Tag Archives: postive mindset

5 Secrets for a Strong Relationship with Teenage Carers

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5 Secrets for a Strong Relationship with Teenage Carers

Young Carers

According to the ONS (Office for National Statistics), there are 149,000 young carers aged between 15 and 19 – about twice as many as in the 10-to-14 age range. [There are about 23,000 children under 9 who are carers].

There are about 50,000 Young Carers looking after someone with a Mental Health Condition in the UK. There are thought to be 3 in 5 Carers who have depression themselves, due to their role.

I aim to share the secrets that have guided our journey. They’re intended for younger families, caring for any family member, but are aimed at those with a teenage/young carer. I’m even sharing some free printables for you at the end of this post.

This advice is based on my experienced teacher viewpoint, but mostly that of a bed bound mum of 2 teenagers, who happen to be my Carers. It’s been tough, but we’re stronger than ever, as a family and individually, because we’ve worked at it!

My family

As the teen years approached our family, I feared the worst; especially as I was now chronically ill with a debilitating brain disease. How wrong could I be? I absolutely love it. We’ve just adapted our parenting style by listening and responding to each other.

With strong foundations, that Joel and I had worked hard to build together, it wasn’t hard to tweak our interactions. As our boys grow into young men, at 13 and 15 and 6ft+, we’ve found we actually enjoy spending time together – I know, crazy right?

I’m incredibly proud of both of them for all that they achieve. Their teachers recognise their awesomeness and they amaze me with what they achieve, both in and out of school. That they’re able to do so well, with so much else to deal with, is exceptional.

But I’m not delusional! I know not everyone has this and our life isn’t perfect either (erm – teenagers and brain disease involved). However, we’re a happy and loving family with amazing relationships. They are my motivation to keep positive every day!

If you want to find out more, read My story so far

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The McKee’s mucking about Christmas 2018

Parenting Styles

The secrets I want to share with you can be implemented into your family with just a little work. We are have our own parenting styles and there’s no right way. So it’s normal to go through phases of feeling like we’ve sussed it and others like we’ve fluffed it!

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So even if you’re a nailed it with some to spare parent; a doing your best, fair and square parent; a making a mess, laid out bare parent; a higgledy piggledy, up in the air parent; a tearing out your hair parent or a feeling guilty you’re not there parent, these secrets could work for you.

 

What Does Caring Involve For Me

I have a PA (carer) every weekday lunchtime, from an agency providing consistent care. These are some of the things I need help with:

  • Waking up after sleeping all morning,
  • Make me lunch, normally a smoothie as nausea stops me enjoying food
  • Making sure I have accessible water
  • Helping me to get dressed as needed and getting out my clothes each day
  • Picking anything up I drop as I can’t bend down
  • Do chores I can’t such as laundry, emptying bins and making beds
  • Preparing meals or freezing food for another day
  • Organising my medications
  • Enabling me to be more involved with the boys e.g. supporting us bake cakes
  • If I’m well enough taking us out for a cuppa or to the shops

I have a great relationship with my carers and we always have a giggle. I need laughter in my day and they bring it! They’re also always there to listen.

The Impact Caring Can Have

Being a young carer can have a big impact on the things that are important to growing up

  • It can affect a young person’s health, social life and self-confidence.
  • Many young carers struggle to juggle their education and caring which can cause pressure and stress.
  • In a survey, 39% said that nobody in their school was aware of their caring role.
  • 26% have been bullied at school because of their caring role.
  • 1 in 20 miss school because of their caring role.
But young people can learn lots of useful skills by being a young carer.

Carers Trust – Young Carers

When we realised what life was going to be like, Joel and I didn’t want the boys lives overshadowed by caring. We’re lucky enough to have PAs, so the boys don’t miss school, but it can be hard to make school aware of everything they carry with them.

Worry and anxiety have affected their mental well-being and both boys have had to learn how to cope with complex feelings. Life as a young carer is tough as we can see in these quotes.

Carers UK’s annual survey (2015) with over 5,000 carers across the UK revealed that 84% of carers feel more stressed, 78% feel more anxious and 55% reported that they suffered from depression as a result of their caring role, which was higher than findings in 2014.3

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 I’ll discuss how we manage teenage mental health in my 5 secrets below.

Being My Carer Every Day

The boys bring me breakfast and dinner make sure I have water and snacks every day. They know how to support me physically and sort anything Clumsy McClumsypants here drops or spills; like the glass of water in (yes IN) my bedside table this morning.

They need to know what to do if I press my life line and what to say to the Lifeline care team. They’d have to stop playing Xbox and may need to support or help me up if I fell. They may need to help calm me down if I was having a panic attack.

The boys have had to get used to another new cleaner being in their personal space and form bonds with my PAs. They’ve been carers for 4 years now, so are used to it, but there’s still restrictions, such as having to be quiet each morning while I sleep.

They told me the other day that their friends have to do more chores than them. My response was to ask if their friends have to make sure the house is secure and answer a doorbell every time theory mum drops something. I said I was clumsy, didn’t I?

Building a Team

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How many kids would go to their parent and tell them they don’t do as many chores as their mates? This is just one example of how we’ve worked hard to build a family dynamic based on trust, honesty, empathy and care.

We’ve all had to learn coping skills and adapt as time goes on. The stress shows at home mostly, so it’s been important to use the same strategies around their behaviour. This has led to the strong relationship we have now.

