A battle won

Parenting one or more disabled children involves many unexpected roles, including becoming a fighter. In an ideal world a family would get information, appointments, a plan and advocacy support at the same time as a diagnosis. But that almost never happens. Instead families are pitched against each other for scarce resources all fighting a system that seems determined to deny our children what they need and deserve. But sometimes persistence pays off and I have to report that I finally FINALLY won the battle to get effective help and support for youngest.

This is giving me a bit more free time (less than you might think though!) so I’m doing a bit of catching up, from boring stuff like filing, paperwork (and finding lots of things to chase up, oops!) to fun stuff like my first proper run since I got injured.

Reasons to be cheerful 9.2.19

There’s also been lots of sleeping, apart from one night when my disabled daughter B was awake from 3am. For the first time ever I tried hoisting her onto the toilet in the middle of the night, but that wasn’t the problem. She wasn’t upset, just chatting and singing along to the music channel on the telly. Perhaps there was a full moon, I forgot to check!

The house has been calm and sometimes empty: less demands on me means more gets done, and time for the occasional leisurely bath instead of quick showers.

Of course I left the house a lot too: I caught up with friends, carried on bungalow hunting, and began the round of medical checks that are pretty essential once you’re in your 50s… And it seems that my eyes are healthy. Phew!

I know this is just a lull, and there will be more battles ahead, but for now I intend to enjoy the peace.

Sharing with Reasons to be Cheerful hosted this week by Mummy from the Heart.

R2BC at Mummy from the Heart 

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On New Year’s Day

2018 ended with the very sad news of the death of a wonderful woman and former work colleague with whom I’d reconnected on Twitter in recent months. That made it extra hard to feel any sense of celebration about a new year.

January 1st began at 3am as usual with the now nightly clean up due to the issues affecting one of the members of this household, then the morning started with a beautiful new year smile from my disabled daughter B. It should have been enough to put me in a good mood. But it wasn’t.

This will be a milestone year : my youngest turns 18 in April and I will then be the mother of adults. But no prospect of an empty nest or a chance to live my own life.

Instead my parenting duties seem more intense and overwhelming than ever. I feel so trapped by it all, and crushed by the knowledge that I’m the only one who can engineer an escape plan that ensures a better future for all of us.

Yet I felt bad about feeling bad at the start of a new year that many will not see.

So I did what I have to do most days, and chose an activity to boost my mental and physical energy and endurance to do all that has to be done.

Today’s choice was another parkrun with B, with a more civilised starting time of 11am.

In the afternoon B and I actually stayed in the house: we put together my first playlist since 2015, and I may as well continue my blogging tradition of sharing the songs, though free wordpress won’t let me embed the videos:

We are scientists – after hours

Ash – Annabel

Green Day – good riddance

Bastille – Pompeii

John Newman – love me again

Heathers – November

Oasis – the importance of being idle –

Super furry animals – golden retriever

The stoat – try not to think about it

Carter USM – the only boy

Then we made a non alcoholic tiramisu to use up more of the left over naughty food in the fridge, and after dinner B ‘supervised’ me doing the laundry and putting the bins out followed by one last video before bedtime.

Between her bedtime and 3am I got some free time for Netflix, some sleep time and some worrying time about how much longer I can keep going.

But at least this New Year’s Day I did more than just chores and supermarket shopping trips.

There’s more to life than cleaning showers was what I used to mutter under my breath when the student flat cleaning rota was being given out. And I guess I still feel the same today.

As for 2019? It’s going to be a bumpy rollercoaster ride of a year, but as my new necklace says

Do no harm and take no shit

Words to live by for the months ahead!

How was your New Year’s Day?

 

Baby, it’s dark outside

Velvet black skies, even at 7am. Just the glow from the orange street lights out the front. Not a sound, except the drone of the fridge.

Wide awake for the night shift, sleep did not return, and I gave up before 6 to see in St. Stephen’s Day in the calm of early morning.

Pacing around the house quietly, tidying this and cleaning that. Creating a new normal with all the lovingly given Christmas presents. Finding new homes for them. Squeezed onto shelves, squashed into drawers.

