Life, Stress & Coping Strategies

While I’ve been writing and contributing to various other projects, my blog has taken a backseat over the past few months. In all honesty, I’ve recently lacked all motivation and interest to write any blog posts.

I realise many bloggers feel this way from time to time – going through periods of having lots of ideas and enthusiasm, followed by weeks or even months of non-productivity.

I don’t want to go into the reasons for my lack of motivation. Suffice to say, I’ve had other things on my mind. This has resulted in fluctuations in mood, poor focus, zero energy, and insomnia.

For the most part, I’m happy and content with life as it is. Don’t get me wrong, it is far from ideal and there are things I wish were different – things beyond my control. But this is the case for most of us, right?

My point is, sometimes we need to take a break, de-stress and re-evaluate before moving forward. Inevitably, we all experience stress at some point in our lives, and we each have our own methods of dealing with it.


Here are a few of my coping mechanisms:

1. Music therapy ~

Music is a big part of my life and not a day goes by that I don’t listen to some form of music. Most of the time, I can be found wearing earphones. As soon as I have the house to myself, the first thing I do is put music on. I also listen to it every night before bed. If nothing else, it serves as a distraction and helps to prevent overthinking (something I’ll confess, I do a lot).

(Above: YouTube video of the John Lewis TV advert, featuring a little girl dancing carelessly around the house to the song, Tiny Dancer by Elton John. This basically represents me when home alone!)

There are songs appropriate for every mood and occasion. Music has the power to stir emotions, to inspire, to energize, cheer us up, remind us of past events and people. I think I’d go crazy without it!

Here is a recent guest blog post I wrote for Mitch Coles, listing some of my top tunes!

2. Time with loved ones ~

Nothing cheers me up more than babysitting my gorgeous baby nephew, who is almost 15 months old. That kid is truly the love of my life! I may be irritable and in the worst mood, but as soon as I see that little face, everything seems okay.

He’s now at the stage where lots of babbling, climbing (of my wheelchair!) and toddling is taking place. His expressions crack me up, and the way he flashes a beaming smile and puts his arms out for cuddles just melts my heart. On a bad day, there’s nothing better (in my opinion) than taking baby G for a ride on my lap while he beeps the horn again and again and again…

3. Alone time ~

Innately, I am a bit of a loner. I’m not a people person and am quite at ease in my own company. Of course, I enjoy being around those I love and care for. But I also need my own space to just…be! If I’m with lots of people for long periods of time, I reach a point where I need to escape and be on my own for peace of mind.

4. Get out the house ~

Another form of escape. Being stuck at home day after day (as is often the case for many disabled people) sends me stir crazy. Simply getting outdoors can be a huge relief. Sometimes I don’t want or need to go anywhere in particular. It just helps to get in the car and drive around country lanes to get some fresh air and perspective.

5. Avoid social media ~

It’s no secret to those who know me best that I’m no fan. Yes, it serves its purpose and I am fortunate to have met some great friends via social media. For me, this is really the only reason I persevere with it! But again, sometimes I feel the benefit to my state of mind when switching off and abandoning social media, if only for a few days.

This can be difficult as a blogger! But long ago, I promised I would never let myself become the type of person who never looks up from their mobile phone. Even now, I see people tapping away incessantly, unable to tear themselves away from their smartphone, and I wonder what they find to do.

Showing my age now, but I do miss the days before mobile phones were common place; when people actually stopped, looked around, appreciated their surroundings, lived for the moment and spoke to people.


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The Winter Edit: Part 2

5 Tips to Stay Well through Winter

The dark nights are drawing in and the weather is turning increasingly colder. The harshness of winter fills many disabled people, myself included, with dread.

How can we best prepare ourselves for winter?

We are 80% more likely to catch a cold during winter.

Bearing that in mind, here are my top tips to stay well and defend yourself against those nasty winter viruses.

Click here for Part 1 ~ Top Tips to Keep Warm through Winter!


