Mirror, Mirror (2)

Mirror, or vintage iPad (thanks obni)
Mirror (Photo credit: christing-O-)

A comment left underneath the post I wrote about Standing Out Sitting Down said how insightful the post was, which has given me some confidence to attempt this prompt from the 14th August:

Think of your blog as a mirror: what does it reveal? Consider your blog name, theme choice, design, bio, posts… what does every element tell you about yourself?

The title, ‘sat n all that’ was actually thought of by someone else. One of the carers, actually who I don’t see now but they used to have loads of shifts with me. The blog started as a project to take my mind off things round the time I was struggling to adjust to changes in my circumstances, and to give me another purpose to my day. I find it a little easier to think of titles now, but found it impossible in the beginning. The title started off as ‘I may be sat, but I’m all that’, but I felt it wasn’t snappy enough, and wanted to write about more than just being sat in a chair, or only about disability issues. After all, my life is more than these things. My life is not nearly as varied as I would like; ‘special someone’ is no longer on the scene, I am unable to work, and I’ve even had to cut down on the blogging, to keep up with it. However, I have amazing friends, a great church family, and have more interests now, so do still have variety of people of things important to me to write about.

The design started as something else, though I can’t think what it was now. When choosing a theme, I wasn’t really bothered about the aesthetics. I wanted something clear and easy to read, so as wide a range of people could get access to it as possible. As ‘barrier-free’ as it could be without designing a site myself from scratch, as a few friends use screen reading software, and I wanted anyone who read it to be able to get access to it on whatever device they use to  surf the web. That says a lot about me, really. I’m an open, friendly person, and I find a lot of purpose in reaching out to others, in whatever small way. Plus, a lot of disability access is  an afterthought, and not from the outset, and I wanted to think about it from the beginning.

The theme is trickier. I like the idea of being a ‘niche’ blogger, and I guess I am in some ways as I write about disability, or faith, or more often, disability AND faith, together. Both are integral to my life, and intertwined in many ways. My faith in Jesus is central to helping me cope with my challenges, and my challenges deepen my faith. I didn’t want to write narrowly on just one theme, as I lacked the confidence to think I could come up with posts easily enough on just one theme… plus, as I say, I couldn’t really separate the two, so I am much happier with a ‘hybrid’ blog. I think, now the blog is a year old, and though there have been stretches of about a month at a time where I have written little, I am more comfortable with the themes I write about these days.

If you look at the ‘tag cloud’ to the right of a post, the topics I write about most are in bigger letter than subjects I write about less often. At this time, the topic in the largest lettering of all is ‘disability’. I am not entirely comfortable with that, as there are so many bloggers out there with a disability, people who have campaigned for years, advocated for others, been active in politics, and really know their stuff. I feel so intimidated by that because I worry so much that their writing on disability issues is so much more informed than mine, and what right have I to write about it so often when any of them can do a better job?

This is partly a complete lack of confidence, and a desire that if I bother to write at all I want to write informed, quality content; otherwise, what is the point? I guess it is partly about perspective too. It sounds idiotic to point this out, but obviously no two people who live with a disability will have the same views even, on their disability, so it stands to reason both will be able to offer different perspectives. I find it absolutely unbelievable that my most popular posts have been disability related.

The first post to which substantially more people read, and the first shared more widely, was one I wrote at the end of last year, about David Cameron’s speech at 2012’s Party Conference. Specifically, focussing on two little words he used: ‘Compassionate Conservatism. Now, a complete oxymoron…!! This particular post was also (he claims!) read by my MP, – WOW! My most popular post ever, I wrote very recently, about not being able to work, and trying to address the popular thought that if some severely disabled people can work, then why can’t every disabled person do likewise. To my amazement, this post was shared around upwards of 100 times, and has been viewed 400-500 times, at least! I’d never have thought my most popular post would be about these things, rather than something completely personal or something faith-related that I feel I know more about. I suppose I just am ‘myself’ when i write, as much as anyone can be, of course.

Another post read a lot is ‘The days that changed my increasingly complex life.‘ It was the first time I wrote about something really personal, and what I thought and felt about it too. The reaction to it really surprised me, as some people got a lot out of it. Those kind of posts seem to be the ones that really strike a chord with people; again, something that surprised me. It was reasonably natural, though tough, and painful, to write about, as I am very much a ‘heart-on-my-sleeve’ person. In some ways, the people who read this blog have shaped what I write about.

I used to answer more of the ‘daily prompts’ provided by WordPress, as i lacked the confidence, and often the inspiration, to come up with my own topics. This has got easier as time has gone on. Also, given the squeeze on welfare claimants that is about to get so much worse, the stereotypes peddled by the Government, and some sections of the media, and the ‘hot potato’ that is the Welfare State, the topics offer themselves at the moment, and it is also topics that are a big part of my life, whether I want them or not. No benefits, no money, therefore no independent life. As my Mum says, they didn’t bring me up to sit on the sofa for the rest of my life… so I really value the semblance of a life that I do have, and it gives me much more to write about than if I sat on the sofa the majority of the time!!

Welfare State: Benefit Britain 1949

Below is my thoughts on Channel 4’s ‘Benefits Britain’ programme, aired 12/08/13 at 9 pm. If you live in the UK, I am sure you can watch it online. Be warned, this post contains spoilers! You don’t have to have seen the programme to be able to debate the issues raised… this is currently a ‘hot potato’ about which nearly everyone has an opinion. Would love to know what happens in other countries too, when people are unable to work, for whatever reason.

