Recommended Reads

Since we’re all still stuck at home, twiddling our thumbs, I thought I’d suggest some reading material for you.

The six books I have chosen focus on the themes of disabilitymental health, positive thinking, overcoming adversity, trauma, and recovery.


(Left - Right) 'Defiant' by Janine Shepherd, 'Wheels of Motion' by Justin Brown and Lucy Hudson, and 'True Grit and Grace' by Amberly Lago
(Left – Right) ‘Defiant’ by Janine Shepherd, ‘Wheels of Motion’ by Justin Brown and Lucy Hudson, and ‘True Grit and Grace’ by Amberly Lago

‘Defiant’ by Janine Shepherd

A few years ago, I had the privilege of interviewing this former Olympic hopeful who beat the odds and transformed her life after suffering a horrific accident.

Janine Shepherd radiates energy, enthusiasm and an endearing wit. Her memoir is a must-read!


‘Wheels of Motion’ by Justin Brown & Lucy Hudson

Some of you may know that Lucy is a good friend of mine. Like me, she is a non-ambulatory wheelchair-user with a form of muscular dystrophy.

‘Wheels of Motion’ is a poetry anthology unlike any other. If you live with a disability yourself, I highly recommend you check this out! (Available on Amazon).


‘True Grit and Grace’ by Amberly Lago

Amberly Lago is another remarkable, kind and generous woman I was able to interview following the release of her memoir, ‘True Grit and Grace: Turning Tragedy into Triumph’.

Fitness fanatic, Amberly’s life was turned upside down following a debilitating motorcycle accident in 2010, leaving her with significant nerve damage and lifelong chronic pain.

She now devotes her life to helping others.


(Top Left - Right) 'Things Get Better', and 'Beautiful'. (Bottom) 'Start Your Day with Katie'. All by author, Katie Piper.
(Top Left – Right) ‘Things Get Better’, and ‘Beautiful’. (Bottom) ‘Start Your Day with Katie’. All by author, Katie Piper.

Acid attack victim, Katie Piper, is now a well-known media personality, activist, documentary maker, charity founder and mother.

She has achieved so much since her brutal assault in 2008, which left her partially blind and with full thickness burns. Katie has endured over 200 operations and invasive treatment to ensure her recovery. She really is a true inspiration!

I read Katie’s first book, ‘Beautiful’, around eight years ago. It’s a real eye opener! Yes, it is shocking and distressing, but also incredibly motivational. I highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone.

Showing Gratitude

In my previous post, I suggested writing a list of all the positive things in your life.

We’re currently experiencing tough times, but there’s still much to be thankful for.

With that in mind, here’s my list of gratitude…

1. Video calls with my brother and nineteen month-old nephew. “My no go nursery, Cazzy!” He’s quite happy going on “doggy walks” with Daddy.

2. People are realising the value of the NHS and care workers.

3. Receiving messages, calls, letters and cards from friends.

4. Blue skies, sunshine and warm weather to lift spirits.

5. Nature and Spring time. Venturing outside and exploring nature is great for improving our mood and mental health.

6. Community spirit – everyone is playing their part by volunteering, working and offering practical and emotional support.

7. My wimpy Labrador is much happier now that we’re not receiving visitors. No people – Yay!!

8. This lockdown period provides time to rest, sleep, think, plan and do the things I have been putting off, like decluttering my bedroom.

9. Environmental pollution is reducing, air quality is improving in cities, and the planet is slowly starting to recover.

10. I am fortunate to have a safe, comfortable home and a caring, loving family.

11. Finally, quarantine means there’s no pressure or expectation to shave or wax my hairy lady bits! Girls, you know what I’m talking about!

What’s on your list…?

Lockdown | Positive Thinking

I’ve read many trivial complaints on social media about the Coronavirus lockdown.

From park, pub and salon closures, postponed gigs and concerts, to cancelled botox, filler and wax appointments. Some are even moaning because they can’t race around and show off in their flashy cars. What a shame!

I appreciate we all have our own interests, outlets, coping mechanisms and methods of self-care. We all want to look and feel our best, and we all need somewhere to escape to.

But please, let’s try and keep things in perspective.

The current situation isn’t permanent. Of course, it’s tedious, stressful and frustrating, and will impact some considerably more than others. But it will pass and “normal” life will resume.

People on the frontline are literally risking their lives to help others – complete strangers. They are physically and mentally exhausted, yet keep going.

Carers continue to support the most vulnerable in society, despite the risk.

Key workers carry on working to ensure society functions and people are provided for.