As they’ve grown up and I’ve become a little bit more stable and aware, we’ve trusted them with more responsibility. We’ve just managed two nights with Joel went away for work. My Dad (who’s always stayed before) was just down the road if needed.

They wanted to cook tea unsupervised and probably not the tidying up afterward. They have to put the hens to bed, safely away from any foxy loxies and check Jasper Cat is in for the night. I had to be trust they would put the house to bed securely too.

They amazed me with how they coped with all this responsibility. There was no time to think about having house parties or sneaking out the house to meet up with a friend! (not that we’d know anything about ever doing that).

The way Joel and I choose to do this at the beginning, has shaped how we’ve handled the cards we’ve been dealt. Everyone chooses their own path, so I’m not making any comparisons. this is just my experience. Everyone’s path is unique, so follow yours.

But use my 5 secrets to help steer you. Firstly I just need to make it clear that we sought medical advice and were referred to social services for care and support. I’m not a health Care professional, so please ask for help if you need it.

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5 Secrets for a Strong Relationship with Young Carers
  1. Asking for help is the first step. Talk to your GP.  Talk to school. Ask your kids how they’d like the help. You might need family therapy so do try it, if offered. If support given is not right for you, ask for an alternative. The skills we learnt, recognised and have since reinforced; have shaped our family’s daily lives. We learnt how to talk about our feelings, whilst being respectful. and to speak honestly, without breaking trust. I recommend organising a named teacher or pastoral care and make sure to keep them in the loop. This is individual to your needs, but be prepared to fight for this, as support is in high demand. Mental well-being for you all is key.
  2. Let them be angry with the illness. Structure ways for your children to release this, safely. Help them understand that it’s the illness that’s changed everything. The whole family will grieve for life before chronic illness, so explore ways to cope with that. We used diaries, art therapy, music and a good old shout and swear session (oooh, controversial). We’ve found that music is a lifeline for every carer in the family. Being able to lose yourself in a distraction is a lifeline for carers and you!
  3. Develop open dialogue with the Young Carers in your life and find ways that allow them to discuss what they’re feeling and experiencing without fear of backlash. The silver lining of being a bed bound mum, is having time for my boys to talk to me about their day or about something worrying them as soon as they get home.
  4. Find time for everyone to set one goal at the start of each day. You could introduce Affirmations to reinforce positive thinking. See the end of the post for more details and free printables, available til 31st March 2019. Set a time to discuss at least 1 positive from their day. Create a regular time to air issues and reinforce positives.
  5. Give yourself rewards! A really important part of feeling able to succeed, is by rewarding positive language and behaviour. The rewards can be for anything, big or small. Rewards can be verbal praise, but making time for a family reward is important to reinforce positive thinking. For example, you could go out for lunch, bake a cake together or watch a movie in bed. Let them choose most of the time, but it has to be agreed by everyone. The point is to reward the whole family regularly.

To adapt these for younger children

  1. Involve school as soon as possible, both the class teacher and headteacher should know. School may offer extra support, which can be invaluable. Play and Art therapy is in short supply, so if you’re concerned speak to your GP!
  2. Talk to them about what’s happening in a way they’ll understand. Help them express their feelings using puppets, library books and roleplay (Drs/patient).
  3. Tell them why you’re going to hospital/in pain etc. They may know more than you expect, so let them lead. My rule is that if they’re asking about it, then they’re ready for answers. Just be prepared for a ‘why, but why’ session!
  4. Ask them what they want to do that day on the way to school, you may even find out more than asking at the end of the day! Start a positives jar by everyone writing (for them if needed) ONE positive from their day. Set a regular time, to open the jar and read some. My favourite pulling out ‘cuddling with my Mummy’ on a bad day.
  5. Make time for rewards, they don’t have to cost anything, just do things as a family.

A last word and some links!

I want to help others have positive experiences, even on tough days. So I’m sharing these secrets for you. Families are unique, though, so there’s no one size fits all. Take what you want from my 5 secrets, but remember these things are key:

Ask for help! Young Carers may have to do more at home than their friends, so schools should provide support and make allowances.

Make sure everyone truly understands and enable your kids to express how they feel. Create a safe environment and look out for signs that you may need to step in.

A great team relies on good communication which is honest, loyal and respectful, so be a good role model. Recognise small wins! Celebrate at least one good thing from your day.

If the life you want for your family seems a long way off or you’d like some reassurance you’re doing okay, then I hope this post has helped. Please ask me questions in the comments and tell me how you make life positive for young carers and your family.

Resources 

Carers Trust -Support for Young Carers

Young Minds – Looking After Yourself aa a Young Carer

NHS – Young Carers Rights

Carer Gateway – Advice for Parents & Teachers of Young Carers

Carers UK – Hidden Depression

Chronic Illness Bloggers

Sign up for New & Exclusives – Help for Young Carers

Do you want to be the first to know what’s coming and get your hands on exclusive deals? I’ve created a set of Printable Affirmations that would be perfect for setting the tone for a good day for Young Carers, as mentioned in Secret number 4 above. Grab a copy of this when you sign up to my occasionally regular newsletter today!

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✋ Hey there! You could really help me out. Just one minute of your time to press that share button helps me so much! You’ll literally make me do a bed-bound happy dance. Now there’s an image for you!

My Not So Secret Poetry Diary – A Date with Anxiety #copingwithanxiety #poeminspiration #mentalhealthblogs #chronicblogger

My Date with Anxiety

It’s been a tough ten days in my chronic illness warrior body, so I wanted to share with you some of the things I’ve been feeling – eek, it’s time to get real peeps!

