Tag Archives: children

Mental Health Awareness Week 2019: Body Image

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week (#MHAW19) in the UK and the focus this year is on body image – how we think and feel about our bodies. I’ve talked about mental health in relation to our family before as there is no question that the ongoing challenges of M’s ill health and the restricted diets of both children have impacted not only them, but Mike and me too. Just because I’ve not written about body image issues before doesn’t mean we haven’t faced them and I thought it was finally time to try and put my pen to paper and talk about our experiences honestly.

It’s taken me a long time to become comfortable with the way I look. I am not a size 10 having, as I have often said, passed through it on my way to bigger and better things. I struggled as a teen being taller and bigger than some of my friends and again as a new Mum, when some of my antenatal group bounced back to their size 8 jeans within a ridiculously quick space of time, something I was never going to achieve. The depression that has haunted me since my early teen years didn’t help with my sense of self worth and it has taken me 40 years to finally accept that I am the way I am and that that is enough. That doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally have a crisis of confidence even now, but I have learned to wear clothes that flatter my shape and can truly step out with confidence when everything comes together to help me feel good about the way I’m presenting myself to the outside world.

There is no question that G is the spitting image of Mike and his side of the family, which gives her beautiful tanned skin and dark hair, although her build is very similar to mine. She has struggled at times with not being as slender as some of her friends and these days complains that she appears to have stopped growing whilst her friends are still inching past her. She is a beautiful young lady on the inside as well as out and we encourage her to find her worth in the way she behaves and reacts to the people who are around her and not her physical looks. We have all heard the criticisms of both print and social media and the airbrushed images that all too often create unrealistic expectations in our children and young people. The increasing popularity of taking selfies and then using social media filters to manipulate the image presented to the world can add to our unrealistic perceptions about the way we should look. I still remember a discussion we had with one of the paediatricians when she was little, who told us that the danger these days is that our perceptions and expectations of body shape and size are such that we fail to recognise when people are a healthy weight for their height and instead view them as overweight. G is learning to eat healthily, keep active, believe in herself and, most importantly, to not constantly compare who she is to her friends.

It is easy to believe therefore that if you’re slim you have no reason to have body image issues, but I can tell you that’s not true either. M is the complete opposite to the rest of us and has always been on the slender side. He is chatty, witty and can ooze absolute self-belief at times, and yet he has struggled with feeling too thin, too short and lacking muscles when compared to some of his friends. He refused to wear shorts during his Junior school years, even when the weather was gloriously sunny and we asked for permission for him to wear jogging trousers rather than shorts for PE – all because he hated the way his legs looked. These days he’s a little more prepared to reveal his legs, particularly when it’s too hot to be comfortable in jeans, but he frequently comments on just how much taller than him many of his classmates are.

Boys can be just as much affected by body image issues as girls can and we’re lucky that our secondary school is very aware of that fact and looks to support all of the pupils in its teaching about these matters. We are all aware that puberty is a tricky time and one that needs to be carefully navigated by all involved. At home, we look to help both G and M grow up with a positive self image and belief as well as teaching them the importance of balanced meals and regular exercise. We also encourage them to talk openly and honestly with us about how they’re feeling about various issues, not just about the way they look, and will help them find answers or solutions if they want. Our youngsters grow up sadly believing all too often that they need to be thin and conventionally beautiful to succeed in this world and I find it devastating that they do not truly understand and believe that there is so much more to achieving success than the way they look.

