Monday Meditation: Family Matters

 7B409BAD-D2AA-4704-857F-413F20F7CC1FA very quick post today to explain and apologise.

We are currently in the throes of trying to move my mum into sheltered accommodation just around the corner from us. It is taking up all our time and energy. Mum is finding it all overwhelming, she doesn’t want to move but knows she has to if we’re to be able to take care of her needs. It is causing her a lot of stress.

She is calling us every day several times a day with the same concerns and not retaining any reassurances I give her. She can’t keep hold of the relevant dates when things are happening.

She is insisting on sorting out all her belongings immediately – even though we haven’t even seen the property she’s been offered yet – and spending sleepless nights trying to decide which furniture to take etc. when she doesn’t know the size of the rooms.

In the 10 days or so since she found out she’d been offered a home, she has injured her back, her kitchen light went and we had  on Good Friday, and then on Easter Monday, she found a key in a drawer, tried it in the back door and got it stuck, so we had to pay a locksmith £70 to spray WD40 on it to free it! She then twisted her knee.

She keeps promising me she won’t do any more, but then phones me up to ask if so-and-so in the family would like such-and-such that she’s just found in a cupboard or wardrobe! Later, she will forget that she has given something to someone and worry she can’t find it.

As I write, my husband has gone to pick her up and also meet two estate agents who are coming to value her current home. He will then bring her here, and we will take her to look at the new home on Friday. It is very nerve-racking. The authorities will also be approving her at the same time and if they don’t think she can live independently, they will rescind the offer and then I don’t know what we will do.

So, I apologise for not being able to read everyone’s posts or comment as frequently as I’d like. There may be a hiatus in my own posts as well, at this point I don’t have any more scheduled. I am exhausted and worried about how all this is going to play out. Even if we manage the whole move, our lives will no longer be our own. Mum will have more security and hopefully be able to live independently for longer, and she will see more of the family. But we will be on call 24/7 and I’m not sure we’re up to the task.

It’s a huge emotional, as well as physical, responsibility. I worry that it will all be too much for her to cope with, leaving everything and everybody she knows at almost 88 years old, and if she is dreadfully unhappy in the new place, that will be on me, as I’m the one who has instigated it all.

By the time you read this, she will have seen her new home. It will be much smaller than her present home. She is not a joiner, and is worried ‘they’ will try and tell her what to do or make her join in activities or classes or ventures she doesn’t want to do. She likes to keep herself to herself.

I am normally a postitive person, but the weight of this is extremely heavy. What if she hates it and doesn’t want to move… What if she moves and hates it…

I know, I know, what if it all goes well and she is happy here…

Positive thoughts would be welcome 🙏🏻

Update: Mum saw the bungalow and felt better about the move, we even chose paint colours for all the rooms. Then last night (Saturday), she had a TIA (mini stroke) and has since been in hospital.  We are hoping she will be discharged tomorrow (Monday). The Earth is spinning just a little too fast at the moment.

Copyright: Chris McGowan

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Memories of Mother’s Days Past

5C93CC37-7C33-49EC-9775-968D6FFE0A4EA double repost today, both about past Mother’s Days.

As you will discover, we don’t pay much attention to these commercialised ‘Days’, but every once in a while, I receive a lovely surprise. Plus, I never tire of telling these stories of my children’s Mother’s Day surprises.

I won’t be seeing my family on Mother’s Day, but my son, daughter-in-law and their family of littles will be visiting next weekend – although I am under no illusion that he is coming especially to see me, it is the prospect of a long bike ride with his dad and the club that lures him here in reality!

If you’re celebrating, I hope you have a lovely day together. If you find this time difficult, my thoughts are with you, and I hope you can find a way of nurturing yourself through it.

An Impromptu Mother’s Day Adventure or How We Survived the Vortex that is Our Local Bermuda Triangle …

  Mother’s Day: A Tribute to My Children

 Copyright: Chris McGowan

A Word About Phone-Scamming the Elderly and De-stressing Me!

1069FBA1-3F3D-438F-B4F6-FBA06F8D5F13Just a quick post to say I’ll be away from my blog for a little while. I need some time out to straighten out the kinks in my body and spend some Me time. Real life is demanding more and more of my time and energy as my elderly mum needs more support.

