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Saturday, 13 August 2011

Reason to Smile- The Happiness Project

Apologies for the lack of a ‘Reason to Smile’ post yesterday, but unfortunately after going out with my husband for dinner and a film last night, I had to be carried to bed and have morphine administered to me the second that we got in the door as I was in quite a terrible state and subsequently unable to return from my morphine induced fog to write to you before I fell asleep.
Being physically unable to write my Reason to Smile post, made me very down indeed and ironically it made me in even greater need of focusing upon my daily positive post that perks me up so when I write it however bad the day or hours leading up to it may have been.
As a result of these factors, I felt it imperative that today’s Reason to Smile post have double the dose of positivity and happiness to make up for the lack of contact between us over the last 48 hours.
I therefore choose, (in addition to posting the picture of my wonderfully happy doggy Barley- which makes me smile every time that I look at it!), to today refer you to a wonderful website which has been of great help and support to me since I began writing my blog.
The site is called ‘The Happiness Project’, and is a blog that is run in conjunction with the book and annual by the author Gretchen Rubin; who started this wonderful movement after an epiphany she had one day whilst travelling on a cross-town bus!
Rubin realised that she never gave any thought of just what the best way and path to achieving happiness was, even though she knew that her ultimate goal in life was to be happy- she consequently decided that she would dedicate the next year of her life to the pursuit of happiness by test-driving the wisdom of the ages, the current scientific studies, and the lessons from popular culture about how to be happier.
I have found Gretchen’s website nothing short of enthralling, and have just this evening purchased her book, the no. 1 New York Times and international best seller The Happiness Project, (I shall let you know what I think, but if her website is anything to go by, I doubt that I am going to be disappointed!). I hope that you enjoy reading Gretchin's  intriguing work as much as I and perhaps start by taking a look at her Getting Started page;   http://www.happiness-project.com/happiness_project/start-.html
.... as well as her Facebook page, where you can join in with discussions that take place between her 43,000 followers on this social networking medium alone!
For those of you avid followers of my blog, ( if indeed there are any of you such people out there!), I apologise that you may have noticed that my first ever Reason to Smile post, was also a link to Gretchen’s website; so I did begin today’s post worrying that I was cheating a little by doing another referral to the Happiness Project so soon after initially featuring it; but as I had not yet then evolved these daily posts to be the reasonable length and consistency that they are today, I feel this post is indeed still valid as it focuses in a little more depth upon something that is such a huge influence and 'pick me up' in my daily life.
I hope that this second referral to this wonderful work reaches even more of you than it did before and perhaps gets those of you who may have checked it out the first time, to take another look; because in my opinion that can only be a positive thing!
Below is the general link to Rubin’s website along with a link to a particular post which started me off on Gretchen Rubin's unique way of thinking about things and pursuing happiness.

Have a happy weekend everyone. I wish you life long health and happiness!!

Gretchen Rubin- author of 'The Happiness Project', blog and best selling book.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Reason to Smile- Thursday 12th August

Apologies for being stuck on the same subject of late, but the reason I am smiling today is in a way a continuation of last night’s post about the positivity that has come out of this week’s senseless riots.
I promise not to bang on again, so I shall instead simply forward you a couple of links to two very wonderful Facebook pages that have been set up in support of the Emergency Services and the people who want to come together for peace and clean up operations.
This has made me smile, seeing people of our country uniting for peace and positivity.


