Speaking in public when you hate people looking at you.

In October I spoke in public, in front of audiences, with people and everything! Real people! It was the Southbank Centre’s very own Women of the World festival. I also met some fabulous people with whom I hope to remain friends and keep in contact.

Saturday’s talk was about Birth Stories. We only had an hour to discuss all sorts around the topic, talk about our experiences and answer questions from the audience, and we could’ve carried on much longer given the time but I think between the three of us we managed to get some interesting points out there. The three of us being myself, Marianne Stephen who is an Obstetrician currently working in Devon but who has delivered and saved many lives in some of the poorest, most politically unstable and volatile countries in the world, and finally Katie Villa, who is a mum of two, a theatre director at Quirk Theatre and performer, she chaired the panel.

Just before we were due to start the discussion though, Genevieve, our 4-year-old decided to fall and cut her head open on the edge of a windowsill about a foot off the floor. There was a fair amount of blood, it was all very dramatic looking but she was very brave. Daddy’s first aid skills came in handy as he was handed a first-aid kit by a slightly shocked-looking technician working at the festival. He stopped it bleeding and used his until-then-unpracticed bandaging skills to give her a suitable head wrapping. I was surprisingly calm about the whole thing with the child and the bleeding head and everything – I think the impending speaking-to-an-audience distracted me from thinking that this was the worst thing that could’ve just occurred. Kids have the best timing, don’t they?! Well, mine definitely seem to.

One day down, one to go.

After some lunch and a quick look round Primark (obviously) we went back to the theatre and watched Liz Carr in an interview with WOW Founder Jude Kelly – it was during this fascinating discussion in the auditorium with a much larger audience than when I had spoken the day before, that I realised this is where I’d be talking on the other panel the next day, with Liz Carr herself, talking about how the Women’s Rights movement often forgets about disabled women.

Fast forward to Sunday, Mum was also there to watch me this time, as well as Tom and the children, and I was a lot more nervous since I knew the potential audience size.

I went in by myself about 15 minutes early, and met my fellow panel members – Liz Carr, actor, comedian and disability rights activist, Clair Beckett, dancer and yoga teacher who has recently been diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome, and Michelle Daley, a founding member of Sisters of Frida who are a collective of disabled women creating a network of fellow women with disabilities in order to share experiences, provide support and try to take away the copious amounts of bureaucracy and discrimination we face on a daily basis. Michelle was chairing this panel.

The lights were really bright and in-your-face, though they were turned down; I actually found this quite helpful as I couldn’t see the audience staring at me and I could just pretend I was talking to a bright white light, as you do.

The discussion went really well, I think, although looking back at the footage of the talk that Tom filmed for me, there were moments where I completely lost my train of thought -Ironically whilst talking about this blog, at one point! I tend to ramble a bit when I don’t have a plan of exactly what I want to say but hopefully, no one noticed. In hindsight, I wish I had been a lot more prepared in what I would say, but in my defence, I didn’t get emailed some of the information that went into more detail about the questions the chair speaker would ask. And of course, you cannot predict what questions might come from the audience. Also, I do have a tendency to stumble over what I’m saying when lots of people are watching me talk, and I hate it, which is why I hardly ever do it!

It was, of course, brilliant to meet Liz Carr, (and also Clair Beckett and Michelle Daley) but meeting somebody that you’ve known of for years, and who you never expected to be able to work alongside in this capacity was really very exciting.

All in all, I think the weekend went very smoothly if you take out the crying toddler and the child who cut her head open. I can forgive them for that because of course, they are particularly beautiful and funny children if I do say so myself. If only they’d realise how tricky it was for me to mentally prepare to talk to an audience!

To see some of the footage from the weekend please watch the video on my YouTube channel. WOW Festival Vlog.

I’m hoping The Southbank Centre’s WOW Festival will have me back next year. The children will be bubble-wrapped and I might invest in a personal microphone.

Follow me on Twitter @shopgirlygm and Instagram @lizzybuntonvlogs

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When you’re 6, tired and hungry

We went out to watch the local fireworks last night and while we were there we bumped into one of Amélie’s best friends from school. She was desperate to try and see her friends but when she saw one of them she was very quiet, and although this little girl was so excited to see Amélie and was walking right by her, chatting away to her, Amélie ignored everything she said and just kept facing the other way.

