Loneliness

Yesterday I went to the Learning Disability England conference in Birmingham where the station is extraordinary and the venue more ordinary.
In a vast room, full and crackling with anticipation, there was much laughter, honesty, heckling and a smattering of sadness too.
Donald took to the floor shortly after lunch. He described himself as a man with learning difficulties and then taught us a lesson. He found himself some years ago with no friends and eaten up with loneliness. His fridge was full of milk he didn’t drink and bread he wouldn’t eat. He bought them to make himself feel validated, to prove that he existed. It was the only time in the day someone spoke to him. Things got so bad that the police were called.
He turned things around with support at work where they might just put an arm around him and tell him it will be ok on a bad day. He has also found his tribe at his beloved MK Dons, it is not just the football he loves but the people around him. Unexpectedly, at the old folks home he found a new passion. He was persuaded to join in a pamper session and loved the experience so much he now wants to train as a nail technician. He flashes his shiny black nails. What a man. I can’t help feeling that not only has Donald’s life improved but so has the lives of all the people that know him.
At lunch I met a lovely young woman, long flowing hair, deep eyes, who spent 7 years at college learning administration and volunteers at hospital in Nottingham. She longs for a part-time job as she wants to earn her own money. She is told she is either too over qualified or too under qualified. I would hire her in a flash.
What are we doing when we cannot see the extra stuff that people with learning disabilities bring to the workplace? We miss out not just on their skills but also their humanity, their honesty and their challenge to us to see the world differently. What are we doing when we exclude them from our perfect social circles?
Check out this video from Casa Carlota a Barcelona based design studio and see what might happen if we open our eyes to the possibilities of a good new world.
If you are not in a position to offer someone a job, take a tip from Donald. Say hello to someone you don’t know today. You might be the only person they speak to all day.


Justice For Laughing Boy

Justice for Laughing Boy By Sara Ryan

I remember it well. I was only too happy to hear my email ping and find the next bulletin of the Laughing Boy blog arrive. I opened it somewhat surreptitiously, sitting as I was in a busy but boring workshop, and read on. I read that Laughing Boy had died.

I felt physically sick. I left the conference hall  and cried.

I still think of LB often.

In Justice for Laughing Boy Sara Ryan tells the shocking story of how her son Connor, Laughing Boy, died in an ATU in Oxfordshire. He was a handsome young man with the future ahead of him, ideally involving a, ‘haulage company and a beautiful brown eyed woman’. He had learning difficulties and epilepsy and as some young men do was experiencing a hard time with anxiety and sometimes unpredictable rage. He was admitted to Slade House in Oxfordshire, an NHS Treatment and Assessment Unit, where he was under the care of a team of psychologists and ‘experts’. This is where he died, a young man with epilepsy drowned unattended in a bath.

This book is written with all the warmth, charm and humour that drew me to Sara’s blog in the first place. Many anecdotes stick with you long after reading. Many are laugh out loud funny. But what is not funny is that Sara has spent the last 3 years searching for accountability, apologies and justice. This is a story that starts with the joy, the unpredictability and the simple weirdness of living with a dude like Connor and moves on to the massive unrelenting task of fighting for justice 3 years after his preventable death.

Sara and her incredible band of supporters have waged war on a system that is convoluted, obfuscating and weighted against families. With resilience and tenacity they have stood their ground, they have pushed and cajoled as they fight to bring some kind of meaning to this awful and untimely death. Some of this has been played out in public meetings, court rooms and lawyers offices. Some of it on flags at festivals, on buses in Asturia and much of it on social media in a campaign that has caught the hearts of thousands.

But from every angle this has been an unjust war. Why should a mother have to fight so hard for justice when her son died in an institution charged to help him, in a bath.

This is a book that should never have had to be written, but it is a book that demands to be read.

 

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Take Good Care

It has taken  a long time to identify myself as a carer, one of the almost 7 million in the UK. Increasingly, I realise that the demands of looking out for someone 24 hours a day, however much I love her, places me firmly in that camp. The additional needs which can range from providing a literal shoulder to lean on, to recruiting carers, to administering life saving medication, to witnessing horrific seizures has eventually convinced me that this is an out of the ordinary parenting role.

I was shocked recently when asked that simple question, Whose mask would you put on first if a plane was going down, yours or your daughters, to answer without hesitation my daughters. It is a cliche but a telling cliche.

It becomes a habit to think of others before ourselves. Not in some kind of angelic, saintly way but as ritualised behaviour often accompanied by, said with a hint of shame, resentment. It can be annoying, irritating and frustrating to be seen as somehow better than others, more rounded, more able, when actually what we often feel is overwhelmed by sadness and fear. The sadness that it has always been this way and always will be, and the fear that we may be unable to continue both emotionally and physically because the tank is empty.