An example: she was scammed on the phone on Monday afternoon. She gave her card details to someone who called her by name. She knew something was wrong but she became confused because he gave his first name as that of a cousin she had been worrying about. She was too embarrassed to tell me (it’s the second time it’s happened), and wanted to try to sort it out herself. Early next morning, she swallowed her pride and called me. She was really shaken up and could barely put a sentence together, she was so angry with herself.

 I literally spent the whole of yesterday on the phone or iPad sorting it out with her, the bank, the telephone company, keeping an eye on her bank account, moving the bulk of her money elsewhere, making her ex-directory and so on. My back is still screaming at me.

But so far, so good. I think she may have inadvertently prevented him from using her card: her sight isn’t good, especially in dim light, and I think she may have misread a number or two on the card.

B44F3FD6-CC3C-4B08-BCF6-5797D6A7131EThis was the closest I got to the welcome sun – through the kitchen window this morning – as today, I spent most of my time finding out about the cousin she has been worrying about, to try to put her mind at ease. At one point I had him talking on the iPad and her on my landline on speakerphone, trying to enable them to talk to each other while I interpreted: they are both 87 and very deaf, neither is tech-savvy, so you can imagine how that went!

So please warn your elderly relatives, or anyone actually, the lady at the bank said these people are very good at what they do and they can catch out the best of us.

B1A75EB8-482D-479D-B1D7-36ED53C16536I’m off to have some osteopathy, listen to some relaxation music, an audiobook, and enjoy some new juices that We Are Juice UK, have kindly sent me to try. It will also be a relief to take a break from the juicer! My husband is on mother-in-law watch for a couple of days while I get my breath back. I have scheduled some posts for the next few weeks.

This freezing weather will not be changing any time soon (we had snow again all day yesterday), so I will be hunkered down in bed with a couple of heated wheat-bags, two hot water bottles, woolly socks and a duvet I have to fight my way out of!

See you soon.

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Monday Meditation: Two Year Old Frank’s Berry Good Smoothie – Made With Love & Smiles

011DD6C8-E951-4474-BE0D-59A3DD11B990Two year old Frank watching his Berry Good Smoothie blending in the  Froothie Optimum, he has his own special ear defenders just for creating smoothies 😊 As soon a I mention making a smoothie he’s there like a shot, dragging the kitchen stool up to the counter, washing his hands and ready for action. Just like his dad at the same age, though he likes to make chilli-with-everything these days!

When cooking with Frank, I am always glad to have the opportunity of this time together, one on one: yes, it’s messy and yes, he can get a bit over-enthusiastic – I think we got about a third of a tub of baobab powder in there! – but I love watching him taking it all in, soaking up whatever I tell him and storing it away. I love his enthusiasm. I know that at some point in the future he will use it all and hopefully remember some of these times together.

He (and his older sister) have been cooking since they were literally babes in arms. They have always been willing to taste anything, and although they still go through the picky two-year-old stage, the fact that they have always been encouraged to be present in the kitchen and help with preparation means that they are familiar with cooking from scratch, using a wide variety of fresh foods.

They are already creating their own recipes: Frank’s four-year-old sister decided to try banana on her pizza and Frank likes the idea of dipping carrot sticks in strawberry spread! He loves homemade chips with balsamic vinegar and juices that contain ginger and turmeric. Olives and almonds are also favourites. The fact that actual vegetables are not allowed on his plate at the moment is irrelevant (except cucumber and raw carrot), he gets everything he needs in other forms* and is slowly acquiring the knowledge and skills to transform them into healthy meals when he does eventually give them house room. I have seen a photograph of Emily standing on a stool at the counter rolling pizza dough and chopping vegetables, and Frank sitting on the counter chopping cucumber! Children love to be involved in the kitchen and will be all the healthier – and self-sufficient – for it. Emily recently sliced a mushroom so thinly and precisely, with perfect control of the knife, just by copying her dad.

This is Frank’s smoothie recipe:

Large handful of frozen cherries, large handful frozen mixed berries, more than we wished for baobab powder, about 3 tablespoons oats plus what he spilled 😉 most of a medjool date minus a bite for tasting, a banana, a carefully tilted amount of cashews from the jar (with ‘help’ from Grandad), 2 tablespoons soya yogurt and a lot of coconut milk! It made enough for 3 of us and he had seconds and thirds, he said it was ‘berry good!’ Unfortunately, he doesn’t do washing up, our dishwasher is defunct (and so is my husband after a weekend without it!).

