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.

I really needed that

This is the walker. Squidge loves it but there are versions of me that despise the fact I need to use it at all.

Today was not a day when that fight needed to matter. I had slept horribly on my shoulder and every movement hurt. Today I needed its help.

I dropped Squidge off at playgroup and was already in tears from the pain. I felt so lost and overwhelmed.

And then, walking through town, an elderly couple approached me, joking about not texting in charge of a vehicle.

The lady asked me outright what I needed it for, curious, not accusatory. It felt strange. But her kindness allowed me to a bit more honest.

“My balance is shot.”

This lovely stranger squeezed my hand and said “Good for you. You’re doing the right thing then.”

I really needed to hear that. For once, there was no judgement, no eyeing me up as a fraud because you can’t see my pain.

I went on to my massage. The therapist was so kind and understanding. She knew of cerebral palsy, was unsurprised when I mentioned my muscle tension, or the need to have a bit longer to get undressed. She even offered to help. And I didn’t allow myself to feel patronised. I felt supported.

She worked tirelessly on my muscles and tension. I felt the pain subside, the muscles loosen. By the time I collected Squidge from playgroup I felt human enough to agree to a play in the park.

After the emotional turmoil of constant pain and stress these last few weeks, it was nothing short of miraculous. I’m allowed to be important too. I think I really needed to be told that today.

“Look Mummy, who’s that?”

Yesterday, I walked with Squidgelet to the end of our street and purchased a walker.

*exhale*

My teenage self is disgusted with me. Scoffs that I have given up.

My 2 year old daughter didn’t bat an eye.

That morning she walked halfway to the library for Rhymetime holding onto the pram. All I had to do was tell her where to hold.

“No let go of pram” she promised me faithfully. There was no question that she would. She understands she needs to listen.

I showed her where to hold the walker. It was exactly the same. I was so proud of her.

I text Kev to say it had been bought. He told me he was proud of me for making such a huge step for my independence even if my pride was hurt and my 14 year old self sulking indefinitely.

“I know it’s a good thing…” I typed, “…but I feel so defeated and defined by it and it breaks my heart.”

It felt unnatural to rely on it, even if I know it’s not for all the time. It felt, rightly or wrongly, like my capabilities came in second after this unsightly lump of metal.

I started to cry, as softly as I could. I couldn’t help it. I was grieving, letting my teenage self let out her disappointment. After all, I never knew this is where I’d be at 30 years old. I don’t know what I could have expected when the medical profession and support services stayed tellingly silent. But I never thought being 30 would look quite like this.

Squidgelet frowned when she saw me wipe my eyes. “Mummy ow?”

“No darling. Mummy not ow. Mummy sad. What would you like to watch? Wiggles?”

She pondered it for a moment. “No Wiggles. Photos.”

All our photos slideshow on our TV.

Looking at me, photo after photo, she asked “Look Mummy, who’s that?”

With her beautiful big heart, Squidgelet distracted me from my tears.

Mummy proud, Squidgelet. Mummy so proud of you.

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”