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Back to me; 5 months progress

It was 5 months ago when I first spoke to a friend about writing down my feelings and she convinced me to start my blog, when I finally plucked up the courage to write my first post and share it with everyone I knew. It was 5 months that now feels more like 5 years, almost a forgotten memory. I have been struggling knowing what to write for the past few weeks so I decided to read over some of my old posts, perhaps they would strike a chord and give me some inspiration. I have to admit, it wasn’t the easiest thing I have ever done.

Reading back over my early posts, particularly the ones in which I discuss the things that led me to being so unhappy, I barely recognised the girl who was writing them. I remember her, I remember how sad she was and it breaks my heart. That sad, lost girl was me and it hurts me to go back there, to be reminded of the constant aching in my chest, the feeling of utter sorrow that I thought I was never going to escape from and the daily battle I had just getting out of bed . Part of me wishes I hadn’t read them, that maybe those things are best left in the past, but then a bigger part of me is glad I did. They have done what I intended them to do; they have become a marker in my past, something I can measure myself up against and that shows clearly exactly how far I have come and as painful as those memories are I can’t forget them. I need to hold onto them, to help me whenever I feel low and to remind me that things have been worse and I got through. 5 months is a very short time in the grand scheme of things, it’s barely a blip. I have gone through so many changes in such a short amount of time, had so many ups and downs and now I’m here, closer than I have ever been to being my true self.

I spent a lot of my early years doing things, or rather not doing the things I wanted to do, based on the opinions of others. I was cripplingly shy for a long time and I couldn’t handle the idea that someone would make fun of me for being interested in something they weren’t. I hid who I wanted to be and this carried on into my early adult life. I spent too much time worrying about what people thought about me, what people were saying behind my back and what I was doing wrong that was upsetting them. I have learnt a lot in the past 5 months, one of the main points being that it doesn’t matter what people think of you. In life there will always be someone who doesn’t agree with you, no matter who is right and who is wrong it is just the way it will be. Not everyone can get along, although it’s a shame, and you could be doing everything in your power to be a good person but there will still be someone who will twist every little thing you do into a negative.

I hate upsetting people or having someone mad at me and in the past I would have scrutinised everything a person did or said to work out what I had done and how I could make it better. I am wiser now and I understand that you can’t keep everyone happy and if you try to then you will make yourself unwell, you will cause more grievances than you mean to and it will backfire. It is impossible to keep everyone happy, by doing that you are lying somewhere along the line to either yourself or someone else and it will never work out. Honesty is something that should be held in high regard because honesty really is the best policy. If you are honest with yourself and everyone around you then you will never be in the situation where you have to wriggle your way out of something you have said or done, you won’t ever have to explain yourself because everyone will already know the truth. Sometimes people won’t like the truth, they won’t agree with how upfront you are but I’d rather be called too honest than a liar, as I think anyone would.

Another thing I have learnt over the past 5 months is that I really need to stop being so hard on myself, I am my own worst enemy. I over think things, I make situations worse in my head than they ever were in reality and think about how I could have done it better. I imagine it goes back to caring about the opinions of others and how I conduct myself around them so I’m not judged harshly or unfairly. Well, I’ve been on my best behavior many times and still been criticised so I suppose it really doesn’t matter. I want to be myself around people, I want them to know who I really am so that I never have to pretend, so I can act how I want to and say what I like and not have to worry that I’m doing something wrong. Sometimes when I drink my mouth runs away from me, it says things that my brain hasn’t had time to process and I act like an idiot. I get very insecure and nervous around people I don’t know very well and in situations that are new to me and if I drink, it shows itself this way. The solution? I don’t drink… or I at least try not to drink. I still have things that drive me crazy with anxiety, times when if I don’t have a drink I know I won’t be able to loosen up enough to enjoy myself and I know, this is a terrible reason to drink but I’m working on it. I’m still scared to be myself at times because I know if I am talked about as the person who is holding back makes me feel bad then I’m going to feel worse if it’s the real me being judged.

I don’t mean to be negative; I am actually far from it. Although I have a way to go in building my confidence up to be able to 100% not care what people think, to throw caution to the wind and say ‘I am who I am, if you don’t like it that’s your problem!’ but I’ve made big steps along the way. In the past I could never introduced myself to a person who I didn’t know for the fear of being rejected, I was too shy to hold a conversation with a stranger but now I find myself doing it all the time. I have made new friends this way and I know they are people who I can count on for life, people who are there for me whenever I need them, who will be my support should I ever need it. I am so thankful to them for everything they do and I am proud of myself for putting myself out and getting to know them.

You get out of a relationship what you put into it and I am willing to put my all in. If someone doesn’t do the same back then they are not a true friend, if you feel like you are on a one way street and you are making all of the effort then you need to take a step back for a while. Some friendships last the distance but some are only meant to be there for a short period in your life, to help you through a difficult time or to teach you something. In the past this made me sad, but now I understand. I would rather cherish my close friendships, to nurture them and see them blossom into something wonderful than to water a weed and see it strangle everything else. I didn’t see this before and it is something I have only recently come to terms with, but I have made my peace with it. In my perfect little world everyone would be friends and there would be no backstabbing, gossiping and intentionally hurting one another but the world isn’t perfect and that isn’t something I am ever going to combat, especially not when I still find myself guilty of it from time to time. I have my friends whom I cherish and I know will be there for me should I ever need them and while I welcome new friends and will always have time for someone who can give the same time back to me I won’t waste my time being sad over the people who won’t make the effort. More often than not they aren’t making the effort with anyone else, either. That makes me sad but it isn’t my problem, it isn’t my burden and I won’t let it weigh me down.

