A fun flying experience in five easy steps…

As I was being half dragged towards passport control in a hilariously unsuitable airport wheelchair, I started to wonder how many other wheelchair users had found themselves in similar situations. As if reading my mind, the guy attempting to push two wheelchairs at once said ‘this happens all the time’. With this in mind, I thought I’d compile a straightforward step-by-step guide to making flying as memorable as possible for anyone in a wheelchair

1. Make sure you keep the passenger guessing until the last minute: If you’re meant to help the passenger through security, don’t come at the agreed time. That’s way too mainstream. Make sure you arrive at least 25 minutes late. If the passenger has the temerity to ask what’s happening, make sure you give a vague answer like ‘they’ll be along soon’. Ensure that ‘soon’ does not occur too quickly.

2. When the flight has landed, keep the passenger waiting as long as possible: It’s not enough to make sure that wheelchair users disembark last- you’ve got to prolong that holiday feeling a bit longer. If you’re not on first name terms with the entire cabin crew, have you really been away?

 

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This doesn’t have anything to do with flights but it is a pretty picture of Brixen Cathedral in South Tyrol 🙂

 

3. When getting off the plane, make sure the passenger’s wheelchair is left as far away as possible: Do not provide reassurance at any cost. If possible, give the impression that the wheelchair has ascended to the great wheelchair in the sky. If you have to give away the whereabouts of the wheelchair, make sure it’s in baggage reclaim. Everyone knows wheelchair users can walk a long way if they really have to.

4. Provide an unsuitable wheelchair as a punishment: if the passenger still insists that they need a wheelchair, be sure to punish their stubbornness by providing a wheelchair that’s impossible for them to push independently. Try to push two wheelchairs at once so that one person has to be dragged awkwardly behind the other. Remember to stay strong and don’t reveal the wheelchair whereabouts.

5. Do not apologise or accept responsibility: Remember, apologising is for the weak. If you don’t show any regret, blame doesn’t actually exist. They can’t complain if they don’t know who you are! If possible, try to argue with your colleagues in front of the passengers to reinforce how blameless you are. If you argue for long enough, the captain might even collect the wheelchair from baggage reclaim without you having to move a muscle!

 

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7 valuable cerebral palsy life lessons

Thanks to Twitter, I now know that March is cerebral palsy awareness month. Given I have cerebral palsy, you’d think I’d be an expert on the condition but I’m definitely not. Another thing that’s become obvious to me is that CP affects everyone in different ways. Nevertheless, here are some of the more lighthearted lessons I’ve learnt along the way…

1. Sticks might be great for balance but they don’t make brilliant cricket bats. I tried to play a flowing cover drive and ended up with the top snapping off. On the plus side, it did make a pretty good snooker rest…
 
 
2. It’s often worth mentioning I don’t have any natural balance, especially when cable cars are involved. When I was younger, we often used to go on family holidays to Austria. Going up the mountain in a cable car was a fairly harmless activity, or so we thought. I must only have been 7 at the time and when we got to the top, I was merrily hoisted out of the cable car and kindly plonked on my feet by the friendly operator. The only problem was that he then proceeded to walk away, leaving me to slowly keel over on the spot.
 
3. Fireworks are not my friends: thanks to a really lovely heightened startle reflex, I’m pretty talented at jumping after seemingly innocuous noises. Even if someone coughs quietly in an otherwise silent Quaker meeting, chances are I’ll jump. All this means that any noise that is loud/sudden will definitely make me jump several metres in the air. My highlight has to be when the stars pleasingly aligned to ensure that one of these silent meetings played out to the charming backdrop of an all-singing, all-dancing fireworks display outside that made London’s New Year celebrations  
 
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This is why you shouldn’t use a stick as a cricket bat…

4. Always pretend to be new to the area (it stops you being asked for directions). My cerebral palsy means I have poor spatial awareness and a non-existent sense of direction. I actually managed to get lost in the minuscule cobbled streets of Durham, even after studying there for three whole years. Faced with this wonderful turn of events, I decided the only sensible way out was to approach a stranger for directions whilst pretending I didn’t know Durham well and had a meeting at the college I actually lived in. Only afterwards, it occurred to me that my bright blue Hatfield College hoody probably undermined my ‘I’m new here’ story…
 