Wednesday, 10 August 2011

A Phoenix From The Flames

Today’s Reason to Smile, is the fact that from something so incomprehensibly awful, has come something so wonderful- the return of the community to the boroughs of our English cities.
There are not words to express just how shocked and appalled I was the other night to watch the wonderful city that I love, burn in front of my very eyes.
There is no escaping the fact that our country has changed forever as a result of these mindless actions, and of course there are many serious repercussions that will occur as a consequence of these acts; but as I believe is so often the case in this life, if you look hard enough, there is always some positivity that can be drawn from something that can appear so lacking in any good whatsoever.
Awake throughout the night until 6am on Tuesday 9th August, (partly through ridiculously intense neurological pain and partly through panic and anxiety born of the unexpected and uncontrollable nature of these senseless acts), I watched with amazement as the atmosphere of the phenomenon that is Twitter, changed, as the buzz words, (or hash tags as they are known), evolved from #LondonRiots to #RiotCleanUp as the hours went by.
What was so wonderful to witness as night crept towards dawn, was the honest and good hearted people of London fighting back- not with bricks, metal bars and fire, (like the heartless fools that had started this mayhem had done), but with brooms, mops and ‘Flash’ liquid, as they set about planning mass clean up sessions all over our devastated capital.
Unfortunately, there is no changing those saddening events that have taken place in our country over the last few days; but like when devastating events take place in your own personal life, (such as the day you became disabled perhaps- be it through illness or catastrophic injury),  there is nothing to be gained from dwelling upon or harbouring hatred about that which has happened in the past and can not be changed- however, I believe that in respect of both examples, we must look to the future and how we can learn from what has happened and focus on any positivity that may have occurred as a result of these events.
Through becoming disabled, I have gained a better appreciation of life and the people and events that make up my life, as well as a better awareness and respect for those in this life that do not fit that which we all too often naively and wrongly describe as ‘normal’.
Through our city experiencing these unprecedented acts of mindless criminality, we have woken up to the fact that our country needs an overhaul of our policing and judicial systems, along with many elements of the support systems in place, (or not as the case may be), for the youth of our country.
On top of these lessons learnt, what is also so wonderful and instantly encouraging to see, is the ‘blitz spirit’, that has risen from the embers of the devastating fires that have burnt much of our city’s architecture to the ground, which shows that we will not be beaten by the devastation of bricks and mortar and that this will instead strengthen the bond that holds together the people of our town, borough or city and makes us into the true community that we have become.
Watching the footage of young and old, black and white, employed and jobless all sweeping, mopping and wiping away the evidence of the damage to our city; I felt strongly that this meant far more than just the act of physically cleaning away the debris.
As is so often the case in life, we barely appreciate what is there in front of us until it has gone or has changed forever!
I never appreciated fully my physical life on this Earth, until the majority of my physicality was taken from me; and many of us barely appreciated the community that we had around us, until many physical elements of that community were stripped from us in one fateful week.
Hatred and resentment can consume you in both of these instances, ( and although I am not expecting the innocent victims of arson upon their homes to instantly feel warm and fuzzy feelings of positivity after losing everything that they owned), I do feel that it is so important that whether excepting that you are now disabled, or excepting that your community has been subjected to mindless vandalism- as much as is possible we should all find and focus upon the positivity that we can find within any given situation,  (however camouflaged and disguised it may be).
Today’s Reason to Smile, is a link to a BBC article on these clean up operations.
Let’s not let these thugs ruin our wonderful city’s spirit. Do not lower yourselves to their level of violence in an attempt to protect your property, (as I personally fear that this may cause an escalation of violence that we just don't need); instead let’s show them that through focusing on the good that has come out of this situation they will never break our community spirit.
The community of London lives on stronger than ever, (as I’m sure does that of Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester).  We will focus on the positivity and never let these heartless hooligans ruin our community.
Please join me in praying for the souls of Haroon Jahan, Shazad Ali and Abdul Musavir who were so senselessly killed in this madness in Birmingham today 10th August 2011.
Please take a moment to listen to the wise and incredibly dignified words of Tariq Jahan, the father of Haroon Jahan- look for peace and do not go looking for trouble.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Disabled During The Disgraceful Disruption