My door is always open and I am happy to rekindle a friendship that has once burned out, to forgive and forget if the other person makes as much effort as I do but I am finished feeling sad and let down by people who can’t see that friendships work two ways, I don’t have the energy to waste anymore.

I can say now something which I was far from saying in September; I am happy. I am genuinely, comfortingly, warm and fuzzy happy. I am settled in my work, with my close friends and I am slowly working on my money problems. I enjoy my social life and I have enough aspects to it so I am not fully reliant on one part. I don’t see my friends as often as I would like but I try my best to and when I do see them it is always quality time. I had periods over the last few months when I thought I was happy and I probably was but this is a different happy, this isn’t a short lived ‘I’m happy this week and that’s exciting’ this is just… I’m happy. I’m content and that’s a nice feeling to have, it is something I am reluctant to give up. If I had to spend the next few years of my life doing what I am now then I would be ok with that, I would be satisfied knowing that I have control over my emotions, over who I am and the people I can trust to love me that way and that I am finally starting to get over the hurdle of caring too much what others think. I like what I am doing, I like where I am so if you don’t mind I think I’ll stay a while longer.

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My Daily Guilt

I’ve long thought that guilt is one of the emotions we feel that is pretty much useless to feel for any longer than it takes for it to serve its purpose; to make us feel bad about a mistake we have made and teach us a lesson so that we can avoid doing it again. Why then do I spend 99% of my time feeling guilty about something? Holding on to these feelings that I can literally pull up about absolutely anything!

You know when you see a Facebook status or a tweet and it is an indirect dig at someone, one of those ‘Some people make me laugh’ (or similar) ones? Well my brain doesn’t like to think logically, it doesn’t go along the lines of ‘you were speaking to them yesterday and you were laughing and joking, there was no indication of a problem so it’s more than likely nothing to do with you.’ Oh no, my brain jumps straight to ‘Oh my god… that’s me. I’m SOME PEOPLE!’ I don’t know why I process things this way; I’m just a paranoid mess. I spend so much of my time trying not to upset people, probably because of how I’ve behaved in the past when I couldn’t handle my feelings and I lashed out, that whenever someone is upset I feel like it’s because I have or haven’t done something. It is ridiculous, I know it is. You can’t live your life to please other people and that’s not what I’m doing, those who know me well can tell you I have a mind of my own and I will stand up for myself. I am by no means a pushover but I suppose there will always be that part of me that wants everyone to get on, that wants the world to be pleasant and friendly and for there to be nothing dramatic, no one hating each other. I know this is unrealistic and I know that I can’t keep assuming I’ve upset people but I do, I feel guilty for things I probably haven’t even done.

My guilt doesn’t only apply to my relationships with my friends, it spreads out much further than that. I feel guilty daily for not being able to do enough for charity, when I see the various adverts for the children in Africa starving, the donkeys being mistreated, the RSPCA, Age concern, Cancer Research… the amount of people in need of help is overwhelming and in a time where I have barely enough money to get by myself, where if I want to do something socially then I have to make some sort of sacrifice somewhere else, I don’t have a penny to spare to offer to charity and even if I did, who would I give it to? Each charity is as deserving as the next for one reason or another but it is impossible to help all of them and who am I to say that someone dying of cancer is less deserving than someone with Alzheimers? I struggle a lot with knowing what to do to ease my guilt and so I just continue to feel guilty. If I raise money for one charity then another is losing out, there isn’t enough of me to go round and I if I did try to raise money for them all then it would be such a small amount going to each, would it even be worth it?

I need to pick a charity that means something to me, I know that. My Grandfather died of Alzheimers 18 months ago and thinking about it still hurts, it is such an awful thing to suffer with not only for the patient but for their families too. To see someone you love degenerate into a stranger, someone who can’t recognise you is awful. In relation to Alzheimers I want to support Age UK. I see so many older people coming into work and they are lonely, they want to talk to you for as long as they can because they don’t have anyone at home. It breaks my heart to think of someone sitting alone, the highlight of their day being a conversation with a cashier when they go food shopping and to think that these same people could be left alone during hard times such as the winter months is unbearable. I think when I do raise money it will be for these causes, but I’ll still feel guilty for not being able to help others.

Another feeling I experience a lot, and linked into the charity side of things, is that I’m not doing enough good in the world. I’m not helping enough, I’m not doing anything to make any sort of difference to anyone or anything. I want to dedicate my time to charity work, to volunteering and helping in the community but currently the majority of my time is spent working to pay my bills and resting because I’m still not 100%, I don’t sleep well and I get tired very easily. So, there’s the guilt again. When I am well I will commit myself to doing as much as I can, to helping in any way I am able and until then I will take little steps, things that might make a little difference.

I have recently committed myself to not eating meat or dairy, it is something I wanted to do for a number of years and I can’t really tell you why I haven’t done it sooner. When I started to get back on my feet, to get well, I promised myself that I would never let myself get back to the place I had been, that I would look after myself in order to be as healthy as I could help myself be. The biggest thing I changed was my diet; out went the ready meals and processed foods and in came the vegetables, fruits, pulses and seeds. I enjoy eating well and it makes me feel clean and healthy, it isn’t about my weight, it is about being the best I can be. I control what I put into my mouth and if I can choose something with a good nutritional value that I know is going to be brilliant for my body then I will. I enjoy thinking up various meals and trying new recipes and honestly , I am a bit obsessive so watching what I eat is quite enjoyable.

