Very few people know that I used to mentor and teach art to primary school children.
I’ve always found it easy to interact with kids. They say it how they see it – no agenda, no bullshit. And I have a very low tolerance for bullshit!
I’d happily take on a room full of kids over a room full of adults, any day!
I mentored one particular lad for about 18 months. He had just turned 8 when I first met him. He came from a deprived area, one of four siblings, his dad was in prison and his mum…well, let’s just say she wasn’t as conscientious as she should or could have been.
Later down the line, his 12 year-old sister accused one of the younger male teachers of indecent assault. Blimey, I remember that day vividly!
The lad, (let’s call him Bob!), was a lovely kid – really polite, always happy to see me (nice to be appreciated, eh).
Bob really struggled with reading and writing. To begin with, he refused to even try. All he wanted to do was play games. Time for negotiation – reading first, then we play games. He would often look up at me to read out the longer words for him. No mate, give it a try first. Break it down and work it out.
Admittedly, the school books were pretty crap, so I bought some more interesting ones to motivate him. He liked dinosaurs and pirates so that’s what we mostly read about.
I had studied art at university and he soon noticed that I could draw. So from then on, every session – “draw me a dinosaur!”, “draw me a pirate!”
Flipping heck, kid! How about you draw me a dinosaur!
In all honesty, I didn’t mind. It was nice to see him enthusiastic about something.
Despite my very obvious disability, in all that time, Bob never once questioned it – not that I would have minded if he did. From the get-go, I was just Caz the mentor.
He questioned everything else, mind you!!
~ How old are you?
~ What do you do?
~ Are you married?
~ Do you have kids?
~ Why not?
~ Where do you live?
~ Who do you live with?
~ Can I see your ID? (Yes, I showed him my ID to which he responded, “THAT’S NOT YOU!”)
~ What’s your real hair colour?
~ Can you dye your hair so I can see it, please??
This morning, I had a conversation with a friend about anxiety. (It’s good to talk, folks!)
We all experience anxiety to some degree. I know I do. I worry about certain situations and often place far too much emphasis on what others think of me. But I’m gradually accepting that these things are out of my control. So why worry?
My friend, (let’s call her Brenda!), was absolutely fine when she got to mine, though her anxiety had flared up earlier causing her to overreact and behave irrationally. As she put it, she “catastrophized”. The fact she’s aware of this is, in itself, a positive sign.
Brenda has various mental health issues resulting from personal trauma. She takes antidepressants, antipsychotics and is undergoing counselling.
For a LONG time she buried her issues and tried to carry on as usual. This culminated in Brenda becoming very ill and unable to cope with everyday life. It was only at this point that she sought medical support and realised that what she was experiencing isn’t “normal”.
I asked Brenda what happened this morning to cause her to overreact. Her parents have bought a wooden toy kitchen for her son, which wasn’t in the plan. It’s a Christmas present Brenda specifically told her mum not to buy. Not a big deal, you might think. So I asked, “why did it bother you so much?”
Control. The situation was taken out of her control and this triggered Brenda’s anxiety.
She worried her son wouldn’t like it.
She worried he would like it too much.
She worried he might be teased/judged for receiving a stereotypically girly toy.
She worried about the cost.
She worried that he would prefer the toy kitchen to the gifts she has bought for him.
She was overthinking the whole situation. But she knows this. So once her anxiety subsided a little, she removed herself from the situation, went home, shut herself away and had a nap. Anxiety is mentally and physically exhausting!
It’s only through therapy and counselling that Brenda is learning to recognise her triggers, symptoms and manage her anxiety. She can better organise her thoughts, respond to her feelings and differentiate between what is real and unreal.
She summed up her anxiety in one simple phrase ~ fear of the unknown. I’d never thought of it this way. But it makes a lot of sense!
But there are also times when my patience is wearing thin. Some days, I’m just not in the mood!
Today is one of those days.
I attended a routine hospital appointment and parked my Motability WAV in a disabled bay, with my blue badge clearly displayed, as usual.
As I reversed out of the WAV, I heard a woman stood directly behind me shouting, “I’m just having a nosey inside!”
*Cue eye-roll* Oh, feck off, lady!
