What do others see?

As I watch some children of my acquaintance grow up into teenagers, I see them hit that squirming self-conscious don’t-notice-me phase. I remember it so well. Some adolescents breeze through it and enter adulthood with barely a glance back. Others, like me, never seem to shake it off.

I’ve spent much of my life worrying about what others think of me. (Thanks very much to the bullies at school who shook my self-confidence so thoroughly.) Will people still like me if I say this? What do I look like in that? Etc, etc.

Sensitivity to what other people think got heightened when Pudding’s development delay first started becoming obvious. Any trip out the house became fraught with new worries. What did people see when they looked at him? At me?

A helicopter mother, hovering over her child as he climbed the steps, not giving him the space to do it himself? They could have no idea that his balance wasn’t great and that he had a permanent bump on his forehead from the number of times he had fallen.

Someone who is not concentrating on the conversation going on around her? Even when I let Pudding stray a bit further away from me I’m always watching – aware that at any moment he could hit another child or make a dash for the gate.

A lax parent? If they do see Pudding hitting out or running away they might think I should do more to discipline him. But often when I do tell him off it’s more for the benefit of others. ‘Bad’ behaviour in Pudding is often impulse and no amount of discipline will make a difference.

Too stand-offish? Seeing me standing by myself amongst groups of sociable parents, they could think ‘up herself’. Yet all my thoughts were on the latest clinical results, or concentrating hard on not crying on the school run.

Uncaring? A stranger on the train seeing me scrolling through my phone while Pudding is stuck in his chair watching his tablet and shouting out might expect me to do more to entertain him or keep him quiet. But they would never know that while their journey is briefly disturbed, this is yet another necessary journey to hospital and a film is the only way to keep him calm.

Pudding and me running along track through green spaceIt now happens less and less as I’ve developed a thicker skin on this journey (though I still hate the train situation!). It’s brought out my sarcastic side at times. In the supermarket recently I did say loudly to Pudding, ‘Don’t shout like that or people might stare!’ As we were leaving T very astutely said to me, ‘People were staring anyway, Mummy.’ Not after I said that, they didn’t!

Of course the vast majority of people probably don’t even give us a second thought, let alone think something negative. But my worries about people’s opinions will always be with me at some level, and those who sneer at Pudding or look askance at me will always hurt. But I know that most important are the opinions of those who are close to us. Those who know and love us for who we are. The nurses and play specialist who snuggle with him and insist on me taking a break. Friends who invite us out despite us not having made it out on the previous twenty-three occasions. Family who are always there for us.

 

Facade of fortitude

In my last post I was really pleased to be able to share a documentary that featured Pudding and me. And even happier that it’s been shared and viewed by so many people. I’ve always said that the more times his lovely face is seen, the more chance there is that someone somewhere will recognise MPS the next time they see it.

What I have more issues with though is the comments that follow. Nobody has said anything horrid – quite the opposite in fact. I’ve written about this before. Strong. Brave. Amazing. Inspiring. All lovely things to say – but it doesn’t really feel like they describe me. In fact it makes me feel like a bit of a fraud. I can think of a few words that describe me better – grumpy, lazy, unreasonable, demanding, to name but a few!

Joking aside, just like anyone I’m a mixture of positive and negative aspects. Just an ordinary person trying to cope with this frankly sometimes shitty hand of cards that I’ve been dealt. You would all do the same. You really would.

Whilst I feel like I’m nothing special there are others in the MPS community who I think are. They are dealing with the same horrible diagnosis but with an extra helping of difficulty: money troubles; single parenthood or a troubled relationship; no family support; two or more children with the same condition. They are the amazing ones.

Maybe I have the words to express our story better than others but again I’m not special there either. I haven’t really written about the blogging event I went to last week (apart from just a smidgeon of gushing about the lovely Gethin Jones). But it was a brilliant evening celebrating the writing of many better people than me. It also served as a reminder that while Pudding’s condition is life-limiting, it is not at present life threatening. Two very lovely ladies stood out for me – Little Mama Murphy (writing about her profoundly disabled son), and Living with Lennon (Lennon sadly died in August last year). Both their awards were very well-deserved. They too are the amazing ones.

