6 Go Crazy On A Socially Distanced Adventure…*

* a very dreadful homage to all things Enid Blyton to hopefully offer some light-relief in these challenging times….

The 6 DNTW’s have been holed up together under one roof for less than 72 hours and the wholesome, ruddy-cheeked (feckless) children are clearly feeling the strain. As are their parents.

After a mere 2 & 1/2 days of home schooling, Mr DNTW’s could be heard enquiring at what age teachers are legally allowed to retire and Mrs DNTW’s is contemplating ingesting the hand sanitiser that her very lovely, witty and glamorous (also childless therefore explaining the non-haggard visage and aforementioned glamour!) friend sent her in the post because she has read they contain alcohol.

In a time of national emergency surely it is obvious that both should be drunk not rubbed on one’s hands?! (In the interests of health and safety please don’t!)

Mrs DNTW’s knows she should be very grateful that she has thoughtful and lovely friends who think of sending her such precious things like alcohol flavoured hand-gel in these desperate times but right now she is wondering if she can drink the contents as they do in fact contain actual, REAL alcohol. She also feels it desperately unfair that Mr DNTW’s has refuted her suggestion of sacrifice that she consumes hard liquor and remains 70% proof at all times because apparently an alcohol content above 66% is necessary to effectively kill off bacteria and she is trying to protect herself from the dreaded “C” word so in turn she can nurture her family.

Unusually given the vocabulary of child number 2, it is not that ‘c’ word that she is worrying about for the time being, nor is it the BIG C but it is definitely a very unpleasant C which shall not be mentioned herewith 🦠

It is likely that Mr DNTW’s is not thinking of the health and well-being of his wife in pouring scorn on her proposal but is rather more concerned he will be asked to aid in the SPAG (spelling punctuation and grammar for those not in the know) work that has been set as part of the home-schooling curriculum by actual teachers who are laughing delightedly and rubbing their hands with glee hand-gel at those contemptuous parents who spout such nonsense as:

“huh! 6 weeks off in the summer! They should know what hard work is really like!”

In her defence, Mrs DNTW’s would very much like it to be known that she has never been one of those smug and belittling folk. In fact she thinks that anyone who has voluntarily and willingly decided, (not to mention paid out horrifyingly large sums of money for the privilege of doing so) to nurture and cherish young mind’s – other people’s children (Sartre’s quote “Hell is….?!”) – should probably be sectioned canonised.

Mrs DNTW’s has tried to instill a respect for authority, foster a love of learning and an oasis of peace and tranquility in the classroom that was once her dining room.

In truth she wasn’t very successful imparting these qualities to her older children in the past so it is unsurprising that the younger ones reject her request to answer the register, greet her politely with “Good morning Mrs Definitely Not The Walton’s” and yell “Oi Karen and BOOMER” at her periodically. Mrs DNTW’s wonders whether telling her precious off-spring that they will enjoy working in 45 minute blocks with 15 minute movement and snack breaks might have been a tad ambitious and perhaps it should have been the other way around.

After Mrs DNTW’s has spent 20 minutes surreptitiously consulting her phone for an explanation of fronted adverbials, preposition and sub-clauses, she wonders whether she ever learned anything at school all those years ago.

She and child number 4 finally crack on with the questions relating to the Harry Potter themed English work and she has been designated scribe because Minx’s hands are tired, despite the fact she has only held the pen doodling. Mrs DNTW’s is dismayed to find that they are only on question 4 and they have already spent an hour arguing over whether Hermione would have had an easier time at school if she had learned early on about the beneficial properties of argan oil and serum for frizz-prone hair.

Child 3 has left the room and embarked on his designated movement break, disparagingly retorting that it is his right to leave after 45 minutes whether he has finished his French set piece or not.

His movement break seems to have incorporated a trip back to the bedroom on to his X-box and when subsequently summoned to return, his dulcet bellows of “I just need 5 more minutes to finish this match” ricochet off the walls from the 3rd floor all the way down.

This prompts Child 2 who is “self-studying” in his room to angrily fling open the bedroom door, music blaring from the dark, fetid cave-like dwelling to announce he cannot possibly get anything done with such inconsiderate shouting around him and he needs to assume a horizontal position on his bed, encased in a furry dressing gown until at least an hour of order and tranquility has been restored. Fortunately Mrs DNTW’s is wise enough not to engage in that battle and beats a hasty retreat.

Child Number 1 who actually left school several years ago and under usual circumstances would be at work, is also now confined to barracks until further notice. He chooses this time to grace us all with his presence and wonders down to the kitchen, bleary eyed, whereupon he opens the fridge door and gazes in forlornly until the beepy noise kicks in. With much dramatic sighing on his part, there is opening of multiple cupboard doors, also the freezer and trips back and forth to the garage for essential supplies. Mrs DNTW’s informs him that “no we don’t happen to have any lovely part-baked rolls, fluffy pancakes, nor lashings of beer, ginger or otherwise” to meet his brunch criteria.

Children 3 and 4 return to the dining room class-room and survey the bits of paper, pencil sharpernings and crumbly bits of broken rubber that seem to be peppered about the place despite Mrs DNTW’s not having witnessed any usage of items that would give rise to these annoyances. Mrs DNTW’s sighs and wonders weather by some form of stealth osmosis her dining room is absorbing waste matter from the many dormant class rooms scattered over the UK, indeed the rest of the world as the “C” word holds us all in captivity. In fact come to think of it, she notices that the room seems to be giving off an aroma most usually associated with the lingering scent of school dinners, pine disinfectant, sports lockers, lynx and farting. She makes a mental note to add Febreeze to her online shopping order which is scheduled in the earliest available slot, 9 week ahead.

Perhaps Child 1 is responsible for the odours as whatever he is doing in the adjacent kitchen (the door between is firmly closed) requires a lot of banging of saucepans, running of taps and occasional expletives.

This reminds Mrs DNTW’s that she has not time-tabled any musical activities for her sweet darlings and after briefly contemplating hunting down the old recorders and music books, she gives her head a wobble and reminds herself why she hid them in the first place. She decides that an afternoon of listening to Billie Eilish over and over again with a running commentary from the Minx detailing the video montage and seven gazillion You-Tube quips will serve this purpose perfectly. Child 3 can make do with revising his spotify play list.