I have to admit, I was rather skeptical whether Channel 4’s latest programme about the problems with the Welfare State would prove anything. This time, they went back to 1949’s rules about who should, and should not, get benefits. For television’s sake, redecorated a couple of buildings to look similar to 1949’s equivalent of Jobcentre Plus, and gave the 1949 rule-book to a couple of welfare assessors with 60 years experience between them. It was interesting how much tougher the rules were. If you had paid into the system, you got the equivalent money you would have got in 1949, which meant initially that Melvyn and Karen got money, and young Craig only got emergency money of about 7 pounds for a week.

It was interesting to see how much the assessors were allowed to meddle in people’s lives, but it did mean Melvyn got help when he was unable to cope. His brother and sister were too elderly to help, and none of the neighbours said they had any time to help him. This, I think was one of the saddest parts of the programme. If this was genuinely happening in 2013, then he could have been struggling on his own, in debt, with no-one to help. This has actually happened, where people have eventually died of loneliness and starvation because they have been unable to cope and no one has noticed. Back to Melvyn later. (I’ve been calling him ‘Norman’ in my tweets!! D’oh!)

What of Karen? Overweight, with diabetes, heart problems, arthritis, and the rest. She did not welcome the benefit assessor “‘spying'” on her, or the intrusion into her life, but it did transpire that her son did almost EVERYTHING for her. What kind of life does he have? He’s an adult with his own life to live. This kind of thing makes me very uncomfortable, even more so where younger, teenage or child carers are involved. Twitter was not kind to Karen in general, especially when her attitude was on show, and the swearing started. The medical was interesting too, as it asked her to do practical tasks which actually have a bearing on real life! Invisible disabilities were not recognised in 1949, as I expected. She was judged to be capable of ‘light’ part-time work. I’m sorry, but even I do more than Karen round the house and that’s even though I have carers to do the really difficult things. It’s wrong to compare disabilities, but I live with chronic pain, like she does. There is nothing for it but to get on with it. I was hoping the workshop type environment would help her, but she refused to do anything, instead breaking down in tears. I am glad the public have seen how being contant agony can wear someone down, as it is something which can have a profound impact on your quality of life. However, this will be lost on people because they were too busy judging her weight, and saying all she did was sit on her bottom. The last bit was true. It is very difficult to lose weight when you have mobility problems to begin with, for sure, but diabetes and so on does not have to be a disability. I know people with severe diabetes who work or have worked all their lives. I think part time work would help her self-esteem and her confidence, and give her something to focus on besides the pain.  It is true that if she were judged capable of doing some work in 2013 she would not be on full benefit, as disability activists have rightly pointed out. Pain does play absolute havoc with your ability to concentrate and all the rest of it. Karen in a vicious cycle by the looks of it, similar to myself. You are in pain and unhappy so you eat, you are unable to burn it off, so you put on more weight, then you are in more pain, so you are more unhappy and you eat more… you get the idea. She needs specialist intervention to help her manage it all and lose weight, but it’s easy to judge when you only see edited snippets of someone’s life on a television programme. However, her attitude really did not help her, and won’t help her in 2013 either.

My friend Sue Marsh (@suey2y) thinks the producer specified which kind of people s/he wanted for the programme in order to stick to conventional stereotypes. It is true that Karen’s character at least was a stereotype; but she has gone further than this and said “Showing someone bedridden told they must attend WRA (work related activity) wld have been explosive”. This may be true, but someone laid in a bed with an invisible disability would be open to the same accusations that Karen was, of faking or exaggerating the extent of the disability. Also, if Twitter did go crazy, the press would swoop, and after the 5 minutes of interest in their story the person would be dropped for no longer being interesting.  In my opinion, it is the luck of the draw who reads the medical form which describes how your disability impacts your life – I got someone who understood, and I also had lots of pages of close handwriting explaining everything. Someone also said on Twitter that each person was a stereotype: an older person forced to go into a home; a wheelchair user, and a ‘malingerer’ with invisible disabilities.

The final participant, Craig, , who has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair, was completely lovely. Initially he only got emergency help of £7 something as he has never worked. Not because he didn’t want to work. He was completely capable, but had just never been given a chance. However, he was given a training allowance similar to his benefits now, a medical, which rightly judged sedentary work to be best, and a day’s work experience in a call centre. He did brilliantly. More of that later.

The programme raised at least three interesting issues:

1. Disability quotas, introduced after the war and abolished in the 90’s once the Disability Discrimination Act came into force in 1995 forced employers to take on a certain percentage of disabled workers. If they refused, they were punished accordingly. Equally, the numbers of disabled people of working age in work was much higher, about 94 per cent compared with just over 40 per cent today. It was heartbreaking to see the likes of Craig, lovely, with a great attitude, who desperately wanted to work, unable to get even work experience in 2013. He had never worked, so had no work experience, so could not get a job, a vicious cycle he could not get out of however hard he tried. However, the 1945 system gave him more results – work experience, and a job offer, which he gladly accepted. Should ‘disability quotas’ be reintroduced into the workplace?

2. The issue I discussed in my previous post, that one system of assessment does not fit all. There was no “‘mass production'”  but instead, a completely individual, ability based approach was put in place instead. Of course, they were dealing with much smaller numbers in 1945, and mostly war-wounded or industrial industries, which is completely different to someone with multiple impairments today where it is hard to say what work is suitable if any. Of course, I would not have survived birth in any age before now, nor would most of the babies born with multiple impairments who will never be able to work. They simply would not have survived. There are debates to be had about how much intervention is too much, and what constitutes quality of life. However, that is a debate itself and for another time.

