Macmillan #4 “You’re my Hero”

When I heard the hoover going I thought dad had knocked it over. Mum was out. I was 16 and the extent of his household chores were limited to taking the bins out and washing up. He was in fact attempting to clean (mum must have moaned at him). His foray into domesticity didn’t last beyond that task. Fast forward 10 years and dad was responsible for everything. Mum was dying and that meant he was in charge.

When mum got the first diagnosis she set about teaching dad life skills. Cooking, washing clothes, cleaning, changing the bed sheets. All the things she had done. By the time the terminal diagnosis came, dad was proficient. Mum deteriorated pretty quickly and it soon became necessary for dad to do everything.

Mum wanted to die at home. Dad promised her that would happen and he stuck to that vow. It meant he had to give up work and care for her and himself, 24 hours a day. We moved a bed downstairs to make access easier for mum. She had a commode but needed help getting out of bed so dad had broken sleep for months. I lived two hours away so I would visit on weekends but it wasn’t enough. He was in it alone.

It’s not to say dad wasn’t a caring person – he was, but in a hands-off kind of way. He’d been the one with a joke, mum would be the one who would nurture. This all changed of course and I saw a side to dad I’d never seen before. Gentle, proactive, selfless. He was good at being the carer and appeared to manage it with ease. It’s only now I look back and realise how horrendous it must have been for him and what toll it must have taken on his mental health.

Towards the end, he had sporadic overnight support from a local charity so that he could get some sleep. I wish it had been more. Macmillan helped mum apply for ESA but once that was complete we didn’t think we needed them, and we’re not the kind of family who ask for help, we just got on with it. At the time I didn’t know about the help available for them both, things like:

  • Carer’s allowance which could have helped with the financial burden
  • Social services support which might have been available to help with mum’s personal care
  • Home adaptations which might have made showering easier for mum
  • Counselling and support groups which dad could have accessed in the last few months.

All things that I now know are available to help those who are caring for someone with cancer. It’s easy to overlook the carers. You always focus on the person with cancer; how are they doing? What support do they need? The carer is just as important because they are the lifeline. That’s one of the great things about Macmillan; they are able to provide support and signpost the whole family, letting everyone know they aren’t alone.

What would I say to a carer of a loved one with cancer? You’re not super human. You need and deserve support. Don’t be afraid to ask. This isn’t an admission of failure in any way, it’s you doing the best for your loved one and yourself. You’re not alone. So many people want to help you. Let them.

What would I say to my dad? You’re my hero. I’m proud of you.

From Eden to Hell and Back

In my 20s I’d been a moaner. I loved it! I’d moan about anything with no thought of ever changing the thing I was moaning about. In fairness I didn’t believe that little me could make a difference so what was the point? What changed that, was changing jobs. I started working with the long term unemployed and that changed my perspective on a lot of things (see Connect the dots and I think I met JesusNot least the power of individuals to achieve life changing feats that have a positive effect on themselves and their friends and family.  

The thing I’d moaned about a lot was the lack of community. I had moved 10 times in 10 years, mainly living in rented flats which is extremely isolating. It doesn’t offer the opportunity to socialise with neighbours. When I bought my ground floor flat and moved to my street (which is a mix of terrace houses and flats), I was excited that I could build relationships with my neighbours. 3 years on, I don’t know anyone on my street.

When I saw what the Eden Community Camp was about, I was all over it. My goal was to start with my street and get people talking to each other. I had no idea what I could do and hoped the camp would provide me with inspiration. I’d seen The Big Lunch advertised but came up with a million reasons not to do it. Maybe there would be something else I could do?

Without wanting to sound like a total hippy, what I experienced at the camp was nothing short of miraculous. The power and energy you get when you put 100 community activists together, is amazing. Plus you have this beautiful backdrop of the Eden Projectinspiring speakers and workshops and you’re treated like royalty. To see and hear about all the amazing work people are doing, from a wide range of projects, gave me a well needed kick up the arse. If these people can instigate change, however small, so can I. Driving home on Monday night I was on a high and motivated to take action. I resolved to write and send invites to my neighbours for a big lunch planning meeting the very next day.

Tuesday morning, I wake up and see the news of the Manchester attacks. Like the rest of the country and the world, I was devastated.

How could I send out invites to my neighbours now? It seemed so trivial and inappropriate. I thought about it all morning. I followed the news online and started seeing the stories of strangers rallying round to support each other. The taxi drivers, the off duty NHS staff, the homeless man. No, if anything today is EXACTLY the day I should send my invites. We need more than ever to stand together, not just in a time of crisis but always. So that’s what I did. The planning meeting is next week. I’m not sure if anyone will come. I’ll be delighted if 5 people show up!

What I learnt from the community camp is I CAN make a change and I’m not alone. There are hundreds of thousands, probably millions of people all across the UK who are either doing something or thinking about it. The time for moaning is done. The time for action is now.

Well-Being Winner

I’ve been actively engaging in activities that are meant to improve your well-being because right now, it’s what I need. So I’m trying meditation (not going so well), exercise (does walking back and forth to the fridge count?), and talking therapy (the jury is out on that one). As part of this quest, I figured I might as well give complimentary therapy a whirl. If it’s good enough for the Chinese, it’s good enough for me. I stumbled across Steve Hunt Reflexology via Instagram and have been following him for a while. It’s interesting to see a male in this field, his testimonial videos were engaging and he’s round the corner from me – perfect.