I then waited in a small room crammed full of virally infested patients for well over an hour, only to be told the nurse I was due to see went home sick hours before. Which begs the question – why not inform me of this on arrival?!
I waited a further half an hour to be seen by another nurse. At least it wasn’t a wasted journey, I guess.
Having returned to my car, I was ever-so-slightly pissed off to find a parking ticket!
As soon as I got home, I logged-on to check out the meaning of this fuckery. As I suspected – no reason for issue, no explanation and no photo evidence.
Needless to say, I wrote a strongly worded appeal. Under no circumstances will I be paying this unjustified “parking charge”. No, just no!
I have just turned 31 (sooo old!) and, in order to live my life, I require support from personal carers.
Today, I (well, actually my mother) received the following letter…
Now, don’t you just love it when so-called “professionals” invite themselves to your home to drink your tea and eat your biscuits at a time and date to suit them?
It seems the assumption is that disabled folk just sit at home all day, idly twiddling their thumbs ~ Nah, mate.
Not only that, they failed to inform me and instead wrote to my mother! WTF?!
I know I’m child-sized but I am in fact a fully-functioning adult who manages all aspects of her own care needs.
~ My disability!
~ My carers!
~ My business!
~ My life!!
I wouldn’t mind so much, only I’ve spent months jumping through hoops (not literally, obviously) and answering the most inane questions in order to qualify for NHS CHC (a continuing healthcare package – to pay personal care assistants).
*FYI ~ I am currently in receipt of Direct Payments, enabling me to employ and pay my own carers*
As yet, I haven’t received a penny via CHC, though I did get a call to say an initial payment was made during the summer. Nope, sorry, no it has not!
(Little tip for you ~ when it comes to NHS/council funded care, QUESTION EVERYTHING!)
He attended university, completed a placement year, works full-time, started his own business, and is now on the Great Britain Air Rifle Talent and Development Squad. Josh is able to drive a wheelchair accessible vehicle (WAV) and has lived independently since leaving his parental home at 18.
1. University ~ Can you tell us about the process of putting a care package in place and living independently as a disabled student?
During my last year of college, I expressed an interest in going to university. After research with my social worker and factoring my needs and desires, we identified appropriate universities that fit my criteria. I then had to decide on a live-in carer or a care agency. I opted for the agency route in order to be as independent as possible.
Once accepted by the university, I sorted accommodation and started looking for care agencies. My social worker provided me with a list of care agencies registered with the CQC, but it was down to me to make arrangements. The first care agency turned out to be unpleasant! So, after 4 months, I switched to another agency who I remained with for the duration of my university experience.
2. How was your overall university experience?
My overall uni experience was, let’s say, fruitful! From falling asleep in my wheelchair in front of the mirror to having university staff put me to bed within the first week because I was so drunk. It was clear that I was going to make the most of my 3 years at uni!
I got involved with numerous societies and activities to keep myself active and included with the student culture. I had a fantastic time and never experienced any discrimination or abuse. The staff made me feel at ease, allowed me to be as independent as possible, and provided access to necessary resources.
I graduated with a first class honours in IT Management and Business and, 4 years after graduating, I was invited back to receive an Honorary Masters in Technology.
3. You carried out an internship with Hewlett Packard during your studies, and then worked as a cyber security manager. What, if any, challenges did you encounter in finding employment and how does your disability affect your working life?
The general employment process with assessment days, face-to-face interviews and telephones interviews were fairly seamless. Most employers are extremely accommodating if you give them notice and make them aware of your access needs.
I do remember one assessment day with a popular car manufacturer where the activities impacted my ability to take part due to my physical requirements. This may have affected their decision to not employ me, even though I was just as capable, if not more so, than the other candidates. But apart from that, I have not had any issues finding employment.
Obviously, my disability limits me physically. However, as I work in technology it does not affect my ability to do my job. Yes, working full-time is not easy for me, but it’s also important to remember it’s not easy for able-bodied people either.
I have always been the sort of person who just gets on with it. I also believe that with technology making everything more accessible for disabled people, in most cases, our disability should not affect our ability to work. If you have any employer with an inclusive work culture, who is willing to support, understand and give you flexibility within the work place, then for sure you can work!