Once I had my eating under control and I was a bit wiser to nutrition I decided I was ready to cut out meat and dairy; I don’t have a lot anyway as I get my protein, Omega 3, calcium, iron and all of my other nutrients through my vegetables, nuts, seeds and pulses so it wasn’t a big change. I wanted to do it because of the terrible conditions factory hens and dairy cows are kept in, because I think it is inhumane to force them to have calves or produce eggs on a much quicker succession than they would naturally in order for us to enjoy certain foods. If we were to take a human and force them to have a baby then take the baby away to be slaughtered only to then force the mother to have another baby, it would be considered horrific. I don’t see why it is any different for animals. I don’t know how much of a difference I can make, probably not a lot, but I least I feel like I have a clear conscience in terms of funding the farming industries. The same goes for animal testing, I have put a lot of research into which cosmetic companies conduct animal testing and those that do will be losing my custom. I don’t want to fund unnecessary experiments that destroy the lives of a helpless creature all for the vanity of human beings.

I know what I’m doing isn’t a lot, I am aware that I am one person in a world full of millions but I am trying my best, I am doing what I can for now. I raise awareness where I can, I share stories and I hope that I open someone’s eyes to the suffering of these defenseless animals but even if I don’t, I’ll keep trying. When I am financially stable I hope I can do more but until then you’re just going to have to put up with my endless tweets, Facebook posts and blogs because it’s all I can do.

I don’t think I’m ever going to stop feeling guilty because I’m never going to be able to make everyone happy, I can’t save the world. But I can do my part and even though I’m not making huge dents, hopefully my chipping away little by little will make a difference. I hope so, I really do.

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The first ever #BodyConfidenceWeekend

I love this ❤

LEYAH SHANKS

I’ve decided to try something new and launch what I’m calling a Body Confidence Weekend on Twitter. The inspiration behind this idea is my #BodyConfidenceHour which has been so well received since I started doing it about a year ago now. The thought is to essentially make the whole weekend one long #BodyConfidenceHour. BCH is all about body positivity and trying to encourage and inspire other people to love the skin they’re in. We talk about all different kinds of things, it’s totally inclusive, so anyone can (and do) join in. I regularly ask people to talk about what their faviroute body part is and why they love it, for example. I think it’s so important to have something like this which doesn’t put anyone down as there’s so much negativity on the web. I feel like social media is a very powerful tool. Instead of using it as a weapon, let’s use…

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How to; Be happier!

We all have days, weeks even, where we wake up in the morning and for whatever reason any issues we have with ourselves bubble up to the surface and all we can concentrate on is how much we dislike ourselves. Even though I try to promote body confidence and encourage people to see the beauty in themselves I still have these days myself. After all, I’m only human. The difference between now and a year ago when I suffered from terribly low confidence is the way in which I have learned to deal with it. In the past I would have let it eat me up and a day would turn into a week, a week into a month and I would be punishing myself daily for not being ‘perfect.’ I don’t like to be unhappy, nobody does, so these days I take action as soon as I can. I am more in control of my thoughts and emotions than I was before and I can’t dwell on these negative feelings and let them destroy any of the confidence I have built up. So, what do I do when I’m feeling bad about myself? I’ll share it with you. It may help you, it may not but this is what works for me.

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1) Have a shower – Showering is something you should be doing anyway, I am aware of this. When I say ‘have a shower’ I mean the type where you stay in until the water runs cold (Your water never runs cold? Huh, must be my medieval system!) Wash your hair with a luxurious shampoo and conditioner, use an intensive conditioning treatment if you have time. Use body scrub and scrub the life out of your skin and follow it up by slathering on moisturiser when you are dry (I recommend absolutely anything by Soap and Glory, they smell so incredible you will want to eat them. But please don’t; I can’t imagine that would be a very good idea!) Pampering yourself makes you feel good, it makes you feel instantly better.

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2) Eat better – If I have had a week where I have eaten a lot of bad food like takeaways or stodgy meals then I will inevitably feel sluggish and disgusting. I used to be hard on myself and I would feel guilty about what I had eaten but you can’t change the things that have already been done, only what you do moving forward. I’m not suggesting you go on a diet, cut any meals or dramatically reduce calories here I am suggesting switching the bad foods for the good ones. On a good day I will have porridge with fruit for breakfast, a healthy soup or chilli for lunch and grilled chicken or salmon with veg for dinner. (Tea actually, but I’ll say it the posh way.) I also snack during the day numerous times on Pro-biotic yoghurts, fruit, cereal bars and plenty of peanut butter. I do not go more than a few hours without eating something as this prevents me from getting too hungry and over eating at the next meal. The last thing I do is to make sure I am consuming enough fluids whether that is water or herbal teas. It is amazing how quickly you begin to feel better once you are eating right and maybe in the beginning it is just a placebo effect but that isn’t important, what is important is that you will start to feel good about yourself and even if you aren’t looking to lose or gain weight, eating properly is a key element in that.

3) Take your vitamins – I take Multi-vitamins and Iron daily along with Cod Liver Oil and I am also looking to add Echinacea to my daily supplements but you can take whatever you feel your body needs. Not only will you actually be helping your body by taking these supplements but it is a quick, easy step you can take that you will instantly know is making a difference and that in itself will lift your mood.

