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 disability, mentalhealth, positivethinking, overcomingadversity, trauma, and recovery.
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!
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).
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.
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.
I’ve read many trivial complaints on social media about the Coronaviruslockdown.
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.
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.
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.
Show your thanks and appreciation for the NHS and those working in health and social care.
Be mindful of the most vulnerable in society, and help out if you’re able to.
Please don’t panic buy or stock pile. This isn’t the apocalypse, people!
All of this has made me think about relationships and what they really mean.
Valentine’s Day Selfies
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
~ joint contractures, scoliosis, progressive weakness, inability to weight-bear and respiratory decline ~
Inevitably, there is an additional impact on my mental health.
For the most part, I am upbeat and stay as active as possible. But admittedly, recurrent chest infections often get the better of me. It can feel like you’re fighting a losing battle, and frankly, it is bloody hard to remain optimistic when life is completely put on hold for months at a time, during which I’m unable to leave the house.
The considerable down-time makes forward-planning almost impossible. Over the years, I’ve missed out on many events and cancelled numerous birthday celebrations due to ill health. It is difficult to commit to social arrangements and accept invitations for fear of letting people down, which then leads to guilt.
When ill, I may…
• Have to cancel plans
• Not respond to calls or messages right away
• Be unsociable
• Be impatient
• Not want to talk
• Be unable to focus or maintain attention
• Spend a considerable amount of time resting and/or sleeping
• Lack motivation
• Be unproductive
• Feel pessimistic, frustrated and emotionally exhausted
• Feel isolated yet unable to see anyone
When I’m ill, I am out of action for a month, sometimes longer. The days are long, tiring, monotonous and utterly unproductive. It is easy to succumb to despair, so for me it is essential to establish a focus and a purpose.
• Rearrange any cancelled plans
• Don’t shut people out
• Accept support from loved ones
• Pet therapy ~ a cuddle from your beloved pet can work wonders!
• If possible, go outside, look up at the sky
• Give yourself a daily reminder of at least 3 positive things in your life
• Say out loud, “I will get through this”, “I will get better”, “I won’t be defeated”
• Don’t overexert yourself. Allow yourself the time and space you need to rest and recover
Life is a gift, but it can also be a bit shit sometimes! Always remember, you are stronger than your struggles. 💪
I think most people living with a chronic illness, disability or mental health issue can relate to this quote, at least to some extent. I know I do.
I am limited by my physical disability (congenital muscular dystrophy), despite the claims by some that you can do anything if you just try hard enough. As a non-ambulatory wheelchair-user with a muscle-wasting condition, I’m afraid there are certain things I cannot do.
I am heavily reliant on others to carry out daily activities such as cooking, cleaning, locking doors, opening and closing windows and so on. I also need help with personal care tasks like getting in and out of bed, dressing and bathing. This can be undignified, thus affecting my confidence and making me feel incredibly self-conscious and utterly undesirable. After all, who wants their boyfriend to shower them?!
I HATE asking people to do things for me, as I then feel a burden, a nuisance, an annoyance. Having to ask people to simply open a bottle or a can at the grand old age of 30 is frankly embarrassing (for me).
Sometimes I refuse to speak up and request help. Call it pride or sheer stubbornness. But there are other times I have no choice. Like it or not, I have to ask, to instruct, to explain.
For the most part, I’ve managed to conceal the extent of my disability from those around me. Many people, friends included, think I am much more able and independent than I actually am. Again, put it down to pride. But there are some people I can’t hide this from. Family members, of course, but also anyone I am romantically involved with.
Due to the nature of my disability and all the added extras – care requirements, dependency, restrictions, the inability to be spontaneous – I always believed myself to be undeserving of love. I genuinely thought *think* of myself as an unnecessary burden. Why would anyone put up with me, my weak, crooked body and all of my baggage when they could choose to be with someone else?
As a result of this and a lifetime of rejection, I put up barriers and distanced myself from society; a form of self preservation. Being told repeatedly that I’m not good enough, I’m “no one’s type”, and “too much to take on” has made quite a negative impression on my self-esteem.
Now, I don’t want to ramble or get too personal. But I am slowly starting to trust and believe I am worthy of love and companionship.
They say there’s someone for everyone. The cynical part of me still questions this. But maybe, just maybe, there is.
It takes an extra special person to accept me and my care needs. To take on, without question, a pretty drastic lifestyle change. To see past the wheelchair, the crooked body, the medical equipment and the disability itself, and simply love me for me, unconditionally. To try to convince me every day that I’m not undesirable, unloveable or a burden. People like this are rare, but they are out there!