4. You returned to university to speak to students about entrepreneurship, and inspire them to start their own businesses. How did this make you feel and why do you think it is so important to encourage other disabled people to pursue any entrepreneurial aspirations they may have?
This gave me a sense of achievement and fulfilment. I believe that sharing experiences, whether positive or negative, helps others to follow their own passions and aspirations.
There is a general consensus that employment for disabled people is difficult to find, and arguably this could be due to the lack of inclusive employers. This is what makes the entrepreneurial world an attractive proposition for disabled people – it is flexible, offers them ability to work around their needs, and also avoids the hardship of being in a culture that is not disability confident.
5. You ventured into self-employment and founded AbleMove. Why was this so important to you?
I have always wanted to start my own business. When I realised I could create a product to make travel more assessible for disabled people, it was a no-brainer decision for me.
When you’re working on something you’ve created and can see the life-changing benefits, there is a real feeling of fulfilment.
Winning the award gave me a sense of personal achievement and recognition. It gave me a fresh perspective on developing my own business and the benefits it can provide versus working for a large company.
The prize money and a business deal with easyGroup Ltd enabled me to give up my full-time job in order to pursue my own business. This allowed me greater flexibility regarding how I manage my disability.
7. Prior to winning the award, you had to move home and rent within the private sector. What challenges did this present?
The challenges with the private rent sector (PRS) are vast, especially given almost 85-90% of PRS homes are inaccessible for wheelchairs.
After applying for the Stelios Awards, I was told I had to move out of a good sized two bed apartment due to the landlords requiring their property back. Having lived there for 3 and a half years, it was time to start the dreaded challenge of finding a needle in a haystack.
It’s purely pot luck if you can find an accessible house to move into straight away that doesn’t need any adapations.
After fighting with the council and various estate agents, we eventually managed to find a property on rightmove. Now, when moving home I need to consider carers since I rely on them throughout the day. My main PA (personal assistant) was unable to continue working for me, and so I had to re-jig and was then only able to maintain one PA.
Finding an accessible property and then having to manage your care situation around it is extremely stressful, tiring and irritating. On top of this, I was working full-time, getting the business of the ground, doing weekly exercises and training for the Great Britain Shooting Talent and Development Squad.
8. Can you tell us about your invention, the easyTravelseat. What is it and how does it benefit disabled people?
My travelling experiences involve being manhandled from wheelchair to aisle chair and then manhandled again onto the aircraft, which is highly undignified and uncomfortable. I therefore sought to create something that would help me travel in a more comfortable and dignified manner.
The easyTravelseat is a sling/seat combination that is designed to work as an in-situ piece of equipment. It is placed in your wheelchair, and you then remain seated in the easyTravelseat until you reach your destination.
For instance, when flying, you would remain comfortably and securely seated within the easyTravelseat for your entire journey through the airport, onto and during your time on the aircraft and off again.
Once I created it, I realised the many benefits it offers disabled people. It allows users to travel in a more safe, dignified and comfortable way, on all modes of transport. Furthermore, it opens up leisure opportunities such as canoeing, kayaking, skiing and so on. The easyTravelseat enables users to be transferred quickly and easily without having to be manhandled. The user is comfortably seated with their own cushion, a gel pad or foam.
9. Where did the idea for the easyTravelseat stem from, and what did the development process involve?
The development process involved researching the types of equipment already available, and the demand for such a product. I conducted market research to determine whether wheelchair-users would find the product useful. Then we identified a concept and progressed to prototyping in order to test how the seat would work. We then moved on to the point of manufacturing the seat and getting the required medical marking and approvals in place. During this process we had been working initially with airports around the lifting side of the device, including our sling manufacturer and then an airline. We started production in February 2019.
10. Does the easyTravelseat cater for disabled people of all shapes and sizes?
The easyTravelseat will cater for the majority of disabled users with the exception of very young children, bariatric passengers or people with extreme contoured seating.
11. How does the easyTravelseat compare with similar products on the market, such as the ProMove sling or the NEPPT Transfer Evacuation Sling Seat?
The difference with the easyTravelseat is the specific design and application of use for aircraft, whilst ensuring passenger comfort. It allows users to be moved around the aircraft, including during an emergency, and to then disembark the aircraft in a much safer, dignified and comfortable manner. All other slings are designed to be removed and offer no protection or comfort when in-situ.
