Sunday, 13 April 2014

Frugal Family Fun

During our last visit to my mum's in late March the weather was stunning.  It felt like a lovely long hug; the suns rays comforting and caressing all weiry-ness away.  And there has been a need of comforting in these parts over the past couple weeks.  Little Lady has been ever so poorly and I'm a little jaded.  Anyhow, a little sunshine did us all the world of good.  Bring on the sunshine this spring!

My heart did swell with contentment to see my children playing in the same village park that I did as a child.  Little Lady initially wanted to stay behind and was persuaded to join in with the boys.  Over 3 and a half hours later they returned elated after frizbee, skipping, swinging, football - "I'd forgotten how fun the park is Mummy!" she exclaimed.


It struck me that this has been the first year we've been unable to visit any parks during the winter months for this type of play.  Yes, they've ridden bikes or we've done a brisk shot of exercise.  But not the careless enjoyment of childhood such as they did that Saturday.  Our weather has been so bad this winter but it only takes a good few hours of sunshine to reignite those feelings of joy in the outdoors.


The following day - while the hubby did some chores, the children requested the park again.  We enjoyed another 3 hours of play - soaking up the spring sunshine.  I wandered around the perimeter of the field - searching for 'treasure'.  The Littlie's joined me - we found all sorts of different objects and examined the textures and shapes that nature had to offer.


We made camps by the river; specifically squirrel camps (including swings and nut stores) and they swung from plaited vines.  Pure simplicity.  I love this type of play.


Little Lady expressed it so clearly - "You play differently Mummy - you and Daddy.  It's good, it's different".


Whilst I can no longer run to play football or chase to play tag - this is fulfilled by their Daddy.  I can nurture the softer appreciation of nature and wildlife.  Both complementing each other.  Both good for our children, good for our souls.  I love this park and I feel close to my late Father here.  It was lovely to see my children enjoy the park so much and to see the cycle of life play out before us.  Such happy contentment, which among a couple weeks of illness was a welcome reminder that the natural rhythm of life seems to flow in highs and lows and the highs do come again.

The hubby returns to work again tomorrow after a week off.  Myself and the kids are off to stay with my Mum again in sunny Cornwall so I'll catch up again next weekend!!  Happy Easter everyone!
J9 x

Friday, 11 April 2014

My Week ~ Things that made me Happy...

Thank you so much for the wonderful messages of support on my last Disability Journey post.  The series of posts have been incredibly challenging to write - to not dwell in anger and resentment but to show that whilst overall I can see the positives in life - this is still a journey with ups and downs.  I guess I'd just like to state the obvious in that we are all dealing with 'stuff' - just varying degrees.  Life can be good.  But my goodness it can be hard - so cut yourself and your neighbour some slack!!  I am planning to delay the final post until I've had time to give it a more considered response and to let the mood of my blog posts resettle a bit during my birthday month!

Sooo on to things that brought me happiness last week:

::  Mother's Day loveliness.  Homemade cards and presents - the best kind.  Little Man made this felt flower at school - in the pocket is a little heart with lots of drawings on both sides 'of all the things you [me] like': our family, loving, baking, cake decorating, TV, milk choc chip cookies, puppies, french bread pizza, flowers, chocolate, squirrels?!  It's lovely to see his drawings of all the things he perceives me to love.


Little lady made me the gorgeous coaster at her Brownie club and it now takes pride of place on my bedside table.

::  Brownies badges  - tried, tested and achieved.  Such a happy Little Lady.  We're going to tackle the Star Gazing badge while visiting Granny next week "As the stars are so much clearer at her house".



:: Little Man's Easter hat.  Fully designed and created by himself.  They had a mufti day today to raise funds for the local children's hospice.


::  These generous giveaway goodies arrived this week from the wonderful Wendy of September Violets.  This was a giveaway as part of the Grow Your Blog event.  I do so love getting a parcel in the post!  Thank you Wendy - you made my day!


Lots of colour in that past week.  Many moments of happy.  I'm tired though - looking forward to a break from the school routine as term ends.  We are all ready for a rest!

Amongst resting, we're out and about over the next couple of weeks so my time here will be more sporadic. If you have a moment - go and check out the fabulous giveaway that Mary Jane's Tea Room is having.  Such a gorgeous collection of goodies this generous lady is gifting to some lucky person!!

Happy Easter to you all - may your days be full of sunshine and laughter.

Enjoy!
J9 x

Linking up with The Week That Was: Captured

Friday, 4 April 2014

Another Cake for Super Man!

