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Sunday, 28 October 2012

WOW! What a Difference a Year Can Make!

Phew- what a couple of weeks it has been and what a difference a year filled with emotional support, fantastic family and a healthier frame of mind, can make.

This time last year I remember my October of 2011 to be a painful one, both physically and emotionally.
12 months on and the physical pain may not be better, but the mind and psyche is a hell of a lot healthier that's for sure! As a result of which, my life is now a very different one to that it was a year ago- one where I can now finally be at peace with the fact that I will not get better and live the life I once knew and thought that I would live forever; but instead will make the most of all that I still do have in my life, which is an incredible amount. I am a very lucky girl.

Talking of this luck and good fortune of late- two weeks ago tomorrow, (Monday 15th October), my husband Garry and I had the incredible honour of attending the Parliamentary Launch of LLoyds Banking Group and Disability Rights UK's new Disability Programme at The Palace of Westminster.

The reception, which was held in Dining Room A of The Houses of Parliament, was hosted by The Right Honourable Ann McGuire MP The Shadow Minister for Disability, and was also attended by The Right Honourable Esther McVey MP, The Government's new Minister for Disabled People.
I was invited to attend the event after LLoyds Banking Group became aware of my story and my passion to bring about the improved provision of emotional support for people who become disabled, after I was featured in The Sun newspaper back in August.
Since that article was published I have managed to get Get a Life! registered by The Charity Commission (Reg. Charity No. 1149041) and I'm now looking forward to hosting Get a Life!'s first fund raising event, which is to be held at Shanklin Theatre Isle of Wight, which is the theatre where I once used to work as resident choreographer back in my old able-bodied life- taking my story full circle, back to the life I once lived before my disability.
 I was so thrilled to get the invite to Monday's reception at The Palace of Westminster- wheeling into the Houses of Parliament was enough to make me need to pinch myself; then seeing my charity's display next to that of Disability Rights UK was just incredible!
Getting to speak with The Minister For Disabled People, Esther McVey MP and all the inspiring individuals in attendance at this reception was also just amazing.
After six years spent predominantly in bed, attending this event made me feel like I had finally re-taken the reigns of my life once again, and that I was indeed really going to make Get a Life! a huge success and achieve my dream of preventing other people having to find their way in the dark after becoming disabled, and having to adjust to their new lives with a disability without emotional support- like my family and I have had to.

Monday's Parliamentary Reception highlighted the wonderful example that Lloyds has set to other businesses in their attempts to make their company accessible for both their customers and their employees.
LLoyds Director of Customer Services Martin Dodd spoke of his gratitude to the individuals and organisations who had given Lloyds their valuable insights into banking and life in general with a disability, to make this programme possible and kindly mentioned me by name, thanking me personally in his speech for my efforts.
Thank you Martin.
The event was a wonderful day both for me as an individual and for Get a Life! as a new fast emerging charity.
Not least because I was fortunate enough to have been given one-on-one time with The Minister for Disabled People Esther McVey, who spoke with me at length about Get a Life!'s plans to support relationships through this difficult transition and who asked me about my personal journey that lead to me starting the charity and wished her every luck and success with the charity.

Buzzing from this meeting and my incredible day spent at The Palace of Westminster- my friend generously treated Garry and I to a lovely meal that evening to celebrate. 
Although the meal was just beautiful, the icing on the cake of the day had to be the fact that dining a few tables away from us was the lovely Mr Kevin McCloud, who kindly took the time to sit and chat and have a photo with us! What a lovely man! What a truly amazing day!

If I am to be completely honest with you, (which is what writing this blog is all about!)- I have to say that I was actually incredibly scared about attending this parliamentary launch event: but the day's success, really proved to me that doing things that really scare you the most, really do give you the most reward.

 To be really frank with you, I have internalised my anxiety and stress for months now over the fact that I have no experience of running a business/charity- there's not an awful lot of call for the experiences of a dancer and an air hostess when running a charity- or is there?.
My biggest anxiety since my accident has always been that every area that I have ever worked in, ( I trained as a professional dancer and then joined Virgin Atlantic as cabin crew to travel the world)- is now redundant to me.
What experience do I have?
What right did I have to set up a charity?

It is only on reflection, now that Monday's intimidating deadline has passed, that I can see that my experiences, however diverse from what I am currently trying to do with Get a Life! ,are all relevant and valuable in their own way and right.

As a dancer and a choreographer I learnt how to prepare for shows and deal with nerves, and as cabin crew for Virgin Atlantic, I not only enriched my life experiences by travelling the world and meeting and interacting with many characters and cultures; but from Virgin as a company I learnt the value of the 'Virgin flare'- translated (in my opinion) as doing all that you can to keep your spirits high and positive so that you can do all that you can to make those around you feel blessed and valued and in turn keep their spirits high and happy too.

