NHS Cuts, Disability Benefits & Me

 

A drastic change in my health around ten years ago sent me spiralling along a path of limited mobility and chronic pain. Raw and reeling, my mental health plummeted and subsequently I plunged into clinical depression. It was a dark time which left me feeling unable to care for myself, or my three children.

My local hospital didn’t know how best to help me and so came a frustrating and emotionally draining year of researching treatments that might help me (I found one) and then trying to get my local authority to fund it as it was outside of my local town (eventually they did).

For around the past eight years, every now and then,  I’ve undergone this quick, simple but life-changing procedure and I am so thankful for the NHS for the time and care I have been privileged enough to receive so far. Alongside this I have paid for my own physio (I didn’t get long on the NHS lists) and I’ve done everything I can possibly do to take responsibility for, and improve my health. Today, I can potter around the house, drive, nip into shops, go for short walks, my pain levels have drastically reduced and my quality of life has greatly improved. I feel like a real hands-on mum again. I no longer need to take daily medication which had been causing me horrendous side effects. Although I still use crutches sometimes and my wheelchair for days out, when I think back to ten years ago when I was unable to stand unaided or get myself in and out of the bath, my life is unrecognisable. For that I am very grateful.

Returning to the hospital last Thursday I was shocked and dismayed to be told, through no fault of the team, that due to NHS funding cuts the hospital would no longer be offering this treatment.

This post isn’t a self-pitying one – government cuts have affected most of us in one shape or form- but rather a way to unpick the tangle of emotions I am feeling right now.

Today, thanks to the improvements to my health I can work full-time. I don’t claim disability benefits, there isn’t enough to go around and there are people worse off than me, that I know. I am in the fortunate position where I work from home, make my own hours. I can change positions if my pain gets overwhelming, I can go for a lie-down when I’m feeling exhausted, I can even skip the odd day and stay in bed during bad flare ups. This I could not do in an office but I worry now, that without this relatively simple treatment, my mobility will likely decline again, my pain increase, my mental health suffer and the thought of losing my financial independence if I am no longer capable of working is a frightening thought indeed.

Slashing funding and impacting upon people’s health will surely cost more in long run; potentially driving people out of work, onto benefits, increasing the need for medication, pain killers, anti-depressants, the already flooded waiting lists for counselling will creak under the strain, and then of course there is the need to treat the often horrific side-effects these drugs can cause.

And this is what I am struggling to make sense of. The logic behind it all.

I really don’t know what the answer is. I don’t feel I am more entitled than anyone else. All I do know is at the moment, my world, the world, seems a scary and uncertain place.

Flash Fiction – We stand together

Image © J Hardy Carroll

 

My feet crunch on broken glass, tears rising quickly.

‘Why…’ I begin, but the choke in my throat holds back the rest of my words.

Afternoon sunshine streams through the window, the upended tables and chairs brushed bronze, shards of glass glint gold.

The air is heavy with dust. With loss. But underneath there is something else. Love. We fall silently into our roles, a human chain, stronger together, clearing out the rubble. At first I think nothing is salvageable but then I realise there is. Amongst the splinters of wood, the twisted metal, it is there. A tiny kernel of hope.

We stand together.

 

‘We stand together’ was written for Friday Fictioneers. A weekly 100 word story challenge inspired by a photo prompt. This week’s prompt is topical as we all try to make sense of the senseless. My heartfelt condolences for everyone affected by the atrocities in Manchester.

Join in with the challenge over at host Rochelle’s blog here.

Kindness is contagious – Be a carrier #NationalKindnessDay

When my boys were small we would start each day sitting at around the kitchen table and over breakfast we would each list 3 things we were grateful for. We also kept a notebook and after school we would discuss as a family ways in which we had been kind and jot them down. On days where they were feeling low, too much homework, squabbles with friends, lost PE kits, we would read back through the book and would feel uplifted. Of course true acts of kindness aren’t contrived, and shouldn’t be carried out in the hope of ‘getting something back.’ But after a while of consciously practicing kindness and gratitude it becomes second nature and my children have grown to be compassionate, appreciative and positive.

Never underestimate the transformation a simple act of kindness can have on someone’s day. When was the last time you smiled at a stranger? Let someone go in the queue in front of you? Praised good service?

Studies have shown people who mindfully practice kindness and gratitude have improved mental and physical health, stronger immune systems, reduced stress and depression, are happier and cope better with difficult situations.

In honour of National Kindness Day, The Diana Award are inviting people to carry out a random act of kindness today and share it on their website. Will you take part?

 

My first school visit – 250 kids – what could possibly go wrong?

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Last week I was writing when my phone flashed with an incoming call – my son’s primary school – and my heart stuttered as I thought of all the things that might be wrong.

‘Will you come into school on World Book Day and talk to the kids about writing? Just Years 5 & 6. Only around 250 children.’

Only?!? 250!?! I’ve never given a talk before and instantly I felt sick, dizzy, afraid. Options pin-balled around my mind. I could hang up, pretend they had the wrong number, put on an accent and say I can’t speak English. So many words formed on my tongue, but I thought about the amazing assemblies I’ve seen there over the years. How brave the children are to stand up in front of the school and act and sing, and of all of the words that formed on my tongue, the one that came out was yes. The children can’t all enjoy performing and yet they do it anyway. What sort of example would I set to my son if I didn’t at least try?

