Interview | Samantha Renke

Actress, TV Presenter & Disability Campaigner

Here I interview actress, presenter and disability campaigner Samantha Renke. She reveals all about growing up with a disability and her dreams of becoming an actress despite brittle bone disease. She also discusses her involvement with Parallel London 2017.

Here is the link to the interview, originally posted by Disability Horizons.


Parallel London

The 3rd September sees the return of Parallel London, a mass-participation race for people of all abilities. Feature writer Carrie Aimes speaks to disabled actress Sam Renke, ambassador for Parallel London, about why the event is so important and why you should get involved.

Despite her disability, 31 year-old Samantha Renke moved to London five years ago to pursue her long-held dream of becoming an actress. Now a familiar face to many, she has since starred in an award-winning film, music videos, webisodes as well as the popular Maltesers television advert. The former teacher is also a columnist, disability campaigner and charity worker.

As if all this is not enough to keep her busy, Samantha was recently appointed ambassador for Parallel London. Here, we learn more about the rising star and her involvement with Parallel London, the world’s first fully-inclusive, fully accessible mass-participation event.

Life & Disability

1. Would you please tell us a little about yourself, your disability and how it affects you?

I was born in Germany to a German mother and British father. We moved to the UK when I was a baby. I studied French, German, Sociology and European Studies at the University of Lancaster before completing my PGCE in Secondary Education at the University of Cumbria.

Following this, I worked as a high school teacher for a number of years. I was also a trustee for the Brittle Bone Society for 6 years, supporting people with my condition, Osteogenesis Imperfecta (brittle bones).

I am a full time wheelchair user and my bones break very easily. I’ve had around 200 fractures starting in my mother’s womb! I get fatigue and have some breathing difficulties. I do have a PA to help me with day-to-day tasks, which is my saving grace and allows me to live my life to the fullest.

After moving to London in 2012, my debut role was playing Alice Gardiner, a mischievous disabled girl who absconds to London in the film Little Devil. I won best actress and the film won Best Film in the Diversity of Arts category at the LA Diversity Film Festival. From there, I got an agent at Visable People and have appeared in a number of projects since.

I still love my charity work and I am patron of Head2Head, a multi-sensory theatre group. I am also affiliated with some other well-known charities, such as SCOPE. I love writing and have a regular column in Posability magazine and write regular blogs for the Huffington Post.

Maltesers TV Advert

2. People may know you best from the popular Maltesers TV adverts, which aired during the Paralympics. Why did you want to be part of that, and what response did you receive?

I think it’s any actor’s dream to be part of a national commercial as it’s certainly great exposure. More than that, I knew the concept was revolutionary and I felt so excited about the positive impact the advert would have.

Apart from some online trolling, the response has been phenomenal. Every day, without fail, when I leave my flat in East London I am recognised. People want my autograph and selfies. The lovely thing is that my disability is not the reason people stare at me now.

Celebrity Status

3. You’re a celebrity who happens to have a disability. What does this mean to you, and what challenges have you faced?

I always loved drama at school and attended a number of after-school drama clubs. However, one of my teachers took me to one side and told me not to get my hopes up of being cast in an acting role. I suppose at that time, 15 years ago, she had a point – the representation of disability within the media was non-existent. Nevertheless, this was heart-breaking to hear and I dropped all of my classes.

But after being a teacher for a couple of years, I knew I wanted to pursue my passion again. I hope my story encourages more people who have disabilities to get involved in TV, film and presenting. I’d like to think that when I have my own family, my children will follow their dreams, no matter what anyone else says.

Parallel London Ambassador

4. You were recently made an Ambassador for Parallel London. How did you come to be involved with this event?

My amazing friend Daniel White and his daughter Emily, who run the awesome blog the Department of Ability, introduced me to the Parallel team and the rest is history. It is a total love affair!

5. Can you tell us more about what Parallel London is and what it means for disabled people?

Parallel London is a fully-inclusive and accessible fun run and free family festival held at the iconic Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Open to all ages and abilities, there are no cut-off times and no barriers to involvement.