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4) Exercise – You don’t have to have a gym membership or want to become a beefed up Betty/Brian but exercise is crucial in feeling better about yourself. On a day where you’re not feeling great the last thing you want to do is exercise but if you can get yourself out into the fresh air and go for a walk at least then I can guarantee you will feel better. Getting outside will give your serotonin, the happy brain chemical, levels a boost and the fresh air and cardiovascular exercise will get your blood pumping and your adrenaline rushing in a positive way. I suffer from anxiety and my Doctor told me that with exercise you are forcing your body to feel the things it feels during an anxiety attack, but it feels them in a good way and it benefits both your mind and body. As someone who has suffered with depression and has turned to exercise for help I can vouch that it actually works. Once you have completed any sort of exercise be it a long walk, a gym workout or an exercise class you instantly feel proud of yourself, you feel rewarded and you want to do it again. Feeling good about yourself is uplifting and warm and to me there is nothing more rewarding than pushing myself through a workout that I never thought I would be able to complete. (Don’t feel like exercising? Put on your favourite music and bop around with your hairbrush singing along, raising a sweat. That is what I like to call sneaky exercise!)

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5) Talk to someone – Sometimes I find that a simple conversation with a friend is all it takes to lift my spirits. Your friends see the good in you more than you see it yourself and they will be more than happy to remind you how beautiful you are even if you don’t want to believe it yourself. They may be having a tough day themselves and you will be able to reassure them what you love and what they should love about themselves. Knowing that you are not alone in how you feel gives you more comfort than you can imagine, to know that everyone has bad days and you’re not going crazy can help nip the bad feelings in the bud. So don’t bottle everything up, talk to someone. Talk to me, I’m always happy to listen to anyone, to help where I can and to offer any advice. You may know me well, you may never have spoken to me before but I have time for everyone. Never feel alone in your feelings because no one is ever alone, there is so much help out there; you just have to look for it.

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6) Stop caring what people think – Easier said than done, I know. I spent years caring what people thought about me and I wasted so much of my life because of it. These days I still struggle with wanting to be socially accepted but I try not to let it affect me like it used to. There have been a few social events lately where I have had to go alone and meet friends inside. I can’t explain to you the anxiety I feel at even just the thought of walking into a room on my own. My friends are very lovely and incredibly welcoming, I would never have to stand in the corner on my own, and as soon as I am with them I feel instantly calmed but the fear I have in the lead up is incredible.

I wish there was something I could do to change it, to stop the blood racing, heart pounding, head spinning, suffocating feeling but I haven’t found a way yet. I often suffer panic attacks for days afterwards as a result. It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? I laugh at myself often because of how my mind and my body can disagree so powerfully, like an old married couple. My mind knows from experience that I am going to be fine, that there is no need to worry about being alone and ignored because the people I associate with are far too kind for that. My body, however, still behaves like the frightened schoolgirl who was bullied because she dared to be a little different and had her own individual tastes. I don’t care so much what people think and where I would have let my anxiety force me to become a recluse in the past I won’t let it anymore. I still have panic attacks and sometimes the feeling of being suffocated is overwhelming but I force my way through it because if I don’t then I am missing out on the life I have fought so hard to gain control of. If people don’t like me, if I go to a social event and someone thinks the way I am dressed or the way I am wearing my hair is ridiculous then what does that change? Nothing at all. I can still go and enjoy myself and soon enough I forget why I was ever worried. You can’t let your demons beat you, you have to squish them down and put a lid on them or they will ruin your life. My demons are worrying what people think of me but as long as I am kind, helpful and am a good friend/sister/daughter/niece/cousin/aunty/whatever and I try my best not to be cruel, to help people feel good about themselves then there really is nothing else I can do and if people find a reason not to like me then that is their prerogative, I can’t stress myself out over finding a way to change their opinions. Sometimes people just don’t like you, that is life and it is something I am slowly but surely coming to terms with.

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7) Do something for someone else – I love doing things for other people whether that is buying them a gift I know they will love, cooking them a meal, sending them a card or a message to let them know I am thinking of them or having them over and making them tea and listening to their worries. It makes them feel good and it makes me feel good. Is it a little selfish feeling good about doing something for someone else? Probably. But that isn’t my main motivation, just a bonus. I have spent so many years of my life feeling depressed and the moment I admitted it and a swarm of people came to my aid I began to get better. Sometimes hearing someone say ‘It is going to be hard but it is going to be ok and I am here for you.’ Is all you need and if I can be there for my friends and family in even the smallest of ways then I will be. If I can add even the smallest of shimmers of sunshine into the life of someone who didn’t think they could smile that day then that is what I will do.

Those are the things I do to help myself feel good, to drag myself out of my funk. They may not work for everyone but they work for me. Having listed them I also have a couple of ‘things you should definitely avoid doing’ that you may think will make you feel better but in the long run I find only serve to make you feel worse. (I’m speaking from personal experience!)

