Let’s be the friend we all need.

Over the last few weeks on social media there has been a lot of conversation about the way we talk and represent our children with disabilities. Some I have agreed with and some I haven’t. Yet I have avoided entering into the conversation as its been rather fractious and in all honesty I’m been overwhelmed by just doing life. Yet another message I’ve received today has made me feel like I need to speak up. Because when a point of view or a fear of being wrong stops people from asking for support, stops people reaching out for help, well in my eyes that’s a failing. We cannot educate or make real change in an atmosphere of fear. When the anxiety of being judged stops you from asking questions you are actively stopping progress and development.

Firstly, I want to say that being any kind of parent is hard and I can guarantee that a perfect parent does not exist. Yet for the most of us our children are our world and we wake up each day trying our best to love them and raise them to be decent humans.

Being a parent of a child who has disabilities is all this and more. Beyond typical parenting we often have to become medical experts, voices and advocates for our children.

So secondly, please be kind to yourself, life is a journey of learning. How boring would it be if we all knew everything, though believe me I am beginning to believe that some seem to think that they do.

Thirdly I just want to share my opinion, my own thoughts, maybe not unique to me but honestly it is coming to a point that I do feel that my posts need to have this disclaimer.

Anyhow I’ve had the gift of parenting a child with disabilities in two different decades and I do feel this gives me a perception of change.

When Livvy was born in 1999 disability was still very much a hush hush pity situation. The number of times someone would apologise for my child to me was appalling. You see social media wasn’t a massive thing in my world and actually it was rare to come across an image of anyone with a disability. If it was it was often a portray of limitations for fundraising etc. This made my world small, there wasn’t anyone I could celebrate my child with, in fact I think many would have preferred if I hid her away. No one talked about what she could do always what she could not.

Limitations not achievements.

This simply sucked and this was the reason I actually first started on social media in hope of changing the narrative. My daughter was a beautiful, inspiring, intelligent, amazing girl and I wanted to share and celebrate all her achievements just like I did with her sisters. So that’s what I did and slowly and surely the conversations around Olivia began to change. I stopped the pity party being the narrative of her life. Unfortunately, Livvy passed away when she 9 and a half but when we share memories of who she was they are joy filled, adventure packed, flirting moments of a life that was such a gift, such a blessing.

Still it was hard and it was a struggle and I often felt extremely lonely. I did have to hide the pain, exhaustion to keep the true joy of Livvy. It was rather a one-dimension conversation, I couldn’t risk being open in case the pity party started again.

Fast forward a decade and a bit I am now parenting Daniel in a world where yes discrimination still very much exists but it is definitely not as lonely. I love that my social media is full of children being celebrated for their differences. That disabilities are not being hushed away in a corner hiding, shame filled world anymore. That I can share a photo of a Daniel and my comments received are full of joy and celebration and the ” oh isn’t it a shame” mentality is leaving the framework of acceptance.

Yet what I really love is the community of people who reach out to love and encourage one another. Parenting is hard but fellowship and having a squad of cheerleaders chanting in support makes it a lot easier and a lot less isolating.

So where am I going with all this?

The fact that the world is more inclusive is a fantastic thing, whilst there is a long way to go for full equality believe me, I’ve seen a lot of change in the last decade. Advocating for our children is definitely what we should be doing yes the conversations regarding disabilities should be changing. People are not their syndromes, conditions or abilities. They are their hearts and minds. Yet let’s not allow this desire for equality stop the support that we give one another. Let’s not strive so much for correct terminology that we lose hearts.

The reason I have written this is because over the last few weeks I have been contacted by parents of children with disabilities who are scared to share. One had shared a family photo with a caption that caused her backlash, there was no reason. It was another’s need to educate that distracted from the truth. The photo shared was a family filled with love and laughter. Their children were all together enjoying life, making memories. That one parent is now scared to post again. Her words to me were “it feels like whatever caption I write would be wrong. I need this space to share my life, I accept the comments from people who don’t get it, but now from those who should has made me feel really low”.

Another parent asked me how she should word a post asking for some advice as she had seen others face criticism for what one had said “degrading her child”. Yet the thing is who else can she ask? It wasn’t degrading it was sharing reality in hope of advice.

You see those that live in the disability community we do have a lot to learn but our mess ups are based in inexperience, lack of knowledge and in my case often life fatigue. But we are and always will be our children’s greatest cheerleaders. We love and cherish the very bones of our babies. So, as it all forms of parenting we will screw up, but for the most part it is done with love. If our children are cross or annoyed with us when they are older, we can remind them of this and that as human beings we live to learn and as they mature I hope they realise that parenting isn’t easy and cut us some slack.