As a resident of London, I feel a huge mixture of extremely strong emotions as I talk to you this evening.
Who ever would have thought that we’d ever be witnessing such scenes of mindless greed, violence and utter lunacy on the streets of our beautiful capital: I for one, ( possibly naively), never believed that we’d be seeing such sights and as such, feel like I have been living in a bad dream for the last couple of days as I have watched London burn from my flat’s balcony in utter shock and complete horror.
As a writer of a disability blog, and of course a wheelchair user myself; my thoughts turn to those who have and are still being subjected to this thuggish behaviour throughout the capital and the areas of associated behaviour throughout the country.
I’m sure that by this hour of the day on Tuesday 9th, we have all seen the incredible pictures of the terror stricken woman in Croydon who jumped from her first floor fire engulfed flat last night into the arms of the firemen waiting below- how utterly petrifying must that unimaginable experience have been?
With the pockets of violence now affecting affluent, leafy areas such as Ealing; it appears that whoever and wherever we are, we are all vulnerable to affects of this plague of crazy behaviour. I therefore feel it necessary that we should all spare a thought for those who are either physically or mentally vulnerable, (be it through disability or old age)- for example on hearing that the mob were potentially going to be hitting our area tonight, my husband and I discussed what options we had should they hit our block of flats, as it has a business below.
After eliminating the possibility of simply jumping into our car and heading straight for the rural hills that we left behind a year ago, after hearing that these yobs were attacking vehicles and pulling drivers out of the car before beating them to the floor, Garry suggested that should the high tower of apartments that we live in get set alight, then maybe we should put on casual clothes, and try to walk out and blend in to the crowd whilst we look for cover- perhaps an ok plan, if you don’t have to rely on a cumbersome and distinctive electric wheelchair to get around and also own a Golden Retriever who is more like a son that a pet! So, not so easy to blend into the crowd in these circumstances I fear.
Although it appears, (fingers crossed), that my husband and I may have  been a little paranoid and over prepared  tonight, it does raise a very interesting point that should I face an emergency situation such as those frightful scenes that those poor soul were subjected to last night,  in some instances I simply wouldn’t have stood a chance.
As I understand it, every large, recently built accommodation block such as mine, has to have an emergency escape plan, but these are of course for the ‘normal’ able bodied resident generally.
To me these horrid circumstances have just demonstrated another area of how a difficult element of life can be made all the more difficult and more significantly frightening by being mentally or physically disabled. Everything about this unprecedented event in our country’s history is frightening enough for everyone, let alone if you have the worries of not knowing if you are going to get out yourself, or if you have to rely on somebody else to come and help you are they going to physically be able to get to you to help you, and if you do get out, are you going to be subjected to abuse for being disabled by these mindless idiots?
The idea of this blog entry is most certainly not to scare monger;  it is instead to raise awareness that...
a.) We all think about things and are prepared.
b.) Look out for those who we may be able to assist.
c.) Highlight to people that life is always that little bit more difficult than however difficult the norm may be.

Be safe, look out for one another and pray for peace on our streets again.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Stop Destroying Our Beautiful Capital & Be Proud of Our Police

Well, with all that is going on around me in London tonight, it seems that we need a ‘Reason to Smile’, more than ever!
With the Police finding themselves under attack yet again from what I can only describe as utterly mindless fools, (and that’s the polite broadcastable version!); I choose tonight to focus on the incredible amount of good that this selfless breed of people do for us and how everyday they put on their uniform to go to work to earn money to pay the rent and pay for food for their children, they are putting themselves on the line to be subjected to what the worst of mankind can throw at them.
Today’s ‘Reason to Smile’, is a link to the Sun’s Police Bravery Awards 2011.
Be inspired by these amazing stories of kindness and bravery.

God be with those courageous people who have gone out to work tonight, all over our capitol, ( and I’m sad to say that I have just heard that as well as Birmingham, Liverpool has just kicked off too)- so God bless those Police and emergency services workers all over our country, who are being subjected to such heartless actions that have no regard for humanity.
I pray for safety for all trying to sleep in London tonight, but especially for those with an illness or disability that makes them more vulnerable. I hope that peace and sense to return to our country asap.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