I didn’t expect a great deal other than a nice treatment. I know I enjoy pedicures and massages and figured this would be along those lines. Steve welcomed me into the treatment room and explained that reflexology is the theory that there are points on your feet (and head as I later discover) that are linked to every part of the body. Your feet are essentially like a map and by stimulating certain points through massage, you can relieve tension and treat illness. Now, I had been experiencing really bad stomach pains for about 4 days leading up to the treatment. It was a lot like period pain and had been pretty uncomfortable. I decided not to tell Steve and to see if he spotted it. Let’s see if this reflexology thing is actually legitimate!!

Because Steve and I had been connected through social media for a while, he knew that I had been experiencing anxiety and a challenging time in terms of my mental health and was really sensitive to it. He explained that while he normally works quietly, he knows that quiet can be overwhelming and invited me to talk I needed to. I thought that was really considerate and not something that I expected.

So there I am, lying back in an extremely comfortable chair, beautiful smelling Neal’s Yard candle on the go, relaxing music, wrapped up in a big fluffy blanket. What’s not to like at this point? Then comes the treatment. Very gently and systematically, Steve made small massaging movements on my feet. It was very relaxing and I don’t really remember much of it because I zoned out. Steve later explained that people do fall asleep and I could definitely see why!

When the treatment had finished, I felt like I could definitely sleep and decided to have a nap once I got home. The weird thing was, I actually felt relaxed but energised. So much so, that after I got home, I went straight back out again for a walk round the park in the sunshine. And the stomach ache that had been blighting me had completely gone and didn’t return. Steve told me that reflexology is excellent for PMS, the menopause, back pain, sleep issues, sinus problems, stress, the list is endless really. “Can you diagnose health conditions?” I asked, testing if Steve had spotted my stomach ache. “We shouldn’t do that really. We’re not allowed to diagnose even if we pick up on something but we can focus on areas if we’re advised of a certain ailment.” (This guy is legit. No blagging or money spinning here)

I love having my feet massaged but if you’re not into having your feet touched, facial reflexology is also a thing. Steve does the facial reflexology with Neal’s Yard organic, natural products and the process sounds similar to a facial but with the reflexology spin. Definitely something to try out next. “What else do you do?” (I’m getting into this now, mentally booking in appointments). Steve tells me about the Zone Face Lift which is a 12 week non-invasive course of treatment known to reduce the signs of aging. The next day I scrutinise my face in the mirror, desperate to find wrinkles that could justify pampering myself every week. No luck, damn my good genes!

So far, out of all of the well-being boosting tactics, this is by far my favourite. The Chinese were definitely on to something.

“Stuff”

I used to laugh at my Dad. I still do to be fair, but I used to laugh at him for a very specific reason; his total disinterest in “stuff”. Birthdays and Christmases were a nightmare. “What do you want?” I’d ask. “I don’t want anything.” He’d reply. Even when I rephrased the question to “What do you need?” He’d draw a blank. I found this infuriating and bizarre in equal measure. How could he not want or need anything? I always had a long list of stuff that I desperately wanted and thought I needed. Even with simple things like clothes he’d delight in telling me that the jeans he was wearing he bought in 1994 and they only cost £8. I’d literally shake my head and cringe at how skanky that was.

I recently watched a Netflix documentary called “Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things” which was created by two white American guys in their 30s. These guys had high flying jobs and all the material trappings which came with six figure salaries. They realised that these things weren’t bringing them joy and they were living lives habitually buying stuff without a second thought. They were filling an internal void with consumer purchases, attempting to buy their way to happiness and it wasn’t working. As a result of this realisation, they embraced Minimalism which is based on owning only essential items that serve a purpose and that bring joy. It rejects the notion of allowing advertising and capitalism to dictate your behaviour. This concept spoke to me and seemed to just make sense.

Around the same time, I was introduced to “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” written by Marie Kondo. I’m not a big reader and so I listened to the book on Youtube. Marie explains that you should go through your possessions, one by one, considering each item with one simple question “Does this item spark joy?” If you answer this honestly and really consider that item, it will lead you to de-clutter your life. Cool, I can do that. I mean I’ve moved house a lot. Like A LOT. 14 times as an adult. With all those home moves I have become pretty good at culling stuff because what’s the point in moving crap that you don’t need? So I figured I wouldn’t have much to get rid of.

I started with my clothes. 4 black bin liners later, I felt lighter. And that was just clothes. I spent the next few weeks going through each category of item in order as Marie suggests. I realised just how much stuff I was keeping hold of and how subconsciously stressful that was. With every bag that went to the charity shop, I felt freer. I wouldn’t say that I’m now a hard core minimalist but I would say that everything I have, sparks joy. I live without excess and as a result my living space has been de-cluttered and in a way, so has my mind.

I was in town on Friday as I had some errands to run so I figured I’d look round the shops while I was there. I went into H&M which is my favourite women’s clothing shop. I walked round, surveyed the items, thought about what I might need and picked up 8 items to try on. I decided to hold on to two that I liked and went upstairs and again picked up more items to try on. I stood in the changing room for the second time and looked at myself in the mirror. Did I really LOVE anything that was hanging in front of me? I thought about it for a few minutes. Well, that top is on sale so I should definitely get that. Those trousers will be good for work, they are a little tight but with a long top they’ll be fine. Then I stopped. What the fuck are you doing? Why are you doing this? What’s wrong with the clothes you already have? I walked out of the shop empty handed and I felt bloody good about it.

I talked to my Dad about the stuff subject over the weekend and his philosophy is simple: own less, live more. It may be that I’m getting old (34 in 6 weeks) but I’m annoyed to say that I think his approach to “stuff” is based on some pretty sound logic. Yes, we need certain things but we don’t need stuff for the sake of it. Reducing mindless consumerism has to be good for the planet and for our own well-being. I’ve certainly found it to be a freeing experience. I’m now attempting to live a life that the Minimalists would describe as deliberate and intentional and I’d challenge you to do the same.

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To Do: Don’t Cry

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