On the upside, lockdown provides an opportunity for families to unite, spend quality time together and talk more.

But for others – men, women and children – being stuck in close proximity, unable to escape, can be a living hell.

The National Domestic Abuse helpline has seen a 25% increase in calls and online requests for help since lockdown began!

We all have problems and we are all entitled to feel and express what we need to in order to get through these trying times. Your experiences and frustrations are valid.

But please, keep in mind the medics, carers, key workers, the elderly, disabled, those living with domestic abusers and those separated from their loved ones.

Try to appreciate what you do have – for example, your health, home, and hope for the future.

When you’re feeling low, maybe write a list of all the positive things in your life and focus on that rather than the things you are currently missing out on.

Quote from Bob Dylan, "keep on keeping on"
Quote from Bob Dylan, “keep on keeping on”

Coronavirus | Thoughts from a Disabled Pixie

Needless to say, we are in the midst of uncertain and unprecedented times.

Photo of a card reading, 'keep hanging on in there' (left) and a medical face mask (right).
Photo of a card reading, ‘keep hanging on in there’ (left) and a medical face mask (right).

Everywhere we look, we are bombarded with the latest news regarding Covid-19; on the TV, radio, newspapers and the Internet.

While most is factual information from reliable sources, there is also plenty of unhelpful rumour and speculation, particularly on social media.

Personally, I don’t find it beneficial to watch the News three times a day, unlike my folks!

We all know by now what we should and shouldn’t be doing to limit the spread and keep ourselves and each other safe.

Guidelines on social distancing during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Guidelines on social distancing during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Why add to the stress and anxiety? I’d rather focus on other things; happier things!

Of course, the situation affects everyone in some way; domestically, financially, their work, education, physical and mental health.

This is an incredibly frightening time for many, myself included. I am considered high-risk, since I have a progressive muscle-wasting condition that affects my breathing.

A Friendly Reminder from a Delicate Little Pixie

Though we all must now adapt and change our way of life somewhat, it’s important to remember this is only temporary. Things will improve.

I’ve heard people complain about the restrictions; mostly young, fit, able-bodied people. Yes, it’s a pain in the fat ass! But it isn’t forever.

Funny meme about the Coronavirus featuring the character Jay from The Inbetweeners.
Funny meme about the Coronavirus featuring the character Jay from The Inbetweeners.

Also, please be aware that many disabled and chronically ill people are repeatedly forced into prolonged periods of self-isolation throughout their lives. Plans are often cancelled last minute due to poor health. This isn’t new to them.

So, before you complain because you can’t go out partying with your mates, or to the pub, please consider those for whom limitation and isolation is a way of life.

Final Thoughts

Show your thanks and appreciation for the NHS and those working in health and social care.

Illustration of NHS healthcare workers being saluted by Superman.
Illustration of NHS healthcare workers being saluted by Superman.

Be mindful of the most vulnerable in society, and help out if you’re able to.

Print-out for those wanting to help anyone self-isolating due to Covid-19.
Print-out for those wanting to help anyone self-isolating due to Covid-19.

Please don’t panic buy or stock pile. This isn’t the apocalypse, people!

Where possible, please support local businesses.

Be sensible, be safe, be rational.

This too shall pass…

February | Love & Kindness

This month, we’ve embraced/endured Valentine’s Day, and celebrated Random Acts of Kindness Day.

Screenshot from @MDBloggersCrew Twitter feed, from Random Acts of Kindness Day.

All of this has made me think about relationships and what they really mean.

Valentine’s Day Selfies

Funny Valentine's meme

We’ve all seen couples posting impossibly idealistic, airbrushed selfies on social media, making us believe their lives together are perfect and they couldn’t want for any more in a partner.

Ha! Who are you trying to kid? (Call me cynical).

But the truth is, when you live with someone, whether it be family, friends or a partner, you will inevitably, at times, rub each other up the wrong way and fall out. To think otherwise is, frankly, naive.

They may be senseless, petty disagreements or more serious conflicts. The important thing to consider is how you react and resolve such issues.

As the saying goes, never sleep on an argument. It may seem daft, but it’s true. An unresolved argument will just fester away.

It’s Good to Talk

Some people, somewhat understandably, choose to avoid any sort of conflict and refuse to acknowledge tension within their relationships; sweeping it under the carpet. This isn’t a healthy approach.

If you have a grievance, talk about it calmly and reasonably. Share your worries and concerns with friends, family and loved ones. Don’t bottle things up. Again, it will just fester away resulting in bitterness and resentment.

It’s Really Okay to Disagree!

