Love Letter to my Little One vol. 2

I am big girl, you would say. To me, you will always be my baby. You, baby big girl are my reason for everything, especially right now. I can’t expect you to understand just now, but I think you understand more than I realise. This is a note for the big girl you are becoming, to explain.

Just now, Mummy is broken. The culmination of the emotional trauma of the PIP forms, knowing we are not done and really struggling with the physical stress and deteriation of cerebral palsy have burnt me out. I am exhausted in every way. I have had a nervous breakdown and I am fragile. But I will not be ashamed to call it by its name. Your mental health is so important Squidge, please learn from Mummy never to neglect it.

I have felt depressed and frightened and lost before. But never have I felt so helpless and defeated and stuck. Previously, I would have wished desperately to be someone else, to make these pains in my mind, body and soul go away.

But the reason I am telling you all this, darling girl, is that even at my most vulnerable now, I do not wish that.

Because no matter how unchangeable all my struggles may be, neither my mind or the painful inevitability of my condition deteriorating can affect the fact that I have you.

For all the struggles of this life, it made me your mum. It is my most treasured identity. I understand what is needed from me. I couldn’t want to succeed at anything more. Thank you for giving me that precious anchor in a world that would otherwise consume me.

Your dad and I will not allow it because I have you and the promise of your future to live for. I’m not sure you’ll ever understand what that gives me.

It is so important that you know I am not your responsibility. I am your mum because I made that wonderful choice. You are my motivation. But one day, you will be an even bigger girl and I want you to have the world. Grab it with both hands and shake it in all the ways I never felt able or brave enough to do. You are not to stay and worry. I have your dad for that.

Mummy’s differences are not ever to impact the life you want Squidgelet. I just wanted to tell you that on my darkest days, you got me through. To me, you were remarkable. You were just being you.

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.

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”

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.

Did I make you uncomfortable?

I’ve written before about earning the nickname of The Part Time Part Timer at work.

I made a flexible working request with my boss, who was brilliant and let me work from home as much as I deemed necessary without another word, so long as I was taking good care of my body and managing my pain.

It means I’ve been out of the office a lot more, seeing a lot less of even my colleagues on the field.

My boss tells me I should care about me and not what anyone else thinks of me, because my life is no-one’s business. He’s right of course, but I’m a born worrier.

I decided to try and take control of how rubbish the ill-informed jest made me feel. I know no harm is meant but that still doesn’t give such words the right to make me feel so bad.

So I decided to be honest. To share the details that would otherwise be missing from colleagues understanding about my absences from the office.

Someone asked me for some paperwork I hadn’t seen. I couldn’t find what they asked for. They said it was time sensitive and asked “Do you mind if I have a look? You might not have seen it…”

I moved back and started to say: “Of course not!” when they finished “…because you’re never here.”

My defense tightened in my chest. I knew they meant it in a light-hearted way but enough. I had the right to speak a truth they might not be aware of.

“Actually, I’ve had to work from home a lot more because I’m finding I’m in more and more pain.”

But they were talking again before I’d even finished the sentence.

“Oh, I shouldn’t have said that.”

That told me they weren’t really listening, batting my words away.

And why would they do that? I can only surmise it’s because the truth made them uncomfortable. I wonder if I’m supposed to feel apologetic. Because I don’t. My life, its ever increasing limitations make me uncomfortable every damn day. It’s only right to let that be the truth. I have to deal with it, it’s not my problem if others cannot.

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.