Yet as a community we need to be careful, I’m all for progression and I strive for equality for all but let’s not lose what’s special about this world we live in. Let’s love one another, support one another and be a safe place for all those trying their best in a world they wasn’t expecting. My Grandad often said “be the friend you need”.

Let’s be the friend we all need in this wonderful totally unplanned life.

Changing seasons

I’m not sure how I feel about change. I often find myself facing it begrudgingly. It’s as if I’m scared of rocking the boat, effecting the status quo. I’m so scared at times that I delay what needs to be done rather than put things outside of my control. Yet I’m usually the one telling others to reach for the adventure, push the boundaries, embrace the excitement.

Blooming hypocritical me.

November has been a month of major changes for me. My foster son has moved on after nearly eight years with us. I’m so excited for him and the move is so positive for all of us but it’s a change and I’m so lousy at change. It’s ironic saying this because as a foster carer your life can and does change over night. New placements join your family, some move on and it’s an every changing profession. I know this but it’s never easy. Even when the move is positive and families are reunited or forever families are found there is a semblance of loss that tears at your heart.

Yes you can see how you have impacted a child’s life. How you have been security in an insecure time. Your heart can be full and empty simultaneously. I worry if others will love upon them like I do, keep up to date with appointments, remember their favourite foods or the way they like to dress. It’s not that I believe others cannot love like me it’s just it’s hard to trust and hand over these special hearts.

Yet for us all there are seasons in life and as Autumn gives way to Winter I need to embrace the future and our new season. Excitement for the coming holiday and preparation for the next stage of our journey.

I know what is loved is never lost.

Who knows what the future holds for us as a family?

Who new may join our merry tribe?

What I do know is that whilst change is scary for me it is also exciting. A little flame is building in my heart for our next adventure, wherever, whoever that may be.

Are you really my friends?

I’ve been honest here before about my struggle with friendships. How my awkwardness and self doubt has often left me pulling away from friendships. The fear of losing people has often led me to push them away.

I know why I do this, but stopping myself is a whole other battle.

Anyhow I was asked the other day about why I talk about my internet friends so much? Also are they really my friends?

So are you?

I’ve never been the best at friendships, never one for big groups. They just required too much brain power and for me to be out of my own mind more than I was willing. Family commitments and having a lot of siblings just never made me feel the need for large friendship groups. Also the dynamics of social groups mess with my mind. Cliques, status I simply couldn’t be bothered or understand. I often just don’t get people and social situations and I’m lousy at small talk.

So hello internet.

For someone who hates talking on the phone ( a whole other blog post) I found online forums to be freeing. I could chat to who I wanted and when I wanted. The groups were those with similar interests as me or similar lives.

First it was the special needs forums then with Livvy’s diagnosis it became the Rett community and then unfortunately I found myself in the bereaved family forums. All people willing to chat, support and guide me without any pressure on me to be anything but myself.

Then hello social media,

Wow I loved it, again I was given the opportunity to develop friendships with people miles away from me who just got it. Rett moms who cried themselves to sleep after watching their daughters seizure, parents trying hard not to lose their minds with their teenagers.

It was great, until it wasn’t.

I’m not sure what happened but losing Livvy changed the way I viewed the world. I couldn’t do arms length anymore. I needed close, deep friendships but I wasn’t ready. Emotionally I just couldn’t invest time or mind-space into others. I needed to heal, love on my girls and I suppose be a little bit selfish. I couldn’t be compassionate when my heart was broken. I’m sure many other bereaved parents will tell you that one of the hardest moments after losing a child is when you realise the world continues on without your child in it. I struggled with this so I hid away until my anger subsided enough to let me live again.

Hello hashtags

I laugh when writing this but Instagram and hashtags became my best friend. Literally a search engine to likeminded people. I love them, how many times would you expect #seizuresuck to appear, more than you imagine that’s for sure.

#Panhypopituitarism

#hydrocephalus #diabetes insipidus, #cerebralpalsy, visionimpaired #hypothalamicdysfunction #epilepsy

#Chroniclungdisease

#specialneeds

#complexneeds

#disabilityawareness

These hashtags have brought me in contact with some amazing people and now I’m determined not to hide from the friendships I am forming.

I have come across parents with children with complex needs with such a love of life that I cannot help but be excited by them. Their energy is contagious and their children’s smiles so infectious. like myself they live to make the moments matter. Standing up against discrimination and showing that our children matter, all children matter.

I am finding that sometimes it’s easier to be transparent behind a screen, to admit you are struggling when you are not face to face.

