Tag Archives: support

Lockdown Exam Results – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 22

Exams aren’t easy at the best of times and there can be no question that this year has posed the current cohort of exam students challenges that no-one could have even imagined when planning for the GCSEs and A-levels to be taken this summer. G has been working hard for her GCSEs over the last 2 years and, since the true extent of her anxieties became clear, having additional tuition and learning mindfulness techniques to help her manage the exam sittings as best she could with increased confidence in her own abilities.

Add in the stress following the fiasco with the A-level results day this time last week and it is easy to see why it hasn’t been an easy week at home. G has obviously been massively impacted by the confusion over how her final GCSE grades would be calculated and the huge sigh she gave after the latest government u-turn was announced on Monday evening showed just how heavy that burden has been. She and I have spent a lot of time talking about her results and what they will mean for this next step in her life journey. G knows what A-levels she wants to study and is fortunate to have 2 offers on the table from our local secondary schools, but still has to make up her mind as to where she wants to go for the next 2 years. It is nothing short of a miracle that I have not turned more extensively to alcohol and chocolate to see me through, although there’s still time before we’ve finished ploughing our way through the chaos and reached final decisions!

In many ways the decision to use the centre assessed grades (CAGs) is good news for G as she hasn’t had to undergo the stress of the exams, but this is a concern in itself as she will have no direct experience of how to sit an exam when it comes time for her A-levels. However, we have time to work on managing those anxieties and will continue to work with her tutor to make sure she has the opportunity to experience timed assessments to mimic the pressure of an actual exam.

More importantly, G knows how proud Mike and I are of the hard work she has put in, including her decision to continue following her GCSE revision plan during the first few weeks of lockdown without any prompting from either of us. We hope that her results will reflect her efforts, but G knows that as always we have got her back and are prepared to fight her corner if needed to make sure her next adventure starts as she wants it to.

2020 will always be the year when the exams weren’t sat, but that shouldn’t distract from the hard work and effort put in by all these young people throughout their school careers and the hellish void of information that they’ve been living with since March. No matter what their results are, they all should be commended for their fortitude and determination to succeed in the most extraordinary of circumstances.

Re-opening the World – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 15

How has the easing of lockdown affected you and your family? Have you gone back to life as it was pre-lockdown, are you still following strict social distancing or shielding rules, or are you slowly working towards finding your feet in your new normal?

The last few days have been interesting ones for me as I’ve started to receive phone-calls from local services and businesses as they begin to re-open their doors and are keen to get people in after months of self-isolation. I’m sure there are those that will think I’m being overly cautious, but my answer to each of those enquiries has been simple: thank you, but no thank you, not at the moment. Having strictly restricted my movements over the last 15 weeks, I’m not in any rush to get back to the way things were before lockdown happened and will be keenly watching to see what happens over the next few weeks, particularly as pubs and restaurants reopen this weekend as well as some other businesses.

We’ve also been prepping to make sure we have everything we need as we do start to move towards relaxing our own version of lockdown. Despite the reluctance of the UK government to mandate the wearing of face masks or coverings when out and about in England, we have discussed the importance of them with G and M and agreed that the whole family will be wearing them once we start to venture further afield. Mike is already wearing a mask daily as he travels for his work and M has independently decided that he will wear his when he goes into school next week for an hour-long “keeping in touch” session before the end of the school year.

Both children had input into the face masks that they wanted to have and are happy to wear them when needed. We knew that having their buy-in was important, not least because there is a requirement to wear them when going into hospital for appointments and sooner or later that will be necessary for M and me, although we both currently have either telephone or video appointments booked for later this month.

Whatever your movements this weekend, be it to your local pub, restaurant or simply more staying at home, stay safe and keep well.

Community Spirit – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 10

The one thing that has been much talked about during the lockdown has been the community spirit that has bee thriving around the UK. I don’t know what it’s been like near you, but our village has pulled together in so many ways, which has been lovely to see. Some arrangements have been purely practical, such as shopping or picking up prescriptions for the vulnerable, whilst others have been shared activities to do at home that have been aiming to raise a smile and give locals something to see and do.

Our village, like so many other communities in the UK, has seen a COVID-19 related support group springing up on Facebook, which has shared local information such as shop opening times as well as offering support to those most in need. Our local foodbank has seen a huge increase in demand and so many in our small community have rallied around to provide the tinned and packaged goods that will make a huge difference to those struggling to feed their families. Similarly, our parish council has co-ordinated efforts to make sure that groceries and prescriptions are collected and delivered to our elderly and vulnerable residents.

