The Paralympic IPC Says I’m Not Disabled

Please forgive the rage that is about to ensue. This post is purely a “get it out of your head quickly” post.

This year I discovered wheelchair racing as a means to defy my enormous decline in physical health. I’ve blogged about this before & how it is the first sport that has not caused me excruciating pain. About how I finally felt able to participate in something physical. About how the inclusive nature of my team mates boosted my mental health immensely. I have my 1st post-holiday training session tomorrow evening & right now, for the first time ever I don’t want to go. Why?

Fast forward to tonight where I happened to stumble upon a twitter conversation about disabled sport classification by the IPC (in oder to take part in “real” races, you must be classified). They have released a statement specifically excluding Ehlers Danlos Syndrome as a qualifying disability for disabled sport. What this means for me is being treated as an able bodied athlete (you can stop laughing now…. seriously, stop it.) and as such can only participate in open races with no chance of joining my friends on the track for races against people similarly matched to my own actual ability.
Ok, I was never destined for anything other than local competitions & having fun, but I have rarely wished my genetics on anyone, however I’ll make an exception here. Especially after this news story. I am more than a little bit gutted. Any visions of progression in my one physical outlet (no matter how far fetched they may be) have been dashed because someone decided that one type of disability was “better” than another. 

How dare they exclude genuinely disabled athletes because they don’t fit into a neat little tick box?! You are a professional body and as such have an obligation (if not legally, then morally) to pick up a goddamn book and read about conditions that cause a spectrum of disability. If you ever wondered why  Ehlers Danlos Syndrome is considered an Invisible Illness, here is you prime example at the very highest level.

What does your not disabled look like?

It looks like a full time wheelchair user

It looks like someone who fights with their racing chair & dislocates joints and keeps going.

It looks like chronic pain that eats away at you & makes you question at 2am exactly why you keep going.

It looks like more medication than I can count on two hands.

It looks like my husband having to cook for me, and help me wash & dress myself. 

It looks like strapping myself with physio tape to keep joints in place. And when that doesn’t work, biting my cheek to stop myself crying from pain in front of the kids I train with.

It looks like being lifted from my racing chair into my day chair due to no sensation in my lower legs because my spine is slowly curving & compressing my nerves.

Now tell me how perfectly able I am.

F*** you IPC and the bureaucratic horse you rode in on.

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A Spa Day … with the kids

Thursday was mummy’s turn to choose the activity for the day. Mr Geek had been very vocal about wanting to return to one of the German baths during our stay, so we’d done a little research on which one would be most suitable for all of us.

Note: the photos on this post of Vita Classica are from the Therme website as they do other permit cameras inside (good thing too!)

3km from our hotel was the Casseopeia Spa which had excellent reviews & welcomed children. It was “textile free” which would mean letting it all hang free, but when in Rome etc. I started searching for more information on accessibility, but discovered that it is currently closed for refurbishment until October. Bum. I did a little more searching and found an alternative spa in Bad Krozingen called Vita Classica.

Interestingly, many of the reviews on TripAdvisor bemoaned the priority given to those with disabilities… cue cartoon style double take. Although mildly concerned that it might be a bit clinical, and rather relieved that they require bathing suits in the Therme (families cannot enter the sauna area other than Saturdays when it is “family day” as that area is textile free), we decided to give it a whirl. Just to double check, I used the Spa’s online chat facility to make sure I could get in.

The spa was about 8km from our hotel in Schallstadt, so I suggested that we make use of the amazing network of super smooth cycleways and get on our bikes. I’m feeling super confident that my wheelchair bike is up to roaming further from our base & this was an excellent test for the battery life (we ended up through a few interesting navigation decisions riding over 20k during the day which added to a battery that had already done a good few km during the week, taking the range of 1 of the two lithium batteries to just under 30km!).

Our fears about the spa being clinical were unfounded, although disabled facilities are indeed located 1st and there are a good number of prominent accessible changing & showering rooms. On entry, you can either take your own wheelchair in, or leave you chair & make use of one of the poolside chairs which means your chair stays dry!
There are a number of pools with most having a temperature of 34° (one has a temp of 29°, and another at 36°)

A static hoist is available for one of the ‘Blue Room’ pools which doubles as a water therapy pool (at 34°), and a mobile hoist is available if required. As the kids were keen to move between pools, we opted for Mr Geek lifting me from the chair onto the pool steps & bum shuffling down into the water with my waist float strapped on, then reversing this process to get back out.