Parallel’s inaugural event took place on 4 September 2016. We hosted over 3,000 participants, of which, 41% declared themselves as having a disability. 5,500 people attended our family festival showcasing all different types of inclusive and accessible attractions. This year it is being held on the 3rd September.

6. Why is it so important to you to be involved with such an event?

Being part of a team and having people around you who love and support you for you is so important. As a child I did not get involved in anything as much as I would have liked, and this left me feeling isolated a lot. Parallel is all-inclusive, no matter what your ability. I think this is just amazing.

7. Is there any insider information you, as ambassador, can exclusively reveal to Disability Horizons readers?

Expect some surprises! I’m going to be getting my burlesque on with the amazing Folly Mixtures and their all-inclusive Burlexercise master class. So get your feather bowers ready.

My good friend Stephen Dixon from Sky News will also be at the event presenting for Sky and hosting with yours truly. He has told me that, regardless of the weather, he will be wearing his short shorts!

8. How can we all get involved with Parallel London?

Parallel London is taking place at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park on the 3rd September. There’s a 10km, 5km, 1km, 100m and the Super Sensory 1km walk, cycle, push or run – whatever you want to do. It’s for all ages and abilities and everybody can be running side-by-side. You can get sponsorship for any charity or cause that matters to you – so why not give it a go?!


For more information on Parallel London visit www.parallellondon.com. You can also find out all the latest information about the event by following Parallel London on Twitter.

Please follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Suprapubic Catheters (SPC)

Have you ever looked at a disabled person and wondered how they go to the loo?

I am physically disabled (Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy) and have, in fact, asked this question myself many times over the years. As a wheelchair-user unable to weight-bear, toileting was always my biggest obstacle. Believe me, I’ve tried every method, technique and contraption available. But if you can’t stand or transfer, HOW do you do it?

Most wheelchair-users require the assistance of at least one other person to hoist, transfer or manually lift them. From experience, I can tell you this is time consuming and challenging enough when in your own, fully adapted, accessible home. When out and about, going to the loo can be an absolute nightmare!

Public facilities for disabled people are vastly inadequate. Bathrooms are barely big enough to accommodate a manual wheelchair, let alone a powered wheelchair plus carers and the necessary room to maneuver. They are often used as storage cupboards, occupied by cumbersome baby-changing equipment and the litter covered floors are filthy. This lack of consideration and basic adaptions in disabled toilets means that many are forced to lay on these dirty floors in order to be dressed and undressed. It is degrading and wholly undignified.


In October 2011, after careful consideration, I elected to undergo medically unnecessary surgery (on the NHS) to insert a suprapubic catheter (SPC).

I have always had full sensation and an otherwise healthy, fully-functioning bladder. Despite a lifetime spent severely restricting fluid intake and holding the need to urinate, I thankfully never suffered from urinary tract infections. I was not physically incontinent, rather socially or environmentally incontinent, since public toilets fail to meet my practical needs.


Following many requests for information and advice, I have written about my personal experience with a suprapubic catheter. Please refer to the document below, which you are welcome to download and print as required.

*Disclaimer* This is my experience only, and in no way represents that of any other person(s). 

Suprapubic Catheters – My Experience

Please feel free to ask questions and leave comments! 

Walking vs Wheelchair: Accepting the need for a wheelchair

I was recently invited to guest post for the lovely SimplyEmma. She kindly gave me the opportunity to write about a topic of my choice.

You can view my post for Emma here.

Check out Emma’s website and follow her on social media.                       Twitter: @Simplyemma2           Facebook: @SimplyEmmaBlog
Instagram: simplyemmablog


I’ve noticed a lot of discussion within Facebook groups recently, around the topic of walking versus the use of a wheelchair.

Many disabled people gradually lose the ability to walk over a period of time. Often it occurs in stages: from independent mobility, to the need for walking sticks, then a frame and finally a wheelchair.

I appreciate that for the individuals affected, it is an incredibly difficult decision to make. Do I continue to walk for as long as possible, despite the struggle and restraints? Or, do I resign myself to the confines of a wheelchair?