5. Never trust your grandad to push your wheelchair: when I was about 5 and staying with my Nan and Grandad, Grandad thought it would be a nice idea to go for a relaxed walk into the village. I can only think that Grandad hadn’t had much experience of pushing wheelchairs. We’d only made it a few metres before I felt the wheelchair tipping. Normally, this would be no great cause for concern-my trusty seatbelt would have saved me. There was only one problem. Grandad had forgotten to put it on and I was unceremoniously dumped into the road. Luckily they only lived in a rural village and there were no big scary cars coming in the opposite direction. I seem to remember Grandad was promptly fired from his position as wheelchair pusher after accepting responsibility for the failure of this task (think The Apprentice, but with my Nan instead of Alan Sugar).
 
6. Never trust friendly looking horses: About a year ago we decided to go for a nice, harmless family walk in the countryside (can you see a pattern developing here?). The day got even more pleasant when we saw a friendly looking horse who looked as if it wanted some attention. My confidence grew as the horse lovingly nuzzled my sister so I thought it would be safe to pat the horse myself. The horse obviously mistook my red Doc Martins for a big tasty apple and decided to try eating my foot as it spied a bonus meal. I don’t think I’ve ever reversed my chair more quickly…
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Still not quite sure how I found my way to this lovely part of Oxford- and how I found my way back!

 
7. Never sit on walking frames: When I was younger I was always determined to join in games of football by using my walking frame but i could always make it through the full ninety minutes (let’s face it, matches probably lasted about 15 mins at the most. When I’d got tired of channeling my inner Gareth Southgate in defence, I decided to have a breather by sitting on the back of my walking frame. What I hadn’t banked on the frame not being fully assembled. Faced with my massive 9 year old self, it promptly buckled under my immense weight, leaving me flat on my back in a muddy field. Lesson learned! 

Learn to love Personal Independence Payment in 8 easy steps…

One initiative which has brought immense joy to thousands of disabled people around the country is the exciting new benefits system known as Personal Independence Payment (snappily shortened to PIP- presumably this makes it sound more cutting edge). Recently I was one of the lucky number to receive their letter inviting them for a detailed one to one interview with a friendly and understanding health professional (think Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and golden tickets, only even better). After my recent experience with this well oiled, foolproof system, I thought I’d produce a step by step guide to making the process even more enjoyable (although careful you don’t climb too many steps or you won’t score enough points)

  1. Firstly, make sure the person feels totally at ease from day one. Ideally, this should involve a lengthy phone conversation punctuated by cheery reminders that giving any false information will result in a criminal prosecution. But don’t let your kindness end there. Make sure you send harassing text messages asking for the return of a form which had already been sent off days ago.

2. Secondly, keep them in suspense. Don’t give people too much notice of when their appointment will be. After all, life would be boring without a bit of worry. Don’t forget to give out of date directions to the assessment centre, you might even be able to use that to dock some points in the ‘finding your way’ section of the test.

3. Ensure that the fun continues upon arrival by making sure the doors to the centre aren’t automatic. That should definitely sort the wheat from the chaff. And we all know that no waiting room would be complete without a helpful reminder of the exact distance between each of the rooms. Everyone wants to know when they’ve walked 20 metres, right? It gives them a real sense of achievement.

4. Don’t stop there. Letting people in on time is far too straightforward. Leaving them in a waiting room for ten minutes is a much better solution. It might just give enough time for them to be cured.

5. When it comes to the appointment itself, don’t make the questions too easy. As the saying goes ‘you don’t really know someone until you’ve asked them exactly how long it takes them to wash their hair’. Make sure you don’t bother with silly things like offering refreshments, everyone knows that people with disabilities need less water than everyone else anyway.

6. Don’t forget that this is meant to be a pleasant experience, so do ask the applicant some questions about themselves. Not too many though, that deficit isn’t going to cut itself.

7. Be sure to save the big questions until the end, like ‘please can you describe exactly how you get into the car?’ If you want to make the day extra special, you can even watch them out of the window as they leave to check that they’re not having you on.

8. Finally, don’t forget to prolong this thrilling adventure still further by making people wait a few weeks for the verdict. As we all know so well, ‘absence of news makes the legs grow stronger’. Remember to give thanks to the deficit demagogues and then you’re ready to go again.