The Hubby and I are both Aries - he is two days my elder.  With all the ongoing financial challenges we decided to not do birthday gifts this year - even small ones, as we decided to enjoy a meal out as a family instead.

To mark his actual birthday, I decided to make a cake - a frugal choice of course as we had all the ingredients.  I baked a basic chocolate sponge in a square tin, covered it in chocolate ganache and then decided to decorate!

I remembered a cake I'd pinned an age ago here and felt inspired to recreate it.  I did buy two bags of M&M's (in hindsight smarties would have been better) from the local shop and sorted them into separate colours - I had 2 bowls of yellow and blue sweets but there were only 8 red ones in the two packets combined!!  I cut them in half length ways to make them go further and then to avoid spending more money I coloured up some fondant icing to make up the rest of the shield (again, a store cupboard ingredient).


It was by no means a professional finish but was not a bad result for such a quick plan with minimal effort and it tasted rather good too!  The children were delighted to keep it quiet from him in the lead up to his birthday and he was delighted with the surprise.

Happy Birthday to our very own Super Man!

J9 x

Thursday, 27 March 2014

My Disability Journey: Physical & Mental Recovery

When bones are broken it is visibly clear to everyone that something is wrong.  It can be labelled and is tangible - people understand instantly - "Oh... you broke your hip.  How awful".  It is somewhat sad to acknowledge that the same cannot be said for mental illness.  This kind of illness is not visible, you cannot undergo an operation or be put in a plaster cast to heal and many, many people do not understand the suffering and isolation that such illness can cause.

SAMe for depression

For me the physical trauma was instant.  A cause and effect could be identified.  I find the anxiety and mental illness that I experienced a much harder illness to quantify.  It was a gradual, silent thief which stole my identity and my spirit.  I have always been a perfectionist character - an achiever by nature - I set goals and did my best to achieve them.  But my illness exaggerated this personality type until I became ridiculously self critical.  The expectations I set on myself I believe were a major part of my downfall.  To 'make up' for the fact I couldn't walk I over compensated enormously - I gave every bit of myself to motherhood.  Months in to my physical 'recovery' I couldn't understand why I was happy in so many ways yet something beyond the physical just wasn't right...

We were  isolated from family.  My mother was AMAZING - but was she going to live with us for the next few years? No.  She had her own life to live - and I had reassured her endlessly that I would be fine. Friends?  Well, you certainly find out the people who are important in life.  Those that will be there for you. Many others dropped away as things became hard.  On reflection this was a hard but invaluable life lesson. I was unable to drive - I'm still not legally able to drive a manual car (which we had at the time).  Now of course I drive an automatic but it was a good 8 months before we were able to replace our car.

Consider - you cannot walk... you cannot drive...  you have two children under two.  Four precious friends picked me up and gave me lifts to toddler groups or play dates when I was able.  And when I got my car the freedom was liberating!

When asked how I was I responded, "I've got two wonderful, healthy children, I'll be alright".  Other mums would say "I don't know how you manage".  That phrase would come out on automatic pilot hoping that that would end the conversation about me as anything deeper would promote an emotional response which I so wanted to conceal from the outside and because what would happen if I admitted I wasn't alright?  I wasn't thinking about how I felt - I always responded about my physical symptoms and how I was expected to be getting better.  So even though I wasn't I could still behave like I was.

When Little Man failed his health checks my heart and my mind broke.  I'm not prepared to talk about the details of Little Man's illness but it did involve his brain - a form of hydrocephalus, and at 18 months we nearly lost him.  So much pain and fear... yet running alongside wonder and love in the miracle of life.  He was only 8 weeks old when he was diagnosed.  [Thankfully, LM's condition improved once his skull fused and after some tough times he overcame the challenges of the first 2 years of his life.]

I put myself under too much pressure to 'soldier on' and I felt enormous [self inflicted] guilt about the trauma I put my family through and what I was causing them to miss out on in life.  But if I'm completely honest, without my family I would not have survived.  I am a mother first and foremost.  I had children to get up for and a reason to keep fighting for things to get better.  My children needed me and I was doing well in fulfilling their needs.  But on reflection, my anxiety had become an obstacle in my recovery (compounded by very real health concerns for my boy) meaning I lost perspective and worried excessively.