12. What other assistance do you think airlines could and should be offering to disabled passengers?
I think the most important area airlines should be focusing on in the immediate is the loading of wheelchairs, both electric and manual, to prevent damage. It also concerns me the people on the ground lifting these wheelchairs are at risk of causing serious damage to themselves. There is industry equipment to load wheelchairs onto an aircraft without having to manually lift a wheelchair. This would help the loaders and reduce the amount of damage to both the chairs and the airport staff. Also, a secure area in the hold may also be advantageous to prevent luggage damaging wheelchairs during turbulence.
I also think the UK should be pushing (as Canada has done successfully) the airlines to provide free tickets for a carer when flying with a disabled person. After all, the airlines make it a necessary requirement for WCHC passengers who cannot move without any support to fly with a personal assistant/carer.
Airlines should also be addressing the toileting situation inside the cabin too. It is currently impossible for the majority of disabled passengers to access the toilet whilst flying.
Regarding hidden disabilities, there are those who are much more calm when they are surrounded by objects which are all different colours.
Long term, all airlines should be looking to allow wheelchair-users to remain seated in their wheelchair, inside the cabin, during the flight.
13. What does the future hold for you and your business?
The future is bright for easyTravelseat! We are off to a steady start with interest across the globe. We believe in an accessible aviation world and are able to provide an immediate solution to help reduce some of the significant problems with maintaining safety, dignity and comfort when flying with a wheelchair.
We will now look to ensure easyTravelseat is easily accessible in as many countries across the globe as possible in the coming years.
~ joint contractures, scoliosis, progressive weakness, inability to weight-bear and respiratory decline ~
Inevitably, there is an additional impact on my mental health.
For the most part, I am upbeat and stay as active as possible. But admittedly, recurrent chest infections often get the better of me. It can feel like you’re fighting a losing battle, and frankly, it is bloody hard to remain optimistic when life is completely put on hold for months at a time, during which I’m unable to leave the house.
The considerable down-time makes forward-planning almost impossible. Over the years, I’ve missed out on many events and cancelled numerous birthday celebrations due to ill health. It is difficult to commit to social arrangements and accept invitations for fear of letting people down, which then leads to guilt.
When ill, I may…
• Have to cancel plans
• Not respond to calls or messages right away
• Be unsociable
• Be impatient
• Not want to talk
• Be unable to focus or maintain attention
• Spend a considerable amount of time resting and/or sleeping
• Lack motivation
• Be unproductive
• Feel pessimistic, frustrated and emotionally exhausted
• Feel isolated yet unable to see anyone
When I’m ill, I am out of action for a month, sometimes longer. The days are long, tiring, monotonous and utterly unproductive. It is easy to succumb to despair, so for me it is essential to establish a focus and a purpose.
• Rearrange any cancelled plans
• Don’t shut people out
• Accept support from loved ones
• Pet therapy ~ a cuddle from your beloved pet can work wonders!
• If possible, go outside, look up at the sky
• Give yourself a daily reminder of at least 3 positive things in your life
• Say out loud, “I will get through this”, “I will get better”, “I won’t be defeated”
• Don’t overexert yourself. Allow yourself the time and space you need to rest and recover
Life is a gift, but it can also be a bit shit sometimes! Always remember, you are stronger than your struggles. 💪
A Life Update | Muscular Dystrophy & Chest Infections
Once again, I’m out of action with a chest infection. Although unpleasant, this isn’t generally a concern for the average person. But for those like me who live with a neuromuscular condition (in my case, UCMD, a rare muscle-wasting disease) a chest infection is not to be taken lightly. It can develop scarily quickly and lead to more serious complications such as life-threatening pneumonia.
I have always struggled with chest infections. Every time I catch a common cold, it heads straight to my chest. As a child this necessitated a course of banana medicine (Amoxicillin), chest physio and a week off school (okay, so it wasn’t all bad).
As I have aged and my condition has deteriorated, I now find chest infections much more difficult to cope with. It can take me a month, sometimes longer to get back to any sort or normal. In the meantime, life comes to a complete standstill.