Craven Cottage craziness

As I dangled in mid-air between the unforgiving hard concrete and the kerb I’d impressively managed to miss, I began to realise yesterday wouldn’t be as straightforward as I’d hoped. But, as Coldplay so succinctly put it about 15 years ago, ‘let’s take it back to the start…’

Thanks to a combination of reckless optimism after Aston Villa had won 7 games in a row and a desire to persuade my Arsenal-supporting friend from Durham Uni that Championship football was really quite entertaining, we ended up going to see Fulham v Aston Villa at Craven Cottage. I happily booked the tickets before realising two things. Firstly, I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to reach South West London from Oxford. Secondly, I thought now was probably the time to check out what the facilities were like for wheelchair users. I merrily did a quick internet search and was rewarded with encouraging reviews like ‘don’t go unless you are prepared to see the backs of people’s heads for 90 minutes’ and ‘we were literally stuck in a corner on an 8ft concrete block’. My sense of foreboding only increased when the tickets arrived a few days later bearing the ominous words ‘restricted view’.

Pushing these doubts to the back of my mind, I booked the confusingly named ‘Oxford Tube’ to Shepherd’s Bush (hint: it’s not a tube, it’s definitely a bus). Having never travelled on this fake tube before, I went down to the bus station a few days before to check what the arrangements were for wheelchair users and to book tickets in advance. The man at the station was very friendly- he breezily informed me that I didn’t need to buy a ticket beforehand and almost scoffed at the idea that I would have to book the wheelchair space in advance. I later realised that this was because few wheelchair users appear to have actually used the Oxford Tube throughout its existence.

Nevertheless, I set off for the bus station yesterday full of optimism for a fun day, if not a positive result. I bought my ticket from a really nice guy and was telling him about the heartache and pain involved with being a Villa fan. I’m then not quite sure what happened next. Obviously I was too busy imagining a last minute Alan Hutton winner in front oI the away end. I pushed my wheelchair a couple of feet back and promptly realised I no longer had my ticket (that’s if I ever had it in the first place). In my defence, it was one of those stupid little paper bus tickets that are about as practical as those ludicrous lifts that make you press and hold the button, as if to say ‘if you’re too lazy to use the stairs, we’re going to punish you by making you repeatedly hammer this button instead’. I told the guy who’d just ‘sold’ me the ticket what had happened and, presumably taking pity on my impressive lack of common sense, he rang the imposingly named ‘control centre’ to make sure I could get back to Oxford OK without my ticket.

Craven cottage

But my embarrassment was not over yet. No, no, no. As the bus pulled in, the same man went to locate the ramp. Hoping to reassure him that I really was an actual sensible adult, I thought I’d be extra helpful by wheeling up to the edge of the bus. This was a great idea in theory, except I’d forgotten one thing. Having no depth perception, I’d helpfully missed the fact that there was a steep drop between the pavement and the road. After very nearly acquainting myself with Mr Concrete, I was pulled back by the person with me and saved from potential disaster.

But never fear, that was not the end of the fun. I quickly realised that the ‘wheelchair space’ on the bus was used about as often as Villa’s trophy cabinet which meant nobody was quite sure how it worked. Fast forward a good ten minutes and I was strapped in with a series of sinister looking seat belts (needless to say I opted to sit on a regular seat for the return journey)

The rest of the journey to Craven Cottage was surprisingly smooth and we even managed a quick wander by the Thames beforehand, the highlight of which was an incredibly bouncy (and large) English sheepdog. The match itself (a 2-0 Fulham win) wasn’t great from a Villa point of view, largely because they were missing two of their best players in ‘Uncle’ Albert Adomah and ‘Super’ Jack Grealish. On the plus side, my friend did learn all the key Villa chants, including the creative masterpiece that is ‘Villa, Villa, Villa’. Someone else had kindly taken our restricted view seats, so we had a pretty good angle of both Fulham goals. Like all the people in Oxford, the Fulham staff were all incredibly friendly and welcoming.