As the weeks went by we started to question...why wasn't my condition improving?  Why wasn't I able to walk without help or pain?  Why were none of the treatments working?  I'll always remember one consultant stating dismissively over a year after the accident, "These are long and painful things".  Yep, got that.  Just tell me when it's going to end.  Yet we continued to search for answers.  It felt like our adult life was solely about finding that answer.  It seemed to consume every [non-mothering] waking moment.  Do I feel less pain today?  Can I walk a bit easier? Is the physio, acupuncture, medication, hydrotherapy helping?  What else can I do?  Whilst our family life was happy and content my physical condition was terrible - and was having devastating effects on my mental health and many aspects of my relationship.  I was diagnosed with depression and exhaustion in large part because my body could no longer function in the extreme level of pain I'd be trying to cope with.

so very true. be kind.

Two operations later with little improvement (each with additional pain and lengthy recovery) we sought a second opinion privately.  This was my epiphany. When the endless search for things to change ended. And it was not a miracle cure or a magical drug... 

Acceptance was the key.


Of course, acceptance was a process.  Probably a two year transformation.  It took time to come to terms with this new normal.  I mourned the loss of my mobility and this took time.  I mourned the loss of the life I was going to have, the woman and mother I was going to be and this too, took time.  I underwent counselling as part of a Pain Management Programme, which was life changing in how I view and value myself.  And after that grief came acceptance.

Acceptance: that my central nervous system is damaged and my pain receptors having received acute pain for so long are frazzled and stuck on high.  They feel extreme pain even when they shouldn't.  There is no miracle cure.

Acceptance: that my pelvis, left hip and soft tissues are damaged and cannot be mended.  A replacement will be required at some point anatomically but this will likely not improve pain levels due to acceptance of #1.  There is no miracle cure.

Acceptance: that life has changed beyond all recognition.  My career is no longer an option.  Financially we are markedly worse off. We have been through an awful trauma which has taken its toll on us all and this cannot be undone.  But our life continues, I can give more quality time to my children and we are grateful for that.  Why should it follow that our life should be unhappy because of some unhappy and challenging elements in it.  We choose how we respond, challenge ourselves and grow.

Acceptance: that the accident was no-one's fault.  No-one is to blame or should feel guilty.  Life happens in the blink of an eye.  Many, many people are in far worse situations and we are thankful for being able to live our simple life.  That we need to rebuild our lives, be kind to ourselves and slowly things must improve.  Guilt is a waste of energy.

Acceptance: that love prevails.  My best friend...  yes we love each other.  He sees past my physical incapacity.  Everything has changed and yet the important things remain - our love and the essence of who we are as people, how we want to be as parents.  It is a deeper love to be nurtured, beyond the physical or surface.  It embodies how we live now in a far greater way than it would have done had the accident not happened.  Our minds have been refocused on what is truly important and what brings happiness in life.

Acceptance: that I am a good mum.  That throughout my illness and recovery despite it all, I was and am a good mum.  I always loved and fought for my children.  I failed for a while to look after myself.  I have learnt from that and am a better mother because of it.

Acceptance: that we must look after ourselves in order to be best placed to look after others.  We must be kind to ourselves.  This is not the same as being selfish.  But consciously thinking you did something well, or you deserve a cup of tea in the sunshine, or will buy that magazine you've been craving - all contribute enormously to our mental well-being.

You deserve to take care of yourself. #edrecovery #selfcare #heal

Acceptance: that worry does not make you better.  It does not change things.  It saps energy and drains mood.  It makes you ill.  Try to let it go and only consider the things you can influence and change - anything else is a waste of time and energy.  Making a conscious effort to do this can break this habit and lead to more positive behaviour.  This was a break through for me.

It literally felt like I had been given the key to my emotional freedom.  To enable me to stop searching for a cure or for something that was going to make me better.  In fact, the message was much more basic than that - to accept my physical condition, medicate my pain and to try to make the best of our life.  It is only in the journey to recovery that I have come to accept each of these factors.

And that was the beginning of consciously appreciating the Simple Things.

//

Nearly seven years on we have lots of joy in our lives.  I am thankful for the changes that experiencing those years have stimulated.  Yes - I suffer from crippling pain.  I am and will continue to be physically disabled. We manage our life - what we do, how we do it with this in mind and of course it places enormous limitations on us.  But. There is so much good in my life and I am free to really SEE and embrace it.

It's not always easy... sometimes I need to refocus and remind myself what is important in life. Sometimes how other people are able to live makes me question the choices we make - but that would happen anyway. I have time... So I love with all my heart and I am loved completely in return... and I do feel blessed.

J9 x

Monday, 24 March 2014

Simple Pleasures - A Perspective in Poetry

Little Lady wrote some poetry recently - alone, without help.  The pride and love in my heart while I read it felt overwhelming.  I know my children are incredibly intuitive.  I know that we try to be good role models and share values and morals which we hope will add to their future happiness.