Through the blue room is the ‘hot pool’ at 36° where we spent a good 30 mins just floating with Mr Geek massaging my neck whilst the girls enjoyed the calm. It’s too warm to swim, so instead you just floating about allowing the warm water to soothe everything. One mildly worrying thing of note was there was  need for them to have a sign printed stating no sex in the pool or showers! How many times does that need to have happened to warrant a metal sign?!?

The two outside pools were slightly cooler at 34° (and outside, so felt cooler) and were more invigorating. The first was a round pool with a variety of jets that slowly floated you around in circles. The jets ranged from weird tiny bubbles that turned the water fizzy, to stand up jacuzzi bubbles, to a lay down full body bed of bubbles (Beanpole & TinyPants made a request to remain there indefinitely. Nice try kids). I was particularly taken with this pool & happily floated in circles in the fizzy warm water for ages. The added weightlessness from the bubbles served to allow me more movement and I could gently cycle my legs releasing my hips & back. 

The second one outside pool was more of a round robin massage pool with shoulder water jets, sit & stand jacuzzi bubbles, a gentle rapid, and massaging waterfalls. The bubbles & jersey are cycled so not everything us on at once and people move around on the sound of a bingbong noise. It was in here, that I experienced a waterfall massage on my lower back & hips – by using my float & Mr Geek holding me, the water fell directly onto my lower back & pelvis at such a rate the my then dislodged SI was battered back into place with an audible clunk that we heard over the noise of the falls! It was deliriously good.

The weather began to turn & knowing that it would take a little over 30 minutes to cycle back, we headed out to get changed.

By the time we left it was starting to shower, but this slowed so off we went. We even had time to stop for a quick family by the river selfie because we DEFINITELY WERE NOT LOST.

In fact we were. We failed to follow a simple cycle route so ended up going all around the houses which was all fine and dandy until it rained. Properly rained.

Wet, cold, and looking like I’d entered a wet tshirt competition, we arrived back at our hotel with two very angry children who were placated by dinner & as much ice cream that they could stomach (a lot) and all was right with the world again.

So a spa day and a cycle on Leonardo with this view totally balances out the horrible weather and my left hip popping out after TinyPants climbed onto the bed for a cuddle spawning a whole night of tens & no sleep. But seriously, look at this view!

The Most Accessible Mountain in Europe 

Four generations ago, my paternal family made a long journey by foot to Canada from Germany. They originally lived in a small village near the top of a mountain in the Black Forest bearing their name. Until I married Mr Geek, I too was a Feldberg. 

I don’t know a great deal about the background of my paternal family and with the magnifying glass of a disabling genetic condition, I grabbed the opportunity to connect with my past with both hands.
Feldberg stands with the highest peak of the mountains in the Black forest. Unlike the mountains of stereotype, it’s covered in trees until you reach the peak where instead of rock & bare nothings, it’s grass; as the name suggests “Feld-berg” = “Field-mountain”.

To get to the peak, you can walk up the wooded, or meadow pathways. Or, like us, you can take the Feldberbahn to the top. In the summer months the ski lift chairs are replaced with gondolas which are not only enclosed & safe for children, but accessible for wheelchairs! They even stopped the cable cars & popped on a ramp to help me in.

It was a beautiful ascent even if the weather was cloudy & at 2200ft at the entry to the cable cars, flipping cold! (13° as opposed to 23° at the hotel). By the time we reached the top, we were a little over 3000ft above sea level and the wind let us know that we were on top of the world!

From up here, you can see across the Alps and breathe in the smell of the forest. Someone recently suggested that no one likes for trees & would want to protect them – well, take a look at this view & choke on your words.

It’s difficult to genuinely give an idea of what it was like to be up there, but if you have (or want to download) the free Google Cardboard Camera app, you can download my panorama photos here (The new Cardboard camera let’s you take a photo in 360° but also records the sound to go with it to enhance the experience)

By the Feldberg viewing tower
By the monument

Unfortunately, the Tower which contains the Ham Museum (yes, you read that correctly) is not wheelchair accessible, so I sat in the sheltered of the entrance. Whilst I was sitting admiring the view, the clinking sound of bells arrived and holy sound of musicals, a herd of billed cows ambled to the grass at the top of the mountain & stared at the visitors with the look of disinterested confusion only a cow would give.