Yesterday, it was a different story. Riddled with doubt I spoke my lovely friend Victoria who told me to imagine I was speaking to one little girl. The little girl who loved to read. Loved to write. Who wanted nothing more than to be an author. The little girl I once was who had her dreams crushed when the career advisor said writing was neither a ‘proper or viable career choice.’ And a quiet determination grew inside. If in some small way I could inspire one child to follow their dreams it would be worth any amount of anxiety I might feel.

img_9444This morning I stood in front of a sea of expectant faces. I locked eyes with my son. He’d been so excited I was visiting and I wanted to make him proud, not faint/vomit/cry and so I ignored the notes I’d made and I spoke from the heart. I spoke of my passion for writing, my love for my characters, how I can’t imagine ever doing anything else. I spoke of my belief that we can all be who we want to be, if only we dare to dream and never stop trying.

I asked the children questions. They asked me questions. Some had written them down, complete with illustrations. Most loved to read, to write, to fabricate stories and many of them dream of being authors and seeing that raw hope, that ambition, that certainty, I am sure they can do anything they set their minds to.

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It was a real privilege meeting these children and I came away hopeful, and inspired, and itching to write. It was such an enriching experience. I learned a lot about them, but I also learned a lot about me. 

F**K You Cancer – A tribute to my beautiful friend

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The world has lost a bright light and I have lost my beautiful friend Sara, and already I miss her enormously. Cancer is something that is often spoken about in hushed tones, almost as though if you don’t say the word aloud it can’t touch you but it can. It does. It will. Is there anyone who hasn’t had a friend, a family member brush against this disease? Sometimes it seems not, but knowing that doesn’t make it easier to understand. It doesn’t make it easier to bear.

It’s hard to know what to feel right now. What to do. Who to be. And so I write. Sitting at my desk. A framed quote from Sara hangs on my wall. Something she sent to cheer me up a few months ago. Even with her life drawing to a close she thought of others. She thought of me. It always makes me laugh when I read it. Today it makes me cry and I know that she would hate that.

Next to her quote I have a corkboard packed full of photos of my family and my heart aches as I think of the children she will never now have. The places she will never see. And yet I have never quite known anyone as surrounded by love as she was. Enriching the lives of everybody she met. Always looking on the bright side. Never losing hope. A fighter til the end.

For the past seven years Sara has made me laugh and despite her circumstances that didn’t change. Until very recently we’d still Skype, laughing as we remembered times past, mutual friends and perhaps remembering the most important lesson of all.

“The world’s so beautiful.” Sara said and since then, no matter how busy I am, I make sure I look for the beauty in every day.

It’s been such a privilege to know you.

Goodbye gorgeous girl.

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Fancy a mentor? I’m now open for applications via The WoMentoring Project

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I always wanted to be a writer, but never had the opportunity to go to university, and every time I read a book I loved I would Google the author, reading interviews, and often they would say they had completed a degree in creative writing, or similar courses.

Later in life, I started looking into courses, but an accident left me with a disability, my business folded, and with three children to support I wasn’t able, physically or financially, to follow my dream.

When I first heard about The WoMentoring Project, a scheme offering free mentoring to up and coming female talent who otherwise might not be in a position to progress with their writing, I was hugely excited. Looking through the list of mentors I noticed Louise Walters, and having recently read her book Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase, which I loved, I decided to apply. I was delighted when she accepted my application, and although the mentoring only took place for a few weeks, throughout that time my writing and my confidence flourished. You can read about mine and Louise’s first meeting here, and our follow-up meeting here.

It has now been 2 1/2 years since I was mentored, and during that time I have signed a 3 book deal, published my first two novels – The Sister and The Gift – both of which reached No.1 on Amazon UK, and Canada. I have sold over 750,000 books, and my stories have been sold to over 15 territories for translation. In 2016 I was nominated for The Goodreads Debut Author of the Year Award.

I owe a huge amount to the project, in particular Louise Walters. My time with her gave me a good grounding on how to structure a novel, and how a story should flow, and I really believe if it weren’t for the opportunity, my first novel would not have been of a high enough standard to be published and I wouldn’t be where I am right now. I am eternally grateful.

I am thrilled Kerry Hudson, the founder of this amazing project, has again accepted my application, but this time I am returning as a mentor. Paying it forward is something I strongly believe in and I feel privileged to now be in a position to give back.

If you are a female writer and feel you would benefit from mentoring, you can apply to me via the project. To see if we are a good fit you can read more about what I’m looking for here, and if you are writing outside my genre there are lots of other mentors available.

 

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Why I was SO grateful to go back to school – My visit to Northants Uni

Recently I received an email from the University of Northampton asking if I’d be willing to go in and be interviewed by the media/journalism degree students to talk about writing and following your dreams. I felt a pang of excitement and instantly my first thought wasn’t what I could offer them, but what I could learn from them.

At the risk of sounding ancient, I’m from a generation of girls who weren’t often encouraged to go to University, and we were sometimes actively discouraged. The 80’s may all have been about bold make-up, big hair and shoulder pads, and although women nailed power dressing (I really NEVER nailed power dressing btw) the advice I got from my careers advisor was still to become a secretary. Regular hours, steady pay, and I’d always be home in time to make my future family’s dinner.

During my visit I was struck by the sense of purpose in the University, the determination in the air. Yes, I’m sure there are parties, drinking too much and those who don’t appreciate what an incredible opportunity it affords them being there, not just education wise but in terms of personal growth and life experience, but the students I had the pleasure of meeting had something I was sadly lacking as a teenager. Confidence. The belief they could work within the field of their chosen careers. A quiet determination to succeed that has taken me over 40 years to cultivate myself.

It was a real privilege to visit and I came away feeling inspired and hopeful. You hear so many negative things about our younger generation it was a pleasure to spend time in the company of creative, ambitious, young adults who I have no doubt can do anything they set their mind to.