At certain times though, it is important to identify that it is the children that have the insight of what is to be valued in life.  They know the truth and wonder in the world - certainly the world they have access to.  Reading this poem encouraged me to recognise this and to look at these simple pleasures and take joy from seeing things through a child's eyes.

My Heart Soars

The beauty of a sunny, daisy filled hill,
The softness of the fluffy, white clouds on a summers day.
The fragrance of the colourful flowers,
The taste of creamy chocolate.
The sound of calming music 
They speak to me 
And my heart soars.

Age 8

Stock image of 'daisy flowers on sunny blue sky'

I hope you find your own 'daisy filled hill' or some other Simple Thing to make your heart soar this week.
J9 x

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

My Disability Journey: The Accident

I've tried to keep emotion out of this and relay the impacts fairly factually.   I hope it will position the accident and the emotional / physical responses I want to discuss in the next part of this series.  I hope it briefly explains what happened (and how it continues to affect me) and most importantly in the reflection element (third in this series of posts) I'll talk about tools I've found to help me cope.

On 19th June 2007 I slipped on the decking in my back garden.  I was 38 weeks pregnant with my Little Man at the time.  My left leg slipped out unnaturally to the side at speed and although I did not fall to the ground, the force of my legs doing the splits horizontally (literally the way your hip doesn't extend) combined with a heavy baby / pregnancy hormones resulted in significant injuries.

A freak accident, taking only seconds but it changed my life forever

I knew immediately something bad had happened.  Little Lady was 20 months at the time and was by my side when I slipped and I managed to stay calm and tried to call out to my neighbours over the fence.  I was admitted to A & E at the local hospital where I was examined, the baby was confirmed well and unscathed and I was given a bit of gas and air to deal with the pain.  I was unable to walk or stand and any movement (of myself or the baby) was agony.

Later that day I was transferred to a larger city hospital for an immediate cesarean section.  For whatever reason, by the time I arrived the Doctors had decided not to undertake those steps.  I was examined but was not x-rayed as baby was inside so it was a judgement call as to what was best.  I was placed in a side room with a bed and commode.  This was to be my prison for the next week.  I was in immeasurable pain - every movement was agony and this was compounded by baby moving inside me.  I moved only inches during those days - having injections to avoid clotting.  I fainted through pain alone twice and plea'd for them to give me a cesarean every day.  The hospital was well over an hour each way away from our home and so I only had a visit once a day.  It truly felt like a torturous prison cell yet the wonderful baby moving inside me, my glorious girl and my best friend gave me hope.

Seven days later I had a C section and my beautiful boy was born - a gorgeous blessing.  It was also the first time I could be pain relieved properly and in the short term this was a huge relief.  I was then x-rayed and the Doctors realised the true extent of my injuries.  I had broken my pelvis and my hip and ruptured my symphis pubis so nothing was holding either side of my pelvis together.  I had only had paracetamol to treat the pain until this point and still could not put any weight on my left leg.

The next four days passed in a blur in that same room... but were far happier.  Little Man slept in my hospital bed between my legs as I was still unable to walk to get him from the bassonette and we were very hopeful for full recovery thinking that the nightmare would soon be over.  I was then transferred back to the local hospital and although physically I was struggling I was closer to home and that made visiting easier for everyone.

However, I then had a number of further health complications after his birth which meant that my lovely boy was discharged home while I stayed in hospital with a super bug unable to have any visitors for a further 5 days - including my lovely children.  I was so ill I genuinely thought I would die.  After the peak of this illness my milk came in and baby was miles from me.  Gladly though, I recovered from the super bug and was allowed home after a full occupational health assessment.

When I returned home I was only able to walk a few slow and painful steps on a frame with the pain medicated by lots of meds including oral morphine.  Of course, I could not feed baby from myself due to potential health implications for Little Man and subsequent opiate withdrawal.  We put a bed in the lounge.  My mum came to stay for 2 months to help me with the children [and my supposed recovery] for which I will remain eternally grateful.  The hubby had used all his paternity leave during the time I was in hospital - so without Mum and his help - I don't know what would have happened.  Little Man had his own health problems highlighted at the 8 week check and it was at this point that my emotions took a set back.  It was the last straw on a very heavily laden camel.

After the first month I began to feel pressured to recover.  I was asked daily - if I was feeling better, were my movements easier, and this combined with helpful suggestions from well meaning friends of 'needing to get out' meant I forced myself to do the baby groups, soft play...  The more I did this, the worse my pain became and the lower my mood sank.  I became terrified my children would be taken from me and so channeled Super Mum.  I masked my symptoms from all but my closest friends and family and would return home to collapse sobbing in a chair - unable to walk for the next few days and emotionally exhausted.  When people asked after my improvements I used to say "I've got two wonderful, healthy children, I'll be alright" like a mantra - a phrase to live by.  Then as the implications of Little Man's health became clear and suddenly one of my babies was not healthy my heart and my mind broke.  Not right there and then but little by little over the next year.

