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.
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.
We didn’t have the Internet or social media to research and connect with others living with muscular dystrophy. And, until I reached adulthood, I didn’t know of anyone else with the same condition.
It was difficult enough leaving behind my group of primary school friends and moving on to a different middle school. I felt very lonely and was struggling to integrate, when came the added pressure of immobility.
Prior to this, I could only ever walk short distances – around school and home, but never steps or stairs. Then, at age 10, I suddenly found myself unable to stay on my feet, constantly covered in cuts and bruises from falling, and I didn’t know why.
I was referred to a counsellor, but met with them no more than 3 times, as I found it utterly pointless. How was talking with a complete stranger holding a clipboard going to help me? I couldn’t walk anymore and that was that. Get on with it, Carrie.
Yes, I was stubborn and sceptical even as a child!
People often ask me if I miss it – walking. In all honesty, I tend to fob them off with a half-hearted response; “nah, not really. Moving on…”
But the truth is, my life could and would be so very different if I could walk.
I recently asked my fellow wheelies, on Instagram, what they would do if they were able to walk…
Some of these answers really made me laugh, while others are more thought-provoking.
What would I do? Run! You wouldn’t see me for dust, mate!
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!
Sadly, I don’t look quite as graceful as Cinderella on waking!
You then have to instruct, explain and demonstrate your personal care routine, entrusting your safety to this stranger.
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.
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. ~
Muscular Dystrophy is an umbrella term for a group of muscle diseases.
There are nine forms (see image above), which then divide into many more sub-types.
The various forms of MD differ significantly in which areas of the body are affected, severity, rate of progression, and the age of onset.
Some are born with the condition, while others do not display symptoms until adulthood.
2. What causes it?
A faulty or mutated gene. It is therefore, a genetically inherited condition.
If one or both parents have the mutated gene that causes MD, it can be passed on to their children. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean the children will have the condition. But they may be carriers.
I have a rare form of congenital (from birth) MD, which is an autosomal recessive disorder, meaning you inherit two mutated genes, one from each parent – as shown in the image below.
I am the only known member of my family to be affected by muscular dystrophy. My unaffected parents (both carriers) had never heard of the condition, and so, it was a huge shock to receive my diagnosis at the age of 4.
3. What form do you have and how does it differ from other types of muscular dystrophy?
I have a rare form of congenital (from birth) MD, called Ullrich.
I have severe contractures in all of my joints (knees, hips, elbows, wrists), and a severe scoliosis (curved spine). As a result, my balance is very poor.
UCMD affects my respiratory function. 7 years ago it became necessary for me to use a BiPAP machine (non-invasive ventilation) nocturnally.
For me, a common cold can very quickly develop into a serious respiratory illness, such as pneumonia (which I’ve had numerous times).
I experience chronic fatigue due to the progressive muscle-wasting and my squashed torso, which prevents expanditure of my lungs.
I try to live as “normal” a life as possible, having attended university and learnt to drive (though this is no longer possible as my condition has deteriorated).
8. Pros and Cons of living with UCMD?
The cons of my condition are mostly listed in the previous answer. The most bothersome of these are the respiratory decline and chronic fatigue.
You might think being unable to walk would be the most frustrating thing. And while I do wish I could walk, jump and run, this has never really bothered me all that much. It is what it is, and you learn to adapt.
The pros I would say, include the network of people I have in my life, people I wouldn’t know if it weren’t for my condition.
I have made some amazing friends through blogging and living with muscular dystrophy. For this, I feel incredibly fortunate and thankful.
Other pros include my Motability WAV (wheelchair accessible vehicle), blue badge for free parking, and being able to skip to the front of the queue at tourist attractions!
9. Has it changed/got worse over time?
Yes, my condition is progressive and life-limiting. My symptoms have got worse over time.
The term life-limiting can, understandably, be scary for many to hear. While I don’t expect to live to be old and wrinkly, I have no plans to pop-off anytime soon!
After all, if you’re a smoker you are limiting your life expectancy!
As a child, I could walk short distances wearing custom-made leg splints.