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Cornish treasure

Of course, despite rumours suggesting otherwise, our week in Cornwall did not purely revolve around places to eat and we had an amazing time exploring many of the beautiful nooks and crannies the county has to offer. This wasn’t a week for sitting on a beach relaxing as instead we crammed as many day trips in as we possibly could and spent a lot of time making some marvellous, magical memories. Just as I gave you a quick taster of the many restaurants we were lucky enough to enjoy, here is my overview of some of the best places we visited and the adventures we had during our stay:

Fowey River Trips – having arrived in Fowey in time for lunch and enjoying a great meal at the Galleon Inn overlooking the river, 20150822_144741M begged for us to take a boat trip from Fowey harbour, which sailed us past such treasures as Daphne DuMaurier’s house before heading back towards the mouth of the estuary. It was a wonderful way to see a little of the area we were visiting before our week really started and we were able to enjoy the last races of the Fowey Royal Regatta from the water too. Both M and G enjoyed the trip, which was an amazing first as M usually needs coaxing onto anything smaller than a transatlantic cruise liner! They were quick and eager to ask questions of the skipper and we were lucky enough to share the boat with some locals, who were happy and keen to explain more about what we were seeing as well as pointing out many of the birds to be spotted along the river’s edge.

Eden Project – this was M’s choice for a day out and despite our disappointment at the food offerings available and the inevitable rainy start, all in all we had a wonderful day. This wasn’t our first trip to the Project and it was fascinating to see how the environment had developed since the last time 5 years ago. The children loved spotting the different plants they knew in the biomes and M took particular pleasure in b20150824_171621eing photographed next to the rice. This summer, the Eden Project was also home to the Dinosaur Uproar, which meant there was lots for G and M to do whilst we were there. They enjoyed the puppetry displays, though both were a little nervous of the giant dragonflies when they first took flight nearby! Sadly, the wait to climb up to the Nest platform for a bird’s-eye view of the Rainforest biome was just too long for us to endure, but we did enjoy the Rainforest canopy walkway, which gave us a taste of what you could see from the very top and at least it leaves us with a good reason to go back and visit another time.

St Ives – G’s pick for the holiday was to visit an art gallery and what better place to go than the Tate St Ives? Thanks to a top tip from my ever-trusty hairdresser, I was also keen to take a peek at the fascinating sculptures at the Barbara Hepworth Museum and thought it might provoke some interest in both G and M too. We parked at the fantastic Lelant Saltings park and ride to travel into St Ives via train and not bus as we’re more used to doing in our home town. The Tate St Ives had organised a children’s art trail between the Barbara Hepworth house and the Tate itself, which asked them to identify 12 pieces of art from the partial images given and note down the artist, the name of the artwork and where they had spotted it. Two pieces were taken from the route between the two sites and provided a great opportunity to explore the art on display at each. Having found 11 of the 12 works, we stopped for G and M to take part in the creative workshop, which asked them to create sea-themed art of their own in clay.

20150825_133355 20150825_133547

We must have spent a good hour there as their creative juices flowed and they created stories behind what they had made to share with the volunteers running the workshop. G recreated her pinch-pot “werefish” she had first made during the first week of the summer holidays and M gave his interpretation of a sea serpent – “…but it’s not Nessie Mummy…” I’m still not convinced I’m a fan of modern art – give me the National Gallery any day – but it was a great way for the kids to access it and start to develop their own opinions.

St Michael’s Mount – in what now feels like a lifetime ago, I sang with my cathedral choir at the awe-inspiring St Michael’s Mount and have fond, though somewhat vague memories of that whole trip. It is a place that none of the rest of the family had been to and so was the perfect place to go back and visit whilst in the area, so to speak. 20150828_113744M was fascinated by the nature of the local tides, which means that the Mount is accessible by foot for part of the day and by boat for the rest of it and was desperate to experience both – a wish that was easy to fulfil. We arrived at the Marazion car-park fairly early and were thrilled to be able to walk across the sands and then the causeway to the Mount. The children were curious about how the tides would cause the walkway to disappear later in the day and keen to see it happen.