Around 2 months after the accident, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and continued to have flashbacks to that hospital bed where I'd lain in agony for months afterwards.

Of course, I prioritised Little Man's health above mine and the numerous trips to Bristol Children's Hospital combined with both of our Doctor appointments it felt like we lived at the Doctors.  Slowly I became engulfed by worry.  Who I was as a person became lost.  I knew something was wrong with me mentally but kept trying to think my way out of it - to rationalise myself well.  But of course that didn't work.  I was unwell mentally and physically and finally accepted treatment for anxiety and depression.
 
After that first year...

... I was diagnosed with early onset Rheumatoid Arthritis in many of my small joints as a result of the trauma that my body went through.

Between age 3 and 4 Little Man's condition thankfully became less acute and the fear could start to subside.

Six years on I am unable to stand on my left leg without medication and take a prescribed cocktail of drugs to help manage the pain including slow release morphine and oral morphine.  My physical condition will not improve in future but I have learnt to live with my new capabilities.

I have replayed that fateful day in my head so many times.  I had huge guilt and regret associated with the memory - "If only" and "what if" were all consuming sticking points in my emotional recovery for a long, long time.   This is probably the biggest element of my healing in my road to recovery and I'll talk about that in the next part of this series: My Physical & Mental Journey.


I guess if I wanted someone to take anything away from these revelations it would be to smile at the stranger who looks a bit distracted; show kindness to people at the park or on your street; send that text or make that call you've been meaning to.  It may just be that little thing that makes life for that person that bit brighter and make a small difference.

I'll continue with the next post on My Disability Journey next week.  I've relayed these events fairly factually and avoided adding emotion to it - apologies if it reads a bit like a time line of events.  The next post fully encompasses my recovery journey and I'd rather focus on this but you need the facts to be able to make sense of the rest!  Take care for now,

J9 x

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Date Day: Taunton

A very simple Friday morning satisfied the need for grown up time this month.  We took a trip to Taunton - a lovely market town within half an hour of us.

We stopped for coffee in a gorgeous old building - a Tudor Tavern - with wonderfully textured beams dating back to 1578 now leased by Caffe Nero!


It was dark inside and it was so cosy.  We sat and talked about lots of changes going on in our home - the job change (started 2 weeks ago) my medication adjustments/ condition, family, money...  It felt good to reconnect and reassure each other that despite all the ongoing changes there are still some comforting constants in our little world.


We only walked a short distance through the main streets as I wasn't on good form physically but as we walked I found it most interesting to look towards the tops of the buildings.  It struck me that here the building facades literally demonstrate the architectural trends passing over time.

We were walking down the main high street lined with modern shopping fronts with different building facades of varying architectural styles above.  One street literally ended with a beautiful church with such intricate stone work.  

When we got home I found out that this was St Mary Magdalene Church and that:

"The sandstone church of St Mary Magdalene in Taunton was completed in 1508. The 163 feet (50 m) tall tower is considered the finest example of a Somerset tower and one of the 'noblest' parish towers in England. 
During construction of the tower a pulley was used to lift the stone with a donkey pulling the rope. It is said that on completion the donkey was hoisted to the top to admire the view it had helped create!"

And what else should we find down another side alley but a castle...


 ...with its very own portcullis?!


Again, on our return home I looked it up and wikipedia states:

"It has origins in the Anglo Saxon period and was later the site of a priory. The Normans then built a stone structured castle, which belonged to the Bishops of Winchester." 

I can't quite believe that I have visited the town twice before and never noticed this huge castle.  I do love that about my blogging journey - in taking more frequent photographs I look more carefully, up alleys or towards the skies.  We will definitely go back with the children and look around the castle - it houses a museum now which should also be fascinating to peruse when we have more time.

Neither of us grew up in this area and our original homes / family live over 2 hours away in separate directions.  Whilst we know our home counties well we are still exploring Somerset.  We made a pledge at the beginning of the year to spend more time exploring the county and finding our new favourite places rather than spending most of our time visiting our 'old' homes.  Whilst Cornwall will always feel like home to me, I'm enjoying the process of making this county feel like home for our family; developing a fondness for the surrounding landscapes and exploring more widely this beautiful part of the world.

J9 x