and overwhelmed, chances are the thing that stressed you this week is not the thing that set off the stress of last week. You have to find ways of cutting the little monster off. And hopefully, that’s what these courses will enable me to do, to find happiness in the little things and to feel real pride for all my achievements.

And here’s my first one:

Our homework was to draw out our “vicious circle of stress” – all the things that stress us and how they manage to keep themselves going, so that we could try and work out ways of starving the stress. Now, I didn’t get that far, because honestly, my circle was far too busy to be a circle. A list of stressors came pouring out of me. And when I read it back, I realised that for years now, I have been dealing with a lot!

I haven’t necessarily dealt with these things well, these are things I am looking to learn, to help myself. But nevertheless, I am constantly dealing with a lot, even outside the standard “marriage, child, house” that it’s likely everyone else in that room was dealing with. I have pain, I have limitations, which in themselves need a lot of work on acceptance before the anger wins. I have uni, I have long-distance relationships to maintain and a lot of memories to process that have hindered my sense of independence and self-confidence.

And suddenly, I felt proud of myself for being able to carry on. I’m going to give myself less of a hard time. I never feel proud of myself. Me, myself & I have pretty much always struggled to get on, so honestly, this was a great start.

The mantra of the stress control course is something like “Face your fears. Be more active. Watch what you drink.”

Avoidance is a huge crutch of mine and the course already recognises that avoidance does work to control stress in the shor term. But avoiding your fears just builds them up into a more deep rooted problem longer-term and to be honest, I think therein lie a lot of my problems. They’ve gone unfaced for too long and have become a horrible, stubborn part of me that I hate, but that really has quite a grip on me.

So I’m trying to take the mantra to heart already, even without realising it.

The day before the course, I walked Squidge to playgroup. She needs constant bribing to get in the pram now because she’d rather walk, but we did OK.

She was patient, she listened (she even collected the Deep Heat lotion for me that morning when I was on the floor complaining that my “neck ow!” She handed me the container saying “Mummy medicine neck ow!” I was so blummin’ touched. She went into playgroup without a backward glance when previously she’s refused to go in without clinging to me. Well done Squidge, my big, brave, grown up girl.

Enjoying her soup before Wednesday’s playdate

I pottered round town, buying all the bits we needed and then I went back for me. She wolfed down some soup and went for a nap in preparation for a park playdate we had with a friend. But she wasn’t ready for me to wake her an hour later and howled like I was beating her whenever I made moves to get her dressed. She clung to me, sobbing, only comforted when I rocked her like I did when she was newborn. I felt awful, that my baby was so upset, that I couldn’t dress her, that we’d be late, what my friend would think.

As it was, we were only ten minutes late and my friend couldn’t have been kinder – and Squidge couldn’t have been more delightful, cooing over her baby boy and guzzling her babyccino like a pro.

Face your fears – I didn’t allow myself to cry off and let a friend down, or let myself feel terrible for doing so, like I didn’t deserve friends. I told myself (and Squidge!) that she was getting dressed because I knew we’d (both!) appreciate the experience much more when we were there.

Be more active – Two walking trips to town and back. Well done me!

Watch what you drink – I got a 12 bottle box of wine at cost price from work for Christmas, so I’m not gonna lie, I have been caning the rosé (which for a lightweight like me means 1x large glass, so only just topping my 14 units/week (maybe?) I’m probably not drinking to medical excess even now, but I know it’s still more than I really should. So yesterday, I had a small one.

See? Wins all round!

And today, I met up with another friend and her little girl at mine & Squidge’s favourite soft play and then they came up to play at the playground by our house for some outdoor time. They ran off to the basketball court together to run about and when they came back out, they were holding hands like the best of friends. My heart felt so huge with love in that second, I felt so happy.

Playing with her lovely friend on the “tee-taw” today – and absolutely not looking at Mummy’s camera!

The lovely mobile hairdresser came round too to check how I’d gotten on with the ponytail tuition and would you believe – I actually did it! Even with my weak hand, I got my hair up higher than I ever have before, so I have the skills there now. Just more practise and then I can learn a messy bun to go with my messy ponytail. (So relieved these are in fashion because these are what comes naturally to my wonky hands too!)