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1) Do not spend money! – We’ve all been there; we have a bad day and we feel awful so we go on a spending spree, retail therapy we call it. We buy clothes, makeup, food, books, pictures, gifts for friends – whatever we can get our hands on. I have done this on so many occasions I have lost count. Quite recently I had a blip where I was feeling low and I did the usual; reached for my bank card and spent more money than I could afford. This is a huge issue I have and one I am trying to address because nothing good ever comes of it. I buy a dress I can’t afford and I feel happy for a moment. As soon as I leave the shop, however, I already feel terrible. I push the feelings away and I go and buy some shoes to go with the dress, perhaps some new jewellery and nail varnish too and what about that new lip stain I saw advertised? I get home and my bank account is emptier than I care to admit with the results spread across my bed, silently judging me. I bought the outfit to make myself feel good but in knowing that I have spent money I didn’t have whenever I wear the clothes I will be reminded how irresponsible I have been. I am fully aware that this issue relates to my need to look and feel good, to my worries about not being accepted by society but I’m working on it.

Spending money will not make you feel better, at least not for long. Avoid doing it like the plague; leave your bank card at home and take only the cash you need for the day. Having saved money you would have normally spent on a spree is far more rewarding then having a pretty dress but being unable to eat for a week or pay the bills.

junk

2) Try not to mope – In the past I was the Queen of the mopers; I knew how to string out a bad mood and I was an expert at knowing how to stay down in the dumps. I have a problem where I tend to over think things; what people say, what they write, what they are thinking, what I am thinking, why I am thinking it. As an ex-moper I can tell you something from experience, it gets you nowhere.

There is a difference between moping and being sad about a continuing situation or a life changing event and I’m not one of those ignorant people who would tell a depressed person to ‘just be happy’ but you have to learn to distinguish between the things that are going to affect your life and the things that aren’t. I am harassed relentlessly online, comments on my blog, fake accounts adding me on Facebook and Twitter and messaging me and lately the majority of my Facebook pictures being reported as pornography. I used to let this type of thing bother me, I would get upset or angry and I would dwell on the negative feelings. Now, however, I don’t care enough to even say I find it funny. I have made my profile as private as I can and the latest picture to be reported was my profile picture, probably the only picture anyone who isn’t on my friends can see. I find this comforting because now I know that the person who has chosen to harass me, to take time out of their day to do something as silly as report a Facebook picture isn’t in my circle of friends and that I can trust the people I associate with. It doesn’t matter if they continue to harass me because I obviously don’t know them and they don’t know me. As I said before, as long as I am being the best person I can be then the people that dislike me don’t matter. If I’m not going out of my way to hurt someone then there’s nothing I can change so why give it any time in my thoughts? You can’t please everyone, that’s life.

I’d love to hear your suggestions on what you do to make yourself feel better and any advice on the things we should all really avoid, things that will make us feel worse. The best thing about the human race is our ability to discuss ideas and to help others so let’s do it, let’s help each other out because no one should have to feel bad, no one should dislike themselves. I know hearing other peoples experiences helped me massively with my recovery and I hope I can do the same not only by sharing my tips and ideas but encouraging other people to do the same.

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My brother; an inspiration.

This is my twin brother, Alexander Scott Buchanan.

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Alex was born with a condition called Sturge Weber syndrome. Sturge Weber is a rare disorder of unknown incidence and origin; although present at birth, it is not thought to be hereditary. It is usually indicated by a birthmark (port wine stain) somewhere on the face, usually involving the eye and forehead, also similar blood vessels on the brain, called an angioma. Those with Sturge Weber often suffer from epilepsy, hemiplegia (a weakness or stiffness affecting one side of the body, similar in appearance to that of a stroke), glaucoma and learning difficulties. .

I don’t talk about my brother often and I suppose the reason for that is simply because, to me, his condition is nothing out of the ordinary. Being his twin I have literally been living with it my whole life and trips to the hospital for various appointments and operations were just a part of normal life growing up. It is only when I stop and think about what Sturge Weber has meant for my brother and for my family that I realise how important it is to share my story and the story of my brother, one of the bravest people I know.

I can’t tell you a lot about Alex’s early years because, of course, I have no memory of them. My mother and father weren’t aware of his condition from birth, although the doctors had suspected and didn’t feel the need to share the information with them, it was only when he started to have fits that they realised anything was wrong so they took him to the hospital where my mother questioned them. Alex was then referred for physio due to a weak arm and was subsequently diagnosed with Sturge Weber.

Alex spent many years on medication for his epilepsy, caused by the calcium build up on the brain, and had many trips to hospital. I can’t remember any of them but I know it was a scary time for my parents and it isn’t anything anyone should have to see their baby go through. How they stayed so calm, how they continued to look after not only Alex but three girls too, four children under the age of 5 years old, is remarkable to me and shows the strength they have as individuals and as a couple. I couldn’t tell you my first memory of Alex being in hospital but what I do remember is that every time we were separated and he had to stay for any amount of time, I would get ill. It was like we had a strange connection, some kind of twin bond.

I don’t have any sad memories from my whole life of growing up with my brother and his condition and I know there must have been some very difficult times. When we were 4 years old my parents had to make the decision for my brother to have brain surgery, a hemispherectomy, a very rare surgical procedure where one cerebral hemisphere (half of the brain) is removed or disabled; in Alex’s case it was removed.

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I can’t imagine the torment my parents must have gone through in making this decision, this is an operation that they knew would stop the calcium on my brothers brain building but also something that would change his life forever. Before his surgery my brother had no physical disabilities that I can recall bit he had a lot of behavioural problems. In removing half of the brain you are taking away half of the bodies abilities, by taking away the left hemisphere his whole right hand side was effected and he lost the use of right arm and leg. If they hadn’t agreed to the surgery then Alex’s epilepsy would have gotten worse, he would have had numerous fits a day and these are highly damaging to the brain; it can become starved of oxygen and the worse the fit, the worse the damage. I can’t imagine having to weigh up the pro’s and cons of the operation, a choice between severe epilepsy and the possibility that your child may not be able to function physically. It is a cruel hand that my parents and brother were dealt but they made the decision to go through with the operation because it was in my brothers best interests, it would give him a better quality of life and make his condition more easily managed.