1. Stock up on supplies:
Medication –


• It’s always advisable to keep a stock of essential supplies in your home. Several factors, including adverse weather, can prevent you from getting hold of medicines at short notice.
• All my medications are on repeat prescription so that I don’t have the bother of getting hold of a GP every time I need something.
• As someone with Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy, a common cold for me can develop scarily quickly, and so I ensure there’s always a reserve of antibiotics at home, should I need them.
• It’s important to go and get your Flu jab annually and, where relevant, the pneumonia vaccination. Don’t leave it too late to protect yourself from influenza – it takes two weeks from the time you’re injected for your body to build up an immunity.

Contacts –

• It’s good practice to have a list of contacts, in case of an emergency. Include medical professionals (e.g. doctors, consultants, physiotherapists and hospital ward/department direct lines) so that you or your next of kin can contact, should you become ill. Keep your list somewhere easy to find, such as on the fridge, and make copies!

2. Nutrition:

• I choose to take supplements including a daily multivitamin and probiotics, in order to boost my immunity. Supplements come in various forms: tablet, capsule, liquid and powder. If you struggle to swallow pills, there’s always another option out there for you.
• I’m not a fan of water, so I drink a lot of herbal teas, such as lemon and ginger, to keep me hydrated and flush out toxins. Both ingredients are naturally antibacterial while ginger also helps ease migraines, inflammation and nausea (the latter being a common side effect of antibiotics). Add some honey for sweetness and to soothe a sore throat.

• I find smoothies and soups are an easy way to get your recommended allowance of vitamins and minerals. It’s really important to eat healthily to aid your bodies defence against all those coughs and colds circulating throughout the winter months. Remember: you are what you eat!

Top Foods: lemon, ginger, garlic, onion, kale, cinnamon, turmeric, honey, apple cider vinegar, grapes, natural yoghurt and chicken soup.

3. Cleanliness:

• I keep a little bottle of antibacterial hand gel in my bag (you can buy them really cheaply from most shops nowadays). I use it when out and about or using public transport. It’s a simple way to prevent the spread of germs from surfaces and person to person.
• It’s stating the obvious but wash hands with soapy water and maintain clean surfaces within the home. It’s often difficult to prevent all members of a household becoming ill when one gets sick. But simple precautions such as this could make all the difference.
• Grab yourself a few packets of antibacterial wipes and remember to clean phones, remote controls, computer keyboards and door handles regularly. You’d be amazed how much bacteria harbours there.
• Be considerate and try to cough and sneeze into a tissue rather than the air. It’s a good idea to keep plenty of tissues in stock. Please don’t do what my Dad does and carry a snotty cotton handkerchief around with you all day – bleurgh!
• Replace your toothbrush after you have fully recovered from an illness.

4. Physiotherapy:

• It’s beneficial to stay as active as physically possible, particularly throughout winter as immobility makes us more vulnerable to infection.
I am completely non-ambulant and so this is a major issue for me. Immobility results in muscle decline and poor circulation, which in itself leads to further complications.
• Although I cannot exercise in a conventional fashion, I basically wriggle and move about as much as I can. For example, I flex my feet & wiggle my toes, lean back and forth and side to side in my chair. Don’t be afraid to put some music on, loosen up and just MOVE however you can, for as long as you can.
• If you are able, go swimming as this is the best exercise for those with physical disabilities.
• Remember to pay attention to your lungs! Deep breathing exercises are an essential daily requirement for me. Following the Active Cycle of Breathing Techniques (ACBT) helps to keep me as strong as I can be.

5. Avoid Germs:

• I am particularly susceptible to respiratory viruses. If I go anywhere near someone with a cold, 9/10 I will catch it. For me, a common cold can quickly progress into a much more serious condition, I do my best to limit exposure to infected people.
• I avoid overcrowded spaces and public transport when I’m feeling run-down, whilst taking and shortly after a course of antibiotics as this is when my defences are the lowest.
• At times when coughs/colds are prevalent within the local community, I try to stay away from enclosed public places e.g. trains, buses, cinema, supermarket/stores, pubs, clubs etc.
• If you must go out, remain in the fresh, open air (but wrap up warm).
Wear a scarf when out and about. When necessary, I can use it almost like a mask, pulling it up over my face. This prevents me from inhaling and contracting airborne viruses.
• Why not add a few drops of Olbas Oil (eucalyptus) to your scarf. That way, when you do need to pull it up over your nose and mouth, you can breathe in the fresh scent and it won’t feel stuffy.


