A Generational Pivot Point… or is it?

Every generation has defining moments when everything is brought into sharp focus and speaking your mind comes bundled with the threat of a backlash from those seeking to silence your freedom of thought. 

For my parents it was the wars fought in Vietnam & Korea. My Dad missed conscription by a year. Both he & my mum were hippies & pacifists. They personified the 60s and I love trawling through the photos they kept seeing these people that existed before I remember them as adults.

My grandparents, it was WWII – my paternal Grandfather was in the Canadian Army deployed in Italy (then France), shot three times and like the black knight still suggested he was up for more. Tough as old boots, he lived into his mid-90s out in Canada. My maternal Grandfather was in the British Navy in the South Pacific. They both fought against fascism and returned with physical & mental scars. My maternal grandfather died shortly after due to cancer caused by radiation from Naval experiments. I have a personal beef with Von Neumann.

My great grandparents differed. My maternal Nanny spent so many hours telling me about living through the WWII Blitz in London, and before that working during WWI when my great-grandfather was in the British Navy. She saw women given the vote when she was 26 (1928). in contrast, my paternal Great-Grandparents were farmers in Alberta, Canada having arrived there a generation earlier after fleeing Germany and walking (yes, walking ) across Siberia. I never met them, but seeing photos as an adult, my Great-grandmother looked just how I imagined her as a child outside her hand built log cabin. 


As for us, Mr Geek & I were born in & remained in the UK to reasonably affluent parents who had long since hung up their flares & gogo boots. We were born as Citizens of Europe and comfortably grew up embracing other cultures whilst feeling a bit sheepish about the behaviour of some of our more stereotypical ‘Brits Abroad’. We embraced ‘alternative’ as a longer than technically necessary rebellion with our massive baggy jeans with chains, coloured mohawks, nylon dreadlocks, and more eyeliner than an Ancient Egyptian. We were comfortable just being ourselves. Then a chain of events led up to the worst family conversation of my lifetime:

“I think I’d prefer not to know and if the bomb drops to think, oh light. Then gone.”

“Agreed. I wouldn’t want to live through that. Or worse, live through it and be ruled by Trump.”

… and I just sat listening with that rising feeling of panic you get when you think your children are in danger…

So what pivotal moments turned that purple haired rocker into a muted mother terrified of the actions of a man the other side of the world?

As kids the word terrorist was familiar – the IRA were regularly planting bombs (one of which blew up 15 miles up the road). In 1998 a peace agreement was signed and people carried on. Incidents like the nail bombs that went off in brick lane, London in 1999 hinted at a Far Right terrorist movement rebelling against the authorities tackling internal racism and were treated with disdain. Concurrent life sentences were handed out and life settled as politics became more centred on society. Organisations like Sure Start were created to help struggling parents fulfil their desire to be productive parents, a minimum wage was enforced, government assistance started to help those in work to combat poverty…

2001 – 9/11 happened (or 11/9 over here). Suddenly the US were involved and after gathering ourselves from seeing horrific sights just unfolding on what felt like every screen in the world, everyone held their breath waiting for retaliation. We didn’t have to wait long.

2004 – Beanpole arrived. At 24 I’m regularly using crutches for “SPD that never went away after pregnancy” (yep, that happens *insert sarcasm*). I literally didn’t know which end was which, but this tiny 5lb little thing was now the centre of my universe.

2005 – A most excellent wedding (can you tell I’m 4 months pregnant ?). Mr Geek looks so young! TBF we were – he was 23 here & a lady never reveals her age.

2006 – TinyPants arrives in spectacular style waaaay too early & refuses to acknowledge that she has to breathe for herself. It’s just too much effort, so spends the next 6 months traumatising us. We continue to just be us, but with tiny rockers with us.

2007 – Sophie Lancaster was murdered by teenagers in a park she was walking through with her boyfriend. Even now, I can’t go back over what they did, but they were attacked for looking different. For looking like we did. She was 6 years younger than me.

We were settled into our own house by now with an ever expanding broods between us & the GypsyTrees. This was my favourite time of all.

2008 – The Credit Crunch TM. Somehow the banks lost most of their money & everyone looked a bit shocked when it wasn’t down the back of the sofa. The banks weren’t keen on paying for it, so convinced the government that they’d have to pick up the tab… meanwhile, Iceland who maybe possibly lost all the country’s money wiped the date clean by firing it’s government, cancelling all debts of everyone in the whole country and starting again. (Fast forward & who’s still in austerity? It’s not the people with fish money)

My first outing in a wheelchair. More often using my funky stick when things get too much. (I’d not realised until I looked back at photos that the stick appeared so early.)

