Independent Woman

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Even growing up in a religious household surrounded by brothers and sexism I was taught by my mother how to be independent. Not just how to fend for myself, but how to think for myself and act for myself. It was not just about survival for my mother, it was about living the best life possible.

On the 13th August 1997 I lost my mother to renal cancer. She had been terminal for a year. I was about to turn 17 and had my whole life in front of me but it felt like that life was now over. Grief took a hold of me in ways no one in my life could ever imagine, there are things I’ve not even told my best friends or Simon. It was a dark, dark place, not least because I’d gone from being raised to be independent to having my whole life tethered to a broken home.

Don’t misunderstand me when I say I felt trapped. It was not the fault of the innocent children, or even entirely the fault of my father. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, it just was. I’d lost the greatest and most positive influence in my life and I knew I’d miss her forever.

It’s 21 years later and every day I think about her. Genuinely so, for she was such a huge influence there is always something I relate to her. I had not been awake more than a few minutes this morning when I’d thought about something she had taught me.

My youngest sister turned 23 last month and she is expecting her first child, a daughter, around Christmas. She even has the same cravings mum used to have when pregnant, pickled onions (specifically Monster Munch crisps!), and I know each time my sister looks at her daughter she’ll think about mum. It’s times like these, experiences like these, that I miss her the most. I wish she was here with us, experiencing the highs and lows of our lives. I wish I could have her advice now, it’s been so very long since I have had the voice of a matriarch talking at me. I miss it. I miss her.

I turn 38 in a couple of months and for the first time since getting sick I’ve experienced more of that independence she taught me. I have my power wheelchair now, I can “walk” away when I want, go at the speed and in the direction I want. I can do so much more for longer and go further – it’s hard to describe just what that means to me.

I think she would be proud of me. Not just my academic achievements, but of the person I’ve become as well. I am more patient and quiet, more selfless and forward thinking, more positive and happy than I thought I would be at this point in my life. It seems that my challenges in life have strengthened me, which is what she wanted of me.

The night before she passed I was alone with her for many hours, and though she was in and out of lucidity (the cancer had reached her brain by this point and she essentially had dementia) she managed to give me one last bit of advice, and these are words I’ve seared onto my heart and mind.

“Challenges either break you or make you stronger. Be a fighter and be stronger.”

I was strong for you, mum, and strong for my sisters (and brothers), but now I am strong for me too and my life is much better for it.

I miss you and love you forever,

Your dutiful, independent daughter,

Claire.

Wedding Day [2]

So much tabletop…

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…and I love it!

My schedule atm is:

  • Sunday: Eriad Game (DM)
  • Monday: Sanctum Game (Player)
  • Thursday (ad hoc): 1×1’s (DM & Player)
  • Saturday (fortnightly): Werewolf the Apocalypse (Player)

The Eriad game is the first time I’ve been the dungeon master and we’ve reached our 25th session (started the game at the end of January). I love my players and really enjoyed preparing the sessions, as well as kicking their asses and my NPCs getting theirs kicked too! I wish I had more time (and less pain) so that I could do the gdocs associated with the game. We have fun every week and they are engaged with the world and story, so I feel like I am doing an ok job!

As for being a player, I’ve learned so much from the DMs and Storytellers who have run campaigns and continue to run them. So thanks to Kai (my first ever DM!), Tobias and Whuffie and I look forward to the Jane Austen-esque game Clare is going to run too!

Having given up forum roleplaying almost a year ago I am so glad to have replaced that hobby with tabletop. TT is more engaging, the people are more reliable and the game is just more fun overall for me. Plus, my wrists don’t hurt from doing it! 😀

Five Years Younger

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Five years ago all this nonsense with my health kicked off and I am wanting those years back. After an appointment with my neurologist I’m realising ever more keenly that I may need to give up having my own children in favour of having bariatric surgery. Though what I will not do is wait for the NHS to make up it’s mind, to stop trying to have kids while I find out if or when I can have the weight loss surgery.

Still, it’s a sucker punch. Five years ago we’d been trying to have kids, I’d been losing weight and it would all have happened naturally. I’m almost 38 now and time has basically run out.