I really hope this was helpful! Please SHARE this blog post so that others may benefit.

I’d love to hear from you – what do you do to stay well throughout winter?

Scoliosis | Why I Chose NOT To Have A Spinal Fusion

In my latest piece for Muscular Dystrophy Trailblazers, I explain how and why I chose NOT to have a spinal fusion, as a child.


My Experience

I was offered corrective scoliosis surgery at the age of nine.

Back then, I had a general diagnosis of congenital muscular dystrophy,and was able to walk short distances wearing leg splints. Many years later, my condition was specified as Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy.

At the time, I had no idea why I was going to see a Consultant orthopaedic spinal surgeon. I was nine! To me it was just yet another appointment.

There was no faffing around; this doctor was straight to the point! I was told I needed imminent corrective surgery to prevent further decline. I was horrified to hear the graphic details, the lengthy recovery period, and how it could even prove fatal.

Of course, I now appreciate that with any surgical procedure, doctors are obliged to inform the patient of every potential risk and outcome, including death. But this was unexpected news to take in at a young age.

How I Made My Decision

As a child, I annually attended Birmingham Heartlands Hospital, where I saw a paediatric neuromuscular Consultant.

My parents and I were never given a prognosis nor any indication regarding if or how my condition might progress. Life expectancy was never discussed and no doctor could tell if I would, in time, come to rely on a wheelchair. We were very much in the dark, living day-to-day.

Frankly, these appointments frustrated and bored me to tears! We would wait hours to see the doctor, and would leave knowing nothing more than we did before.

I have, in all honesty, learnt infinitely more as an adult through my own research, social media and from others with muscular dystrophy.

My point here is that my parents and I had nothing to base our decision on.

It is now twenty years since I was told I needed a spinal fusion. This was pre-Google and pre-social media. We weren’t put in contact with anyone who had experienced the operation. So, other than a verbal overview from the Consultant, we had no other information or point of reference.

After leaving the appointment in a state of shock, my parents told me that ultimately the choice was mine. I decided I didn’t want to put myself through such an ordeal. I was, at that age, considerably more able than I am now, and none of us had any reason to think I would deteriorate as severely as I have.

Do I Regret My Decision?

At the time, it was, or at least seemed the right decision. I was able to weight-bear, finding clothes wasn’t an issue, I was pain-free, and did not require any inhalers, medication or respiratory support.

The procedure back then was very different compared to today, and I was very young. My condition was stable, I was happy and relatively able. Under those circumstances, the disadvantages outweighed the potential advantages.

However, I do often wonder how different my life, body and health might be had I said yes to a spinal fusion.

No one predicted that just a year after the offer was made, aged 10, I would become completely non-ambulant within a very short space of time. Had I any indication that this might occur, my decision may have been different.

Though my scoliosis was considerable, the ‘S’ shaped curve is now much greater. Consequently, my respiratory function is significantly affected and basic comfort is a distant memory.

On bad days, when I’m in pain and struggling for breath, or when I’m ill for months (yes, months) with respiratory infections; I do regret forgoing my one opportunity to correct my skeletal deformity.

But, what’s done is done, and cannot be undone. I’m stuck with me! I can’t change past decisions. I simply have to make the best of what I have and keep moving forward.


I’d love to hear about your experiences with scoliosis and spinal surgery.

– Have you turned down corrective surgery?

– Have you had a spinal fusion? If so, how has your life changed as a result? Is it better or worse?

The Winter Edit: Part 1

5 Tips to Keep Warm this Winter

Winter is well and truly here and so too is the frosty weather. British winters can be long, dark and unforgiving.

