Child…..Abuse… Of Power?

Today after almost 6 months of hell at the hands of our local authority, we are victorious. But it is a hollow victory, tinged with indescribable sadness and pain. Lost opportunities.

I’ve been annoyingly cryptic on social media (sit down in the cheap seats with your cries of ‘generally just annoying!’ 😉) over the last 6 months or so. I’ve alluded to ‘things;’ vague references to #fighting the good fight# and such like but effectively been gagged from further explanation. Until now.

In August 2018 we were presented with a hand delivered letter from the manager of the Looked After children’s social care team (LAC) informing us they intended to pursue us through the courts for parental responsibility over our autistic 15 year old son.

I cannot begin to adequately describe the horror and pain we felt, as well as the sheer disbelief, on reading the allegations laid out in the Public Law Outline (PLO) document hand delivered that day in August.

And how did such events arise? Because we had dared to question, disagree and eventually file a formal complaint about the stance taken by our then allocated social worker and the part time foster care placement of our autistic son. That in a nutshell is the extent of our ‘crime.’

The LA brought a case against us stating we had caused emotional abuse, neglect and rejection, by placing the needs of our other children over and above our son’s. All because we had continued to seek and challenge them in providing an alternative, and most importantly, APPROPRIATE care placement.

The first hearing took place in October 2018. Upon reviewing the bundle of ‘evidence’ the Judge was quick to recognise that our battle with the LA stemmed from our request for him to be placed in an alternative provision to that which had been provided. She refused to allow the LA any grounds of threshold on their submissions and highlighted that the case brought before her was deeply upsetting and hurtful to us as parents. She also recognised that having been in dispute for so long, it was necessary for the matter to be heard in the court and therefore stipulated that the case could proceed on the grounds of being out of parental control with no fault being directed at us as parents.

Today the case against my husband and I was withdrawn by the Local Authority and whilst we are relieved in the extreme, there’s a pervading emptiness, an anti-climactic ‘that’s that then’ feeling.

After reading the lies and damning claims submitted by the LA, the hours I’ve spent pouring over documents, the hard-won receipt of social care records, enduring endless meetings with social workers and lawyers and providing evidential based-responses and testimony, today the Local Authority got to stand up in court and say “actually we withdraw, there’s no case to answer.” No sorry, no oops we got it wrong and no acknowledgement of the anguish or distress this caused us! It hurts. A lot.

It is no comfort (at least not at the moment) that our barrister says this is the best outcome we could have hoped for; that by instructing the Judge that there is no case to answer, she allowed the application to be withdrawn. He explained the fact that the LA did not withdraw prior to today meant they had to save face and thus we still had to appear in front of the Judge for her to formally dismiss the proceedings apparently….but it doesn’t feel like we’ve been cleared or had our chance to challenge why they brought such an erroneous case. Even the very favourable reports from the court appointed guardian highlighting that she has no concerns over our parenting bring little comfort.

I suppose we wanted retribution but it’s not in the redress of this particular court to address the, for want of a better word, ‘suffering‘ we have experienced. I think I’ve been too hooked on tv court dramas with all the vim and vigour (vinegar as far as my feelings go!) and the fire and brimstone. There’s no revelling in the fact that #justice# has been done.

Of course there will be some legal bod out there who would happily pursue a case on our behalf (💷💷💷 kerching???) but that will cost us funds we don’t have and for what purpose? Will it bring about closure? Will it heal our grievances? And I suppose I still worry that because we didn’t get to call them out on the stand and have a Judge formally rule on proceedings, there will be always be those people who assume the “no smoke without fire” philosophy, thus believing we are indeed at least partially at fault.

Those of you who have followed my blog/know us personally, will be aware that we have 4 children. All with extra needs and/or health conditions. Let me be clear, this is not an attempt in any way to curry admiration or pity on my part. It is just a fact.

For the last 3 years we have been in dispute with our local authority about the most appropriate way of meeting the needs of our high-functioning autistic son. When we first embarked on this quest, our children were aged between 7 to 16.

I’m extremely lucky to have Mr DNTW’s total support and 100% commitment in aiding (& abetting?!) family life but juggling everything alongside him working shifts with long, unsociable hours and for whom weekends off are as mythical as rocking horse poop, well, ostensibly meeting (attempting) the family’s day to day needs stands – or falls – on my shoulders.

By the latter part of 2016 it had become apparent that despite the multiple strategies and interventions by ourselves, CAMHS, various core emergency services, and the trialing of ever more desperate adaptations to “fix” things in mainstream schooling, nothing was going to reduce our son’s anxiety or the on-going repetitive, risk-taking behaviours and withdrawal from learning, family and friends. It was agreed that our son needed an education health care plan (EHCP) and specialist educational placement.

Our son was also requesting respite from the family home. He struggles when his needs cannot be met, with the hubbub and ‘chaos’ that manifests within our busy family and with the unpredictable nature of our other children’s health needs.

So we sought to find a solution encompassing not only his academic needs but his social, emotional and mental health needs. Additionally we wanted an emphasis on building, and imparting important life skills in order to secure the ability to support himself in living an independent (or to the best of his abilities) life in the future.

It is generally recognised that most children thrive with routine and that this brings them reassurance. Predictability, timely, boring regularity. In the case of many autistic individuals this is key to day to day management and reducing their anxieties.

Certainly in our son’s case sudden upheaval, changes to arrangements or fixed plans being altered are at best unsettling, at the very worst, a cause of deep distress leading to potentially risky, life-threatening behaviours.

We don’t have family to rely on locally and whilst we are ever grateful to the small groups of friends we have made locally, many of them have their own children, some also with complex needs; they are not in a position to assist in helping out or medically qualified to do so.