On to the return journey. Thanks to an impressive and growing band of helpers at Shepherd’s Bush, my wheelchair was successfully positioned on the bus and I found a regular seat with seat belts that didn’t threaten my wellbeing. That I did find a seat was no thanks to the miserable bloke who was very reluctant to move to let me in. He looked at me and said ‘isn’t that what wheelchair spaces are for?’. Maybe he could have been subjected to the sinister seat belts on the way back…

All in all, I had a really enjoyable day in London. It’s definitely made me keen for more adventures. I’ll try to take better care of my bus tickets next time though…

Accepting anxiety

I’d say I’m pretty good at worrying. I’ve heard the phrase ‘practice makes perfect’ plenty of times and I reckon that if that applies to worrying, I’ve got pretty good at it over the years. I’m also pretty creative. If there’s nothing obvious to worry about, I usually manage to find something. Even if I have to work pretty hard at it, I’ll get there. Over-analysing, catastrophising, you name it, I’ve done it. If I was really stuck for something to worry about, I’d start being anxious about worrying itself which was pretty exhausting to be honest. Spending time I wasn’t anxious being anxious about being anxious. When you write it down it makes absolutely no sense but it took me a while to come to that conclusion.

I’ve always been pretty determined in terms of overcoming physical obstacles. If ever I came up against a logistical problem, whether that was the wheelie bins which blocked my route to secondary school or the fact that I couldn’t stand up and be a goalkeeper during primary school kickabouts. To solve the goalkeeping problem I just ended up kneeling down instead (I’m not sure my physio was too happy but it did enable me to dive around the muddy goalmouth and join in with everybody else).

For some reason, I was more reluctant to engage with anything concerning mental health. I always felt that engaging with my anxieties would somehow make them more real. My instinctive tactic was just to sweep my worries to one side and hope that they disappeared, which of course they didn’t. A bit like trying to pretend Aston Villa’s years of struggle in the Premier League weren’t actually happening if I didn’t watch any of the games, ignoring my difficulties did not make them go away.

Once I’d realised that I had to acknowledge my anxieties, my thoughts initially turned to concrete steps I could take to ‘solve’ the ‘problem’. I had counselling and there were definitely some solid strategies that I could take away from those sessions, lots of them based around mindfulness. But I think the most helpful thing I was told was that it’s OK to worry and that I should try to be kind to myself. Obviously, the levels of anxiety I was feeling at certain points were having an adverse effect on me.  However, expecting myself to stop worrying altogether was totally unrealistic too. As soon as I shifted my focus from ‘I was anxious about that today’ to ‘I was less anxious today than I was this time last week’, I began to feel much better about myself.

I’ve accepted that anxiety will always be an aspect of my character and that’s fine- it’s part of who I am. But in a way, I think it’s made me more sensitive to other people’s difficulties and that’s got to be a good thing too. Being more open with others recently has made me realise I’m far from alone in having anxiety. I’ve also come to realise that being anxious from time to time and being the positive smiley person I like to be are not mutually exclusive. I may not be able to do anything about Aston Villa and I might not be able to adopt a basset hound puppy but I can actively engage with my anxieties without making them worse or changing my generally positive disposition.

Initiatives like Time to Talk day are so important in helping to destigmatise the topic of mental health. The issues won’t go away completely but feeling able to talk openly with family and friends makes them a whole lot easier to deal with.

12 days of Oxmas (2017 version)

Once again, it’s nearly Christmas and once again I’ve realised that I’ve been neglecting this blog. I have, however, found an amusing Christmas-related procrastination activity which involves substituting the word ‘Christmas’ for ‘Brexit’ in a variety of well-known festive songs. My personal favourites so far have been ‘We wish you a Merry Brexit’. ‘Oh I wish it could be Brexit Every Day’ and ‘It’s beginning to look a lot like Brexit’. I’m currently listening to James Arthur singing Silent Night on Radio 1 so I feel now is the ideal time for my annual attempt to write something vaguely Christmassy.

12- the number of different basset hounds on my much treasured 2017 calendar in my room (having said that, you’d feel a bit short changed if there were fewer than twelve, in fact I think I’d have asked for a refund). One particularly distressing moment occurred when the June basset hound decided to fall dramatically from the wall and into the bin. No damage was done but I feel like the basset hound definitely looked even more mournful than usual.

11- the number of hours I have spent on the phone attempting to book assistance on trains. I feel like me and the bloke on the Cross Country assistance line have developed a special bond. Once he even felt we knew each other well enough to ask who I was going to see at Wembley Arena (it was James Arthur, obviously). Another important turning point in our friendship was when he suddenly started to call me ‘Jay’. I don’t know if it was just a crackly phone line or he felt that we’d got to the point where we could start using shortened versions of each other’s names.