3. As was mentioned in the programme, some of the impairments which Karen had existed, but were simply not recognised. The female assessor asked at the end of the programme whether it was right that 2013’s sickness and disability recognise a wider range of impairments. People are living longer, and therefore develop more complex health needs, and the state cannot afford to keep giving out. However, where do you draw the line? I bet if you asked people on the street that each person would give a different answer. Twitter was vocal, and almost unequivocal – Karen was ‘fat’, ‘lazy’ and ‘should’ get a job. That’s putting it mildly. To give you an example, @CavanaghJess said: “Being overweight and diabetic is not disabled love. GET A JOB!!” As was pointed out on twitter, if she was ineligible for benefits they would have been taken off her, or not given in the first place, but her situation does raise difficult questions. We ignore them at our peril.

Someone on twitter did question whether Karen could work in a call centre, but she could work in an office if she had voice activated software that would answer the phone for her, and she could speak to the computer what she wanted to say and software would type. She might be eligible because of her chronic pain and arthritis, however, Access to Work, the Government Grant scheme which pays for help an equipment disabled people need in order to work no longer provides this, so it would depend on whether an employer was prepared to pay the costs. If a small business owner was faced with a choice between someone healthy, with a compliant, friendly attitude, who was prepared to work hard, or someone who needed adjustments made and potentially expensive equipment bought for them, there is no way someone like Karen would have a chance of employment.

At the end of the programme, the three guinea pigs, sorry, participants all met up and were asked by one of the assessors who they would give the benefits / allowance to if only one of them could have it. Melvyn, the pensioner said Craig was more deserving than he, despite his tough experiences in the programme. However, Craig refused. Karen then kicked off and said she had more wrong with her than Craig and therefore deserved it more. Karen and Craig both had different attitudes to their disabilities, and it really showed.

The two assessors both had questions at the end of the programme. One, questioning that there’s something really wrong with a system if it cannot provide for the most vulnerable (hear hear!!) and the other assessor questioning whether the range of conditions considered for help was too large, and questioning whether the system should keep giving handouts. Would love to know what you think!

There was a lovely moment at the end of the programme where the ‘assessors’ gave Melvyn back the watch he had pawned in order to survive (his grandfather’s) but many others have to do the same, with no one to buy it back for them.

Would love to know what you all thought of the programme, or indeed if you have any opinions on, or answers to any of the questions raised in this post 🙂 Until Friday…

 

When I was 10…

Dream
Dream (Photo credit: Xtream_i)

I don’t actually remember what I wanted to be when I was growing up. It took me until the age of nine to be walking unaided without any supports on my legs! At that point, I just had arch supports in my shoes, which I hated so much I refused to wear them. They did hurt my feet terribly tho!

If I remember back to playground games with my friends or ‘imaginary play’ indoors, from what I can remember most of it involved pretending to teach. I do remember filling in a long form in my final year at school which was sent of, my answers were analysed, and the careers advice they gave was that my personality and gifts were best suited to teaching. The careers adviser pointed me towards Stirling University, who at that time were the only Higher Education Institution offering the Bachelor of Education certificate alongside an ordinary arts degree. As I have blogged before, I did go on to do this course for three years. Despite giving it my all, I subsequently failed and was chucked off the course. The emotional fallout and impact on my life, and my dreams was devastating. If fact, it’s not too dramatic to say it was actually life-changing, one of five days to be so.

Fast forward about eight years, and my life has totally changed. Any childhood dreams are in tatters, as I am now unable work, and my life revolves around visits from carers, nurses, trips to hospital for appointments, home visits from specialists, and form filling. This blog, my family and friends, and my church family are the bright spots in an otherwise ‘ground hog day’ sort of existence. As  for my dreams, on good days, I still have those, though for the most part they are locked inside my heart. On bad days, I even struggle to blog or fail completely, sometimes for weeks, meaning I have to build up a following all over again. I refuse to let any of this beat me. My Jesus has promised me an ‘abundant life’, which I continue to pursue.

Movie of the year?

Yesterday’s daily prompt caused me to look at it twice! I have often be told that my story would make a good book, or that I should write my story down one day. I guess I have done this in partial way as some of this blog includes memoir style material. As I know who I would love to play the lead, I would love my story to be a book and a movie. Carey Mulligan would be perfect to play the lead in the movie version of the book. Great actress who would draw in the punters, and who has played characters in movies belonging to the drama genre before, including but not limited to her role in the likes of An Education.

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This biopic certainly includes plenty of drama. More than one near death experience, disability, illness, life-saving operations, love, romance, faith, and miraculous scenes, including a couple of appearances from royalty…. There are also many supporting roles, with a great support cast. There is also potential for future movies given the relative youth of the protagonist… However, let’s focus on this particular movie for now.

Drawing of a film reel
Drawing of a film reel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It begins with my early life, with me being rushed to a special care baby unit, having been born 12 weeks premature at 28 weeks gestation, following an emergency birth. There is a touching scene early on, and the first of the miraculous moments, which shows the story of how I got my name. Some of the crucial scenes in my early life will keep you on the edge of your seat; including visits to resus, and touch-and-go operations where I was the smallest baby the surgeon had ever operated on.