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*Frank doesn’t eat vegetables – apart from raw carrot and cucumber – but he will have juices and smoothies, even green ones, so seeing him have so much fun in the kitchen leads us to hope that one day he will be as much of a foodie as his dad and grandma.

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Monday Meditation: Mothers and Daughters at Christmas

IMG_4331As I write, it is 2 am on Christmas Eve. I can’t sleep. It’s been a busy and quite an emotional day and I have too many thoughts going around in my head. For the first time in many years, I got to spend a few hours alone with my daughter, whom I miss more than she can understand, and later my elderly mum arrived for a few days with us. We three generations of women chatted and laughed and had our photos taken – although I doubt any of them will see the light of day since we couldn’t get it together long enough for all of us to stop laughing at the same time! The photographer – my husband – wasn’t any better, he was laughing so much at us, his hands were shaking so most of them are out of focus anyway.

But although it’s lovely to have photos to look back on, I don’t need them to remind me of today, I will always remember it. 

I will remember sitting outside in the winter sun having a cup of licorice tea as I waited for R to arrive. I’d had a busy morning making sure everything was ready for Mum, even down to sweeping the moss from the paths so she wouldn’t slip; I was over-excited about seeing my daughter, who works so hard and has such a busy time with three teenagers that I only see her three times a year, but never on her own. I took a few minutes out of my busy schedule to breathe and enjoy the warmth and brilliance of the sun in a cloudless blue sky, which had been absent for so long. It was a welcome sight and it made me smile.

I laugh as I recall how I had planned to meet her on the drive as she pulled in and give her a big hug as soon as she got out of the car, only to have her rush past me calling ‘I need a wee!’ and dash off to the bathroom. (She would not be impressed if she knew I had included that gem, but she doesn’t have time to read my blog so I’m safe). As soon as she returned, she said, ‘Shall we do that again?’ and I got my hug before she emptied the car of all the items she was returning from her brother or donating to our household in yet another clear-out of her home. She is very much the minimalist and nothing outstays its welcome.

We sat outside and she told me all about the party they’d had the previous evening, laughing at the compliments she’d received from her guests for all the food she must have spent hours cooking, which was actually delivered to her door by the very nice man from Waitrose!

After a while, I took her to look at the sheltered housing community where we are hoping to get Mum settled sometime in the next year – I need constant reassurance from my family that I am doing the right thing and she gave it the thumbs up. A man was walking his little dog, which wanted to say hello, and he told us his mum lived there and how it was a close-knit, friendly community and that his mum was really happy there. I was heartened by his comments.

We then went round the corner to Waitrose – how did we manage without them? – to choose some flowers for Mum, momentarily shocked to see that all the beautiful  Christmas bouquets from the day before had disappeared,  but we found one bunch of creamy-white roses in bud that did the job. We returned home for lunch of homemade carrot and sweet potato soup and waited for Mum to arrive.

I will never forget the look of sheer joy on my mother’s face when she greeted her grand-daughter, whom she hadn’t seen for two years. Or the long hug, and the giggling, girlish chatter of my daughter, taking me back to before she became a wife and mum, a coper in difficult circumstances, a hardworking exams officer and foster mother. Watching my mum and my daughter teasing and joking, my daughter laughing so much she had tears in her eyes, was present enough for me.

My mum is very deaf and very stubborn, she refuses to wear hearing aids and misses a lot or mishears, which can lead to some amusing conversations at times, she forgets easily and becomes confused, but today seeing her laugh so much and enjoy my daughter’s company took years off her and it was a sight to behold. I smile at the memory.

We had dinner together, a vegetarian curry cooked by my husband, took our photos and then it was goodbye to my daughter as she returned home to discover what havoc her boys had wreaked while she was away. I am sure there would have been nothing left in the fridge had there not been a Waitrose delivery that afternoon! (I’m really not getting any commission for this extended advert!)

Mum and I spent the rest of the evening watching first a Michael Ball concert – not my cup of tea, but she really likes him – and then an André Rieu concert, both at ear-bursting decibels (‘it wasn’t that loud’) before we called it a day.