Meantime outside the darkness wraps around the red brick terraces like a new blanket, while the people who live in them sleep off the excesses of Christmas day. It’s giving so many the chance to rest, nest and reflect.

We’ve survived another year as my eldest always says. And we survived Christmas Day too, with the help of my girls and a dear friend. Today we look forward. There’s a week to fill before the manic chaos of normal life returns. Decisions, decisions.

By 8, I am joined by the early birds tweeting, and a lone bin lorry rumbles its way down the street – not ours. Our overflowing bin will have to wait until the weekend..

The first rays of light are spilling over the rooftops. Soon, very soon, my disabled daughter will be the first of the household to wake, and my time will no longer be my own.

And then I hear a giggle from the next room. She’s awake and she’s happy. It’s going to be a good day.

Baby it's dark outside

 

 

No place for disabled people

The handles of her wheelchair were touching the door. The footplate was touching the toilet seat. If she could stretch out her arms, she would easily have touched the walls on either side. This was the disabled toilet in our local accident and emergency department.

My daughter wasn’t even the patient. But I am her sole carer, so if I have to go somewhere outside the hours of her day programme, then she usually has to come too.

I had to seize an opportunity and we left the house in a mad rush, just a few random things thrown into bags and hung off the back of the chair. No time for her to use the toilet, I just had to hope that there would be a usable facility available and that we wouldn’t be waiting too long. I *may* have been a bit too optimistic.

Phone calls were supposed to have been made, and we were promised we would be met on arrival. It didn’t happen. And when I saw how many people were waiting to be seen I understood why. There wasn’t an empty chair to be seen. Luckily my daughter was okay – one advantage of bringing your own seat with you everywhere you go.

Once I realised we were in a queue of indeterminate length, my first priority was getting help, and this is where Facebook is a life saver for me. I did text a couple of people first, but they were not available. And yes it was close friends who responded again, but I felt more comfortable putting out a general plea instead of approaching them directly and perhaps making them feel pressurised.

Being stuck in A&E means very little choice of food and drink, especially if you have a disabled daughter who needs a mashed diet. Again my friends were able to bring something suitable for her, and later a bag of (very good) chips for myself and the patient.

But my friends couldn’t really help with B’s toileting needs. I had to sort that out all on my own. I sat on the toilet seat and changed her while she lay half out of her moulded seat – dangerous and uncomfortable for both of us. I’m still amazed I managed it at all.

Later she was crying due to needing to go again, but I was trapped while the patient was getting attention and there was nothing I could do to help her until I got her home.

Really hospitals are no places for severely disabled people, even though the busy staff were friendly and welcoming and made sure we were seen quickly.

This particular hospital is due to get a new Accident and Emergency Department soon, and I really hope that a changing places toilet with a bench and hoist is part of the plan.

My daughter is very healthy right now, but that could change at any time, and she should have the same right to a suitable toilet as everyone else.

Out of My Comfort Zone

What do you do when you’re feeling anxious and depressed? Perhaps it’s not a problem for you. Perhaps you meditate or exercise or take a bath or just breathe. Me? I tend to curl up on the sofa with Netflix and maybe a glass of wine. But all that does is take my mind off things for a while. The stressful routine of a carers’ life does not work well for someone like me who thrives on variety and new challenges.

And while I can’t easily change my current circumstances, I can make little changes to my daily routine, and this week I managed several big ones!

Smallest first….

I cut my own fringe. I’m always afraid of making a complete mess of it, but no one has noticed so I think it will do until I manage to book an appointment with the hairdresser.

Meeting new people for world mental health day. Always scary. Will I make a complete eejit of myself due to nerves? Will I trip or spill my coffee? In fact I enjoyed myself and it was great to have a brief chat with others who are dealing with crises similar to the one in my own family.

Finally, I went wall climbing at the nearby Awesome Walls with my fabulous running group (on a day off). I must have the climbing gene, as when I was a small girl I climbed trees and rocks with no safety harness and often on my own. Not usually a problem apart from the day I fell into a hollow tree…  And some of my friends will recall that even last summer I seized the opportunity to climb a tree when no one else would. Awesome Walls looked absolutely awesome. And it was. I don’t think it will become another hobby because it’s quite time consuming and lacks variety, but as an occasional treat, bring it on!