I have noticed, from comments on social media, that this is how some view wheelchairs: objects of confinement and restriction. On the contrary, I see my wheelchair as an essential mobility aid, removing the limitations I faced when walking for only short durations. The powered chair I now use offers me freedom and independence.

Obviously your condition and individual circumstances determine whether or not you have the option to continue walking. Personally, I never had a choice. I have Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy and lost the ability to walk quite abruptly at the age of 10. Not that I could walk very well or very far up to that point.

Nevertheless, the choice was taken from me. I had reached a stage where I literally couldn’t support my own weight. Grit and determination played no part. And so, I went from walking minimal distances whilst wearing leg splints, to using a manual wheelchair that I couldn’t self propel due to a lack of strength and joint contractures. Sticks and frames were never of any use to me.

It was a difficult transition, of course. But not totally unexpected. As a child, I was offered little assurance of how my condition would progress. Doctors simply didn’t know. They couldn’t tell me if I would maintain my ability to walk or not. It was a case of, wait and see; roll with the punches. So that’s what I did.

To be honest, I was to a large extent relieved to be using a wheelchair, despite the fact I was dependant on others to manoeuvre me around. Even just a few small steps was a huge feat and physically laborious. That in itself was disabling me.

Committing to a wheelchair full time meant that I was free to roam with my peers. Kids at school used to squabble over whose turn it was to push me around. I was no longer exhausted, battling to stay on my feet or falling over and injuring myself. Being non-ambulant, I no longer had to wear those unsightly leg splints which pleased me no end!

I had recently started middle school and, within a matter of a few weeks I found myself completely unable to weight-bear. However, less than twelve-months later, I was fortunate enough to benefit from my first powered wheelchair. I can’t emphasise enough how much of a difference this made to my life. I could zip around at break times with friends, I could take myself wherever I wanted to go without the need for assistance, and I could venture into the local countryside. I was no longer confined!

It’s been eighteen years since I took my last footstep. And, I can honestly say I don’t miss walking. Naturally I wish I could stand, walk and run ‘normally’. But I would never trade my wheelchair for my old leg splints, the bumps and bruises from falling so often, and the constant exertion to achieve a few small steps.

 

A positive perspective on disability

Here is my latest piece for Limitless Travel.


We as a society often consider disability to be disadvantageous. Many disabled people themselves hold this viewpoint. Of course there are various challenges and downsides to living with a disability. But having lived with muscular dystrophy all my life, I have come to realise that there are also many positives.

It’s all too easy to succumb to self pity; adopting a pessimistic attitude towards your impairment and complaining about all the things it prevents you from doing.

I won’t deny I fall victim to this school of thought from time to time. I’m only human after all. But at the end of the day, I’m stuck with me. There’s no cure for muscular dystrophy and so there’s really no point in wasting valuable energy complaining about something I cannot control.

To counteract the common perception that to be disabled is to be disadvantaged, I have decided to list some of the ways my life has been enhanced by my condition.

This is not a universal guide and is applicable to my personal experiences as wheelchair user. So, in no particular order…

  • Being able to skip to the front of the queue has brightened my day on many occasions.
  • Concessions: Many leisure facilities and tourist attractions offer some sort of concession for those with a disability.
  • In most cases a carer can accompany you for free. If you don’t have a carer, take a friend instead.
  • Parking: I hold a blue badge which allows me to park in, of course, disabled bays as well as on single and double yellow lines for up to 3 hours. The blue badge scheme is recognised by all European countries.
  • Thanks to the Motability scheme I have a wheelchair accessible vehicle in which I travel as a passenger. Essentially a free car, all I have to fund is the fuel.
  • I can’t drive. Admittedly I wish I could, but the upside is that I have the freedom to drink when I’m out as I’m never the designated driver. Being chauffeured around means I can relax and enjoy the journey rather than stress over traffic and navigation.
  • Shoes never wear out and so last forever. Furthermore, if I don’t feel like wearing shoes, even to go out, I don’t have to since my feet never touch the ground.
  • I always have a comfy seat. I never have to stand around acquiring aching limbs.
  • Kids are fascinated by my wheelchair with all its buttons and mechanisms. They love to sit on my lap or climb on the back and go for a ride. I’m always happy to oblige!
  • Being unable to weight bear, I never have to worry about falling over (a common problem for me as a child). Frosty weather and black ice is no concern.
  • Being faced by an oncoming electric wheelchair causes people to instinctively move out of the way. Move or be mown down!
  • I can run into idiots and get away with it by blaming my wheelchair. Disclaimer: I accept no responsibility if you decide to follow my lead. But by all means do!
  • Similarly, if someone is getting on my nerves I can ‘accidentally’ run over their foot.
  • It’s pretty frustrating finding yourself stranded on the top floor because the only lift has malfunctioned. But there’s always a silver lining: being carried down stairs by a strapping young man is a small price to pay for such an inconvenience.
  • Determination: I believe my perseverance (some would say stubbornness) is a result of living with my disability. I have in many circumstances had to fight harder, work harder and prove myself more than I would have had I been able-bodied.