After what seems an age but in reality is only another 45 minutes, the children are getting fractious and Mrs DNTW’s is feeling mutinous as she made the rooky mistake of opening the door to let the scrabbling dogs into the class-room – (what fun my darlings, we can do a live biology/veterinary course!) and caught the scene of utter carnage and devastation that was once her kitchen but is now a scourge of dirty cups, burnt bits on the hob, crumbs everywhere and judging by the greasy paw prints on various surfaces, Child 1 has left the butter out which the bl**dy cat has taken advantage of.

Dismissing the class, she briefly contemplates hauling Child 1 back downstairs and bludgeoning him with a rolling pin until the sanctity of her once pristine kitchen is restored but decides actually that some TIME OUT from her children and some vigorous scrubbing might be good for her blood pressure and rising feelings of wanting to puncture things (including people) with sharp objects.

Verily as she has cleaned down the last surface and re-stacked the dishwasher so that it contains more than one awkwardly loaded frying pan, 27,000 cups and glasses (so the off-spring had indeed previously been hoarding them in their bedrooms after all!!) and single spoon, her little urchins meander their way back into view and piteous cries of “we are starving/going to faint with hunger and die of thirst” reach a crescendo.

Equilibrium restored, Mrs DNTW’s tells her children she is just putting the finishing touches to home-made chicken noodle soup which WILL BE DELICIOUS and nutritious.

The steely glint in her eye almost but not quite convinces the heckling mob not to argue with her on this matter. Protestations are stared down (Paddington would have been impressed at the hardness of stare) and Child 1 dishes out Tiger Bread with lashings of dairy free spread that should have fed the family for a week and been usable to rustle up a couple of cakes (for the home economic lessons naturally!) but apparently merely only feeds a man-child in the last month of his teens. This causes such a cacophony of noise and uproar that Mr DNTW’s appears from the garden looking concerned, holding something that looks suspiciously like it should have belonged in the clean laundry cupboard and possibly masqueraded as Mrs DNTW’s favourite face muslin.

At this point of reappearance, Mrs DNTW’s suddenly realises that Mr DNTW’s has been suspiciously absent for his part of the educational responsibilities of the morning and her voice reaches that steely tone when you are not quite sure if she is spitting a bit whilst talking (Mr DNTW’s is standing the requisite 2 metre distance to comply with BoJo’s social distancing policy so can’t be certain) Mr DNTW’s acts afronted and tells her he has been cleaning up the garden doing vitally important repairs and necessities that form MEN’s WORK and in fact she should be responding with gratitude and affection. Oh and could she possibly wash his trousers because he had forgotten when he embarked on the pressure washing etc that he was still in his favourite ones and not his old man’s saggy bum, paint-stained jeans. Even the children realise this was a mistake of epic proportions given her current frame of mind.

Lunch is served, after hands have been scrubbed red raw for the umpteenth time, in something of an orderly fashion. Perhaps the jewels of her eyes are cognisant that Mum is not to be trifled with for now. There is the merry clinking of spoons in bowls and Mum tries not to think too hard about her lovingly purchased-month-by-month flatware, in terms of economic-chippings-to bowl- basis for it is not really the children’s fault, she supposes, that she seems to have raised a gaggle of baboons. Clearly it is their Father’s.

The lively chatter around the table turns to afternoon activities. Mum thinks that it will be delightful and heart-warming to get out for a family walk, thus sticking to the new government rules of one daily activity in the open air, en famille and exercising the pooches all in one fell-swoop!

Mum is proud of her genius and plans to allow electronics to be used for the purpose of identifying flora and fauna in the fresh, sun-light filled air, thereby covering science AND exercise in one. Whilst mentally patting herself on the back, she cajoles the children to find suitable foot-wear and coats. The children are stunned that Mum has agreed that electronics can be taken on the trip and haven’t yet figured out that Mum has no intention of letting them listen to music with gratuitous swear-words and You-Tube clips of Yoda from Star Wars giving advice on sticks, bushes of love and Sea Gulls Stop It Now! (If you have a moment look up Bad Lip Reading quips like the gem below;it’s worth a giggle in these troublesome times)

Child 4 notes that it is sunny and despite living in Northern England and there having been a hard frost on the ground when they awoke in the morning, appears in Daisy Duke style shorts, flip flops and a crop top. Mum manages not to swear and instructs child to return to bedroom and re don the sensible leggings she had on earlier. They compromise on the crop top under a wooly jumper and weekend trainers.

Child 2 appears in joggers, 7 layers of tops, winter coat with a furry lined hood and furry boot style slippers. Mum asks him to take at least 2 layers off and put on sensible foot wear.

Child 3 is nowhere to be found and when roared for, appears from the back of the car where he has been patiently sitting, wobbly of lip and wild of eye given the baying mob that are his family yelling in such unbecoming tones. Meanwhile the neighbours are wondering if contacting the police on 101 for an ASBO constitutes a genuine emergency in the grand scheme of things, especially given the “C” word crisis.

Child 1, in spite of being the oldest, is rushing around the house, whipping the dogs into a frenzy of excitement by hurling various toys at speed and excitedly yelling for them to retrieve. The dogs are delighted that FINALLY they are being given the attention they deserve and that everyone else seems to be joining in with the shenanigans, given the through traffic that is going on with various children traipsing up and down the stairs. The cat merely narrows her eyes witheringly and hopes they will all leave very soon so she can regurgitate the grass she has eaten on the parents bed. She is feeling a tad queasy since ingesting the butter.

Mr DNTW’s is BUSY doing things that involve removing all the shopping bags from the car, re-configuring seats to get the wheelchair, dog-crate and all children ensconced within. Not for the first time he reflects that he could have had a rather nice sports car for far less aggro & probably money too. He reminds himself that he is #truly blessed# & living his #bestlife though.

Everyone is now settled in the car. Although there were fisticuffs over the calling of shotgun, Mrs DNTW’s resisted clipping child number 2 round the side of the head (what would the neighbours think?!) and fought her corner so he resorts to sitting in the back, flicking his siblings randomly to annoy them and plotting 17 different ways to disembowel his mother.

Mr DNTW’s goes to start the car. However in a bid to be more ‘eco aware’ the family have recently purchased a hybrid vehicle which is still plugged into the outdoor charge point so is going nowhere. Frankly perhaps their green credentials might have been more impressive if they had resisted the urge to procreate all together but as Mrs DNTW’s is fond of saying “that ship has long since sailed!”