And this day would have made Christmas for me, except I get to do it all over again on Wednesday with my son and his family and then my daughter’s family will be descending en masse for New Year’s weekend. A week of musical beds ensues!

I am very fortunate to have family willing to travel distances to spend special occasions with us, and that my husband is willing and able to make the long journey to pick up Mum and take her home again. I know there are many who aren’t able to be with those they care about or who are isolated for whatever reason, and I never take my family for granted.

However you spend Christmas, I wish you peace and good health. And thank you for all the support you have given me this year, I appreciate all your comments and encouragement.

From our family to yours, Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year!

And now I’m off back to bed!

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Copyright: Chris McGowan

Vegan Shepherd’s Pie with Almond Butter Sweet Potato Mash

29937744_UnknownMy husband is vegetarian, I am vegan. I like to eat early, he likes to eat late. He likes potatoes, I don’t eat them (except for a rare and indulgent packet of potato crisps). He likes pies and pastry and chips. I prefer quinoa, stirfries and soups. He often does bike rides during the day or in the evening which also creates a dissonance in our eating habits, as does my propensity for staying up late and getting up even later! So how on earth do we manage to co-ordinate our meals? Well, a lot of the time, we each do our own thing, but just occasionally we manage to be at the dinner table together and once in a blue moon we end up with something on our plates that almost resembles the other’s. This was one of those nights, no bike rides and the clocks had just gone back, so we both felt we wanted to eat earlier than the clock dictated. I don’t know about you, but my body takes ages to adjust when the clocks change.

HB loves Shepherd’s Pie and makes it often, but it’s been years since I had anything resembling it. Tonight, however, I felt inspired and made my own vegan version with mashed almond butter sweet potato on top.

I can’t give entirely accurate measurements as I didn’t think I was going to be blogging it. You’ll know how much to make for the ‘innards’ (as my dad would call the vegetables underneath).

Basically, this is it went:

Soak a good amount (sorry, that’s the best I can do!) of green lentils while preparing the vegetables – soaking aids digestion. Lentils are a good source of iron, B6 and magnesium as well as fibre.

Chop an onion, garlic, a large carrot, half a stick of celery, celery leaves, a small beetroot, 2 chestnut mushrooms, and sweat them in coconut oil, with the lid on, later adding some frozen peas.

Meanwhile, peel and chop 2 sweet potatoes and place them in the steamer, ready to switch on about 15 minutes after the vegetables have started simmering.

Next, mix half a mushroom stock cube with about 400mls hot water, 1 tsp of yeast extract and some dried thyme.

Add the lentils and stock to the vegetables. Replace the lid.

While they cook, put a dish to warm for mashing the sweet potato and a flat dish for the completed Shepherd’s Pie.

29937632_UnknownWhen all are cooked, add a little thickening to the vegetables, mash the sweet potatoes in a warm dish, then mix in a heaping teaspoon of almond butter, some pink Himalayan salt and black pepper and a tablespoon of nutritional yeast flakes.

Spread the vegetable filling (with not too much gravy) in the bottom of the dish, cover with the sweet potato mash, using a fork to even it out and give it a textured appearance.

Place under the grill until it starts to crisp a little and turn golden.

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I served mine with some steamed broccoli and a little of the left-over gravy.

This made enough for 3 servings for me, with extra green vegetables. It’s very filling. There was also some vegetable filling left in the pan which I’ll probably have with pasta tomorrow.

My husband made his with Quorn mince, left out the beetroot, celery and celery leaves and used mixed herbs, he topped it with mashed potato made with rice milk and a buttery spread. To be fair, he didn’t know his was going to be photographed, so please excuse his presentation :-))

 

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Monday Meditation: In Search of The Gruffalo on Haughmond Hill

29668880_UnknownMy husband has oftened mentioned Haughmond Hill as a place we might visit, since it’s one of the (many!) café stops his local cycling club makes when out on long rides. I wasn’t at all sure about this proposed adventure as the mere fact that it was called a hill rendered it on a par with Everest as far as my hiking abilities go.

We have often driven past on our way to or from Shrewsbury and had visited the nearby Haughmond Abbey the previous summer, and every time we did he told me there was a café there and suggested maybe I’d like to go. Now, as much as my husband loves stopping for a cup of tea at the drop of a hat, I’m not a sitter and drinker, I like to be doing and the thought of just driving all the way there to sit and watch him drinking tea wasn’t exactly appealing (I don’t drink tea or coffee).

