“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.

Thank You For Being A Friend

You’re halfway across the world right now. You met a boy and moved halfway across the world to be happy together. The day you told me you were going, I smiled and hugged you goodbye, full of happiness for you for the adventures you would have that I’ve never been brave enough to dream of. But as we waved you off on the coach that day, I burst into tears and said to Kev “She’s my best friend and I’m never going to see her again.”

You haven’t come home yet, but you’ve also refused to fade from my life as I feared you would. Not through any fault of your own of course, your priority has to be the life you’re building now in the sunshine. I feared it would be down to me, never managing to keep up with time differences, struggling to think of constantly positive things to say, even when they existed, because I was struggling so much. I didn’t want to blacken your new life by being honest about the extent of my struggles, even though I knew you were one of few people on this earth I could share them with completely.

I struggle to do that with a lot of my able friends but you’ve never tried to advise me, like it could come from a place of knowing. Your face hasn’t ever contorted into nauseating sympathy. Instead, you’re the friend who I trust implicitly to say “That’s shit. Let me get you a drink.”

I so need that in my life. I need you. That true friend that normalises me because it’s never occurred to you to treat me any differently. Thank you.

Because of you, there are beautiful blooms here with me for Mother’s Day. From all the way across the world, you decided to celebrate my greatest achievement with me. Because you absolutely know that that is what Squidge is for me. You’re not obliged to value that in any way but you do because you know I give it my all.

These beautiful flowers will meet their inevitable end in my hands because I’m terrible at remembering to water them. But I know you know that about me. The fact you thought about me is enough to make me smile every time I walk past them. I like having a little bit of you back with me. The note that told me what an incredible mum you know me to be to my precious girl made me feel like you were stood next to me, chatting away. It made me happy.

So, even if I am inevitably rubbish at checking in, know that I love you. You are the best friend all this growing up gave me. You are, as I discovered yesterday the only woman besides his wife and mum that Kev has ever deemed worthy of buying dinner for. That is to say, we know how lucky we are to have you in our lives (and if he didn’t pay, he bloody well will when you’re back on these shores!)

I love you, darlin’ girl. Thank you for always being my friend from everywhere you are.

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.

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.

“Mummy, I’m alright!”

This is Freddie. Freddie is the most loved Fox there ever was.

Freddie came into Squidge’s life when she was just a few weeks old, my own best friend introducing my baby girl to her own best friend. I love that. I love that Squidge loves someone else so much.

He comes with her everywhere at the moment. He came with us to the playground opposite our house. She pushed him lovingly back and forth on the swing until, inevitably “Freddie glide!” (Slide, of course!)

Squidge has always been so confident physically, very rarely is she willing to accept help. And I love that confidence, I want her to have it always.

But because she was so determined that beloved Freddie should enjoy the experience too and she would not let him go, she lost her previously confident footing on the suspended stepping stones.

I know every parent experiences the horror of slow motion. I saw her fall before she did and cursed my body for not reacting in time as she sobbed in shock.

I bundled her into my arms and checked her over, horror and tears coarsing through me. I had never seen her actually hurt herself before. I called Kev instinctively as I soothed her, convinced we’d be going to A&E.

As it rang, I asked Squidge where she hurt. She’d fallen forwards about three feet and I was terrified she’d say “head” or worse, nothing at all because I’d allowed her to be so damaged she couldn’t remember.

“Chiiiiin!” She wailed. I personally have split my own chin open twice so was terrified to look where she pointed. But there wasn’t so much as a graze. The sobbing subsided (from Squidge at least!) and Kev, thank God, was calm.

“I can’t even hear her crying.”

“She is!” I insisted as she wriggled out of my arms.

“What’s she doing right now?”

As I remained a tearful, guilty wreck on the floor, I dared to look up. And not only had our beautiful, brave, confident girl climbed back up onto the slide; when she saw me looking, she called out reassuringly “Mummy, I’m alright.”

And so Squidge and Freddie played on until she could be tempted away with an offer of tea and an episode of “Money” (aka Tipping Point) and I was amazed and humbled by the utter resilience in someone so small.

The guilt made my stomach wrench as my baby cried but that baby, she consoled me. Never have I been so reassured of the good job I am doing as a parent.

Mummy sees you’re alright Squidge. I think you’ve got this, baby one.