2014 – Gamergate started. (Why? Because an ex boyfriend wanted revenge on the woman who’d moved on). It wasn’t exactly new, but the ferocity of people online suddenly increased. By this point, I’d been playing regularly online for over a decade. Men posting their genitals online was nothing new – if anything, it was boring. But there was a shift in the tone. I started playing male characters outside of my known & safe guild.

2016 – There ought to be a room 101 for this year, but here goes. Leaving all the celebrity deaths aside just for now: The UK voted to leave the EU against the advice of all financial & political experts because the then Prime Minister used it as a vote winner to get elected. Once the vote went horribly wrong for him, he promptly resigned and scuttled off vacs to his wealthy family leaving a leadership contest between a woman who complained people were being mean to her, a man claiming that prayer cures gayness, an ex education minister who most teachers would eagerly be left alone with a hot poker for 10 minutes with, a floppy haired buffoon who’s lifetime achievement was getting stuck on a zip wire, and Little Red Riding Hood’s Granny post Wolf transformation. One by one they stood down after realising that they weren’t actually fit to run to the shops let alone run a country, until just Wolf Granny was left; our currency crashed (further); The political opposition ate itself and became defunct; Then the US voted in Trump.

At which point the whole of the world turned around at America and made this face:

So here we are. It could so easily be a message of doom & gloom, but as one year closes another opens and I remain infinitely hopeful that Trump will be nullified either by being such a tremendous twat that he impeaches himself or that the actual politicians will keep patting him on the head & remove his Twitter account. I’m hopeful that an effective treatment for EDS will be discovered and we can stop me (and so many others) falling apart. I’m hopeful that Brexit negotiating will take so long that it won’t be seen in my or my children’s lifetime (or, that EU opt in becomes a thing). I’m hopeful that I’ll still be working this time next year. I’m hopeful that Beanpole continues loving every second of school & TinyPants survives the SATS relatively unscathed (seriously year 6 teacher, keep telling her that her best isn’t good enough, see what happens…). I know we’ve lost so many special people this year, but in the words of one of them:

And with that, my survival rate for shitty times is 100% so far. Despite appearances , I seem to have a track record for surviving and if you’re reading this you have too. Let’s keep this up for 2017.


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Teacher in a Wheelchair Series – No 2 – Why Bother?

I’ve lost count of how many times people have asked me how I appear to just carry on despite rapidly falling to pieces. Just as often I look confused at them & say “err I just do. It’s nothing special.”.  Looking at it objectively, actually my ability to hold down a full time job is thanks to a million little tricks and adjustments. This series of blogs is all about unpicking those adjustments & sharing them. Number 1 shared some tricks on making it through the day in one piece, or at least in as few separate pieces as possible. This week, I’m focusing on mental health.

For those who don’t know, I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome – a genetic condition which affects connective tissues throughout my body making them stretchier than they should be. For me this meant undiagnosed joint pain, weird injuries, & enormous anxiety as a child; later this became chronic pain in my back & gastric issues; finally (and this isn’t my final form) in my mid 30s I dislocate daily, have dysautonomia, intense fatigue, & the joys of adrenal imbalance making me easily “stressy” and unable to sleep at appropriate times.

Life could very easily get very dark; I could easily dwell on the potential of overdoing it & rupturing an important organ; it’s not unusual to do the 2am game of “which body part hurts the most?” – tonight, come on down thoracic vertebrae! We have a winner! ; I am human & the odd week long pity party for one is allowed (and frankly, quite health behaviour when you are faced with similar pain to a broken bone all the time & for the rest of your life). At my PIP interview the assessor took Mr Geek aside and said bluntly “keep.an eye on her, that brave face is going to slip soon & she will crash and burn”. PIP or Personal Independence Payment is the UK disibility benefit to enable us to pay for care & mobility aids. It has a very bad press & the process tested my mental health to the absolute limit. I lucked out with my assessor who was kind & fair and was so jaded by the system that he just asked me straight rather than trying to trip me up. I thought he was being dramatic when he said to look out for my mental health. He wasn’t. 

So here’s some pieces of advice on mental health in the workplace when you have chronic pain. 

1. Every Little Helps

It’s very easy to feel like Sisyphus forever rolling that boulder up a hill & getting nowhere. As teachers, even after years, we have this idea in our heads that we can create a community of well behaved & engaged kids. That ideal will never go.

When I first used my wheelchair at school, I was scared that it would impact on my authority and the kids wouldn’t behave. Quite the opposite. It’s allowed me to be softer with them because I’m in less pain, so have more patience, and they copy my more happy style.