To help you make the most of the season ahead, I bring you Part 1 of my Winter Edit – advice, tips and tricks to ward off the chill.


1. Chilblains:

Because I am unable to weight-bear, I suffer from poor circulation, making my feet permanently cold. I have what can only be described as corpse feet – purple and puffy!

I have tried all sorts of remedies over the years to treat recurrent chilblains, but I’ve found the best to be Gehwol Fusskraft Red cream (available on Amazon).

I slather it on generously before putting on a pair of thick woolly socks, and find my feet are subtly but noticeably warmed and chilblains are kept at bay.

  • A good alternative to the Gehwol Fusskraft Red cream is the Pink Peppermint foot lotion by Lush, which works similarly to stimulate circulation. If going out on a cold day I’ll sometimes rub this into my hands to fend off frosty fingers.
  • In terms of footwear, you can’t beat (in my humble opinion) a pair of shearling lined boots *ahem, Ugg dupes*. They may not be the height of sophistication, but they do the job and they’re ridiculously comfortable. I can imagine all the guys out there are thinking this is one for the ladies, but there is a good selection of shearling lined winter boots out there for men too.

2. Layering:

We all know it’s best to layer clothing when cold. However, this is not so easy to do when you’re a wheelchair-user.

Getting dressed is a daily struggle for me, so having to battle with more than one top fills me with dread.

So, my advice put simply; if you can layer, do. If like me you can’t, keep reading…

I live in leggings as they’re stretchy and comfortable. You can buy leggings everywhere and anywhere these days but I favour Marks and Spencer heatgen thermals.

There are socks, tights, vests, long sleeved tops and of course the leggings I love. Again if you’re able to, I recommend wearing these items under your usual attire for added insulation. But they’re ideal to wear alone too. M&S also feature a men’s thermal underwear range.

A great alternative to M&S is the Uniqlo Heattech range for men, women and children. This extensive selection is it is competitively priced, practical and fashionable. Definitely check this one out!

uniqlo

  • I swear by scarves. They’re so easy to throw around to protect against the winter chill. They come in so many fabrics, sizes, colours and styles. Invest in a thick woollen scarf big enough to wrap around your body like a poncho or use as a blanket over your legs. I sometimes do this if I’m home alone as I can’t manage sleeves myself.
  • Wear a woollen hat when going out in cold weather as heat escapes from our heads.
  • Gloves aren’t just for outdoors. If you suffer from cold hands, try wearing a fingerless pair when indoors which allow you the freedom to continue with your daily tasks. If it’s a particularly frosty day and I need to go out, I will layer woolly gloves over a fingerless pair. You could also purchase some USB heated gloves online.

  • Throughout the coldest months, ensure you use several bed sheets as this traps heat in far better than having one thick blanket. It’s also much easier to turn and reposition yourself with a few thinner cotton sheets over you than one heavy blanket. *I’ve mentioned it before but for those of you who struggle with turning in bed, I highly recommend investing in a satin fitted sheet.

3. Fabric:

When trying to keep warm it’s worth considering where you are and what you’re doing as this will determine which fabrics to opt for.

  • Natural fibres such as wool, cotton and silk are more insulating since they trap heat. So lightweight silky pyjamas will not only keep you snug at night, they will also help you manoeuvre more easily. Cotton is hypoallergenic, breathable and good for layering but not advisable in wet weather as it is also highly absorbent. Wool too absorbs moisture though due to its structure, water cannot enter the interior fibre. Therefore, even when soaking wet the air pockets inside the woollen fibres prevent you from losing heat. 100% wool is best as blends are less insulating.
  • The synthetic fabric polyester is good when out on a windy day. It’s durable, lightweight and can be made to any thickness. A polyester coat or jacket is a must. And why not snuggle up in bed with a polyester fleece mattress topper, available from Amazon.

4. Food:

  • Swap your morning cereal for warming porridge oats. Add a little cinnamon as it stimulates circulation thereby raising body temperature. Cinnamon spice is also full of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties which will protect you from winter viruses.