H now being over 18 means he doesn’t qualify as a child in the eyes of the law; nonetheless as I’m sure the majority of parents would testify, once your offspring reach a legal age of independence, it doesn’t mean you cease to parent…or care…. or worry…. sorry H you are stuck with me mithering you about what time you are coming home or if you are in for dinner! I promise to stop once you leave home “for good.” Probably.

Since H has a congenital heart condition which we know is progressive, albeit *should* be manageable with medication and surgery in later years, it adds an extra dimension to parental fretting. He doesn’t want a fuss making (in fact, I will probably be lambasted for even mentioning it here) so we try our best to abide by that and know that he is in good hands medically, as well as being cognisant of the importance of maintaining and being attuned to his physical well-being. Less so after his Saturday night shenanigans…. 🍻🥃🍷

In respect of our younger 2 children, their needs are much more complicated and unpredictable to manage, both by virtue of their ages and the nature of their difficulties. Suffice to say, life is not so neatly parcelled up with a cherry on the top.

I’ll spare you all the intricacies (if you want to know more, I’ve covered this in other blogs) but on grounds of the costs being incompatible with public expenditure we were refused a placement for our son at an autism specific residential school on a Monday-Friday basis. This had seemed the answer that best met not only all our son’s needs but also the wider family as well.

Our son was only offered a place at a day school (which catered for children with extreme behavioural issues, less than half on role have autism as their primary diagnosis) but there was nothing concrete forthcoming from children’s social care or health.

By this point, both ourselves and our son were desperate. And exhausted and demoralised. I will never forget reading an article that described how parents of children with autism show similar levels of stress to that experienced by combat soldiers.

It was glaringly obvious that we needed a complete turn-about from the impossibly, destructive situation we seemed perpetually quagmired in but I just couldn’t do it by myself anymore. We engaged legal representation in order to proceed to an educational tribunal.

This cost us hugely. I do not mean just financially. I had a complete mental health break-down and spent 3 months as an in-patient. To this day I take a cocktail of medications so I can “function’ and continue to receive therapeutic community care.

The fall out on our other children was immense and still impacts them in a variety of ways. Mr DNTW’s too. With him having to hold down a job and be soul parent, he called in favours left, right and centre to see to the care needs and day-to-day cover for our children. We could not afford for him to take unpaid leave.

Ultimately, my psychologist refused to allow me to leave hospital until social care had provided a medium to long term plan to accommodate our son to allow me to recoup my energy and build on my recovery. Our son was shunted between multiple foster carers which nearly broke our hearts.

Eventually after a period of 6 weeks or so where there were more than 8 people responsible for his care, he was placed in a foster placement some 45 minutes away from us as an interim measure. His needs arising from his autism spectrum condition were never appropriately assessed and we were all in limbo, waiting on the decision of the education court ruling.

During those darkest of days the response from social services was how soon can we return your son home? They simply weren’t interested in the wider needs of us all. Further, when we outlined for sensitive reasons that I won’t divulge here, the carer he had been placed with was not capable or suitable to meet our son’s needs, the response was if you don’t like it, take him home. A phrase that was repeated with alarming regularity during the last few years.

In late 2017, the Educational Tribunal ruled against us stating that we couldn’t prove solely on education grounds that our son needed a residential school placement and so we were back at square one. (This was before the commencement of the national trial from April 2018 which has allowed cases with an overarching health or social care need to also be heard)

Again we were deeply disappointed and living in groundhog day. We considered so many ways to go forward and had settled on proceeding to Judicial Review in order to get the local authority to formally assess our son’s needs holistically. It is a lengthy process and all the while we were being told by our former social worker that his needs were in hand. He was clothed and fed and happy.

But he wasn’t – happy – and his wider needs so paramount to his progress and development weren’t being met in any way. The social worker was intractable in her approach and either unable or unwilling to discuss our concerns.

Despite our repeated pleas for our son’s needs to be properly assessed and matched with an appropriately trained foster carer or a placement in a residential unit, we were refused time and time again.

I should add at this point that throughout the difficulties over the last few years we have continued to have plenty of contact with our son. Daily by phone and/or texts. He also comes back to the family home when there are 2 adults here so that one can assist or be responsible for the care needs of our younger children and one of us can be there for him. This averages out as a minimum of 2 nights per week and all school holidays. We are in daily contact with school for progress reports and updates and have an excellent working relationship with his various support workers.

I’m conscious my son may one day read this post and some of the events that led up to the court proceedings (and continued during the hearings) are very personal to him. That is his story to tell if he and when he so chooses so I won’t divulge specifics. However, despite our best efforts to reassure him that we would always be his parents, no matter what, and that we would always fight for what we believe to be in his best interests, it has been a deeply distressing time for us all. Knowing that the local authority could potentially dictate the where’s and when’s of contact, the amount of contact, where he lived and act as his parental guardians in all aspects of his needs has had a profound affect on us all.

Of note: two good things have come out of this (aside from the obvious relief of the case being dropped) – at the start of the LA’s actions, we were allocated a new social worker. She is fantastic and has worked extremely hard with us, our son and on our behalf. Her endeavours, alongside the evidence we provided and the evidence submitted by the appointed guardian who carried out assessments of us, the former foster carer, of our son and his school has led to securing an appropriate care placement for our son. He moves on Sunday after a few celebratory days with us as home.

Our social worker has taken the time to listen and actually hear what we have been saying. She has taken the time to get to know us, evaluate his needs and understand the impact of his autism, not just on him but also on us as a wider family.

We are quietly confident that the new placement will be the best plan going forward and it is all to her credit that in spite of the very difficult circumstances, we have built a relationship with her that is mutually respected.

Nonetheless, it will take a long time before we as a family are healed from this traumatic process.

