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Saturday, 6 August 2011

Reason to Smile- The Joy of Joni

Today’s Reason to Smile is the story of the incredible Joni Eareckson Tada.
I was introduced to this wonderful woman by a very dear friend when I was fifteen years old and ever since then I've used Joni’s story to draw strength at times of difficulties in my own life.
Joni’s life has been nothing short of inspirational; having lived an able bodied and extremely active life until the age of seventeen, one fateful summer’s day saw Joni dive into Chesapeake Bay unaware of the depth of the water and break her neck fracturing it between the fourth and fifth cervical level.
From the 30th July 1976 Joni Eareckson was quadriplegic and only able to move from the shoulders upwards.
From living a carefree teenage life in the seventies, Joni faced being confined to a bed, twenty four hours a day with nothing to look at but the floor or ceiling. Joni endured two years of rehabilitation and realization that her life that she had dreamed of was now over.
What is so incredibly refreshing and encouraging about Joni’s story, is how openly Joni talks of her battles with depression and suicidal thoughts during this emotional transition into her disabled life.
Despite reaching emotional depths that she had believed she would never sink to, Joni impressively managed to turn her life around achieving countless successes over the last forty years.
Having written over forty books,  recorded several musical albums, starred in a major autobiographical movie of her life,become an advocate for disabled people in the U.S. and became actively involved in countless charitable projects; it is fair to say that Joni has filled her life quite miraculously and defied everyone’s preconceptions of what her disabled life would be.
Joni puts all of her success in life down to her immense faith in God, that although was not always present during her darkest of days- is now the driving force of her incredible life.
Probably one of the most unconventional of Joni’s achievements is her success in the field of art and more specifically painting. Shortly after her quadriplegic life began, Joni took up painting with her mouth and has since become a recognized and praised artist in her own right- utterly amazing!
Having regrettably become a little distant from Joni’s message and books for the last year or so, I am alarmed to read on Wikipedia that Joni was last year diagnosed with breast cancer, and underwent surgery for such in June 2010.
I pray that Joni has made a positive recovery from this dreadfully unfair illness and is now in a position to return to her wonderfully full and active life!
Please take a minute or two out of your day to check out this amazing lady! As has been discussed in my blog before, many people are so reluctant to talk openly about the all too uncomfortable subject of how becoming disabled and living a disabled life can at times lead to becoming engulfed by depression.
Joni’s frank and refreshing account of this difficult subject really makes me respect her even more, (if that were at all possible!), as I’ve realized through writing this blog how sharing emotions that we may feel are embarrassing and unique to ourselves, can actually enlighten and encourage others, (and consequently ourselves), that we are not alone and that any feelings pertaining to life with a disability are valid and acceptable to share.  
Never be afraid that what you are feeling is unacceptable or not felt by anyone other than you.
I believe that we learn and evolve through sharing and talking with others.

The book that first brought comfort and inspiration to me was ‘Diamonds in the Dust’, by Joni Eareckson Tada  http://www.amazon.co.uk/Diamonds-Dust-366-Sparkling-Devotions/dp/0310379504/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1312670503&sr=1-1

…but below I also give you a link to this short video of Joni drawing with her mouth- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dun3lrByS0Y

… As well as a link to Joni’s website-   http://www.joniandfriends.org/





Friday, 5 August 2011

Reason to Smile- Our War


I’m sure that you are aware by now that my husband is a serving member of our British Military, (I was just about to apologise for mentioning this yet again, when I reminded myself of how proud of my husband and of what he does I am and that I should never apologise for expressing this); as such, this evening we were both very keen to watch the Sky+ haul that we had recorded from last night as it included BBC Three’s documentary ‘Our War’, which follows the Grenadier Guards Platoon during their six month tour in Afghanistan.
The documentary that unlike Ross Kemp’s programme of a similar ilk, was filmed by the soldiers themselves- was a wonderfully frank and at times extremely emotional portrayal of life in modern day conflict.
The reason this programme has made me smile, is because I feel it shows such a wonderful example of determination, camaraderie and the strength of the human spirit.
If you have a spare hour, do please take the time to watch this wonderfully enlightening documentary.
What has made you smile or feel grateful today? Do please share with us on our Facebook page at... https://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/pages/Discover-Disability/199650300082847

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Motorbikes and Tesco Men- How Easy Is Nipping to the Shops?