Sighing with effort and exhaustion from his earlier MEN’s work and the ear-splitting levels of bickering about who is breathing whose air, who has more leg room and other such scintillating snippets of conversation, MR DNTW’s climbs out of the car & disengages the charger. Having returned, clicked the seat-belt & started the engine, Mr DNTW’s is alarmed by the frantic arm waving exhibited by his good-lady wife (she is now on her mobile phone) and wonders whether she is demonstrating one of the latest on-trend dance crazes or having a fit of the vapours, when he realises she is indicating that he has left the hatch open on the side of the car where the charger had been connected. With bad grace he exits the car again to close the hatch.

Sarcastically asking the tribe if we can go now, Mr DNTW’s realises he has left the dog poo bags in the kitchen drawer so bad-temperdly goes back into the house to retrieve. When he returns, the car smells of farts which all are blaming on the poor dogs whilst Child Number 2 sniggers.

The engine is once again switched on and the family car begins creeping down the drive. Mum has now finished her phone call and asks if anyone brought the dog lead. There is an awkward silence. Mr DNTW’s is muttering viciously & attempts to re-enter the house, having forgotten the house alarm has been set. He finally emerges complete with lead, muzzle, dog-treats, gaffer tape, rope, Stanley knife and vaguely serial killer-esque grimace.

The DNTW’s collective make it onto the road and drive to the very beautiful, natural park for their uplifting outing and commune with nature. By the time they arrive, one of the dogs has been car-sick and 2 of the children are no longer speaking. At least this means it is relatively serene…. for the time being.

The dogs are let loose from the lead & promptly spot a RIVER. This is indeed a most excellent adventure and before Mrs DNTW’s has time to enquire whether anyone remembered to pack a towel, the dogs are happily wading in the shallows, ignoring the human’s instructions and proving that the doggy obedience training classes they attended really were a waste of time. Mum is reminded that there is NO SUCH thing as a BAD DOG only a BAD OWNER. She also reminds herself that since she failed dismally to train the children, it is hardly surprising that the dogs are feral and witless too.

Not THE river but a fab great big puddle anyway!

After 5 minutes of walking, child number 2 moans that he has had too much fresh air, he is hungry, he is thirsty, he is tired and he doesn’t understand why he had to leave all his bl**dy gadgets in the car, especially as all of nature is just 💩.

Child number 1 is as excitable as the throughly bedraggled and soaking dogs and has been reminded by his father that if he too enters the river, he will have to walk home. In his underpants.

Child 3 steps in something unpleasant. So does Child 4. There is much wailing; not just by Mum. The wheelchair wheels are also covered. Dad begins to wonder if nature is taking the proverbial. The dogs, now muddy as well as wet, debate rolling in the thing that their humans seem to be covered in. It might be fox 💩 which is definitely a favourite.

Child 2 asks whether he can buy a drink at the shops. And an ice-cream. Mum tuts and reminds him they are “socially distancing” and will not be frequenting the shops, especially as this does not constitute essential supplies. She retreats when he withers her with laser-eyes.

Child 2 asks if they have at least bought a picnic with jam sandwiches and slabs of cake, plus fizzy pop since this is what all good books detail as “essential” picnic food stuffs. He is unamused when Mum explains that the daily exercise allowance rules expressly forbids such tomfoolery in the time’s of the “C” apocalypse 🦠

The walk continues, punctuated by Mum’s squeals of delight that she has spotted a white flower, a yellow one & a big, twiggy-blossom-covered bush. Unfortunately, despite balancing on one leg, leaning precariously at an angle and dancing widdershins round a fallen log, she has no internet coverage and is therefore unable to identify any of the pretty flora.

It is fast becoming apparent that the children are merely a hares-breath from shoving one another & possibly their parents as well, into the river. The lovely walk turns into a break-neck speed hike back to the car in an effort to get the whole farcical adventure over as quickly as possible.

All breath a sigh of relief when the car is in sight, apart from Mr DNTW’s who realises that transporting this motley crew home, will render the previous days car-valeting that he spent many hours performing and perfecting, null and void. Ah well, when he gets home, as Mrs DNTW’s has had a lovely afternoon off, she can resume educating their precious darlings whilst he gets out his stellar assortment of cleaning products and cloths, especially the very nice, soft one he found in the clean laundry pile …..

Planes (no trains) & automobiles…..*

*also a boat(s) but that doesn’t scan as well!

** & yes I know it’s a film title..

Bonjour mes amours!

It is the end of the 6 weeks school summer holidays (in England) and we have been lucky enough to spend 2 gloriously hot weeks in Southern France, followed by a mammoth drive to Paris, a dabble in EuroDisney and now as I sit and type, we wait expectantly to board the boat back to Blighty…. for an onwards drive back ‘oop north.’

It has been epic; in all senses of the word. I don’t know if the ‘cool’ kids still use the word epic to describe an amazing time or not but it definitely falls under that.

Equally however, as per the Oxford English Dictionary classifications, our hols could be defined as a ‘heroic/grand saga’ requiring much ‘bravery’ and a ‘long and arduous journey;’ yeah definitely all of that…

It would be fair to say that when I first mentioned our 3000 mile (return) travel plans to various medical personnel involved with our enfants horribles , there was some *slightly* nervous tittering. And it wasn’t just me doing it. 😆

Apparently taking all 4 of your offspring aged between 10-19 on such a journey borders on insanity/madness. Especially if they also happen to have some issues….

And I won’t lie, it hasn’t all been champagne (not much of that actually!) and roses.

When Mr DNTW’s informed me he had booked for us to go away way back in March, Minx and I were cooped up in GOSH, awaiting the ‘big plan.’

It seems an age ago now but at the time, we were all in need of some cheering up as it had rapidly become apparent during that stay that we were in for the long haul; that the carefully laid plans thus far had been stomped on, ripped up and had gone awry. The more cynical of us *may* have argued that the plans had never been properly drawn up in the first place but that’s a whole other story…..

So when Mr D made his triumphant announcement about the booked holiday I was rather more concerned by where he had found the magic money tree to pay for said holiday (still looking 😉) or whether he had sold my collection of shoes & handbags on e-bay to pay for it!

Through the lengthy weeks of hospital time, hospital stays and subsequent limbo, having the holiday to focus on became a shining beacon of hope and something to really look forward to.