  • I’ve been introduced to many people from all walks of life (pun intended) who I would never have otherwise. Consequently I feel I have developed a broader perspective on life and a greater awareness of social diversity.
  • My limitations force me to think outside the box. As a wheelchair user there are many struggles; some small and some great. In order to overcome these challenges, I have had to continually think creatively and imaginatively. This may be through adaptive technology, home modifications or inventive DIY solutions.

Do you agree that there are not only disadvantages, but also advantages of living with a disability?

If so, what are some of the benefits and positive aspects of your disability?

 

 

Life as a Wheelchair-user | Societal Preconceptions

Being a wheelchair-user with Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy, means that I have a very visible disability. Consequently, I have encountered many societal preconceptions over the years, based solely on the fact that I have a physical disability.

Joe public isn’t shy about voicing such assumptions, regardless of how stupid they may be, thus demonstrating a lack of awareness and education.

I can’t even reassure you that the following misjudgements are those of children who, through no fault of their own, know no better. In fact I have found that the most narrow-minded and ignorant ideas and interrogatives come from older people.

Here are some examples of the preconceptions I have personally experienced throughout my 29 years.


1. Because I am physically disabled I must therefore have learning disabilities too.

2. I didn’t or couldn’t have attended mainstream school.

3. I need to be spoken to very slowly and very loudly, otherwise I simply won’t be able to understand basic verbal communication. Furthermore, some people surmise I cannot speak at all!

4. Because I have muscular dystrophy, I cannot achieve the same milestones as everyone else, such as learning to drive.

5. I cannot work, or contribute to society, because I am physically disabled.

6. Most assume that since I’m now unable to walk, I never could. They are often shocked to learn I could walk up to the age of ten.

7. I am completely non-ambulant (unable to weight-bear). However, many seem to assume that despite the fact I use a powered wheelchair, I must be able to walk.

This becomes most apparent when attempting to access public transport or when travelling.

I may be faced with a few steps or a short walk to my seat on the plane, or I might be asked to transfer out of my chair.

When I tell them I can’t weight bear at all, I am met with an expression of complete confusion:

‘You can’t walk? Not at all? It’s really not far.’

No, I’m afraid I cannot walk AT ALL!

8. As much as I laughed along to the Little Britain sketch of Lou and Andy, I feel it may be at least somewhat responsible for the common assumption that I, along with all other wheelchair-users, conveniently jump up and run around maniacally when no one’s watching. Although admittedly I would if I could, sadly this is not the case.

9. When you find accessible accommodation isn’t accessible at all:

Upon arrival, I once found myself unable to enter my supposedly accessible hotel room because the door was so narrow. The manager’s response: ‘Oh, can’t you just squeeze through?’

10. I am rather petite – child sized in fact. (Just what you want when you’re a 29 year-old woman!) However, I like to think I look a little older than twelve. But I am still, on occasion, presented with the children’s menu!

11. On multiple occasions I’ve been approached by strangers who tell me that I sinned in a former life and my disability is my penance.