I’m going to reflect briefly on what’s been happening to my body and mind each day. But hey, remember this is me writing so, even though I’ll be totally honest, I’ll make sure there’s a positive to everything! This is the story of my Date with Anxiety.

I keep a diary (not a journal) and use it to pace my daily activities. Randomly through the year I write little notes of my strengths and personalised affirmations. Then in the evening I write 3 positives from that day.

Friday 7th December

I couldn’t sleep last night, it’s been disrupted all week, but this was next level. The pain was intense and relentless and I couldn’t understand why. A friend visited me yesterday, which had made my day. She never stays too long and spotted when I was flagging. I hadn’t napped either so I expected knock on effects, but why was it SO bad?

At 3:30am my heart started racing and I was breathless and dizzy – losing control. This panic attack came out of nowhere!. I got up to use the en-suite and collapsed, but my amazing husband Joel woke immediately and rushed to my side. Then he hugged me tight, that hug that let’s me know I’m not alone!

I ended up taking a strong dose of diazepam, but I still didn’t get much sleep and when my carer arrived at lunchtime I was stressed, overwhelmed and exhausted. She took such good care of me and was extra gentle, seeing me so poorly. I recognised at the end of the day that I’m a very lucky lady to have such wonderful souls looking after me!

Saturday 8th December

Hardly any sleep again last night! The meditation and breathing techniques I normally use didn’t help and the day was littered with panic attacks, feeling like I couldn’t breathe. I was on full anxiety alert. Thankfully Joel was amazing with me through it all again and encouraged me to go downstairs for a change of scene.

Before going down I had a shower which was an accomplishment in itself. I still had panic rush up on me again and I just wanted to run away! But Joel guided me through it all, holding my hand I calmed down. Eventually, drained and emotional, I managed a 10 minute nap watching TV, on Saturday evening and finally got some relief.

I’ve not had a flare like this in years!

Sunday 9th December

I’ve managed to sleep much better at last, but I feel battered and bruised from the state of alert my body’s been in the last few days. I know my brain has had the acute stress response or fight or flight. This is exhausting as despite having a large toolkit for dealing with stress, I’ve struggled to access these strategies whilst in a state!

I’m being kind to myself today and have prioritised getting downstairs to be around my boys, so that they can make me laugh and help me heal. The mental bruises take just as long, if not longer than physical to heal, but I’m slowly building myself back up.

This link explains what might happen during a panic attack.

Monday 10th December

I’m still feeling fragile today, but at last my body has decided to catch up on some of the lost sleep. I’ve cat-napped all day, with a little break at lunchtime when my carer arrived. I have no idea what we were talking about but we were cackling away! Joel was working downstairs (a little cushion for me – knowing he’s around even if he’s busy) and commented on the cackling as soon as he did pop upstairs!

Now that I’m trying to process my feelings, I was brave and decided to write a poem about the feelings I experienced. It’s important to reflect on any kind of anxiety attack however you do it, but sweeping it under the carpet won’t help you in the future!

Tuesday 11th December

I finished the poem this morning when I woke up early. Most of my poems are at least started when I’m either not getting to sleep or waking early. This was an early morning finish! I love creating the poem on a lovely background, using stock photography, which is perfect for sharing on social media. I loved the reaction this poem received!

I also chose to explain a little about what I’d been exploring when I wrote this poem. However, I’m not yet used to being so open about my own mental health whilst I’m still fragile. But I’m committed to raising awareness and always think about the fact that what I write might help just one person!

I talk about my anxiety levels rising as the lack of sleep and increased pain added up. But although I’m drained, I do have a strong mental health toolkit – full of strategies that I practice regularly. I know how to use these help build myself back up. Knowing that I’m my only priority in this instance is key to bouncing back!

Well, I thought that I’d got my groove back as the week went on but I’ve struggled again the last few nights, especially last night when I managed about 90 minutes all night. Thankfully I dozed all morning, catching up a bit on all that lost sleep from pain. However, I’ve managed to keep the anxiety in a box by using my toolkit. See below…

No mental health blog is complete without a few top tips.

If you or someone you know suffers a panic attack, try these tips!

  • Exercise

Exercise is one of the quickest way to deal with the raised stress levels that come with a panic attack. My physical illness stops me from going for a run (think flight…), but I can do some bed yoga, even though I take it even more carefully than normal! Some good stretches and shoulder rolls are a great way to shake it off!

  • Talking through the experience

A panic attack is our body’s way of telling us we’re in danger. It’s unlikely you’re in any danger, but tight chests and trouble breathing are all primal reactions to danger. This can trick the mind, almost like a tripwire. So rationalise and talk your physical feelings through with someone. The more you practice, the sooner you’ll interrupt the signals between the brain and the body and if you do this when you’re not in the acute stage, the quicker your training will kick in when you do feel anxious or panicky.

  • Laugh, Smile and spend time with your loved ones!

What can make the stress disappear more than having fun with your friends and family. Make time for each other, put down your phones and other technology and talk. You’ll notice how often I talk about being with Joel and my boys. They make me laugh out loud every day and the feeling is mutual. It’s one of the strongest things we have as a team and we are definitely the reason for all of us usually coping so well!