My early childhood was no less dramatic, as my brain was starved of oxygen at some point before, during or after birth, resulting in a diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy. The diagnosis was certainly bleak, as it included intellectual delay as well as physical disability, and the extent of these was unknown at the time. Consequently, from a few months old until I was 3 or 4 I attended a centre for babies and children with special needs. Here i received input from a pediatrician specialising in Cerebral Palsy, physiotherapy, and specialist care. The next miraculous moment shown on film would be that I had progressed enough to be one of the first children with a disability in my region to attend a mainstream nursery. I would later meet 2 of those who had attended this nursery at secondary school!

Some time after this, there was a house move to Dunblane, where I attended nursery, and went to the same school that Andy Murray, tennis player extraordinaire would later attend!! In my first two years at primary school I had a full time assistant with me due to my level of need. When I was six, we moved back to Aberdeen.

In some respects, my primary school life was largely uneventful when compared to the events of my early life, so this would play no part in the review, though would occupy a few scenes in the movie. Miraculously, I caught up intellectually, and when I was 11, had no further need of the assistant who was with me for four years, as I was able to continue primary school on my own. This caused a ruckus at the time. Secondary school too would play no major part in the movie. There was a house move at age 14, where I stayed until I moved to central Scotland to begin my first degree in 2001. It was here I would meet some of the friends I still have today, and where I would meet my current ‘Special Someone’… though a little more of that later!

The move to university was one of 5 days which changed my life forever, and the events of these 5 days, or even periods of my life, would be the focus of the major part of the movie focusing on my adult life. The only exception to this would include a scene with my childhood ‘adult baptism’, in which I explain why Jesus became the central focus of my life, (or certainly should have been!!) from then on. The next part of the movie would include university days, which showed the beginning of adult illness.

Further scenes became more dramatic, including a move across the border, a life-saving operation, the scene in which I was told I would now require an electric wheelchair full time, and the scene in which I was told I had no choice but to have the ‘care’ I had tried to avoid from age 22 when other disabled friends begin to suggest it, Other scenes include a couple of romances, one on/off romance with a childhood best friend, and another with a former Paralympian!

The movie ended with an update to the present day, showing some of the complexities of life as a wheelchair user who needs help with the basics of life, but has a stellar supporting cast, including the events which explain the introduction of ‘Special Someone’, and the reliance on faith to survive, and thrive through every day, eventful or not. The movie therefore fits the ‘Christian biography’ category, but is far less cliched than some representations of the genre!!

To be continued…

‘What’s in [my] name?’

Sometimes, I will read the ‘daily prompt’ and decide it is completely irrelevant and go looking for something else to write about. Other times, I will know what I would like to write and just go for it. Today however, the prompt made my heart skip a beat and think about whether I really should post what I am about to write. However, I have decided, as what happened has been retold many times over the last thirty years, and as long as I don’t share personal details, I think my parents will be okay with it.

Today’s prompt is as follows:

Write about your first name: Are you named after someone or something? Are there any stories or associations attached to it? If you had the choice, would you rename yourself?

Originally, the plan was to name me after my Dad’s Grandmother Louisa, or perhaps, to shorten it to Louise; I can’t remember which. However, nothing went to plan, as my mother was taken ill 3 months before I was due. My heartbeat was dropping so they had to get me into this world, even though survival at that stay of gestation was almost unheard of 30 years ago. I was born on the 18th of April and rushed to the special care baby unit.

Both my mother and I were on life support and very ill. Three times while my mother was ill, she told my Dad what my name should be: Jacqueline. My Dad went and registered my name after this, as he thought my Mum had asked. Much to his surprise, when my Mum woke, she couldn’t remember anything about this, and did not know how i had got my name. Their only conclusion? My name must have come from God.

To this day, I do not really know why God gave me my name, although someone once suggested it may have been because I am an original, and to name me after someone else would not have made me unique. Perhaps there is some truth in that I don’t know. I do know that I once hurt my Mum very much because i told her I didn’t like my name. This is something I very much regret. My Gran once brought me a framed picture of my name, drawn/written in calligraphy, from her holidays. That picture lived in a cupboard for a few years while I did the teenage thing of throwing a strop; in my case over my name. However, when my parents were organising their belongings in time for moving house last year, I asked them if they could bring the picture with them and hang it up on the wall for me. I don’t know if they were surprised or not. Now, I rather like the idea of having a name no one else in my family has. Additionally, no one else out there who is also called Jacqueline will have be given their name the way I was given mine. It makes me feel loved, and special. Though I once would have changed it, now, no way!!

more space please!!

Dear Followers,

Once again, thanks for not giving up on me! This past week (or is it a week and a bit) I only seem to have had the energy for one thing each day, and therefore no energy left to write, which I have hated. Last monday it was physio/physical therapy, and horse-riding on the Tuesday. Try as I might, I did not have the energy to type as I slept after each of these activities and through the night, albeit in a disturbed, interrupted way. There was little respite on Wednesday, as I went to the fortnightly women’s group which belongs the church I go to. I really had to force myself to go, so little energy meant even less inclination to be in a crowd of even 8 women, lovely though the are, and even though we were studying  the word. Force myself I did, and by the end I was glad. Straight home to make dinner, before writing a shopping list, and having a think about a meeting I had later that afternoon. As soon as that afternoon’s sitter (befriender/carer) arrived it was off to the supermarket and pharmacy. No sooner were we back, I was straight into a meeting with my social worker and someone from my care agency to begin talking about support I may need for holidays or travelling to (other people’s) weddings. As some of you may know, these things are never simple and always last longer than anticipated. If I had any energy before, I had none after that. For once, I had put some thought in and realised I would never make the church AGM that evening, so had emailed my votes to one of the elders. Just as well, for I collapsed in a heap for a while. Thursday, Friday and Saturday were time to rest, as I had no choice. However, they passed in a blur as I was too restless. Too tired to do anything, and too tired to rest properly, causing me to feel guilty at my lack of meaningful activity.Fortunately, I did make it to church on the Sunday morning, despite falling asleep twice after the carer left, and again during the service. Perhaps it is unwise to admit to that!!