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The Trigger…..(Pull it)

Recently for reasons that as yet I cannot divulge (I promise there is a blog post coming on this as soon as I am able; apologies for the cloak and dagger tactics. I’m not one of those “u ok hun?” PM/In box me” type people honestly!!) I have recently had to write an explanation of what led me to my break down almost 2 years ago. The account needed to be factual and pragmatic; the irony of trying to keep my feelings out of it when dealing with something so fundamentally, emotionally driven as a suicide attempt was not lost on me.

Although I will (if asked) talk to close friends and family about what led to my attempts and breakdown in mental health honestly and forthrightly, it doesn’t mean there isn’t shame; that there isn’t guilt and that there aren’t things that I (still) hide. There are somethings that are so deeply personal (buried?) that I don’t think I’ve even allowed myself to explore them.

In writing down the what’s, why’s and wherefore’s, its dug up a lot of suppressed memories, pain and feelings of helplessness, at a situation that was not of my own making. That’s not to say that I want to palm what happened off on someone/something else. I accept responsibility for want of a better word for the actions I undertook. However I reached that point where checking out seemed the only option to change what was going on around me.

It occurred to me as I typed the details up that it was triggering a lot of emotions even though I wanted to be concise and almost 3rd person in my approach. And I as thought about that word “trigger,” I realised that summed up my entire experience of a mental health breakdown. Seems obvious I suppose. I don’t know – I can only speak from my personal situation.

Suicidality  springs from a myriad of wide and varied causes;  I am no expert. For some it may be a single one-off event that causes the person to experience a sudden mental health breakdown (personal/financial/status loss spring to mind) for others something that happened in their past (abuse, specific traumatic one off/repetitive  event) which cannot be overcome.

For me, it came about insidiously, through a relentlessly relentless piling on of pressures and this too is of course acknowledged as a common cause. I guess for me the idiom “at the end of my rope” has more connotations than just being at the end of one’s patience. Apparently the original source of this expression relates to tethering an animal to prevent it moving and wondering off beyond a certain distance.  Personally, (in a somewhat grimly, ironic humour) I thought it meant at the end of the hanging noose knot….

My first suicidal ideation was triggered by the repeated use of the word COPE. An innocuous little word that is used to describe so many situations. As a parent carer of children with special needs, it’s not uncommon for others to utter “I don’t know how you cope!” This is something that I know many of my fellow parent carers  or carers in general will be nodding along with.

Carers are often seen as saintly like figure. A cross between Florence Nightingale and Mary Poppins perhaps? Truth is, very few of us chose this life. The role chose us by circumstance or default.  I know there are some utterly inspiring carers out there who did actually choose to foster or adopt children with special needs (and thank goodness for them) to prevent little lives being institutionalised without families of their own.

There are also those courageous individuals who when embarking on their journey of parenthood were given horrifying, frightening, diagnosis for their unborn child and yet chose to bring life into the world knowing they were doing so against the odds; that they  would do their utmost to love and cherish their child, no matter what. Other parents have had to face a child being diagnosed with cancer, degenerative or congenital conditions out of the blue or as a result of an accident or injury.

Of course later in life more and more of us are facing the hideous reality of dementia in family members. Those with grandparents and harder still, their own parents or siblings who they see deteriorating in their day-to-day abilities; losing their independence and all too often a decline in mood, personality and recognition of their own nearest and dearest. Very cruel.

Whichever way it comes to be, caring for someone isn’t something you get a medal for. There isn’t a huge amount of reward  – certainly not monetarily. If you can show that you provide care for someone receiving  specific incapacity benefits for over 35 hours per week and you earn under £123p/w (as of April 2019) from other sources of income, you can enjoy the princely sum of £66.15p/w (also April 2019) for the ‘privilege’ of being a carer. Even based on 35 hours per week(and the majority of carers I know ‘work’ substantially longer hours than that; 24/7 for many)  that equates to just £1.89 per hour. Wow. Best not get me started on that. A ranty blog post for another day no doubt.

Anyway I digress. The point I’m taking a long time to get to is many carers ‘cope’ because there really isn’t any other alternative. And those of you who say you couldn’t? Well you would. If you had to. At least for a period of time.

There are (too) many days I feel like sitting in a corner and rocking. Many days I wonder how I’m going to make it through the endless medications, physiotherapy, appointments, hospital visits and dealing with the practicalities and physicalities of caring for children with extra needs. Don’t get me started on the relentless laundry pile that never seems to go down, the food shopping and meal preparation that are just part and parcel of every day life in a busy family and I know I’m far from alone.

But the point is I do – cope – I mean, generally speaking. It isn’t a life I chose but equally my children didn’t ask to come into the world with neurological,  medical and/or physical difficulties either. So I get up, I keep going, usually with a grin (maybe a grimace) and somehow it all vaguely fits together, we get to the end of each day with perhaps only a modicum of sanity and no clean school shirts for the next day (Febreeze anyone?!) because it’s the only way we carers know how too.

There isn’t any one else out there to pick up the slack. Unless you are in the fortunate (and probably) unlikely position to be independently wealthy, the majority of carers get on with their role because they have to keep on keeping on. No one else is going to be there to pick up the pieces (or socks) if they don’t. No white knight (or even vaguely grimy one) will rush in where others fear to tred.

So back to that pesky trigger of mine. What’s more frightening than ever is it’s not just carers that struggle to COPE. Unless you have been hiding under a rock, you can’t have failed to notice the inadequacies in the health and social care system caused by austerity, lack of (meaningful) investment, candidates and poor morale. The system itself has reached breaking point.

The working conditions are sending droves of medical professionals overseas where they will have a better work-life balance and better remuneration. Fewer than ever medical students want to take on the role of General Practice and more GP’s than ever are planning to retire early. Figures released in July 2018 showed 1 in every 6 GP positions were unfilled leaving almost every surgery across England at least one Doctor short.