It’s gotten me into a bit of a funk, if I’m honest. I already know all of this, of course, but it was easier to put it to the back of my mind when I was in the middle of appointments and surgeries. Today I was forced to make a choice, to admit that the bariatric surgery came first, and it kinda killed my hopes about children.

My TM Journey

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This is a blog I wrote for the TMA – Transverse Myelitis Association.

It was a sunny day. I remember the early morning sunshine pouring in through the living room window shaming me into hooving up all the dust. Typically, the hoover bag needed changing first, so while squinting because of the sunlight I bent down to take out the bag. That was when it hit. A sharp, stabbing pain in my lower back.

Read more: http://ow.ly/gq1C30kOZse

Timing Is Everything

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Perhaps it’s the hot weather making me sick, or generally feeling powerless, but I am in a bit of a limbo right now. I’ve worked hard on my proposal and everything surrounding my PhD but I seem no closer to it then I was six months ago. I can’t begin for September, which vexes me but that’s mostly because I am 38 this year and I wanted to be qualified before I was 40 – or not long after. It just feels like the timing if off with everything in my life right now, be it education and career, starting a family, or generally being out and about.

I started volunteering for the MS Society last week only to then get an email to say it’s all postponed until the area supervisor is back (she’s had to take a leave of absence), so bad timing for me there. I’m trying to finish my proposal but with the end of term and my supervisor going to Switzerland for work I’m not getting any further with that. Then of course is the baby issue. I’m still not pregnant, but because I was sick my period missed a month and so I had to delay an important cervical procedure. Delaying that means further delay on trying to conceive.

Of course I am impatient, and I’ll not give up, I’m just feeling frustrated and a little deflated right now. On top of that I’m being snappy because I have come off one of my painkillers and am starting to reduce my tramadol as well. All of this in an effort to conceive since those medications can cause miscarriage and birth defects. So irritable from more pain too. All in all I’m not very fun to be around right now.

Oh, and I gained 2kg because I was in funk after the miscarriage and the move was making it hard to cook and eat properly… fucking A right?

Too Hot for Much of Anything!

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Even though the British public have been thoroughly introduced to summer weather I’ve still been busy with a variety of things – hence a lack of writing. Inevitably I have also been laid low, my symptoms have gone haywire leaving me in bed and watching tv and movies for the most part. When I’ve not been too sick I’ve been getting out and getting shit done though.

Last week I started volunteering, am officially a volunteer now, and that is just the start of this new phase in my life. I figured that being busy meant less time to stress about a certain time-sensitive event.

Also, I’m going to be an aunt for the first time – officially! So by Christmas we’ll have another addition to the family. 😀

Don’t Let the Bastards Grind You Down

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Pro Choice Vote

The handmaids are always going to be a provocative image whether or not you’ve seen or read A Handmaid’s Tale and could be used for many a subject for a blog. The title of this post could be used for many a subject too, I’ve used the term in relation to bullies, cyberbullying and general feminist discussions. However, this time I want to talk about pro-choice and why votes like repealing the 8th Amendment in Ireland are so important. How pro-choice changes lives in an important and significant manner. Why sex education for children and teenagers is crucial and why women should have ultimate control of their bodies and as much control of their destiny as chance allows.

Explaining my own position will hopefully put things in greater perspective. As a 37 year old white, straight woman living in the UK I am supremely privileged – yet I am still not equal to a white, CIS, UK male. There are some things I want to clarify from the get-go.

  • I support pro-choice not pro-abortion
  • I support education of all options, not press ganging women into one choice using alarming and psychologically distressing pictures and videos.
  • I would never have the abortion procedure but I fight for the right for all women to make that choice and do not judge others choices.

Until a few years ago I would have had an abortion. Even now, as a better educated woman on the procedure itself, I’d have an abortion if my life was in danger. Now my reality is that if life and death did not come into it I’d not abort, but that is my choice and my reasons are my own – though I’ll hint at the reason being linked to how the baby is gotten out, but I’ll not scaremonger by saying more. It’s up to us as parents, carers, teachers and responsible adults to make sure children and teens are educated on all choices. ALL CHOICES.