Despite Minx and G-Man’s combined efforts to throw (surgical) spanners in the works, their procedures came and went. Healings were (are) complicated and I had to stock up on the mobile equivalent of a field hospital which brought its own issues in terms of getting everything delivered in time and space in the car

No room at the inn…the grey trunks are all medical supplies…& there’s a roof box full as well!

I didn’t even really flinch (too) much at the astronomical quotes we got for travel insurance – ranging from cheapest at £1300 to £2600!!! Actually I did; I really did…. until I cried when the most reasonable company called me back after I had phoned to give them more info (like many I suspect our family don’t fit neatly into black and white questions: is …….a wheelchair user? Well yes but not all the of the time? Apparently that’s like being ‘slightly pregnant’ where insurance companies are concerned – you either are or aren’t, no middle ground) and declared that based on the additional details I had provided, Minx was in fact uninsurable!! 🙈 I hadn’t even mentioned the words “undiagnosed” – a veritable death knell where insurance is concerned!

Eventually after much research and consulting of the oracle – ie suggestions from wise friends, we went with our bank (who already provide us with an annual standard cover automatically) and just disclosed the ins and outs of our weirds and wonderful for a slightly less eye-watering cost that covers us world wide… bargain really!

The logistics of accommodating the varying needs of a large, dysfunctional family and ensuring everyone’s needs, sleeping arrangements, well-being, not to mention enjoyment, fun, food and safety could all be achieved (& without the budget of Croesus in the process) were significant but you know #nicerproblems# to have and all that.

Given our ASD’s son’s needs for a safe place to escape when overloaded and also just generally being a teenager, (🤢) we wanted to ensure he had his own room and a space for down time. So the right, affordable accommodation was paramount.

Eldest son H is now working and we weren’t sure if he would still want to come with the ‘rents on holibobs.

Turns out however that in-spite of us lowly oldies cramping his style, an expenses paid trip to sunnier climes, very much met with his approval! Funny that….

Given H works in the travel industry on contract, getting time off/shifts swapped to accommodate a break was like something out of the Krypton Factor and so he couldn’t join us for the entire trip.

I’ve already done my proud mama-bear boasting moment on my personal FB but just in case you missed it and also, well ‘just because’ here’s a little mini pic😊

He thought he could *probably* come in the car with us. He couldn’t…..whether he wanted to or not… I flatly renounced any such suggestions. We genuinely didn’t have the seat space or rather luggage space. The car being a 7 seater was neither here nor there.

In actual fact, I can’t help feeling that he rather got the best end of the deal: no long & ardous 2 full days of driving (& boat) journey to contend with, no smelly cooped up car with fractious siblings (& even more fractured parents); merely a solo 2 hour flight in blissful air con before arriving, unflustered in Nice. Nice in Nice and all that…. 🌝🌞

I’ll spare you the ennui of a day by day, blow by blow account of the DNTW’s vacation extraordinaire (almost as enthralling as looking at other people’s holidays snaps right?! 😉) but suffice to say it wouldn’t have been an “us” holiday without hospital trips… yes that’s right. Trips plural.

Surprisingly, the child I thought most likely to test-drive the French medical system and give my school-girl French a run for its money, behaved herself.

However, I was more than slightly out of my comfort zone when having to liaise with the French emergency and medical services for 2 of the rest of the gang.

It transpires my ’comprehensive’ French knowledge of menus, food stuffs in general, encore du vin (more wine!) and where is the toilet/library phrases memorised from school weren’t terribly helpful or useful. In fact I think the alleged (possibly apocryphal) Hungarian phrase “my postillion has been struck by lightning” (in French) would have been more helpful than what I do know of the French medical terminology.

Nonetheless, I attempted my best “Franglais” and despite murdering the language of lurve, (I never really thought I would fervently wish I had studied French tenses in greater detail but turns out I was wrong) some Gallic shrugging, frantic gesticulating and resorting to google translate as well as stick drawings, I made myself (sort of) understood; enough anyway that the right areas of my children’s’ anatomies/difficulties were attended too on both occasions. I think I probably gave the medics a bit of a giggle at my expense too…. intended to ask if I could sit but actually suggested I was a plate… I blame too much sun, shock & being very tired for that one and anyway, ‘assayez’ and ‘assiete’ are quite similar 🤔

Fortunately it transpires that the words for ‘jejunostomy’ and ‘autism’ in French are essentially much the same, although they sound decidedly more exotic and sexy en francaise. Pathological demand avoidance and sensory processing disorder don’t however seem to translate…. 🤷🏻‍♀️

In any event the care we received from our European brethren was par excellence, albeit if I hadn’t already appreciated our marvellous FREE at the point of use #NHS# as much as I do, I definitely would have done by the time we proceeded to the billing department.

Much like the UK, the French medical system do have a duty of care to provide emergency care irrespective of your ability to pay but they are VERY quick to demand your passport & health document details and even if you possess an EHIC ( https://www.nhs.uk/using-the-nhs/healthcare-abroad/apply-for-a-free-ehic-european-health-insurance-card/) you may find you are presented with a bill immediately.

It does however have to be said that for the care we received – ambulance trip by 3 emergency personnel, urgent care access, paediatric emergency Doctor consult, 4 xrays, resulting antibiotics, wound care and dressings – the resulting €92 bill was very reasonable… and perhaps something that given the dire status of our health system and the amount of “health tourism” that seems prevalent in our country, something that needs further consideration in good ole Blighty.

We didn’t get presented with a bill for our “Second day out with the emergency services” away day when we checked out; maybe it was my presence of mind to thrust the EHIC document straight at them BEFORE actual treatment took place or maybe due to the comprehensive nature of tests that were required, they took pity and felt presenting me with an eye-watering invoice might also necessitate an ECG of my own but I am told we will receive it in the post….. I won’t hold my breath for obvious reasons!!

One bizarre observation I will venture: when sitting in French Doctor/hospital waiting rooms, it transpires it is necessary to greet all those who walk in and out with a chirpy “Bonjour” or smiley “Au revoir!” How mad is that?! They don’t do the politely British thing of ignoring each other at all costs, eyes down-cast, studying the floor and hoping no one in your immediate vicinity is Ebola carrying when they cough & splutter into a hankies. Non! There is a lot of eye contact and even some bisous (kissing) when they (presumably) know each other. Another good reason to have nothing to do with trains in this post – if they greet each other like this at the Doctors, I can’t even imagine what they get up to on locomotives – definitely not the British way!