We started our visit at the Castle, having spotted the Giant’s heart stone on our way up the steep and rocky path. The views from the top were amazing and we discussed how difficult it would have been for anyone to successfully scale the rocks to attack. Inside the castle itself, G and M decided to attempt the quiz and were interested in talking to the numerous guides dotted around the rooms to find out more about what we could see on display. M was particularly taken by the story of the 7-foot man banished from the mainland, who took refuge with the monks and is now convinced that 20150828_131826he is the “truth” behind the story of the giant, which we later heard told by the storyteller in the grounds. Before we headed back down to the beautiful gardens, we watched from the top as the waters began to cover the walkway and commented on those brave few who were still venturing across by foot. G and M could easily have spent hours exploring the gardens surrounding the castle as they clambered up and down the winding, narrow pathways and stairs that led to nowhere. The WWII pill boxes that surrounded the coastline also captured their attention and our day there turned into an unexpectedly educational trip! We returned back to the mainland by boat at the end of the day, tired out, but delighted by our decision to visit.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan – our final day in Cornwall was spent exploring the Lost Gardens of Heligan, uncharted territory for us all and Mike’s fine choice for our adventures. I found the history and story behind the Heligan gardens really interesting and you can read more about it here. Yet again, we were thrilled to find a whole host of children’s activities available and started with the sculpture trail that led us past the stunning20150829_124054 Giant’s Head, the sleeping Mud Maiden and the ghostly Grey Lady. Pausing briefly for lunch, G and M then enjoyed time in the hammocks that had been strung between the trees before coaxing Mike and I into helping them build a den in the woods from the vast supplies available to use. They were understandably proud of the den they designed and worked on together and were disappointed to have to take it apart before we headed on to the next section.

Having dismantled and returned the building equipment, and having even enjoyed a toasted marshmallow or two courtesy of M, we wound our way through the “jungle” towards the Burma rope bridge. I wasn’t quite brave enough to stop halfway across to take photos of my intrepid duo who were following close in my footsteps as I was too worried about dropping my faithful tablet into the depths below, but was impressed that neither child was phased about crossing the jungle floor which was a 100 feet beneath them! We finished our day by the Steward’s house, enjoying the rope swing and traditional garden games that were on offer.

As you can tell, we had the most amazing week away from home, experiencing just some of the Cornish treasures that are on offer. In M’s words, “…it was almost as good as Portugal…” and he’s already clamouring for a return visit next year.

#Changes – Diabetes Blog week 2015

Sadly this week, time just hasn’t stretched enough to allow a blog a day for Diabetes Blog week 2015. The scant 24 hours in the average day mean that I barely have enough time for everything I normally need to do, and this week in particular has been manic as the excitement revs up for next week’s #NationalEosinophilAwarenessWeek.  I have grabbed 5 minutes here and there during coffee breaks and lunch-times to read what other dia-bloggers have had to say on the subjects of “Keeping it to yourself” and “Cleaning it out” and I’d heartily recommend a visit to Bittersweetdiabetes to peruse these thoughts for yourself as they really are worth a read.  However, today’s topic of #Changes struck a chord, not least because we’re about to embark on our own battle to change the awareness of another invisible illness, EGID and I wanted to blog my thoughts today.

Courtesy of youmatterlifeline.tumblr.com

Courtesy of youmatterlifeline.tumblr.com

The past 3 decades of life with T1D have seen a metamorphosis in my attitude to it:  I coped at the start; rebelled in my teens; became resigned to it during my 20s and in my 30s I have learned to embrace the lessons it has taught me and have relegated any other emotions to the back of the metaphorical cupboard of my mind.  As the next decade of my life comes ever closer, I’ve no doubt that attitudes will continue to change and that is something I look forward to embracing in a way that I now find myself able to do like never before.  The daily blood tests and injections are second nature to me and it’s not until I feel the curious gaze of strangers as I push the syringe needle into my leg/arm/tummy* (*delete as appropriate) during a coffee break with G at Costa or dinner out with the family, that I’m reminded that it probably isn’t a sight that most people see on a daily basis.  It has become, by necessity, an integral part of me and I am as oblivious to it as I now am to the tube that is stuck to the side of M’s face.

T1D is my partner for life and I’m okay with that.  All of the dramas and rollercoaster emotions I have experienced along the way have given me the huge advantage of immense insight and understanding of the frustrations of my own pair of mini superheroes, M and G.  When M has been sobbing on the floor because of a profound sense of despair and a feeling of hopelessness, I can honestly tell him that I know how it feels because I’ve been there and battled those demons myself.  I can empathise with G’s struggles with her own restricted diet and the temptation to cheat because I’ve done it and ended up in hospital as a result. I know that sense of isolation that overwhelms because it seems as if there’s nobody else nearby who’s going through what I’m going through in the here and now, and I know that however dark it might feel right now, there really is light at the end of that very long tunnel.