It horrifies me that any women is put in a room with pro-life literature and forced to read it all before even being allowed near an abortion clinic. Then there are those women throughout the world who are denied anything at all. Not only do we have to pay for our menstrual cycles and have tampons and sanitary towels taxed but so many of us – 50% of the world’s population! – are denied control of our bodies. Everything from pro-lifers shooting patients and nurses outside of clinics to child brides and women dying in labour because they had no other choice than to have the child.

These are decisions ultimately made by men and unfortunately there are women who prop up this culture too by being complicit.

In Ireland a major step was taken, a step for all women in the world. Today we need to build upon that.

“Illegitimi non carborundum…”

“Don’t let the bastards” (men, pro-lifers, governments) “…grind you down.”

Reflection

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We know from various media and psychological studies that young women have a hard time with body image, and though it’s not just limited to young women I am going to focus on this for the purpose of this post.

Recently I’ve had cause to think more about my present body image – the weight loss surgery and trying for a baby just two reasons for this. Nowadays I am more at peace with how I look, but when I was 16 I hated my body. Unfortunately this is not uncommon for girls that age and like many young women there were several reasons for why I felt that way.

  1. Parental Influence – my mother was obsessed with dieting and because I had my “father’s genes” I was likely to be overweight. So she banned various foods from the age of 8 and often told me if she thought I was putting on too much weight. She measured my health only by my weight, even though the doctor told her I had heavy muscle because I did a lot of sport. I would binge eat and throw food up, though I don’t think I had bulimia, it didn’t last for long but it was still a road I went down because of the pressures of diet. Don’t get me wrong, my mum’s dietary options were super healthy, but she missed things out. For instance, bananas were not allowed (something she heard about not being the “healthiest” fruit) so I had to sneak them into my lunch so I had them to eat while I played sport. Bananas were common at half time and during tournaments.
  2. Peer Influence – the people I hung out with were not body shamers but other school kids were as was the media. At school myself and a couple of other girls were called “thunder thighs” and this was just another way of calling a girl fat. Boys and girls used these names. In truth I knew it was because we were developing faster, so had more womanly shapes, but this “fattening” was seen as a bad thing and something to be teased.
  3. Boys Teasing – this was one of the worst things to happen to 14 year old me because I wanted these boys to think I was pretty, not fat. And fat inevitably means you are ugly too – according to the logic of many teenagers. Such teasing happened at home as well, I was the only girl child in the house for a decade so when I was a teen my sisters could barely walk and talk. Thus, my brothers were horrid to me. It wasn’t just body shaming, it was physical abuse too; punching my stomach to see if I “had enough padding” and pushing me to the floor because my ass was such a huge cushion. When they broke the mirror in the bathroom they said it was me, that my fat ugly face broke it. Most of my low self esteem was because of boys. It was constant, at school and at home and it led to very dark days indeed.
  4. Child Abuse – perhaps if the boys at school had known about this they might have been kinder, but from a very young age I had a poor relationship with my body. I didn’t self harm in the traditional way, but I did not take care of myself either. Much of my negative self worth is rooted in my shame and guilt and I punished myself by neglecting myself. It was something only mitigated by a determination to not be defeated. It’s not about “winning”, it’s about survival. Yet, whenever I was teased or bullied it chipped away at an already damaged and fragile self worth. When I reported this bullying to my parents or teachers and was called a “liar” by the boys it only made it worse. As an abused child I’d been told “No one will believe you if you tell…” It’s cruel that those words were only reinforced by society. Girls are often implicitly or explicitly told that their opinion doesn’t matter, that they should be silent and not complain. That men rule the world and we are merely occupants of the same space. This was a lesson I learned at a young age and continued to learn all throughout my teenage years.
  5. Male “attention” – apparently we should be grateful or flattered when guys wolf whistle us, try to pull us into cars, or grope us in public. Being approached for sex in broad daylight is something we should just accept and see as a compliment. And when you don’t respond to car horns or wolf whistles you are teased, or called “frigid”, or should be “grateful” for the attention. So the options are – be abused by being called fat and ugly or be abused by being told how fabulous your tits are and how much men want to fuck you. When you protest at being groped you get accused of being a cock tease and asked, “Why wear that dress if you don’t want to be touched?” I was consenting by wearing clothes that showed a little skin or were tight? That is all kinds of unfair.