It’s not all sunshine & rainbows though. This week I’ve encountered all sorts and it’s worn me down. We’ve had uniform “adjustments”, monosyllabic grunting  (that drives me up the wall), swearing, use of the words “retard” “gender bender” “gay” “mong” (can you say detention with an essay researching the history of why that is offensive?), graffiti, large items thrown through windows, parents complaining that I’m horrible. I’m painting an awful picture, but this is not business as usual. 

I work in an outstanding school. Not because Ofsted say so, but because it’s a place I want to go to. I gladly increase my pain levels to spend time with the kids & my colleagues. And you can bet any amount of money that each of those issues will be dealt with in a style similar to Thor’s Hammer.

Yes, I’m sick to the back teeth of kids talking to me like something on their shoe, but what they don’t realise is that I’m grittier than them. They will pass this course if I have to drag them kicking & screaming. I secretly like them. Even when they’re making my life hellish.

And that’s my secret weapon. They don’t need to like me, they need to know I have their best interests at heart. They initially think I’m evil. I set all this homework and demand proof that they’ve revised. Then had the audacity to set a test for year 11 on Tuesday. They got their results today & the majority did wonderfully. I gave them proof that their hard work paid off. I won.

2. It’s not personal

Meet the teenager who greets you with “let me sing you the song of my people: that teacher hates me”. The song translates to a number of things:

  • “that teacher set me work that I don’t immediately understand and they won’t do it for me”
  • “That teacher won’t let me sit with my friends and chat”
  • “That teacher doesn’t understand why I’m struggling in class”


In the 3rd instance, yes, we’re in the wrong. And we are not infallible and do miss things. But when those complaints come in because you set high expectations & push for independent thought  (and they will), it’s not personal. Not for you as the teacher. It’s hard for children (and nd adults) to adjust from being spoon-fed answers to being investigators. It’s natural to dislike the person who is pushing you out of your comfort zone. I hated my programming teacher. As he strode around the classroom proclaiming we were all useless & a waste of his precious time so no he wouldn’t lower himself to giving us the answer! We resolved to make him look stupid by proving him wrong and aceing the module. We were played. Looking back, he was one of the best teachers I’ve ever had.

I’m not suggesting his style of teaching. But be firm. Follow your behaviour guidelines. Write home. Know that you are the target for their fear of failure & self doubt.  And by knowing that, you also know it’s not as personal as there words suggest.

3. Cake Monday

Make time for your colleagues. They are your support network. This year is arrived on our first day back with a home baked black forest cake and declared Monday breaktimes “Cake Monday” where we all stop, Drink tea, eat cake, and most importantly talk about us (not work, but what’s going on with our lives). That 20 minutes each week allows us to touch base & gauge if anyone is wobbly. Case in point being my wobble over going to hospital in October – I talked about my fears & whilst they can’t fix it, they are keeping it low key with questions about it banned unless I bring it up.

4. Mark your work!

Err how is this good for mental health exactly? Well, set a routine with books. Collect then in each week & leave a minimum of one positive comment in there. Where they need to improve, ask a question instead of telling them.

When you write down positive things about your class, you feel more positive towards them. This is especially helpful for new classes, or ones you find challenging.

My favourite right now is to buy packs of DC & Marvel stickers which go on the cover of their books if they show effort or grit or self control. These also equate to housepoints, but they love my silly comments of “super effort” or my personal favourite “incredible homework ” accompanied by a sticker of the hulk.

4. Ask for help

Do as I say, not what I do. I am so bad at this & am paying the price. My job this weekend whilst away is to put together a list of tasks that are causing me pain, or issues at work.the reason being so I can propose a change in my support from Access to Work. I’ve reached a stage where I’m aware that I’m overstretching my physical capabilities and need a support worker in some capacity. Travel in a converted van with my wheelchair strapped down is painful & noisy to the point of tinnitus.

As part of this, I used an accelerometer on my phone to measure some of the bumps over my 30 minute journey into work. These show a reading in m/s2 (meters per second squared)

Remembering that travelling in a wheelchair means you are sat bold upright thus placing the ptessure of any bumps directly onto the spine: at it’s highest reading, this was a 3g pressure downwards. That’s on a par with a roller coaster. This could explain why I start each morning with tea & painkillers.

This kind of data will help me to legitimately ask for help & not be seen as moaning. It’s unlikely that’s they would, but I’m my head I’m biting the hand that feeds me.

So, a bit of a long rambley post which I guess is fitting for looking after your mental health when you’re dealing with life & chronic pain. 

Until next time xx