Thank You For Being A Friend

You’re halfway across the world right now. You met a boy and moved halfway across the world to be happy together. The day you told me you were going, I smiled and hugged you goodbye, full of happiness for you for the adventures you would have that I’ve never been brave enough to dream of. But as we waved you off on the coach that day, I burst into tears and said to Kev “She’s my best friend and I’m never going to see her again.”

You haven’t come home yet, but you’ve also refused to fade from my life as I feared you would. Not through any fault of your own of course, your priority has to be the life you’re building now in the sunshine. I feared it would be down to me, never managing to keep up with time differences, struggling to think of constantly positive things to say, even when they existed, because I was struggling so much. I didn’t want to blacken your new life by being honest about the extent of my struggles, even though I knew you were one of few people on this earth I could share them with completely.

I struggle to do that with a lot of my able friends but you’ve never tried to advise me, like it could come from a place of knowing. Your face hasn’t ever contorted into nauseating sympathy. Instead, you’re the friend who I trust implicitly to say “That’s shit. Let me get you a drink.”

I so need that in my life. I need you. That true friend that normalises me because it’s never occurred to you to treat me any differently. Thank you.

Because of you, there are beautiful blooms here with me for Mother’s Day. From all the way across the world, you decided to celebrate my greatest achievement with me. Because you absolutely know that that is what Squidge is for me. You’re not obliged to value that in any way but you do because you know I give it my all.

These beautiful flowers will meet their inevitable end in my hands because I’m terrible at remembering to water them. But I know you know that about me. The fact you thought about me is enough to make me smile every time I walk past them. I like having a little bit of you back with me. The note that told me what an incredible mum you know me to be to my precious girl made me feel like you were stood next to me, chatting away. It made me happy.

So, even if I am inevitably rubbish at checking in, know that I love you. You are the best friend all this growing up gave me. You are, as I discovered yesterday the only woman besides his wife and mum that Kev has ever deemed worthy of buying dinner for. That is to say, we know how lucky we are to have you in our lives (and if he didn’t pay, he bloody well will when you’re back on these shores!)

I love you, darlin’ girl. Thank you for always being my friend from everywhere you are.

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.

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.

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.

Acting Your Age

Strangely enough, this post is about me, not the Squidgelet. She’s having no problem acting her age. She is great most of the time – She sweetly says “Please Mummy” whenever she wants to steal some of my breakfast & “Thank you Mummy!” mostly unprompted when I hand over said breakfast that I probably didn’t need to eat anyway.

And then there are the fantastic tantrums. They wash over me now because it’s not worth getting frustrated at a little person coming to terms with the surge in their own emotions. I’m worse than that. I tend to find them funny – my favourite so far being when she threw herself onto her bedroom floor utterly distraught and screaming because we wouldn’t allow her “Caaaaaake!” before bedtime. (Definitely my daughter people!)

It’s me struggling. I’m 30 next year. All around me, people are living. Maybe not their best lives but their lives are still full of energy. I meanwhile, am exhausted and fear living like a pensioner many years before my time.

I got up just after 7am today because my eyes sprang open as soon as the Squidgelet called. I haven’t slept in properly in weeks and I rarely sleep through either. I went to the hairdressers to get my hair done in time for our holiday and then I went and grabbed some bits from the supermarket. I was home by 2:30 – and yawning. I fell asleep sitting on the sofa which I only realised when my elbow lurched off my knee meaning my chin was no longer propped up. And why… Why am I so shattered?

Kev asked if I wanted to go nap which is a sensible question for me now. I refused… not because of the stubbornness of old but because… what’s the point? Unlike the other 29 year olds out there, I have no sodding use for any scrimped for energy. There’s no Saturday drinks and dancing heading my way is there? My energy’s too spent on getting through each day for invitations like that to still be coming my way.

And I understand. There’s only so long that you can flog a dead horse after all. Problem is, I worry I might be the dead horse… just with another 40 or 50 years of this utter exhaustion before I’m actually dead and done. It’s such a sad and scary prospect.

My little girl is going to be grown up and gone before I know. And I worry my energy will be all gone by then… Maybe taking my friends with it. They have been so understanding… They always say “Oh… life gets in the way.” But it does… more than I think they know. And I’m just not sure how to be OK with a body that conspires against me. I miss fun.