Storytime | Life Lessons ♿

Years ago, during a university art class, a fellow student sat idly, pissing and moaning about how awful and unfair his life was. (He wasn’t literally pissing, by the way. That would be odd!).

There, in my powered wheelchair, with teeth clenched, I chose to remain quiet while he complained about his superficial, so-called ‘problems’.

As I recall, he’d depleted the bank of mum and dad on nights out and booze, meaning he couldn’t afford to go clubbing again that week.

Oh dear, what an awful shame!

A lad opposite, who I didn’t know well, kept looking at me with a shared expression of annoyance – I remember it vividly. He finally interrupted,you know what mate, we’ve all got problems! Maybe look around sometime.

I couldn’t help but smile and offer a nod of respect.

I was 20 at the time. Now 33, my tolerance for ignorance and entitlement has dissipated with age.

Truth is, everyone, at some point in life, will encounter problems, challenges and setbacks. Indeed, we all feel stressed and depressed from time to time – these feelings are completely valid.

Of course, feeling depressed is NOT the same as suffering from depression itself. (That’s a whole other topic, which I won’t go into here).

I’m sure we’ve all been told, others have it worse off. While I find this phrase unhelpful and somewhat dismissive, I must concede, it is often true (sorry, not sorry!).

Not to undermine anyone’s struggles or experiences, I do think it’s fair to say that the problems of some people are far greater than those of others – to gain a little perspective, all you need to do is switch on the news!

Admittedly, over the years, I’ve allowed myself to indulge in moments of self-pity (not an attractive trait). The dark pit of despair is easy to fall into, and difficult to climb out of.

That said, I’ve never sulked or felt sorry for myself over what I consider petty complaints, such as missing out on a social gathering or event. Honestly, I’ve no time or patience for that sort of nonsense. Again, it’s about perspective.

For context, I live with a very rare, progressive, muscle-wasting condition (Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy). Unable to weight-bear, I use a powered wheelchair and rely on carers to assist with physical activities. In addition, associated health issues affect everyday life.

On my darkest days, I would ask – Why me? What have I done to deserve this crap?

Funnily enough, no higher power ever answered. Which later lead me to ask – Why not me? What makes me so special?

Shit happens! And yes, some of us face more than our fair share of it. But like it or not, we must learn to accept, adapt and deal with it – limitation, loss, grief, disability, pain, trauma, illness…

What’s the alternative? Hide under the duvet covers and wallow? Trust me, that sort of self-destructive behaviour can only create further problems.

If I’ve learnt anything, it’s that life isn’t fair.

I continue to battle with frustration due to my health, physical limitations and circumstances over which I have no control. So, I now try my best to practice gratitude and remind myself of all the good things I am blessed with. I don’t always succeed, but I try.

I also find it hugely beneficial to avoid self-indulgent doombrains like the aforementioned art student!

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.

My Disabled Body | Muscular Dystrophy

Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m incredibly self-conscious of my disabled body.

I’m much more of a behind-the-scenes presence, and I hate being photographed!

My insecurities have deepened over the years, as my condition (Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy) has progressed.

My spine is curved significantly in a ‘S’ shape, shortening my torso and causing asymmetry. I am underweight with muscle degeneration, and contractures in all of my joints.

Oh, and I am a ghostly shade of pale!

Being so very slight of stature and a non-ambulatory powered wheelchair-user, clothes are ill-fitting, often uncomfortable and don’t drape well. Most of the time I feel like a bag of crap.

As a kid, though aware of the physical differences between myself and my peers, I really didn’t care. I was generally happy with a good group of friends.

Me, wearing school uniform, aged 4
Me (right) with a primary school friend (left)
Aged 8, sat in my manual wheelchair at school
Me (second from left), aged 9, with primary school friends
Me, aged 9, with primary school friends
On holiday, in my manual wheelchair. Aged approx 12

But, of course, kids (and adults) can be blunt and sometimes cruel with their words and observations. And, as time went on, I was subjected more and more to stares, pointing, judgement and exclusion.

I became a full-time wheelchair-user at the age of 10. Back then, it was very much a case of ‘suck it up and get on with it, these are the cards you’ve been dealt’. Looking back, I guess it affected me more than I realised.

My teens were hard – I became increasingly withdrawn, conscious of what I consider my flaws, and constantly compared myself to other girls, wishing I looked like them.

Me, aged approx 15
Me, aged approx 17, trying to avoid the camera

Then came the dating years…

Comments such as, “you’re no one’s type” and “no one’s going to want you” massively impacted my self-perception and relationships.

Somewhere along the way, I lost myself and my sense of identity.

Now aged 33, I appear more child-like than womanly. I can honestly say, I’ve never felt sexy, or even attractive, in my entire life!

I’m not body-confident, and I don’t think I ever will be. I still compare myself to others and shy away from people, places and opportunities.