Taking the cable car back down the mountain, we went in search for lunch. Walking past the more touristy places & gift shops around Hotel Feldberg, we found a much older guesthouse just along the road. We were very pleased to have ventured a little further as we were greeted by the owner who happily made space for us & my chair. It was enormously inaccessible  (I had to only hope that I didn’t need the loo as there was no way I was getting in there!), but oh my word the food was incredible!

As someone who doesn’t fate well with onions, or heavy meat dishes, I’m racing through my Omeprazole at a rate of knots, but the Bavarian meatloaf with roasted potato was soft & tasted beautiful. Vaguely like posh spam. My waistline is suffering! I’m even able to enjoy the local beer as most varieties are available as alcohol free & taste just as good! This is great news & means I can sip away & not interfere with my daily doses of poison.

Sadly, our visit was cut a little shorter than I’d hoped as I was feeling lightheaded & exhausted. A combination of altitude, carbs, pain, and overdoing it kicked me up the arse and I lost the ability to function any further.

After a final loo stop & a dose of painkillers, we headed back to the car as it started to rain lightly with me making noises about wanting to visit the Feldberg schnapps museum on the way home….

… I woke up with 5 minutes to go before we reached our hotel. Ah. Bugger. However, I went to bed tonight contemplating where to hang our Feldberg cuckoo clock. I may not know any more about our family, but I do have an image to attach to the spattering of stories I have heard.

Centreparcs – Les Trois Forêts (France) : An Accessible Review

A version of this post can also be seen on TripAdvisor.
We visited Les Trois Forêts as a group of 7, with two children under 12 and five adults. Four of our party had varying physical impairments (using a variety of mobility aids from sticks to an actuve user wheelchair), and two who are Autistic. As such, we pre-booked well in advance choosing a VIP cabin highlighted as accessible for those with mobility needs to sleep 8 mid distance from the main centre (cabin 709).

Communication

With Les Trois Forêts being less than an hour away from the borders of Germany & Luxembourg, it is not a surprise to find that all signs are primarily in French with German translation. Most staff speak either. We made a concerted effort to speak in French & when we failed, the staff were happy to translate more complex requirements to English (at one point making great use of the translation app on my phone!). Like most places, a valiant attempt that ends in them just telling you to speak English is much better received than not trying.

Useful lines:

  • Je suis désolé – I’m sorry
  • Je parlé petite Français – I speak a little French
  • Je ne comprend pas – I don’t understand
  • Vous parlés Anglais? – Do you speak English?
  • Pourrais-je double vérification s’il vous plaît que la salle est accessible pour mon fauteuil roulant? – can I please double check that the room is accessible for my wheelchair?

Whilst I thoroughly recommend the Michel Thomas method for learning some basics, Google Translate is also your friend!

Contact with the outside world is limited as the phone signal in many areas is absent & WiFi is at a premium. There is public WiFi in the main centre & in the play barn, but it us rather slow. We sent a few texts home just to confirm we were ok, but the disconnection from technology was rather welcome after the initial withdrawal! (Even these blogs were written in the late evenings & stored away until connection to the world was restored).

Noise, Comfort, & Bugs

The main centre was only 1 bus stop away (busses run every hourish around the main circuit with 8 stops on the circuit), and yet there was very little noise near our cabin aside from birds and local church bells. Peace is not at a premium here, and despite housing over 1000 chalets, it didn’t feel crowded until you got to the centre. 

The cabin has an enormous living space with an open plan kitchen, plenty of soft seating and two large dining tables (one inside & one outside) – these were used extensively in the evening for playing cards. The soft seated area has a large TV with news channels in a number of languages and several local French & German channels. This also has a DVD player. There are also TVs in both double rooms.

Although we stayed at the end of July /August, the heat was not oppressive & many of the days were overcast. When the sun came out & temperatures were around 27° there is plenty of respite from this in the forest walk. There is no air conditioning in the cabins, so we arrived with some desk fans – these serve several purposes: they kept us all cool at night & deter mosquitos as the breeze moves the carbon dioxide breathed out around and makes it harder for them to find you.