  • Relaxation and Mindfulness

I talk about meditation and mindfulness in most of my blogs because they are the easiest ways to relax. You can train your brain to take it slowly and/or meditate daily so it calms and controls your breathing. Then you automatically have these skills to help you relax during an anxiety attack. Body Scan Guided Meditations are ideal (search YouTube) and I are some of the easiest meditations to start with. You may find that something else relaxes you, such as taking time to be present or sitting in nature.

I hope that this sneak peek into my world has helped give you an insight into panic attacks and how they can come about. I have let you in to these thoughts because I believe that mental health is as debilitating as physical health can be. They are also often intertwined and life can be tough and lonely if you keep it all inside. I feel very strongly that sharing my experiences is vital to ending the stigma that surrounds mental health. I only discuss this to raise awareness, I’m not seeking sympathy!

If there’s one thing you have learnt from my Date with Anxiety or one thing that you can take away to help yourself or your loved ones, then please let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.

**AND if you’re not affected directly, then please remember that you never know what someone is going through, so please take the time to listen and talk to each other!

I’ve referenced these websites and blogs whilst writing this post:

Anxiety and Panic Attacks- Mind.org

6 ways to switch off the fight or flight response

Understanding the stress response

How the flight or fight response works

Chronic Illness Bloggers

Life as a bed-bound workaholic. #chronicillness

Stopping work due to ill health usually leads to a feeling of loss and purpose. For workaholics, giving up a career just adds to the grief of a previous life. If you’re also mostly bed bound; it’s almost impossible to give in.

On being a workaholic 

Design

I’d wanted to teach from age 5 and I loved it from the moment I stepped in the classroom. I was a workaholic, working nights and weekends, to try to make a difference.

Teaching is so much more than a job, you never stop thinking about some aspect and with you take on many roles.

Design

When I had my boys I worked part time, but was still working a 40-50 hour week. A workaholic is compelled to keep working and creates a life that’s out of balance. Read more here. Being a mum always came first, but I always felt the need to be doing something. Just a workaholic in another role; feeling like I couldn’t do either role justice. In hindsight; I know I gave both roles everything I could.

Becoming Bed-Bound

If you’ve read my story, you’ll know I had to stop teaching when I became ill. When we came to the mutual decision that I should be medically dismissed, I knew it was best for everyone. However, I struggled with the reality of having to bow out, from my bed, with no farewell, after the 14+ years I’d dedicated to my profession. I still wish I’d done more, but I’m proud of all that I achieved and that I had some influence on so many little lives.

We realised that becoming bedbound had a silver lining. I could now just enjoy the most important job I had and put everything I could into motherhood, without throwing life out of balance! We love that I’m more present and less stressed. Now I love hearing the key in the lock, anticipating my boys coming to see me.

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However, as a workaholic, even a bed-bound one with brain disease, I still needed to be DOING something. So I began making jewellery and soon discovered Conscious Crafties Marketplace The site was set up to give those with chronic illness, disabilites or their carers a sense of purpose again. You’ll find this statement on the site’s homepage.

‘A community of talented artists and crafters who are living a purposeful life by changing the way humanity perceives those living with Chronic Illness, Disabilities or Carers of those affected’

This amazing community has helped me connect with others who understand what we’re going through. I’ve made many true friends and am living a purposeful life. But, I’m a busy minded person and so volunteered to help Karen (the founder) run the site. Everyone tells me I do too much, but I thrive on helping others and love organising things. But I was juggling all of this and more, from bed, and it was beginning to impact on our family time, so something had to change!

Breaking Free

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Making the best of family time

I needed to break some of the bad habits I’ve developed over years of being a workaholic. But I have the best motivation; to bring balance in to my life. I’ve looked at my behaviour patterns and found I was spending far too much time on social media. I’m now slowly re-training my brain to know that it’s okay to rest!

Josie from Worry Free told me that ‘My JOB is to heal. By giving me a role/job of healing and rest, I have that all important role we crave and am now a resting workaholic! Such a simple idea, but so effective; I’m already breaking bad habits,  doing less and achieving more. Ultimately I’ll have more quality time to spend with my family.

 

Chronic Illness Bloggers

Why does sharing our story matter? Should we just tell friends and family or should we share with peers, colleagues and other sufferers too? 

Last week was Mental Health Awareness week (MHAW) and I have been very busy posting links on my Personal twitter and Facebook sites for mental health awareness but also to a much wider audience with the Mission Migraine Twitter Account that I run. I have been posting many links to groups that challenge mental health stigma and also re-tweeting beautiful quotes and sayings that link beautifully to the practice of mindfulness. However, in the relationship my husband and I have, we always support each other (with a side order of competition 😉) and he agreed to speak to a fairly large group of colleagues as part of the MHAW for Lloyds Banking group about how we as a family have coped with the past 16 months-since Jan 2014-and how the pressure on the family has affected him in his high pressure role within the company.

In this blog I am going to talk about 3 things: How sharing can help you and others and why that is why I came to writing this blog in the first place; how mindfulness can help anyone aged from 4-104 years old and especially those dealing with chronic illness and mental health issues; how my husband’s talk went and how it impacted on us and those he spoke to and how this might affect his colleagues going forward.


