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!

I am too important

I fell over in the supermarket last week. It was not my fault. This I know – displays should not obstruct aisles to the point of injury.

And yet, as I sat on the floor recovering, flanked by 2 lovely strangers who stayed to check I could get up safely, familiar feelings crept in.

Embarrassment. Vulnerability. Shame.

The dull ache of whiplash and resultant stiff muscles ruled my weekend. I cried all weekend, so overwhelmed by misery.

I hate to feel useless. But I feel it more and more. My confidence, ever fragile, is destroyed by every fall. I am going out less and less. I can feel the independence I wrangled for creeping away from me, each of us withdrawing into ourselves. We’re separate again now, you see.

That’s not OK. I grieve every day. I was never allowed to recognise that process when I was younger. I was supposed to be grateful that I had legs that worked and that wasn’t worse. I have been haunted by “it could have been worse”.

I don’t try and deny that grief anymore. I think that by accepting it and letting myself say with the finesse of a child that it is unfair, I am saying it cannot overwhelm me.

Sometimes it still does, this weekend being a prime example. So overrun with emotions – shame and hatred among them – I was desperate to lash out at the body that fails me and punishes me in doing so. Rationally I knew it would achieve nothing, but I was so overrun with hatred for the body I can never turn away from or escape.

It gets so very lonely, being on the fringe of so many parts of society. I can be disabled… but I can walk; I can be a mum… but I walk funny. I’ve never been able to fit anyone’s view. And it has broken me. All I have ever wanted to do is fit.

But I will not. Denying my reality is causing me so much pain. I already have so much pain. I do not apologise when I say I cannot live like this anymore.

I cannot live with I can’t. All that makes me feel is that I can’t be society’s perception of what I ought to be. But I am learning that other people cannot validate what they haven’t come to understand.

I don’t want to waste away here, resenting the safe haven of my home. That is not enough for me. But I do need to feel safe. And so I have finally decided to invest in a walking aid. The thought even as I write that makes me shudder with the embarrassment teenage me felt so acutely when I rejected the option.

But it cannot serve my pride in this way any longer. If I stop living, Squidge misses out too and even if I have to accept a decline so young, I will never accept its effects on my darling girl.

So I’m going to safeguard my independence however I can and teach Squidge that all expressions of emotion are OK, are healthy if they are being processed.

I fully expect that one day she may not want to be seen with her mum and a walker and that’s OK. I have to deal with the disability whatever, so there will be nothing I can’t deal with in her honesty.

But for now, I choose to let this decision empower me. After all, if it helps me carry on, then that’s all that matters. A wonderful friend said to me today “It is not for all the time. Often, it is just a visual reference to inform others you need more time.” Disability is not the either/or scenario I have always imagined. We can work with it. I hope. It feels positive to feel even that.

I am making a choice. I am important. I will shout for what I need. I will teach my girl to shout too. We will muddle through. As Squidge would say (to)”getha”

Let’s stop telling such ridiculous lies

Scrolling through Facebook this evening, I caught sight of one of those “rules of this house” murals. There’s one in our hallway that we inherited when we bought our house. It has sweet rules like ‘lie in on Sundays’ and ‘say please and thank you ‘. Cute right?

But this one had a CP twist. Meant to bolster and encourage I think, but my God, my blood was boiling by the first line.

In this house, we do CP

Ugh. No. I have literally just finished writing an essay for uni about performance of identity. Namely gender identity because gender is assigned to us through societal expectations. But you know what, the same is not true of physical disabilities. Because those disabilities are tangible. I see, think and feel every facet of mine every day. Society cannot make me a disabled person and as much as it tries, it cannot shape me into the acceptable mould for a disabled person either (still proudly using my withering legs). Cerebral palsy is not something I ‘do’ – it is not something anyone does. It’s actual brain damage. Don’t cheapen it.

But that wasn’t even the bit that enraged me. People tell themselves what they need to after all.

But this really takes the cake.

The only disability is a bad attitude

Is it?! Well thank fuck for that. Send the word out. Actual brain damage can be cured simply by waking up smiling about your good fortune every morning! Why did nobody tell me?!

I recognise I am being incredibly sarcastic. I do not apologise for it in the face of such absolute idiocy!

I would be thoroughly ashamed of myself if I ever repeated any variation of those words to anyone. They are a disgrace. Coming from the mouths of people not living with the consequences of disability. I don’t dispute disabilities affect families as a whole but it is clearly not happening to the person that thought that was an acceptable mantra to slap on the internet.

How in the world can we expect society to accept and support those with disabilities when statements such as this trivialise what we have no choice but to handle every day? Is it not possible that bad attitudes are born of inescapable struggles? If you cannot see that, you have no business speaking for any disabled person. Because I would swap my every damaged brain cell for an eternally bad attitude any day of the week, just to have the option, just for a moment. But you didn’t have to think about that did you?

Because it’s not happening to you. God help the children with mantras such as those plastered in their homes by those that say they love them.

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 Fears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Face. Your. Fears.

Avoidance only offers temporary relief.

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

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

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

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

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

Exactly what I needed. Well done me.

What does it mean to be a grown up?

I am *gulp* 30 this spring.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just in time right?