I have also seen waves and waves of support literally lift people out of the depths and I’m so proud to call these people my friends.

Yes some relationships I have formed are deeper, some I literally feel are family where others are not so close but I’m equally thankful for.

Some friendships will stay behind a screen and that’s ok but others I’m nervous but so excited to bring into the real world.

But all I value, all matter to me.

So in answer to the question are my internet friends real friends? My answer is this, “Completely, I don’t want to do life without them. “.

Sorry I couldn’t rise.

I’m not sure where my head has been for the last few weeks, I’ve completely felt a detachment from the world. On the outside looking in. I’ve been falling into an abyss of what if’s, what should of been’s and to be honest a hornet’s nest of why not’s.

Social media has been full of graduations and moving on photos and I’ve just felt angry and raw.

Grief isn’t pretty, it doesn’t come tied in a pretty bow. A ornate basket with a jar of missing tears and bottle of memories.

No grief is a raging ocean, dark, bottomless and threatening to pull you under at the least expected moment and I’ve been drowning.

I feel such a bitch but I’ve scrolled past photos without commenting, without celebrating the achievement because I was angry, I was resentful because Livvy didn’t get to celebrate it.

I couldn’t drag myself up out of the pain to celebrate others when there will be no prom for my girl, no sparkling dress, no fancy shoes.

There will be no graduation for my daughter, she didn’t even get to complete primary school let alone head out of education into the great unknown.

I hate that I’m angry, I’m appalled at myself for being jealous but my goodness missing her hurts In a way I just cannot describe.

There is always going to be moments that are raw, moments that should of been and I’m always going to try and be ok about them but I’m never actually going to be ok with them.

There will always be a Livvy shaped piece in my heart. Always another tear to fall in missing. A breath to be lost in grief.

Rett Syndrome took so much from us, it took Livvy from us and right now I’m tumbling into grief, anger and complete sorrow.

I miss my girl, I miss her so damn much.

So to those who I haven’t celebrated this last few weeks I’m sorry. My heart does sing for your moments, I’m so very proud of all of you and I’m so sorry. Sorry that I couldn’t rise from the depths of missing this time, sorry I didn’t have the strength to pretend.

I just miss my beautiful girl so,so very much.

Bravery ???

I have been thinking a lot about how we view bravery, how often the word is used and how sometimes it can be detrimental rather than encouraging. How people mean to encourage yet in truth can do the opposite. 

I can only write from experience but there are times in my life when I have felt the complete opposite to brave yet have found myself surrounded by people telling me I am.

When Livvy’s was diagnoses and I found myself facing life with a child with a complex disability so many said,  “you are so brave” “ I don’t know how you cope” all statements were being said to encourage and celebrate me. Yet I was far from brave, I so wanted to run out of my life, to pick up Livvy and live in a world where disability could not enter. A world where Rett Syndrome was banished. I wasn’t brave, I was surviving the only way I knew how, encouraged by the bravery of my beautiful girl.

“I don’t know how you have gone on” this was a statement that haunted me when Livvy died. I was caught in a whirlwind of emotions. It felt like a two pronged comment, my mind actually spiralled for such a long time due to this statement. I mean how have I gone on? Do I not love my daughter enough that I haven’t just given up on life without her, what kind of mother am I? Did I fail her by not giving up? 

Nearly ten years on and I still have no answer on to the question “how I have gone on?” Seriously it has been through God’s grace and the love I have for her sisters and also the innate knowledge that she expected nothing less of me but to live this life fully and that she would certainly kick my butt if I didn’t. I was not brave, I was surviving. 

I still wish people would think before admiring another’s bravery because those words offered in love often becomes a noose around someone’s neck, pulling tighter holding those who so need to admit to being scared, to being vulnerable no safe place to unload. 

Instead please, ask them how they are doing? 

Tell them its ok to be afraid? 

Tell them them they are doing well but don’t ask them how they have got through it, because truly if you are waiting for me to get through my grief for Olivia you may be waiting a long time. 

Be a safe place for people to unload, cast no judgement about where they are at. Just listen, really listen and if you cannot find the words to support just hug them tight. I know there is no answers to the pain, no reason’s to the why but sometimes its just nice to be held. It’s not ok and it may never will be, but I am not alone. That means more than words. 

[inlinetweet prefix=””Allowing others the space to be vulnerable may be the bravest thing we can do.”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]”Allowing others the space to be vulnerable may be the bravest thing we can do.”[/inlinetweet]

 

 

 

My rainbow tribe

Last Friday night was one incredible evening along with a wonderful group of people I hosted a Rainbow disco, a fundraising event in aid of raising funds for our local Children’s Development Centre sensory room.