Things have not got any easier with the start of a new week. Monday morning brought a hospital appointment I had waited for, and dreaded, for the best part of three months. I am still collecting new specialists occasionally, including on Monday so that added extra stress. I was sensible enough to have requested carer/caregiver assistance for the appointment  Just as well, as from the point of waking up on Monday morning, the headache grew and grew to a full-on migraine. It wasn’t all bad. The person who had been asked to support me is lovely and helped me find the humour in the situation. Having not seen them for a while, there was lots to catch up on too. Mercifully for the times we needed to queue, waiting times were ‘normal’ for these things, so though there was a  wait each time it was not more than thirty minutes. I was so thankful for support as without it I would have cancelled my appointment and crawled into bed. Admittedly  I fell asleep in my wheelchair for hours after the appointment  but not before my carer took me for a step free walk (they walked, I wheeled) somewhere further away than my most local supermarket, as it does not have the facility to pay bills. ‘Only’ for the purpose of buying a very few groceries and buying gas and electricity, but the fresh air did me good, despite it doing nothing for the migraine. Given the level of my difficulty find my way around anywhere other than the tiny areas I can navigate comfortably, due to the number of times I go to those places, it is rare I venture anywhere else, seeing as I wouldn’t know where I was, were I was going, or once back, be able to retain any of this information for future use.

Monday done, the night was not much help as it was especially disturbed. I would normally attempt to go horseriding on a Tuesday, as I had done last week, but unfortuntely there were not enough staff available to assist me. One of those things, though a shame as it was a beautiful day. I still did not accomplish anything meaningful yesterday in terms of tackling the growing to do list, as I fell asleep for several hours after lunch. In between times, any time I thought about moving and trying to do something, I would fall asleep almost instantly. This happens often for several reasons.. Partly the medication I take, partly because having cerebral palsy means it takes me much more energy just to do the basic things others take for granted, and partly because I am always in chronic pain. It is hard to describe just how wearing all of that can be, unless you know this kind of tiredness for yourself. One way of thinking about it is in terms of spoons. Each day, with its varying levels or energy, or even hours or minutes can be thought of as a spoon, or spoons. Each day only has a certain, varying number of spoons. Once I have used them, there are no more, and nothing can be done about it, causing me collapse in my chair. In these times I may not sleep, but instead, as mentioned above, be extremely restless, to tired to do anything, but too tired to sleep.

It is in these times that my eyes drift to the wall of whichever room I am in. I never used to display photographs as I am not much of a photographer  The most i ever displayed were posters, either ones I had been given or occasionally ones I had bought myself. As I have gotten older, this hasn’t really changed, as most of what now adorns the walls of my flat were gifts from close friends or family. Only two of the items have been chosen by me, a picture in the living room and a painting in my bedroom.

Taking inventory of these things, if I look immediately up from where my laptop sits, I see two photo frames, one containing a family photograph of myself.  my parents, brother and lovely sister in law at their wedding last summer, and the other, taken at the same place, contains two photographs; one of my Grandmother and I, and the other of my grandparents. I often look at these photos during my sleepy times. It is more than just looking at the pictures. As photographs often do for anyone, they remind me of a special occasion, a happy day, and is a chance to replay the memories in my head. For me, they are also a reminder of a rare day when I felt as well as I can, and achieved a lot, managing to stay for the whole day, meeting my brother and sister in laws many friends, and catching up with family. A reminder, that having managed it then, hopefully I could manage something like that again, given prior rest and meticulous planning, including pacing of each and every hour, as I did then.

I look to the left of those pictures, and I see a print I bought from a local department store the weekend I moved into my flat. It is a pretty picture of a mustard yellow flower with a red centre and browny-green background, bought to tie in with the other colours in the front room/sitting room , Behind me next to the living room door is a plaque my dad found in China, which displays part of the text from 1 Corinthians 13, a famous passage which describes the best, purest kind of love, and is often read at weddings. It also includes the chinese (mandarin?) character for ‘love’ which one of the carers one explained to me in depth. Interesting at the but unfortunately cannot remember what he said, at all. I often find this; that my persistent tiredness prevents me from taking new information in and remembering it fully, if at all, sometimes.

Next, to the hallway. There are several things displayed here. First, is a small mirror which a dear friend bought me from a posh shop as a house-warming present when I moved into this flat, Moving right, next is another flower print, also yellow and gifted from the same friend, which she bought to tie- in with the shade of yellow we painted the hallway. At this point my memory fails me. I’m off to check out what else is on the walls!! As it happens, I was right. The only other thing displayed in the hallway is pinned up next to the bathroom – a calendar of photographs of various Scottish landscapes which was a gift from my friend’s mother; a thank you present for ‘putting up’ her son and his friend. Translation, should you need it: for having them stay with me!