Mental health services have also suffered hugely and in real terms, whilst there were expansive (and expensive!) promises given that funding would increase broadly in this area (£2 billion was pledged by Phillip Hammond in October 2018) in reality the fall in in-patient beds has led to those in crisis being sent hundreds of miles from home, away from their nearest and dearest which can, at least in my experience, only create more hardship. The inability to access timely, regional in-patient care is not just inadequate but dangerous. The focus on out-patient/community based care is of course welcome but it is not a replacement for those battling psychosis, severe depression, eating disorders and such like, especially when either the beds aren’t in familiar environments or worse still, available at all.

Locally Harrogate Hospital plan to close the adult mental health in-patient unit at some as yet unspecified date in the future (rumoured to be later this year) and I for one will mourn this loss. Whilst I hope never to need in-patient services again, I made and have retained a very special  friendship with a fellow MH warrior. We often share some  deeply inappropriate, darkly humourous moments that unless you have experienced a mental health crisis, just wouldn’t be appreciated by  nearest and dearest.

I am forever changed by my own break down experience both in good and bad ways. I have learned my tolerances are much lower than before so whilst I’m in an *ok* place much of the time, it doesn’t take much to alter that kilter and send me spiralling to darker places. But I have also learned I am stronger than I thought it was ever possible to be, that I can ‘cope’ with most of what life throws at me and that will do… for now

Relentlessly Relentless….

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Who cares for the carers?

There are many days where I feel like waving the white flag of surrender. I give up. Stick a fork in me, I’m done. Substitute your own personal favourite motto for when the 💩💩 just keeps on coming and you really don’t want to face it anymore.

As a rule, I am not a woe is me kind of a gal but there are limits and even for the Queen of “the glass is half empty, therefore there’s always more room for wine” claimant, sometimes I just don’t want to play anymore.

So why today? It’s been a busy week – nothing new there. Multiple appointments – again lather, rinse, repeat. Certain “dark forces” (bear with me, having to be slightly obtuse so it’s not too outing; a story for another day!) have done their level best to floor us as family and put up barriers; as my Dad would say: “same sh*t different day.”  Nothing especially jumps out as being out of our ‘norm.’

Actually, the straw that broke the camels back today is really rather ridiculous –  especially since I’m a grown (loosely termed since I barely scrape 5ft 3″) woman.

I don’t know about you but for me, it’s often the little things that tip me over the edge and today was no exception: there were NO apricot danishes left in a certain food establishment that prides itself on offering not just any old danish…. and boy did I have my heart set on that danish.*

You could in fact say I had built that particular danish up to be the highlight of my week (I know I know, I need to get out more!) and I was relishing scarfing it down with my mid-morning latte whilst staring daggers at my ever-increasing piles of paperwork that needs to be set light to dealt with and some of it rather urgently (anyone thinking I might be procrastinating by writing a blog post instead of dealing with said paperwork, that’s an affirmative!) particularly if I intend to throw my own kind of shade back at the dark forces. They might be putting up barriers but I’m packing TNT, a demolition ball and an AK47 to pulverize them. Ok perhaps I should STEP AWAY from the caffeine….my over active imagination, key-board-warrior-esque approach and twitchy eye suggest that caffeine, my drug of choice, has been consumed in too vast a quantity.

Whether it was the *slightly* murderous deranged look in my eyes or the muttering  sotto voce of curses questioning the parentage of all food halls connected with this particular establishment that caught the attention of the lovely man on the bakery counter, I can’t be sure but clearly sensing something was amiss from the plethora of delicacies in front of me, he tentatively asked if everything was all right.

Resisting the urge to scream out in the style of Ross from Friends a la “My Sandwich” sketch (you young things aren’t likely to be familiar with that gem so let me share it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6tqmXTYa3Xw) and without resorting to tears either (the struggle was real people!) I managed to convey my deep disappointment that there were no danishes of the apricot variety to be seen.

And then, as if by divine intervention (ok, I’m waxing faaaaaaarr too literally, all that caffeine has really done for me today!) the dear, dear bakery man, (alas I did not find out your name in the ensuing rush of emotions that came over me!) uttered those most blessed of words: “not to worry, I’m just about to put some out!”  Yes! Fist bump, air horns and angels singing the hallelujah chorus; the gods and goddesses and the high priestess of bakeries had smiled righteously upon me.

I must confess it felt like there was something in my eye. I’m thinking that as my salivary glands went into over-drive, some sort of neurological spill over occurred to cause watering?

But the thing is, I’m a firm believer in taking your pleasures where you find them (erm just to caveat, legal ones, I’m definitely not advocating lawlessness or reckless criminality!) because being a parent is at times bloody hard work.

Being a parent carer is even bloody harder, thankless work and as far as I can find, there’s no resignation clause and as for the pay? Well if you are “lucky” enough to qualify (there are certain criteria and the person you are caring for has to have significant needs taking up significant amounts of time) for carer’s allowance, do the maths –  you don’t even get minimum wage for the hours you put in. Oh and no matter how many people you provide care for, you only get a single carer’s allowance.

When you multiply caring for 3 children and an 18-year-old who all have varying medical/social-emotional needs and complexities, there really aren’t enough hours in the day. I go to bed every night with a to-do-list that grows ever longer. For every 2 things I manage to tick off during the course of the day, I seem to have added at least another 5.

It plays on my mind that I have dropped the ball somewhere; have I requested everyone’s medications from the GP and arranged for them to be sent to the pharmacy? Do we have enough feed/containers/giving sets/dressings/lotions and potions in hand to get to the end of the month? Have I transposed all of the appointments that crop up into my phone calendar so I can plan everything round them in the weeks ahead? And woe betide if any of those appointments were only given to me over the phone and I don’t have an actual letter to cross reference and double-check with –  will I get the right child to the right hospital/clinic/specialist on the right day and time?!