My parents were huge advocates for research into Juvenile diabetes and were involved for years in fund-raising, awareness events and medical research into T1D. A few months ago, I was talking to the Dad of M’s friend F, who has T1D, on the subject of the current developments being made in diabetes research and the search for a cure.  I am genuinely excited about the prospects of a major break-through that might see a more permanent cure becoming available, but found myself honestly admitting that, whilst I am excited for what that would mean for F, for J (another T1D friend of M’s) and for Pumplette, I am no longer concerned about the implications for me.  My focus has shifted and I have a new battle to fight – as an advocate for my son and his challenging life with EGID.  That, I believe, is the change of becoming a parent and just as my own parents worked tirelessly to support me through life with T1D, I found I have learned well from them and am hopefully just as dedicated to supporting M and G as they find their feet in the world of chronic illness.

Courtesy of ec.europa.eu

Courtesy of ec.europa.eu

That’s my change, but there is another change that I feel is very much worth fighting for: a change to the understanding of T1D which is so sadly lacking in the public eye.  Mike is well-used to hearing me shout in outrage at the television or radio whenever some well-meaning, but inadequately informed journalist or personality talks broad-brushstroke about “diabetes” and dumps those of us living with the epic failure of our pancreas to do the job it was designed to do in the same boat as those who have made lifestyle choices that have led to T2D.  Both are difficult to live with, of that there is no doubt, but the lack of clarity about the differences between the 2 conditions can be devastating for all concerned.

I did not choose to live my life accompanied by T1D, just as my parents did not choose for me to become so ill that living past my 9th birthday looked touch and go for a few dark hours all those years ago.  There are choices about my T1D management that I would change with the benefit of hindsight and I would rather have not even had to make those decisions, not just in the first place, but ever; and yet T1D arrived uninvited on our doorstep and we had no choice but to accept it, learn to tame it and eventually become comfortable with its presence in my life.  There is no reason, in this day and age, for there still to be so little understanding of the differences between the 2 types, nor so little regard for how this lack of distinction can impact young lives.  It is only when real change happens, when education improves so profoundly that there is proper understanding about what T1D is and why it happens, that those of us with it can sit back and breathe a little, knowing that that’s one less battle to be fought and that we can expend our energy on the important things in life, like continually working on preserving the best health we can, both physically and mentally.

Courtesy of annaraeburn.com

Courtesy of annaraeburn.com

Even more importantly for me, such a massive turnaround in the portrayal of diabetes in the media will signal a promise for things to improve for M too.  After all, if this is the state of affairs for a well-known condition such as T1D, then what hope is there for those of us battling to promote better understanding of the unknown ones such as EGID?

#ICan – Diabetes Blog week

This week is Diabetes Blog Week and a chance to take some time out from the unending whirlwind that is life with M and instead focus my attention on the story that is my very own journey with T1D.  Today’s title is #ICan and, taking inspiration from lifelong friend and fellow blogger, The Understudy Pancreas, I thought I’d take a quick look at some of the #ICan moments from the past 29 years:

  • teenSurvived the trauma of teenage rebellion (and my parents did too!) against my T1D, even though I suspect my parents wondered if the end was ever going to be in sight; and have learned that that experience has now given me a unique perspective on how M feels about his own chronic illness;
  • uniDidn’t think twice about going away to University and learned that I could manage on my own, though there might have been a few lessons along the way about managing things well;
  • Travelled abroad with school and university several times and not only survived to tell the tale, but thoroughly enjoyed every moment spent with good friends and experiencing new cultures, blissfully ignorant of any worries that my parents and teachers undoubtedly had;travel2
  • Continued that travelling in my 20s and 30s, accompanied by ample supplies of insulin, needles and blood-testing equipment and the requisite letter from my GP stating why I needed to carry all this kit.  Mike and I have been lucky to be able to visit China, Hong Kong, Thailand and Australia as well as Canada, USA and throughout Europe. I’ve walked along part of the Great Wall, seen Shakespeare at the Sydney Opera House and walked behind Niagara Falls, and my T1D hasn’t stopped me doing any of them;
  • pictures-july-06-009Had 2 successful pregnancies and brought 2 gorgeous children into the world, having found that giving them the best start I could was all the motivation needed to have tight control of my T1D during those critical 9 months;
  • Do anything I set my mind to – with the small exceptions of flying an airplane or donating blood as my T1D makes me persona non grata as far as those things are concerned;
  • Survive whatever life throws me – believe me there’s been a lot – and, what’s more, survive it with a smile on my face and a steadfast determination to keep going along the path I’m following.

And the most important thing of all: that T1D does not define who I am, though it has unquestionably shaped my attitude and approach to life.  This is something that I hope I’ve instilled in both G and M and #ICan and I will continue to show them, as best I’m able, that chronic illness is only a very tiny part of the amazing people they are growing up to be.

Working hard to keep the magic alive

Working hard to keep the magic alive

You can read more from other T1D bloggers around the world, including:

The Understudy Pancreas:  “Diabetes Blog Week 2015 – Day 1 #ICan

Diabetogenic: “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can

six until me: “Diabetes Blog Week: I can.

Type ONEderful: “2015 Diabetes blog week Day 1 – I can

Mission Impossible: More Secret Veg

Courtesy of twirlit.com

Courtesy of twirlit.com

SECRET MISSION (should I choose to accept it!):

  • To find new ways to sneak extra vegetables into the diet of my somewhat veg-averse children without them noticing
  • Avoid the obvious appeal of a delicious chocolate beetroot cake and instead find a savoury dish that achieves similar success

RECIPE 1: Vegetable Fritters

Method20141007_173343I took one of the firm favourites in our household, Corn fritters and decided to give it the sneaky veg treatment.  I whipped up a batch of my Canadian pancakes batter, threw in a generous handful of frozen corn and then grated a large carrot and a large courgette into the mix too. I added a little ground nutmeg and black pepper before cooking and serving with sausages and some sliced cucumber and apple on the side.

Result:  Silence as the food was wolfed down, clean plates appeared and the requests for “just one more pancake please Mummy” came flooding in.  The observant pair had noticed the addition of extra veg, but as M likes his carrots cooked and both thought the courgette was cucumber, there was no complaint about my tinkering with this popular dish.

Mission status:  Success

RECIPE 2: Pasta Sauce

Method:  I took an array of vegetables I knew that neither child would usually eat, blitzed them together in my handy food blender and heated the concoction through in a pan before adding to some M-friendly pasta.  My very home-made and rustic pasta sauce was made from tomatoes, red and yellow peppers, courgette, mushrooms, onion, garlic and the remains of an over-ripe avocado.  This time I added a sprinkle of chilli flakes and a dash of rosemary to deepen the flavour.  Once the pasta was well coated in the sauce, I added some diced chicken and grated a little cheese on top before serving to my suspicious duo.

Result:  G and M again munched their way through a generous serving of the pasta dish and were keen to know when I would cook it again.  I poured the leftover sauce into a Tupperware container and now have it stored in my freezer for the next time this pasta dish needs an outing.

Mission status:  Success

EXTRA MISSION: Pizza

20140721_180656Method:  I bravely took a portion of my pasta sauce, added some safe BBQ sauce as well as some pesto before spreading across our home-made pizza bases. I then topped this with a variety of foods including ham, prawns, pineapple, olives and cheese.

Result:  Another resounding success.  The pizza disappeared within minutes and with no comment about the sneaky veg pizza sauce I’d added.

Mission status:  Success

FINAL MISSION STATUS: COMPLETE

Three brand new savoury dishes, containing enough sneaky veg to keep any mother happy, were successfully created and enjoyed by G and M.