Awesome Walls collage October 2018

So those are my three challenging reasons to be cheerful for this week. Check out more at Lakes Single Mum.

Left Outside Alone

It’s Budget Day today in Ireland and for all I care it could be Budget Day in Outer Mongolia. I used to care. I used to march, I used to campaign for better healthcare, universal child benefit, better services for disabled children and adults. And what has happened? Almost nothing. Even though we now have a Minister for people with disabilities, very little has changed, except for the lucky few.

I can no longer bear to listen to most politicians, as they don’t sound genuine any more. I feel ashamed of my former profession – public relations – which was supposed to be about good clear communications, but is now about spin. When a trained politician speaks you cannot trust that anything is true, what they say, how they say it, or even the tone of their voice, because everything has been rehearsed and planned, and that goes for many representatives of organizations and companies too.

On the other hand, I do think that most politicians work extremely hard, and don’t get credit for that. I think many go into politics with high ideals, but lose their way, due to the shiny baubles of power, influence and pay. Just look at our current President, who said he was only going for one term, but is now looking to be re-elected for another seven years. People tell me he’s doing a good job, and I suppose we should at least be thankful that he hasn’t done anything bad or embarrassing.

I’m expecting the Budget to be all about throwing money at as many people and organizations as possible to keep them quiet, then taking it back in increased indirect taxes and charges for services. More complexity to keep accountants, lawyers and public servants in their jobs. There will be no vision, no grand plan, no hope of any real change And certainly nothing significant for disabled people or their carers.  We’re left outside alone.

The problem in Ireland for many people isn’t high taxes or low welfare, it’s the high cost of living and poor services. Money cannot buy the services my children need for example, because they don’t exist!

Respite for B is a good example. As a family in crisis we were given a Case Manager, and one of the items on the agenda was respite. She’s very lucky now to have a personal assistant who brings her on an outing every second Sunday, and it’s been suggested that the respite box has now been ticked and it’s likely that there will be no overnight respite because it is simply not available for adults with her high care needs. Lack of real respite means I haven’t slept properly for years, can’t go away on my own, can’t go to family weddings, comfort sick relatives in person, or support friends in need. At the moment I can’t even go out in the evening because of the problems affecting my youngest. And that’s just one of the many many problems that seem insoluble. Even my eldest daughter is affected, I need her help when she is at home, and she worries about the future and what demands will be placed on her.

You see the State has very little interest in families like mine unless a crisis happens, and then they wring their hands and offer just enough to try and stop things getting worse. We’re just considered dead weight. Outside society, outside the economy. Not of interest. Especially not of interest to Ministers of Finance who are only interested in balancing the books and pleasing their own supporters.

 

 

If it works for dead saints, why not for me?

I can remember the years when my pillow really did smile at me. My bedroom was a cool, calm and comfy place. Going to bed meant climbing in, curling up and dropping off. Of course nights with the children usually meant that I was up and down like a Jack in the Box, but I sank into sleep every time my head hit the pillow.

Insomnia is a rare visitor here, like a wasp on a winter’s day. Even during the worst of the menopausal years I mostly slept, but not the recommended eight hours of sleep. It’s partly my own fault. After I left home, there was so much to do and see, so many people to meet, so much to experience and enjoy, that sleep just seemed like a waste of precious time. At College I would be up at 8am studying or swimming, in lectures at 9, manning the Rag Office at lunchtime, working in a bar in the evening, then on to a club followed by curry and home to bed at 4. Then I’d get up at 8 and do it all again…

I *may* have slowed down a bit as I’ve got older. But my children’s night time needs resulted in constant interruptions over the past 25 years anyway. Things were improving though, until this year. The crisis affecting my youngest has had some unpleasant consequences for me (as well as for him obviously, but I don’t write about him on here) and today is the anniversary of when it all began to go wrong. At first I thought the problem would be solved in a few weeks, then by the New Year, but a disastrous Christmas sent everything spiralling downwards, and I now feel trapped and traumatised in a very difficult situation with no good options, and nothing seems to be working.