I’m not ashamed to say I take a concoction of various medications every day to help me manage one way or another; be that for my severe depression, anxiety and inability to sleep or for the acid reflux that plagues me and the dodgy back/neck/shoulders and most   recently, excruciatingly painful sciatica (so many carers suffer with joint/muscle pain and problems as result of the physical demands of caring for a loved one with mobility difficulties) I’m acutely aware that these are a crutch for want of a better word. In an ideal world, it would be far better to tackle the sources of the problems permanently. Even better in some far off utopia, it would be to put provisions in place to be proactive instead of reactive. To prevent the aches and pains and feelings of isolation, despair and all the affiliated emotions and physicality’s that go along with being a carer.

I learned to my cost (and that of my families, not to mention the NHS etc) that if we carers don’t put protective measures in to fortify ourselves it all comes crashing down.

I am not unique. As a member of support groups such as SWAN UK –  http://www.undiagnosed.org.uk I read far too many comments from parent-carers who face battles similar or even harder than my own.

On other forums I’m a part of in relation to education, health and social care there is a generalised resignation to the fact that accessing support, working WITH organisations or professionals instead of the THEM and US facade is a constantly uphill battle; at best a ‘sorry there’s no money in the system’ approach to outright horrific accounts of utterly despicable, underhand tactics designed to deprive the most vulnerable members of society from the most basic, fundamental human rights and discrediting, even slandering or making false allegations against those who have to pick up the mantle and strive on their loved ones behalf. Probably best I don’t get started. I can feel the vitriol rising and that won’t help the acid reflux!!

Next week from 11th June to 18th June inclusive is Carers Week in the UK.  You can learn more here:  https://www.carersweek.org  It is estimated that in the UK there are 6.5 million carers and that figure is only certain to rise as we face an ageing population who are living longer, an NHS that is under resourced, over stretched and a welfare system that has been not so much stripped back as hacked to death and lord only knows what, if anything will be around in future times to help and support those most in need.

But for now anyway, I have taken care of myself by refuelling with a double shot, fully caffeinated (you don’t say?!) latte and a belly full of apricot danishso I’m bouncing off the walls all fired up to tackle the paperwork and smite those dark forces with a mother’s wrath.

*If anyone suddenly feels the need to shower me in delicious pastries of the apricot kind, you know, I’ll happily take one for the team 😉 Or tell me your own personal sanity savers and maybe I’ll see what else I can try!

A picture paints a 1000 words?

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When you look a this picture, what do you see?

A smiling girl (admittedly that’s probably stretching the use of the word ‘girl’) and her dog? A woman who looks tired, definitely in need of a bit of slap (literally and figuratively?!) and probably some air brushing?

This picture is so bittersweet in so many ways that I *almost* can’t bear to even share it.  My beautiful dog Buddy is in it and he’s no longer with us, departed over the rainbow bridge to be with other furry friends. It makes my heart ache all over again but he still brings warm thoughts and a semi smile to my face nonetheless. The power of canine love.

But what this picture represents is so much more than the image at face value.

Just over one year ago this picture was taken in the reception area of a psychiatric hospital. I was suicidal and had been admitted two days previously having reached crisis point and having made the decision to end my life.

Even trying to write that phrase feels unreal and melodramatic.  Like a bad soap opera or overly prosaic novel.   This stuff doesn’t happen in the ‘real’ world. Except it does.

I don’t know if it was a surprise when I eventually confided in some of my closest friends about what I had done and what at times, it feels like I still intend to do. In some ways reaching that point was a huge shock, even for me.

If there is such a thing as a poster girl for depression, I’m not certain mine would have been the picture used (hopefully not this one anyway…it’s not my best side!) I was and still am (usually) a glass half full type person – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – a glass half full means there’s still plenty of room for more wine!

See, I crack jokes, talk a lot, especially when nervous, I smile, put make up on, clean clothes, prepare meals, answer phone calls etc etc so how can I be depressed? And therein I think lies the crux of it: what does a depressed person look like? What image does someone who has reached the end of their coping skills project?

I wouldn’t dream of speaking for others who have gone through and continue to battle their own demons. But in my experience, depression is such an insidious thing. So even if you seem to be the life and soul of the party, the one that is strong and capable, dependable and reliable, it doesn’t mean you can’t experience the gnawing, dragging, emptiness. The feeling that it’s all too much, no way out, nowhere else to run to.

Too much effort, too much expectation, everything from getting up, dressed, one foot in front of the other a herculean effort. But it doesn’t mean you don’t keep DOING all those things. Sometimes the doing of all those very things is one of the ways you keep some kind of a handle on it, albeit a wonky one.

So it doesn’t in any way seem surprising to me when I read accounts of how someone has gone about their day-to-day life, seemingly taking it on the chin, even appearing to have a great time attending events, get togethers, nights out….and then they end it all.

The shock and grief to their nearest and dearest must be bitter, unpalatable and shrouded in disbelief.  There must be soul-searching. What did they miss? What clues didn’t they pick up on? How could they let their friend/partner/family member down so unreservedly? Why couldn’t they be stopped from choosing this final absolution?

And anger, only natural too. Rage at their selfishness; that they left everyone in this mess, they stopped trying. Took the ‘easy’ way out.

All these things run through my mind regularly, over and over, like a fuzzy old-fashioned film negative.

I feel burdened by the weight of other people’s expectations of me and the damage that would ricochet through our family unit if I achieve my objective. I once had a crisis mental health worker give me the statistics of how many young people go on to take their own lives in the event that a parent ‘chooses’ to commit suicide. Harsh and horrifying and heaping on the guilt. Crafty, effective move that was.

Perhaps because so often my every day life involves meetings with professionals in relation to the needs of our 4 children, it is so important (to me) that my armour is in place. Keeping up appearances, stopping them from defining me as *that* mother, that weak, special snow flake.