12. Similarly, I have been asked if I believe in God. Replying that I do not, I was told that I am therefore being punished by God – my disability is an affliction! Erm, nope. In my case, it’s genetic.

13. I’ve been told I need “fixing”.

14. It doesn’t occur to people that I have the same needs and desires as anyone else.

15. A misguided generalisation is that disabled people like myself are asexual and do not have romantic relationships.

16. Being a wheelchair-user, I clearly can’t have and don’t want children.

17. Friends are too often mistaken for my carers.

18. I must know many other similarly disabled people. Of course, makes total sense. We are know each other!

19. I use a wheelchair, therefore I must be taking LOTS of medication and cannot drink alcohol.

20. I have a disability therefore I must be contagious.

21. I don’t go out or have fun like my peers.

22. I must be a loner or even a recluse. (Perhaps suggesting there are still many out there who feel disabled people, like me, shouldn’t be seen in public or play an active role in the community).


*This list is representative of my personal experiences. However, I’m sure there are many of you who will be able relate to some degree.*

It is understandable and all too easy to express anger and frustration when presented with such ignorance. But, I do feel strongly that knowledge is power. Therefore, the best way to respond to such misguided preconceptions is to educate, infor and raise awareness.


This is my first piece for Limitless Travel. If you liked it, please share!

Thanks

Holiday Season | My trip to Salou, Spain (2016)

Though I would like to be, I’m not a frequent traveller. Living with a physical disability – in my case, Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy – can make overseas travel difficult and stressful. However, after several years without a holiday (neither at home in the UK or abroad) I decided it was about time I set off in search of sun, sea and sand – a sight unseen here in the Midlands!

Most importantly, the holiday must meet all my accessibility requirements, (I am a non-ambulant, powered wheelchair-user). Another major consideration was my parents, with whom I would be travelling. This presented me with the task of organising a holiday that would satisfy their wants and needs as well as my own.

Of course, it’s far from ideal to travel with your parents at my age (27), but it was my only option at the time. I resisted their considerate invitations to accompany them abroad for years, but I had reached the point of desperation – one way or another, I really needed to get away. There’s only so much British weather a girl can take!


Planning & Booking:

7 years earlier, I visited Tarragona, situated in the Costa Dorada region of Spain. I found it to be a great place to roam around in a powered wheelchair. Back then I booked with Enable Holidays.

Salou, situated in the Costa Dorada region of Spain

For personal reassurance regarding reliable accessibility (and frankly to make life a little easier), we decided to return to Costa Dorada. When comparing prices online, I found it significantly cheaper to book with Disabled Access Holidays (DAH) – a small business based in Glasgow, UK.

Throughout the whole booking process, I interacted with the same agent who sorted everything. Airport assistance and wheelchair accessible taxi transfers were organised. An electric wheelchair was also hired for the week, as I prefer to travel with just my manual chair for fear of damage to my Quantum 600 (I’ve heard horror stories from fellow wheelchair-users).

The only thing I had to arrange was travel insurance for myself. DAH recommended AllClear, even offering a discount code. I enquired with a few providers though they all quoted a similar price. Just one week in Spain would have cost me over £500 and so, admittedly, I chose to take the risk and travel without insurance.


Off we go…

We flew from Birmingham airport on 7th July (2016), arriving in sunny Reus after a thoroughly chaotic checking-in and boarding process. Conveyer belt malfunctions, lack of staff, delays and the absence of assistance at Birmingham established an initial sense of unease.

What really frustrated me was the fact that we boarded via the centre of the plane – my parents and I being made to wait until last. Since our seats were at the front of the plane, I had to struggle some distance in an old aisle chair, bumping elbows with strangers all the way (bear in mind, I’m pretty damn petite). I can’t stand these cronky aisle seats, mainly because they offer no postural support whatsoever and are incredibly uncomfortable. My balance is poor and consequently I always feel I’m about to fall when forced to resort to one.

Upon reaching our front row seats, my poor Dad was left to manually transfer me by himself, as no one offered to help. There was a complete lack of care and consideration from all staff at Birmingham.