Finally, to what is displayed on the walls in my bedroom. The first thing most people notice when they walk in was a gift from my dear grandmother; a framed picture of my ‘Sunday-name’, Jacqueline, written in calligraphy, which she bought during a holiday to somewhere in Canada some years ago. Previously, I had nowhere to display it, so it lived in a cupboard at my parents house for some years, but when they moved house a year ago, the picture came to live with me.

Moving clockwise round my room, next is a pinboard, on which I display reminders to myself of what. and who to pray for, which i use at various times of the day or night, having read of someone who made something similar as, unlike me they were completely confined to bed, but from that prayer-board could reach all corners of the globe by praying for missionary workers and projects oversees, and other friends who had requested prayer for themselves or people they knew.; I read it inspired to begin my own and it has helped focus my mind on a number of occasions now. Here again, I have to go off and check what I missed out.

Moving clockwise around my room, next is the newest addition to the space, a recent birthday present from a very dear friend, and her soon-to-be-husband; a silhouette of a horse. I loved this as soon as I saw it, partly as it was such a thoughtful gift. A small yet significant reminder of one of my passions, and brings a smile to my face every time I see it as it reminds me either of my friend or of the pleasure I get from seeing the horses, and from horse-riding. When I went into my room, I saw the final item, a framed painting I had completely forgotten about, which I bought at a open day at a local social enterprise. The painting itself is special, of daffodils of a similar hue to the colour of the paint in my room, in a red vase on a purple background. I bought it partly for that, and partly for how bright and cheery it is. I smile every time I  see or think of it, either because of the painting itself or because it reminds me of the young woman who painted it; a friend who is a beneficiary of the social enterprise project. I loved the painting as soon as I saw it in the art room, and treasure it. Much like my ‘prayerboard’, when I see the painting it reminds me to pray, this time for the young woman herself or more broadly for the social enterprise which supports her and many other friends.

I suddenly realised while i was writing about the painting I have forgotten two further pieces displayed in my sitting room. One, a photograph in the far corner of the room, of me sitting on the horse I love, me sat bolt upright wearing a hat which obscures my face but protects my head, and the horse, patient as ever, standing to attention  ears pointing skywards  just as he has done hundreds of times before, being an ex-police horse who loves the camera and knows exactly what do when a camera is pointed in his direction, a true professional!

The final item in my sitting room is also a picture of a horse. This time it is a caricature drawn by a friend, of an imaginary horse, (apparently modelled on the horse from the disney film ‘Tangled’!!). The horse is sitting in an electric wheelchair of all things, a expression of pure terror on its face. It makes me giggle every time I see it, and is a point of conversation for a lot of people when they first come into my house, and often, actually, an ice-breaker, if I have not met the person before. I guess by now, you are wondering about the story behind the picture. I asked my friend to draw it after an incident when I let a horse get too close to my wheelchair, and it bit a button out of the control panel! My fault entirely. A friend later remarked it would be just like this particular horse to steal my chair and joyride round the farm!! This caught my imagination and so I commissioned my friend to draw it for me, not being at all gifted in it myself!

Being blessed with lovely friends, I have one or two other pictures I have no room to display. One is new, and the other has been taken down to make room for something else. The other is a recent birthday present of three prints, designed to be displayed together. They are very pretty and make me smile, but I will have to move pictures around to make room for them.

I am not aiming for any particular mood; or even any particular look, but I love how each of the items on each wall has a story behind it; either the very first things I chose for my first flat, or a memory of happy times, or a gift from a dear friend. The memories are precious enough to help me keep going in the tough times; but also each time I see each item I remember who gave me the gift, and how blessed I am to have them in my life. I don’t generally have photographs sitting around, as I would tend to send them flying with a stray arm or if I knock into them with my wheelchair, which is often! Having recently had a party for a big birthday, I do have some photos I might display in frames around the place, though I will put them well out of harm’s way!

 

This could only happen to me!

or those of you who regularly follow this blog, this story may not surprise you. I’ve been in some scrapes in my time, some of which I have recorded here.  A good friend encouraged me to write about the latest one in the middle of this week. All of us have done silly things at one time or another, and this is mine…

Wednesday evening just gone, I was zipping round my living room in my wheelchair collecting things I needed overnight or first thing in the morning, including my mobile phone, kindle, and medicine box affectionately known as ‘the UFO’ as it does rather look like one! This being done, the last thing I had to do was to put my dressing-gown on. Simple enough, you might think. I stood in front of my wheelchair for when I was likely to get sick of standing and got the first arm into my gown. Next thing I knew, my dressing gown was being sucked under my wheelchair wheels, and my wheelchair was bashing my good leg. I didn’t realise then but my dressing gown cord had wrapped itself around the wheelchair control. I began praying feverishly for a way to get the chair away. I reached back, hoping to find the ‘off’ switch on the wheelchair, but instead I grabbed the golf ball toggle on my chair and forced it away from me.  At some point about then, I realised with horror that the tie on my dressing gown was wrapped around the golf ball on my wheelchair. The wheelchair careered into the shoe-rack; the wheels continuing to spin at a ferocious rate. I didn’t realise at this point that I was hurt. I somehow made it over to my wheelchair. I made the mistake of trying to move the chair backwards by moving the toggle. All I did was make the carpet burn, and the hole in the linoleum worse, though I didn’t realise this at the time. Smelling burning, I dived for the off-switch on my chair and started trying to move the chair out of the doorway. How I thought I would manage that…! I collapsed back on my bed, defeated. As I begun frantically texting the friend who was staying on the sofa bed that night, she pressed the buzzer to be let into the flat.