Thankfully, the vast majority of our holiday was a break away from all things medical (aside from the standard doling out of pills, lotions, potions & generalised care the kids necessitate day to day) and whilst I wouldn’t necessarily go as far as to say it was relaxing, it has been great to enjoy time together, sun, sea, days out, pool days, ice-creams, the odd Kir-Royale 🍸 (or 3) here and there and a last hurrah with the younger 2 at DisneyLand Paris.


Pre Thunder Mountain…. there weren’t quite such good spirits after 🤣

So now we are returning home, no doubt back to an enormous pile of bills (maybe the French hospital one will have beaten us home?!) laundry and lord knows what state the house will be in as the older 2 have been home without us over the last few days…. But we have suntans and smiles and precious memories and that makes it all worthwhile

.

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

Comfort food or food to comfort?

Today has been a bit 💩 I’m not going to lie……
We had to be Chez Hotel NHS Harrogate bright and early this morning for a date with radiology following G-Man’s “discussion” with a fire extinguisher on the last day of term. For the avoidance of doubt the fire extinguisher won & once again G and the NJ parted company. 😫
Given that it happened late on a Friday and from past experience of the difficulties this causes, I didn’t bother to contact anyone medical until yesterday. But I got sneaky this time and bypassed the ward, going direct to G’s pediatrician.
Recent visits to replace the NJ tube have been traumatic and getting more so each time. G has borne this bravely but enough is enough. The last experience left us all traumatised.
I don’t use that word lightly but given the radiologist said we were going to have to abandon the placement due to the levels of distress and G effectively withdrawing consent, I knew we needed an alternative approach.
I have asked in the past about some kind of amnesic inducing drug or light sedation and been berated for wanting to “drug” my child. However, the medical bods eschewing this approach only see a snap shot of my child for about an hour and usually aren’t in the room when the procedure is being carried out.
Nor do they deal with the longer term fall out, the increasing hysterical approach to anything medical, the begging, pleading and promises he will be good, eat more, try harder; listening to this I defy anyone without a heart of stone not to be affected and I feel huge guilt. How do I reinforce this isn’t his fault?!
At CAMHS appointments I listen as my child pours out his feelings of helplessness in the face of such procedures, his loss of rights over his own body and the feelings that he is not being listened to or even heard. And I question if it is right that he is put through this but we are left with little choice until a long-term solution is found.
The radiology department are giving me increasing (well-intentioned) grief about the risks of his repeated exposures to radiation. I am told that each time they have to replace the tube in this manner it is the equivalent of undergoing a CAT scan in radiological terms. I have lost count of how many times the tube has had to be passed since it first went in in May and with no end game in sight, I am mindful we are potentially creating a different set of problems.
So I threw myself on the mercy of our wonderful pediatrician, pleaded our case and to my immense relief, he immediately agreed and to save me having to battle and negotiate, liaised with the ward directly so that all we had to do was show up in the right place at the right time.
There was the occasional raised eye-brow from a clinician TRIPLE CHECKING I definitely wanted to ‘DRUG’ my child but I think the steely stare and unwavering gaze assured her I wasn’t going to be persuaded otherwise and from there on out, G was treated with the utmost care and consideration and after the usual shenanigans of weighing, measuring, a gazillion questions, signing of consent forms, he was popped on a monitor, given the maximum dose of meds and was soon off his face, happily rambling utter nonsense.
Truth told it was quite entertaining listening to his diatribe; apparently he was flying himself down the corridor, nothing to do with the trolley, porter, myself or the F1 accompanying! If it hadn’t been for his reaction to the taste of the medication, (lots of spitting and cries of DISGUSTING) I might have tried a cheeky request for some myself.
I’ll spare you the ins and outs but it was so much easier and kinder to have the tube passed this time round.
There is only one specific radiologist who can carry out the procedure and we are on first name terms now due to G’s frequent flier status! I know the names of his children, that he was born and grew up in Jersey just like me and that he’s off on holiday shortly so it was particularly hilarious listening to G shouting “Dude, stop that, why’s he shoving things up my nose Mum?! Dude seriously stop doing that, don’t look at me. NONE of you, face the wall! Why are you laughing?!”
The best way I can describe the procedure is like watching someone rod the drains. My apologies to all medical people and specifically the radiologist concerned who no doubt trained and worked exceptionally hard for many years. To compare his skill and expertise to dyno-rod seems rather unfair and very dismissive!! But there is a lot of see-sawing of flexible tubes and guide wires, pushing, prodding, twisting and turning till eventually the sucker ends up in the right place!
One hour later procedure complete, G still high as a kite, we were able to go back to the ward and let him sleep it off! He rambled and raved like a caricature of a Hollywood movie ‘drunk tank’ extra but he was funny and (mainly) charming and most importantly didn’t remember a thing when he eventually came round and found his tube safely back in situ. I count that as a definite win!
Of course it would have been nice to be able to contact loved ones and let them know all was well but my phone and internet seemed to be playing up. I had received a mysterious text telling me I needed to make a payment to our phone provider and reacted with dismissal knowing that Mr DNTW’s has every thing set up on a brilliant contract where we get oodles of data, texts, unlimited calls etc. I assumed it was just my phone (or me!) playing silly beggars.
But when eldest son contacted me on messenger saying he couldn’t call or text and could only use the internet when on wi-fi, I knew there was more to it. Still I assumed the network was probably down.
Several hours later, when his nibs was back in Blighty, he messaged me to ask if there was a problem with my phone and that’s when began to wonder if there might be a little more to it….
Child number 2, J, has been home for the last week. He’s our fabulously witty, dead-pan humoured, technology wiz with a knack for circumventing every manner of parental security and or block we have ever put in place. He has what was called aspergers but now changed to high functioning autism (don’t get me started). I tentatively mentioned the issues we were having and his face changed….
£448 worth of bill later, we know what the problem was/is!!! Suffice to say J was mortified and Mr DNTW’s after a few ‘effs and jeffs” spoke to our mobile provider, explained what had happened and we are extremely grateful to their management team who were so understanding and agreed to refund the excess charges. Big up EE!
So despite having left the house by 8am, not getting back till 3:45pm and feeling pretty drained all round, I felt the need for comfort food. Despite the fact that current air temp even “oop north” is on a par with the surface of the sun, I decided we needed a family roast with all the trimmings. A large portion of roast potatoes, chicken, lashings of gravy, Yorkshire puddings and veggies later my sense of equanimity is restored!
It is only with a slight sense of irony that I reflect we have 2 tube fed children and one with food-sensory issues but nonetheless by small miracles, everyone ate at least something of what was put in front of them; apart from yours truly: I ATE all of it and then some…possibly double helpings……sssh! Don’t tell….. x
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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.