A short and uneventful flight ensued. This was one of my major concerns when organising the holiday. A long haul flight was a no-go as there’s just no way I would be able to access the bathroom. With the best will in the world, in my case it really can’t be done.


Disembarking at Reus:

15-20 minute transfer from Reus Airport to Hotel Medplaya Piramide in Salou, Spain

After the disappointment at Birmingham airport I was relieved to receive a much more conscientious service when disembarking at Reus. The assistance for passengers with disabilities was swift and effective. Without question, the staff safely lifted me from my seat straight into my manual wheelchair which was brought to the front of the plane where we exited, this time without an audience. I was so thankful as I hate to have to burden my parents with the physically exhaustive task of manually transferring me.

Our pre-booked taxi transfer was at first nowhere to be found but soon arrived after being prompted by a phone call. The English speaking driver was extremely helpful and repeatedly assured us that she or another driver would collect us from our hotel at the time and date arranged.


The Hotel:

Medplaya Piramide Hotel in Salou, Spain

And so we found ourselves at the Medplaya Piramide 4 star hotel in Salou, Costa Dorada. The three of us shared one, accessible room situated on the second floor resulting in a daily battle for the lift which everyone felt the need to use, regardless of age or ability.

Aside from the presence of a grimy shower chair with one, dismembered footplate, it’s difficult to see how our room could be considered ‘accessible’. The bathroom comprised a regular bath along with a roll in shower which flooded our entire room and out into the hallway within seconds. The bathroom door veneer was all peeled away suggesting this is a long term issue which the hotel has failed to address. We had to call reception for extra towels to mop up the excess water flooding our room after every brief shower.

Furthermore, the sink was far too high and unreachable for me to use whilst sat in my chair. The toilet was lower than normal and lacked any surrounding support aside from a fairly redundant and misplaced grab rail affixed to the wall. A small lip in the patio door may cause an obstacle for some in accessing the sizeable exterior balcony but with a bit of a run up I didn’t have a problem in my hired power chair.

The hotel itself, both interior and exterior, I found to be suitable for anyone with a disability. With smooth, flat surfaces, ramp access where needed, wide open spaces to manoeuvre, and a large ground-floor disabled loo, I was able to roam around completely independently. There’s also a pool hoist – a clean, fully functioning pool hoist!

With plenty to keep you occupied including a bar, restaurant, pool room, terrace area, as well as day and night-time entertainment, this modern hotel caters for all ages and abilities. The staff too were welcoming, sociable and most accommodating.


Location:

There are some steep pavements surrounding the hotel to be aware of, but plenty of slopes and access points more than make up for this. The hotel is ideally situated, just a short stroll to the impressively accessible Levante beach, 250m from Salou town centre and 1.5km from Port Aventura theme park. The area for the most part is flat and even, making it ideal for wheelchair users.

The Beach:

I have to say the major selling point for me was the beach. Though not an experienced traveller, of all the beaches I have ever visited this one is by far the best. It’s vast, it’s flat, and there are numerous platforms which allow wheelchairs and prams to enjoy a smooth ride right down to the waters edge. I was pleased to see many others with various disabilities accessing the sands without the all too familiar struggle.

Furthermore, the individuals who hire out sun loungers could always be counted on to offer a helping hand if and when needed. Without question they would often come running to the assistance of someone. This is not part of their job, nor is it commonplace (sadly), and so I feel it worthy of mention.


On the whole my week in Salou provided much needed respite and relaxation. However, the biggest dilemma was saved for our last day. Our pre-booked taxi never arrived so we were forced to ask reception staff to telephone for a local cab asap. This took over an hour to arrive since there is only one wheelchair accessible taxi in the local area. Fortunately our return flight was delayed otherwise we would certainly have missed our flight. Despite this rather stressful conclusion to an otherwise enjoyable holiday, I would definitely recommend Disabled Access Holidays. However, it’s also important to do your own research and investigation prior to committing to any accommodation and travel arrangements.


Please follow me on Twitter and Facebook

My view on dating for MDUK Trailblazers

My latest blog piece for Muscular Dystrophy UK Trailblazers:

“I’ve learnt that life is not defined by your relationship status and you don’t need a partner to be happy. It doesn’t hurt to keep an eye out though, does it!”