But, I am really trying to accept the fact that there is nothing I can do about my body. It is what it is – unique. I need to make the best of what I do have.

If others don’t like it, that’s absolutely fine, but they can kindly fuck off!

In an attempt to push myself out of hermit mode, I recently ‘dressed up’, took some sour-faced selfies, and posted them on Instagram…

…Excuse the Listerine!

The response was positive, complimentary and sincere. It gave me the confidence to write this post and ‘put myself out there’.

Why? Because I am what I am. I’m not “normal”. But what is “normal”, anyway?

33 | Getting “Old” With Muscular Dystrophy

According to Generation Z, once you hit 30, you’re OLD!!

Photo of an old woman, wearing sunglasses and holding up both middle fingers

I recently turned 33 (positively primeval!) which, I guess, means I should be stocking up on Pond’s wrinkle cream, Werther’s Original, and tea – lots of tea!

Considering I still look 12 – a blessing and a curse – I might save my pennies and give the wrinkle cream a miss. I do love a cuppa, though.

A fairly recent selfie of me, in my powered wheelchair, wearing ‘old lady’ fluffy socks and no makeup

33

This year’s birthday was a tough one…

In October, I caught Covid (bit of a buggar!), which hit me hard.

“Normal” life came to an abrupt halt and, 5 weeks later, I’m still struggling with breathlessness, pain and exacerbated chronic fatigue.

For those of you who don’t know, I was born with a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy – a progressive condition. Consequently, my lung function is total crap, immunity impaired, and a significant scoliosis causes my internal organs to fight for space.

Illustration provided courtesy of ‘The Disabled Life

~ Find out more about my life with Congenital Muscular Dystrophy ~

I’m a seasoned pro when it comes to extended periods of enforced isolation and inactivity, resulting from a lifetime of ill health. Fortunately, I’m more than comfortable with my own company!

In all seriousness, spending your days sat in the same chair, in the same room, attached to a ventilator 24/7, unable to make it as far as the kitchen, let alone leave the house – it’s…really not good!

This latest period of downtime allowed me to reflect on my 33 years – what I’ve learned, and what I want to focus on going forward.

My Life Lessons

  • Stop caring what others think of me

    (because, actually, they’re probably not thinking anything)

I can trace this back to a comment made by a fellow pupil at primary school who told me, you look normal when you sit down but really weird when you walk”.

A photo of me, aged 4 or 5, wearing primary school uniform and visible leg splints

I remember it vividly and, ever since, I’ve been painfully self-conscious, particularly about my appearance. But, now I’m ‘old’, I’m trying not to care about the opinions of others, especially total strangers.

Take me as I am or not at all.

  • Be my true, authentic self

I once had a (sort of) date which ended up in the guy’s completely bare bedroom. In this room was only a bed, some strewn clothes and a copy of, Alice in Wonderland. Rather than attempt to flirt and seduce (yeah, I’m cool), I turned my attention to the book and asked what it meant to him.

His answer made an impression on me:

“I like it because it’s about being open-minded, being yourself, holding onto your identity, and being comfortable with who you are. I’m weird, you’re weird, everyone’s weird! And that’s a good thing, in my view.”

Man, he was…DEEP!

  • Don’t waste my time, effort or tears on those who don’t care

I think, for most of us, our social circle becomes smaller as we age. And this isn’t a bad thing! On the contrary, you learn who you can be your unfiltered self with, who is willing to tell it as it is, who has your back, and who you can count on when times are hard – the ‘no matter what’ friends and family.

I am guilty of investing too much energy into the wrong people. But, from here on, I will realise my worth and focus only on those who bring joy to my life.


Well, I must now bring this lengthy blog post to a close and get back to my milky tea and digestive biscuits.

~ The content old fart that I am!

Image of an old lady happily drinking a cup of tea

Muscular Dystrophy & Mental Health | Personal Strategies

My previous blog post touched on the topic of mental health and physical disability.

In response, a few people asked how I manage my mental health:

What exacerbates it, and what strategies I use to alleviate the symptoms ~

Although I dislike using the term ‘depression’ in reference to myself, it is something I suffer from, as, I believe, we all do to some degree and at some stage in our lives.

My bouts of depression are very much situational ~

I am a 32 year-old woman with a rare, progressive form of congenital muscular dystrophy. I am a non-ambulatory powered wheelchair-user, and I currently live with my parents in their home (not through choice).

How Depression Affects Me:

I withdraw, avoid social interaction, lose interest, lack motivation, procrastinate, overthink, overreact, become defensive, eat less, lose weight, neglect myself, don’t care what I wear or how I look, mood swings, sleep more, insomnia, chronic fatigue.

*DISCLAIMER: The information here is based solely on my personal experiences and circumstances. I am NOT in any way seeking to provide medical advice or instruction.