When hearing of my brothers’ surgery it would be easy to think that it would affect his life in ways that make it impossible to function, after all he had half of his brain removed and how can anyone survive that? He was only the second child my parents knew of to have the operation and there was a lot of uncertainty as to how he would cope. But not only did he survive, he thrived. From day one in the hospital when he was flirting with the nurses, getting swung around in bed sheets and becoming buddies with all of my father’s workmates Alex has never given up. His time in the hospital could have easily been a bad memory but it was far from that, us girls used to love being shipped to the hospital to see him; watching the Wheels on the Bus video, playing in the play area, watching the fish in the fish tank and being fed our tea after school by the nurses. We had a lot of fun and everyone around us tried so hard to make us feel included and to understand what was happening. Not once was I confused about what was going on and I was only 4 years old myself, I never had any questions to ask because my Mother was open and spoke to us constantly about what happened and a situation which could have been difficult was far from it, we are a very close family and I am in no doubt that it is experiences like this that brought us close together.

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My whole childhood followed the same pattern of fun and happiness and a lot of it revolved around my brother and his condition. My mother was a founding member of a support group for Sturge Weber and we used to travel the country with her when she went to conferences. My parents would go about their boring meetings and presentations and we would be left in the crèche, playing games with the other children, making crafts, having performances from clowns and other entertainers and sneaking the fox’s mints off the tables that we probably weren’t allowed. I adored these weekends away, we had so much fun and we never once complained because we had no reason to.

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We laugh a lot about our childhood, how we used to prank Alex by waking him up in the night and telling him it was time to get ready for school or that he was in hospital (how cruel is that? I promise I didn’t come up with that one; blame the older two!) or about how he almost needed a metal plate putting in his head after a fall. Now that doesn’t sound like a funny story but he fell over a pair of shoes while we were being daft in the bedroom and the panic that ensued when my mother realised he had a huge dent in his head was definitely worrying ( and again not funny, so why am I laughing?) but I come from a family where we try to take everything as lightly as we can, where we make a joke out of things to help us through and the amount of jokes you can get about a piece of metal in someones head picking up radio signals or beeping as you go through a metal detector in the airport is quite remarkable. We laughed a lot during our childhood and some of it probably was to get through the hard times but it must have worked because here I am, laughing about the fact that my brother nearly had to have a massive operation.

There was another time he had to be rushed to hospital at Christmas (thanks for ruining the holiday, bro!) because a pyogenic granuloma (a great big bloody growth that you really don’t want to disturb) on his head burst while he was having his hair washed. Again, not a funny story when you look at in its basic form but the way my parents describe it like a scene from psycho is highly amusing. My father always was one for telling a story in the most dramatic way possible but it made us laugh and a good 15 years later I am still laughing. I had a wonderful childhood and I wouldn’t change a thing, my parents were brand new to raising a child with a disability but they made it clear that it doesn’t have to be difficult and even with four little children (who has that many children in such close succession, you crazy?) they made it look easy.

A huge part of my childhood was spent at play schemes at a support group for families with disabilities, the name of the support group? The Toy Library. Say that again, slowly. Toy. Library. And yes, it was exactly what it sounds like. There was a giant play room filled with so many toys you wouldn’t believe. There was a multi-sensory room that was basically a cool, giant padded white room with dimmed lights and various light tubes, twinkly starry lights, a ball pool and an Aladdin’s cave tucked away in the corner with even more twinkly lights that I still remember today as being the most relaxing place in the world. I loved going to the play schemes and we got the chance to experience things that we wouldn’t have otherwise been able to.

There are so many stories I could share about Alex, like the time he won a child of achievement award and went to an awards ceremony where he mingled with celebrities (all who adored him, of course! He was a chubby faced cutie pie!) How he used to love the cast of Brookside and went on a tour of the set with my Mother and my daft Nan, who was also very excited. How he used to love singing ‘I found my thrill…. On Blueberry hill…” (I have no idea!) and Mustang Sally, how I can clearly remember his performance in his school play as Oliver. There are so many happy memories I could write about only I don’t have enough hours in the day. But it is safe to say that his Sturge Weber didn’t affect out lives in a negative way at all, it influenced us so massively and in such a positive way. Unfortunately not everyone has the chance to mingle with people with various disabilities and sometimes people can be a little naive, a little ignorant. Having grown up around people in wheelchairs, people with Cerebral Palsy, people with varying degrees of Sturge Weber and other disabilities we have never known any different. I can understand why there are people who would be wary of those with disabilities, sometimes things we know nothing about can be scary to us, and I don’t even want to say we were ‘lucky’ to have had an open upbringing because it wasn’t lucky at all, it was just life.

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Alex is an inspiration to me and I don’t say it enough. He is strong, intelligent, brave and fun. He has done so much in his life, probably with his biggest successes being in athletics. He attended a Disability Sports Club once a week and he competed nationally regularly. He was also selected to complete internationally at the CP Sport World Championships in Connecticut USA and left us for two weeks to have an amazing time. I missed him dearly during that time, it was the first time we had been separated for a long time between countries and I was glad to see him back. I am so proud of him for his achievements in athletics and his many sports coaching and gym instructor qualifications; where a lot of able bodied people would give up he pushed on and he thrived and he should never forget his determination and drive to get better and how inspiring that is to other people.