10- The number of Villa games I’ve been to over the last year– being closer to Villa Park has continued to be one of the unexpected advantages of living in Oxford (although some would argue ‘punishment’ is a more accurate description). Villa still haven’t lost a game me and my brother have watched together. We even brought our undoubted footballing influence to the mighty Oxford United, who scored a 90th minute winner having no doubt just become alerted to our presence.

9- Number of times I’ve reminded my college that perhaps parking a lorry over the main access point wasn’t one of their better ideas– Apparently college has won awards for the initial phases of their rebuilding project, I can only assume that accessibility wasn’t on the list of criteria. They’ve continued to find ingenious ways to block my route. Last week they really went the extra mile, outdoing themselves by blocking the back entrance to college as well as the front. Don’t get me wrong, I love my college, but sometimes I feel like they don’t always make the most sensible choices.

8- number of times I’ve wondered whether our college tortoise actually exists. I remember being told last year about the existence of a wonderfully named college tortoise called ‘Aristurtle’. Naturally, I was quite excited to hear about something in college that may actually move around the grounds more slowly than me. However, distressingly, I am yet to see any actual proof of its existence. Here’s hoping 2018 is the year we can finally meet…

7- Number of students I’ll be teaching for a German translation class next year. From January, I’ll be faced with the terrifying/exciting prospect of teaching an actual uni class for the first time. I’m fully intending to exploit this position by starting with translating an excerpt out of Harry Potter. Who knew that looking at how to translate ‘Hippogriff’ and ‘Diagon Alley’ into German could be classed as work?

6- Times I’ve pretended to be a tourist to avoid having to give directions to people. My stock reply is ‘I’m new here too’ (which could be partially true if you take ‘new’ to mean ‘I’ve lived here for 18 months). Being responsible for people merrily heading off in the wrong direction is not something I especially relish. I feel like the Oxford United shirt I have recently bought and the fact I can now recognise the ‘we all hate Swindon’ chant slightly undermines my claim not to be ‘local’ though.

basset

5- Number of times I’ve been to watch a local open mic night (obviously without singing myself, that would be very painful for all involved). One of my friends introduced me to a great open mic night in Oxford which has been a perfect way to relax and get away from the Oxford ‘bubble’. Bearing in mind a singing teacher used to complain that she could hear me singing out of tune at the age of 6, I felt that the best place for me was definitely in the audience.

4- Length in hours of the wheelchair tennis session I attended: If ever I needed reminding how tiring wheelchair tennis is, a mammoth 4 hour session teaching the basics of the game seemed to do the trick. I still couldn’t hit a backhand properly but I did find a good excuse to continue my attempt to masquerade as a die-hard Oxford United fan of many years. It was all going so well until they asked about whether I though the current team was any better than the one a couple of years ago…

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3- The (minimum) number of years I found out I’ll be staying in Oxford for. In March, I was very surprised but also very happy to be offered a funded PhD looking at multilingualism in South Tyrol, a trilingual province in northern Italy. Despite all of the doom-laden talks which largely focused on how I would be unlikely to encounter another human soul throughout the three years of my research as I worked in a sinister darkened library, I’ve found far more social opportunities than I expected.  I’m also attempting to perfect the art of sounding like I know what I’m doing even if that isn’t always the case!!

2- Times that random strangers have attempted to push my wheelchair without asking me. I was happily going about some last-minute Christmas shopping in town when I suddenly felt two unfamiliar hands on the back of my wheelchair. After briefly fearing I was being kidnapped for no apparent reason, the guy just said ‘you looked like you could do with some help’. Strangers can be very helpful on occasions but I’d rather they took a minute to ask before launching into ‘must help at all costs’ mode.

1 successful year- I think 2017 has been really positive overall. Obviously, there are always things which don’t go to plan but I think I’m now more resilient when coping with those setbacks. I feel I’m less anxious than I was this time last year too. I’m gradually learning to live in the moment more and am taking all the opportunities that come my way in the hope that they will lead to even more exciting adventures. Now, where’s that basset hound puppy I was trying to adopt…

 

Have you booked assistance?

Have you booked assistance? These have to be 4 of my least favourite words in the English language (or any other language for that matter). Admittedly, train travel isn’t always easy for anyone at the best of times. I know that sitting in a crowded carriage with a load of strangers isn’t most people’s idea of fun. However, having a disability tends to add a little more of a challenge.