I am very proud of me. Because in these last 3 days, I have done a lot to benefit myself, which in the end can only mean the best of all things for Squidge. A little less avoidance from now on. Let’s see what the best of me looks like!

2019 – The Year of Self Care

So we’ve ambled into yet another new year. I won’t insult you with the salutation “Happy New Year” because honestly, I know for a lot of people, it isn’t. We put so much damn pressure on ourselves to make changes, do better, and is it really worth the emotional burden?

This year, I have decided not.

I have made resolutions, don’t get me wrong. With a view to being able to work less (because I ache, so much, so often) I want to make it a habit to save as much as I can, to make smart choices and not be wasteful. But that sentiment doesn’t just apply to money. It’s so absolutely true of energy too. Energy it turns out, is the most precious (read: lacking) of all my resources and I have wasted so much of it (even in years where I was so much less hindered by my physical state) wrangling with myself, being so angry at my failures or inabilities.

But it’s such a waste. To be so constantly exhausted makes me angry. To be so angry and embittered exhausts me. And round it goes. And I have to make the choice to break the cycle.

I have battled with negative self thought all my life. Mostly, I don’t like to be me. And it’s OK to say that. This existence is a battle and I don’t have to be ashamed of that because I’m still here, I haven’t given up. I’m too damn stubborn to give up, even when it feels like I should, just for the rest.

I don’t pretend I can just flick a switch, or that the nasty little voice in my ear will just be gone. It will take work. But I have chosen to accept that negative thoughts will happen, as they do to us all. I just need to be able to balance them with positive ones too. I think I need to hear myself say that I am doing well, to give myself chance to believe it.

And so far this year, I am doing OK. I have arranged play dates, I have spoken with friends and family. I’ve sat and made practical decisions like a portable screen riser so my poor neck doesn’t have to ache quite as much when I’m out of the house writing essays.

I even paid for a lovely hairdresser to come and show me how to do a ponytail. And what’s so daft is that I was so embarrassed to do it. I’m nearly 30, with awkward hands that just don’t know how to do the simplest things with my own hair. But maybe that’s not the fault of the hands. No-one ever showed me, because…. I don’t know, it was too hard? And how can I hope to know what I have never been shown? So I have taken that step. The lovely lady was probably 10 years younger than me, but she didn’t judge me for a second. I did, getting frustrated with myself when my hands wouldn’t follow her simple instructions.

But she saw that in me and was so kind, arranged to come back and show me the next step in short bursts. And I’m fortunate that messy ponytails are in, because that’s what we’ve got. I finally managed some semblance of a ponytail, all by myself, and mixed in with the embarrassment was a tinge of pride I am determined to hold on to. I’m going to push myself and I’m going to learn 1 way, 2 ways, maybe even 3 ways to do my own hair, so that I might look a tiny bit different for the first time in forever, to make me feel good. Why on earth shouldn’t I ask for help in doing that, if it will make me happy?

This will be the year of investing in me, of giving myself a good talking to. So it won’t just be “You didn’t bother to do x, y or z today Jo”, it will be countered with “Yes, but today, I needed to rest/do nothing”. It’s OK to take care. No-one else will do it for me.

And that’s OK too. I like to feel in control, of feeling like I know how to get the best out of this year.

I really hope you do too. I have no doubt that you deserve it.

Today, I am my own hero

What you probably don’t know about living with cerebral palsy is I am constantly robbed of choices. If I have to get up and go to work (the bills won’t pay themselves) on the morning when the screaming pain in my hips says I won’t walk without agony today, then I can’t see that friend I’ve missed for months. I can’t play with Immy. I can’t go buy the milk. I am constantly robbed of my hard won independence and it’s simply not fair. It’s actually damn frightening.

But today, I can say for the very first time in my life, I am my own damn hero.

I have been blessed with a kind, helpful and inquisitive daughter who never questions why it takes me more than one go to do pretty much anything. She has made everything possible for me.

Yesterday I was limping everywhere, terrified I’d have to let down my dearest friend… who incidentally understand this life more than anyone else I know. I was so angry the choice might be taken from me. But we made it.

And today, I’m home alone. It’s all on me which isn’t normally the case. I was so worried. Immy knew, so she slept in til 9:30 to make this day easier on me than yesterday.

