New Directions : Introducing ‘Fifteen on Friday’

‘Fifteen on Friday’

I am relieved to be writing again after a hiatus of some weeks. Several times, I have begun posts but been unable to finish them. Often on a Friday I would look up the ‘Five Minute Friday’ prompt, write that, and then share it with others who have written on the same thing. However, I have written here for well over a year now save a couple of longer absences for illness I was unable to work through. Owing to another of these absences, it’s some weeks since I had an immensely helpful Skype chat with writer and blogger Robin Norgren about the direction she thinks this blog should be heading in.

Together, we came up with a plan, We decided, that as the ‘Five minute Friday’ prompts took me fifteen minutes to write the same length of text as other writers wrote in five, we came up with Fifteen on Friday, focusing on some aspect of life with a disability, with Lisa-Jo Baker’s blessing (the creator of ‘five-minute Friday). My first subject is one of my favourite hobbies, and one of my favourite ways to exercise save for horse-riding. It is a mix of swimming and physiotherapy exercises, hence the name hydrotherapy.

A snapshot captured in words: hydrotherapy

The air is still, and close, humid in fact. Those on the side-lines slowly swelter, though those who have luxury of the warm soothing water delight in its caress. The only sounds are of chatter, between those on the side-lines or those in the water, and sometimes between the two. There is one, however, who is perfectly still other than when disturbed by others around her. Still, though by no means emotionless …

Slowly, sore tired muscles begin to relax in the warmth, as joints old before their time are unusually buoyant, helped of course by two cylinder-shaped multi-coloured floats (‘noodles’).  Breaths become deeper, slowly exhaling the stress of the week, and inhaling the still warm air. Joy begins to seep in, from one pore to the other until eventually, all else is forgotten but the gentle rhythm of the water, allowing the person in the middle to bob gentle up and down, unfurling piece by piece. Sometimes, the air is punctuated by laughter.

The bit in the middle is the hard work, kicking, stretching, moving stiff joints, until the last five minutes are free to relax the same way as in the first five, floating gently and calmly… the last final gasp of warmth and joy. All too soon it is over, with just 20 minutes time allowed. Off for all the hassle of changing and the banter of lunch in the café before heading home to chores, errands and the day to day things. Until next time…

Five Minute Friday : Truth

These last few weeks especially, I’ve had to deal with an awful lot of truth: Companies you depend on let you down, equipment you rely on breaks irreparably too often for comfort, people you thought you could trust let you down, others you knew for a long time betray you or move on, illness takes its toll, so where once you could cope, you now feel you are hanging on by your fingertips. Migraines, pain, dehydration, fatigue; it all takes its toll, and suddenly you find yourself running… running to the only One who is big enough to take your burdens from you, and in time reshape and reuse them for good.

praying-hands-1427667-s
Photo Credit: http://www.sxc.hu/gallery/jamesclk

Fleeing to the One who is Truth has brought comfort and rest – ten straight hours of it in one 24 period. Books of morning prayers, a devotional on pain, daily devotional notes of various kinds and other Godly books have allowed Truth to seep into my soul, and to know the One who is Truth is helping me through days of illness, appointments and fatigue in ways I thought I could never do… Truth is, I know One who will never leave or forsake me, and who has not allowed me to drown in the water.

If you are struggling today, seek out the Truth, the only One who can help. The website www.lookingforGod.com is a good place to start.

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This post was written for Five Minute Friday. Do check out the ink and have a go yourself, I’d love to read it. Comment below with your link!

The one with the wedding (2)

the picture shows two intertwined gold wedding bands
the picture shows two intertwined gold 
wedding bands
http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1326034

A year on from the last wedding I attended, this past weekend, I went to another. This time, not of family, but of dear friends. I once looked into carers accompanying me to these things, but between their costs, my costs, and agency fees, it’s far too expensive. My Mum kindly steps in to assist me, and to do the driving, the easiest way of travelling, with all the stuff I need, even for one night. Arrangement was, I would pack my own bag the day before, so it was ready for Mum to put in the car. In my wisdom, I didn’t write a list of what I might need. I need so much, even for one night, the thought of writing a list was exhausting in itself, so I decided to ‘wing it’. This was largely successful, except I did leave one thing at home – my box of medications fondly known as ‘the UFO’. I was 30 minutes into the car journey before I realised this, meaning that we would be late for the wedding if we went back to collect it. I chose to soldier on.

My friends’ wedding was wonderful. The Church of England ‘civil’ part of the ceremony was conducted by a friendly, jovial vicar, who seemed genuinely fond of my friend. This wedding was different. The friend I now know better is a Christian, but my other friend, the one I knew originally, is a Messianic Jew. This meant that there was a wonderful mix of official ceremony, favourite hymns, combined with Jewish elements including a huppah, a canopy under which the ceremony was conducted; a glass being smashed underfoot by the groom, a chorus with a jewish tune, (sorry for the generalisation, unsure how else to describe it). At the end, the Aaronic Blessing (in Numbers 6) was read in both Hebrew and English. I’ve been to many weddings, and this one really stood out. Not just because of the elements recorded above, but also because this was a wedding which focused on their Saviour too; from hymn and reading choices, to the post ceremony message or sermon.

The teatime reception was fantastic too. Mum and I were seated next to a wonderful couple with whom we could easily converse, as we quickly discovered we had things in common, and both people were full of mischief and stories. The meal was one of Yorkshire portions – double helpings of meat, massive Yorkshire puddings, (made of batter, for anyone unfamiliar of them) at least three vegetables done different ways, and two lots of potatoes. The speeches were interesting and witty, at times sick-makingly romantic (from the groom, obviously) who had written parts of his speech in Hebrew (with translations into English) for his bride.

The evening disco had a great mix of songs, (great at the time, but now none of them spring to mind!!) Other friends arrived at the beginning of the evening too, which was lovely, though by this time it had already been a long day, and a massive effort to last that long. We left about 10 pm, which meant I was asleep from 11 pm. I was so exhausted I slept for 5 and a half hours continuously before my body woke me – my back having seized completely (which it does at home for less sleep) meaning without my electronically controlled hospital bed I needed a lot of help simply to sit up, shuffle to the edge of the bed, stand up, and get to the bathroom. Normally I would use the remote controls on the bed to sit, then effort-fully and painfully swing my legs and shuffle, transferring to my electric wheelchair which I use to get to the bathroom. It was during some of this that I prayed God would help me cope with the remainder of the weekend without medication, and with chronic pain, plus the emotional toll of being without ‘special someone’.   A picture came to mind, of sitting in Abba’s lap, with his strong arms continuing to hold me tight. I kept this in mind all night.

(N.B. Scroll to almost the bottom of the webpage for a clickable link to page 2 of the post)

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…