I kept saying to her how she shouldn’t ignore her friend as she is talking to her, but Amélie remained silent and non-responsive to her friend. I felt awful for her and eventually she kind of gave up trying to chat to Amélie. It was about 5.30pm, and Amélie was both hungry and tired as her little brother had been crying in the night before. I am sure this was why Amélie wasn’t feeling very sociable when she saw her friend, but even so we explained to her that even though she was tired and hungry, she should still speak to her friends when they talk to her. Amélie has this trait where she just shuts down and won’t respond when she finds something difficult or when she’s anxious. I really don’t want this to mean that people think badly of her, or feel that she’s rude (which is exactly how I would’ve read last night’s situation).

Today, she was writing Christmas cards for her school friends and I said maybe she could write a note to say sorry in the card for her friend from last night. The picture here is some of what she wrote in the card. She went on to draw a picture of,the two of them and the words “best friends forever”.

It’s hard being 6, isn’t it?

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Baby product reviews – nappies, wipes, cups and potties.

I’m three kids in so I feel like now might be an acceptable time to review a few baby, toddler and children’s products and even a few parents’ products. I’m a disabled mum of three, ages 6.5, 4 and 1 years old.

1. I’ll start with nappies as I’m pretty sure most mums and dads will have come across one every now and then with having a baby. My favourite nappies by far are Aldi Mamia nappies. At the moment my 13-month-old son is in size 5 (although he can also fit in a 4+), and you can currently get a pack of 40 nappies for £2.99. For the equivalent of a leading brand, you should expect to pay more than double. You might think ‘well lower cost = lower quality’, but no. I find Mamia nappies are perfectly soft and comfortable, hold their structure well with minimal sagging after 1 wee. They have good coverage to hold in most normal poo episodes (poopisodes) – I say ‘normal’ because there are some poo explosions that just won’t be contained by a nappy. Never underestimate the force with which a small child can fire their own poo up their back whilst sat down. Mamia nappies are pleasantly decorated, with an array of jungle animals. To be honest none of my three children have ever paid much attention to pictures on nappies, but maybe that’s just them. They last a good 12 or more hours of night-time weeing, without leaking and don’t create a strong chemical smell when they’re very wet. According to Aldi, they are extra soft, breathable, hypo-allergenic and dermatologically tested, and are regularly tested for effectiveness against the leading brand. They are comfy, work really well and don’t cost much. Therefore they’re winners in my book. A book which doesn’t physically exist.

Mamia Ultra Dry Nappies Size 5

2. Wipes – I probably think about wipes a bit more than is necessary even for a mum with three kids, but I feel it tug right at my heartstrings when they start putting FEWER WIPES PER PACK! Why? A while ago, pretty much all supermarket wipes had 80 per pack, and cost just under £1 for a pack, or £3 something for a pack of 4 – stay with me folks – leading brand wipes had less, either 72 or 64, and then some had 56. That is 24 less wipes than what I would call a normal amount of wipes per pack. I really think too much about this. Anyway, now most supermarket brands have 64 wipes per pack, and then Asda’s Little Angels range started producing an ‘extra large’ pack, with 80 wipes, like it was a new thing to sell 80 wipes per pack. I wish they would just pick a number closer to 100 and stick with it, then we wouldn’t have to keep opening new plastic wipes packing every few days, and maybe each pack would last longer.

Favourite wipes – again the prize for my favourite wipes currently goes to Aldi Mamia wipes. Granted they have only 64 wipes per pack, but they are a good price, currently only 55p per pack, or £2.09 for a 4 pack. They are a nice soft texture, don’t rip when you take them out of the pack which is convenient although as far as I know, a wipe that rips means it’s probably made from renewable/recycled natural fibres like tissues are, and therefore better for the environment than a woven ‘cloth-like’ wipe. But I’m only a mum guessing, I may be wrong! They have a closing plastic lid, meaning the wipes shouldn’t dry out, although personally as my hands don’t work very well, I find these more difficult. The sensitive unfragranced wipes are what we usually get but the fragranced packs are also good for when it comes to cleaning hands, or wiping sick off your top in desperation as it masks the aroma a little!

Mamia Sensitive Baby Wipes 64 Pack

3. Drinking cups – I think over the last few years we may have bought almost every cup going – valved, free-flow, non-spill, straw, 360… my partner thinks I’m slightly crazy as I can’t resist a new cup. They are so pretty! But at the moment I am liking the Nuby 360 cup as it’s pretty much non-spill, and encourages drinking from the edge of the cup. So it makes for a good transition to drinking out of an open cup.

