Please, Ask Me What It’s Like to Be Me

This is written from a place of emotion. CBT tells me that I shouldn’t always listen to my emotional voice. It’s loud and often angry. Mental equilibrium is achieved by letting the rational voice in, to quieten the emotional voice and calm the mind.

But, what I have realised is, my mind cannot be calmed if it cannot believe it is in charge of my body. It doesn’t. I don’t. So, this comes from a place of struggling, of raw pain. Of wishing there could be just a little more understanding.

I offered some insight into my life to a hard-at-work author today, who wants to portray someone, like me, with mild CP in his book. I haven’t seen many such characters (though maybe that’s on me to widen my reading, I get that). But talking to him, telling him my truth was strangely cathartic. I was glad I did it.

See, a lot of my historic experiences have shown me that society believes (and the media often expects) that one disabled person can speak for us all. For me, that figurehead seems to be Tanni Grey Thompson. A very accomplished woman. I will not insult either of us by calling her inspiring. To me, she is just a woman living her life as best she can. After all, that’s all any of us can be right? But to the media, she is the person to (literally!) roll out to explain any disabled related issue to the rest of us. I got sick of the sight of her on TV to be honest and the poor woman has done nothing wrong. But the point is, she does not speak for me, even on the occassions when our opinions align. For starters, we have very different conditions. Tanni has spina bifida. I do not. She uses a wheelchair. I do not. Not all the same see?

I cannot speak to the life experiences of every disabled person, or even every person with the exact same condition as me (spastic diplegia cerebral palsy, in case you wondered). Cerebral palsy has many types, on many spectrums and effects each life differently.

I spent my teenage years, my physically better years pretending it wasn’t there. I’d cry everytime I caught sight of my scissor pattern staggering in shop windows, because that wasn’t the person I was in my mind’s eye. To me, so long as I cou;dn’t see it, I was the same as everybody else.

Except, now, I know this is the wrong approach. The physical toll has worsened. I live in a body worn to an age about 20 years above my documented age. Now, I live in fear of aging. I will not die any sooner as a result of my condition. But at 60 years old, I will likely feel as most people do physically towards the end of their lives. I will be facing, statistically, another 15-20 years, a gift I’m sure. Except, what does 20 years past the end of life feel like? No-one can know can they? I am terrified.

And that’s not what people want to hear. People want to tell me I’m strong and brave and quite frankly, I’m sick of it. Those are token words, they are not what I feel, not by a long shot. I’m not living this life because I’m strong or brave, or (shudder!) an inspiration. I am living this life because I have a family and dreams to live for. Because to not live this life takes away the pride I feel at belonging to them all. I live this life simply because there are people too important to not be here to love and enjoy.

I suppose the argument I have with myself, rightly or wrongly, is that people hide in these platitudes because they cannot know what it is like to be me. I get that. But please, please don’t be afraid to ask. If I’m having a good day, I’ll say it is what it is, that my husband, my daughter are all the reason I need to be OK with being me. If I’m having a bad day, I will probably cry. I will tell you I’m sick of being constantly sore and I’m too tired to do this anymore.

I realise how awkward it might make you feel. No-one really knows how to fix another do they? And I know I cannot be fixed. I long for it and I will not apologise for it. But I know in my heart that it is not a realistic expectation and am moving to take positive steps in self-acceptance, because I feel this is something I really need in my life when the prospect of living a long life has the power to frighten me so much. I have a lot to live for, but that doesn’t make the act of living any less hard.

So, if I’m in tears, if I can’t do this anymore, please don’t shy away. These limitations can be incredibly lonely. I don’t expect the world to fix me. I just need someone to ask, to wear an empathetic/sympathetic face. You don’t need to tell me I do “so well”. I need you to recognise that this is hard, to tell me that the constant struggles are rubbish and unfair. Everyone understands how hard life can be? How unfair?

Please don’t be afraid to ask. To hear. I will always fight on another day. I have things to fight for.

But sometimes, I just need someone to join me in a beaten heap on the floor, someone to help me get ready for the fight again.

Did I make you uncomfortable?

I’ve written before about earning the nickname of The Part Time Part Timer at work.

I made a flexible working request with my boss, who was brilliant and let me work from home as much as I deemed necessary without another word, so long as I was taking good care of my body and managing my pain.

It means I’ve been out of the office a lot more, seeing a lot less of even my colleagues on the field.

My boss tells me I should care about me and not what anyone else thinks of me, because my life is no-one’s business. He’s right of course, but I’m a born worrier.

I decided to try and take control of how rubbish the ill-informed jest made me feel. I know no harm is meant but that still doesn’t give such words the right to make me feel so bad.

So I decided to be honest. To share the details that would otherwise be missing from colleagues understanding about my absences from the office.

Someone asked me for some paperwork I hadn’t seen. I couldn’t find what they asked for. They said it was time sensitive and asked “Do you mind if I have a look? You might not have seen it…”

I moved back and started to say: “Of course not!” when they finished “…because you’re never here.”

My defense tightened in my chest. I knew they meant it in a light-hearted way but enough. I had the right to speak a truth they might not be aware of.