1: Sharing

So, sharing is caring right? If I talk about what is happening to us and share it amongst our friends a) they begin to understand a little bit about what life is like for us. If I didn’t do that then they would likely to just see me on my good days (apart from about 4/5 very close friends who let themselves in the house through a keysafe, or even have their own key, and come to help whatever state I’m in and have seen me at 0 colour on the dulux chart and unable to get out of bed). They would say ”you’re looking well” and I would be thinking about giving out flyers to to explain that I have an invisible illness! And that is why I started writing. At first just on Mission Migraine; where every post gets shared publicly on my Facebook page, and then by deciding to start this blog; then the sharing has become huge and now through my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Tearsofstrength. I have more followers that I don’t know now, than I do my friends. It blows my mind when I think about that, and that’s not even counting my awesome followers here on WordPress and on Twitter! All in all over 250 followers and growing rapidly. Wow! And that is how showing your vulnerability, and deciding that by sharing your story you might help just one other person, means that sharing is the right thing to do. Plus it is undeniably cathartic for me and I love every minute spent writing, even though it can take a long time for me to finish a post (especially as I like to talk so much).


2: Mindfulness

This is about being in the present moment. It’s another way of thinking about meditating; except it’s even easier. You don’t need anything more than 5 minutes and a little bit of quiet and these 4 steps.

a)   Find a quiet space where you can sit by yourself and not be disturbed for at least 5 minutes. Even a toilet can work but a park or your bedroom might be nicer…

b)   TURN OFF YOUR MOBILE PHONE!!! Don’t just mute it, turn it off. It’s only for 5 minutes.

c)    Take 3 deep breaths in through your nose and deep into your belly, not into your shoulders. When you feel ready to, close your eyes. Now try and settle your breath into a comfortable rhythm. It should be deep still and your stomach should rise and fall. You could count 3/4 breaths in and out. You could even hold for 2 when you breath in before you breath out again. Or breath in for 3 and out for 4, until you are ready to settle into that comfortable deep breathing that you don’t need to think about. This can take some practise. Don’t worry if you get this wrong. It doesn’t matter just keep practising.

d)     Now think about somewhere you would love to be; maybe a tropical beach with the waves lapping the shore; a beautiful pool with a gentle trickling waterfall; a magical forest with trees reaching the sky and their leaves making the clouds, with the grass beneath your feet as soft as cashmere wool or sitting on top of a mountain, looking down at the beautiful lights of the city that are glittering like constellations of stars. Tell yourself the story of the place and use all your senses; think about sounds and smells as well as what you can see. That’s it. Simple as that. When you have finished; take 3 more deep breaths before you open your eyes again. Again this can take some practice and your mind may wander on to your shopping list or how your going to fit in making tonight’s tea and get to the gym. It doesn’t matter; there is no wrong in meditation and mindfulness, it is all just about accepting the present and being in the here and now. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. Keep trying!

Now you can do this whenever and wherever and you don’t need to wait until you’ve finished work or anything. Infact, the less time you think you have to do this; the more you probably need to. I do this and also use guided meditation from YouTube such as this one:https://m.youtube.com/watch?sns=fb&v=PYsuvRNZfxE

There is more to mindfulness than this; it’s also about noticing the little things around you instead of rushing through your day all of the time. Joel talks a little bit about how he is becoming aware of that in his speech later. It’s about just trying to slow it down a little bi. It’s also about getting out and experiencing nature at the weekends instead of just being surrounded by technology all the time. It’s too much to go into now and I’m not an expert; I haven’t even read any books. I’m learning as I go and just trying to spread my time across time on myself and that on others. Time to be creative, time to rest and time to exercise (although that for me is just getting up and down the stairs and doing wrist circles!) There are things to read such as this…. (I haven’t)


I follow a really inspiring person on twitter and Facebook who is paralysed but is so positive and posts about mindfulness and he is worth checking out!

https://m.facebook.com/TheMovingRoad?_rdr or follow him on twitter @themovingroad.

The last part of this blog are not my own words but my husband Joel and I work as a team and always have; and this illness has done nothing but bring us closer together. When I posted on Facebook that he was doing this talk, many of my friends wanted to listen too; so we have decided to post the transcript of the talk below for you! I am so proud of him for speaking out.life as it is now is just as hard for him, if not harder! He has to see me in pain and can’t do any thing about it. I thank him so much for raising awareness among his colleagues, of not just how this situation has affected our family for MHAW, but how he, has amazingly maintained his senior role without letting anyone down and has in fact, continued to perform at an extremely strong level and then comes home to see his wife broken in pieces by the pain racking through her body. His strength and resilience are awe-inspiring and I hope that some of his colleagues that listen to his talk feel that they can comment on some of ‘laughing while you’re crying’s’ posts.


3: Joel’s speech to Lloyds TSB staff for MHAW15

Friday and the build up to and the fall out of, as well as the actual speech, was very emotional for him. He was in a room on his own and it was over a phone conference that people could dial into. It was also recorded and will be available to listen to across the whole bank but only internally. However, because of our synchronised feeling about sharing, as explained earlier, he has written down his speech and sent it to me. When I read it I cried; it brought home to me how much I’ve lost in this battle, because I don’t tend to think about it. It even made me wonder if I’ve talked much about what I did before I was ill, on my blog. This is because I focus on positives all the time and only think about what I can do! Some of what he has written could have been my words exactly. I have edited only slightly so that it doesn’t sound like a conference call anymore!

“* I will talk today about coping through sustained crisis and the emotional drain on mental health that living from day to day has on me and my family.

* I have responsibility for the data and business built systems across critical customer facing operations, supporting pan Group Operations on points of technical expertise and insight. This is a very demanding role, and I have a world class team around me in delivering what I do.