It is an essential truth that carers need to look after ourselves but it is not something that always comes easily. Many carers have to be given permission to do this, convinced that essence of you is caring for others and time spent not doing this is indulgent, wasteful and frankly flaky.

Yesterday in a yoga class we were working towards an arm balancing pose, astavakrasana, when I ended up in a crumpled but smiling heap, not quite the desired effect and luckily no accompanying photo. The lovely, downtoearth yoga teacher explained that the pose was like dealing with a difficult person. You do not try to address all the difficulties at once, you take them small step by small step and eventually you may have a better relationship  with that person.

This is the same for carers. You cannot expect to make peace with the enormous and life shattering change that is being a carer in one step. You cannot learn to look after yourself overnight after years of neglect, but you begin to build small moments when you find yourself again. Mine are often found on the yoga mat, where do you find yours?

 

 

 

 


Dreamsnatcher

With your expectations and redundant forms

Tight budgets safe from grasping fingers

Systems bound with blood red tape

Sensible shoes and measuring glances

Crazy titles, meek intentions

In censorious sentences you parcel out her life

and say ‘it’s not safe to dream’

 

So I will meet you at the door

One hand raised

 

She is a dancer floating ‘mid meadow flowers

A sweet enchantress of open hearts

A philosopher of unencumbered thoughts

A lover of all good things and cake

A listener to sounds the dark earth makes

A composer of funky flowing rhythms

An enlightened muse to all who know her

 

So I will meet you at the door

One hand raised

 


Another Day

Lying in the bed below

Sweaty and Pale

A dreadful night

One blow upon another wracked her body

Seizures

Night and day, day and night

Little respite from the horror and the pain

 

Pale face, sweaty palms

Heartfelt sadness upon her face

As now she sleeps.

The drugged sleep

Catching up with peace

And better times

When the sun shines on her face

 

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An Oasis of Calm

Some way down the Holloway Road there is an oasis of calm, nestled amongst coffee shops, cheese shops, petrol stations and post offices, given away only by the small orange tree on the door step- the Mahadevi Yoga Centre.

It was there that I did my yoga for the Special Child training course. Drawn there by my love of yoga and the love of my daughter, Iona, who has been attending since it’s opening in 2015.

The course was taught by the founder of Yoga for the Special Child, Sonia Sumar a Brazilian by birth with a warm, passionate, mesmerising and engaging style. She taught with a breadth and depth of knowledge that stems not only from her 45 years work in this field but also as a mother of a beautiful child with Cerebral Palsy, who has sadly passed away. Sonia bears her wisdom lightly and anyone from the quiet beginner to the experienced yoga teacher was embraced warmly.

The programme takes you not only through the physical action of teaching but also prepares you for the emotional empathy that is central to the work. At times it can be intense, at times it can be challenging but it is always stimulating.

The group of students from Canada to Belgium to Portugal to Poland, laughed and occasionally cried, concentrated and celebrated, focussed and supported each other.

It was a life changing and enriching experience and one that will resonate for many years to come.


She Never Said

 

They did not ask about

nor did they see

the quiet agony she carried

day to day

 

They did not feel her pain

her sleepless nights

her bitten nails, her anxiety

 

They strode along and talked

their talk of fancy

tea and cakes they shared

with friends

 

They did not see her

isolation and her fear

that one day her children

would not be here

 

They did not mention

her desperation, her unkempt hair

the circles dark below

her hollow eyes

 

They did not hear her

silent scream nor smell

the stench of broken dreams and friendships

she once had

 

They did not know and yet

they said how well

she coped and muttered empty promises

they did not keep

 

And when the circus had all but left

they looked around aghast it happened here

in their backyard with tidy lawns

and sculptured trees

 

We did not know

she never said.

 


The week that is

Learning Disability Week. I have tried rolling the label, learning disability, around in my head but it seems oddly unnatural, like a man made fibre, synthetic, discordant and contrived. I tried saying it out loud to my daughter, she shrugged in a non plussed kind of way, if she could talk she might have said, ‘whatever’

I never think of my daughter as having a learning disability. She is just herself, kooky, funny and pretty.  Read More…


Angry Parents

‘I quite like angry parents, you used to be angry Linnet’

She was right. I used to be angry with the system nearly all the time but now I am angry only some of the time.

I used to be angry, defeated and exhausted. Then people started listening, then they started trusting and now they have start believing that all I ever want is what is best for my daughter. So now I still get angry but I only get angry some of the time. Read More…


Form Filling

A strange thing happened yesterday. We had a meeting round my kitchen table to fill in a form.

There were four of us,  from health, education, social services, and me.

Most of the form we crossed out, some of it was described as bollocks and someone asked who was it for anyway?

My daughters plans were simply described in one sentence to live her life as fully as possible and to continue to try out new things that would make her happy.

How Mr Mark Neary would have marvelled.

I am still in shock.

 


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