Over the years I have hosted a number of fundraising events, but Friday was so different as I didn’t do it alone.

I first attended the Children’s Development Centre 16 years ago when we started on our journey into investigating what was happening with Livvy. I was welcomed by staff who wanted to support and help me as much as they could. I can honestly say that some of the faces may have changed but the philosophy hasn’t everyone really wants to support you and your child.

I started at Little rainbows  a specialist playgroup for children with complex needs in April 2016, Daniel had been with us for a few months and it was time for us to encourage him to socialize and challenge him to learn and engage with others outside the family. Whilst he struggled with attachment and often switched off, from day one we were all made welcome by the group. The staff are genuinely lovely and the parents, well they are some of the best people I have had the pleasure to meet.

I have written here often on my blog how I struggle with friendship yet here at Little rainbows I have been blessed by some amazing friends. Women and men who have opened their heart and arms to both Daniel, I and even Alan (lol). We have become part of a tribe, the rainbow one.

Daniel will be leaving this group very soon as he starts his school journey and whilst I will miss the lovely staff at rainbows I know I won’t have to miss my friends, little rainbows is what introduced us,but friendship is what holds us.

We are the rainbow tribe.

I want to hug you in real life.

Do you know one of the main things that frustrates me about the internet and social media in general? That some of the people I really would love to do life with often live miles away. People who I have connected with strongly are so far out of reach. How I wish I could turn my virtual hugs into real ones.

I have met some really incredible people via the internet. I get to follow some really inspiration women who have truly blessed my life. Some without knowing have got me through some extremely dark times.

I have had conversations with people that may not have happened in real life. Some finding vulnerability safer on line than in real life. Sharing their hearts filling mine with strength and courage.

I have been challenged by perceptions I would not have seen without the internet. Opinions and reasoning set out allowing me to educate myself without prejudice. Knowledge being as always the greatest power.

I have been inspired by those doing life in the only way they know how. Sharing the good, the bad and the ugly giving me freedom to admit to the reality of my life. The pain, the struggle.  Whilst not always easy  but celebrating the joy and the magic of the moments.

Yes the internet does have a dingy side, a side where bullying and trolling has its slimy place but these cowards can stay hiding behind their keyboards because they don’t scare me. Validation isn’t found in their mean nasty words.

Validation is found in your army, your keyboard warriors who stand beside you each day. Who reach out across the fibre optics across the broadband and reminds you that you have got this.

We have this.

But I do get frustrated at times, how I wish I could arrange one mighty dinner party and invite you all. Get to hear the laughter rather that read the ha ha’s or the lols. To give the hugs instead of virtually receiving them. To just be surrounded by all you weird and wonderful people.

But until then I’m celebrating the gift of the virtual world, the expanse of the internet and all you incredible people that I get to call friends.

My friends.

A special field

This weekend I received some news I knew was coming yet never wanted to hear. My friends child had passed away, disappeared into the hours of the morning leaving behind a heartbroken mother. My friend knew she didn’t have forever but was praying desperately for one more day.

One more day.

How often I would wish for Livvy one more day, one more hug, one more giggle.

How often do i allow grief to consume my heart?

Too often .

This last week I have been camping in a special field in Shropshire, the field itself isn’t rather special but for a week or two each year it transforms into something rather remarkable.

From the grassy emptiness it becomes full with love, laughter and friendship.

It overflows with energy, life and living.

For this time each year this field becomes a place where friendships are forged in life experiences.

This field becomes a place where children the world tells cannot, CAN.

This field is rather dangerous though, it is rife with infection, a infectious disease known as hope.

It creeps up into your soul and you start to believe that anything is possible.

Children who can not communicate start to talk, children who cannot walk take steps.

Parents close to breaking become refreshed, families divided are reunited.

This field has no barriers, its a place where everyone gets to be exactly who they were made to be. Not everyone gets on but there is a freedom in acceptance. We are all walking our own pathways and sometimes they can be overwhelming, but here on this field thats ok. You can cry, scream or break down, complete in the knowledge that we all get it.

Over the last week I have become a people watcher, I have observed shy children blossom in confidence, from the first awkward hello to beginnings of life long friendships.

From fire pits to bouncy castles friendship has flowed around this field, some already a lifetime in the making, others being created in that moment.

I have heard so much laughter than even in my grief it has lifted my spirit.

We have had fancy dress from the cute to the never to be unseen, quiz nights, animals and magic. We have hosted our own special Olympics with a level of competitiveness and determination I still can not get over. A child may not be able to walk but they can scream with joy at whizzing over the ground determined to get a medal on their chest.