Having read many of the reviews on TripAdvisor, we packed a plug-in insect trap for each bedroom, expecting a deluge of flying beasties. In fact, with the same sticky strip plugged in for the whole 7 nights, only a small number were caught and we were bitten once, if that (and can’t be sure if that was at night).

Our cabin was however, not one that looks directly onto the lake, so that may have an impact on the volume of insects.

We were visited by a fair few insects, a surprising number of baby frogs, several cats, and a multitude of moths ranging for tiny pale ones to literal behemoths! 

Food, Drink, & Entertainment 

We ate out a number of times during our stay. We were rather confused by the reviews bemoaning how expensive the food was – the prices are quite typical of the area and the quality was really quite good considering the volume of people served. The pizza resturant was a pleasant surprise with freshly made pasta & even allowed me to order a children’s portion. The all you can eat buffet had a good selection and was restocked continually until end of service (the kids & adults were very taken with the ice cream & chocolate fountain!). 

The on-site Carrefour was mildly.more expensive than the one 15 minutes down the road, but on a par for things like fresh baguettes, milk, & butter.

One thing we discovered was the delivery service where for €25 they will deliver a whole rotisserie chicken with garlic & rosemary roasted potatoes to your cabin (or you can take them away). They cited that this feeds 4-6 people. We ordered 2 to be sure and eaten with baguettes and some salad, this lasted 2 meals for 7 of us!

There are tonnes of activities on site and whilst many of them are extra, which is expected in Centreparcs & no different to any other site, there are a number of included activities: the train around the park, swimming & waterslides, the petting farm, play areas, & woodland walks. These kept us entertained for most of our time and we topped this up with a few extra activities and a day out. The parc heavily advertises the local animal park & rightly so as it’s very nice. (If you book your entrance through reception, there is an offer of reduced prices).

The Bike Shack offers a range of transport hire from toddler balance bikes, to adult mountain bikes. There are some more unusual machines such as the adult + child tandems. One useful hire for those with reduced mobility is the electric bike which allows you to experience cycling without failing on the hills (of which there are quite a number). In addition to just cycles, there are electric golf carts for either 4 or 6 people. Unfortunately, by the time we had arrived, both the option of electric bike and golf buggy had gone as they had all been hired. We were told that these are bookable in advance online, although are still unable to find how on earth you book them online! Prices are also rather steep for the carts with a 6 seater being €280 for the week with an additional €500 deposit returnable required.

Thankfully, 3 of us brought our own bikes and I had my electric wheelchair trike attachment & off road tyres, so we were able to run errands whilst the others in our party used the little train. Overall, the expense of a bike rack & effort of transporting the bikes was definitely preferable.
Accessibility 

Getting to the cabin was a little tricky as whilst there is step free access, the slope to the cabin is quite steep with a hairpin bend. Navigating up by wheelchair was made easier by using my electric trike attachment, although the walking stick users were unable to get assistance aside from taking it slowly.

Once in, the cottage is very similar to the standard VIP cottage layout. The “accessible end” is the end with a twin & double room attached via a bathroom with Turkish bath (steam room / shower). In here, the bathroom is larger with a toilet rail – this is a single bar on the right, which appears to be standard across all disabled toilets. There is also a shower seat in the Turkish bath. For those with heat intolerance who sigh at the inclusion of a steam room & sauna in the luxury cottages, these both come with adjustable temperature settings, so we were able to enjoy the experience at much lower temperatures!

The layout of the cottage is open plan which makes navigating between areas easy and there is step free access out onto the decking. There is even a ramp down onto the grass. The kitchen is also open plan with the option of storing food in lower cupboards. The surfaces are at standard height, which suited us with only 1 wheelchair user, but meant that I couldn’t use the microwave  (which was above head height) or hob. These were small niggles negated by help from family and the easy to use dishwasher & large handle taps throughout. The addition of a Dulce Gusto machine was actually very useful as I could make my own hot drinks without the need to lift a kettle; buying the coffee & hot chocolate pods for this is highly recommended!

The double rooms aren’t particularly accessible in terms of wheelchair access, although we coped with this by shoving the bed over towards the wall a bit & me not using the dressing table (with 5 bathrooms, there was plenty of alternatives!). The twin room was much more suited to wheelchair access, however this isn’t suited to married couple use! 