However, this particular morning, I weakened and agreed to go and see what all the fuss was about. It was only when we arrived at the bottom of the hill that Husband admitted he didn’t actually know where to park or what the terrain was like as they only ever cycled straight to the café!

29668736_UnknownWe sorted out the parking (you have to pay) and wandered over to some signs with maps on. Haughmond Hill is managed and maintained by the Forestry Commission. It is a working forest and covers a vast area of dense woodland containing ancient oaks and younger varieties of trees with 4 walking trails of differing lengths and difficulty mapped out. Apart from a few benches and the café area by the car park, the whole place is natural, with minimal human interference.

Three of the trails are named after famous people with ties to the area: Wilfred Owen, the War Poet; Henry lV, who massed his armies there before one of the biggest battles in Britain, the Battle of Shrewsbury, fought around Haughmond Hill (there was a spectacular performance of Shakespeare’s Henry lV Part One in the nearby abbey in 2003). The third trail is a tibute to the Corbet family who previously owned the estate, including the Abbey, whilst the fourth, the Geo Trail is so named because it takes in the view of the quarry below. The Hill is a geologically renowned site as it is made of precambrian stone and affords one of the best views across Shrewsbury.

We chose the easiest, the Corbet Easy Access Trail, which has a surfaced route, is mostly flat and accessible to wheelchairs, buggies and mobility scooters. There are also benches along the way. The trails are well-signed and inter-connect at various points, so if you’re feeling more adventurous you can switch to a longer route or rougher terrain.

It was a mild, sunny day and the woods were very peaceful. We met the occasional dog-walker but for the most part we felt like we were the only ones there.

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There was the occasional muddy patch or pond next to the trail and I kept thinking of my 2 year old grandson whom we would probably have to keep rescuing if he came along too! We took our time and had a gentle stroll, breathing in the fresh air and soaking up the vastness of the place and the overwhelming majesty of these ancient sky-scraping giants.

And then we started coming across signs with pictures of characters from the Julia Donaldson story book The Gruffalo!

 

I had forgotten, but a friend had told us a while back that there is an app you can download to accompany the walk that allows you to scan the signs and is interactive. Children can look through the holes in the signs and see other characters to spot along the way. Some time later, I was telling my neighbour’s girls about it and they had the app and had followed the trail, having a lot of fun doing so.

Near the café area, there is another character from a Julia Donaldson story, The Stick Man, as well as several sculptures, one of them a magnificent owl carved by chainsaw sculptor, Paul Catling.

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There were several young families enjoying playing around them. The Hill seemed to appeal to people of all ages, and I noticed signs for a bike trail and orienteering route as well.

We sat to have the inevitable cuppa outside. I had taken a juice with me but to my surprise they sold herbal tea. We watched a couple of toddlers walking along the spiral sculpture, and we were joined for a while by a robin.

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The young guys in the cafe cabin allowed us to borrow a chair to take outside as I can’t manage picnic benches and for once I was quite happy to sit and just be. I didn’t want to leave.

Oh, but before we did, I hid one of my painted rocks* in the claws of the owl and a couple of days later, it appeared on Facebook in the hand of a smiling, happy child.

*Monday Meditation: Mindfullness and Rock Painting

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Monday Meditation: A Much-Needed Day Off

I find coming up with a suitably interesting title the most difficult part of writing a blogpost and today’s is no exception because I’m actually writing it on Sunday and it’s about *my* Sunday, which I’ve grabbed hold of with both hands and declared My Day Off!

imageI am sitting at my dining table, drinking my Morning Glory juice* and with Agnes Obel playing gently in the background. It is 10.30 in the morning and I have the house to myself. For an hour, I have just been sitting, doing nothing. Watching the carefree clouds careering across a balmy blue sky, the trees bending in the wind. My husband is on an extended bike-ride with the club (Storm Brian is about to hit with full force in about an hour, but nothing gets in the way of a planned bike ride!) Apart from Agnes’ dulcet tones and gentle piano, I can hear a pin drop and I love it. Recent weeks have been filled with activity, phonecalls and visits, this peace is so welcome and I am going to make the most of it.

