The Last 6 Weeks | Disability Battles & Small Wins

May was a funny old month, with slightly schizophrenic weather (is it summer yet?!), and some much needed time to myself.

Since I last blogged in April, I’ve been mostly occupied with life admin and catching up with friends.

The former doesn’t sound very exciting, and it isn’t, but as anyone with a disability or chronic illness knows, there are many ongoing battles to be fought.

I met with various doctors, occupational therapists, and mobility equipment reps. I even managed to recruit a new carer, not easy in the current climate, to drive me from place to place in my Motability WAV (wheelchair accessible vehicle).

My powered wheelchair, partly held together with gaffer tape, continues to fall to pieces, and is now in need of new batteries.

Why do they suddenly decide to fail, without warning??

This is all the more challenging since it isn’t a NHS chair, and so I am responsible for sourcing and funding repairs.

Despite actively bidding online and pursuing a move for over a decade, I still live with my parents in their home – far from ideal for any 33 year-old!

Finally, after a consistent bombardment of calls and emails, community housing managers agreed to meet with me in person.

Though empathetic, they openly admitted it is very much a postcode lottery issue, (I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that excuse). Consequently, it could take years to rehouse me!

I will persevere and hope for the best, while maintaining realistic expectations.

On a happier note, May provided some space for myself, as my folks took a little staycation.

People often misunderstand my need for solitude. Then again, these people have their own homes and the freedom to do as they please, when they please. It’s about freedom of choice and being able to live life on my terms.

As tiresome and frustrating as it is, this is the reason I battle with medical professionals, OT’s, community housing, social services, and so on – for a better quality of life!

“Though she be but little, she is fierce”

~ William Shakespeare

What I’ve Been Up to Lately | Muscular Dystrophy

Following a decent run of health, things took a dive in October, with one thing after another.

Covid hit me hard and put me out of action for a good 6 weeks, which meant another November birthday spent ill and alone.

I won’t lie, it wasn’t the best of times. But I do have the best parents who, despite being in their 60s, support and care for me, no questions asked. I don’t know where I’d be without them.

My dad – a man of few words, and the best man I ever did meet – wrote a really touching message in my birthday card, which had me in tears (it was a teary few months!).

As the new year approached, I tried my best to pick myself up and get back to some kind of normal – whatever that means.

Gotta keep on keeping on, right!

2022

Firstly, I dyed my hair from the usual blonde to brunette (wild, I know).

22nd Feb: The first face-to-face appointment with my muscular dystrophy consultant since 2019.

The highlight was buying a shit load of fruit and veg from the market stall on the way out – I know how to live!

9th March: Beauty and the Beast at Birmingham Hippodrome.

The show was magical and this theatre is, by far, the best and most accessible I’ve visited.

It’s been a while since I roamed around Birmingham at 11pm – Such a rebel!

Things I’ve been enjoying

It’s a Sin – Set in London during the 80s AIDs epidemic, this 5-part miniseries has a great cast, a brilliant soundtrack (in my opinion), and the final episode is heartbreaking.

This is Going to Hurt – Having read the book by dry-witted former doctor Adam Kay, I was keen to check out this TV adaptation, and I wasn’t disappointed. It is funny, brutal, tragic and eye-opening. I highly recommend this one!

Lord of the Rings – Now 20 years old, I decided to indulge in a solo movie marathon and revisit this epic trilogy.

Samwise has always been my favourite character. And why? His loyalty is unwavering and unconditional. We all need a Samwise in our lives!

Plus, the actor, Sean Astin, starred in The Goonies (1985), and remember, “Goonies never say die”!

~ BIG 80s fan here!!

Duolingo – At the grand old age of 33, I’m attempting to learn French, (super cool), after dropping the subject in year 9, in favour of German. And this time, I’m sticking with it.

Looking forward…

Spring is now well on the way, and with that comes warmer, sunnier, happier days ahead.

Though I’m no longer able to drive, which is incredibly limiting and frustrating, I will endeavour to get out and about as much as physically possible.

June – I’m off to Cornwall to spend some time with a good friend, and, of course, to see the sea – a rarity for this landlocked Midlander.

August – I’m excited to return to the Birmingham Hippodrome to see Les Misérables (for the second time).

I love the theatre, having seen many shows over the years. It’s one of my favourite things to do.

I Caught Covid

For the past three weeks, I’ve been battling Covid, having tested positive on 27th October. I was, in fact, due to receive my booster jab the following day. Bloody typical! Despite being double vaccinated, the virus hit me hard, really hard.

A selfie, taken on 24th October – the day I caught Covid-19

Physically disabled from birth, I’m one of the many considered ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’.

My condition, Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy, is rare, progressive and affects lung function. This is made worse by a spine that’s as crooked as a question mark and a squashed torso.