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 🌈❣️

How do you sleep at night… part 2 😡😡

I’m a bit less ranty today but no less passionate so let’s get this done and written before I lose my impetus… never mind the will to live. 

I like to think I’m currently  channeling my inner Taylor Swift and her pals in the Bad Blood music video: 

(*above image may be subject to copy-right) 

But in reality I should be so lucky. I’ve spent far too much of the day with my youngest son on a hospital ward, wallowing, sat on my butt, scrolling social media and eating chocolate. Less Swift, more sloth;  I can feel the helplessness wanting to swallow me up; shut me down again. 

(sorry sloths everywhere who are probably outraged at the comparison) 

I’ve been extremely touched how many people have commented/got in touch or shared my previous post. Thank you. 

I wish what I had written didn’t resonate with so many but I am also grateful for the support and the sense of solidarity. 

I recognise the issues facing my family are far from unique. Judging by support groups I belong to, friends, social media and so forth, this utterly deplorable battle for services to provide and protect those most in need, those who don’t have a voice of their own, those with the least ability and energy to fight are being waged up and down the county. 

Whilst the difficulties faced may be slightly different, they all share a common denominator: the vulnerable, those in crisis, those society should be protecting and empowering. 

Forgive my Whitney Houston moment but our children ARE the future and if we don’t invest in them and secure the best possible pathway, what hope is there for society moving forward? 

I also know the elderly, infirm, mentally unwell and so on deserve their cause being championed in the same way. 

I recognise on a deeper level my attitude is simplistic and that something policy-wise, fiscally, has to give or change dramatically going forward. 

How do we achieve this? I don’t know; I never professed to have the answers as to what this should look like in terms of the bigger picture. 

All I do know is a seismic shift is necessary, society is screaming out for it. How we approach this, how we can achieve it is for somebody/ies far more qualified than I. (Otherwise I probably should be standing for government….🤔) 

The demands of a large, aging population who are living longer, the epidemic of obesity, drugs/alcohol/cigarettes, the advances in medical science meaning those who once would have met their maker because of cancers, heart disease, prematurity of birth and the terrifying increase in the so far unstoppable dementia are well documented. There can be no escaping the fact that expectations and demands for provision will increase year on year. 

All the while the funding for front line services is being reduced or in some cases done away with all together. Departments asked to find millions in cost savings, balance the books and yet still pull it out of the bag, somehow. 

Morale is at an all time low as evidenced by the mass exodus of Doctors, nurses, emergency services and so forth. 

I’m not naive. I know the country is on its knees financially and floundering in uncertain times: Brexit, the future of the NHS and government but the refusal to engage, instead throwing up wall after wall, challenge after challenge means there’s less money in the pot to provide even the most basic of services. 

Is it just me and people like me that can see the irony in money being spent on disputing and denying care instead of the care itself? 

We are informed of cuts to services/benefits/ grants every time we switch on the tv, open a news paper.  The effects of austerity on all aspects of social care, health and education (and of course the ripple effect on our police force, armed forces and such like) have been hiding in plain sight for many, many years

Why is it that the major political parties seem far more invested in scoring points at each other’s expense and plotting a coup to oust their leaders than implementing change and securing services for the greater good? 

I want to believe the bean counters genuinely care, that there is an appetite for change but they have become so blinded in covering their backs, their departments and their funds, (actually the tax payers funds) they have forgotten their original purpose. The other alternative: that they enjoy the power trip, playing god and causing abject misery has to be some dystopian fantasy…. doesn’t it?…

I do know that continuing with this ostrich style approach, riding rough-shod over those of us trying to cope day in, day out and strangling us in a bureaucratic nightmare, (presumably in the hope that parents/Carers will give up) ISN’T helping. 

If as much effort and emphasis was put into providing and fulfilling services, identifying and enabling children, parents and the wider family before they reached crisis point a great deal more would be achieved. 

I can’t help thinking that in fact the overall financial outlay would ultimately be a lot less, nevermind the impact and fallout on the family which ultimately add to the spiralling costs. 

How much do local authorities spend on retaining expensive legal council, defending cases and when challenged by parents on the attack, concede a case with moments to spare? The costs in such situations are not merely financial.

Whilst I cannot go into the ins and outs of our case in detail at the moment (until we receive the decision of the SEND tribunal I don’t want to prejudice any outcome) I can relate some of the damage and the wider implications the delays have caused us so far: 

  • Inability for autistic child to access mainstream education since March 2016 resulting in high levels of anxiety, depression leading to self harm and suicidal idealisations necessitating multiple in patient/out-patient hospital stays
  • Provision of interim specialised education package with 1:1 staff ratio/on occasion 2:1 to provide up to 2 hours study per day (where possible round child’s anxiety) 
  • Child unable to access GCSE subjects/make option choices
  • Involvement of multiple agencies on numerous occasions – police, accident & emergency, CAMHS, children’s social care, Young Carers, autism out reach, fostering team and foster carers
  • Local authority (LA) assessment and review officers to prepare EHCP, take information to specialist information panel on multiple occasions, liaise between relevant parties, issue consultation paperwork to potential schools 
  • Assessment of child by educational psychologist for local authority 
  • School transport (single occupant) with escort to ensure autistic child safely taken to and from school
  • Maternal mental health crisis triggered, medical intervention required,  inpatient psychiatric care for 3 months, multiple medications and therapies
  • Community care package to support maternal mental health, crisis team management, out of hours services 
  • Care package from disabled children’s team to provide direct payments in support of care for medically complex child thus enabling sole breadwinner to continue to work 
  • Emotional support to other children in the family necessitating pastoral support, teachers from 2 separate schools reporting back on children’s well-being and attending looked after children’s (LAC) team  meetings, approximately every 6 weeks
  • All children in family requiring support and intervention by CAMHS  to address trauma and ongoing psychological fall-out
  • Family engaging professional legal team and independent educational psychologist to prepare case for tribunal
  • LA engaging in-house legal advice and support
  • LA acquiring professional legal counsel to present at tribunal
  • Convening of independent tribunal and panel member(s) in official court to hear evidence from family and LA surrounding case 

How much does all of this add up to? This is not an exhaustive list and no doubt  there are things I have unintentionally missed/forgotten but I think it is a fair representation. It’s pretty depressing reading isn’t it?  

