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.

Priorities vol. 2

Whenever I have been faced with needing to make changes, to practice acceptance of my changing capabilities, my wonderful, loyal, supportive husband has only ever asked one thing of me. “I’ll support you in whatever” he says. “You are living your life, you know best. But please, don’t make any decisions based on your emotions.”

Yesterday, after a very long day at work (all-day conference in the city), I fell over in the dark street having just got off my bus. I got up slowly from the ground and felt a familiar pain coarsing through my arm. I’m still not over my most recent bout of whiplash, so it feels like the aches, the pain and the limtations have been lingering for weeks. I called Kev, and asked him to come get me, as I was just at the end of the street. He raced down and as I saw him coming, I burst into tears. Because I knew I could now, that someone was here to understand.

We walked to the next corner and I lost my balance coming off the deep kerb. I screamed. Not because of pain. Kev caught me, I was fine. I screamed like a wounded animal. Because I feel more and more that I cannot be safe, that I am not allowed, I am not able to carry on with the threads of life I am trying (too) hard to hold onto. I fell over yesterday exactly at a point where I was allowing myself the thought “I am doing well. All these treatments are allowing me to keep up.”

I screamed because it felt like my body had heard the thought and just decided “Let’s remind her how wrong she is.”

Kev was worried that neighbours would come into the streets, wondering about the woman screaming in such pain. He tried to shush me. I stood in the road, clinging to him for my balance and sobbing. Sobbing about how unfair it is, how useless my body feels and how much I don’t want to live like this anymore.

I know the way I have to live cannot change. I grieve for that fact every day and I do not apologise for it. But sometimes, I am just too tired. Tiredness is the precise reason I was able to fall in the first place. I’m not sure it used to be and it makes me so sad.

The sound was awful. I knew it was me and yet to hear it, to have it be so desperate to escape from my chest and throat, it was like I was listening to somebody else. All I could see through the tears was the blur of the street lamps, and all I could hear was this awful sound. That poor woman, I thought, she sounds in so much pain.

Because it always changes. Part of my experience with disability and depression has always been, rightly or wrongly, that if I am depressed, I cannot be caught off guard when the depressing times or events come. It cannot impact me, they were expected. I don’t mind admitting it’s a horrible way to live. But that’s always been my rationale.

This weekend, I had what I call a peaceful moment. A realisation of true peace, calm and contentment. They are very rare to me. In fact, I cannot remember any outside of the 4 years Kev and I have been married. I’m sure this is not a true representation, but it does show what an amazing impact my husband has had on me as a person.

The first one was the day after our wedding. We’d booked a nice spa hotel for a mini-moon, to let us adjust to married life. Spas are ridiculously important to my physical maintainence and I remember just climbing into the warm jacuzzi. The sun was setting, sending beautiful red streaks across the sky as we looked out onto the Welsh hills. We held hands, our new wedding rings shining on our clasped fingers. There was nothing to do, no-one else to worry about. All we had to do was be.

The second was a weekend away around the first anniversary of my dad’s death, when work had been hectic and my grief heavy. It was to the city of St. David’s, which is in fact this beautiful little village. It was pouring down with rain pretty much the entire time. So all we did was walk between the hotel, the little chocolate shop and the pub with a roaring fire. It was as if the world couldn’t touch me there.

The third was the perfect day we had in Cuba, swimming with dolphins and eating lobster, drinking rum on a catarman as the sun set. An experience in a beautiful part of the world I could never have imagined I would get to see were it not for the husband so determined I deserved to see it.

The fourth was our first family holiday, where nothing mattered other than our little girl’s happiness.

The fifth was just this weekend. We went for a nice autumnal walk in one of our local parks, me wanting to crunch leaves underfoot, Squidge wanting to play in the park. There was no rushing, no clock watching. We went for hot chocolate at the café and I looked at them both, my husband and daughter, and I was so peaceful, so content. Right in those moments, I had everything I need in the world.

And I think that’s why it hurt me to hear myself so distressed over a fall. Because I know it was because I was tired, a reult of wanting to work too hard. It is not my fault. It is not what matters most. Yet still, I get so absorbed in what people must think of me, all these shortcomings that make me so pitiful and abnormal. Except, I am slowly realising, those are not the opinions of others. It is me, projecting my own. And I don’t want to waste my precious energy on being so angry with myself. What use can it possibly be when I had that moment in the park, that wonderful moment of knowing I have everything I need?

My family is everything. They are what ground me and who make me feel whole. I refuse to care any longer about whether I am working hard enough, or how much longer I can work to put coffers in the pot. A job is not what I want. My family is. I would like nothing more than another baby and I am determined not to wear myself down working. I know too that Kev would adore another child. So much so, that he refuses to wrangle with himself as I do over the finances. “If it’s something we want” he says (he knows it is) “then we will manage.” I have spent a lot of time and energy arguing with him, but what for? To see if I can make him as worried as I have been? It’s useless. The two of us are too determined in our aim. And what a beautiful aim it is.

The idea of managing has always stuck in my throat, like it cannot be enough. But I don’t care anymore. Somewhere safe and warm to sleep, with food in our bellies and love for each other. That’s all we need and we have all of that. I don’t want to struggle anymore. I want walks in the park, at my own pace, not having to think about what the rest of the world needs from me. Because what I have to give is not for the rest of the world, it is for my family. It is for that poor broken woman whose screaming is still ringing in my ears.

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.

“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.

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.

I wish I didn’t have to tell you how much Mummy hurts

You’re still my baby. For all your confidence and independence, you are my baby and I am the mummy. It is my job and my privilege to take care of you.

My heart is happiest when we have days like this in the park… I wish you could know how beautiful you are my little sunshine.

But we haven’t made it to the park today. As I write, you’re napping on the sofa beside me, Freddie tucked up under your head. You’re so peaceful.

I’m not. Working from home without all the trappings of adjustable screen risers and chairs is taking its toll… one I didn’t even think to expect. That happens to me a lot now and I’m getting more and more frustrated. It’s horrible having no understanding of your own body. It’s so unfair.

My back has been in constant spasm. I didn’t even understand that I suffered muscle spasms at all until recently. My back has been constantly tense, my muscles feel solid and useless. Every little movement hurts today and it has made me feel a terrible mummy.

I couldn’t lift you up… even when you asked so politely with your please and thank you. You couldn’t understand why because you’re so small and you’re still learning. But the pressure of you asking continually made me burst into tears.

You understand what it means to cry now and tried to distract me with songs and games and shouts of “Mummy!” You have such a big heart, darling girl. I tried very hard to stop crying… for you.

But it breaks my heart that I will have to explain to you so many times and in so many ways as you get older all the things that Mummy finds hard… and harder.

I don’t want you to hate my differences. And the only way I can expect that to be what you learn is if I teach you. So I have to learn not to hate them either. But oh, when they sneak up on me like this, a nasty little reminder that I am not in control of my own body, it gets so hard.

So I’m so sorry if I shouted Squidge, or if I made you feel sad. Mummy is struggling today. Because I so wish I didn’t have to share this pain with you. Today I could not hide it.

I’m sorry we couldn’t go to the park.