I LOVED my job with Virgin Atlantic, not least because I got to travel the world and meet the most amazing people whilst doing so, but because I was also introduced to the concept that The School of Life is indeed a valuable and acceptable form of education, and there's no more intense an exam in such an institution as having to adapt and adjust to becoming disabled.

For those of you who are familiar with Sir Richard's story, you will know that despite a burning desire to be a journalist, Richard suffered from severe dyslexia which prevented him from following this goal via the conventional path.

We can all obviously see that the proof of this pudding really is in the eating and despite this disability, Sir Richard has achieved great success in so very many areas.

From first reading more about my future boss in my cabin crew application pack back in 2005; it is only since becoming disabled myself that his story and experiences have really resonated with me and my yearning to regain my life after adversity.

For some reason I have always had an insecurity that I do not have a degree or a university education of any kind, (despite being very academic at school, my heart's desire was to become a dancer, which I was acutely aware was a career that needed to be commenced at a young age- so I subsequently took a scholarship to a highly respected dance and drama school to pursue my dreams of becoming a dancer and musical theatre performer and teacher at the incredibly young age of only 16).
With this always in my mind and heart and with the fantastic freedom that working as Virgin crew allowed, I set about looking at distance learning courses so that I may be able to pursue my desire to gain my degree in English language and pursue my goal to gain a career in writing myself.

This feeling of inadequacy of having not obtained this yearned for conventional education, was highlighted when I realised that my injuries from my car accident were indeed going to make me disabled and consequently leave me unable to return to my trained careers in dance and air travel.
As I recently tweeted back to Mr Branson after he tweeted me a kind message of encouragement....

 Best of luck with your positive good works. Much love Richard Branson.

 Thank u 4taking time 2reply LOVED working 4u- only left as couldn't fit wheelchair down aisle of A340!

My feelings of fear and inadequacy and insecurity have crippled me for a vast proportion of my six years of rehabilitation since my car accident left me disabled.

I have had panic attacks and sleepless nights over my worries of how I could possibly ever find myself a worthwhile career that I felt half as passionately about as I did my careers with Virgin and in the theatre, when my disability is not simply a physical restriction, but one which sends my nervous system into a crazy word of chronic, unimaginable, unrelenting pain. 
My immune system has also been compromised and my high levels of morphine and nerve pain related opiates (which I will never come off of) also rule me with their complicated side effect on my health.
As a result of the above and my degenerative neurological disease, anything I do,  I pay a painful price for.

Some of my lowest points since becoming disabled have been firstly my realisation that I would not return to my life as a Virgin cabin crew and had to hang up my treasured red uniform, and secondly my realisation that I could not just walk back into a structured nine- to -five work environment of any kind.

Reading Branson's books, and learning more about the man who refuses to say 'no' and accept that things can't be done, as he does not have the required formal education to do so, have actually payed a huge part in giving me my life back.

The title of his book, 'Screw Business as Usual', says it all really. Realising that life and the world of employment is still open to you even if it is not the way that you once knew. There are different paths in life to the conventional.

Although I am not yet in employment, by focusing the time that I have been physically and cognitively well enough to do so over the last six years, on reading inspirational books, pursuing the cathartic process of writing to you in this blog and spending every strong enough minute planning and brainstorming ideas of how I could possibly ever improve the lives of people who become disabled- Get a Life! was born and is giving me and those involved with it's development, the encouragement to know that the lives of  people who have to adapt to disability really can be made easier.

One other vital point that has helped me personally start to feel like a valuable member of society again is self belief.
I completely appreciate that this is something that is easier said than done. 
How on earth can you have belief in yourself when some of the elements of your life that you have always nurtured or treasured, or even leaned upon as your confidence rock are now redundant to you?
But for me, once I had mourned the loss of the life that I would not live and started to look at all that I still had, I could look at finding a new path in life and making the most of the journey down that route for what it was, ( however different or indeed difficult)- a new start and a new chance in life.
I was blessed that I was still alive and didn't die in that car crash that so many do each year on our country's road.
I still have my simply amazing family there to enjoy this new journey with me and by pursuing something I feel so incredibly passionate about, I have a new lease of life again.
I personally feel blessed that I also have a faith that keeps me strong during my down times. It is an area in my life that has been rocked and tested during my times of depression in coming to terms with my disability, but also one that has been a rock and comfort blanket during my darkest times.

I am blessed too, to not only have my faith and  my inspiration influences, but also my wonderful family and friends- however despite these things I have learnt that trying to adjust, adapt and regain ones life after disability robs you of everything you have always done, loved and taken for granted would always be so, is bloody difficult and without the right support and guidance can bring even the strongest of us to our knees.

There NEEDS to be the infrastructure of emotional support for both those who become disabled and their family and friends that Get a Life! are working to create.

Both in terms of the charity and me as an individual, this has been a huge week.