360 Mini No Spill Cup 240ml (4-12m) RED/ROCKET

I have also always been a fan of the standard Tommee Tippee free-flow cup which is great for all ages even young babies of 4-6 months. It’s free-flow so babies might get a bit of a shock when the water flows quite freely into their mouth but it teaches them to moderate the flow themselves. This is a good cup for babies who might struggle to suck out of a valved cup. It’s also a very good value cup, generally found for less than £2 in a choice of colours. #parenton

First sippee cup blue 1 count

4. Potties – when it comes to toilet training, nothing is more exciting than choosing your first potty. For the child I mean, for the child, not me, I don’t find it exciting at all. Much. We have had a few over the years but the one I’ve preferred and which has worked best for our middle child (when we got it) was a potty like this – ours was unbranded from Tesco  and is just plain pink, but has the same ‘steady’ design and looks comfier than the others we have had. It has grippy feet so won’t slide out of the way as your child goes to squat down on it (disastrous), has a broad seat so it doesn’t dig into the backs of their little legs and a high back so they are a bit more supported as they sit. I’m sure our boy will use it even though it is pink and that will mean he will turn gay, but nevermind.* This potty only cost around £5 and does a perfectly good job of being a potty. It doesn’t sing songs or have a heated seat but our daughter seemed to survive the ordeal of sitting on it.

In my next reviews I will be focusing on clothes and shoes for children!

*Please be assured I am joking.

Twitter @shopgirlygm

Instagram @lizzybuntonvlogs

WOW – I’ve got to speak in public!

Tomorrow, and the day after that, I have to speak in front of an audience. I say ‘have’ – I was asked and I said I would. Slightly wondering what on Earth I’ve got myself into. Am I going to be well out of my nervous depth?

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I am going to be part of two discussion panels at the WOW – Women of the World festival. Click the link to see the website and what it’s all about but, essentially it’s a festival celebrating and discussing all things woman – what women experience specific to their sex and gender, how perceptions of women are changing, what sort of power women have and how things that only women can physically experience, like childbirth or miscarriage, can affect both women and society as a whole and how these things are changing rapidly. Both for better and worse. It will be fascinating, to say the least, to be a part of this and also to be part of the audience for other parts. I love seeing how the way humans exist differs from culture to culture and I think I’d like to go to the festival even if I wasn’t involved in it. In the news today they are discussing how 1 girl in 10 in the UK doesn’t have access to appropriate menstrual products. How is this even the case in 2017?

I was approached by one of the lovely programmers who had read my blog, and she asked if I’d like to be involved in both the Birth Stories panel and the Disability, Women and Taking Action panel. I could’ve chosen to not take part, or even just speak at only one discussion, but both are so important to me and how my life is currently turning out that I felt like I should do both, or I’d really regret it. I’d kick myself if I was to watch someone else possibly with a disability talking about their experiences of childbirth, in the UK, and think that perhaps I could’ve added something worthwhile, or something people should hear (god that sounds knobbish).

Anyone who knows me probably knows that I don’t often partake in public displays of verbal discussion – I used to find any reason at all not to have to read aloud to the class in school, college or university, my mum had to recite the Brownie Promise* for me when I was a child because the idea of everyone looking at me while I spoke made me burst into tears. And although my partner and I will be getting married in the near future, the thought of being the centre of attention and then having to speak ACTUAL WORDS in front of a group of people gives me the heebies, and even the jeebies. I think I might get married in a cupboard. [*I’ve just watched some videos on YouTube of girls doing their Brownie Guide Promise and I’m a little freaked out at how archaic and cultish it seems!]

So tomorrow I shall be talking about my experiences of childbirth (involving my own children, I don’t quite remember my own birth). I LOVE talking, very openly about pregnancy and giving birth. That is when I’m only talking with one or two people. But maybe I won’t spontaneously combust and I will find some legible sentences from within, to talk about something that I love so much – giving birth to my own children. Giving birth as a severely physically disabled woman was always going to be a bit of a science experiment for me and I think for the medical professionals too. but it went surprisingly well compared to what I imagined it might be, so that will be my angle of discussion – The Science Experiment of a Disabled Woman Giving Birth (Star Wars font please) Hopefully, people will be able to hear me, I’m told there will be microphone technology!

On Sunday, I will be talking alongside more lovely ladies including Liz Carr (of stand-up comedy, disability activism and Silent Witness fame). We will be exploring how often it is disabled women who are left out almost entirely when it comes to the Women’s Rights Movement, and what some of the key battlegrounds are around being female and having a disability. This will involve talking about anything disabled women experience from education, healthcare, finding and sustaining a career and attitudes from people that along with millions of others, I experience on a daily basis. Something as small as a shop assistant addressing my PA instead of me is only the start of it. I think my angle for this talk will be about wanting my life with a disability to just be as easy or as difficult as if I didn’t have a disability. I don’t want to be seen as an inspirational person just because I have eaten toast for breakfast without crying about being disabled. Although come this weekend I may well be blubbing into my morning cup of tea.