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Alex is one of the most caring, helpful, unselfish people I know and I am proud that he is my twin brother, he has gone through a lot in his life and none of it has fazed him. I know he struggles from time to time and he is frustrated because it is difficult to find work (along with the cerebral palsy, Alex is registered partially sighted with 59% vision) and I can’t begin to tell you how angry I get over the fact that his disability benefits are more than likely going to be stopped (another story for another day, I feel.) but he should know that he is more than capable of achieving whatever he wants, it may take more time and effort than the rest of us but seeing what he has already dealt with in his life I know he can do anything.

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I love my brother more than words allow me to describe, he is a genuine hero to me and I am blessed to have him in my life not just as a sibling but as my twin. I wish him so much love and luck in his future, for achieving whatever he wants out of life and I am glad that I will be by his side watching him, proving to everyone how tough he is. I am immensely proud of you Alex and don’t ever forget that. Never stop being you because to me, there is no one more beautiful. I love you!

Useful links, take a look:

http://www.sturgeweber.org.uk/

http://www.sturgeweber.org.uk/2011/07/alexander.html

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Beauty; more than meets the eye.

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Someone made a comment to me the other day about how beautiful people get ahead in life, how they can get whatever they want without even trying. When I heard this the first thing I did was laugh. Then I laughed some more. I know this is a common thought but when you think about it, it’s ridiculous. The first flaw in this comment is that ‘beautiful’ people get ahead. ‘Beautiful’ is not something that you can conform to, there isn’t a checklist you can go down. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it is a personal choice and I believe every person has the ability to be beautiful.

To me beauty is more than looks. In terms of being attracted to someone there has to be an element of physical attraction but even then, what one person finds attractive another person may be repulsed by. I think that after that physical attraction there has to be something on a deeper level. For me a person has to be kind, they have to want to help others and not hurt them. I can’t accept someone who is nasty to others, if someone goes out of their way to insult someone for no reason whatsoever then I lose respect completely. They have to have motivation in life, motivation for absolutely anything they want whether it be a career or hobby but it has to be there. Someone who wants, wants, wants but isn’t willing to do anything to get it, who wants to sit around complaining rather than making some changes is too much hard work for me. I can only encourage someone for so long, if it’s been a long time and they still haven’t done anything to help themselves then I have to give up. I have spent far too long putting others first and although I adore looking after people, I don’t want to be someones mother.

I like someone to take care of themselves, they don’t have to go to the gym or workout, I’m not shallow enough to reject someone for not having muscles but being lazy is not attractive. I want someone to be confident, but not cocky (there is a difference) and I know that seems hypocritical because of where I have been in the past but I can’t spend my life reassuring someone. I love to give people a confidence boost and nothing makes me happier than telling someone they look amazing or something they have done is wonderful but I need someone to be happy enough in themselves to accept the compliments and not throw them back at me. If I said something was good, if I say you look wonderful then I meant it. I’m not one to shower you with false praise, I believe in being honest and I do compliment people a lot but that is because I think people should know when they have done something worth praising.

Having somehow turned my blog into a lonely hearts add, I feel I should explain why I am writing this. I see so often people putting pictures on the internet of someone they have seen in public who they think is disgusting. We’ve all had a giggle at these pictures but lately I’ve been looking at them and feeling sad. These people have no idea someone is taking their picture, that they are being shared and ridiculed on the interent. Yes, sometimes I question why a person would walk around a supermarket in nothing but their bra but then I’m not there, I can’t ask them that question. This person could be going through a hard time, they could be depressed or stressed beyond belief so aren’t thinking straight. We have no idea what people are going through unless we ask and considering the majority of us wouldn’t ask, maybe we should stop sharing these images.

How often have we seen photographs of girls in nightclubs being shared because of their ‘disgusting’ outfits or with tights that are deemed too tight? Now, think about how many photographs you have looked at of yourself over the years and cringed at what you were wearing? How would you feel if someone had shared your picture and it had gone viral, thousands of people commenting on how vile you are? It doesn’t bear thinking about. We do these things because we don’t think about how it will affect other people, we think it’s funny to have a joke with our friends but it would be a completely different story if it happened to us.

I can’t sit here and write about how everyone is beautiful and that the people in the pictures are beautiful because I don’t know that they are, take what you see out of the equation and we really know nothing about them. The girl drunk with sick on her feet, she might raise massive amounts of money for charity and this is her one night off in months, the girl with her boob popping out, she might have given up her life to look after her disabled sibling, Equally, the person asleep on the street corner may be a terrible person, they may deal drugs to children or own a Chinese all you can eat that sells dog food disguised as pork. We don’t know anything about them other than where they were at that moment in time and that something happened that they are probably going to regret at some point. We don’t get to say that these people are ugly or disgusting just because of how we see them at one moment in their lives.

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This post has become a little bit of a mish mash, that happens from time to time when my words want to spill out quicker than I can think them through but the point I think I am making is that beauty is more than what we look like, it goes so much deeper. No relationship will work based on only looks, there has to be more to it and that we shouldn’t be cruel to a person based on what they look like; we don’t know anything about them.