  • Opt for soup over sandwiches. Include iron rich foods, garlic, onions, spices and orange vegetables such as carrots, sweet potato and squash.
  • Whole grains, nuts and nut butters are great insulating snacks.
  • The dark days and cold weather can make us lethargic. Many of us lack the energy to cook after a busy day. So to prepare for the week ahead, make yourself plenty of warming hearty meals like stews, broths, casserole and chilli, then freeze. When you then come home in the evening, all you need do is reheat and enjoy. You’ll be warmed through in no time.
  • Hot drinks are a winter essential. I drink a lot of herbal teas, especially lemon and ginger as these ingredients are great for flushing out the system and warding off coughs and colds. When on a long journey take a flask of hot coffee or tea with you to stay warm and hydrated.

5. Home Heating:

It’s important to maintain a warm and consistent temperature in your home throughout the winter.

Exposing yourself to extreme and varied temperatures can leave you vulnerable to ill health and infection. Government guidelines advise heating our living rooms to 21C (70F).

Most of us now have central heating which can even be controlled from our mobile phones.

My family home is primarily heated by a wood burner which warms the whole house.

However, I cannot prepare and light the fire myself due to my disability. I therefore store a fan heater in my bedroom which is simply operated by the flick of a switch. There are many different electric heaters now on the market. Here’s a budget option and a higher end option for you.

You could also pre-heat your bed with an electric blanket or a hot water bottle so that it’s nice and toasty for you to get into at night.

Honourable Mentions:

  • Invest in a high tog duvet for frost nights.
  • For a quick fix, blast yourself with the hairdryer for instant heat
  • Heating pads and microwaveable heat pack
  • Reusable hand gel warmers (I have these)
  • Microwaveable slippers/USB foot warmer
  • Check out the complete care shop for a variety of warming aids
  • Enjoy a cosy night in front of the fire with a milky hot chocolate – my favourite is Galaxy or Aero – and a big bowl of homemade cinnamon popcorn!

I hope this was helpful! If so, please SHARE 

Winter Edit: Part 2 ~ Tips to Stay Well through Winter

Flu Jab: Get Yours Today!

Well, it’s upon us again; Flu season is here. Every year my family and I get the Influenza vaccination, which is free of charge here in the UK, courtesy of the NHS.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had the Flu jab to protect myself through the harsh winter months. It’s important that not only I am vaccinated, but that those closest to me are too. My immune system is much weaker than average, and my condition makes it considerably more difficult to overcome respiratory infections. For me, a common cold can quickly develop into something much more serious. It’s therefore very important that I am not unnecessarily exposed to the Flu virus.

As I have aged, my declining respiratory function has become the most concerning symptom of my disability. Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy causes muscle degeneration and scoliosis. Not only are my lungs squashed and unable to expand as they should, the muscles that make them force air in and out are slowly wasting away.

Over the years, I have fought recurrent chest infections, several bouts of pneumonia, pleurisy and an acute pneumothorax (collapsed lung), requiring a chest drain. Many long, drawn-out days have been spent in hospital trying to overcome serious complications resulting from respiratory viruses.

For this reason, I implore and encourage you all to go and get the Flu shot. It takes no time at all and I promise you, it’s completely painless. There are fables floating around that will attempt to make you believe the Flu jab can give you the Flu. This is not the case at all. Yes, the vaccine does contain a small dose of the inactive virus. This triggers antibodies, which within two weeks will protect you, if and when you’re exposed to seasonal Flu.

Like all viruses, there are various strains of Influenza which change annually. For this reason, it is essential to ensure you are vaccinated every year.

I visited my local pharmacy, without appointment, a few weeks ago to get my free vaccination. If you haven’t already, please don’t delay. Go and get yours NOW!

For more information on the Influenza vaccine visit the NHS web page here.


Related Blog Posts:

Flu | The Facts

Winter | Top Tips to Keep Warm

Winter | Top Tips to Stay Well

Cough & Cold Season | Chest Infection