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.

It’s A Small World After All

The world is a strange place right now. In the grip of a global pandemic that has the potential to threaten all of our lives.

The best advice is to self isolate, protect yourself, protect those you love and by virtue of sensible action, protect vulnerable strangers. To say a grateful prayer for the nurses, doctors and key workers the world over working with all of their heart and soul to keep us well, keep us safe and help us find a way out to the other side.

To not be one of the idiots clearing supermarket shelves, or taking your entire family out for a day trip in the aisles.

We keep hearing the phrase unprecendented times and though it might be starting to grate, it couldn’t be more true. The world has never faced something of this scale. We’ve survived World Wars, people have lived through nuclear war and terrorist attacks. And yet, we don’t seem to be grasping the sheer importance of staying home. Even in a week when Disney+ was launched, we seem determined to get out and endanger life, simply because we’re being told not to. We cannot be surprised a lockdown has been forced upon us and honestly, the stupidity and selfishness of people at large is starting to scare me more than the virus itself.

My family & I are personally 2 weeks into a suggested 12 week shielding isolation, because both my pregnancy and cerebral palsy apparently place me at a higher risk, so the three of us have bunkered down, basically for the sake of our two children. I don’t think the grade of my cerebral palsy puts me at increased risk because I am fortunate not to have any of the common secondary conditions, like respiratory issues, but we absolutely would rather be safe than sorry.

So there’s no more nursery for Squidge, no playgroups, no gym, no trips to the park. Kev & I are working from home and Netflix & Paw Patrol are babysitting a lot. I feel a lot of guilt, but it’s almost comforting to know we’re not the only ones facing this. I do feel sorry for Squidge most of all, the lack of routine is not fair to her. I will be glad to get that back.

But, I am learning a lot.

There’s not been enough work to work my full days so the childcare has in the most part fallen to me. Kev comes down to play with Squidge and share meals as often as he can. It is so nice to be able to have breakfast together every day and it is certainly something I will want to maintain for our weekends.

It has been so lovely to sit with Squidge and play games, to draw rainbows for the windows, to count all the Stay Safe rainbows out in the community on our daily walks.

I am home a lot anyway given that I worked from home before all this to maintain my health and my world already existed within a small radius of our town, so that I could feel confident and independent. It may not be everyone’s choice when the world is at a normal capacity, but it works for me. Now that the world has been forced to slow down for the greater good, I guess they’re seeing more what my world is like. I mean, I can’t say that everyone appears to be enjoying it, but it’s more of a reality now.

Suddenly, I don’t need to feel so guilty for living in my small world. The whole world is suddenly small. My own personal universe is required to exist within the walls of my home, extending on sunny days out to our backyard, all for the good of ourselves and others.

It’s kinda nice not being able to be frivolous. I mean, I try to be savvy anyway, but there’s nowhere to go right now! I’m not going to lie, I did get a wholesale box of chocolate delivered, so please think of me when I go in for gestastional diabetes test in a few months! It’s nice to have more money in my pocket, so I’m overpaying our mortgage a little more. Like most people, we’re probably being forced to spend more money on our groceries, but that’s pretty much all, but suddenly you learn all the things you already have, the things you can make do without. It no longer makes a difference if I get my hair done every 3 months. In fact, I’m letting it grow out during the isolation so that there’s less work to do when the world goes back to normal. I’m about to be a mum to 2 children, possibly whilst still under all the necessary restrictions of this panemic. My roots are going to be the last damn thing I care about.

Part of me hope that a lot of people out there are reassessing what’s important. This isn’t a lecture, I’m a consumer like the rest of us, but in a time when it’s getting harder by the day to name the positives, it’s nice to know the environment is being given some kind of breather whilst we’re forced to be at home. My home is important, because it is my own and I am lucky to have it. So, whilst it’s possible, the mortgage is important. My nice fluffy blankets are important. My Headspace subscription is important. Clearing the house out ready for the baby is important.

Very few things outside of my little world (besides extended family and the restoration of Squidge’s routine) will continue to be important when some level of sanity and calm is restored in the world. That in itself feels very freeing.