On Dating Diaries Day 2, we hear from Carrie Aimes who talks about why it’s okay to be single.

Read more of her great blog here.

This blog forms part of Trailblazers Dating Diaries, which looks to lift the lid on dating and relationships when having a disability.

I’m not at present in a relationship and that’s fine, that’s okay. I’ve never actively searched for a partner – dating sites in particular just aren’t for me. In fact, dating isn’t for me if I’m honest. Pretty socially awkward at the best of times, the whole dating thing feels far too daunting a prospect. It just seems so forced and unnatural. Of course it serves its purpose and is a means to an end. But knowing myself as I do I think I would just fail miserably!

A fairly solitary character, I like my own space, I like being able to do as I please, when I please. And I most definitely couldn’t bear to share my bed, it’s my haven!

As is the case for many with muscular dystrophy, much of my time is lost to frequent and prolonged bouts of respiratory illness and fatigue, which doesn’t exactly lend itself to dating or a cohabitative relationship.

I live with my parents in their home which is not exactly the dream for a 28 year-old woman. So privacy and finding time for myself is enough of an issue without adding another person to the mix.

Yes it’s the norm for those my age to be settled in relationships or even married, as most of my friends are. Perhaps my choice to remain single for the time being (and it is a choice) is selfish. But why not be selfish. This is my life and right now I’m content with things as they are. Relationships are hard work, they require you to compromise and invest your time and energy. At present, I’m just not willing to share myself with anyone.

This isn’t to say I’m not open to the possibility of meeting someone spontaneously, as I have found tends to be the best way. But if it doesn’t, I’m totally cool with that. I’ve learnt that life is not defined by your relationship status and you don’t need a partner to be happy. It doesn’t hurt to keep an eye out though, does it!

Lost time

I’m back- finally! As you may know I was struck down with a particularly bad lower respiratory infection during the New Year period, and was consequently ill for over a month. Until a few days ago I was unable to leave my home throughout that time. So unfortunately, 2017 has not begun how I had hoped or expected.

Anyone with muscular dystrophy will know a cold is never just a cold for us. I dread the British winters and the circulation of unavoidable viruses it brings. For me, sneezing and a sore throat inevitably and rapidly develops into a full-blown chest infection. Bring on the 24/7 NIV (non-invasive ventilator), regular nebulisation, antibiotics and inhalers.

At times I’ve had no choice but to admit defeat and blue-light it to hospital. But stubborn as I am, if I think I can cope with the resources I have within my home, that is where I choose to remain.

I have noticed over the past few years the duration of my illnesses have become increasingly prolonged. I missed the entire summer of 2015 to a chest infection which lead to pleurisy. From the end of May to the end of July, I was stuck in my living-room, sat in the armchair night and day with my trusty vent keeping me going. Several GPs and physiotherapists attended but despite their best efforts, none could offer any productive help or advice – nothing I wasn’t doing or didn’t already know.

I was exhausted mentally and physically, but despite my ongoing struggle I couldn’t help but feel guilty for putting my parents, whom I live with, through the experience. They have no choice but to watch helplessly and with desperation as their youngest child battles with her failing body. “What can I do?”, they ask. But there’s nothing they can do. I always tell them I’ll be fine, it’s just a matter of time.

Having thoroughly depressed you with that cheery and fairly pointless update, I’ll bring this particular post to a close. Now finally on the mend, I intend to resume where I left off with the blogging. ‘Oh goodie!’, I sense you cry with enthusiasm. I realise I’m more than likely rambling away to myself here but writing serves to make me feel purposeful, perhaps even contributory in some way.

January has for me been lost forever and I can’t get that time back. It’s so frustrating being unable to do… anything! Even just going out for a ride in the car is a major highlight for me right now. When all you see day after day is the same four walls from the same seat in the corner of the room, cabin fever soon sets in.

Today, seeing the first daffodils of spring starting to emerge filled me with much needed optimism. There will doubtless be future episodes of ill health to contend with. But for now I plan to recharge, re-energise and refuel. Bring it on!