* I am happily married to Laura and we have two great boys! Zeke and Luca who are 11 and 9. Laura is a Primary School teacher and throughout her career we have all supported her in what is more than an all consuming vocation; where education is constantly in the fore of her mind. She is bright, energetic and driven- a real inspiration to a lot of peers and colleagues alike.

* Our lives have been hampered over the last 7 and a half years somewhat with what Laura was diagnosed with as chronic migraine. This was then episodic and typically resulted in weekends of dark rooms and quiet times.

* This all changed dramatically in January of 2014 when Laura suffered an episode which has since not gone away. She has subsequently been diagnosed with a rare brain condition called intracranial hypertension; where, in her case, the blood flow can get into the brain at normal pressure but cannot escape, leading to increased pressure and all of the following symptoms:

  •  lack of mobility; Laura is housebound, and virtually bed bound. We use a wheelchair when the pain subsides enough to venture out to a quiet place.
  • Aversion to noise and light
  • reduced cognitive function; she is confused easily and can’t sustain a long conversation without increased pain

* You can imagine this has been, and continues to be a tough time for her, especially as the only potential treatment is yet to be approved in the form of pioneering surgery. She basically manages on a cocktail of very strong drugs, ice packs on her head and as much rest as the pain allows. This has left her disabled, and the rest of the family basically coping as carers-hence why sometimes it is a little tricky for me to balance work and home commitments.
* The reason I agreed to share my story with you all is to do with the very real link between coping through crisis and impacts on mental health. I would like to talk a bit about being aware of the signs of a mental struggle and difficulty, how we manage, and most importantly how we choose our mindset in battling through.

* One of the things I have been keen to do is practice mindfulness and setting the mindset for the day. It takes as much energy and effort to be positive, focused and driven to succeed as it does to allow negativity and failure to defeat you. To set my mindset I have to be aware of my behaviours-how are they impacting on others, how am I coping with the challenge, what are the telltale signs of falling to the more detrimental side of the knife edge we walk every day, and coaching myself through moments of anxiety; clearly brought on by the worry of living with pain, pressures of parenting, caring, household and career. I used to notice sometimes that my speech was affected, the feeling of a tight band of pressure around my chest, and a struggle to understand everything around me. At times like this, I focus on breathing, giving myself the time to calm down, and shrug my shoulders down- the mute button on my phone is perfect for this, though I may well look a bit odd in the office! I have been able to significantly reduce these episodes since accepting that I am struggling, and we as a family asked for help. I have had great support from my team and line manager-and I am particularly proud that I work for an organisation who values me enough to allow flexibility in expectations-admittedly I still have a few of those early morning calls-but the boys are great at tolerating my work while I drive them to school!

* It helps tremendously that we now have a PA who supports Laura with the simple every day things-and this reduces the worry and stress for me as the little things like washing or sweeping the floor aren’t what I am trying to catch up on at 10pm once the kids and Laura are in bed!

Laura is an inspiration to me and our kids-she is in constant pain but tries still to help and maintain as much normality as she can. One of the really powerful things she does is write a Blog which I have shared with you today. She spends the time debilitated in the house researching and reflecting on experiences of herself and others in chronic pain; and publishes her writing online. Her whole ethos, and that of the family as a team is one of positivity. We don’t focus on what we can’t do anymore, but on what we can do, and what achievements are possible within the confines of our circumstances.

My 9 year old boy Luca takes on the role of coach when encouraging Laura to crawl upstairs on the days she has made it to the lounge-a 15 minute journey-as every step of the way he encourages and celebrates. Zeke is the reflector and pragmatist, he is the voice of reason when he tells Laura perhaps she needs to take some medicine or lie down.

On the point of mindfulness-we do something a bit twee, but it works. Every day we look to reflect on the positives for the day, write them down and put them in a jar. This galvanises the positive for the day, allows us to reflect, and on the really dark days this can be more than a little tricky. On those days, we can get a ‘positive’ out and be immediately reminded of something to lift our spirits. Laura picked a lovely one out the other day after a brutal period of pain and borderline depression: ‘sitting on the sofa with mummy’; a real reminder that we don’t have to always do the huge things to make a difference to our kids.

* I really wanted to share my story to basically say that we are all strong in our own way, adversity tests us, but that positivity is something you work towards. The techniques that help in managing my well being are:

  • setting a mindset of achieving rather than focussing on what we can’t do
  • Working as a team-being prepared to ask for help from GP, line manager, family, friends
  • Being aware of when behaviours aren’t what you’d expect of yourself; seeing this as you would a cut or a pain and seeking advice and help. Mental illness is an invisible condition-that doesn’t make it any less real-be aware of those telltale signs and be prepared to ask for help
  • Most of all-talk-be prepared to accept that we aren’t all invulnerable. “

Joel’s talk received a standing ovation around many different offices where people were listening in. He has had fantastic feedback from those listening and from his direct management. The recording will be available soon for anyone in the bank. Numbers are rising on my Facebook page and there has been a lovely comment and lots of likes on the posts. I hope that reading this incredibly long post has shown you why being part of such a great team-my family-and having such a strong relationship with my husband is what helps me to stay positive and gives me the courage to get up every day that I can. And, believe me, I do know how luckily I am to have that!  Stay strong!