This evening I was shopping in Tesco in their kindly provided motorised trolley, when one of the kinder members of staff offered his help in retrieving some sausages of all things, from a shelf that was too high for me to reach.
What’ve you been doing to yourself then love?’, jovially offered the shop assistant as he stretched for the ‘two for one’ offer on the Taste the Difference pork and apples.
Now, the two paths that I could’ve gone down here are both pretty well travelled I assure you. The first, was to tell the truth to ‘Tesco Man’, that I am now disabled & will get worse over time, & the second was to play down the whole affair and state simply that I’ve had a little car accident, ‘I’ll be ok’, (crucially avoiding the details of exactly how complicated, painful and heartbreaking the ordeal of becoming disabled has been)- hopefully this would consequently then avoid the awkwardness felt by the well meaning and unassuming shop assistant, that he had opened a huge emotional can of worms, when all I’m sure he had wanted to do was show a little kindness and pass the time of day to make his shift go a little quicker!
Although I started with the avoidance tact- as happens all too often, the well meaning questions spiralled to the point that the shop assistant now knows every detail of my life- that I have spent years in and out of hospital, live on masses of morphine and that my Aunt’s pet poodle’s name is Rocky!
My point in the above scenario is to show that however you want to portray yourself; you always stand out in a crowd when you have a physical disability such as the need for a wheelchair. In an ‘able bodied body’, you may be able to nip around Tesco with no interruptions whatsoever; but when you are trying to keep yourself to yourself and mind your own business in a wheelchair or on sticks, or with a neurological disorder that may make you limp and twitch- you naturally seem to draw attention to yourself to the point that it feels as if you are wearing a neon pink t-shirt with Mr Blobby yellow spots all over it!
When it comes to reacting to this attention, I believe that people fall into two distinct categories;
- the first being the eager to help, (the sub category of such being the ‘all-to-eager-to help’, because it fills them with a sense of purpose and pride in caring for the community- but that is a WHOLE other story!)
- the second is those who shuffle along staring at the floor as soon as they notice that there is ‘one of you’, in the store, consequently forgetting everything that they came into the shop for as they are so worried that you may ask them for some help and they may not know what to say or do.
Unfortunately if you were completely honest with yourself, those of you reading this who like me were born able bodied, will have been guilty to some degree of the later as well as the aforementioned subcategory of helping for your own purpose I’m sure- I can uncomfortably admit to you that I was guilty at times on both counts!
My whole long winded and tenuous point is that unless we are bed bound, we all have to go to the shops to get the bread and milk, or get on that train to get to work. We all have to go out into the gig wide world where the ‘over helpful’, and the’ shuffling avoiders’, live alongside us and interact with us, (or not, being the point!), everyday!
Well intended or not, however far along the path of ‘dealing with things’, yourself you may be, you may find that the triggers from everyone else’s reactions to your disability may prove to you that you could do with a wee bit more help than you anticipated at times; as having to face people talking about your disability every time that you nip out for some milk can get somewhat tedious I can assure you!
There is no doubt that my Tesco Man this evening was clearly well meaning, (always the kind I prefer, even if they do swing a little more towards the ‘helpful for their own sense of purpose’ category).
Tesco man went on to tell me about his motorbike crashes that he had had recently, proceeding to pull up his trouser leg in the cold meat aisle to show me the pins that were put in his leg during his six week hospital stay. Mr Tesco highlighted the point that there by the grace of God go many of us, as he had had six hospital admissions and five surgeries pursuing his dangerous hobby of motor biking; whereas I had simply been stationary in my car when I was hit from behind.
My husband as a pilot in the RAF has spent countless months in war zones, as well as many a weekend enjoying the dangerous hobbies that he loves such as dirt bike racing and coasteering, yet again it is I who is the one in our marriage who has to be cared for and is facing a life of disability- (the way I would always prefer it to be I assure you).
The same goes for the illness vein, (excuse the pun), of why you may become disabled- there is no telling who it is going to happen to. We all know of an eccentric old man/woman still residing in their own home at the grand old age of 91 with all of their marbles still intact, with a remarkable clean bill of health despite having smoked an astonishing 60 a day for 50 years- yet to use myself as an example again, it was only thanks to spinal surgery designed to save me from paralysis that I am sat in my sparkling new power chair today.
However athletic, health conscious & even optimistic may be- life happens, & it can happen to you at any moment. Life & more specifically disability is indiscriminate, a message that I am keen to reiterate, not to provoke fear but to ensure that we all appreciate the physicality that we may be blessed with, however strong or detonated.
Despite everything, my Christian convictions lead me personally to believe that things happen for a reason in many cases. Life would all be far too simple if we could know what that reason was at the time, as then there would be no need for faith, (of whichever variety you may wish- Agnostic, orthodox or atheist we all need a little faith in our lives; those of us living through disability more than others I assure you!
 On reflection of reading this back, I feel it important to stress that I am very grateful and even like ‘Tesco men’ offering their assistance to me and although I don’t always want to go through the whole tale for the umpteenth time of why I am sat in this chair, (particularly to ‘Mr Tesco’ who I barely know) - on the whole, ‘Tesco Men’ of Britain I welcome your help and appreciate it greatly!
Due to the amount of time that I’ve had to spend at home alone in bed, (too dosed up on morphine to appreciate or cope with any company of any kind), whilst Garry’s been at work; I probably like and appreciate chatting to people of any kind all the more- even if it is about motorbike crashes and sausages!
Although not always what we want, (as we are only human, with all too human emotions at the end of the day!), I welcome the help and chatter that come with many such an offer as opposed to the ‘embarrassed shuffling shoe starters’, who are too uncomfortable with communicating with somebody who looks different to ‘the norm’!
We are an odd breed in the respect that we find people who look even a little different to ourselves so difficult and uncomfortable to communicate with.
I am currently pursuing an idea as part of the charity/foundation that I am setting up, to show children at primary school age that just because we may have varying physical forms, we are all the same inside- vulnerable, intimidated, and embarrassed and scared that somebody should highlight our differences.
We need to catch children before they pick up the uncomfortable, ‘Britishness’ of their parents and tell them that talking to and offering help to somebody in a wheelchair, or on sticks, or with any other form of disability is OK and a good thing to do.
That’s my opinion anyway. I’d love to hear yours on what is potentially quite an emotive subject. Do you like people offering you help or pretending your just not there?
Please share with us on our Facebook page at….