Both ends of the cottage have whirlpool baths. With this in mind we packed my inflatable bath lift. Unfortunately, the bathrooms were not big enough to accommodate my wheelchair and close the door so I was unable to get in or out of the tub with any privacy. Neither baths had additional handrails which made this difficult for all people with mobility issues to use them. This was a shame & rather an oversight for a cottage specifically cited as accessible.
The real winner was the accessibility within the swimming pools. There are two disabled changing rooms with full changing beds & accessible showers to compliment the accessible showers alongside the main showers. To access these, you need to take your chalet key card to reception as a deposit & you are handed the key to open the changing room (“avet vous une clé pour le handicapés vestiaire si vous plait?“). In the pool area, not only was a hoist available, but as the main pool was stepless, a set of two water wheelchairs were provided for use by anybody who needed them. The lifeguards were happy to show us where the chairs were & had a supply of adult floatation jackets if needed (I have my own floatation belt & they radioed to other lifeguards that I was in the water in case I was uneasy about being in the water when the wave machine started). I was able to leave my own chair by the lifeguards station & be wheeled directly into the water, or use my own chair to go around the main areas to watch the children hurl themselves down slides, or the rapids, or along the water climbing wall!

Overall 

This visit has made me a centreparcs convert. The insular nature of the place perhaps stopped us from exploring & experiencing the area in the way that we usually do, and I was utterly content to remain within the parc grounds. However, we never once felt penned in, nor compelled to do anything other than relax and enjoy our time.

I can definitely see us visiting again.

Budget Ibis Hotel, Valenciennes – Accessibility Review

This is an extended version of my TripAdvisor review. I had reviewed this hotel in terms of accessibility with the following in mind:

  • Wheelchair Access: limited
  • Physical Access: single floor / good
  • Disabled Parking: Excellent
  • Sensory: Adjustable lighting / No temperature control / some read noise / linen (plain cotton) / ambient noise – low / reception (strong smell of sandlewood)

Lovely clean room which looked well maintained & had a bath! (Something sorely missed when we’ve travelled before). Fab idea to have one of the kids beds above the double as this saves on room and our youngest was very happy with having her own nightlight. The beds are basic & sturdy (read ‘hard’) which suited me well, but Mr Softie husband wondered if mattress had been optional…

An image of the ground floor family room with a double bed, single bed, & bunk bed width ways over the double bed

Rooms were on the ground floor which meant that you could park right outside the room (lots of disabled bays & plenty of space to get out).

Panoramic image of car parking spaces & entry doors with disabled parking & ramp to doors

The room had a patio door at the back leading to a little patio area & grass, which despite being very close to the motorway, was peaceful and very welcome after hours in a car! The area itself is fenced off which allowed the kids to stretch their legs (with other children doing similar) & us a safe place to store our bikes just outside the door & give us a little more room.

WiFi is included in the price of the room which was very welcome and was a decent speed for general browsing.

Lady at reception was very helpful and took pity on us after our dreadful attempt at chatting in French (I forget words in English, so perhaps a road trip where I attempted to speak French, German, & English was maybe aiming a tad high!). There’s an accessible toilet in reception.

Breakfast was a buffet with coffee, croissant, yoghurt etc. Everything was fresh & very nice. My only issue was using the brilliantly installed wheelchair lift to get to the breakfast bar… which was locked & no one had a key! This was easily solved by sending the family up to the breakfast bar & sitting in the lower table area. This is a potential issue had I been travelling alone.

Wheelchair lift in reception

Getting to reception in a wheelchair is difficult (there is a 2″ step to get onto the ramp which was too steep for me to propel myself manual chair up myself ). Once in reception, there is a lowered desk, although the card machine doesn’t reach it.
Image of tamp to reception with step up get to ramp

There is no resturant on site & if you’re travelling on a Sunday there is very little available. An “emergency” McDonald’s is located 4km up the motorway (about 10 minutes). Usually, there is a resturant available at the neighbouring Novatel.

We booked a stopover here for a family room clearly stating that one person was a wheelchair user at the time of booking. On arrival, we were told that room layouts were either wheelchair accessible for 2 people, or family rooms. As I need physical help from my husband during the night, we couldn’t make use of the suggestion to book 2 separate rooms, so stuck with the family room.