I am almost 20 weeks pregnant now. In some ways, that’s a relief, in other ways it makes me sad. When I dreamt of having a second, I wanted to prioritise myself, my health and enjoy a calm pregnancy. In fact, two of the most pivotal people in my family have had extended hospital stays and now the whole world is at risk from a virus I have to hide from for the sake of them all.

Next week, I will be forced to attend my scan alone, because partners are not permitted to minimise the risk of coronavirus spread and even then, Kev would not be able to attend because we have no support network since Kev’s parents went into isolation for their own health at the same time as us, hence there will be no-one to care for Squidge. There is nothing to be done, but we are both gutted. We wanted to discover our baby’s gender together. Now, however, if it can be determined, I will find out before the father and sister of the baby, the two most important people they will ever know. I have arranged gender reveal surprises for them, but out of necessity rather than anything, because I really dislike the conceit surrounding the tradition of reveals. But I don’t expect anyone to care about the news other than Baby’s family.

My hips are starting to ache a little more and I feel a bit more vulnerable when moving, but I keep remembering the struggle of carrying Squidge and I am thankful most days that my physical self has withstood this pregnancy, especially with all the emotional challenges we have faced instead. I fully intend to single-handedly keep both my physiotherapist and massage therapist in business when my isolation is able to end, because I miss them terribly, as do all my muscles!

I sincerely hope that everyone in a similar position to me is prioritising themselves, taking care of themselves and remembering to breathe. I forget this often and as stress build, my God can I feel it translate in my body. This is an entirely new scenario for us all to live amongst, but remember that that’s true for us all. That means you’re not alone. Keep busy, but take things slow. Much like I wanted my stay-at-home mum lufe to be, there is no sense of time anymore, there is literally no rush. Right now, all we have is time. Use it to look after yourself and make yourself your priority. If we’re not looking after ourselves, we’ll not be able to do our best for others, those who probably need us more than ever whilst the world is on its head.

So let’s go for the little things, the simple pleasures and let the rest fall away. The world will speed up again, it will get big again. Let’s take some comfort in the peace of this small world. It cannot last forever.

Stay safe.

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.

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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.

The Dangers of “That’s life!”

Today is World Mental Health Day. When we have to recognise a potentially fragile and neglected part of ourselves or someone we love, or barely know at all, and promise to do better at nurturing and protecting ourselves because we agree that we deserve it.

This is the exact thing I swore to work on this year. To be honest and raw and to let myself feel my own strength and feel deserving of each happiness.

It can be so hard knowing who to trust with the everchanging state of our mental health, especially when we’re not to grips with it ourselves.

Even now, all these months later, I can barely get past the recognition of “I don’t feel well.”

They are just 4 words. And yet they are just 2 words out there that I have heard with alarming frequency recently. Two words that can keep me from ever being honest with you, when I might most need your help. They stop me trusting you.

“That’s life.”

Many things Are. Life.

Births. Marital squabbles. Your Amazon parcel being delivered 10 doors down. The car breaking down.

All normal things I accept are happening to all of us every day.

But please, I beg you, never brush off anybody’s concerns with a “That’s life.”

Because if I am feeling brave enough to share with you the worries and fear that keep me from sleeping, or feeling like a fully functioning human, then that fear, it is consuming me. I am losing a battle with darkness and I cannot feel the ground under my feet. I am lost and frightened. I am reaching out to you, for a hand to steady me.

It may be life. But in uttering a word of my concerns, I am acknowledging I cannot cope alone. “That’s life” dismisses the nerve I had to work up and worse, it leaves me alone still in that darkness.

Rain makes puddles in my kitchen. That’s life.

Except I’m now not safe in my own home. Which means now that nowhere feels safe and I live in constant fear of slipping or falling, because so long as it’s wet outside, it can’t be fixed.

CP has finally claimed my ability to work. I accept I am made too tired to carry on. That’s life.

Except without my salary, I don’t know if we’ll be able to fix the broken bathroom floor I worry about tripping on, or fixing our patched up electrics.

Worse, without my salary, I don’t know if we’ll be able to afford a much longed for second child.

That’s life right?