Reason to Smile- Injured Servicemen take on Dakar Rally!

The thing that has made me smile today is watching the repeat of Sunday’s Top Gear programme on BBC which featured the tale of the injured British Servicemen who are taking on the challenge of the Dakar Rally with help from the charity Project Mobility.


… and support the charity Project Mobility by visiting their website-

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Reason to Smile- Hobo’s Story


My husband sent me this link today & as a dog lover I was instantly blown away & hugely touched by this wonderful creature’s incredible story.

Hobo had been working with the British Army in Afghanistan sniffing out IEDS, (improvised explosive devises), and saving countless lives as a result, for two months when the regiment that he was working with came under fire.

Hobo was severely wounded in the attack, but thanks to the quick thinking & swift treatment of the regiment members, he miraculously escaped major surgery.

Two weeks after the attack, Hobo was back on duty & warming the hearts of the troops as they’d watch him contently playing with his ball during his time off!

Please take a minute or two to check out the wonderfully uplifting story of Hobo the two year old black Labrador attached to the British military in Afghanistan- it made me smile today & I hope that it will do the same for you!

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Today's Reason to Smile- Riding the Crest of Life's Wave

Today’s Reason to Smile post is about the beautiful & brave Bethany Hamilton, an incredible pro surfer from Hawaii.
Bethany was born to a family of surfers & subsequently became involved in the sport from an early age, entering her first competition at the age of eight.
On October 13th 2003, when Bethany was a mere thirteen years old, she took a surf off of Kauai’s North Shore & was shockingly attacked by a 14ft tiger shark.
Bethany lost over 60% of her blood & had to have many surgeries as a result of the attack, but sadly lost her left arm from the shoulder down. Despite what was surely a desperately distressing and painful time, Bethany incredibly returned to the water only one month after the attack!
Bethany won her first national surf title only a year after her accident & realized her dream of becoming a pro surfer three years later in 2007. Bethany puts her incredible achievements & inspirational spirit down to her strong Christian faith, something that we rarely see openly discussed in society, (what was it your Granny always told you- ‘never discuss religion, money or politics in company’); but something that nonetheless has got many people through difficult periods in their lives- such as one’s transition into life with a disability. I too unashamedly share Bethany’s strong Christian faith, something which has been a strong factor in getting me through my lowest moments over the last few years.
Whether you are religious or not- Bethany’s story is nothing short of miraculous & is impossible not to be uplifted by.