Joint contractures and the severity of my scoliosis has increased.
My lung function is significantly worse as an adult.
10. What are some of the common misconceptions?
There are many! Here are just a few assumptions…
I have family members with the same condition (I don’t).
I can’t have children.
I can’t have sex or a loving relationship (some even assume I wouldn’t want to).
Many assume I can walk, even when I try to explain I am completely non-ambulant.
People think I take lots of pills and potions – if only there was a miracle cure! I’d take it in a heartbeat.
For more examples, check out this blog post I wrote all about societal preconceptions related to being a wheelchair-user.
This stylish food preparation board, made from sustainable Rubberwood, is a multi-purpose, top quality kitchen aid.
I was so impressed with this piece! It is really attractive and doesn’t look at all like a standard disability aid.
It is designed for those with weak hand function, including impaired grip, poor hand control and tremors.
Using only one hand, the Easi-Grip board allows you to grate and slice food effortlessly. The spiked area ensures food is kept in place for peeling and cutting.
Several essential items all-in-one: Stainless steelfine/coarse graters, slicers, collecting bowl, spiked area, and long-lasting wooden board.
I have muscular dystrophy ~ contractures, poor grip, and very little strength. Despite this, I found the Easi-Grip food prep board really easy to work with, and a huge asset. I no longer need to ask for any help, which is a big deal for me!
My mum, who has osteoarthritis, loves this equally as much as me! Suffering with joint pain and stiffness, she found it significantly easier to use than regular kitchen tools.
This popular trio of knives has undergone a recent design revamp – the ergonomic handles are now thicker, making them easier and more comfortable to use.
The bright lime green areas indicate the “soft-feel” non-slip areas, as well as making them a bit more modern and aesthetically appealing compared to standard kitchen knives!
I would highly recommend all of these products to anyone, regardless of (dis)ability. They are top quality items and I am so thankful to Manage At Home and PETA [UK] LTD for sending them to me. I love to cook, and these kitchen aids have made life a little easier for me.
This post is in collaboration with Manage At Home and PETA [UK] LTD. The products were gifted to me in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed are entirely my own.
As a non-ambulatory wheelchair-user for the past two decades, I’ve experienced many frustrating encounters with lifts/elevators.
~ Being unable to fit inside because they’re occupied by physically fit (lazy, ignorant) able-bodied people
~ Getting stuck in them (once on a very old ferry!)
~ Getting stuck out of them (broken/out of service)
~ Waiting, waiting, waiting…
As a teenager, I went shopping to my local TJ Hughes store (super cool!), which was on three floors. It was a crappy old lift but nevertheless I travelled to the top floor because, well, I wanted to!
When I came to use the lift again, it wouldn’t work – it was completely unresponsive.
Unable to walk at all, I was stranded on the third floor in my manual wheelchair.
More than a little irritated, I started hammering the call button on this lift, “you WILL bloody work!!”
At this point, I was left with no other option than to be manually carried down two flights of stairs by a member of staff. Talk about awkward!
Well, it was either that or, frankly, I’d probably still be stuck there now.
Thankfully, I’m teeny tiny, my wheelchair was lightweight and foldable, and the guy who carried me was young and smelt amazing! I was tempted to ask what he was wearing but thought better of it. I’m not that weird…
It was fortunate that I wasn’t in my current powered wheelchair. If I had been, I honestly don’t know what would have happened…forever stranded in TJ Hughes!
It’s a memory that’s imprinted on my mind. It shouldn’t have happened, it was annoying, undignified, embarrassing and yes, at the time, I was thoroughly pissed off!
Although, on reflection, it is pretty funny. Got to laugh, right!
Of course, it made me wary of using lifts in the future. But I really don’t have a choice! I’m not going to avoid them and miss out just in case something bad happens.
It’s inconvenient at the time but always resolvable.
IF I do ever get stuck again, well, then I’ll worry about it…IF.
Side note ~ If you are fit and able, and have two fully-functioning legs, please use them! Kindly take the stairs and let those in need access the lifts/elevators. Ta muchly!