Except being a mother has given me the only peace this world, this body has allowed me. It is the only way I hav been able to make sense of myself or stand the pain I live with everyday.

If I cannot do it again, I will be heartbroken and though he’ll never say, so will the man I love more than anything.

It may be life, but it’s so unbearably hard. I would never presume to understand the life any one person lives. We will have experiences in common by virtue of human nature.

But it is so dangerous to presume that this life, anybody’s life is bearable everyday. It is not simply made so because “That’s life.”

Medical fatigue

I don’t know if it’s an actual thing but I bet any disabled person would recognise the frustration and the impact of medical fatigue. That is to say, having your life run by a never ending cycle of appointments meant to maintain you.

I have spoken a lot about the impact that the deterioration of my condition is having on my mental health. I feel fragile often, overwhelmed regularly and cheated pretty much always. But I choose to own my feelings. I will not deny them because I finally agree that I am important.

But a new battle is apparent.

I cannot live my life how I, as a person, a mother want to live. I am not afforded that level of control.

Because even when I am able to stop working, maybe have another child and cherish my family, I will always be beholden to an ever growing roster of appointments.

At the moment, I am still trying to maintain my hours at work because know, money’s useful. But actually at the moment, I’m averaging 3 hours a week on appointments, not even accounting for travelling in the first place. The two together is draining me.

Yesterday was podiatry to talk through my hip pain when walking. Didn’t get much from it really. So instead I need to go back to the Functional Electrostimulation clinic and see if they have anyone that can support me. (Their little box shocks my weak leg into pulling straight. Using the leg as it should be after 30 years is strange and pain is to be expected I’m told!)

Today is physio and then counselling. Both absolutely necessary, the former of which takes 6 hours because I have to get the train because I can’t safely drive the distance. This results in less time with Squidgelet cos I have to swap my days off to accommodate.

Then there’s massages which constitute my most peaceful hour of the week. I wish it could be more often.

I know they all have vital functions but my God, can there just stop being things I must do.

I’m starting to feel more like a condition than a person. That has a real emotional toll. And so round and round it goes.

Medical fatigue is real.

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.

Mummy’s medicine

Pain is a huge part of ageing with cerebral palsy. Whilst its omnipresence is unavoidable, the levels of pain I wake up with every day are unpredictable and draining.

The impact on my emotional wellbeing is getting larger every day.

Yesterday I woke up with very painful tension in my neck and shoulders. Movement was too hard and I was reduced to slumping on the sofa.

Kev climbed in behind me and began to massage the tension. I cried out in pain.

When she was younger and Squidge’s saw that, she pushed Kev away, shouting “No Daddy!”

Yesterday however, Squidge saw and heard my pain and climbed into my lap. She wrapped her arms around my neck. “Ohhh!” she sang empathetically.

But I struggled to hold her as Kev continued apply the necessary pressure to my stubborn muscles.

“Oww!” I whimpered, unable to hold it in.

Squidge pressed her hand tenderly to my face, stroking my cheek as she asked: “You OK Mummy?”

My heart swelled as she worked so gently to distract and soothe me. I didn’t want her to think that her daddy was hurting me so encouraged her to climb into Kev’s lap and feel the tension for herself.

She knew what the solid lump was as soon as Kev helped her feel it with her little hands. “Mummy ow!”

“Yes baby. And Daddy is helping take the ow away for Mummy. It is Mummy’s medicine but Mummy is not very brave, so Mummy say ow.”

“Do you want to help Daddy give Mummy her medicine?”

“Yes.” she said, hands poised in the same position as Kev’s and bless her, she started pushing gently on the lumps.

Kev’s pressure increased, needing to use his elbows. So Squidge climbed down.

“Ow!” I cried out loudly.

But Squidge frowned, telling me sternly: “No Mummy. No ow. Mummy’s medicine not ow.”

We laughed together. Our wonderful girl had listened so well. She knows that medicines exist to make us better. Therefore, we have already taught her it is useless to give into pain.

I like that. Our parenting means thst she already knows that pain is there to be pushed through.

We’re not going to be defeated. Mummy must take her medicine.