Has what I’ve detailed shocked you? We are just one family in a cast of thousands, dare I even say millions. 

Unless you or a loved one need to avail yourself of services, you assume it happens to others; not to people like us. 

We are now the others. 

Once Upon a Time….

IMG_0186Let me tell you a story. Are you sitting comfortable? Then I’ll begin…

Once upon a time there was a (relatively) normal family. Let’s call them the Jones’s, although I don’t think may people will be aiming to “keep up with the Jones’s”  once they have read this. In fact perhaps, it’s more a nightmare, horror type story rather than a settle-you-off-to-sleep bed time type of thing?

So the Jones’s live in a lovely but ordinary house in an ordinary part of the world and are distinctly unremarkable. Perhaps they break slightly away from the norm in that instead of the requisite 2.4 children per family, they have 4 (these days I hear that 3 is the new 2.4 anyway).

Not only do they have 4 children of varying ages but they in fact have 3 with special needs. In spite of some trials and tribulations along the way and more than a few bumps in the road over recent years, the Jones family are a happy bunch, very grateful for what they have and definitely appreciative of all the best things in life. They closely adhere to my own motto: the glass is half full – therefore more room for wine!

Nonetheless, at times things have been a bit sticky and the Jones family have often wondered whether they accidentally broke a lot of mirrors, spilt salt or walked under too many ladders for the gods of luck and chance to ignore. Perhaps they had poked the evil eye with a very sharp stick?!

When you have one child with a medical/phsyical or cognitive difficulties it can be tricky for the whole family. Add in 3, top that with children who don’t fit nicely into a tick box, one size fits all diagnosis, it becomes like doing a rubix cube – & Mrs Jones would freely admit that the only way she ever successfully completed one of those was by peeling the stickers off and rearranging them to fit the colour order…

However, the Jones’s have an extra dirty little secret;  it shouldn’t be such a stigma but it still is, even in this day and age:  one of their children has a significant mental health issue triggered by his diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD)  – aspergers with sensory processing disorder.

Since Christmas last year, the Jones have witnessed a steady decline in their son’s mental health. He has become increasingly unhappy, rebellious, not eating or sleeping well, absenting from class, leaving home, even jumping off the first floor roof in the middle of the night and self harming frequently. The Jones’s have had to call the police on more than one occasion to enlist their help in finding their son and getting him safely home.

The Jones’s suspect that the combination of puberty, hormones and aspergers plus main stream secondary school education is over-whelming for their son. School, to their credit, have been on board and supportive, despite what must be a very frustrating and difficult time for them too, especially considering the sheer volume of pupils in the school. The Jones boy –  we’ll call him James – has a cracking sense of humour when on top form but can be exhausting in the extreme, demanding of time, attention and support, and exhibit behaviour not dissimilar to that of a tantrum-ing toddler, only with a much more inventive vocabulary!!

One of the problems with a main stream school is that unless the teachers themselves decide to read up in their “free” time on subjects like autism, they will have had the very bare minimum input and training for special needs children. In spite of the huge rise in cases of autism being diagnosed, trainee teachers are given a mere glance at the SEN world and may encounter their first autistic child when he/she presents in the classroom as disruptive, disobedient, likely  in their mind set, a right little sh*t, a product of questionable parenting. You might want to take a look at the vey interesting article: http://www.autism.org.uk/get-involved/media-centre/news/2016-03-21-teacher-training.aspx

Anyone who has dealt with a high functioning autistic adult or child will be familiar with the rigidity of mind set and literal thinking that encapsulates ASD. Over the years Mrs J has been on the brunt of many a sharply retorted, brusk response that wasn’t quite in keeping with her expectations. She has learned not to use phrases such as “Would you like to help me unload the dishwasher/tidy your room etc?” She will be met with a re-sounding “NO!!”

To neuro-typical persons, (as those with aspergers or aspies like to call us) this response is cheeky, rude and impudent in the extreme;  que explosion from Mrs J, meltdown from James and all hell breaking loose Chez Jones. In the world of ASD however, Mrs J has merely worded the question wrongly and it’s taken quite a long time for her and the rest of the family to adjust their ways and rethink what they are ultimately trying to achieve.

If Mrs J was to turn to her son and phrase her request in a far less excruciatingly polite British fashion “Please can you help me unload the dishwasher,” she might have been met with a grumble or two but ultimately, James’s reply would generally have been far more acquiescent. You see, those with ASD hear the word “LIKE” in the request and assume it literally and therefore that they have an option in the matter. When you are cognisant of how important your phrasing is, you will realise those with ASD are merely being honest in telling you, no they would NOT LIKE to do the aforementioned chores.

It is perhaps something James’s maths teacher could have done well to remember. James came home from school only recently telling his parents he no longer needed to attend maths classes and what great news this was! Suspecting that somewhere along the lines, things might have been lost in translation, Mr and Mrs Jones quizzed him further.

It turns out that James’s maths teacher had told him, he didn’t care whether or not James attended his lesson since it was ultimately wasting his own time and the teacher would teach the rest of the class come what may. Not quite the you don’t need to come any more that James interpreted.

Similarly,  the cookery teacher having told James to bring in ingredients to make a sandwich that he would eat. Since James doesn’t eat sandwiches in any shape or form, he was not to be persuaded that he needed to take in balanced portions of protein, carbs, etc etc. In his view, he didn’t need to take in anything and it didn’t apply to him. Mrs Jones tried to reason with him and explain what the teacher had really meant but James had clearly heard the teachers instruction and was not to be dissuaded. James’s sense of injustice at the detention that followed was magnitude and I can’t say I blame him really.

Of course it goes without saying that meeting one person with autism doesn’t mean you have met them all; very far from it but there are key, recognised difficulties that cause a variety of difficulties for those with such a diagnosis.  Although those of us who are neurotypical can struggle to understand and see things from the point of view of someone on the spectrum, imagine how much more difficult it must be to live in a world that favours the neurotypical? Since ASD is a social communication disorder, body language, facial expressions, tones of voice, nuances and social niceties are things that often go over the heads of those individuals with aspergers and the like.

Additionally, sensory issues are extremely common for those on the spectrum. Noise, colours, lights, the environment, textures, tastes and smells can all be much more vivid or paradoxically dimmed necessitating those experiencing difficulties to crave further or seek to repress the influx and assaults on their sense.