I’ve driven to the supermarket, I’ve carried the bags in one hand and held Immy’s hand proudly in the other. I’ve cleaned, I’ve tidied, I’ve cooked… all things I have to stop and check for niggling aches or pains that say it’s too much, that I’m not capable. They haven’t come.

I bathed Immy by myself. A job I avoid because I’m terrified I’m a danger, that I can’t protect her. I washed her hair (a job I NEVER do) and then I sat on the toilet seat with her wrapped up in my lap, brushed her hair and her teeth and got her ready for bed. She read 5 story books to me and flopped her head down on me, stroking my arm and whispering “Awww Mummy” before she took herself up to bed.

Today, I have been nothing but Mummy. I haven’t had to struggle through this day like all the others.

This is the day I’ve wanted to live since the day she was born. To just be Mummy.

Still so full of pride

I am currently full of a lot of mum guilt.

I feel like I am not giving the Squidgelet any time at the moment. I’ve spent my days off either working on my uni essay (submitted 3 weeks ahead of time to compensate for our holiday in 2 weeks) or ill and therefore avoiding her.

And germs. Let’s not forget the germs.

Week before last I had norovirus, so the in-laws came and rescued Squidgelet before I could infect her. I woke the poor love up with my vomiting in the bathroom next to her bedroom at 6am. It’s hard to console the concerned calls of “Mumma? Mummy?!” between retching. I was better in time for my big sister’s wedding and Squidge had a blast, running around, dancing to Baby Shark and eating her bodyweight in cake,

But last week, I had physio, which is miles away, very expensive and therefore cannot be missed. It takes nearly a whole day. I recently changed my days at work with good intentions and then realised my physiotherapist is only available on a day I’ve agreed to work. Now, I only go every 8 weeks (see, expensive!) so my boss is not bothered by an infrequent swap but it does mean a day less with my girl every 8 weeks.

And now, just in time for my very first Friday off with Squidge, I’ve caught someone’s cold. I am an absolute germophobe and am enraged by ill people coming into the office. Work from home you selfish [insert favourite swear word here]. So instead, we’re £45 out of pocket sending Squidge to nursery for the day so I can concentrate on sweating out the lurgy in time for the weekend.

Mum guilt sucks.

I feel terrible about going on holiday even. We’re finally going to Cuba – the honeymoon destination Kev picked out for us 3 years ago that was scuppered by Squidge’s very presence in my belly and the threat of the Zika virus. I am really looking forward to it, as it is to be our last “grown up” holiday before we give in to ten years of Butlins and theme parks. Yes, I’m a terrible mother who’s leaving my baby behind. But I’m being very measured about that of course. Not. I’ve reiterated to another of my big sisters that I want her and her partner to raise Squidge alongside their daughter if the plane crashes out of the sky.

Happy holiday everyone!


Mummy madness aside, today, Facebook memories threw up this perfect little gem from one whole year ago.

I never knew pride like it. She’d been cruising and holding our hands from about 8 or 9 months old, but we were just playing on the bedroom floor and she got up and she just did it, like she was made for it. Her confidence (unlike my immune system it seems) has gone from strength to strength.

Squidge really is flourishing. We have a playground on the opposite side of our road and I’ve been bundling my gorgeous girl up in the big warm, winter coat from last year that she’s grown in to and we’ve been kicking and crunching the autumn leaves, I’ve been listening to her shriek with delight as she runs around shouting “Ready! Steady! Go!” at the top of her little lungs. She is so “‘appy!” (That’s our current favourite Squidge-ism!)

She’s been really getting to grips with her alphabet, throwing her alphabet bricks around the lounge when the mood takes her, or calming handing them to you one by one and more often than not, correctly declaring the letter on it. (My favourite is “Ah-oh-woo!” – W!) She did the whole thing flawlessly the other day – Kev was staggered.

And so, while I sit in a million layers, sniffling in front of the fire and feeling sorry for myself, I can take absolute pride in how my little Squidgelet is coming on in the world. And maybe the guilt can lessen a bit because this one is her own person and she is doing just fine. So it’s OK to take care of me too – I’ll be back crunching leaves in no time!