The vast majority of professionals we deal with have been nothing but supportive and helpful, even sympathetic but there are always a few, (ironically the ones who in my view have most failed our wider family), who would like to define our ASD child’s difficulties by my ‘shortcomings.’

The fact of course that respite care was proffered but never organised, dangled like a mesmerising carrot for so long, just out of reach; the fact that our child required appropriate specialist schooling and wrap around care, the inevitable self harm, suicidal idealisations, violence against myself and our other children, the regular police involvement, ambulance call outs, CAMHS care and so forth, all accumulated into some persistent, momentous ball of hell unravelling at lightning speed had nothing to do with my break down at all. I’m *just* that sad and pathetic and attention seeking……

Mental health is still, despite the (much-needed) increase in awareness and highlighting by people like the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry and high-profile celebrities, radio presenters and such like, a taboo, a dirty little secret.

Admitting that you have mental health difficulties, at least to me, feels a bit like shouting out the word VAGINA (or other awkward word of your choosing that doesn’t tend to come up in day-to-day conversation!) on a megaphone, naked on stage to a silently packed out Wembley arena, being globally transmitted by multiple satellites……

I can only speak for myself but having chatted to other friends going through similar concerns, I know they too feel a sense of shame, being perceived as somehow weak and feeble, lessened.

One of the most crucifying  experiences I had in the latter months of last year related to the ill-health of our youngest son. Due to severe gastrointestinal difficulties culminating in losing 5 Kilos in a 4 month period, an extended hospital stay and the insertion of a naso-gastric feeding tube, the lead paediatrician (also our regular consultant for both G-Man and Minx) called a multi-disciplinary meeting to discuss both children’s health concerns (they share many similar aspects) and a plan going forward.

Present at the meeting (in addition to the consultant) were an Occupational Therapist, Physiotherapist, Dietician, Speech and Language Therapist, Community Nurse, Student nurse, Ward Sister, Disability Children’s Team Social Worker, Paediatrician, myself and Mr DNTW’s and a few others I can’t recall. I think the only person who wasn’t there was Uncle Tom Cobley*

The consultant outlined the various medical difficulties, asked professionals for observations and then having brief knowledge of our background family situation asked for us parents to outline relevant events over the year.

It’s trite but during that account, it did feel like time stopped. There seemed to be a palpable and  collective withholding of breath as I relayed the events of significance. I did my best to remain factual, honest, hiding nothing but not (at least I don’t think) boring them to slumber and derailing the topic with a pity party for one.

I couldn’t make eye contact. I didn’t dare look up. My attempt to be detached failed. I cried; big, fat, salty tears of shame. And of course that always brings on the snot. So as I crumpled tissues and wiped and snorted my way through this hideousness, it brought with it crippling anxiety; the awareness that I had laid myself especially vulnerable to the people I need to work with for my children’s sake on a regular basis and I was in their eyes, at least to my thinking, diminished, fallible.

I must take pains to clarify that not for one moment do I think the consultant was doing this to be unkind or humiliate me. His request came from a genuine place: to what impact psychologically were (are) G-Man’s difficulties related to what is going on in his life and how as a collective could we address this for the best patient care.

It’s an ongoing situation. G doesn’t have an eating disorder; his medical ‘foibles’ are complex and require further investigation (even as I type a referral to Minx’s gastro team at GOSH is on its way), interwoven with understandable anxiety around food , the pain it causes and the bigger picture. He’s also under CAMHS.

That there has been a fall out from my ‘situation’ on all the children, there can be no doubt. Even now, if I am unwell physically or seem low the children are hypersensitive to me, like little meerkats on guard.  It will take time for that to subside and what I am beginning to realise, it may never go away entirely.

I’m still recovering if that’s the right word to use. I feel frustrated with myself and angry. There are too many should’s/would’s/could’s (which my mental health team would rap me over the wrists for) – unhelpful words those – and I suppose like the layers of an onion, or perhaps the facets of a diamond, (definitely preferable to root vegetables in my eyes!) are to be evolved and discovered in time.

Therefore, just as the 4 c’s in diamond terms are all important – cut, colour, clarity, carat weight –  we know there is no such thing as a flawless diamond; technically speaking even those given a flawless classification have the tiniest of blemishes or imperfections – (bet you will sleep better knowing that hey 😉)  Having a love of all things sparkly and glittery, I’ll happily compare myself to a flawed diamond (less of the rough diamond please).

Perfectly imperfect. Needing a bit of a spit and polish.

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  • Uncle Tom Cobley origin:
    “Uncle Tom Cobley and all” is a well used British expression to define (in slight derision) a lot of people. It’s akin to the expression “the world and its wife” and  comes from from a Devon folk ballad (Widdicombe Fair in case you are really interested!)  Uncle Tom Cobley (and all) is named as the last of a long (long!) list of men with a chorus ending Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney, Peter Davy, Dan’l Whiddon, Harry Hawke, Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all.

The monkey on my back…

There are times I cannot shake it off, not even channelling my best (very poor) Taylor Swift vibe.

It’s a glimpse out the corner of the eye. Did I see it or was it my imagination? A floater, a speck of dust in the atmosphere or a shadow clinging to the edges. Who can say with certainty? It’s presence can be equal parts downy kiss or Machiavellian thief of joy.

I rail when I am unable to fix, kiss it better or magic it away with Calpol. I am a fixer you see or an agitator of souls at the very least.

If unhappiness hovers, security and resolve is threatened then I should be the equivalent of super glue. Yet am I more of a tie that binds? The kite line that sores and flies on the wind or the dead wood. Chop it out?Build it up to smash it down?

I don’t think so. Not on my watch. Not today at least. Tomorrow? It is unwritten.

Somewhere over the rainbow… 🌈🌈❣️

Hello my hooomannn’s!