I’ve been finding it hard to talk, to eat, to function, and also to sleep. The novelty of sleeping in the kitchen has long since worn off, though moving out of my lovely bedroom to sleep downstairs has worked out well for my disabled daughter. As for me, I now know every peculiar sound that fridges make in the middle of the night! And I’m also too accessible, as my sleeping corner is on the way to the shower room. This now means regular night time disturbances.

With these on top of all the other stressors, I ended up with night terrors so bad I would often lie awake from 2am, barely fit to cope the next day. Finally I went to my GP for help in August, and reluctantly went back on meds. A sticking plaster over a wound the system seems powerless to heal.

Something, possibly the bed, also led to trapped nerves in my neck and shoulder. As part of the solution I was told to stop curling up, and to sleep unprotected on my back. Ugh. I feel like a dead saint in a tomb. But if it works for them, I guess I’ll have to make it work for me.

And yes the meds plus the Calm app mean I am now sleeping a little bit better. But this can’t go on. Something has to change. After all, I’m not a saint, and I’m not dead either.

 

 

The Great Escape

It felt like some crazy dream. A road trip across the country with my severely disabled daughter in 30 degrees of heat, on the day the schools broke up.

For a weekend break.

My first break for seven years.

I didn’t believe it would actually happen until I pulled away with the van stuffed with enough emergency items to see B through the Zombie Apocalypse, never mind two days in Co Kerry. Of course I forgot most of my clothes…

When I got the invitation my instinct was to say thank you, but I just can’t manage it. As usual. But I have wonderfully persistent friends. They had a house with a downstairs room where B and I could sleep, as well as the essential downstairs toilet. They didn’t ask can you go, they asked when can you go .. And then my eldest said of course she could manage everything at home for a couple of days.

And so I found myself on Friday afternoon cruising down the motorway, sunglasses perched on my sweaty nose with the music turned up and B dancing in the back.

Almost five hours later we arrived to a wonderful welcome and food on the table. And so it continued – I barely lifted a finger, except to look after myself and my disabled daughter, and obviously that wasn’t always easy in a strange house not designed with wheelchairs in mind. Apart from that it was everything a break should be: great company, good food, beautiful scenery and glorious sunshine. Poor mobile coverage forced a digital detox, but I didn’t really miss it as there was always someone to talk to and something to do.

Killarney looked stunning in both sunshine and clouds, and there were plenty of wheelchair friendly rambles and places to visit. On the Saturday night we went out to dinner at a hotel overlooking the lake, and there was no hassle including a severely disabled young adult at the table. In fact no fuss was made at all, she was treated the same as every other guest. It was very refreshing.

The break reminded me again that with a little help, it IS possible to have a good life with a severely disabled young adult.

Trip To Killarney Collage June 2018

 

A Rant about Carers Week #RealCarersWeek

Many people say that becoming a carer has made them a better person: I’m sure that can be true, as I saw it within my own extended family.

But I don’t think it’s made me a better person. Instead it’s highlighted my flaws: my lack of patience and tolerance, my self centredness, my incompetence in the face of overwhelming domestic duties and repetitive paperwork. Sometimes I strive to overcome these failings. At other times I rage against the unfairness of it all. I rage at being forced to live a confined life of fear and anxiety. My skills getting rusty, my brain less sharp, my mental health deteriorating.

Sure, I do my best. I do all that self care stuff: I exercise, as I’m sure you’ve noticed! I do social media – often the only opportunity I have to use my communication skills, and writing a successful blog post – or even just a popular tweet – gives me a boost that I badly need. I practice being grateful, I make myself do things that are challenging. I keep going. But it’s not always enough.

It’s not just me either.

There was a Carers Week competition to win a break at a luxury hotel in rural Ireland. Wonderful, you might say. Well deserved (especially if my friend @autieland wins, and I hope she does because she really deserves it as you can read here) but it also rubbed salt into the wounds of those of us who cannot get away from our caring duties, because those we care for have no respite. And even those families that have respite, may not be able to get it when they want or need it.