The Value of Friendship

They say that when a significant event happens in your life, you find out who you can trust and who are and always will be true friends to you in life- and from my experiences over the last five years, I can emphatically state that I wholeheartedly agree.
 I hope that I am not being too vain as to say that, prior to my accident I was the epicentre of my friendship group and was always the one to arrange a catch up dinner, or a Magners fuelled bank holiday weekend get-together when our lives had become so manic that Facebook had become our only medium of communication and therefore needed to be flung out of the window for a day or two in favour of seeing each other in the flesh!
It’s fair to say that many aspects of the ‘old me’ were significantly affected by my crash and subsequent injuries in 2006, but none more so than my relationships with those around me and in particular those people in life that I called my friends.
Initially optimistic that I was simply going to be off work for a month or six maximum- as all good stories go, things didn’t quite to plan!
At first, even the indeterminate amount of time off work which grew from 1 – 3, then from 3 – 6 and then 6-18months didn’t phase me and I remember clearly saying to myself- ‘OK, let’s just look on the positive & productive side- I’ll read, do a distance learning course, enrich myself. Isn’t that what everyone always dreams of having; some time to just read & learn & grow?’
Well unlike those whimsical dreams of sitting in the garden immersing oneself in a Thomas Hardy novel or ‘Japanese for Dummies’, my work-free time was unfairly inflicted upon me, (and was also quite crucially hampered by not being able to read for two years due to my medication!)- but hey, life in all its shades is inflicted upon you isn't it so again- let’s just get on with it!
One month into this path of enlightenment, with the nerve damage pain increasing daily & more & more pain killers being introduced into my life, (and with them their associated side effects- & boy did I underestimate the extent that they can have on you!), things were steadily appearing a little less rose tinted and It’s with hindsight that I attribute these drugs as being the cause of my retreat from my friends & my social life in general.
At first I continued to make & pick up calls, but a mere few months into my ‘time off’, the drugs began to take their toll and begin their mission to systematically strip me of all sense of me!
I became anxious & paranoid & the drugs were having a profound affect on my concentration and my speech and I would find myself umming & ahhing and stumbling over words whilst missing others entirely.
With a dose more hindsight I can appreciate that my friends were probably none-the-wiser, nor frankly do I imagine that they even cared about these communicative fumbles; but at the time, I became extremely conscious of the fact and soon began avoiding the phone altogether & even developed panic attacks when the telephone would ring.
Despite this issue, this all became second to the fact that the medication side effects were beginning to affect my friendships.
Due to my husband’s, (then boyfriend), attachment to the RAF base where he worked- a month after my accident, I faced having to up-sticks and leave my lifelong friends and face having to make a whole new set as a military WAG in Wiltshire.
Having always enjoyed meeting new people and making friends, ordinarily I would have found this an exciting challenge; however with my medication preventing me from being the full and true ‘Karen’, I worried that unlike my old friends who knew the real me and would appreciate that this was just a difficult phase in my life where I would perhaps be 70-80% or so of me- these people would have to get to know somebody who I personally felt was a poor substitute for my usual self!
I was acutely aware that first impressions count for so much and that the first impression these friends of my boyfriend of only six months were getting, were of someone slightly distracted, distant and frankly a little depressed- not the ideal when you are trying to come across well to new people.
On the flip side to this, I was conscious of the thoughts of my oldest friends who I had left behind on the Isle of Wight. I had always considered myself a loyal friend, yet suddenly I was unable to see friends in person due to distance and unable speak to them on the phone due to my medication. I was feeling cut off from those whom I loved & most importantly I felt I wasn’t being a friend to those who were trying to be there for me. It’s fair to say I was getting pretty low- enter anti-depressants, along side even stronger opiate pain killers now making being awake & human increasingly difficult!
With depression making an anticipated entrance into my life, there were times that I just simply didn’t feel strong enough to pick up the phone on those rare occasions that I was physically able to do so.
 I was getting more and more depressed and found myself feeling that I simply couldn’t bare talking trivial drivel to my mate in Australia, (an event which had always been the highlight of my week); or that I could not give a toss about another friend’s on-going relationship saga, & most controversially I simply could not bare to hear the birth story & weight of my friend’s much awaited bundle of joy. There were acute and rare times that I found that I could not give a monkeys about my friends’ lives, as mine had fallen apart & at the time I just did not know how to get through it, so I was just going to do the only thing that came naturally at the time- cry!