I will update in due course with how successful this weekend was….. ahhh.

@shopgirlygm

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No, she is not a child carer

Yesterday, I had to take my 6 year-old daughter to A&E because she had hit her head at school and cut it open. On the phone to the school receptionist I was told they’d called an ambulance because her behaviour had changed and she was very pale. I panicked, and left work as quick as I could, bursting into tears as I went down in the lift. What exactly did they mean when they said she had a cut to her head?

I got to the school ten minutes later, about 30 mins after she’d hurt herself.  She was very quiet and pale looking, and didn’t want to talk much. A teaching assistant was stood outside waiting for the paramedics to arrive, except nobody arrived, and instead the ambulance control centre rang my number an hour later, to triage her over the phone, wanting to speak to Amélie herself as well. She didn’t want to talk to the stranger on the phone, and he asked me more questions, then decided she didn’t need someone to come out to her and that we should take her to hospital instead. Quite why they couldn’t have let us know that an hour before, I don’t know. Anyway, we got to A&E and were seen by a triage nurse relatively quickly, and then by the doctor after another wait. But it was a nurse practitioner who saw my daughter after the intitial consultation by the doctor, who said something which frustrated me. I had been quite relaxed after getting Amélie to hospital and knowing she was in good hands and we knew what was going to happen. But the nurse practitioner asked Amélie a few questions just to check she could remember things ok and she was otherwise well after the head-bashing. One of her questions was about at home, and whether she  ‘helped look after Mummy’.

I see. So we went from ‘aww poor girl, she has cut her head open, let’s make her better’ – to ‘aww poor girl, she has cut her head open AND she MUST be a young carer as well, brave little thing’. She asked me if Amélie was a young carer to which I replied ‘no, she’s not’, and she said ‘no but I’m sure she has some caring resposibilities to help you, do the school know, are they aware she is a young carer?’, and so on. She told me it might be good, for Amélie, if the school were aware she might need to help me sometimes.

SHE IS NOT A YOUNG CARER! She is a 6-year-old little girl who happens to have a mum who’s in a wheelchair. The school know me well enough, and they also know I have a very caring and supportive partner who works full-time, and I have a PA who, surprisingly, fulfills the role of ‘helping Mummy’ when I’m not with my partner. My PA was sat right next to me at this point. My daughter doesn’t need to look after me.  I look after her.

Yes, she is able to fetch things for me and she can grab her baby brother out of the bathroom when he’s gone to explore the toilet, but as far as I’m concerned that does not constitute a young carer, who needs keeping an eye on to check she’s managing her complicated life okay.

If I wasn’t a wheelchair user, I’d still get my kids to fetch the baby wipes when I can’t grab them, or to run and close the stairgate when their brother is about to venture upstairs, and they are nearer than we are. I know able-bodied bodied parents that are lazier than us!

It makes sense to get kids to be helpful in their day-to-day life, and know that it’s just a nice thing to do. I hope they are helpful to their friends and teachers alike. My kids are pretty independent too, possibly because I can’t do everything for them that most mums can and  although daddy takes care of most of the physical side of childcare when he’s not working, I think they’ve learned useful tasks earlier than most kids would happen to. Amélie makes cereal for her and her sister, she can make drinks and loves that she can make her own sandwiches when she wants to. She has even taken to flying unaccompanied to Spain for a weekend get-away once a month in a rented villa she found, whilst backpacking in her gap year between nursery and primary school. She really needs the respite from taking care of her entire family.

Of course I’m joking, but on a serious note she does not need to be my carer. Young carers are amazing, and what they do for their mums, dads and siblings should never be taken for granted. And indeed, they might need someone to check-in with them every now and then to make sure things are working and that they have time for themselves. But I have my own PA, so that won’t need to be the case with our children. They’re just regular children and until I’m old and losing it, they can have their childhood.

I think the nurse practitioner may have realised that she’d gone a bit too far with her assumptions, as before Amélie had her head stitched up, she came and sat next to me and asked about my ‘medical history’  (like every parent in A&E with their child gets asked, right?!) and said that it was great that I just got on with life and that I wasn’t really disabled as I don’t let it affect me. She clearly hasn’t read this blog!

@shopgirlygm

facebook.com/haveyoutriedwalkinglately 

Has anxiety become fashionable?