Local schools in the area have donated their unused PPE to healthcare organisations and many of the secondary schools have worked to produce face visors for any who have needed them. The charity I work for has benefitted from this in particular as we run 18 residential and supported-living homes across the region supporting adults with learning disabilities and, thanks to the generosity of a number of these local schools, we were given 120 face visors for our care staff to use to keep them safe as they do their everyday job.

Every Thursday, our community has come out to join the national #clapforcarers and we’ve seen more of our neighbours in the last 10 weeks than we normally do in an average year! We live right at the end of our village, so are fairly remote, but each week has seen more and more families joining in our thanks and recognition of those who have worked throughout lockdown to keep us safe. Mike and I have also been out on some of our daily walks when the #clapforcarers has happened, and have loved seeing how other streets in our village have been banding together – at an appropriate social distance of course – at this time too.

There has also been a plethora of community art projects happening, both in our village and on a national, or even worldwide, level. It started with the rainbows 11 weeks ago, many of which are still gracing the houses we pass each day on our walks and, for us, has now moved on to a scarecrow trail. Mike, G and M made our original scarecrow for VE day, but with the suggestion of a village-wide trail, “Gerald” has been updated and adapted to remind all who pass our house to follow the guidance on social distancing and protecting the NHS. We’ve spotted several other masterpieces as we’ve ventured around the streets, my personal favourite being the one collapsed on top of a hedge with an empty can of beer in his hand and a simple sign stating “After Party”.

Awareness in Lockdown – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 9

This week has been a focus for raising awareness for 2 causes close to our hearts: National Eosinophil Awareness Week (NEAW) and Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW). It somehow feels apt that these two go hand-in-hand this week as we have so often experienced first-hand how closely linked life with EGID is with the mental health well-being of all in our family. This year that is even more important as so many of us are struggling with the changes that the coronavirus lockdown has brought with it and none more so than the young people in our household.

National Eosinophil Awareness Week: We have been very active in raising awareness about eosinophilic diseases for a number of years, but decided to start taking a step back from that last year. Eosinophilic Colitis (EC) was the initial diagnosis that we received for M all those years ago from his consultant at GOSH, but in recent times, the diagnosis criteria for this condition have faltered and existing diagnoses have been actively questioned by many within the medical community. These days conditions such as mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS) have been bandied about in relation to M, but ultimately the root cause of his health problems still remains a mystery to us all. As I’ve said so many times, having a name to put to his health issues has helped us all, even when very little is known about it, and I continue to use both his original diagnosis of EC and the newer one of MCAS when filling in paperwork or talking about M with other people.

Despite our own uncertainty about whether EGID is the correct diagnosis for M or not, I will always continue to encourage and support the fundraising and awareness-raising efforts of organisations seeking to research and understand this family of conditions more. Lockdown maybe stopping us doing anything active to raise awareness this week as we have in the past, but it’s good to be able to do my bit even from within the constraints of my own home.

Mental Health Awareness Week: Mental health well-being has been a buzz word in our household for a number of years and never has that been more important than now as we see the impact of 9 weeks in lockdown on us all. I’m a happy introvert, who enjoys spending time in my own company and so, in many ways, lockdown life is suiting me quite well. Regular contact with my work colleagues through Zoom and conference calls, webinars and online catch-ups with other friends is keeping me in touch with the outside world, which is especially important at a time when my T1D is keeping me at home.

However, I see a greater effect on Mike and the children and I think a lot of that is due to the changes to their daily routines. I am still working 9-5 every weekday, albeit from home and more often 8-7, but the 3 of them are going through a very different experience to me. Mike was furloughed from his job as a chartered surveyor on 1 April and for someone who is very used to being out and about as he values or surveys properties every day, the restriction of staying at home has been difficult. He is also much more of a social bug than I am, so not having daily face-to-face time with anyone other than the children and me has also taken its toll. However, that being said, the online capability to chat to family and friends across the world is something he has definitely embraced, even taking part in his regular whiskey-tasting evening via Zoom the other night!