Mum, its been over 6 weeks now so I thought it was time I brought you a ‘pup’-date from over the rainbow bridge.

I know you have been so sad about my passing. I have watched you feeling down, seen you wracked with guilt, doubts and worries, especially over the last few days of our time together.

I wish you wouldn’t dwell so much on those sad times nor second guess the decisions you made before I had to leave you. It wasn’t your fault, you couldn’t know I was poorly and we dogs love to please so much, I hid it well, I always tried to keep my best brave snout on for you, no matter what.

Even when I wasn’t feeling my best in those last few days, I did enjoy our walks. Honest. Well I suppose if I’m strictly honest, I enjoyed you and the rest of my hoomann families company… and not forgetting the sausages you brought me when we went to the cafe by the river; especially the sausages!

I thought you might want to know a little about where I’ve been, what I’ve seen and what I’ve been up to.

Well first things first, I don’t hurt anymore and I don’t feel tired! In fact I feel like a puppy again. Boundless energy, everything is so exciting and needs exploring! And the smells – wow – I don’t even know where to begin in describing those!! It’s like every amazing, delicious, fantastic thing you could ever wish for: cheese, carrots, steak, sausages, newly moan grass, crispy leaves, Fox poo and all my hooman family smells rolled in together!! Yum! Absolute paw-fection.

There are so many other animals here to play with and lots have similar stories to mine!

Here no one here is scared or lonely, no one is hurting; no one feels tired or has any cares. No one is old or unwanted. In fact, most importantly all any of us know is love and happiness.

Our bellies never feel empty yet there is always room for more. I only have to think about a nice, sizzling sausage or bit of crunchy carrot and suddenly I can taste it!

There are balls and plenty of squishy toys everywhere and even if I chew the flip-flops no one minds and I don’t get a bellyache! That’s a definite plus.

Did you know Mum, some of the other souls here previously lived with bad hoomans who only caused them pain and fear? The ‘tails’ they tell me are horrible. Fortunately they are now but distant memories and those of us who want to, can watch over our loved ones whenever we choose.

I look in on you all often and it’s been lovely to see you this last week with the new addition to the family: little Milo. What a cracking young pup he is!

I know you think that I might feel betrayed – too quickly replaced – but Mum, he was my gift to you all! I knew you needed him. I opened your hearts you see.

When you were first thinking about a dog and you got me, after so many years of ‘Pawcrastinating’ I knew I needed to guide you in the ways of all things canine. Although you had researched a lot and borrowed other people’s dogs, it’s a bit like what you told your hoooman friends about having children: until you have your own, you just aren’t prepared, no matter how many books you read or how many pooches you ‘pup-sit.’ But like you also said, it brings you far more laughter, fun and happiness… albeit with a fair amount of 💩💩 thrown in!! 😆

So I went as easy on you, my Martin Dad and your other less furry children – my bros and sis – as I could; although I do know that when I had to leave, it almost broke you 😢

We won’t dwell on that though. Because I want you to know I’m happy and that means you have to be too.

My gift to you all was empowerment and knowledge that our family NEEDED another dog, to give a happy home, needed a dog to keep up your usual level of functionally dysfunctional chaos! So now you know.

I see already that young master Milo has been well indoctrinated in the ways of mischief. Hiding your dad’s slippers was very clever. But a stroke of genius to divide and conquer: 1 in the crate and 1 secreted away in his bed! Clever pup. The force is strong in this one.

I see he shares my love of blueberries, carrots & the odd crumble of cheese. Positively discriminatory on the cucumber I note but you can’t have everything… and anyway he seems partial to celery … which frankly I agree with Martin- Dad on: it tastes of welly boots… and not in a good way!

He’s starting to master the cava-tilt head pose and cottoned on to staring up at you beseechingly whilst you prepare food at the kitchen island. Smart move… took me much longer to suss that one out.

So Mum, when you think about me now, please know that I’m well looked after. Please reflect on the fabulous times we shared, the wind in my fur and running free through the nearby park. Know that I’m watching over you all and if you catch a glimpse out the corner of your eye of me, you didn’t imagine it; I’m just checking in on you all.

It’s almost 2018. You can leave the last year where it belongs: in the past. Look to the future. Teach Milo well – I think he could master some of my old tricks quite soon… oh and mum, go easy on dressing him up in the jumpers…. yes yes, it’s all very cute and I guess quite needed whilst it’s a tad on the chilly side… but a dog does need some dignity you know!

So from my furry little heart to you and yours, I wish you peace, happiness and good memories. Embrace it Mum! ❣️🌈😍🌈

(Wo)Man’s best friend ❣️

This is a post I didn’t think I’d write for many years to come. One I shouldn’t even be thinking of composing. It’s not right. It’s not fair but here it is.

I am also acutely aware that this ramble may be perceived as very self-indulgent. Far too many of my good friends have lost their children. I would not dream for one moment of comparing my grief to theirs. But nonetheless the sudden and very unexpected loss of our much loved dog burns white hot and I am hollowed out with sadness. For all intents and purposes, our pup was a fully paid up 7th member of the family. Well technically 8th I guess if you count the cat. (We do love her too!)

If you have read any of my past blogs, you will know some of the difficulties and battles our family has faced over the last few years.

Whilst it’s not a competition, no top-trumps fest, the day to day demands of medically complex children, the amazing quirks but also relentlessness of autism, endless appointments, clinics, surgeries, battles for and with various agencies and services takes its toll. You Buddy (or Sir Budston of Burnarrrr as we sometimes referred to you!) my wonderful little dog, helped alleviate some of those burdens.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I recognise there are many people, probably some of them reading this, who would give everything they have and then some to be facing those same fights and difficulties I mentioned, having lost their precious loved ones far too prematurely; but oh my boy, I thought we had so many long and happy years ahead; wondrous walks to stroll/pad through, delightful or disgusting (depending on your perspective) smells to sniff and cuddles on the sofa to sneak in at any and every opportunity.