What I Do Find Helpful:

  • Saying no: As hard as this can be, it is sometimes essential for both my physical and mental health. It’s also important for me to acknowledge that I am not responsible for how others react. If I’m unable to attend an event or social gathering and others take this personally, that’s ultimately their issue, not mine.
  • Being selective about who I spend my time with: Age and life experience has made me review and evaluate the people in my life – who adds value and who doesn’t. Who are the “no matter what” friends? It may sound harsh, but I’ve learned it’s not only okay, but necessary to distance myself from certain people. It’s easy to find friends when you’re young, fit, healthy and carefree. But when times are REALLY tough, that is when you realise who and what matters most.
  • Listening to music (through earphones): A form of escapism, allowing me to block out the rest of the world and any unwanted distractions.
  • Getting out of the house: It can be anywhere, doing anything or nothing. Sometimes I just sit by the river and stare. Other times I like to venture out in the car, though for me, this means relying on someone to drive me around.
  • Express: Sometimes I lock myself away and cry, other times I sit all day in total silence. I would say, do what you need to; scream, shout, talk it through. Whatever works for you.
  • Do what you love: However small or insignificant it may seem, I try to do something, every day, just for me. It could be as simple as listening to my favourite song on repeat, writing, sketching, reading, watching TV or YouTube.
  • Self care: When I’m feeling low and I can’t be arsed with skin care, presentable attire or brushing my hair, I just spray myself, liberally, with my most expensive perfume. Granted, I’ll still feel like crap, but at least I smell great. It’s a small comfort requiring no effort.

What I Don’t Find Helpful:

  • Unsolicited advice: Superficial comments such as, “stay positive”, “get better soon”, “it could be worse”, and, “take some multivitamins” – This is neither helpful nor constructive.
  • Talking when not ready: We are often encouraged to talk and share our troubles. And, while I totally agree that it is ‘good to talk’, and we shouldn’t feel like we have to keep our thoughts, feelings and concerns to ourselves, I also think it should be on our terms. We are all different. Some people find great comfort in talking, while others don’t. I, personally, am the latter.

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

Riding the Wave | Lockdown Perspective

Disability Lifestyle & Lockdown

I was born with a rare, progressive form of muscular dystrophy. Besides being a non-ambulatory wheelchair-user, my condition comes with many other complications.

For me, being stuck at home for prolonged periods of time, due to chronic illness, is the norm. Hospital admissions, operations, cancelling plans and missing out on events and opportunities is a way of life.

Over the years, many birthdays, holidays and celebratory occasions have been lost to my condition. Whole months have been wiped out to repeated bouts of pneumonia, pleurisy and pneumothorax.

~ This is the case for thousands of disabled and chronically ill people throughout the UK! ~

I know what it is to struggle, to feel trapped, isolated and helpless. Such an existence really puts life into perspective and opens your eyes to what is truly important.

Attitudes to Lockdown Restrictions

Since lockdown began, I’ve seen and heard many petty complaints from ignorant individuals, which I find incredibly frustrating.

People whining about being unable to go out partying or bar hopping to get pissed.

To those self-absorbed cretins ~ GET OVER YOURSELVES!

Despite warnings, many continue to flout the rules, refuse to wear face masks and generally take life for granted, with little regard for the wellbeing of others. Some naively appear to think they’re invincible.

Trust me, it’s a hell of a lot easier to breathe through a protective face covering than a ventilator!

So please, have a little care and consideration. Protect yourself and others.

Abide!

My Perspective

During lockdown, I can honestly say I did not miss going to pubs, restaurants, cinemas, shops or salons. To me, these are life’s luxuries.

Yes, we all need that escapism and we all enjoy going out and socialising, myself included.

But, when the time comes to look back on my life, I’m pretty certain I won’t be thinking, “damn, I wish I’d done more pubbing and clubbing”.

The one thing I REALLY missed during lockdown was quality time and physical contact with my family and closest friends. Being able to sit with them, touch them, hug them and talk face-to-face.

~ It really isn’t what you do, it’s who you do it with. ~

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.

Getting Back on the Horse

As a kid, I rode horses until the age of 10, when I lost the ability to walk.

One day, the horse I was riding decided to bolt and suddenly swerved to a halt, throwing me on the floor with an almighty bump.

Slightly shaken and slumped in a muddy puddle, with a bruised arse and a missing boot, I had two choices.

Unable to get up and walk away, I could either sit there and wallow, or clamber back on the horse.

As tempted as I was to avoid the risk and mope in the mud, I opted to get back on the frisky mare.

There’s a lesson there, somewhere…

Life can knock you down, again and again.

Sometimes you find yourself asking, “why me? What have I done to deserve this crap?”

There is often no rhyme or reason and, at times, it may feel like you just can’t catch a break. But, shit happens.

The point is, it’s up to you whether or not you try to pull yourself out of the muddy puddle.

Find the thing, the person, the people that motivates you to overcome and battle on.

I never did find my riding boot, though. Maybe the horse stole it. Bitch!

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…?