As for the children, well G and M are almost a perfect reflection of Mike and me. G is comfortable entertaining herself and being in her own company, whereas M thrives on spending time with his peers as well as being constantly active and mentally challenged by them. Both have found lockdown difficult and we have worked, and continue to work, hard together to find the best outlet for their emotions as well as effective ways to meet their social needs. Chatting on WhatsApp or connecting via the PS4 has been a good solution and both are also having tutoring sessions via Zoom or MS Teams every week. This connection with people from outside of the family has been key to giving them something that is a very faint semblance of what they’re used to experiencing daily. Keeping them in a routine has also been important as Mike and I are very conscious that their return to school in September, after the best part of 6 months home-schooling, will exhaust them physically, mentally and emotionally from the minute they step through the school doors, if not before.

The buzzword for MHAW has been Kindness and considering what random acts of kindness you can do for others has been much encouraged. However, I think it’s key to remember that, whilst showing kindness to others in all situations is important, so is showing kindness to ourselves. We truly are living through extraordinary times and we shouldn’t feel guilty if we are not coping as well as we perhaps believe we should. Be that by taking some time to do something we love to do as an individual – bubble bath anyone? – or spending time relaxing with our family or even reaching out to a friend because we just need to talk, being kind to ourselves will improve our own well-being, which is something we all need right now.

Food Boxes – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 8

One of the many things that have changed hugely during lockdown for everyone has been the process of buying food and this has been particularly challenging for those families living with food allergies. In the initial rush to panic buy the bare essentials – loo roll, pasta and flour to name but a few – those individuals who needed to buy freefrom foods found their usually more plentiful supplies being depleted by others who chose to buy allergy-friendly when their “normal” stocks ran out.

Thanks to my hoarding tendencies and the regular “big” shop that I do twice a month, we had enough safe milk, bread, flour and pasta to keep us going for several weeks and initially had no problems in buying more rice milk as that seemed to be the one dairy-free milk alternative that no-one else wanted. However, for a family who goes through around 40 litres of rice milk a month, the restrictions introduced where we could only buy 3 of any product proved to be a little more challenging in keeping our cupboards full. G and M have been brilliant at switching to drinking water, or occasionally squash, during the day, rather than the huge quantities of milk that they both prefer, which has certainly helped to eke out the supplies we have had at home.

Its been a case of not only trying to find the food you need and can eat, but also how you actually do your regular food shop. This has been especially true for our household as my T1D places me squarely on the clinically vulnerable list and as such, the advice has been clear that I should be staying at home. Fortunately for us, we already do a lot of our food shopping online, using our local food co-operative for our fresh fruit, veg and meat as well as Sainsburys and Ocado for our store cupboard essentials and, most importantly, the more specialised foods we need to keep G and M healthy and safe when they eat. The increased need for home delivery caused huge problems for many people at the start of the coronavirus crisis, but as we all settled into our new sense of normal, supermarkets and other food suppliers rose to the challenge of how to help more people in any way that they could and found a solution by introducing a variety of food boxes.

Now this will come as no surprise to anyone in the allergy community, but it took a little longer for these same organisations to realise that there was a whole group they were forgetting to cater for and now there’s a reasonable mix of freefrom boxes available too, though they do predominantly focus on the gluten-free market as far as I can see. We have ordered 3 different food boxes over the last few weeks and I thought I’d share our experience and opinion of each in turn:

Morrisons Food box (starting from £35) – one of the first food boxes to become available as far as I am aware and as the weeks have gone on, they have expanded their offering beyond the basic meat or vegetarian essentials boxes they started with. I ordered a meat essentials box, which arrived promptly and was well-packaged, including ice packs to keep the fresh produce chilled until I had time to put the food away. Our box contained, as it said, the essentials needed to keep us eating well: milk, bread, pitta breads, pasta, butter, cheese, meats, fruit, vegetables,tinned goods and the much-need pack of loo rolls were all included in it. Whilst it wasn’t the solution we needed in terms of safe foods for the children, it kept Mike and I going for another week at least and supplemented well what we already had in the house.