We can’t all be the same. If we were, life would be very boring. You don’t have to like all the same things or agree with everything those around you think and feel in order to love them. I repeat; to think otherwise is, frankly, naive.

#BeKind

Kindness isn’t agreeing when you don’t, or avoiding potentially difficult conversations just to keep the peace. Kindness isn’t pretending to enjoy things you don’t simply to please others. Kindness isn’t inflating another person’s ego to make them feel good.

Kindness within relationships is about respecting each other’s views, differences, individuality and needs. It’s accepting that we are all flawed and forgiving sincere mistakes. Kindness is about caring enough to keep each other safe, supported and grounded.

New Year, More Me!

We’re now in the midst of January, and many are following a “new year, new me” health and fitness regime.

Most of us over-indulge at Christmas. Too much rich food and too much booze.

Everywhere you look, it seems people are trying to lose weight and tone-up. Fair play to them! Do what makes you feel good.

But just to break the trend, here I am trying to put on weight!

Okay, so…I’m teeny tiny. Pixie sized! My weight has always been fairly consistent and never really fluctuated.

Of course, my condition influences this. Muscle weighs vastly more than fat, right? Well, I have very little muscle mass. And so my BMI is always going to be much lower than the average.

I won’t lie, I’ve always consciously monitored my weight and my calorie intake. Not due to vanity, but practicality.

I am non-ambulant and therefore cannot transfer independently. I get thrown around a lot! From chair to chair, chair to bed etc. If I were significantly heavier, life would be much more difficult!

People who struggle to lose weight often ask me how I stay so tiny, considering I’m unable to exercise. Well…

~ Growing up with older brothers helps! I’ve always scraped food off my plate onto theirs. And they were always happy to finish off any food I left.

~ Study food labels and count calories.

~ Self limitation. I’ve almost trained myself to say no when someone offers me chocolate or a biscuit. Bad, I know.

~ It might sound silly but, over time your stomach does shrink and your body adapts. You learn to function on fewer calories.

*Now, to make it absolutely clear, I am in no way dictating, advising or advocating such bad habits! I am very much aware that this is unhealthy behaviour.*

So, why do I now want to put on weight?

When I’m ill, I eat less. When I’m really stressed, I stop eating. In these instances, I am NOT consciously monitoring my weight.

Over the past 2 months, I have unintentionally lost weight. This will no doubt affect my overall health and wellbeing, reducing energy levels and leaving me vulnerable to infection and illness.

Believe it or not, increasing calorie intake is far more challenging (for me) than you might imagine. It’s difficult to break the habit of a lifetime!

Before, I would go literally all day without eating a thing. No breakfast, no lunch. I would then pick at my dinner and that would be it.

I am now constantly reminding and forcing myself to consume food and drink, little and often, throughout the day.

If I can put on half a stone, I’ll be happy. I’ll still be skinny, but I’ll be healthier. That can only be a good thing!

Physical Health & Mental Health

Physical disabilities/impairments and mental health issues are not mutually exclusive!

Many people, like me, living with disabilities and chronic illnesses are affected by stress, anxiety or depression at some point in their lives.

This is not to say that the disability/impairment, whether temporary or permanent, is the primary cause of the mental health issue. It could be a contributing factor, or they may be completely unrelated. You might just be super lucky and have been blessed with both – Double whammy!

Equally, those struggling with their mental health will often (if not always) experience physical side effects, such as headaches, fatigue, insomnia, restlessness, nausea and chest pains.

Essentially, what I’m saying is, the mind affects the body and so the body affects the mind.


My Disability & Point of View

I was born with a rare form of muscular dystrophy – a physical disability – that has progressed over time. I am now a non-ambulatory wheelchair-user, having lost the ability to walk at age 10.

My condition has a considerable effect on my body and physical capabilities. With the best will in the world, there are many things I cannot do.

For example, my older brother is very fit and able-bodied. He has travelled the world and often goes trekking through the countryside and climbing mountains.

Last year, he and some mates completed the Three Peaks Challenge in aid of Muscular Dystrophy UK. Gruelling and possibly a little bit crazy, considering the 3 lads did all the driving themselves – but wow!

I often wish I could be out there with him. It might not be everyone’s cuppa, but it would be nice, just once, to experience that sort of thrill and adrenaline rush. A real physical accomplishment whilst being in the midst of nature.

But, I can’t. And I never will. Of course, this gets me down and impacts on my mood. Yes, I wish I could walk, run, dance, be completely independent and spontaneous. But I can’t. I am limited and reliant on support from others to live my life. This is something I have no choice but to accept.