How to Cultivate A Grateful Life – A Beginners Guide

A smiling Indian lady with long black hair and brown eyes holds her hands together in front (and to the side) in a Namaste Greeting. She is wearing a green, red and orange top with stud earrings, a silver watch and an orange and white bangle. There are white, green and maroon half circles in the corners and the wording at the top says ‘How to cultivate a Grateful Life: A Beginners Guide’
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How to Cultivate A Grateful Life – A Beginners Guide – ‘I think of 3 positives at the end of each day and I’m thankful for my friends and family. This simple act has helped me grow as a parent during many tough times.’

How to Cultivate A Grateful Life – A Beginners Guide

In this step by step guide I’m going to show you how to grow from feeling mostly meh to predominantly pleased by lightening the load using these pointers. I’ll explain how my life as a parent with anxiety and chronic illnesses took me to the lowest lows of my life to being as well balanced and harmonious as a landscaped garden.

When I recognised that I was dragging my family down with me when I’d get grouchy with my boys or snap at my husband because I couldn’t cope, I knew I had to change. I had to find a way to climb out from the undergrowth for them and it was as simple as making 1 or 2 small changes first! This guide covers the 10 steps it took for me to live gratefully.

When the Light Dimmed and I Couldn’t Breathe

I struggled with my mental health on and off for years after Youngest was born. I had post-natal depression and suffered from panic attacks for months after nearly losing him many times in his first 48 hours. The first time we left the hospital for some fresh air, once he’d stabilised, I couldn’t breathe properly as soon as we stepped out of the hospital door.

After being checked out by doctors, I was told it was a panic attack. It happened again, each time I left him in the NICU and continued once we were home, especially as he was rushed back into hospital for a 5 day stay a few weeks later. I’d panic if he didn’t snuffle when sleeping and even had a GP tell me that he didn’t know what I wanted him to say.

I just needed to be told he was okay, which he was that day but not every day. All this went on in the same 12 months that I lost my Grandpa and Father In Law as well as four other family members and friends that died too young. Joel and I had to find our way through all of this heartbreak, which was a massive strain, and I needed my voice to be heard!

Finding the Air and The Space I Needed to Grow

I was in very a bad way when my GP listened and I was counselling sessions which had a positive impact. My counsellor guided me towards the air holes when everything was suffocating me. Joel held on tight to my hand and I had a 2 year old to think about as well as a baby so I fought hard and together we found the light we needed in our lives again.

Making these big changes led the way but it was little changes that were key to me being purposefully grateful for my family, my remarkable husband who gave me space when I needed it even whilst he was dealing with his own grief. I had 2 beautiful and healthy children (Youngest was given the all clear aged 1) )to be thankful for.

A photo showing my 2 children when I was spending time nurturing them and learning to be grateful for wha5 we had. They’re running across the grass, in front of the camera in profile, in Brighton Pavilion garden with the trees in the background. Eldest is closest to the camera and is wring jeans and a green, hooded winter coat. He has short brown hair and a big smile. Youngest is slightly ahead of him and much smaller. He’s also wearing jeans and an orange and cream, hood winter coat. He has ginger hair and has his head turned away from the camera.
As a family we grew stronger roots and the trail that the our tears left behind faded.

I needed time to nurture our boys and bed in strategies to keep me on a positive path. Just look at these faces to see all I had to be thankful for.

We got plenty of fresh air on family walks and I exercised outdoors when possible. I had breathing space to appreciate the world around me and to recognise all the positives I had in my life to celebrate!

Cherishing Life Every Day and Seeking Adventures

When I was diagnosed with migraines a couple of years later, it threatened to uproot all of the hard work we’d put in to creating space in which to appreciate our family and the life we’d built. But we’d done the tough bit and with Joel by my side I managed to stand tall, despite the wobble. In many ways it was the catalyst to my valuing every day with them.

So when my physical health stabilised we grasped every opportunity. We embraced travel with unbelievable family holidays and wonderful long weekends just the two of us. We embraced live music and made the most of living close to London and Brighton; immersing ourselves in the culture and experiences available to us.

When I took a promotion with full time hours when Youngest started school the challenges came and the cracks in the ground around me started to appear again with the stress. I had panic attacks driving to work or would arrive in tears. It wasn’t the right place for me.

A coral background with the text ‘Begin each day with a grateful heart in blue and white writing.

So I went back to part time hours and rediscovered my love for teaching and as part of a small school nurture every child.

I was happy to wake up and drive along the country lanes and have time to exercise and be with my family at weekends. But I needed the buzz of a challenge and landed a Senior Leadership role in a lovely school. Unfortunately I fell ill after one term and this project was abandoned mid sentence!

The Abandoned Vine and The Weeping Willow

It had been an on off relationship with cultivating a grateful life as my mental health wasn’t being nurtured continually. I was on uneven terrain so I became a weeping willow, a common symbol of grief. Isolated and feeling like the only one with a constant migraine, I hardly saw any friends because I found it hard to have a simple conversation.

I was stuck at home, unable to carry out plans we’d made to see gigs and I felt suffocated. When we were together as a family, I’d be shushing the kids over nothing because of my hyperacusis and getting grouchy, I couldn’t sit with Joel on my right because his deep voice triggered tinnitus. So family life became strained, left as though an abandoned vine.

I found other chronic migraineurs online but this compounded my feeling of hopelessness. However the light shone through my protective foliage when I found a group of amazing people who gave me support, inspiration and laughter. They helped me gather strength and find the positives again! Maybe I wouldn’t be left to go to rack and ruin after all!