Some of you will know that I’ve been spending a lot of time taking over my 87 year old mum’s affairs and every day of the last 3 weeks has been spent doing things on her behalf: sorting out her files (years of them), talking to energy, phone and water companies – I was especially pleased with myself for getting £160 off her energy bill by switching to a diferent tariff; registering Power of Attorney with her bank, which required two visits of two hours each on very cold windy days to a branch half an hour’s drive away. Most of my time, however, has been spent finding sheltered accommodation nearby and persuading the authorities to put her on their waiting list, providing relevant documentation, making many phonecalls and bringing her to our house to look at the housing scheme, a major feat as she has always refused to discuss moving anywhere. Her intention has always been to remain in her bungalow 2 hours’ drive away until she no longer has breath in her body.

I have made Skype calls to my brothers to keep them up to date and yesterday my sister-in-law paid a visit on her way back from cleaning and clearing Mum’s house in preparation for her eventual move. We spent time bringing each other up to date and we took her to see the houses, which, reassuringly, she thought were perfect for Mum. Both my brothers and my other sister-in-law are on board with my plans and that is such a relief.

After decades of receiving care for my own health problems** I am gradually becoming a caregiver for my mum, and I can already feel myself slipping slowly away in the process. Every waking – and often sleeping – moment is taken up thinking about her needs and wondering if I’m doing the right thing, if we’re going to get her moved in time, while she’s still able to have some independence and mobility – her greatest fear is being placed in a care home.

29935696_UnknownBut for now, I can breathe again, for a little while. I can be me again, for a little while. I can play relaxing music that only I enjoy. Later, if I feel so inclined, I can play loud, raucous music that I can sing along to at the top of my voice.  I can write, uninterrupted by requests to find keys, wallet, phone, sort out a social media issue (husband) and so far the phone hasn’t rung – Mum can ring up to 5 times a day if she is stressed, asking the same questions. I can do some painting. I can go for a walk.  I can make an indulgent raw chocolate smoothie (recipe next week). I don’t have to shout to be heard (Mum is very deaf). I don’t have to repeat myself over and over. I don’t have to use my voice at all.

For now, the sun is shining. It gives me energy. It gives me hope. It gives me warmth.

I am grateful to still have my mum. She helped us so much when the children were young and I had serious health problems. I am trying to repay all that time she gave up when we needed it. My dad died 31 years ago and left a huge hole in my life, she is alone with no family around her and all her friends gone. But I am also grateful to have this time to be myself. I know others who are further along in their elder care journey and I know how exhausting it will be once she’s here. My husband especially will be kept busy. So, for now we are making the most of our available free time. Because we will need to keep ourselves fit and healthy so that we can make her life easier and ensure that she has a longer, healthier and happier life here than she would isolated and bored where she is. Because that’s what we’ve promised her. And I always keep my promises.

*7 Juice Recipes

**Invisible Disabilities Week – My Story

**Monday Meditation: Osteopathy, Rest & Recuperation in Nature

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Invisible Disabilities Week – My Story

IMG_4186I just learned today that it is Invisible Disabilities Week. As someone who has spent her whole adult life with an invisible disability, I thought I would share this ‘short’  anecdote on what it is like to look strong and healthy but struggle with a pain and disability that is not obvious to the casual observer. I know I promised short, but this wasn’t planned and you know me, this could go on a bit, for which I apologise in advance – but there are some nice photos too (and yes, that is a packet of crisps in front of me!)

Many moons ago, in a county far, far away, I had a prolapsed disc that refused to heal. I was in my early twenties with a toddler son, had spent a couple of months in bed on the advice of my doctor but could not get moving. I did, however, read the complete Thomas Hardy oeuvre and while doing so, discovered my son was teaching himself to read when he looked at a paragraph containing lots of t’s, p’s and s’s and announced, ‘Look, Mummy, that’s like Top of the Pops!’ (A popular BBC chart programme).

 I had three weeks in hospital on traction where even hospital staff would leave my meals by the side of my bed while I lay flat on my back unable to reach, because I was young and they were preoccupied with the older patients. Eventually, I was sent home with a steel reinforced surgical corset and instructions not to spend a lot of time sitting. A few weeks later, I had my check-up appointment at the hospital. There had been no improvement. Despite the ‘no sitting’ command, I was kept waiting – and sitting – for two hours for a five minute chat that ended with ‘come back in a few weeks’.