I told the story breathlessly and almost shaking with shock. I watched my friend thinking about what to do next, and then all of a sudden she had clambered over the wheelchair so she was with me on my side of the room. Moving an ankle boot from under the chair wheel, she managed to wrench the chair free with help from the strong bar on the back of the chair. Mission accomplished.

My friend began to survey the scene, jabbing her foot at something on the floor. It was then that we relialised I had torn the linoleum. Fortunately, that was easily sorted with duct tape. Next we did the only thing to do in those situations – put the kettle on!! While Emma made the tea, I began to take stock of what had happened, deciding not to clean the carpet where the night bag had split. I started at it, unable to contemplate doing anything about it and knowing I was in too much pain to be able to kneel down and clean the carpet. The tea helped soothe me a little. I went off to my room fairly quickly after that, still not really able to believe what happened, and eventually slept.

The rest helped my leg, but the last couple of days have been tough, trying to get my right leg to take my weight instead of my left. My emergency-only zimmerframe has been indispensable. I’ve been both napping and full-on sleeping much more than usual. Lazily sliding my feet across the floor, or performing inelegant pirouettes to transfer from, say, bed, to chair is much easier than the usual semi-walking thing as my leg just can’t cope. Here’s hoping it improves in time or I will have to be off to my nearest accident and emergency department.

 

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As if the above were not enough excitement, this afternoon between me and my carer we decided we would attempt to make it through the remains of the snow to the local supermarket. However, neither of us realised how thick the snow still is up here. I got so far before I got stuck, sideways, almost totally tipping the chair. Off went the carer to get my zimmerframe while she reversed my wheelchair backwards out of the worst of it. However, once she began trying to get my chair to trace its steps, it became hopeless again. Off went the carer for the snow shovel, returning triumphantly, and merrily hacking away at the compacted ice. Again and again, we tried to move my chair but to no avail. A teenage boy stared at us for a while and then walked on by, just as an older gentleman drove past us. Eventually, a neighbour stopped to offer help, pushing my chair from the metal bar on the back. Success! I am now sat here writing while the carer goes off to the local supermarket. I hope both stories made you laugh at least in part! We all have freak accidents, whatever we drive. And, we all do daft things!

Carer is back now so I’m off to have a mug of tea and work on my post for Bigbible. Here’s hoping for a quiet incident free evening!

The day(s) I (almost) ‘kicked the bucket’

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Almost, but not yet…

I have no clue what the 11th item on my bucket list is. (Today’s Daily Prompt). I don’t even have a bucket list! This even strikes me as odd. I’m not entirely sure why. My best guesses are that I’m not that ambitious. I’ve never had a wish to see the world, perhaps because I struggle with things like travel sickness. I’ve no idea what people would normally put on a bucket list. It’s also perhaps because in general, I’m more chilled than most about the end of life thing. I almost died a few times as a baby, as I was 12 wks premature and very ill, needing operations as a tiny baby. I’ve also been in a car accident, which I wasn’t badly hurt in, but the only reason for that is there was no traffic travelling in the opposite direction, or I may have been toast. Most recently, I had a life saving operation; the one which gave me the bag on my tummy. I’ve had to face it, which is part of why I’m not afraid. I also know where I’m going when I do die, the bigger part of why I’m unafraid.

So, what’s on a bucket list?

If I were to have a bucket list, I get it might include things like getting a book published, eventually, visiting friends in America, and I’m unsure what else. So over to you! What would be on your bucket list?

 

Introduction to the realities of illness and disability…

Blogging, but only just…

I’ve been wondering recently, how much of a readership I have left, given how sporadically I have been posting here. In an ideal world, I’d love to post every day, and started out with intentions to do so. Unfortunately, the realities of life barged their way in. I’m beginning to try to wrestle my life back, but it’s best to start from nowhere. If I don’t expect anything, I might just surprise myself! I’m sure everyone living with illness or disability, or both, in my case .will have a vastly different experience.  Let me try to explain why, and what some of this means for me.. This post also answered today’s daily prompt

The same name, different realities…

Certainly, both levels of illness and disability, or one or the other, can vary for some people from day to day, from week to week, and from person to person. Two people with the same’ disability or illness, and even something which manifests itself in similar ways, will still experience it differently. I know someone with cerebral palsy, who up until and including the time I knew them, by their own admission, had never experienced a day’s pain in their lives. I know people with cerebral palsy who have asked me what a spasm is. I also know people with cerebral palsy who can do far more than me before they hit the same level of tiredness, and who are not ‘ill’ beyond the standard colds and flu and whatever. However, I am thankful that I do not have some of the other traits of cerebral palsy, such as epilepsy, or a significant learning disability. The closest I come to a mild learning disability is that my level of spatial awareness is too poor for me to be able to read a map or to learn to drive. I live my life within a restricted geographical area and am happy within those boundaries. Cue panic if I even have to step outside those.

The medical part of the illness…

There are aspects of my disability I can ‘control’ by the way I manage it. Other things, however, have a life of their own, such as my ileostomy bag. I had a meeting yesterday to talk about the management f it, and it turns out I can only use one particular bag cause of requiring a ‘high output’ bag overnight… There are hundreds of styles of ileostomy bags and different pieces of kit, and it’s typical of me that my needs only half-suit one particular system. Those things are very definitely out with my control, and can become incredibly frustrating.