Marks and Spencer Food box (starting from £15) – with Easter coming so quickly after the start of lockdown, my Mum had managed to buy dairy- and soya-free chocolate for G and M, but apologised to me that she hadn’t had time to buy an Easter egg for me or Mike. Instead, she sent us a Marks & Spencer Fruit box and what a wonderful treat it was when it arrived. Again, it was a well-packaged delivery and contained a great variety of fruits to satisfy all tastes within the family. Whilst we order what I would term as our basic fruits every week (apples, bananas, oranges), the box also contained some more exotic fruits which, to put it simply, brightened my day. We received a plentiful supply of those regular fruits, which are always needed as we’re living with a 14 year old who lives for his regular smoothies and has a growing appetite at the moment, but I enjoyed the fresh mango and pineapple as part of my breakfast or lunch for a few days too.

Doves Farm Gluten-free Food box (£25) – this was an unexpected find, but a much welcome one. Surprisingly, I hadn’t seen anything mentioned about it through my usual allergy community social media platforms, but rather spotted it as a photo and post by an old friend on their FB feed. Discovering a box that not only catered amazingly for the gluten-free needs of our household, but also included 3 bags of safe flour was amazing and I couldn’t wait for this one to arrive on our doorstep. Add in the pancake batter mix, boxes of cereal and 8 delicious cereal bars that are safe for both children, there really was nothing to complain about. It was also great to find a new safe snack for M and I will definitely be looking to buy the apricot freee oat bars again.

Virtual Events – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 6

Somehow we find ourselves at the end of yet another week in lockdown and, as I continue to listen to the daily government briefings, it’s hard to imagine when lockdown will start to ease and what that might even begin to look like. Nor do we really know when things can begin to return to even some semblance of what we now consider as life before coronavirus. Here at 7Y2D HQ we continue to try to follow a routine each day with G and M, who start with a morning of school, stop for lunch and then spend the afternoon outside or doing other activities such as playing board games or practising dance routines. Being stuck at home for 6 weeks has started to take its toll a little on everyone, so this last week has seen us joining in some virtual events that reflect activities that we would do normally do in our everyday lives.

First, was last weekend’s 2.6 challenge – a charity initiative to replace the annual London Marathon. Now, I’m not going to pretend we have, or ever have had, any aspirations to take part in the marathon itself, but we are avid fundraisers and this challenge was a great opportunity to get both children flexing their brain cells to think up something new to do. Our charity of choice was, of course, the fantastic Over The Wall, focus of our fundraising for several years now following G and M’s experience at their camps. The 2020 camps have had to be cancelled due to coronavirus, but they are seeking to #savethemagic and launch “Camp in the Cloud” for all camp applicants instead.

From last year’s indoor skydiving to G’s dramatic hair cut a few years ago, we’ve tried our hand at a lot, so it took some serious consideration for both children to dream up a new challenge. G quite quickly settled on 262 sit-ups (well a marathon is 26.2 miles after all) and eventually M chose to attempt 262 seconds in plank. Neither managed their challenge in one sitting, but they did it and should feel rightly proud that, even during a pandemic, they have found an alternative way to support a charity that has supported, and continues to support, them.

Our second virtual event of the week was yet another annual one, this time the awards ceremony for the Free From Food Awards 2020. Usually held in London, instead the fabulous organisers of the awards took to a virtual ceremony, which started with an amazing Zoom “drinks and nibbles” ahead of the main event itself. With over 80 participants at one point, the Zoom breakout rooms proved a great opportunity to network a little and meet some new faces as well as spotting old familiar ones from afar. The awards ceremony is always a glamorous affair and so the whole family decided to dress up for the occasion. Dresses were donned, make-up applied and jewellery was carefully picked out to compliment the outfits. I even convinced myself to put on a pair of heels for the first time in weeks, though I will confess they didn’t last for the entirety of the event!

G and M put to good use some of those cooking skills they’ve been honing over the last 6 weeks and produced an excellent free-from buffet, fit to rival that usually enjoyed after the winners are announced. We didn’t have many of the gold winning items* at home, though I did enjoy the dairy- and soya-free chocolate-dipped strawberries that were beautifully crafted with a little help from Mike and took me back to my confectionery judging in January, what now seems like practically a life-time ago. All in all, has been a good week and the introduction of these new activities added some much-needed variety to what has quickly become everyday.

*you can read more about the big success stories of the #FFFA20 here and can even experience the ceremony itself by watching the presentation here

1999

20 years ago the world was on the cusp of the new millennium. Fears were high about the possible fallout from Y2K and the dreaded millennium bug, and my Mum was not alone in stocking her under-the-stairs cupboard with enough dried goods and bottled water to see the family survive for months if the very worst actually happened. Films “Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace”, “The Sixth Sense” and “American Beauty” hit the big screen and we found ourselves singing and dancing along to “Tragedy”, “Livin’ La Vida Loca”, “Mambo No. 5” or even “Baby One More Time”. It was a time of excitement as we ventured into that new era with anticipation for everything that the 21st century might bring.

