Happiness is…

…soft lamp light, an abundance of throws, tea sipped at just the right temperature, scribbling on a crisp, clean page, crossing off items on my to-do list, the crinkle of a packet followed by a duet of wheeks, the light glinting off a freshly-polished table, sunlight streaming through the window in the early hours

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Permanently Exhausted Pigeon

I always see a meme doing the rounds on social media that says something like ‘I’m not an early bird or an night owl, I’m some form of permanently exhausted pigeon.’ This is probably one of those memes everyone can relate to to some extent. But honestly, I cannot emphasise how much this resembles my life at the moment.

In September I landed myself a new job. This was a huge deal for me: after months of drowning in job applications, keen to avoid landing a job in the education sector, I found something I could really get my teeth into. The only catch? It was full-time. And getting my body used to the rigours of full-time work would be perhaps the greatest challenge of all.

Fatigue is a real sucker. Unless you’ve experienced it, it’s incredibly hard to understand. I am one of these people who can sleep for 12 hours or more and still nap for several hours during the day. And no matter what, I am always tired.

It’s generally acknowledged by the medical community that individuals with cerebral palsy use between 3 to 5 times more energy carrying out daily tasks than those without. On an average day, I walk a good 25 minutes during my daily commute. I also make sure to take regular breaks at work, and will frequently get up and go for a little walk around the office when I can. By the time I’ve come home from work and done the usual bits and bobs around the house, I am wiped. Sometimes, I will push through and make a meal from scratch. Other days, I’ll bung something convenient into the oven, or Ben or my family will cook something for me. By 8 o’clock, I am considering getting into bed. I feel bad about this though, so I’ll usually give it til half ten and then consider going about my daily bedtime routine before finally settling down.

Once I am in bed, I tend to do a little bit of reading, before falling asleep ungracefully, probably with my mouth wide open, snoring for all the world to hear.

Next morning, my alarm goes off at 6.45 and the routine begins again.

I’ve had to have a serious talk with myself regarding reserving my energy and managing my pain. I am awful and stubborn when it comes to admitting I can’t take on the world, but living permanently exhausted is just not cutting it any more.

Pacing is something I genuinely want to work on. I need to banish those guilty thoughts and accept that I am not a superhuman. I need to schedule in early nights, make sure I eat good meals and regularly snack on healthy things during the day to keep me going. Most importantly, I need to work on accepting that this is something I can and will work on.

I am enjoying my job. It is the right thing for me right now. Working in an office means I can sit comfortably with a hot water bottle on my aching back, endless cups of tea, with a view of the city around me. I enjoy the satisfaction of seeing a project come together, matters complete and people satisfied and thankful when it’s all over. I enjoy working with people based all over the world and I am lucky to have very supportive, lovely colleagues who put up with my endless yawning and stretching at my desk. I just need to remember give my body and mind the attention it deserves at all times.

I write this whilst snuggling under my heated blanket. My spine has got it in for me today and I haven’t done anything particularly spectacular. But that’s okay. Because right now, this permanently exhausted pigeon is all that matters, and I am going to make sure I spend more of my time with that in mind.

‘The Girl Who Took a Rocket to the Moon & Other Stories’*

Mental health.

It’s something we all have. Yet none of us seem to want to talk about it.

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‘The Girl Who Took a Rocket to the Moon & Other Stories’ is a book, aimed at adults and children alike, that attempts to break down the stigma surrounding mental health, creating a conversation within which individuals can discuss their own issues with others.

Jenny Eckloff, who wrote the book after seeing a loved one struggle with their own mental health, has written seven short stories that encompass all aspects of mental health. From tackling anxiety, to depression, to panic attacks, Jenny’s book – illustrated by the talented Sammie Ripley – showcases stories that are relatable, yet often poignant.

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Though it capture the multi-faceted nature of the human emotional experience, the book is very accessible. The stories are short enough to be read easily, and would make a great bedtime story for little ones. They address panic attacks, depression and anxiety in an open, non-judgemental way, allowing the characters to overcome their difficulties and with the understanding that it is okay to talk.

A particular favourite of mine – ‘The Fallen Star’ – addresses the difficulties individuals have in seeking help, and encourages others to be there when individuals do reach out:

‘…maybe sometimes, stars need to fall and even though he couldn’t fix it, he just needed to be for it when it did…it takes great strength to ask for help…and it takes equal amounts to fix yourself.’

As someone who made that very first step in addressing my own mental health, these words were particularly resonating. It is hard to seek help, and even harder to actually help yourself. The glossary at the back of the book is a wonderful, concise resource that can be used explaining anxiety, panic attacks, depression and more whilst reading the stories.

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Reading Jenny’s book – alongside Sammie’s whimsical illustrations – is a really lovely, affirming experience, and would make a wonderful gift to those struggling with their own mental health, or the mental health of their loved ones.

Thanks so much to Jenny for letting me review your book: it truly is wonderful, and I hope you continue to break the stigma and taboo of mental health one story at a time.

You can follow Jenny on twitter @Reckless_Winter, see her website at http://www.jennyeckloff.com .

You can also look at more of Sammie’s wonderful illustrations over at: https://www.instagram.com/samsillustration/

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I am writing…

from a sick bed. I have an horrendous cold. i am fevery, and sniffly, and all the not-so-great things that come with Being Ill.

I am surrounded by tissues, and empty tea cups, and Olbas oil is the fragrance of the day. It is far from exciting.