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I appreciate this might be a risky article to write. Many millions of people suffer with varying degrees of anxiety, either for a short specific episode or a prolonged ongoing time. These people cannot help feeling anxious about certain things, it gets into the very grain of their being, day-in, day-out, and often therapy or medication is needed to learn to cope and manage the feelings and symptoms they exprience.

But lately, I seem to be hearing more and more people saying that they suffer or have suffered with some form or anxiety, for at least one stage in their lives. Maybe it is that these days, it is easier to ‘come-out’ as having anxiety, where it wasn’t before. It is widely known that people suffer from anxiety, depression and other brain-health disorders in silence, perhaps not even telling a doctor or family member through fear of not being believed, or being told to just “pull yourself together”. I say ‘brain-health’ as I truely believe and want others to recognise that mental health diagnoses are as much of a health issue as asthma or coeliac disease for instance. It’s just that although you can’t necessarily ‘see’ the problem, it is physically just as present as many other diagnoses. The problem is that if someone hasn’t suffered themselves, or there isn’t a blood test to cofirm the issue, then people struggle to believe it is most definitely happening, without the choice of the person it is affecting.

I might be one of the many who chose not to let-on about the anxiety I was experiencing after having a baby. I have three children and each time, I have treated the anxiety in different ways. With baby #1, it came as quite a shock. It was, I guess, part of post-natal depression to have anxiety like this. After having my daughter I’d feel so incredibly tense and frustrated by my lack of physical ablities due to my CMT neuropathy, that even though I knew exactly what my hands/arms could and could not do, I became severely affected by the thoughts of other peoples’ perceptions of my parenting and also about having to ask other people to do so much for my own baby. After all, nobody would do things exactly like I would if I could. I focused and obsessed over tiny things that were ‘wrong’ and everything seemed to make me want to lock myself in the bathroom and not have to ‘parent’ in front of others, especially those who knew me. With baby #2, I suffered simillarly for a few months before finally going to the doctor 4 months postbirth. With baby #3 I had the foresight to think ‘well this is probably gong to happen again isn’t it’, and even though I was absolutely rubbish at just sayong “hey, this is how crap and anxious I’m feeling”, people were aware a lot earlier and I was slightly better at normalising it, for myself and for others.

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So has it become less taboo to talk of your own serious anxieties, and by that I don’t mean being afraid of cliff-edges or big spiders – I mean things that are completely irrational, unexpected perhaps, and most of all uncontrollable to an extent? Or has claiming to have a severe case of anxiety become a get-out clause, an excuse maybe, to get out of things you’d rather not have to do? After all, people aren’t supposed to deny your anxiety, are they?

Are some teenage girls who would rather not play netball in school and have an excusing note from their mum, undermining the true experiences of the 15 year-old with crippling body dysmorphia who would rather jump off a bridge than have to show their legs off to fellow students and teachers? Is she going to be told “sorry, everyone has to join in”? Shouldn’t we be more lenient about what they can wear, or is it one-rule-fits-all?

I have always hated having to speak in front of groups of people. I remember even as a 7-year-old in Brownies, the moment when you’ve not long joined the club and you have to say the ‘Brownie-Guide Law’, I stood there and started crying and my mum had to say the words for me. Suddenly the idea of all-eyes-on-me was horrific. Since then I’ve detested it, it makes me feel physicallt sick and I will go out of my way not to do it even if it means being the only one who doesn’t play a part in a presentation. I get red-faced, my eyes start watering and I lose the ability to make the right amount of eye contact. However I also know that other people have it way worse than me, and cannot even speak to a cashier in the supermarket for example. So should college lecturers and workplace managers stop asking people to speak up in a group, because many people might be ‘too shy’, when really it might be only one or two who are suffering some form of actual anxiety?

It is difficult really, because whilst more needs to be done to help support those of us who are genuinely anxious and distressed about things that we really would prefer to experience, should we really label more and more kids as having anxiety because they haven’t got many friends or don’t want to say lines in tbe school play, and should we make physical education less integral to the curriculum incase school-aged adolescents feel embarrassed wearing a sports’ kit?

There is certainly a fine line between knowing whether to help somebody through anxiety by allowing them not to do something which might mentally distress them, and just saying “you’ll be okay, come on, let’s do this”. I worry that it’s becoming ‘cool’ to say you have anxiety, similar to when people say “oh I’m so OCD”, when they admit to not wanting people to get crumbs on their sofa.

What do you think? Have you had true anxiety? How have you treated it, and who did you tell?

Yours anxiously,

@shopgirlygm