Afterwards, I had to wait in reception for a sitting ambulance to take me home. Unfortunately, it was almost lunchtime but there was one ambulance leaving before the lunch-break and I inwardly heaved a sigh of relief. I was in excruciating pain, all the while knowing that things were going to get worse not better for my trip to the doctor (a constant theme in my life) and all this sitting was doing me more harm than good.

A driver came over. He had one seat left. He looked at the elderly lady next to me with a stick. She had told me she had been to the audio clinic to have her hearing checked. He looked at me. Young, smiling, long shiny hair. He chose the elderly lady.

I wanted to cry. I didn’t know how I was going to get through the next hour, possibly longer, before another ambulance left. Not only was I in pain, but despite the corset, I didn’t have enough strength to sit upright, I kept tilting.

I eventually made it home about 3 p.m., having left home at 8.30 a.m. Up until that point, I hadn’t sat for more than half an hour at a time in several months. The pain was so severe I almost passed out before I could get upstairs to bed. My poor excited son had to make do with the briefest of hugs before the painkillers took hold and knocked me out.

That was a long time ago. During the interim decades, things have improved and got worse and improved in a monotonous recycled pattern including surgery, torturous treatments and therapies, car accidents and so on. My overall health is much improved since I changed my diet and lifestyle, gave up prescription drugs that never helped and always made things worse, and took my health into my own hands. However, despite seasonal improvements during warm weather, I have never regained my strength and full mobility.

IMG_4182And yet… just yesterday, my elderly mum was lauding my efforts to look after her during her stay at the weekend, saying ‘It’s lovely to have my daughter back, back to normal!’ A smile and a talent for acting work wonders in reassuring others, but they also help make a disability invisible and raise expectations.

29935072_UnknownOn Saturday, we took Mum out to see the barges on the canal. She had a lovely time, sitting in the sun eating ice-cream – where unexpectedly, an owl and a hawk where among the patrons! – happy that the three of us were able to have a rare outing together. I usually stay at home.

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29935168_UnknownShe went home next morning and I spent the rest of the day sorting out all her files (with the help of a green smoothie of course).

This morning, I couldn’t get out of bed. My whole body felt like I had been kicked by a mule, my back was on fire, I had no strength, I was exhausted despite twelve hours in bed. I couldn’t get dressed. When I did get up, about 11.30 a.m., I sat with a heated pad on my back while my husband brought me herbal anti-inflammatory drops and an anti-inflammatory ginger and turmeric juice.

Two hours later, I am dressed and writing this post. I will soon be making phonecalls on my mother’s behalf. I will call her to see if she is ok after the journey home. I won’t of course tell her how I’m feeling.

As someone recently said to me, we have no idea what is going on in other people’s lives. If someone is rude, irritable, in a bad mood, unwilling to contribute help to some event you’re organising or collect your kids from school etc. please bear in mind they may be suffering a devastating migraine attack or a flare-up of rheumatoid arthritis; they may have an undiagnosed brain tumour, they may have insufferable chronic pain, MS, ME, or any number of invisible conditions. If they are behaving ‘inappropriately’, they may have Asperger’s, anxiety, dementia, having a panic attack, depression or on the verge of going into a diabetic coma.

And most of all, just because someone with a disability or chronic illness can do something one day, doesn’t mean at all that they can do it repeatedly, or even ever again. My mum thinks that everything I do when she is here is what I do every day. She has no appreciation of the superhuman effort I make when she – or anyone else – is here, to make her stay comfortable, to give her something to tell her friends about, some nice memories. But once she has left, I am back in bed, desperate for rest and relief.

Please note: This was written on the spur of the moment as a plea on behalf of others, not for sympathy. I am used to the ups and downs of my life and make the most of it. I am a positive person who laughs a lot and I enjoy seeing Mum doing things she wouldn’t otherwise get to do and I know it means a lot to her that I join in. 

Ps It did get a bit long, didn’t it? Oops…

Feeling Overwhelmed: World Mental Health Day

Monday Meditation: Osteopathy, Rest & Recuperation in Nature

Laughter Really Is The Best Medicine – Paint a Rock & Give a Smile to Someone Who Needs It!