You see it’s different for everyone: some carers manage to lead relatively normal lives – and I used to be one of them – holding down jobs, perhaps enjoying holidays, a busy social life. Even then they may be facing challenges they don’t talk about. But many of the family carers I know live lives so difficult that the rest of us sometimes wonder how they keep going at all (no choice is often the answer to that question), perhaps due to the number of disabled dependents they care for or the severity of their difficulties; perhaps due to totally inadequate housing, no support, poor health, chronic pain, being housebound for months or years at a time, lack of money, lack of interest, feeling ignored, unappreciated and left behind by the rest of the world. It’s a recipe for despair.

The manicures and other little treats being offered to carers are thoughtful attempts to mark Carers Week, and undoubtedly appreciated by many. But those carers stuck deep in the trenches may not be able to leave their duties to enjoy a little pampering, or they may feel under so much pressure that doing something for themselves becomes just another item on the ‘to do’ list. And a set of pretty painted nails would not last long with the amount of hand washing that many of us have to do each day for hygiene reasons. It’s just not worth it.

There are no easy answers: my disabled daughter has been given a ticket to see Taylor Swift on Saturday, with support and some friends. A great break for me, you might think. Not quite. You see I won’t really be able to relax, as I will be dropping and collecting her, I need to be on standby in case she wants to come home early, and when I do bring her home there is a long bedtime routine that includes hoisting her onto the toilet and her night time stretching exercises that help her to sleep. We are both going to be exhausted! But we’re going to give it a try anyway. Oh and I forgot to mention I will still have one person to care for while she’s out….

What can I do except keep trying to raise awareness? This week I’m joining @Carer49 and tweeting using the hashtag #RealCarersWeek to highlight issues and possible solutions. I hope someone will read them, someone who can take action to improve our lives and the lives of our dependents. It’s hard to hope though, when UK Councils chose Carer’s Week to announce further cuts to vital care services. Does anyone else think that old, sick and disabled people and their carers are actually held in contempt by many people in today’s world? Yes? Not just me then.

As you can see, becoming a carer has not made me a better person, but I feel better after that little rant, and I promise my normal cheerful service will be resumed soon..

Reasons to be cheerful 20.4.18

I almost stopped writing these posts: I’ve been doing them for about 9 years in different places, and I thought you might be bored with them at this stage. Especially as there is definitely repetition – after all, my life is not exactly exciting any more!  Yet every post still seems to get a good reaction, so here we go again for another week with some daily tidbits…

Friday: B may be grown up, but it’s important to get her out of the wheelchair every day. So floor time is still part of the daily routine. And on Friday I remembered to put her on her tummy, which helps with her head control: I haven’t done it in a long time, and luckily she enjoyed it.

Saturday: Chatting with other parents in the lovely garden of the Carmichael Centre in Dublin while our teenage sons and daughters attend a therapeutic drama session. Best of all, B was happy to join in.

Sunday: Doing the 10K Great Ireland Run in Dublin’s Phoenix Park with my pal Lisa (and clocking up 31,400 steps over the day). It was wet, cold, windy and wonderful!!! A 3 1/2 hour escape from all my worries and I look 10 years younger. Even in a bin liner 😂.

Me collage Candi 17.18
Left hand photo taken at Christmas when I hit rock bottom with stress and exhaustion

On a more serious note, it shows the value of respite, and how difficult life can be without it.

Monday: I discovered a new season of my current favourite TV series: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Please don’t judge me, it’s a little bit of escapism for an hour after B is in bed – and I suspect I may view Coulson as a surrogate father figure 😂

Tuesday: Zumba 💙

Wednesday: The arrival of sunshine meant I got some work done in the garden.

Thursday: I rewarded myself – and the rest of the family – with cake following a painful physiotherapy session. I have to get my shoulder problem fixed as it’s preventing me from doing some of B’s essential daily stretching exercises.

Friday: A morning meeting that promised much. Now to see if it delivers!

Head over to Lakes Single Mum for more reasons to be cheerful.