I resented the fact that my friends' were approaching their mid-twenties and in turn their lives were beginning to take off in all respects- career, personal and social life. Wonderful things were beginning to happen for them, whereas I was more or less reverting back to the functional level of a child, even infant at times- needing help to pay bills, eat, bathe, dress and even go to the toilet!
The times that I wasn’t having these shockingly embarrassing thoughts, (which in fairness were only in my darkest of moments emotionally and were few and far between), I was feeling the immense guilt and shame that went hand in hand with having them at all- enter violent rollercoaster of emotions!
Please do not misconstrue what is merely a very frank expression of how a horrid concoction of such difficult times, chronic pain, side effects of medication to treat the chronic pain and depression, (as a result of all of the above), can hugely warp your character and sense of perspective.
These harsh feelings were obviously not ever felt or expressed in my lucid and rational moments- so please do not judge unless you have been there yourself, and if you have, I bet that some of you will have shared similar emotions to mine if some of your recent emails and comments are anything to go by.
I would of course not ordinarily want to express these awkward admissions but I am doing so to reassure those of you who are where I was in those dark times, that any emotions that you feel at these troubling times are valid and not to be dwelled upon as you are only human doing your best to get through what many people will never even be able to comprehend.
It is fair to say that despite my fears, I developed some incredible bonds as an RAF WAG and friendships that will last me a lifetime. This amazingly welcoming and supportive community took me in and made me one of their own, even though I felt that I wasn’t showing them the full me on first meeting.
My life long Isle of Wight buddies have too been simply phenomenal and have stood by me despite my having to miss Christenings, hen dos and weddings due to being so unwell- so on all levels, the majority of my friendships have survived and in some instances even strengthened through going through the more traumatic elements of my journey together: but this story is not without it’s sorrow and there were valuable losses along the way too and for that I will always be sad and will always feel an unnecessary guilt.
One of the hardest things to hear over the last five years has not been, ‘this surgery has a very high risk of paralysis Miss Spurgeon’, (my maiden name), or…’ you have an incurable degenerative neurological condition Mrs Reader’- but instead, somebody who I considered one of my best friends turning to me after watching a DVD on my bed with me, (which I was confined to twenty four seven, even for bathing and toileting at the time), and saying-
‘I feel that this friendship is a little one sided at the moment and it’s annoying me.’
WHAM, like a brick thumped against my heart, all of my fears of why anyone would want to be around me or be friends with me, (when all I can do is say four or five words in an hour as I was battling pneumonia immediately following my spinal surgery at the time)- the tears just poured out of me and I just wanted to shout from my bed, ‘ yes, my relationship with you is one sided, but as are my relationships with all of my friends, along with those with my sibling, in-laws, parents and Garry and it saddens me so much that I just want to cry.’
I’m relieved to say that this was an isolated incident and I have been blessed with some very precious and patient friends- but this does highlight a very important point that becoming disabled is not an easy thing for your friends to come to terms with, particularly when you are trying to take all the emotional burden yourself and not express to those around you how you are really feeling. You may think that you are trying to save the relationships with those around you by not letting out the torrent of upset and fear that is building up inside you, but actually you are depriving your friends and family of the truth and therefore trying to keep up an inaccurate portrayal of you at that point in time, something that in hindsight is never healthy.
I want to say a public declaration of thanks and praise and gratitude to those who have been with me through thick and think and also express to those who are no longer in my life, that I understand how difficult and unusual being friends with me throughout my long communication blackouts must have been and there has never and will never be any blame.
To those going through what I have, communicate as much as can with your friends. Have faith in the fact that they will 'get it', even though they’ve never been there themselves, the human spirit can show a huge amount of empathy you know.
Since writing my blog many people have got in touch to say that they had NO idea of the magnitude of the hellish reality that Garry and I were living and wish that they had known and been able to help.
That does make me a little sad that I hadn’t been able to do that, but I do feel that this is all very well with hindsight as at the time you just feel that everyone has heard things a hundred times before and my life of medication side effects and operation scar weeping, could hardly compete with the tales of the exploits of my friends latest night out or their latest holiday.
Yes I may have lost a few friends along the road, (but I’m sure your own friendship groups have evolved and become a little more streamlined over the years anyway), but I have also been blessed with many friends returning since I have been able to establish a morphine regime which allows me to have a little more of a life, along with being able to get over my telephone issues and speak to people again.
To all of my friends I thank you and I love you.
Trust and have faith in the empathy of the human spirit!