“Actually, I’ve had to work from home a lot more because I’m finding I’m in more and more pain.”

But they were talking again before I’d even finished the sentence.

“Oh, I shouldn’t have said that.”

That told me they weren’t really listening, batting my words away.

And why would they do that? I can only surmise it’s because the truth made them uncomfortable. I wonder if I’m supposed to feel apologetic. Because I don’t. My life, its ever increasing limitations make me uncomfortable every damn day. It’s only right to let that be the truth. I have to deal with it, it’s not my problem if others cannot.

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?

The Part-Time Part-Timer

This is the name I have gotten for myself at work. At first, it was playful banter. Don’t get me wrong, I work with a brilliant bunch of people and am fortunate enough to have the most supportive boss in the world, but recently, it has niggled more and more.

My life has always been in many parts. I can’t explain why I prefer to compartmentalise my “beings”, but I just find life easier to handle this way. And of course, my most important “being” without question is as a mummy.

So when I went back to work part-time in 2017, I smiled when the nickname arose. “I get to spend 2 days at home with my awesome baby girl, don’t hate me cos you ain’t me!” was pretty much my uber mature response.

When I was allowed to start working from home to ease my physical demands, I was in the office less, the nickname used more. Never with malice, this I know. Many people in my team are fulfilling much more complex roles than I am and all power to them. I work to live and I am not a career girl. I did not dream of climbing a big corporate ladder – I wanted to be a mum. So I am more than happy to muddle through on a part time job. I am fortunate enough to do so because my lovely husband is willing to shoulder more of the financial burden.

But it occurred to me, outside of my boss, who allows me to be very frank when I say how physically and emotionally exhausted I can get, no-one has actually asked what this new chapter of my life is like for me.

Not Social Services when I pleaded for help with my newborn, not the health visitor (who, by the way, still hasn’t called on us in the 18 months we’ve lived in this house, not even after our dash to A&E when Squidge decided to lick a washing tablet, but hey ho, just as well she’s fine eh?) I haven’t been asked about how my disability impacts my life since my days working in classrooms, when 10 year olds would inquisitively question what it was that made me walk funny.

No-one has asked me about this life in 4 long years.

And I suddenly feel that I want to tell them all, because they need to know.

They need to know that no matter where I am, I work all my hours (which, actually is 4 days worth, not 3.) I’m the first in and the last out. I’m not spending my days off on jollies, as much as I’d like to. Lunch dates are few and far between, because what I’m actually doing more often than not is catching up on sleep. Because I don’t sleep. Probably because my back was hurting from sitting in my office chair for nearly 11 hours, or because my leg muscles seized again and walking is too hard today.

I don’t just get to fill my days with trips to the park and evenings in the pub because there’s no work tomorrow. More often than not, I’m slumped half-dead on the sofa by 7:30. I daren’t make evening plans with a friend because I’ll inevitably cancel through exhaustion. (I last went out 6 months ago when I went to see Ed Sheeran. I gave myself almost a year’s notice, made myself nap for an hour that afternoon and still was exhausted by 10pm and Ed was nowhere near done!) I have very little hope of a social ife because I need to take care of me first. It’s so damn sad and yet, it remains all I get.

Work less hours then maybe? Well yes, but then how does the mortgage get paid? Do I not have the right to work and provide for my daughter? God forbid, I just become one of those “scroungers” on benefits. I detest that term by the way… do not judge it til you’ve lived it. And ironically, we’ve looked into it – I’m entitled to nothing from the state, despite the fact that I’ve paid in, or that I struggle to get through every day. And that would be fine were it based on any insight into my capabilities. But it’s not. It’s based on my husband’s income. Not even just my own. But his. And we’re too “rich” to ask for help, even though me having no income at all would probably put us on the breadline. It’s ludicrous, so work I must.

Give up on my degree maybe? I’ve thought about it, but this one thing is just for me. Something I work hard at, something I treasure, something I’m determined to show both myself and my daughter I can see through, that I am capable of anything. I’m determined to give myself better options for when the life I’m living now is no longer sustainable.

I’m giving this life my all and if you knew me well enough to ask, you’d realise that far too often, I’m left with very little to give.

And even on those kind of days, you’ll still see me at my desk. I’ll already have been there for hours by the time you come in at 9am. I’m not judging you, am I? I sincerely believe in work-life balance and think everyone should work to rule and get the Hell out by 5pm to go and live life, to be with your family. If you don’t agree, fine. Go get that promotion by next year if that’s what will make you happy.

But please, don’t call me a Part-Time Part-Timer. Yes, I work part-time hours at this job, but, my God, I am full-time everything else.

What CP is like for me

This is my contribution to a project of a new charity – Adult CP Hub.

Adult CP Hub

They are looking to bring awareness to how damn hard it is to age with this condition and I need to get behind it or I’m doing myself and my baby a disservice. I really look forward to seeing the finished film.

I wanted to share my video because it’s the easiest way to articulate some of the struggles I am having at the moment. This, right now, is me.

Please excuse my wonky eye… that would be my squint, I promise I am trying to look at the camera!