Despite being proposed to, married, looked after, treasured and constantly reassured by my husband since my accident, I have spent the last six wondering why on earth my husband would want to be with someone so useless and incapable of bringing in a wage to our household, or any value of any kind in my opinion.

To see my husband look at me with a look of pride in his eyes when I was talking to ministers, charity leaders and other fabulous people at the parliamentary reception- meant the absolute world to me on Monday. 
Garry then took the time to treat me and express this pride by taking me for a meal at one of my favourite restaurants- Babylon at Kensington Roof Gardens the following day to celebrate Get a Life!'s big day out.

I adore Babylon not least because it has scrummy food and a view over London to die for, but because it is a place where I can go to, be treated to a special dinner and not have to worry about furniture having to be moved, toilet door keys having to be obtained, and restaurant diners having to be disturbed- everything is there for me and the facilities are as accessible to me as to my husband. I can maintain my dignity throughout the night.

This combined, with the disability programme that was launched in parliament one week ago, prove that by taking a little time, trouble and thought, businesses and services can be made accessible to us all, and the lives of those who become disabled, ( or indeed are born with disabilities) can be made as full as possible.

This point was again reiterated last night when I excitedly attended a performance of one of my dearest friends Lizzie Deane, who has not only been there as one of those incredible friends who has lent her ear in times of depression and distress, but also has been there to cheer me up whenever I hear her wonderful voice.

Last night was one of these happy occasions, as I sat their beaming with pride as I watched and listened to her captivate the diners at the rather wonderful, rather wonderfully accessible and disabled friendly- Boisdale Canary Wharf.

I'm sure that Lizzie won't mind me saying that she is also someone who has inspired me greatly, as she has also, like so many of us, has had far from an easy time over the last few years.
What inspires and encourages me is that this marvellous lady, (like my old boss and twitter friend Mr Branson!), hasn't let negativity and restrictions stop her- rather she has used these difficult experiences to find a new path in life, ( which is exactly what Get a Life! are there to promote!) and in her case, use these difficult experiences to shape her truly incredible and soulful music!

It is friends like Lizzie and public figures like Branson that inspire me and keep me going during the times that I think my dreams aren't reachable. 
Both of these people in one way or the other have been told 'no' you can't do that, and both in their own way have said Screw it Just Do it!, (for those of you who don't know this is the title of Richard's manual for business).

I believe that one of the key things for changing the feeling of struggling through that transition into becoming disabled, to embracing the life that still lays before you, is exploring inspirational books, self-help CDs and individuals in the media, ( such as those incredible Paralympians, Katie Piper and of course Mr B!).

Before I sign off today to snuggle on the sofa on this wintry Sunday afternoon to watch my favourite and uplifting programme Strictly Come Dancing that I recorded last night- (once a dancer always a glitter and sequin junkie!)- I will leave you with a list of those books, films and individuals who have helped me flip my existence from struggling- through coping and finally to embracing my new existence!

(That is of course if I manage to kick one of my boys off of the sofa to make room for me!)
Please bare in mind that these are just sources of inspiration which have helped me. There were MANY more books etc. that I read during my thirst for knowledge and emotional recovery. These examples are just those which have helped me personally and finding your path to acceptance, although extremely difficult at the time, is what you will look back on and feel proudest of- getting through that time of feeling lost and turning it around to feeling excited by what lies ahead.

You will do it! I believe that you will, so try to believe it yourself. It took me six years, but I believe that time could have been shortened by receiving the emotional support that I am trying to implement with Get a Life!

Enjoy your Sunday afternoon and if you are struggling to accept an altered life in whatever shape or form- maybe start getting your life back by exploring some of the resources below.

Say strong and keep going everyone.

God bless you always. 

Karen. x

The Secret- Rhonda Byron (also available in CD & DVD)
The Power- Rhonda Byron
The Magic- Rhonda Byron
The Daily Light- New International Version
Endal- Allen and Sandra Parton
Beautiful- Katie Piper
The 15 Minute Rule- Caroline Buchanon
Losing My Virginity/ Screw it, Let's Do it & Screw Business As Usual- Richard Branson.
Diamonds in The Dust- Joni Eareckson Tada 
Strong Woman: Ambition, Grit and a Great pair of Heels- Karren Brady

Relate- One of the best things my husband and I ever did was accept the help from this around us and go to a Relate counsellor to help us through the difficult transition of us both accepting our future living with my disability.

Some quotes I have stuck everywhere on my desk...

- "It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters."- Epictetus.
- "Everything is possible for the person who believes"- Jesus Christ.
- "We need to be the change we wish to see in the world". Mahatma Gandhi.
- " All you can possibly need or desire is already yours. Call your desires into being by imagining and feeling your wish fulfilled."- Neville Goddard.
- "A willingness to make changes for the better is growth pure and simple."- Caroline Buchanan.