A balloon release so painful yet so beautiful, how can the most painful part of the week be the most amazing? My heart breaks as I watch those balloons lift up into the sky, my soul aches for my Livvy so desperately I can hear it scream. Yet as my eyes drop to those around me I am struck by how wonderful life is. How everyone standing there beside me gets it somehow. Some may have experienced a loss, others may live in fear of it.

Yet fear of death isn’t found on this field, fear isn’t welcome here.

This field, this camp is about living.

Its about packing life into every moment.

Its about cherishing one another and holding on to what really matters.

The world isn’t allowed on our field, for a week each year we are protected from the daily battles our lives bring to our doors. People who don’t understand don’t visit this sacred place, every chair is filled with people that understand or accept.

Different struggles, different issues, different lives but we are united in our love, our love for our unique wonderful courageous children.

Our special kids. 

 

  • A big thank you to  all at Lower Lacon caravan park for looking after our special field for us all. For welcoming us in a way I have never experienced on any campsite anywhere else and for also being just truly wonderful people that I am pleased to call my friends.

Inspire or destroy?

Last week I was lucky enough to get to listen to the inspirational Nick Barwick. Nick is a motivational speaker who came to a fostering meeting to share his experiences as a care leaver. His story is incredible, he has faced adversity, pain and suffering throughout his life but still found the strength and courage to achieve his dreams, he defied the odds and he overcame.

Nick is passionate about sharing his story, he wants the success stories of life to be shared. We need our children to have hope, that if they are struggling and finding life a struggle they can remember that where they are right now is not where they need to end. This is doubly important for all children within the looked after system, they especially need the reminder that there is Hope in this world.

I took an awful lot away with me after listening to Nick speak, but what has been twirling around in my head since I left the meeting was the impact of ‘words.’

Let me explain a little, as Nick was sharing his story he spoke about being told by some professional in his life that he would not achieve, academically, financially and emotionally, and how these words for a long time became a self fulfilling prophecy for him.

How the words spoken to him became the words he spoke to himself.

Words have power!

They can inspire but also they can destroy.

words

Hearing Nick’s story just hit home how important our words are,

How as Mother’s, as fathers, as teachers, carers, our words have an impact on hearts.

How as a friend, a wife, a sister I need to use my words wisely.

How often have we let words spoken to us bury deep in our hearts?

How what may have been a passing comment has be able to consume our minds.

Someone else’s opinion become our truth.

I know I can look back in my life and raise my hand numerous times for when words spoken in hate became my reality.

“You won’t pass it.”

“I wouldn’t even bother’

“You are not good enough”

“Who would love you?”

How I let these lines of letters sink deep into my heart like an anchor dropped into the ocean, dropping slowing until they find a place to settle and hold, hold on tight.

How I  have allowed hurtful words to crawl under my skin until I believed them completely, burying under my skin into my blood to pump through my veins, straight to my heart.

Burrowing deep until I owed them as my truth.

Thankfully like Nick I had someone in my life who challenged me to question these words. To remind me that my future was mine to create.

That it was up to me to write my own story. 

story-of-your-life

I’m still a work in progress, my story has many chapters left to write.

I’m still learning to throw away the words that hurt, to erase the words that are wrong and untrue.

To protect myself from words that do not inspire or encourage.

I’m creating my own vocabulary and as I do this I hope to create another for my children.

I want their story to be one of adventure, excitement and hope but what I want most of all is that the biggest chapter that they write will always be one filled with love.

I pray that story is one of knowing, knowing how loved they are. 

What defines you!

If you were to read about my past in script form you would be forgiven for thinking that this may have been a script for a television drama or more likely a soap opera.

It’s a story full of pain, loss and at times anger.

Yet it is my life and right now I am walking a journey which is laying it completely open and completely bare and its hard. It fact it’s blooming painful, yet in the midst of the tears of which there has been plenty I have actually found myself feeling a strength that is holding me all in place. In fact it must have the wire that has held me together through this life’s journey.

My faith in myself.

DSC_0147

 

I cannot go back and change the past. In fact I’m not sure I would ,as everything that has happened has formed me into the person I am right now and I actually rather like who I am.

We all have pathways to walk and as human beings we will make mistakes, we mess up and at times we completely screw up but its how we move forward that defines us. How we learn from experiences and how we grow.

 

My life may have been messy, but it has challenged me to see beyond the barriers. I love with all my heart, I believe in people with all my soul and most of all I have hope. Hope that with love and empathy this world can and will be a better place.

 

So if right now like me you are feeling scared and vulnerable keep pushing forward because you may not realise it, but these moments, these challenges may be the moments that define who you really are.