Moving forward | Goodbye 2016, Hello 2017

Hey folks, I hope you’ve all had an amazing Christmas and New Year. If not merry, I hope it was at least peaceful.

I thought I’d start 2017 on a positive note by reflecting on the past year and all the things I’m thankful for. Now I’ll be honest, I’m not a naturally optimistic person. I can be a right grumpy bint at times. But I’m trying to, as they say; look on the bright side of life. After all, negativity only leads to bitterness and however wronged you may feel at times, believe me life is far too short for bitterness.

2016 has been a fairly uneventful year for me. There have been ups and downs but for the most part it’s been significantly better than previous years. It’s the little, seemingly insignificant things that I’m most grateful for.

To put it bluntly, my twisted body is a bit of a bastard and does not allow me the support I need to function fully. However, it’s dainty and lightweight, making me easy to chuck around, which I am regularly. For this I am fortunate as my petite stature allows greater and easier mobility. Had I followed my 6’4” older brother for height, life would undoubtedly have been far more difficult practically speaking.

Apart from a cold in June just before my week-long holiday to Spain, I haven’t been worryingly ill since summer 2015. During that period I spent over 8 weeks sat in an armchair in the living room, unable to go to bed or lie down due to a severe chest infection and subsequent pleurisy. I was a mess! From the beginning of May to the end of July I didn’t leave the house once, except for a trip to the hospital for tests. But let’s not dwell on that upsetting and difficult time…

The trip to Salou in Spain, was a much needed retreat from the monotony of everyday life. I holidayed with my parents, which obviously isn’t the dream, but fortunately we have a great relationship and so we muddled along nicely. It’s rare that I travel since I find it so difficult with the severity of my disability; therefore the sun, sea and sand was all the more appreciated.

Although we have our inevitable squabbles, my family are the best I could wish for. However, through talking with others in a similar position, I’m increasingly aware of those with disabilities who do not have the support of relatives. Consequently, they may feel lonely, isolated and unloved. Without family members to rely on, they are dependent on paid assistants to provide their personal care. Though I do employ two PAs myself, my parents remain for now at least my primary caregivers. A small, tight-knit family, we laugh a lot and perhaps most importantly we are comfortable in each other’s company. It’s only when I consider how different life could have been had I been born to different parents, that I realise just how lucky I am.

In spring 2016 I hired a new PA after my carer of eight years had to leave for personal reasons. As many of you will empathise, the recruitment process can be a stressful one. Adapting to yet another stranger providing your personal care is uncomfortable and unnatural but thankfully for me this particular transition was relatively trouble free. I won’t lie, it took a while to adjust and establish a new routine that worked for us both, but we get on well and she fits into our household effortlessly.

On the topic of family, ours would not be complete without our aging black Labrador, Millie. I have never known life without a pet. At one point we had four dogs and two cats living with us. Yes it was a little chaotic at times but always the best kind of chaos. I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.

Millie turned thirteen on Friday 30th December and is now depicting all the signs of senescence. Currently our only pet, she has been with us from birth since her mother, a golden Labrador, also lived with us. A great comfort especially in times of distress and frustration, I will be distraught when we do lose her. I’m therefore extremely thankful that she is still with us, as she is an invaluable source of company and happiness.

Finally, I’d like to acknowledge my blog. It’s a relatively new venture, having only begun in October. But to my surprise and delight, I’m already reaping so many rewards. I have been introduced to people from all over the world who empathise with my thoughts, feelings and experiences regarding life with muscular dystrophy. I have also received positive feedback from complete strangers which has thoroughly boosted my confidence and determination.

I’ll admit I was at first somewhat reluctant to attempt blogging and spent several months debating whether I should. It was only the persistent encouragement from friends that convinced me to finally give it a go. And so it is to all my friends, both old and new, that I owe my final thanks of the year. I hope these alliances will continue to strengthen throughout 2017 and that I may meet more likeminded individuals. Here’s to the New Year…

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 at all is a daily battle for me so having to struggle 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!