20 years ago Mike and I embarked on a new adventure that was all our own. Mike had moved almost everything he owned across continents, we had bought our first house, faced – and survived – the first big challenge of life with my T1D and, on December 18th 1999, we committed to loving each other and living together for the rest of our lives. We trusted that that commitment would bring with it much happiness, but knew that we would inevitably face challenges and sorrow too, which we would survive and could survive by being there for one another. Our vows “…for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health…” have been tested perhaps far more than we could even imagine, but we have come through the harshest of fires and are much stronger for it.

20 years ago we celebrated our wedding surrounded by our family and friends from near and far, and even though several of those who were with us then are no longer with us, we have precious memories to remind us of their presence when we started life together. Our wedding was very much a family affair. We were married in the breath-taking beauty of our local Cathedral and were blessed to have friends from my time with the Girls’ choir there performing integral roles in the ceremony – from the Canon marrying us, to the Organist playing, the Choir providing the music and the Head Verger adding and lighting tens of tealight candles before the service to bring an extra touch of magic. Our amazing vintage car was provided and driven by the father of someone who was at school with me and a friend of my Aunt made our stunning wedding cake. Our reception venue was decorated by my bridesmaid’s mother and friends of my parents provided a Dickensian feel with their wonderful singing of popular Christmas carols before our evening reception began.

20 years on, we are not the fresh-faced youngsters we were then. Life has taken us on journeys that we never imagined would be part of our future and has, at times, battered us to the point when it would have been so much easier to just crawl under the duvet and hide, rather than face it head-on. We have weathered every storm that has come our way and somehow found a way to absolutely dance in the rain. We are stronger and braver together than we would ever have been as our separate parts – 20 years of life experienced together will do that for you.

20 years on, I am grateful for every moment we have shared. Neither of us is perfect – far from it indeed – but somehow we’ve made it work. We’ve laughed together, loved together and grieved together. We have 2 wonderful children – most of the time – and life is good.

Happy 20th anniversary Mike. Love you always and here’s to 20 more!

A Night of SeriousFun

It’s no secret that I absolutely love listening to our local radio station. It’s a great opportunity to hear about local people and stories as well as the national and international news. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to hear a friend or acquaintance being interviewed and I’ve even been on the radio 4 times speaking about M, G and the impact that his EGID diagnosis and restricted diet have had on our family. One of my favourite times to listen is in the morning, when the regular presenter hosts his phone-in on a wide variety of subjects from the sublime to the ridiculous and it was this morning’s topic that triggered my thoughts for today.

Today is World Children’s Day, a day to focus on children and more specifically, according to the UN, To recommit to putting children first. For every child, every right: the right to be a child, the right to play and the right to be safe.”

And this made me think.

It brought to mind an event that Mike and I attended in London last week, the annual gala dinner for the SeriousFun Network, the global family of camps for children with serious health challenges, their siblings and families. We were there to support Over The Wall, the charity that runs the incredible UK-based camps that both G and M have been fortunate to attend over the last few years. Those camps work hard to help those children who go to feel “normal”, often for the first time in their lives and to realise that they are not as isolated in their experiences as they so often can feel, whether as the child living with the chronic illness or as their sibling.

I’ve spoken so many times about the impact that OTW has had on both G and M since the first time they went and those effects are long-lasting. Friendships have grown with those they’ve met at camp and for G in particular, those same people have become her tribe. Time and distance has made no difference to those connections they’ve built and each camp sees them re-establishing their friendships from where they left off in years before.

The gala dinner was a great opportunity to celebrate the work that the SeriousFun Network camps do across the world. Much to Mike’s delight we were seated, purely by chance, with a group of Canadians connected to OTW through their corporate giving and they managed to spend half the evening talking all things ice hockey with great enthusiasm. It is thanks to individuals, groups and companies like these that OTW have managed to increase the number of campers they take each year and, having broken their target of 1,000 campers this year, have now got ambitions to reach 1,200 children in 2020. We were entertained by a variety of great acts including 2019 Britain’s Got Talent winners, Twist and Pulse, singers and musicians Damien Rice, Charlie Siem and Diane Birch and comedian Steve Coogan as well as a few of the SeriousFun campers who have performed at Stage Night at their respective camps.