I’ve long been used to the requirement that you have to book a ramp and wheelchair space on a train at least 24 hours before you’d like to travel. This situation is not helped by the fact that someone, somewhere has decreed that having two wheelchair spaces per train is sufficient (one in standard class, one in 1st class). Although I’m normally pretty good at booking (I’m practically on first name terms with the Cross Country operators), yesterday I forgot. Even so, I made sure I turned up the obligatory 20 minutes before departure, feeling more than a little apprehensive.

As I came onto the platform, I spotted two other wheelchair users waiting for the same train. With something a sinking feeling, I approached the nearest assistant. After explaining the situation and admitting that I had committed the cardinal sin of not booking a wheelchair space in advance, I was promptly informed that it was likely the train guard would ‘throw me off the train’ even if they succeeded in putting a ramp down for me to get on. He then went on to say that the guard would not move the train until I got off, before adding rather unnecessarily, ‘it’s health and safety, he’s not going to risk his job for you, is he?’ In response to my suggestion that maybe throwing someone off a train simply because they happen to use a wheelchair perhaps wasn’t the best approach, he bluntly stated ‘those are the rules’.

What if there was a ‘rule’ that only 2 people of a certain race could travel on a train at any one time? Or a by law which asserted that only two foreigners were able to travel on a train at once? On second thoughts, maybe I shouldn’t give UKIP any new policy ideas… Seriously, though, it was one of the most unpleasant and degrading conversations I’ve been forced to have. There was somehow a free wheelchair space but it had been helpfully blocked up by luggage. I know that wheelchair spaces on trains to make great luggage racks but they actually make even better spaces for wheelchairs.

As it happened, the actual crew on the train couldn’t have been more helpful and helped to move all of the luggage, but the attitude of the man at the station had added unnecessary stress to what was supposed to be a fun day watching Aston Villa (before you say anything, I’m aware that ‘Aston Villa’ and ‘fun’ don’t often appear in the same sentence). Even then, the drama wasn’t over yet. Just as I’d begun to think the worst had passed as I settled down to reading Harry Potter on my Kindle and enjoyed the biscuits which had come about from my surprise upgrade to 1st class, a lady approached me. Without a word, she dumped her inexplicably large suitcase right at my feet, ingeniously placed to completely block my exit. I quickly explained the situation to the very helpful guard  who moved the monster suitcase, although I did get extremely evil looks from the lady involved for the remainder of the journey.

All of the anxiety caused yesterday was totally unnecessary. Wheelchair users should be able to be as spontaneous as anyone else. The worry over whether or not you will be able to board a train could be easily avoided if more train companies had seats which flipped up and could be used as wheelchair spaces when necessary and regular seats when not. Casually explaining to someone that they face being removed from a train because of their disability is offensive and wrong. Secondly, people need to realise that luggage does not belong in wheelchair spaces (the clue’s kind of in the name). I’m still going to travel by train and I do really appreciate the staff who were especially kind yesterday. It’s just that I’d rather wheelchair users were always treated as welcome passengers rather than a nuisance or just a ‘health and safety risk’.

How do you solve a problem like Sunday evenings?

I’ve got to admit it. I’m not a massive fan of Sunday evenings. You don’t really know what to do with them. They just sit there pretending to be part of the weekend whereas in reality they’re just that annoying little bridge between the weekend and the start of a new week. Just a matter of minutes ago the whole 2 days of the weekend seemed to be stretching out gloriously in front of you. But now evil Sunday evening has returned, replacing memories of promising but ultimately disappointing nonleague football matches with rather more mundane thoughts of a presentation on Monday morning.

I feel like Sunday evenings don’t really do themselves any favours. They’re too near the end of the weekend for you to do anything too adventurous but because it is the weekend, you feel like you should make the most of the last bit of free time before the madness of the week begins. I feel like I become more anxious on Sunday, partly because I start thinking about all the things that are going on in the week ahead. Don’t get me wrong, I’m really pleased to lead a busy life. It’s just that sometimes I wish I didn’t think about things quite so much. Having said that, there’s a few things that I found quite helpful to make me feel a little bit more calm and positive.