There is a clearly signed wheelchair access route to the rooms from the car park, however this also contains a 1″ lip in order to get up to the walkway. The doors were wide enough to push my manual wheelchair through if my husband helped lift me over the raised frame, and aside from not being able to close the bathroom door & there being no grab handles (remember that this was not billed as the accessible room), the hard floors and clean layout meant that I could scoot about in my chair with relative ease. For those with anything bigger than an active user chair, this wouldn’t be an option.

Overall, it was perfectly pleasant as a stopover with our only grumble being the mildly terrifying ramps & the assumption that a family wouldn’t require an accessible room.

Sunday Night Optimism 

You know those awful ten things posts? Yeah, I’m going to do one of those. 

I was being a bit of a grumpybum earlier, so decided to a list of reasons to be happy.

*accessibility warning – there are some fast rolling image gifs at the end of this post*

1. This guy. We’ve been together nearly 13 years & married for 11 of those this year. Aside from snoring like a dying gruffalo, he’s pretty amazing.

2. Mrs Gypsytree visited this summer. We didn’t get to see each other as much as we’d like as their summer started a month before ours does, but we got a lovely evening in where we celebrated them finally owning a real proper house in Norn Iron. I still miss her being a few minutes up the road, but they’re ever so happy & that’s good. 

3. I’m superhuman. Wheelchair racing has transformed being in a chair from a loss of mobility to a doorway to new friends, supportive but very real competition, and a sport that I can participate in for the first time since forever without crippling pain. Don’t get me wrong, it hurts, in fact on the first corner of this particular race my hip popped so badly that it came all the way out & I pushed 800m with a fully dislocated hip & a subluxed shoulder. At the end I was gasping for breath & Mr Geek had to haul me out of the chair and push everything back in & feed me morphine.

BUT, I competed in my first race with my friends, showed people we’re enabled, & we all came away with fist bumps and massive smiles.

This is the face of someone who is going to FINISH this race.

4. We’re getting somewhere with the joined up thinking. I’m now officially seeing the neurology team at UCLH and not only are they looking into the POTS symptoms, they’re being joined up and looking at the other weird nerve issues with the lack of feeling & strange reflexes in my feet, and looking at ways to manage the EDS. It means more time & lengthier stays here, but it’s progress and very positive. They even encouraged my chair racing as a positive way to keep the autonomic car crash that is my body as functional as possible 😆

5. Half way there! The scary seven are still enjoying lashings of ginger beer together. Despite now living 600 miles apart, the minute they get together they’re back to being the same tribe that they’ve always been. This year we couldn’t physically make it up to “our tree” so settled for a bench instead. They didn’t seem to mind, although this once again confirms that it is impossible to get a photo of all of them making a near sensible face!

6. My life doesn’t have to be restricted to reality. My hands may not grip pens or paint brushes anymore, but on a good day I can hold a controller and paint virtually. The VIVE has allowed me to return to using a virtual paintbrush & now sit quietly in a vast dark room and paint in 3D. The best bit is I can choose from any size brush and whilst the virtual brush size changes, the controller remains the size of a crutch grip & is as light as a tv remote control. I’ve learnt how high I can lift my arms now without dislocating (Although I still get engrossed and utterly forget, then re-enact the scene from Horton hears a who where the mayor runs from the dentist). Weirdly, I can self-propel in VR & it feels like normal.

7. My friends are just as daft as me. When it comes to showing cancer where it can shove itself, we certainly did. The volume of physio tape it took to hold three women with connective tissue disorders together must’ve made KT rub it’s hands together, but nothing beats seeing your proper mega serious marathon runner friend skipping beside you in a tutu. To top it off, Lizzie on the far right, won the whole flipping race as the 1st finisher in just over 17 minutes. There’s a reason she uses the hashtag #RoadToRio in her posts. And when (not if) she brings home a medal one of these days, I’ll still be chasing her like a slightly defective whippet after a rabbit!

This was one of my happiest days from 2016.

8. Yeah, ok, it had to be in there somewhere. I’m not out there kicking arse every day. Quite a lot of days I’m in here wondering how I’m going to make it those 5 meters to the loo without ending up on the floor in a heap. So to keep me amused, I have Pokèmon Go! There are a few teething issues with servers and the fact that the developers rather forgot that people with physical disabilities may have rather an issue with walking that 10k needed to hatch an egg, or get out there & explore for PokeStops… I’m sticking with it for now in case they add some more accessible features. Until then, here’s the bastard that chewed up 11 of my pokeballs & still got away!