I’ve always been a “sickly kid”, susceptible to respiratory viruses, which become more and more difficult to overcome, the older I get.

Throughout my 32 years, a considerable amount of time has been spent in hospital. I’ve endured several bouts of pneumonia, pleurisy and a collapsed lung. Furthermore, my immune system is very much suppressed and affected by at least 15 surgeries under general anaesthetic – I stopped counting after a while.

It’s fair to say, my fragile, little body has taken a battering. And I am tired.

These days, it takes at least a month before I even begin to improve. Life quite literally comes to a stop. Once symptomatic, I become dependent on my BiPap ventilator 24/7. I go from bed, to chair, to bathroom. And that is how I exist. Time becomes meaningless and the days merge into one.

~ I’m not including photos of myself whilst ill because, well, I don’t want to. I don’t have the energy or interest for selfies, and, I don’t want pity. I don’t allow anyone other than my parents to see me in this state, it’s simply personal choice. ~

Few people really empathise and grasp the seriousness of the situation, which I totally appreciate. It’s difficult to comprehend something you haven’t seen or experienced for yourself. Admittedly, 20 year-old me wouldn’t understand either.

Life back then was very different. I was a night owl, regularly staying up until 4am and feeling fine the next day. I completed a coursework focused university degree, spending some days on campus from 9am – 9pm, followed by a 40 minute drive home. Though never a party girl, I did my fair share of drinking and socialising. Trips away with friends involving going out all day and every night, then clambering back to the hotel in the early hours just didn’t affect me. I had the energy and ability to do the things I wanted to do, and it was fun.

These days, it takes everything I have to get out of bed (assisted by carers) and shower.

It’s not the life I wanted or hoped for. But it’s all I have to work with. And yes, it does affect my mood, attitude, point of view and relationships.

A LOT of my time is spent resting. Of course, I would much rather be out, exploring, experiencing, making memories, living it up, and doing fun, daring, exciting activities. But I simply can’t.

Though I try to hide the severity of my condition, a select few people, whom I trust and am closest to, know how much I struggle.

I only told four people about my Covid diagnosis. Mainly because, well, it isn’t the happiest subject, is it! And right now, all of my resources are focused on recovery.

Inevitably, word gets around, and neighbours as well as family friends are also now aware. And they’ve been absolutely incredible.

Flowers from friends

To the people who expressed genuine concern, care and support – thank you so very much! You know who you are, and I value each and every one of you.

“Thinking of you” flowers

The generous gifts, cards and daily messages have been a huge comfort. I’ve even received medical supplies, vitamins and immune boosting supplements from friends! Real friends who step-up when life is pretty shitty.

Knowing that people care is worth more than anything in life.

My constant companion

To close this rather rambly and inarticulate post, I want to pay the biggest tribute to my parents, particularly my mum, who has patiently cared for me throughout, and not left my side. It’s not only my life that’s been put on hold by Covid, but theirs too.

For those who don’t know, I still live with my parents, in their home. It’s far from ideal and we do butt heads from time to time. But the love and loyalty is unconditional.

My mum is 67, suffers from arthritis, and, four years ago, underwent knee replacement surgery. She’s lead an incredibly challenging life, which I won’t go into. She is an UNPAID carer. She does not receive a single penny to care for me, and yet, she does it without question or complaint.

To whoever is reading this, please acknowledge the country’s thousands of unseen, undervalued, unpaid carers. Let’s raise awareness of the situation and show them some care, support and gratitude!

Those who work regular 9-5 jobs get to come home at the end of the day and relax. For family carers, the work never ends. It is relentless, grueling, and it impacts their lives as well as their mental and physical health.

Something has to change!

Muscular Dystrophy & Mental Health

Sunday 10th October 2021 ~ World Mental Health Day

It’s now officially autumn in the UK, and so the days are becoming shorter, cooler and darker.

For many of us, the cold weather and lack of sunlight negatively affects our mood (Seasonal Affective Disorder).

This impacts some people much more than others, and of course, it is only one factor that contributes to the state of our mental health.

I believe we all experience some level and form of depression throughout our lives, and for very different reasons.

We’re advised to explore the outdoors, take walks in nature, and get regular physical exercise to improve cognitive function and release endorphins . But for those of us with physical disabilities, this isn’t always possible.

As a powered wheelchair-user with congenital muscular dystrophy, I can’t go running, walking, swimming, cycling or to the gym.

Me, in my powered wheelchair

Though essential, my physiotherapy sessions came to an abrupt stop, many years ago, at the age of 14. Accessing services as a physically disabled adult is beyond challenging!

Furthermore, some with disabilities, impaired immunity and chronic illnesses are continuing to shield, and therefore cannot safely access the outdoors.