There is no treatment, no cure, and no pill I can pop to help the situation. For lack of a better phrase, it is very much a case of, deal with it!

I cannot control my disability or how it affects my body. Therefore, it is important to focus on the things I CAN do and control.

I can’t dance, so I like to watch the dancing (yes, I’m a sad, old Strictly fan. Don’t care!)

I can’t drive, so I have a passenger WAV (wheelchair accessible vehicle), which allows me to get out and about.

My Motability passenger WAV (Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle)

I can’t walk or run, so I roll (with style)!

Admittedly, I’m pretty crap at sorting my own problems out. So I tend to focus on other people’s 😂 Not necessarily a good thing, but there ya go!


Living with a physical disability is a way of life. It is inflicted on us – we have not chosen this path. Similarly, living with a mental health illness is a way of life. So what you gonna do? ADAPT or Die!

Conversations about Anxiety

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!

Flu | The Facts

Influenza (flu) is a highly contagious and potentially life-threatening virus. The symptoms can develop very quickly and, in some cases, lead to more serious illnesses like bronchitis and pneumonia. It is so important to get vaccinated as soon as the flu season begins (before December ~ UK).

Who is eligible for a free NHS flu jab?

– Aged 65 and over
– Pregnant
– Weakened immune system
– Certain medical conditions e.g. asthma, COPD, diabetes, heart disease, neurological disease
– Carers
– Family members of/living with immunocompromised individuals
– Living in a long-stay residential care home facility
– Frontline health and social care workers
– Children over the age of 6 months with a long-term health condition
– Children 2 years +

Flu Facts:

– Up to 1/3 of flu deaths are in healthy people.
– Public Health England estimate that an average 8,000 people die from flu in England each year, although the figure can be much higher.
– The vaccine is thoroughly tested and has an excellent safety record. The most common side effect is mild soreness around the injection site.
– Getting your flu jab EVERY YEAR is the best way to protect yourself and those around you.
– You won’t be protected against any new strains of flu that may circulate each year unless you are vaccinated every year. Also, the protection from the vaccine declines over time.
– The risk of having a serious (anaphylactic) reaction to the flu jab is much lower than the risk of getting seriously ill from the flu itself.

Related Blog Posts:

Flu Jab: Get Yours Today!

Cough & Cold Season | Chest Infection

Winter | Top Tips to Keep Warm

Winter | Top Tips to Stay Well

Interview | Author Janine Shepherd

Here is my latest interview, with Janine Shepherd, for Disability Horizons.


Janine Shepherd: A Broken Body is not a Broken Person

Former elite athlete and celebrated author, Janine Shepherd shares her inspirational story in the best-selling memoir, Defiant: A Broken Body is not a Broken Person.

It chronicles her journey following a tragic accident that cut short her bid to compete in the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics.

Partially paralysed and suffering life-changing injuries, Janine made the courageous decision to let go of her former life and face adversity head-on, creating a new dream for herself.

Here I speak to Janine about her journey, the challenges she has faced and how she’s reinvented herself and her outlook.

Hit by a truck in 1986 during a bicycle ride in Australia’s Blue Mountains, Janine was not expected to survive. Told by doctors that she would never walk again, nor have children, she spent the next few years rehabilitating her permanent disabilities and defying all the odds.

A mother of three, best-selling author, public speaker, aerobatics pilot and the first female director of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, Janine speaks candidly and with humility about how and why she reinvented herself and changed her self-perspective.


Janine, please tell us about your disability and how it continues to affect you.

The accident gave me severe spinal cord injury – I broke my neck and back in six places. After extensive surgery and rehabilitation, there was just about enough nerve connectivity to be able to learn to walk again, albeit with a significant limp.

Now, in addition to significantly wasted lower leg muscles, I have limited feeling from the waist down and chronic bladder and bowel dysfunction. I also have to self-catheter a lot, which results in regular urinary tract infections. Your readers might agree that these issues are possibly the worst part of living with spinal cord injury.

‘Janine the machine’ is how you referred to your old self – the elite cross-country ski racer. Do you feel this remains a true representation of your character? If not, how would you now define yourself?

Even though I felt that my body was ‘broken’ after my accident, I realised that my spiritual essence and mental toughness remained unchanged. I soon learned that being ‘Janine the machine’ had less to do with athletic prowess than unshakeable determination and persistence. Recognising that gave me the strength to reinvent my life in a most remarkable way.

Following the accident and being unable to walk, you focused on learning to fly. In your book, you state: “I had to find something to replace what I had lost in my accident”. Why was it so important to set yourself such an ambitious goal?