James needs high and intense stimulation in most areas. He has always liked to push himself to extremes. Many a time the rest of the Jones family have looked on in horror as James scuttles up the nearest tree, climbing to the highest, most unstable branch, calling triumphantly from the top.

The faster, higher more exhilarating the roller coaster, the more James wants to ride it. Which likely explains why in younger years Mrs Jones found herself riding, unaccompanied, the most vomit inducing rides known to man. James having queued only to be disappointed and turned away from the ride due to his lack of height would beg and plead a reluctant parent to go on his behalf and feed back on the ride experience. Mr Jones would sensibly plead a bad back and leave Mrs J to take one for the team as it were….

In the winter James likes to sleep with PJ’s, a onesie, fluffy slipper socks, woolly hat and cocooned in  the highest tog duvet that can be found. Squished in like a sausage roll, surrounded by teddies and all things fluffy is his happy place. Little changes in the summer and it’s rare to see James without his trade mark hoody, firmly pulled over his head. Shorts are greeted with a look of disgust even if the fickle British summer busts the 30 degrees C mark (that’s 86 F my US friends.)

Noise is a problem. On his terms, James loves his music loud and pulsating. The Jones house reverberates with Back In Black and similar on a regular basis but James cannot tolerate his younger siblings playing or crying. Noises like the water heater springing to life, the background hum of a restaurant or kitchens in the distance, seem physically painful to him.

As for food. Mrs Jones will roll her eyes at you and clutch her hands to her head woebegone. It is a well known fact that children can be notoriously fussy but it is well documented that those with ASD find food particularly challenging. It presents numerous sensory issues – from texture, shape, size and smell. James can’t sit at a table with cheese, his food can’t touch any other item on a plate, his toast – plain, no topping, cannot be cut in half with a knife that has so much as touched anything else and the thing that was his most favourite thing EVER, that Mrs J bulk bought in a fit of jubilation will be consigned to the back of the cupboard only days later with rallying shrieks of disgust and a hearty “I HAVE NEVER EATEN THAT SO WHY DID YOU BUY IT!!!!” tirade. Unless of course it’s tomato ketchup, in which case, only the most expensive brand that will do, splodged liberally over everything and anything….it may be that Mrs Jones has found that a certain supermarket rhyming with ‘piddle’ do a brand that is just as good and as long as she decants  it in to the pricier named brand bottle without anyone seeing, nobody knows, but that would be telling.

So where does this leave the Jones family right now? Well they remain on quite a learning curve since their son was only formally diagnosed 3 years ago despite frequent presentations from the age of 4 to the Gp, Health visitor and eventually a CAMHS (Children and adolescent mental health) referral  requesting help, detailing their son’s extreme behaviours, anger, aggression, rigidity of thinking. It took from the age of 4 to almost 11 to get the diagnosis despite what in hindsight appear to be a glaringly obvious, one could say neon sign pointing to ASD.

Whilst the Jones’s would agree that labelling a child unnecessarily is never a good thing, it left them wondering in the wilderness feeling like terrible parents for far too many years. It dented their confidence and self belief and did unquestionable damage to their other children who were both witness and victim of their siblings extreme behaviours.

And yet, even now, with a diagnosis on board, the Jones family find themselves once again in a time of crisis. Where James’s self harm and suicidal tendencies, his violence, aggression and extreme mood swings are wreaking their chaos on the family as a whole. It’s devastating to see their child experience this; to watch him helpless in the grip of the disorder that causes such extreme anxiety and stress. He is convinced that he is fat, ugly, worthless and useless; that he has no redeeming qualities and is stupid, unteachable, unreachable.

He is none of these things but cannot see other. He cannot find a way through. In his darker moments, he really does want to end it all and terrifyingly in the moment is unable to see any other way out. His parents want to simultaneously hug him so tight they will never let go and yet shake him to wake up and fight. They also feel guilt that they sometimes intensely dislike the havoc that is being wreaked on them, their other children, their home. It was bad enough when unidentified numbers only meant calls from hospitals or consultants, now  seeing  No Caller ID flash up on their mobiles often heralds a phone call from school detailing that James has gone awol, insulted a teacher or got into a fight.

The Jones’s were forced to admit their son to hospital recently following a profound escalation in his risky behaviours and concerns that they were unable to keep him or their other children safe. Multiple agencies are involved in trying to support the Jones family and CAMHS wanted to help, they really did. But the family had presented at 10am on a Thursday night to A&E and CAMHS work 9-5 Monday to Friday.

At the mercy of numerous professionals the Jones prepare to keep fighting the good fight. Surely with a diagnosis on board, accessing support will be so much easier than dealing with their other conundrum children who remain undiagnosed? And there’s the rub – government funding and cut backs to mental health services in the UK are well known and so the whole process is just as daunting, just as lacking in cohesion and perhaps even just as time consuming from a co-ordinated care approach?

Mental health services for children and young people in England were cut by £35million last year, whilst mental health beds have been reduced by 8 per cent since 2010. (Source: The Independent, January 2016)

34 out of 51 (Two-thirds) of local authorities in England have reduced their CAMHS budget since 2010. One council reported to YoungMinds a drop of 41% in their CAMHS budget from 2010. 

YoungMinds are the UK’s leading charity committed to improving the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people. They campaign, research and influence policy and practice as well as providing expert knowledge to professionals, parents and young people. For more info:  http://www.youngminds.org.uk/about/what_we_do

So where are the Jones family now? Despite James stating quite clearly that he fully intended to try and take his life again, that he could see no reason for living, Mrs James was told that the paediatric ward was not the right place for him, that there were no inpatient beds unless to quote “he was dying of an eating disorder or in the hold of a psychotic episode”.

School have been crying out for more advice, more planning, more assistance going forward. They too have to examine the purse strings, magic up funds and resources to keep James safe and in statutory education until the lengthy process of an Education & Health Care plan, which there are no guarantee James will qualify for, have been decided.

The Children’s Prevention Team want to help but they need more information from CAMHS who need more information from school who need more information from CAMHS who need input from Children’s Services and Social Services. And then there’s the paperwork. This family in time of dire need and desperate help: well they can’t get that till the paperworks done so round and round it goes. It would almost be funny if it wasn’t so serious. Will the Jones family story end with “and they all lived happily ever after?” I really don’t know….