Bethany Hamilton's spirit & success have inspired me & given me a reason to smile today. What has done so for you? Please share with us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002588247268&sk=wall#!/profile.php?id=100002588247268&sk=wall
Check out Bethany’s website at  http://bethanyhamilton.com/
As well as this video of her surfing at http://magicseaweed.com/video/votd.php

Monday, 1 August 2011

Reason to Smile- Incomprehensible Challenges Turned on Their Heads!

Today’s ‘Reason to Smile’, post is a link to a video about a wonderful young man who lives in the USA. This young man’s name is Patrick Henry Hughes & he was born without eyes & also with a tightening of the joints that prevents his limbs from ever straightening. He has been blind & wheelchair dependant since birth, but despite his incomprehensible challenges, he has achieved some truly incredible feats of human adaptation & perseverance...
At the beginning of the film, Patrick’s father speaks of their initial reaction
As parents to finding out that their son was so severely disabled. Patrick senior says on the film-‘Why us? We played by all the rules, we worked hard; what did we do to deserve this?’.
I think that most of us who watch this video can relate to this hugely brave & frank admission of frustration.  
I won’t spoil for you any further, what is a truly an incredible short film.
Please take 7 minutes out of your day to be inspired…

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Five Years of Being Disabled

The 29th July 2006- the day that my life changed forever!
Apologies for not being in touch for a couple of days, but thankfully for the first time in a long time I was able to get away from London to stay in our old neck of the woods, where we were based before Garry’s posting to The Big Smoke! Unfortunately the hotel where we were staying did not have internet access, so I have had an imposed few days off, which has consequently left me now bursting at the seams with thoughts & feelings to express to you- (apologies in advance for the following then!).
During this time incommunicado, there came quite a monumental date- this Friday just gone, the 29th July, was exactly five years since the accident that resulted in my disability.
Five years is one of those magic & significant periods of time that is so often referred to in life as such. How often are you asked at dinner parties or over a glass of wine with a friend- ‘where do you hope to be in five years time?’, or ‘what is your five year plan?’
What indeed was my five year plan back in July 2006? Well, as far as I can remember, (being as I am now a very different person living a very different life), I was a twenty three year old former dancer teacher & choreographer who was enjoying an opportunity to travel the world as cabin crew for Virgin Atlantic, loving every minute & thinking of nothing more than continuing as such for the foreseeable future! I flew to on average five different countries a month- from Cape Town to California, Antigua to Australia, enjoying privileges such as free flights for myself & my family & otherwise unobtainable guest entry to exclusive celebrity hang outs scattered throughout our planets most phenomenal cities!
If I’m honest; life felt bloody amazing! I felt a wonderful confidence that I had never felt as I would strut through airports worldwide in my eye catching size 6/ 8 ruby red Virgin uniform- there was often times when I had to pinch myself that this was really my life! What on Earth had I done to enjoy a life with such enviable experiences? Now of course I pinch myself that this is really happening, & wonder what on Earth I have done to warrant experiencing the trials such as those that have blighted my family & I over the last few years?
Of course, we are all aware that there are no answers to these questions & I have to confess to almost driving myself crazy on many a sleepless night in an attempt to seek such explanations; however there has to come a time when in order to move forward in your life, you have to let these unanswerable questions go.
Although by no means ‘sorted’, & straight in my mind, ( & if we’re really honest with ourselves- are many of us anyway?), I recently had an epiphany- a realisation that the only way in which we can have a life with a disability after living one that was able bodied, is to find a way to stop mourning the old pre-accident/illness life; (that life where you were an athlete, an avid dancer, mountain biker, surfer or air hostess)- & embrace the life & the possibilities of such that lay before you NOW!
If you are where I was emotionally only a few months ago, then you are no doubt thumping your computer with frustration saying, ‘well what a nice neat little arrangement of positive words there Mrs Reader; but how the hell are you supposed to let go of the aspirations of this old you?
How the hell are you supposed to stop grieving for those things that you lived every moment for, but now can no longer do & simply embrace this alien life that you never imagined in your worst nightmares that you’d be living?’-  Well, I wish above all wishes that I had the answers for you. Unfortunately I have simply muddled through along the rocky path that is the route to acceptance, past points over the last few years where I have hurt myself & I even confess to wanting to end my life- what I dream of above all things is that others that will follow in my footsteps, ( & unfortunately there will be many, & they may be any of you reading this that may consider yourself ‘normal’ or able bodied), may be helped by the changes that I hope to bring about with the setting up of my charity or charitable foundation.
When you experience an event in your life, (be it illness or injury), that condemns you to a life with disability; I pray that there will soon be a psychological care infrastructure in place that will guide you through the first months or years of your life with disability, providing you with the emotional support that you will need, in conjunction with the support needed for your spouse, partner or parents should they become your sole carers. I hope that there is also support for your partner & you combined, as no one can fully appreciate the emotional implications that can take place on your marriage or relationship when subjected to a life with a disability.