The most beautiful thing about a person is their soul; it is how they treat other people even when they are feeling bad. I try my best to fix how badly I behaved during my depression and for what I did, I can’t say I am a beautiful person. I regret what I did but at the same time I can’t punish myself forever. I am doing my best to balance it out, to over ride it by doing good and trying to make people happy. But a person who takes care of others, who wants to ease the pain of a friend, a family member or even a stranger is wonderful.

Confidence is something else I find beautiful. If you can walk into a room with your head held high, you can wear your makeup how you like, the clothes you like and have your hair the way that you choose without worrying what anyone will think or say then that is beautiful. Confidence overrides absolutely everything, if you have a smile that shines brightly and a warmth that welcomes people in then there’s not much else you need.

I hope one day all of these pictures on the internet that are purely there to mock people will stop but I know it’s a long shot. I only hope that someone reads this and next time they see one, before they share it or like it then the thought of ‘I don’t know anything about them’ shoots through their mind and hopefully encourages them to scroll past. There is enough hurt and pain in this world without us adding to it, let’s just all be nice to each other. Let’s complement people on more than our appearance, lets start to notice more about each other. Next time I see someone has done something kind, to make someone feel better or gone out of their way to help another person then I’m going to make a fuss of it. I want to encourage the beauty in the world, the wonderful things we can do for each other and hopefully more people will start to see things my way because all of this negativity gets us nowhere.

Now, I’m off to tell my friends I love them.

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Body Confidence, I gots some!

I’ve noticed a lot of my friends, all who I think are beautiful both inside and out, are getting very down on themselves lately. Some of them are having a difficult time with problems in their personal lives and I hope that they can realise their confidence is taking a knock because of that. These girls helped me to gain my own confidence back and it saddens me to think that they can’t do the same for themselves. I posted around a month ago about how unhappy I was with both my appearance and figure, how in neglecting myself for a few months I had become massively unhappy with how I looked. I vowed to change that, not necessarily by changing how I looked but in spending time working on myself, realising what I love about myself and accepting the things I couldn’t change. So, that’s what I did.

I joined the gym and I started to go to a few classes a week, not only with the aim of getting fitter in my body but to help to keep me occupied, to stop me from over thinking silly things and getting down about them. I have lost 3 inches off my waist and a few pounds and of course I am happy with that but more than anything I am happy with the dramatic change in my confidence. Of course I wanted to tone up and the results are brilliant but the change in how I view myself, in how eager I am to eat right, to drink enough fluids and to make sure my body gets all of the nutrition it needs is probably the biggest change. I had such a terrible time for a while and the thought of getting back there scares me, it isn’t an option and by looking after myself I am ensuring that I never get that far again.

With the boost in my confidence I have also noticed a huge jump up in my happiness, in my ability to not care what people think of me. Over the last two weeks I have been called ugly, disgusting and told I look better without my ridiculous piercings. The comments hurt me, of course they did, but more because they came from people I cared about and thought felt the same way about me. I thought they were my friends but I can’t comprehend why anyone would say that to a friend. I can only assume it is to do with me rejecting their advances, and I am not so self centered as to think this is the only reason, but hurt pride can make you do some mean things.

Getting back to my friends, I can’t believe the things they would say about themselves. They are so kind, friendly, helpful and welcoming. They didn’t know me and yet they still welcomed me in, helped where they could with my depression and made me feel like everything was going to get better. I know we can get caught up on how we look and believe me when I say I wouldn’t mind looking like them, but there is so much more to a person than that. If you have a beautiful heart, if you set out to help people rather than hurt them, then you are a beautiful person.

I’m going to do something now that terrifies me, something that I have thought about doing for a while but just haven’t gotten the nerve to go through with. The thing that has pushed me to make this decision is seeing how my friends feel about themselves. I have made no secret of the fact that I was terribly unhappy with how I looked, that bullying in school and some awful relationships crushed my confidence to nothing and I don’t share these things because I want attention. Honestly, I hate attention. I share them so people can relate, so they know they’re not on their own. Now I have chosen to share some photographs of myself, some pictures I have taken specifically for this post. I have hated the way I looked for so long but these days I really couldn’t care. Actually, these days I quite like how I look. Like anyone I have areas I don’t like, I will forever have ‘child bearing hips’ and a ‘buddah belly’ but I don’t notice them so much. I concentrate on what I do like; my legs for example. I think my legs are my favourite body part, I love them. I actually love them. My arms, I love them too. My waist, that’s another. I can’t say I’m not a little apprehensive about putting these pictures up, I’m not comfortable with the amount of people who see me on a regular basis thinking ‘I’ve seen how jiggly her belly is’ but then I know I am hard on myself. There are people whose figures I would kill for and I’m sure there are parts of my figure that people would love, too. It’s life, isn’t it? We always want what we don’t have.

So, here are my pictures. I’m not wearing any makeup, I’ve not brushed my hair properly and hell, I’m half naked. (I feel completely naked!) I only hope in posting them I can help at least one person realise that wherever you are, however low you feel and however much you hate your body, it isn’t the end of the story. I hated myself for so long, I wore baggy clothes and I starved myself for the perfect figure but not anymore. I’m still working on getting into better physical shape but that’s for my benefit, no one elses. I’m doing it because I enjoy it, not because I want to look a certain way. I am more shocked than anyone in what I am about to say but you know what? My figure… it’s not all bad is it?

(I’d like to ask people not to comment on this post, only because I can;t handle the bitchy comments about attention seeking from those who don’t like me. I’m feeling a little weak in that area lately.)

*These are as they were taken, no filters and stuff. I know. Scary*

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