We often define ourselves by things outside of us – our jobs, our relationships, the roles we play in life. When we lose those things, who we are and everything we believed in is challenged. When we experience such immense loss in life, whatever form it may take, it is very easy to slip into despair, which is what happened when I got home from the hospital. Flying filled me with so much joy and gave me the inspiration and hope that I really could rebuild my life in an unlikely and extraordinary way.

The feeling of despair was almost inevitable. You state that you suffered depression on returning home after a six-month stay in hospital. How did overcome this?

I overcame the despair by throwing myself into flying as well as my physical therapy. At first, this was more discipline than it was a spiritual or emotional triumph. I simply interrupted the pattern of depression by charting progress on all fronts, no matter how incremental it may have been from one day to the next. This helped to refocus my life and channel my depression elsewhere. Hope and application proved to be powerful antidotes to depression.

You discuss your choice to keep fighting versus letting go and accepting not only your body but also the circumstances. This led you to stop asking “why me?” but rather, “why not me?” Why was it so essential to change your perspective?

Before my accident, I had led a very narrow life in that all of my friends were athletes of some sort. In hospital, I met so many other people, whom I would normally not have met. This opened my eyes to the fact that I wasn’t alone on this journey.

Even though we came from very different walks of life, we experienced similar struggles with acceptance and recalibrating how to live life post-recovery. Equally important, we had in common the typical hopes and dreams of anyone for a ‘normal’ life once we left the spinal ward.

You have faced great adversity on a number of occasions. Having rebuilt your life following your accident, you then later experienced the upheaval of divorce and financial ruin. What gave you the strength to once again thrive and persevere despite these challenges?

I developed a philosophy very early on in my days as an athlete called ‘loving the hills.’ One of my racing advantages was that I took on the climbs my competitors dreaded with a passion. That not only made me physically stronger but mentally tougher as well.

This proved to be more than just a training philosophy; it became my choice as a way seeing and living life. Ski races and life experiences are both full of hills; loving them not only gave me a competitive edge but also developed my resilience. So when faced with a life challenge that, metaphorically, looks insurmountable, I take that on as just another ‘hill’. Loving it, not fighting it, teaches me the lessons I need in order to grow into a wiser and more compassionate person.

One of the themes of your book is the concept of disability. You emphasise the importance of believing in the power of potential and adopting a defiant mindset, so that one may not be defined by their physical limitations. Can you share your outlook on disability?

I went from being a gifted, multi-sport athlete to having to relearn how to walk. So, it took me years to finally and fully accept that I am a woman with a disability. At first I felt embarrassed by many aspects of my spinal cord injury, bladder and bowel dysfunction.

However, as I look back and see how much I have achieved, despite my challenges, and how much I have overcome, I feel like the aspect of loss in my life is no longer something to try to hide. Instead, I’m proud of being able to acknowledge my disability and put my energy into making the best use of my gifts.

Despite your many life-altering setbacks, you write with great humour, humility and encouragement. How have you managed to maintain such a positive and empathetic attitude? And do you feel that humour is important in maintaining a healthy outlook?

I absolutely feel that being able to laugh at life is an essential part of the healing process. I tell others not to take life too seriously or you’ll cloud the experience. There are so many documented mental and physical health benefits of laughter. Humour helps me to deal with chronic pain, something that remains a part of my life on a day-to-day basis.

You state that the loss of your athletic career and your physical limitations ultimately allowed you the freedom to embrace life’s potential and infinite possibilities. This is a remarkably refreshing and open-minded viewpoint. How have you ensured that you are defined by your accomplishments rather than your broken body?

I believe that life is about loosening our grip on the things that we feel entitled to. Many of the ancient teachings state that this only leads to suffering. When we let go of the life that we feel we should have, we gain the freedom to see the world through new eyes, and create a more ideal life we can only then envision. This is the gift that comes from realising that life is not about having it all, but loving it all, even the painful parts.

Finally, what do you hope readers will take away from your memoir?

I believe that each of us serves both as companion and as mirror to those we meet along the way. When we accept that we are not alone on our journey, and just how precious and short it is, we become open to seeing the world from a perspective of love and hope.

We then understand that, despite the inevitable life challenges, we always have the choice to reinvent our lives and embrace the new with a sense of wonder and joy. My sincere wish is that my story helps each reader better connect with his or her defiant human spirit. And, that doing so serves to foster the pursuit of the uniquely rich, extraordinary life that awaits every one of us.


I would like to thank the wonderful Janine Shepherd for speaking with me.

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