  1. Often, I put on some relaxing music. I’ve yet to come across a problem which everyone’s favourite X Factor winner, (James Arthur, obviously) can’t make seem a little better. After a few lines of his timeless classic ‘Impossible’ (much better than the original), I often feel ready to take on the world-not that that’s always a great idea last thing on a Sunday evening.
  2. Amusing YouTube videos are always one of my other go-to strategies. Videos of incredibly cute basset hounds are a favourite at the moment. Let’s face it, is pretty hard not to smile when watching a basset hound reluctantly being given a much-needed bath (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R4u4ZvrHqe8) or observing a group of basset hound puppies happily cantering through a meadow (admittedly, ‘cantering’ is very relative when used to describe the movements of lolloping bassets). Hilariously bad X Factor auditions are also a pretty surefire way to lift your spirits. Keeping a straight face when watching Ant and Seb’s ‘unique’ rendition of ‘Mysterious Girl‘ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qLVKPL9FwNQ) is a pretty tough challenge.
  3. One thing I also do regularly, usually just before I get to bed, is reading a familiar book. At the moment, I’m working my way again through the Harry Potter series. There are so many things that my 11 year old self missed when I read the books for the 1st time and it’s a welcome break from the reading I have to do for my PhD. I feel like everyone could do with a bit of Hogwarts magic from time to time. Also, I think all Christmas Carol services could be improved with the simple addition of ‘God rest Ye Merry Hippogriffs’ to the order of service.
  4. I’ve found Headspace to be a really useful app. It’s made up of lots of different 10 minute sessions which are a bit like a cross between meditation and mindfulness. I think there’s a student discount on some of the things too! (https://www.headspace.com/)
  5. I’ve heard people say that drawing is also quite a good way of replacing any negative thoughts with more positive ones. However, given my distinct lack of any artistic talent whatsoever, I’m not convinced that this would be a productive strategy. I feel like I only got vaguely decent marks in my year 7 art class because my teacher insisted that my name was Peter for the whole year (whoever Peter was, he was definitely better at art than I was). Nevertheless, I have found doing something creative can prove a useful distraction from any anxiety. I usually end up writing some ridiculous limerick which at least serves a purpose by making my mind focused on light-hearted things.

I should probably leave it there, got to get through James Arthur’s greatest hits before the end of the evening whilst watching basset hounds try to type on a computer.

Happy Sunday evening!

J

Happy (belated) World Cerebral Palsy Day!

I just realised yesterday was, in fact, world cerebral palsy day so I figured I’d belatedly write a little bit about how cerebral palsy affects me as well as answering some common queries.

  • My legs aren’t broken, they just don’t work very well: As some of you who have come across my blog before may have gathered, I have not broken my leg. My legs are not broken, they are not in plaster and, rather surprisingly, I haven’t ever actually broken any bones (unless you count when the doctors decided it would be a great idea to deliberately break my hips when I was 8 in order to reset them in a better position. Ahh, fond memories…

 

  • I don’t mind answering questions, as long as they’re at least vaguely thought through: I’m always happy to be open about my cerebral palsy and try to answer all questions when I can, especially if I know the person asking them pretty well or if the question still clearly has good intentions. Interestingly, the least sensitive questions tend to come from those people who have only just met me. These range from invasive, personal questions that people wouldn’t dream of asking a non-disabled person who they barely knew, to the downright stupid. My favourite one so far has been ‘Would you rather you broke your arm or your leg?’ Just in case the 1st point failed to clarify things properly, I HAVE NOT BROKEN ANY BONES IN MY BODY. Also, it’s not like someone comes up to you and says: “Here’s a fun game, how about you choose your own disability?” It’s not something you can wake up one day and decide. Yet another example of how ‘taking back control’ doesn’t always work in practice.

 

  • My sense of direction/general spatial awareness is impressively appalling: I always smile inwardly (sometimes outwardly) when people start explaining in detail about the name of a particular street or a part of Oxford which is more than a few hundred metres away from my college. Despite living here for a year now, I still find it impressively easy to get lost. One of the benefits of living in a town popular with tourists, however, is that I am easily able to masquerade as a tourist myself when asking for directions. The truly horrible moments occur when well-meaning tourists decree that I am a reliable, local person so they choose me for the noble task of providing directions. I either panic and point vaguely left or right or quickly explain to them that I’m new here as well (12 months is still pretty new, right?)

