My best friend

The loneliness of this life is real baby girl. I know a lot of mums feel this way, like they lose their identity a bit with their tiny human needing them more than anyone before.

Pause it there. It is so crucially important to me that you always know that I do not feel this way because I am a mum. Being your mum, Squidgelet, has been a transformation for me. You are my anchor, the sense of purpose I didn’t know I was missing before I met you.

My sense of identity has been eroded by CP. Fatigue is too fluffy a term for it. It just makes me think of damsels in distress, fanning their brow dramatically til the cavlry rocks up

You’re my cavalry Squidge.

When I was glancing wistfully at the well groomed mums at playgroup, wishing they’d be my friends, like I might be one of them (that is, capable of drinking gin AND holding a conversation circa 8pm) you snapped me out of it by wanting to build castles.

I feel so guilty. Like, all the time. It’s as though no matter what, I’ll never feel I’m good enough for you because I’m always so depleted.

This morning was a shouty one. God knows what next door thought of me as I tried to push you out into the rain. You were crying then but I just wanted to get to the doctors on time.

You walked so well. No complaints, so road aware, so helpful. I have so much love for you Squidgelet and this morning I didn’t show it. I’m sorry.

We’ve played all day. Soft play, gymnastics and even a sneaky chocolate biscuit in between for being such a rockstar – right down to nagging Mummy like your Granny used to, telling me to stand up straight to save my back ache.

I love so much chatting away to you as we make our inevitable trip to Morrison’s so you can push a little trolley. There are always so many people in the supermarket and I don’t need anyone but you. You make me laugh as we sing questions to each other or you burst out in a new rendition of Big Girls Don’t Cry. I played you Frankie Valli when you were in my tummy and I love so much that one of my loves stuck with you.

I am so proud that even at a time of your life when you’re wrangling with your own emotions, you always remember to look after me – holding my hand or picking up your toys so I don’t fall.

Being able to spend any time with you feeds my soul and brings me happiness I cannot put into words. It helps me feel right in a world where I just feel so overwhelmed and out of place. You give me that, just by existing. You amaze me.

Life is tough for Mummy right now which means it’s hard on you and Daddy too.

But more and more, I realise now, it doesn’t matter. Because whatever comes at us, you’ve already told me… “We’ll do it together”.

And that, darling girl, is truly all I need. Thank you.

Priorities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My little cheerleader

It feels so strange to say it, but this last week or so, I have been on top of the world. Tired, but accomplished and oh so proud.

Knowing that I struggle and knowing that I don’t want to hide forever, I have taught Squidgelet to say 2 phrases on demand:

“Take your time Mummy’

&

“Come on Mummy, you can do it!”

I love so much that she’s so willing to support me in this way because, whilst I confess I am easily overwhelmed, she remains the reason I do everything and her words calm and focus me so much.

We are home alone today and I was determined not to waste it slobbed out in front of Youtube. Despite how much the thought scared me, we got in the car and I drove. Somewhere new. And when I pulled perfectly into the space, Squidge declared: “Mummy did it!” I was so proud.

Today, for the first time ever, I took Squidgelet swimming on my own. She’s two-and-a-half now, with such amazing communication and empathy for her mummy. I have always been too scared, terrified I might fall.

But she listened to my every instruction, always looking back as she held my hand to make sure our small and steady steps on the slippery surface were keeping pace.

She splashed, she jumped, she kicked her powerful little legs and swam all on her own. It was almost as though, with her buoyancy vest on, she didn’t need me. But better than that, she wanted me there.

I struggle to pull myself up onto the side of the pool, but my beautiful girl pulled me the rest of the way by pulling my shoulders with all her might, so determined was she to push me in again.

I’ve never had so much fun!

I dreaded getting dressed again but kept my voice calm and we talked through every step together. I even managed to coax a hesitant Squidge into the showers. I have learnt everything is a matter of making time for it. No need to get annoyed. No rush.

And here is our #successselfie

My awesome little sidekick and me, all dressed.

I had some shopping to get so decided on lunch in Morrison’s 2 minutes away. Parked perfectly there too.

Squidge, very well rehydrated after swimming had an accident as I sat her in the trolley. Potty training is going really well so we’re at the stage of pants rather than nappies and we’re just starting to have dry days.

Related to the cerebral palsy I believe, I had bladder incontinence issues well into my teens that was resolved by medication in the end. I have never forgotten the shame or lengths I would go to to conceal the problem so I wouldn’t have to miss anything fun. I fully believe Squidge has the same excitable logic and I absolutely refuse to let her feel one iota of the shame I did. We carry 10 changes of clothes and handle everything with a “No worries.”

We got her changed and enjoyed lunch together

Pretty much as soon as this orange juice was consumed in one slurp, there was another accident. She waddled back to the toilets, but I praised her highly, remembering too well how uncomfortable it is to walk with soaked legs.

Quick wardrobe change and Squidge was back in the trolley, diligently ensuring all our purchases were well placed.

I adore her and didn’t care a jot when she admitted to “Poo!” as we were at the checkout. It’s much better to see the hilarity in heading back to the toilets for the third time in 2 hours and wondering how I hadn’t been questioned for shoplifting.

The freedom that my determination to show Squidge that there’s “No worries!” is immeasurable. It, and she, are doing me the world of good right now.

Mummy did it, Squidge!

30 things I have learnt in 30 years of being me

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

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

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

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

  1. I am a dedicated mum

  2. I am determined

  3. I want the best for myself

  4. I am stubborn

  5. I cannot read minds

  6. The Little Monster cannot be defeated, only managed

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

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

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

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

  11. To ask for help is empowering and positive

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

  13. Self care is vital – and allowed

  14. It is OK not to be OK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s to a very successful 30s!

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 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.