Some are completely isolated, don’t have a garden and cannot drive. Others are suffocated by the constant presence of carers and those they live with, unable to escape the confines of home.

It’s surprising how lonely you can feel in a crowded room.

So, what do WE do? How can WE support and improve our mental health?

There is no straightforward answer, (sorry about that!), as we’re all different, and facing our own battles.

I, personally, get very frustrated with life, my limitations, the lack of assistance, understanding and empathy. It does often feel like physically disabled people are disregarded from society and forgotten about.

But we feel, we need, we want, we deserve, we matter.

Related Blog Posts:

Physical Health & Mental Health

Living with a Rare Condition | Mental Health

Muscular Dystrophy | Life with Carers

Living with a physical disability, as I do, often means dealing with carers. Believe me, this is not a lifestyle choice! It is a necessity.

I’m a very private person who enjoys their own company, hates relying on others, and I cannot do small talk to save my life!

The last thing I want is to do each morning is slap on a happy face and engage in polite conversation with carers, as I’m still half asleep and reluctant to leave my comfy bed.

Some days, it takes everything I have to not call out, “would you kindly buggar off and let me be!”.

Not that I’m ungrateful for the support they provide (no, really). Without them, I would quite literally be stuck – unable to get in or out of bed. They enable me to live my life.

Of course, this isn’t without issue.

I employ my own part-time carers, funded by Direct Payments. Consequently, I am responsible for hiring, firing, training, insuring, managing and paying my employees. This can, at times, be somewhat testing.

I never wanted to be an employer, in any capacity. But as previously stated, this isn’t a lifestyle choice. I NEED carers. Agencies are, well, far from ideal. And so, this is my only option.

As with most things in life, carers come and go. Some leave after a few months, while others stick around for years. Either way, the process of finding new employees, who are both capable and reliable, is always stressful.

Imagine, if you will, routinely inviting strangers into your home, to observe you in your most vulnerable state – first thing in the morning; naked, dribbly, grouchy, with whiffy armpits, stubbly legs and a head of hair like Tina Turner’s!

A black and white image of Tina Turner, with big hair
Tina Turner

Sadly, I don’t look quite as graceful as Cinderella on waking!

Disney's Cinderella waking up

You then have to instruct, explain and demonstrate your personal care routine, entrusting your safety to this stranger.

Sounds fun, huh!?

It’s not. At all. And I loathe it. But this is an essential part of my life with a physical disability.

It is, therefore, all the more reassuring when someone comes along who instantly puts you at ease, makes you laugh, talks (but doesn’t babble), and actually wants to work. This isn’t easy to find!

It’s early days with my latest newbie, but after a somewhat turbulent couple of months (care-wise), it is a huge relief.

Always nice to close on a positive note, eh folks.

Coronavirus UK | Still Shielding

 

This week, the UK government issued new measures to suppress the spread of Covid-19. From Monday 14th September, social gatherings will be limited to 6 people.

In all honesty, I can’t say I’m surprised at these restrictions. From my perspective, as a physically disabled shielder, it seemed inevitable.

Our government has actively encouraged people to return to work, to school, the High Street, the salon, the gym, to pubs and restaurants.

Of course, we all want a return to some sort of normality. And while it is essential we sustain our economy through supporting businesses and minimising unemployment, it would appear BoJo favours wealth over health.

Those at greater risk have been largely neglected; the elderly, disabled and those with underlying health issues.

Many, like myself, have been shielding since March. We have been isolated in our homes, watching the world go by from behind closed windows.

[Image Description: An elderly man in a care home looks out at a female relative from behind a closed window. A carer, wearing a face mask, sits beside the man]
[Image Description: An elderly man in a care home looks out at a female relative from behind a closed window. A carer, wearing a face mask, sits beside the man]
 

Some have endured months without medical support. Personal carers, though essential, pose a risk to the most vulnerable. And others are forced to leave work, since there is little to no support for disabled employees.

I am very fortunate to have been able to continue accessing my routine hospital appointments throughout lockdown.

Despite initial anxiety and fears from friends, I felt safe and protected during every one of my 6 hospital visits and 2 GP appointments since March – all thanks to our invaluable NHS.

[Image Description: Me, sitting in a hospital waiting room, wearing a face mask]
[Image Description: Me, sitting in a hospital waiting room, wearing a face mask]
 

However, after waiting almost a year for a much-needed respiratory referral, I fear my upcoming appointment may now be cancelled, due to the latest guidelines.

My discussions with various medical professionals over the past few months reveal concerns for a second lockdown around October.

With Flu season approaching, this warning poses an even greater strain and impact on the elderly, disabled and NHS.

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…

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!