When I looked at my reflection in the (broken) mirror as a 16 year old girl I saw a fat and ugly person whom I despised the look of. Now, when I see pictures of that girl I want to tell her how pretty she was and how healthy she looked! I had a wonderfully healthy shape, a very womanly shape as a young teenager. Sadly this was “unfortunate” because it meant I stood out and that men paid me too much attention.

In my late teens I figured that because mum was not there to control me I could get even fatter and uglier. My motivation for this? So that men would stop touching me and approaching me for sex. I thought getting fat would mean they’d stop. I was wrong. Girls are never taught that men have various tastes, and so whatever your look there will always be men who will quite happily abuse you and degrade you.

My body image is not rooted in how others see me – now. It’s not about being what men like to look at, or what they don’t want to see. As a young woman though it was impossible to disentangle those emotions and expectations from the men of the world because men control so much of our lives. We have to pay for being a woman in so many ways. All humans pay for toilet roll but only women have to pay for menstruation. We are expected to dress a certain way, to wear makeup, to style our hair.

Reflecting upon my reflection was prompted by a few things – the bariatric surgery and trying for a child, yes, but also watching “The Keepers” and “13 Reasons Why” on Netflix. By writing this down and posting publicly I just want to add to the conversation and let others know they are not alone.

Long Term

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What do you think about when you hear the words “long term”?

Long Term Relationship? I’ve got a few of those, the most important of which is with Simon, we’ve been together since April 2005. I’m lucky to have such an interesting and strong relationship and the “long term” part never fazed me or frightened me.

Long Term Illness? I’ve got a few of those too! Diabetes I am hoping to put into remission this time next year when I have bariatric surgery which should also normalise my blood pressure. For the Transverse Myelitis I just have to hope it doesn’t get changed to an MS diagnosis. With this “long term” was something I deeply feared and sometimes still do. It’s hard imagining growing old with these illnesses.

Long Term Loan? And yes, you’ve guessed it, I’ve got one of these too! Well, if you count the mobile phone then it’s 2 and if you count student loans then it’s… many more! And I’ll probably be adding a PhD loan to this soon as well and maybe a mortgage in the not too distant future. Who knows?

Long Term Forecast? For the weather, finances, health, we all tend to have these in our lives if only to try and plan our schedules, right?

So, what do you think of when you hear the words, “long term”?

Bypassing in order to be a mum

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After doing the education session yesterday with a dietician I am more convinced than ever that bariatric surgery (specifically the gastric-bypass). I’ve weighed up the pros and cons, thought hard on this for years, especially since the TM, and it is the best way forward for me.

The diet changes are not changes for me, they are what I eat anyway!

The benefits for sure outweigh (yes I am punny!) the negatives. For example, there will be excess skin (keeping fingers crossed for nan’s genetics here for elastic skin!) however I’ll be in remission for diabetes, not have reflux anymore and have normal BP. Though the diabetes remission and BP changes can be done via conventional weight loss the reflux cannot be cured any other way. Also, the skin excess is inevitable no matter how I lose weight. And I am fully aware the NHS won’t likely pay for surgery to get rid of it. That is something I’ll likely save up for. >_>

The fact is this is not just about my weight. In order to conceive and to be a mum in general I need to be lighter and to do IVF in a few years (they won’t offer it now even with a lower BMI because I am fully fertile) I need a BMI of 30 or below. Yes, life will be just fine without a biological kid but I still want to try. After the miscarriage in Feb (the gynecology nurse confirmed that yesterday) I am determined to give this a proper try. I’m not perimenopausal and don’t need a D&C but I am going to have my menstrual cycle “jump-started” next month with progesterone etc.

Though I’ll be on less rice and pasta I’ll still have lentils, chickpeas and quorn! My vegan/veggie diet was the best decision I ever made. It’s a scary prospect, the operation as well as the recovery, but it is worth it. The other thing we are doing is gradually reducing my portion size to that of a child so I am already in that habit for post surgery. ^^