The truth is that I don’t have any answers as to how I got to this point of acceptance and the place where I can embrace my new existence, but what I do strongly feel is that there must be an easier & more time affective way to get here with the help that I have specified above.
Five years ago my idealistic five year plan would have been to continue flying the world & getting paid to stay in five star hotels & being able to give my family the experiences they could only dream of. I hoped that my wonderful new relationship with my amazingly dashing RAF pilot would continue to grow & flourish to the point that I would hopefully get married & start a family perhaps. I dreamed that I would run the London Marathon by the time that I was thirty, & within those ‘magic five years’, have visited Africa to take part in volunteer work for some of the poverty stricken children in some areas of the continent.
Of these five aspirations for these past five years, I have achieved one point. I am married- & of all the materialistic & superficial desires above, that is clearly & inequitably the most important!
I have somebody that I love & who loves me & that is a much greater blessing than achieving self-imposed measures of success.
I may never achieve such goals again, but I feel that besides having the love & support of my husband, after months & years of severe emotional instability due to my quest to accept the cards dealt to me; the second most paramount element of my life is that I now have the peace & contentment that comes with embracing this life blessed unto me.
Despite all of this, there is still no getting away from the fact that I am human & although feel much better in having a general level of acceptance, there is that fallible part of me that will at times dream those dreams pertaining to my old life, & who will run through my mind the questions of, ‘what if we had set off down that road five minutes earlier or later?’- But I am still learning & evolving with each day that this will not help me live my life.
My dreams & desires for the next five years are, to find out with my condition whether it is possible for Garry & I to have children; to register & establish a charity or charitable foundation that will ensure better psychological support for those who become disabled by any means; & possibly most importantly, to leave behind the aspirations of my old life & evolve new targets in my mind that are possible for the new me. However much is possible I want to stop thinking the ‘what ifs’, & stop mourning that what has gone & embrace that what is to come, whatever shape or form that may be.
Who knows by the next five years I may have achieved these goals; or, life may have thrown me yet another curveball? -  The point is that I pledge to strive to accept what I can’t change & embrace that which I can.   
Good luck on your own quest to do the same. If you feel it may help you to do so, please share with me your own story so that we may learn from & help one another along this difficult path.
I am endeavouring to establish a forum on my website for this very purpose; please bear with me whilst I try to improve my computer skills as fast as is humanly possible to make this happen!


The thing that has made me smile this weekend is a biggie to me- I have made it through five trying years of the difficult transition into a life that had never even entered my consciousness before the 29th July 2006. I am proud of myself for getting through the previously unimaginable points of this time of self harming & thoughts of suicide. I am proud that I am here today loving life & now loving me however different I may look from the 'me' of five years ago!
I am proud that although I may have lost my physique, my mobility, my career & many physical aspects of my life- I am still blessed with the relationships of my husband, my parents & many of my patient & loyal friends.
Be proud of yourself if you have made it, or are making it through a difficult transition. The feelings you may be feeling are no doubt valid & perfectly acceptable however ashamed you may be of them. Having been there myself, I can only vouch for the path of communication; you’d be amazed how understanding people are if you give them a chance.
You more often than not find that many people had no idea of your plight previous to your parley. Give chatting a chance- please don’t suffer alone!