It was a lovely evening, spent with people who all have the same goal to support and bring a touch of the usual to the lives of children who are anything but. We feel privileged that since 2016 our children have benefitted so much from the extraordinary efforts of the surprisingly small handful of staff members and the huge army of volunteers working for Over The Wall. In a reality where M’s health challenges have been an unwelcome, yet prevalent feature, it can never be underestimated just how much of a difference OTW has made to both G and M, and Mike and I are already planning to join the party again next year.

This truly is an organisation that has committed to putting children first and focuses on that right of each child to be a child, no matter what else life has thrown at them.

20 years of #mischiefandmagic

A lot can happen in 20 years.

In the years since our wedding in December 1999, our family has doubled in size and we’ve moved schools, houses and jobs at a rate that has to be seen to be believed. We’ve survived illness and loss within both our families and our friends, and continue to do so on a daily basis thanks to some long-term diagnoses that have oft-times caught us when we were least expecting them. Chronic illness has become a much bigger part of our lives that we could ever have imagined, but with that has also come some amazing friendships, connections and opportunities that we never even dreamed would happen and that, in many ways, I wouldn’t change for the world.

One such relationship that we have all absolutely come to value is the one with the charity, Over The Wall. They have been a phenomenal support to G and M since both first attended their camps in 2016 and are, in an almost unbelievable stroke of serendipity, also celebrating 20 years since they were first launched by UK businessman Joe Woods following in Paul Newman’s footsteps and the development of the Hole in the Wall Gang camps in Connecticut USA in the late 1980s.

So what are we doing to make this a year of note?

As far as our anniversary goes, I’m hoping that Mike and I might manage a night out somewhere special, though celebrating the week before Christmas can make that difficult as we negotiate the huge numbers of office Christmas parties that we inevitably encounter when trying to book a table anywhere without a lot of forward planning.

And, of course, it will come as no surprise that we are also working hard to raise awareness and funds to support Over The Wall’s ambitious plans to take a record-breaking 1,000 children to camp this year. Mike started the year in style with a sponsored polar dip on New Year’s Day and we’ve turned our hands to a few other things – some old, some new – to see just how much we can raise. We followed the “sparking joy” fashion and adopted a Marie Kondo approach to clearing out our wardrobes, committed to giving a regular amount each month and even stood in the entrance of our local Tesco superstore a couple of weeks ago to collect what we could and spread the word about the camps too.

We’ve taken OTW with us wherever we’ve travelled, sporting branded t-shirts, hoodies and bandanas with aplomb and almost quite literally went “over the wall” with them during our visit to Berlin.

G and M have obviously been a big part of many of our efforts, but are now launching an appeal of their own. Their yearning to do something truly spectacular has unfortunately been somewhat hampered by not yet being quite old enough to participate in the activity of their choice, but they have instead picked the next best option in their eyes and will be taking part in a sponsored indoor skydive at the end of this month.

How can you help?

Well, it goes without saying that any sponsorship you can give would be very gratefully received by G, M and OTW, especially if you can help them meet their fundraising target of £200 – scaled back somewhat from M’s original suggestion of £20,000 – by visiting their fundraising page here.

If you’re not able to donate, but live near a Tesco store in one of the following areas*, OTW is one of their Bags of Help Centenary Grants recipients until the end of August and by adding your blue token to their box, and encouraging friends, family and fellow shoppers to do the same, you will help them receive a significant grant that will be genuinely life-changing. Remember “Every Little Helps”, even if that’s by a blue token!

Finally, sharing the OTW message of #mischiefandmagic with friends and across your social media channels will not only help the charity reach even more of the estimated 50,000 children and young people living with serious health challenges across the UK, but sharing our fundraising page will hopefully bring even more cash donations pouring in to help them achieve their goals not only this year, but in the future too.

Thank you!

*OTW is currently starring in stores across: Perth & Kinross, Angus, Stirling, Fife, Clackmannanshire, South Ayrshire, East Ayrshire, Dumfries & Galloway, Scottish Borders, East Lothian, Midlothian, Somerset (inc Bristol), Wiltshire and Swindon.

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.