I See You, Mummy

This is the most loving thing my daughter could say. For one reason or another, be they my physical reasons or my emotional and mental reasons, I have spent much of my life feeling invisible. Invisible, inadequate and never enough. But through my daughter’s innocent and loving eyes, I know I have a place and a purpose.

When I was in cognitive behaviour therapy at the start of last year, my counsellor recommended that I write letters to myself, addressing my sadness and my struggles. I call the series “Dear Me, Who Is”. There are instalments like “tired”, “trying hard”, “part of a family” and it helps me speak kindly to myself, as if I were another person. I have spent much of my life wishing to be another person, but being able to separate the “selves” that I have battled against allows me the chance to examine and ponder without quite such harsh levels of criticism. In fact, the letters often serve as nice reminders that I am, even in times of stress, doing well.

I don’t know why, but I write them with a photo of me attached. I think it was because I began to notice in the memories that all photos portray when I was sad, when the world felt dark. I could read what my smiles were hiding, when my eyes were dull. Equally, I could be reminded of the times that I was genuinely happy, happy to be me. Again, not looking at myself with a critical eye, but with empathy and kindness.

Kev likes to put all of our photos onto a loop on our TV. Squidge loves to see them too, to remember the places she has been, the fun she has had and how big she has grown. Some of them I struggle to look at for the reasons I have outlined above, because I know what I was feeling in each image and I am acutely aware that I haven’t always been very good at sharing those feelings, so Kev might not know how sad it makes me to revisit certain memories.

In times of lockdown, almost into my third trimester of my second pregnancy, I am increasingly feeling inadequate and not enough. This time last year, that would have had me turning in on myself, to an ugly degree. I would have blamed myself, I would have hated myself. I have long been my own worst enemy

Yet, yesterday, as I watched the photos flick through on our TV screen, I felt different. I don’t know why, but I was so relieved that I did.

This photo was taken on our 4th wedding anniversary, during our first family to Newquy in September 2019. There was a lovely view, so we braved the fierce wind and walked outside to a bench to admire the sea, something that always makes me feel peaceful.

What I used to see

The fact that my hair was a mess. That I have hands that can’t get my hair out of the way so I don’t alays have to look a state. I really used to get annoyed at myself

What I see now

The fact that the wind was whipping our hair – mine & Squidge’s! I can feel the force and chill of it on my face and it reminds me that we were happy that day. We were together, we were laughing and smiling at the wind being out of control. That’s what you want your mum to be isn’t it? Laughing and smiling. Not caring about her hair!

This photo was taken on another day of our Newquay holiday. I didn’t think I’d actually seen it before, but when I saw it yesterday, I didn’t think about how much I hate my nose, or how static my hair was. I was glad my mind didn’t go straight to the negative.

What I see now

I can see my family, my world, smiling. We’re all together, we’re having fun. My eyes aren’t hiding any sadness, they’re happy, glad not to have to think of anything other than the fun we will have.

I’m actually impressed I managed to get my hair up this day. I tried not to care too much about how I looked when we were on holiday, because we were going to have fun together whatever. But I did try and practice the instructions a lovely hairdresser had given my awkward hands for putting up a ponytail and in this photo, I can see I did a good job, given that it’s hard for me to do.

Even my skin looks pretty clear. I don’t look like the tired, frightened little girl I am so used to seeing. I look like a happy mum

This photo was taken when Kev & I were on holiday together in Cuba in 2018. It took a lot for us to get there. We were originally supposed to go there on honeymoon in June 2016, but the Zika outbreak and Squidge’s imminent arrival meant that it was off and in fact, it took Kev being made redundant from a job he worked so hard at to provide for us all in order for us to be able to go again.

I hadn’t wanted to leave Squidge, almost 2 at the time, but once there, it was the most enjoyable, peaceful week of my life.

What I used to see

Again, I used to look at this and think “Why am I such a state? Why couldn’t I have done my hair? Or gone on a bikini diet for the holiday? God, I’m so fat and lazy and I always use my CP as a barrier to taking care of my appearance! So it’s my own fault I can’t look better.”

What I see now

Me, at peace. I’m happy. That smile is real. I’m wearing one of my favourite dresses and actually, I look in pretty good shape for someone that spent their entire lives convinced their legs, incapable of working as others do, were repulsive. My hair might be frizzy, but God, there wasn’t any stopping that in Cuban humidity, why would I waste precious holiday time caring about that? I am a tired, hard-working mum, I deserved to enjoy this holiday. This was a holiday my wonderful husband planned for years and I am so happy to be there with him. I am a happy wife and I’l go home to Squidge a happy mum.

I like who I am in this picture. I have grown. I am not a frightened little girl. I am a calm and happy woman. I can feel sun on my skin. I am having fun with the person I love most in the world. I deserve this. I will savour it.

These photos have helped me see myself as my daughter and my husband see me. I have never really been able to do that before. The hatred inside of me for the person I thought I was has always been so sure that they are the ones who are blinkered, that they see me wrong.