I’m ok with not being amazing. There will always be the times where I feel like a fraud or know I’m acting strong despite all the fear and anxiety churning along underneath ready to drown me. But for me, it’s enough to be enough. As long as I have the love and support around me that helps me to keep going. As long as I can make my gorgeous Pudding break out into irrepressible giggles. As long as I can feed my family and juggle those appointments. And as long as I remember to allow myself the occasional wobble without losing myself completely, then that’s fine with me.

Pudding in front of some greenery. He looks a little pensive or worried.Perhaps I should change the tag-line of my blog – Facing the future with a facade of fortitude…?!

Escaping the dark tunnel

The last few weeks I’ve felt a bit like I’ve walked out into a wide green meadow after a long dark tunnel. Whilst I was in the tunnel it didn’t seem too bad – I was coping with it – but it’s only once I’ve left it that I realised what I was missing.

As a SEND parent or carer it’s easy to neglect one’s own mental health. You spend so much time focusing on all the things that have to be done right now, and the worrying about the future, that you never realise that somewhere along the way you have lost yourself.

Pudding wearing a felt toy shopping basket on his head.Lately I’ve been trying to work out what’s changed to make me feel different. After all, Pudding is the same gorgeous trouble he always is. His diagnosis hasn’t changed. The future is still uncertain. It’s just my own attitude that has changed. Some of it has been down to things that I’ve been able to control, and some of it has been external factors.

I know I won’t always maintain this improvement so here’s my own personal ‘How To’ guide on how to escape that tunnel!

Sunshine: Obviously I’m not ominpotent and so this is a commodity that’s been in short supply lately! But there’s no denying that the weather makes a big difference to my mood. So when the sunshine appears make the most of it, even if it’s only to step outside the door for a moment, turn your face up to those magical rays, close your eyes and breathe.

Music: Music can have such power to move us, to trigger tears or uplift us. My new car has a working radio and CD player and I hadn’t realised how much I had missed this. Now I am rediscovering the joy of staying sat in the car once I reach my destination just because Ravel’s Bolero is too damn brilliant to turn off. (Obviously this only happens when I’m alone because otherwise…well…kids!). Whatever floats your boat – classical, show tunes, R ‘n’ B – indulge yourself.

Friends: A good laugh and chat with friends just can’t be beat.

Good food: Let’s face it, kid-friendly food is boring. A beetroot and mackerel salad, dark salted caramel chocolate, a special meal out – they can delight the senses and make me think life is worth living rather than just enduring.

Clearing out: Ticking things off the To Do list, clearing out a cupboard or divesting yourself of a responsibility that is stressing you out really can feel like a weight is lifted. Lately I’ve finally been getting round to doing some much-needed decluttering in order to eventually sell the house. The more I get done the better I feel.

Of course, the problem is that none of this really works when I’m in the depths of the tunnel. Music makes me cry, the thought of getting anything done sends me into a spiral of anxiety and I am so good at convincing myself that no-one could possibly want to spend time with me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo how to get past it? One thing at the MPS conference this weekend really helped to clarify my thinking about how things have been in the last few months. My favourite psychologist showed this diagram (and sorry, I don’t know who should be credited!). Essentially it shows that what you think about something affects how you feel which in turn informs behaviour, and so on. Round and round. Negative thoughts lead to negative feelings and behaviour that doesn’t help the situation. This was a bit of a lightbulb moment for me as it is so true: now something has happened to interrupt that cycle.

When Pudding starts throwing, instead of getting frustrated I have re-framed it in my mind, recognise it as communicating his need for attention, and can deal with it calmly. When we’re out and someone gives us ‘that look’, I can choose to think of it as the reaction of ignorance and prejudice rather than a comment on my parenting, not let it hurt me and continue enjoying our day. Of course, I ain’t going to be perfect at this all the time, but who is?!

But (and it is a big but) when you are stuck in that long dark tunnel none of this common sense advice actually makes a difference. If it’s so dark that you can’t even see your hands in front of you, it is unbelievably hard to step forwards.

In which case it is ok to ask for help. Whether that is medication, counselling, respite or even just a shoulder to cry on, anything that can help break that cycle of negativity will simply make you a better parent.

Life is hard enough, parenting is hard enough, let alone adding in all the extra complications of a SEND life. Asking for help is not an admission of failure.

So next time I hit a dip I will try to come back and read this. Perhaps it will help.