I just wanted to write a little something, though. You see, I’m awfully self-degrading. Sometimes I joke about it, but there is an element of truth to my self-berating insults. You see, I always feel I could do better. If only I could be better, be stronger, more intelligent, more compassionate. It takes a lot for me to sit back and realise that I am doing ok. So. I suppose whilst I’m ill, and already feeling sorry for myself, I’ll sit back and count my blessings.

This month I graduated. That’s right: I’m a Master of Research (whatever that is). I have a 120-page thesis and several publications and a lovely certificate to show for it. So, there’s that.

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Here’s me, looking uncomfortable in my graduation attire.

I’ve also survived a year in the workplace (hooray!). And though I’m currently in the midst of job applications and other job-related things, I feel positive that I’d be an attribute to most workplaces. I really like working. It gives me purpose, and something to aim for. I just need someone to realise that and to take a chance on me!

I am having a great time with Ben, and my friends, and I have a lot to be thankful for. There’s obviously a reason these wonderful people are in my life, and I should recognise that more often. I just need to take stock of things and realise that, hey: I’m doing OK. I actually am.

Anyway. I’m off to get another tissue, and make another brew.

Maybe we all need to sit and take stock sometimes. I recommend it.

Heather x

Realisations

I feel like I’ve been having a mid-life crisis.

No, really.

I thought I’d had my life and career all mapped out: I’m graduating with my MRes (with distinction!) in July; going on to do my English PGCE in September, then I’ll teach. Sorted, right?

Wrong.

I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve well-and-truly changed my mind, at least for now. I’m not really sure if this was a gradual process, or a sudden ‘light-bulb’ moment, but I just know teaching is not the right thing for me at this time. Doesn’t mean it’ll never be. It’s just, right now, not what I want to be doing.

I’d be lying if I said my disabilities didn’t have an impact on this decision, because they absolutely, almost certainly did. I’ve had the unique experience of actually being able to teach before embarking upon teacher training; I have my own classes, mark registers, prepare resources and do all of the other usual ‘teachery’ things that teachers do (except marking…thank goodness). And this unique insight has perhaps shown me that though I may think I’m invincible, and though I do not like to admit that my cerebral palsy can cause issues, it’s a struggle. And, being truly honest with myself, I just think I’m not cut out for the teacher training, with all the rigmarole of planning and marking and studying simultaneously.

There. I said it. I’m not cut out for it at the moment.

know I’m a good teacher. I’ve had several observations from line managers that have been great. And I love teaching. It’s hugely rewarding seeing that ‘light bulb’ flick on; it’s intensely gratifying watching a student mould, change and develop into themselves. It’s a pleasure to watch their confidence increase; to share their successes, and to pick them up when they need a boost. But it’s also hard. Teaching is – in my experience – either really good, or really, really bad. There’s nothing more frustrating that children refusing to listen, or making fun of your lesson that you’ve spent hours planning. There’s been no in between. And at this stage of my life – where I’m eager to establish myself, and settle down – I just need to focus on what it is I really want to do right now.

I feel strangely liberated by this. I thought I’d be bricking it: I am a person who thrives on routine, after all. But it’s finally time for me to really think about what I want to do, and to go out there and do it. And, most importantly, I need to make sure I look after myself.

Sometimes it’s okay to not know what you’re doing right now. Sometimes it’s okay to have a realisation, and to act upon it. I am taking this time for me, and for my body, and for my mental health. I know there will be bumps along the way, but I am excited to see what happens.

 

Physios, pain and patience

Well hello, you. I know, I know. It’s been a while, hasn’t it?! I’d say I have a perfectly reasonable excuse, but all I can really say is that old little thing called ‘life’ got in the way. 
I know. Lame excuse. 
Anyhow, just thought I’d let you know about my most recent visit to the hospital. This is following on from my   MSK clinic post, which addressed plans for pain management. I was pretty disappointed;  my beloved acupuncture isn’t on offer where I am now,  and so we decided on a physio/mental health plan.

The appointment finally came around. Though my physio was super lovely, I just felt…well…really underwhelmed. To address the pain the approach seems to encompass a plan for exercise and keeping a record of how this affects pain and/or fatigue, but I am already really mobile considering. I walk a hell of a lot (that’s what not driving does for you), go swimming and gymming when possible,  and at least once a week, and keep active even on my ‘rest days’ as my boyfriend would tell you. I literally do not stop. I am always on the go. And whilst I know some people with pain and musculoskeletal conditions can’t be as active as I am, it just seemed to be an assumption that I don’t do anything,  and so need to increase my activity levels. I was given a few exercises to try and have given things a go, but all in all I just don’t feel like it’s been very helpful. I still have pain even after trying these things,  I still could sleep for days, and I’m still fed up of being told thay exercise is the cure-all even though I do exercise, and lo and behold, I still have cerebral palsy and severe kyphosis.

Sigh.

I am really grateful I got an appointment, and know I am privileged to do so. But I just can’t help thinking this approach is missing the point entirely. Maybe I’m still bitter about not having the acupuncture,  but I just don’t feel this is pain management.  Right now I miss Hull more than ever. 
So, that’s my little ranty update for you. I have a follow up appointment and will mention my concerns. As always, I’ll keep you updated. It’s been quiet on here I know, but thanks for sticking with me whilst I find my feet. I should be back to posting weekly very, very soon
Right, better get back to doing the washing…

Heather x