Amongst all the struggles, the darkness and the self-hatred, I am slowly able to see who I truly am. I may not be this person every day, because sadly, sans lottery win, not every day can be a holiday, but I see who I really am to the people I love. I see the woman I have become. I feel how happy she was in these moments when the little girl that came before her never thought there were days like this out there to be lived.

I see that I will be OK.

I see that I am enough.

I see you, Mummy.

Happy 2020 – 10 years in review

Another year has rung in. Everyone on social media is doing the #10yearchallenge to contrast (and hopefully celebrate) the decade gone by.

But it’s more poignant for me. At the end of the month, (January 30th to be exact) it will be 10 full years since, a bit worse for wear, I met a man outside my favourite nightclub. We didn’t know it then, but I would become this man’s wife and I would become the mother of his children.

In the last 10 years, I have hit so many milestones, so many I never expected to, because I just didn’t believe I could.

But that’s OK, because Kev did.
In the last 10 years, I have

fallen in love

With a wonderful man that loves me too, when I never thought it could be possible

🏠 moved out of my family home

🌆 moved cities (twice)

I hate moving. I’m very glad to call South Wales my adopted home now.

💍 got engaged

👰 got married
It will be our 5th wedding anniversary this September. I have absolutely no idea where that time went, but am so pleased to report we are still very much where we belong. Together.

👩‍💻 started my OU degree

This is one of the things I am proudest of. I started my six year course 4 weeks into married life, because I’d finally run out of excuses as to why I couldn’t, and so I knew I had to try. This is the one thing that is simply for me, and I am on course to graduate next year. I don’t know how the time has gone so fast, but I love it so much.

gone to Disneyworld

Here I learned that if you’re sat in a wheelchair (because walking hurts when you’re 3 months pregnant and have CP to contend with) most of the employees assume you’re deaf and mute and just talk over you! It made me feel so sad.

🚄 gone to Paris & the Moulin Rouge!
I have wanted to go to Paris since I was young, after falling in love with the film Moulin Rouge. I finally made it there with my best friend in the world when I was 5 months pregnant and snuck Squidge some prosecco during the show. Not gonna lie, she loved it – and so did I! A total bucket list weekend and I’m so glad I had a friend that was determined I would live it – even if it meant her pushing me in a wheelchair up the hideous inclines of Parisian hills.

👶 met Squidge and finally understood what I am for 😍
What can I say? After the trauma of our birth story, this little girl is my greatest gift.

🏠 bought our forever home
Not going to lie, in places it is a shambles. But like I said, we’re never moving again without a lottery win, so we’re determined to spend our lives making it our own little peace of heaven. I love having somewhere to feel safe that is all mine. I never thought it would happen and credit one incredibly hard working husband that I am incredibly proud of.

🚗 got my driving licence after 7 years
Hardest won fight of my life I think. I can’t say I enjoy driving and I am not confident and even a year later only go where I have to. But that doesn’t have to matter does it? The point is, I’ve given myself choices, because someone believed in me enough that I indeed proved I can.

🏝 gone to Cuba and swam with dolphins
I’d recommend Cuba as a holiday destination to anyone. I have the beaches at sunset as my background on my work laptop for when I need a bit of peace. I was so scared to leave Squidge for the first time, but I swear, that island was paradise, and in contrast to Disney, I couldn’t believe how attentive the locals were to my CP. They didn’t know what it was. They didn’t ask. They just looked me in the face and asked if I wanted their hand. It was wonderful to be treated like a person, to feel the beautiful sun on my skin. If you ever get the opportunity to go, go! You won’t regret it.

👨‍👩‍👧 took Squidge on her first family holiday

A week in Devon contrasted against Cuba somewhat. But it was Squidge’s first holiday and it was honestly heaven. We were just a family. Time was a concept that went out the window and I felt so peaceful. Squidge took the lead on our activities and we showered her with attention and it was bliss. It taught me that my family is the centre of everything for me, and put me at peace with the idea that work will have to end soon, because my body demands it. I have so many much more enjoyable days at home to look forward to.

[/humblebrag]

I know it probably feels like I am bragging horrendously. Maybe I am. I apologise, that’s not the intention.

2019 has been a year of self care for me. Investing in CBT courses and private therapy because I did not feel at peace with myself, despite the enormous blessing of my family. It has been hard not to slip back into the lingering darkness that is depression. It has been hard to fight against the voice in my head, which I believe implictly to be myself, which seems so angry at me.

But it has been the most important battle. Highlights like the ones listed above show me how much I have achieved, when there was a time in my youth I honestly believed I wasn’t capable of achieving anything. It is so important for me to recognise the things I have done well, to recognise the invaluable support I have had from my family, whom I love so much.

More than anything though, as I took a deep breath on New Year’s Eve, I realised that I am worthy of each of these blessings. Some are made of good fortune and luck, but others I have seriously had to work at. I deserve happiness. I do. Because what is life without it?

Wasted. And in this body, with the challenges I have to face year in and year out, I really don’t have that much left to waste. And life itself will never stop challenging any of us will it? So why fight it? Why spend so much time feeling drained for battling against the things I cannot control? My energy is too precious, time is too damn precious.

2020 I shall strive to make the most of them both.

I sincerely hope you do too.

Happy New Year.

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.

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.