There are many other things out with my control such as what time I get up, and go to bed, how tired I am, how much pain I am in, the affect this may or may not have on my speech, my mood, and my quality of life. The more ‘needs’ you have, the more professionals, and agencies, and clinics you need to allow into your life to help you manage aspects of it. Often it is only about management, not cure. Each person often only sees their part of my care in isolation, so for example, there is a brand of painkiller than would help me manage the shortness of my gut, in a small way, but this has a horrendous affect on my fatigue, and does not manage my pain in the most effective way. There is a treatment I am having to manage other symptoms, but that again, is not a cure, and surgery not an option. Neither is surgery for a reversal of my ilestomy. So I have had to learn to accept these things.

There are some things I can accept, and indeed, even some tings I can ‘relax’ about. I am learning to ‘go with the flow’ even. For example, I am learning not to be a control freak over what food, and brands of food, is in the fridge, to mind the way the washing is put on the airer, or to mind the way my hair is dried. I am learning simply to feel relieved that I can often have these things done for me, thus saving energy I either don’t have, or energy I can use for other things. There is also of course, lots I am still learning, like finding things that can increase or decrease my levels of pain, however small those things are, such as ‘gentle’ (!) exercise at the gym, a nap, or full on sleep in the morning. I think for me, morning naps work better than afternoon ones! All of this said there is still much I wish I could do. Just getting through every day seems to take so much energy.

This was the week that…

So far this week, it’s been unusual in that I didn’t have a ‘sit’/PA-type time on Monday. Plenty of time for a blog post, and article, and a couple of other things? Wrong!

Carer C arrived in t flat right on time as usual, only to disappear just as quickly having been called away to another client who cannot get themselves out of bed. She helped me to sit up, and then left me in bed, with chronic back pain. Bless her, she returned as quickly as she could, did some of her duties and was about to get me washed when someone pressed the entry button on the intercom. Here was the nurse…! A few minutes later, the morning routine resumed. Having found something suspect about the stoma, I sat repeatedly calling my local surgery for an emergency doctor’s appointment, which, thankfully, I got. All of this done, there was the morning gone… indeed time slipped by until 2pm, by which time I’d had enough and phoned a friend. I did get a break in the afternoon as I went off to have afternoon tea with a friend. Now I thought, I could breathe a sigh of relief. My main key holder arrived later to help me put my newest medication in the U.F.O (noisy, spaceship shaped automatic medication dispenser connected to a call centre. Unfortunately, as my friend/key holder explained, the call centre is unhappy about how much medication I seem to miss. Cue upset from me, a long discussion, and trying to find yet more strategies to help me cope with another problem. Lovely of said key holder/friend to intervene though. Went to bed thoroughly exhausted, however, this was the kind of start to the week that impacts on the rest of it…

The rest of this week has just flown. Tuesday was a hospital appointment, plus a blood screening, and a sleep in my wheelchair in the afternoon, and evening. I knew Wednesday would be no different. Each of the first three days of this week have been ‘busy days for me. Almost more than I can cope with. Together, absolutely more than I can cope with. Just one of those days in a week can be enough for me! Wednesday was an early care call, after which I tried and failed to get some writing done before I went to my friend’s house for the fortnightly Women’s group. A quick lunch, and a meeting with a district nurse (DN) manager, the Community Stoma Nurse, my Joint Care Manager (the NHS version of a social worker), and  Carer C, with a lot of verbal input from me. If I was exhausted before, I had absolutely no energy now! A curry, a rest, and I trundled off to lead the prayer meeting, sounding surprisingly awake. However, all of this effort also involves what is called “Payback Fatigue”. I suffer a lot of this. The more I can pace my week, doing things at a slower, equal pace, and in an organised way, the better. However, this is something I am still learning to do, and is by no means the whole solution. By today then, I was floundering. I woke up with my stoma bag having burst, and went back to bed after Carer C helped me complete my morning routine. I woke only to see the nurse, and fell asleep again. Having woke up when Carer C arrived to do the sit/Pa time, we decided I had enough energy to go to the gym. Make no mistake, I am no fitness fanatic. I can manage a couple of machines, and a few specialist machines which help with gentle stretching of sore muscles. This was enough to send me off to sleep again. So frustrating. So much sleep, from so little activity!

So, what about the rest of the week?!

I wrote half this blog before sleep, and half afterwards. I fear that after reading this, I will have put most of my readership to sleep! I have written it to try to illustrate some of the frustrations and complications, as well as some of the lessons that come with living from long-term chronic illness and serious physical disability. I feel there is a lot of ignorance in general among the government, as well as the public as to the everyday realities of living with such things, to say nothing of the economic consequences. I hope to get some more constructive things accomplished in the next few days, but only time will tell…

GPs must treat foreigners under new guidelines | Mail Online

I first saw the following headline as I passed the Newspaper display in my local supermarket, and halted my chair in shock! The following is from the Daily Mail, on the 13/10/12. Click the following link to read the article: GPs must treat foreigners under new guidelines | Mail Online.

I have no doubt we will hear much story in the coming days, from every possible angle. However, as someone with a long-term illness and a long-term disability, I am astounded that such a decision could be reached while leaving common sense at the door. For m, this one is the latest in a list of CRAZY decisions about the NHS… and we have to take action while we can. Id love to know what you all think of this decision.