Learning to be a better me

I’m always telling myself how I can change, how I can make my life better. I always shy away, never quite brave enough to effect those changes, even something small like going to book club after I’ve put the time into reading the book! I get so frustrated at myself when I can’t take that first step and let my fears hold me back.

This is where becoming Squidge’s mum is somehow quite liberating. A responsibility sure, and I feel sad when I have days like the other week when I didn’t get dressed for 3 days.

This week has been better. She is the best reason to not give myself excuses to give into my fear anymore. And I have to know that taking a day to take care of the aches of pains of CP is not the same as giving in to fear.

My wedding day signalled the start of my changes. I had this romanticised idea that with my new name and place in the world as Kev’s wife, I was somehow going to become a better version of myself just by association with such a brilliant man. I recognise that that is rubbish. After all, how can there be changes if I don’t make any? It’s like when you’re ravenous for a snack and check the fridge continually all night like a big slab of chocolate cake might magically appear.

But I wanted to feel worthy of my new name, to take it as an opportunity to do the things I talked about and not just become a moaning Minnie!

  • New job

I wanted a challenge. I was so bored of my job at the time, always under threat of budget cuts. Ironically, I worked helping people to find work, so it was easy to check for available jobs. I only applied for two admin jobs, better money, better use of my skills. One was for a company on the High Street I really liked as a customer, so I was quite meticulous with that application.

2 weeks later, after many nights of prep with Kev (he is a star when it comes to me and interviews, I’ve had plenty in my time!) I was interviewing, pretty sure I didn’t have a hope in Hell. Couldn’t believe it when I was offered the job! In a year, I’d managed to work my way up to a £4,000 pay rise. I couldn’t wait to get stuck in! Was so proud that I’d really tried and succeeded.

I started the job six days after the wedding and quite easily say it has definitely been the challenge I wanted – no time to be bored anymore!

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  • University

I never went to uni at 18. I really should have, but I just didn’t feel independent enough at the time. I wish I’d done A-levels anyway to give me the option, but I studied to be a Teaching Assistant instead and I did adore that job. I want to be able to feel that way again. I know I’m intelligent, there’s no reason I shouldn’t study for a degree – apart from the fact that bills stop me being able to take 3 years off to attend traditional uni (and however long to complete relevant entry qualifications before then!)

So, in October 2015, I began studying part-time at the Open University.

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I’d talked about the possibility of it with Kev for years. He always encouraged me, I always found excuses.

But student loans are available now, and the Welsh Government subsidises a portion of the cost. My 6 year programme is projected to cost me about £6,500 in loans – paltry when you consider some brick unis charge £9,000 a year!

I really enjoy it. I thought I’d find the distance learning hard, but face to face tutorials are available for every assignment and it’s nice to have something other than work or chores to think about, something that is just for me. I would recommend it to anyone who needs the flexibility.

I’m studying for a BA in Childhood & Youth Studies, about to enter Year 3 of 6 in October. It’s already flying by! I’m hoping to stick to the 6 years and graduate in summer 2021.

That way Squidge will be able to come with Kev to my graduation before she starts school that September. I want her to know you can succeed at any time.

I hope eventually to complete a Masters in Play Therapy. We’re lucky that University of South Wales is one of 2 in the country that offer the course so I think I’d be daft not to try.

To have my Masters anytime before I’m 40 and the chance at a new career would be incredible!

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These next two are skills I should have mastered a long time ago. I’ve tried before and given up before on both points. But with Squidge’s arrival, I’m trying hard for my mantra to be “No more excuses!” and I deliberately planned my maternity leave budget with these two in mind as my goals for my time “off” – my Squidge Year Resolutions if you like!

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  • Learning to drive

This one has been years in the making. I never truly believed I’d be physically capable. I’m still not the most confident. That and the cost of tuition I let be a barrier for far too many years. I promised myself with my increased salary that I would learn, no matter how long it takes. I deserve my independence after all.

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My automatic instructor Denise was a great find. She’s patient, but she’s straight talking. She works with my issues, not against them as I found with other instructors. I’m sure some days she despairs of my tired legs, but I truly believe I can do this. I will learn.

My advice would be: find your instructor. Never just accept that it’s you, or that you can’t do it. I honestly was ready to give up after my last experience, but Kev asked that I try one more. I’m glad I did because I really think I could enjoy driving.

I was very proud of myself when I passed my theory test first time in January 2017.

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  • Learning to swim

I can’t swim. I find it really hard to lift my legs up high enough in the water and then co-ordinate my two halves. Water is however, the one place that my muscles reliably relax so I know that swimming would be the most beneficial exercise to me.

I’ve tried group lessons before. Never managed more than 2 before I found myself making excuses and not going again because I’m embarrassed to be around other people.

But I desperately want to learn, just to get from one end of a pool to the other, not just for the benefits to me, but also to Squidge. That girl is dying to swim, she kicks so naturally in the bath. I don’t want her to be afraid of water. And I don’t want her to learn without me. Or at least, I’d like to be able to show her a little and splash about together.

I booked more group lessons when she was 6 weeks old. Went to one. Same old feelings. Gave up. Got frustrated at myself.

But I realised, I didn’t want to give up. I just needed someone to be focussed on me, understanding me and not just shouting at me from the poolside to get my legs up higher when I can’t.

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Private tuition isn’t cheap, but this isn’t going to happen for me any other way. And I figured, if I don’t learn now, with all this time on my hands, I never will and that’s not a good enough reason to give Squidge if she ever asks me why Mummy can’t go swimming with her.

I’ve found Lindsey. She does half-hour one-to-one tuition in a hotel pool. Couldn’t be more perfect. The people there are more likely enjoying spa days then worrying about the grown woman grabbing floats. She gets in the water with me, gives me physical help when I need it and is so encouraging.

I wish I hadn’t been so tight about the cost all this time. Half hour is a good amount of time before I’m knackered. It’s not too long that my muscles overreact in protest the next morning. I only have to focus on her direction, not worry what everyone else is thinking. And what’s even better is, I’m not trying to think up excuses not to go…. I’m actually looking forward to it, which makes it worth every penny in my book!

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I’m paying for my driving and swimming lessons with my DLA award. I have stockpiled it for a while to get me through maternity leave, but it does make me very nervous about the reforms.

I hope I’ve managed to learn one of these skills, if not both by the time the Government decide to review me. I have a horrible sinking feeling that they’ll decide like the other services that I can cope without it… just not quite disabled enough.

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I wrote this post as a reminder to myself that I am doing just fine. I have spent so long disappointing myself or expecting too much, but I really want to make use of this time. I’ll not get another chance like maternity leave. I cannot waste it and this reminds me that I’m not. Between work and study and learning new skills and creating a Squidge, I have had a very productive 18 months!

And it just so happens that last week, I managed to check Squidge out in the pram 3 times this week and I have discovered some mummy orientated socials!

Go me!