9. Friends. But more importantly, friends who understand why I cancel plans at short notice, double book myself because my brain is shot to pieces, who still invite me to things even though I’ve declined the last four hundred times because I’m too tired. And who get that me being too tired means I’m probably actually in too much pain to be near people. Some of them are fellow Spoonies, others are just empathic enough to see through the “I’m okay!”.

They’re good people. 

10. And very much not least are Beanpole & TinyPants. They are wise beyond their years and not given nearly enough credit for the caring that they do. I have the best time with these tiny little ladies even if I do have to pretend I’m actually a grown up who’s in charge on occasions. There aren’t many 10 year olds that just stop acting up or having fun because they can see that mummy is in more pain than usual. They carry stuff, they give up trips out to snuggle in bed with the TV, they get on with their homework so I can nap. I may regret being so impressed with them once they turn into unresponsive grunting teenagers!

For now, I’m pretty thankful & optimistic for a good week. I hope yours goes well too. Xxx

Chronically Optimistic

I quite often feel bemused when people look at me just getting on with life and exclaim “I don’t know how you’re so cheerful”, or “I don’t know how you do it. You’re really brave.”

Anyone who actually knows me, knows that rather a lot of the time I’m angrier & more irrational than a wasp, and spend an unnecessary amount of time holding pity parties. Generally this is in the privacy of home where Mr Geek can appreciate the full spectrum of my whining. God, he’s a lucky bastard.
But as I trundle out of the door, Mr Geek gives me a kiss & grumbles something about dinner and I slap a smile on.

Because, you know, if you take a deep breath & smile…. it confuses the living shit out of people. I smile at people because it makes people feel nice to be smiled at. I love my good morning routine as I roll past the ladies in the front office, the premises guys, & the happiest maths teacher on the planet. 

It doesn’t matter that I’m struggling with increasingly uncontrollable pain levels. I’m more than my body. I might not be physically dancing about in a snorkel anymore, but I’m still me. Weirdly, the end of term approaching has reminded me that I’m more than the sum of my parts. Rather than finishing this year haggard and wondering what a bloody stupid idea it was to become a teacher, this year I’ve been a wreck anyway so actually I’m ending it appreciating all the ways that teaching allows me to be a real person.

Next year, I welcome my new form (my last lot have now flown my nest after 3 years of growing into adults!). Each of us in the year team have a special reason for students to be placed with us – think of it like a teacher talent tree. Mine is routines & extra TLC. Our routines are visual and planned in advance – I am happiest when everything is structured & my kids tend to be those that thrive on similar. The TLC bit applies to a whole range of reasons. Kids arrive with a spectrum of issues that reflects the adult world, from shyness to mental health to physical health. There is no child that doesn’t benefit from someone who welcomes them as part of their extended family. In turn, I get to witness their successes, their soap opera style relationships, hand out birthday cards, read to & with them, I’m the sympathetic ear when they need one, and the kick up the backside when they’re being a knob. My last form witnessed my health decline rapidly over 3 years & they used it to forge intensely empathic responses to others who needed help. I didn’t think I could be prouder.

Then I was when I met my new form. I ended our induction day by showing their parents photos of our day together where they’d overcome fear of school, of new places, of sensory overload, of looking silly (posing for selfies with our form teddy bear when you’re 13 wipes out any Alpha male ideas). Just like having another child, you don’t divide your love, it multiplies. And stealing the words of an old headteacher “you’ve gotta love em. Children, no matter how old, need love”.

So as one academic year ends (in a week and 1/2) & another is right around the corner, I’m optimistic. By September, I’ll have my Master Teacher badge which sadly is just that – gone are the days of elevated pay, but it’s nice to be recognised as a subject specialist & be involved with training new Computer Science teachers.

Making it through the tough bits means I reap the rewards of being a stubborn arsehole who’s still got more fight left in her. And, well, Mr Geek, that lucky bastard gets at least another academic year of me falling asleep on my marking & being a diabolical wife.
Maybe this year will be the year I finally get around to submitting my fellowship for the Society for Education… dream big 💖