It turned out that I was actually suffering from IIH or Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension. You can read more about this condition in this blog I wrote a while back: https://laughingwhileyourecrying.wordpress.com/what-is-idiopathic-intracranial-hypertensioniih-iih-brainandspine/p

The Beginners Guide to Results From Being Grateful

A wooden surface has most of a white porcelain heart on the left hand side of the image. It has the phrase ‘I am grateful’ in black text and hessian string tied through a whole at the top. Below is green background with the words ‘The Beginners Guide To Results From A Grateful Life’.
  1. Find someone to give practical advice to help you solve the root problem.
  2. Connect with someone to confide in when times are tough.
  3. Get help with complex applications for monetary support.
  4. Seek counselling through very tough times.
  5. Find your tribe, the people who get what your going through.
  6. Pass on acts of kindness to others going through similar situations.
  7. Share your story with those you could help those beyond your group.
  8. Change at least one habit to help you live a healthier lifestyle.
  9. Find at least one positive or small win from your day.
  10. Record your positives from each day In a way that you can refer back to.
  1. I was given a crash course in how to deal with chronic illness life, which at the time was still diagnosed as migraine. My migraine friends would chat to me on the phone when I had particularly bad days or worsening news. There were there to offer me practical advice, including introducing me to my trusty Migracap and meditation.
  2. I made many online friends but have been lucky to meet some of these truly amazing people who I could confide in, as well as having Joel of course. One truly amazing lady told me that she would be there in spirit to squeeze my right hand and she would squeeze back. This simple invitation became my safety harness!
  3. I learnt about options for having to leave my teaching career and how to plan for the future. I was supported when I had to fill out forms for ESA and PIP support and how to deal with the face to face meetings with them, social workers and more besides.
  4. Little did I know then where chronic illness life would take me. Having friends that get it to confide in meant that there was always someone there if I had bad news. If Joel was at work I might have to wait all day but his support is what got me through, I recognised early that I needed counselling again to help me cope with extremes.
  5. These people became my tribe and having them there got me through the really scary times when I couldn’t communicate at all. By this point I’d narrowed down my friendships where people disappeared when it got too much. But once I was diagnosed with IIH and had a treatment plan of how to help me, I had hope again.
  6. As my confidence improved I developed a more positive outlook because I could pass on these acts of kindness to friends I’d met online with similar symptoms to me. Meeting members of my community has allowed me to understand chronic illness better and I can offer advice based on other’s challenges from different perspectives.
  7. I started my blog to be able to support my readers during their own tough times. I share information for awareness of my Conditions and mental wellbeing. I share what’s helped me as a parent with chronic illness, finding a purpose and having a healthy lifestyle and have created a community where people can ask my advice.
  8. By being so open I’ve really found out who my true friends are so I’ve worked hard on developing my self esteem. I try not to let those who can’t cope with my no filter speak and inability to communicate well all the time, impact on my own wellbeing. Luckily I’m overwhelmed by the support and understanding my friends give me.
  9. I was inspired early on, when I first wrote this post in 2014, to think of one positive at the end of every day, however small. It could be that I managed to wash my hair or that I saw my nephews and nieces. It might be that Youngest and I baked a cake or that Eldest tidied his room – it’s rare. It might be that Joel and I watched a great film!
  10. Now I write 3 positives every morning in my journal about the day before as I’m too tired to write at night. I write 1 thing that made me happy, 1 thing that made me proud and 1 thing that I’m thankful for. If I’m going to always be in pain, I’d rather be happy in pain than miserable and in pain anyway.

Hey, you might like to check out my top tips for setting up your day to be positive using affirmations. These easy tips can help you to build on to these tips above. https://laughingwhileyourecrying.wordpress.com/2019/02/03/5-morning-affirmations-to-guarantee-a-successful-day

Conclusion

A quote saying ‘Just one positive thought in the morning can change your whole day. Anonymous

I give myself limited jobs to do each day, the amount depends on whether I have a friend visit, so that I can still take time to take that one positive thought and remind myself throughout the day.

My life is no longer about a teaching career but it is about the little things in life. Having a positive thought to focus on helps me to stay thankful for having supportive friends and most importantly every moment with my family.

Almost every day a friend will mention that they just don’t know how I’m able to stay positive despite being in constant, debilitating pain. I’ve been told by many friends that I am the strongest person they know or even that I am an inspiration to them. No, I’m not singing my own praises here; I just wanted to share how this makes me feel.

After years of living with mental and chronic illnesses, I’m honoured to be able to inspire my friends with my positivity. I feel that I’ve been passed along insider knowledge for helping others that are suffering with pain or illness; sharing closely guarded tips, tricks and wonderful acts of kindness. My strength has been sent my way and I share it freely.

If I can raise a smile for someone or give them extra strength to get through their day, then I’ve achieved what I set out to do when I started this blog. However, these days I can see what led to me thinking of one positive thought a day and now extend to recording 3 positive thoughts for every day.

If you can only do one of the 10 tips in this guide to a more grateful life, then please find your person to confide in. We all know someone who has needed someone to check on them at some point so if you can be a confidante then make sure your friends know they can talk to you about anything, at anytime. A grateful life starts with a small win and a grin!

Have you got any tips for creating a positively grateful lifestyle that I’ve not mentioned? Please pop them in the comments below. I’d love to read them and I do reply.

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*If you feel you need professional help then please speak to your doctor. This information should not to replace medical guidance and is based on experience alone.

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