The Mood Booster: Raw Chocolate Mulberry, Banana & Walnut Smoothie

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Feeling Overwhelmed: World Mental Health Day

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This wasn’t planned. I just this second decided to write it after reading first Carol’s post about memories of her mum and then Gary’s post of his latest ‘sighting’ of Terry.* It won’t be long, I just thought I should put my hand up and say ‘Me too!’ (I lied about the ‘long’ bit, sorry).

So many of us suffer in silence when we feel overwhelmed. We try to cope, to carry on with our daily lives and not worry anyone else. I used to keep everything inside. I never talked about anything. It just built up and built up until I suffered a physical and nervous breakdown, my first aged 17, my second aged 19, my third aged 25 and on through adulthood. Once I had children, I learned to hide it better. When Dad died suddenly, I took up red wine! But I eventually recognised that it wouldn’t solve anything. When I was bedridden for 5 years, my children had gone to university and my husband worked long shifts, I was at my lowest and started writing poetry to stop me writing suicide notes. As I matured, I learned to recognise the signs and adopt strategies to get me through them. I took up creative activities, used aromatherapy, meditation and so on.

I haven’t had depressive episodes for a long time. Changing diet, positive thinking, keeping a gratitude journal and acquiring a couple of grandchildren led to improvements in health and a life to look forward to. There have been very low times when family concerns have caused almost unbearable stress and worry, but I got through them.

Recently, though, I have felt a head of steam building. My elderly mum needs a lot of attention – from a distance, this is extremely difficult – and we have taken on a lot of extra responsibilities which often require a lot of butting of heads against brick walls. At the other end, family members are struggling to cope with the fall-out from a rare condition, which also affects us inasmuch as we can do so little as so little can be done, and we have to stand on the sidelines and watch those close to us stretch themselves to the limit on a daily basis.

The upshot of all this is that on Saturday I found myself sitting in our local twelfth-century church with tears rolling down my cheeks. I have lived here 30 years and never been in this church. I had been to a nearby shop and on coming out, had turned towards home but something made me look behind and I saw the church tower. I have often meant to go in to have a look round. It was Saturday afternoon and I expected to see the trappings of a wedding going on, but it was quiet. I started to walk towards it, the main doors were wide open. I hesitantly stepped in the porchway expecting to see a congregation but again, it was quiet. I could see a couple of women attending to the flowers, so I stepped inside.

As soon as I did, my shoulders relaxed. Facing me was a notice inviting people to have a prayer said for someone who needed it. I am not religious. I just love old churches. I love the tanquility, the architecture and sense of history, and of all the people who have been there before. I like the peace to sit and contemplate. However, I stepped forward and wrote a card out for the young person and her children, struggling with the disease. I placed it on the table at the front of the church, sat down and let the tears flow quietly.

A flower lady came over and asked if I’d like her to sit with me. I thanked her and explained that I hadn’t realised how overwhelmed I was feeling or that I was going to cry and I just wanted to sit for a while and contemplate. She passed the message on to the others and they let me be. After a while, one of them saw me looking about me and asked if I’d like a guide on the history of the church. I said yes, thank you. It was absolutely the right thing for her to do. It got me out of my head. I walked around and took it all in.

Later, in the early evening, after 3 long calls and 2 messages from Mum I couldn’t sit still. I needed to go outside. I needed to talk to Dad.

I visited his tree in the local cemetery just down the road. When I had finished, I was just saying thank you when a squirrel ran by, a few yards in front of me. I stood and watched for a minute. Tears filled my eyes. I looked down and there was a white feather and a smile grew on my face.

The moral of this story is, talk to someone; whether it be a flower lady in a church you don’t attend, a long-dead parent or even a tree, share what’s going on. Find somewhere where you can be quiet, somewhere away from the causes of your stress, your worries, for just a few minutes. Take slow breaths. Then look outward, take notice. When things build up, we can spend too much time in our heads. I like to watch the birds in our garden, talk to the neighbourhood cats while I have the doors open and I paint or make cards. At other times, only loud music accompanied by raucous singing will do! And occasionally I rage against the world.

Just let it out.

Thanks, Dad x

*Voices From The Margins – Remembering

Another ‘Terry’ Encounter

Feeling Overwhelmed? You’ve Got Your Back!

Mind.org.uk – the mental health charity

The Samaritans – they have a telephone helpline for anyone to call when in emotional distress

Copyright: Chris McGowan