 

  • I’m quite bad at recognising faces from a distance due to my perceptual difficulties. Very often people say to me ‘I saw you in town and you ignored me’. The chances are I didn’t actually take it in as I was walking (well, wheeling past). I didn’t really think about this much until recently but it’s definitely linked to my CP.

 

  • I jump incredibly easily: Many people with cerebral palsy never lose the startle reflex that most people leave behind as a baby. This has inevitably led to a variety of weird and wonderful moments. I like to think that my keenness for equality extends to the things that make me jump. I’m an equal opportunities jumper: It doesn’t matter whether it’s sudden cough in a silent Quaker meeting or a hideously loud fire alarm at 3 in the morning (who doesn’t love those?!). I’ll jump at anything, ‘cos that’s just the way I roll…

 

I guess what I’d really like to get out of writing this, and actually out of most of the blogs that I write, is to say that having cerebral palsy might mean there’s a few things about me that are a little bit different, but I still want the same things out of life as anyone else, disability or no disability. Having said that, I’m convinced that cerebral palsy has given me a more sensitive view of the difficulties that other people might be going through. It’s part of me and it always will be. In fact, I’m sure that I wouldn’t be where I am today without my disability. Ultimately, I’ve come to the conclusion that those people who can’t see past my disability just aren’t worth bothering with.  It’s not always easy but if my cerebral palsy puts me in a better position to help other people, then I’m pretty happy with that. Happy belated cerebral palsy day!

The importance of being open…

British people have a reputation for apologising. We apologise when we run into someone even though it blatantly is not our fault. We apologise for the torrential rain outside even though it is clear that we haven’t quite yet developed a way of controlling the weather ourselves. We even sometimes utilise the insurance apology, reassuring ourselves that, just in case we should do anything in the near future that requires an apology, we are already one step ahead. Let’s face it, apologising for something after you’ve done it just too late nowadays.

I admit that I’ve often keenly felt this need to apologise in the past. However, there is one thing that I’m fed up apologising for, namely my disability. When I was younger, I spent a lot of time feeling awkward about having cerebral palsy and using a wheelchair. I was always keen to minimise the visible impact of having a disability on my everyday life. But whichever way you look at it, my disability is part of me. It’s certainly not the most interesting thing about me (to be fair life would be pretty boring if I talked about splints, wheelchairs and booking train assistance for twenty four hours a day). Nevertheless, my disability is part of me and If I’m minimising the apparent impact of my disability, I’m also not allowing people to really get to know me.  In lots of ways, trying to play down a disability is a bit like trying to pretend that you can speak fluent French whilst on holiday in Paris. It might work while you are ordering food at a restaurant, but as soon as someone starts asking for your opinion on raising the retirement age, the linguistic illusion is quickly shattered. Equally, I might be able to manage a few steps on flat surfaces indoors, but I will soon come unstuck when faced with a charming spiral staircase in a mediaeval castle (memories of a sixth form history trip to Ludlow Castle spring to mind….

basset

Here’s a picture of me with a suitably relaxed basset hound 🙂

I’ve realised it’s just too bad if I have to see if someone can push my wheelchair up a particularly tricky hill. I shouldn’t feel guilty if I have to ask a friend in advance to come back with me from a social event so that I don’t spend the whole time worrying about how I will manage it myself. I’ve gradually developed the confidence to realise that those people who feel uncomfortable with my disability or view it as a ‘problem ‘are not worth bothering with. At least by being open, I can be confident that friends like me for who I am rather than the version of myself that I present to them. I’ve come to the conclusion that everyone has their own difficulties, it’s just that mine are more visible than most.

Having said all that, the same principle of openness applies to my anxiety. I may be able to keep up the façade of relaxed serenity, but in lots of ways my own anxieties helped to make me more sensitive to how others may be feeling. I’ve often found that being open with other people invites more openness on their part and allows me to make more meaningful connections with others. I think that people also sense if you are comfortable with being you. By not viewing either my disability or my anxieties as being a problem in my own mind, I can help others to accept that part of me as well. If I need somebody to walk a bit more slowly so that I can keep up with them, that’s fine. If I have a habit of overanalysing things, owning up to it has the effect of making me less anxious, not more so.  I’ve noticed that since I’ve tried to become less apologetic and more open about everything, I’ve felt much more positive about myself and I think that’s a pretty good place to start.