Buddy, much admired by all who met you, faithful four legged companion. How can we only have celebrated your birthday a month ago? How can it be that we never even made it to a whole year of you being in our lives, in our home?

You were my birthday present almost one year ago. We had talked about having a dog for over 5 years before taking the plunge. A bit like having a child, it was never quite the right time to introduce a dog to our chaotic lives.

Enlarging the family, moving house, redundancies, working abroad, relocating and leaving the island of my birth and the only home our children had ever known followed by house rentals before finally having a settled(ish) house of our own.

Quite out of the blue and having been a steadfast, most resistant party, I’ll never forget the day my hubby, Martin, turned to me and asked if I wanted a puppy for my birthday!

Minx was about to go into theatre for surgery number whatever and was giggling woozily from the pre-op medication. I recall being so taken aback I asked him if he had actually downed the pre-med instead! I was ecstatic and not about to give him time to change his mind.

Although it had been a long time coming, I knew exactly what kind of dog would suit our family, our crazy-hectic-bonkers lives and had done quite a bit of research in the hope that one day… maybe…just maybe… we would be lucky enough to have a pooch of our own.

We saw your picture first and a flurry of emails were exchanged before THE BIG DAY: your homecoming; my 40 something birthday. The moment I picked you up, cuddled you to me and laughed at the thought of putting you in the enormous crate in the back of the car, you filled our hearts so entirely. The void you leave behind is a chasm of epic proportions. I don’t know how or if ever it can be filled.

It doesn’t seem possible that I’m writing about your passing over the rainbow bridge when we should be looking forward to so many more years of mischief and mayhem. More days fretting about what you might have managed to scarf down if one of us wasn’t quick enough to stop you – I lost count the amount of Lego I scooped up just in time; how many bits of this and that I retrieved from your doggy jaws. Your quivering nose whiffling along always seeking out, questing and foraging. You could smell a dropped blueberry from a 100 paces and hear the rustling of the treats bag in the kitchen no matter where you were in the house or garden; a pretty useful tactic when you were being cheeky and not wanting to come to us when called!

You brought so much happiness. Joy, laughter, giggles and fun. And so much poop too! Martin tells me he cleaned up 12 doggy bags worth yesterday. Considering I last did it on Saturday morning and yesterday was only Wednesday, that’s quite an achievement. Especially since you were nil by mouth from Monday night on. And you were at the vets all day Tuesday….

We joked it didn’t feel right to get rid of all the 💩; perhaps we should create some poo-based monstrosity altar dedicated to you? Your legendary pooping out an entire, intact nerf bullet still makes me smile now. (NB definitely not to be encouraged responsible readers/dog owners – the children learnt the hard way that I meant what I said if they left things like Lego/nerf bullets lying around = bin)

A lot of expectation on such stumpy little legs. Not just the 6 people in your immediate family cuddling you, loving, and petting you. So many people that had the pleasure to meet you – our favourite coffee shop by the river and all the employees therein, our lovely groomer and her dog Poppy, friends and family and the seemingly never ending stream of delivery people with medical supplies or equipment, Amazon deliveries and so forth. Always an action packed day in this wonky-old household and you always ready to greet them with a deep woof, occasional bark and a wave of your magnificent plume of a tail. We often remarked your tail was bigger than you! It looked like it should sit in pride of place on a hat worn by one of the 3 Muskateers. And now I have a small piece of it saved in a memory box to remember you by. It smells still of the grooming, pamper session you had just last Friday. I’m glad it is of that and not the clinical smells of the veterinary practice, their kindness not withstanding. Your grooming sessions over the year cost more than my haircuts!

You were my secret keeper extraordinaire. Too many nights I muttered oaths into the top of your sweetly curling fur when dealing with the latest co*k-up from various services, be they special needs, medical bods or utility companies. So many times I poured out my heart and soul to you, you listening attentively with your head on one side, adopting the classic cava tilt that all other cavachon owners will recognise in its uniqueness. When I was saddest you snuggled that bit closer. When I was happy you were delighted that there were extra treats and cuddles and when it was all just a bit too much, you expected nothing but ensured your presence was always felt.

We joked often that you were not so much a dog – more part goat, part sloth. Your dislike of vigorous, brisk walks was the cause of much frivolity and it was remarked upon more than once that you were the perfect companion for a fair-weather not terribly exercise motivated owner such as myself. Too many times at the site of your harness and lead you would feign sleep or rush back to your bed refusing to come out, especially if it was cold. and dark. and raining. and there was a ‘Y’ in the day…..

Of course now I know my darling boy, you weren’t just faking it; you weren’t trying to make me feel better about the dislike of walking in the 4-seasons-in-1-day climate of Yorkshire. You were tired. Your little body was constantly battling a build up of toxins that in the end would be your downfall.

I try to take comfort from the fact that you are no longer suffering. That we could afford you the peace and dignity that is so often missing when our human loved ones are terminally ill. It makes a small dint in my grief.

At the moment there is too much sadness in this household. Too many reminders everywhere we look: your water bowl empty, toy box neat and tidy, not strewn all over the kitchen. Your place on the sofa vacant. I think even Tilly the Cat in her own feline way misses you; after all she can no longer take a swift munch out of your breakfast or dinner when she thinks none of us are looking.

Members on a wonderful Facebook web site I belong to for cavachon lovers have provided me with enormous support. An out pouring of love, empathy and sympathy. A stunning bouquet of flowers was delivered from them to me today. It made me cry again. But the tears were underscored by gratitude too. After all as Alfred Lord Tennyson said it best: “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”Buddy 04/10/2016 – 14/11/2017 🌈❣️