Due to the severity of my impaired lung function, I struggle to cough effectively and clear secretions, making the seemingly simple act of breathing incredibly difficult. As a result, I become totally reliant on my BiPAP machine, and find removing it for a mere 10 minutes a major challenge.
When I feel myself getting ill, I throw everything at it:
• Respiratory physio
• Stay hydrated and eat as much as possible for energy and sustenance
• BiPAP to support breathing
But in the end, for me, it really is a case of waiting it out and remaining as positive and defiant as possible.
Obviously, this is just my personal experience. There are many forms of muscular dystrophy, and each individual reacts and responds differently to respiratory illness. But one thing is true for all of us –
chest infections are no laughing matter!
You may often see members of the NMD community banging on about infection control and the importance of the Flu jab, and with good reason! For us, this really is a matter of life or death.
I think most people living with a chronic illness, disability or mental health issue can relate to this quote, at least to some extent. I know I do.
I am limited by my physical disability (congenital muscular dystrophy), despite the claims by some that you can do anything if you just try hard enough. As a non-ambulatory wheelchair-user with a muscle-wasting condition, I’m afraid there are certain things I cannot do.
I am heavily reliant on others to carry out daily activities such as cooking, cleaning, locking doors, opening and closing windows and so on. I also need help with personal care tasks like getting in and out of bed, dressing and bathing. This can be undignified, thus affecting my confidence and making me feel incredibly self-conscious and utterly undesirable. After all, who wants their boyfriend to shower them?!
I HATE asking people to do things for me, as I then feel a burden, a nuisance, an annoyance. Having to ask people to simply open a bottle or a can at the grand old age of 30 is frankly embarrassing (for me).
Sometimes I refuse to speak up and request help. Call it pride or sheer stubbornness. But there are other times I have no choice. Like it or not, I have to ask, to instruct, to explain.
For the most part, I’ve managed to conceal the extent of my disability from those around me. Many people, friends included, think I am much more able and independent than I actually am. Again, put it down to pride. But there are some people I can’t hide this from. Family members, of course, but also anyone I am romantically involved with.
Due to the nature of my disability and all the added extras – care requirements, dependency, restrictions, the inability to be spontaneous – I always believed myself to be undeserving of love. I genuinely thought *think* of myself as an unnecessary burden. Why would anyone put up with me, my weak, crooked body and all of my baggage when they could choose to be with someone else?
As a result of this and a lifetime of rejection, I put up barriers and distanced myself from society; a form of self preservation. Being told repeatedly that I’m not good enough, I’m “no one’s type”, and “too much to take on” has made quite a negative impression on my self-esteem.
Now, I don’t want to ramble or get too personal. But I am slowly starting to trust and believe I am worthy of love and companionship.
They say there’s someone for everyone. The cynical part of me still questions this. But maybe, just maybe, there is.
It takes an extra special person to accept me and my care needs. To take on, without question, a pretty drastic lifestyle change. To see past the wheelchair, the crooked body, the medical equipment and the disability itself, and simply love me for me, unconditionally. To try to convince me every day that I’m not undesirable, unloveable or a burden. People like this are rare, but they are out there!
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!
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.
I was out shopping yesterday in my Quantum 600 powered wheelchair. While the many other shoppers bustled past without a second thought, one considerate old lady stopped to ask if I needed her help to reach anything.
As fellow wheelchair-users will know, shopping can be frustrating for various reasons. Not only are we grappling with the general public (the pushing, shoving and impatience), and trying to navigate narrow aisles without running over any toes; we are also bum height! 😣
Not only that – reaching anything above or below torso level is a challenge, particularly with elbow contractures and poor grip (as in my case).
With that in mind, those few kind words from one generous old lady truly made my day. It really is the little things in life – the small gestures – that make a big difference. If only everyone was so thoughtful!
I am aware that some disabled individuals may take offence at such an offer, presumably seeing it as a sign of pity – the implication being we (disabled people) cannot manage by ourselves. However, I personally cannot construe it as anything other than sincere concern and consideration for a fellow human being.
We all need help and support every once in a while, regardless of ability or circumstance. Even if you don’t require assistance from others, at least show some gratitude and have the courtesy to decline their offer politely.