This weekend I completed my 30th and final challenge for 30 things for 30 years at Spider on a Bicycle – I anonymously paid for someone’s meal. This year has been amazing and when I completed 30/30 I felt a little tear. I don’t know what my 30s will bring, but I have given my 20s one amazing send off 🌺
December was a busy month for me, not only due to surviving the run up to Christmas with two candy cane fuelled small children, but also because I completed another four things on my challenges list. These were all very festive and great fun. The most festive thing that I did, probably in my life let alone this year, was being an Elf in Santa’s Grotto for the Archie Foundation.
There I was in the middle of a shopping centre head to toe in elf costume, including jingling bells and garish leggings, discussing who was on the naughty list with 5 year olds – apparently no children were on it, but lots of parents were this year. I had so much fun indulging in the magic of Christmas with these families and hearing all of the excited stories being told by slightly star struck boys and girls (to clarify, they were star struck by Santa, not me). I left so full of the Christmas spirit that I even splurged and bought myself a festive hot chocolate on the way home. I will admit though, it was slightly bizarre getting ready next to the big man in red himself and seeing the famous beard being positioned…
A few days before my stint as an elf, I held a Pop up Pandas event. Once a month my friend Natalie and I hold a drop in support group for mothers / fathers / carers who are struggling with any perinatal illnesses including anxiety, low mood, loneliness and depression. As our group usually runs towards the end of the month we decided to do something a little different for December. Instead we opened our doors for everyone and provided a large selection of food and drink, as well as toys and games for any children. It got rather chaotic when all of the under 3s playgroup arrived, but everyone seemed to enjoy the event. My kids were especially delighted as I had some cupcakes left over at the end that they were finally allowed to eat. They had been under strict instructions not to touch when I prepared them in the kitchen that morning 😄 never have two children eating weetabix looked so sorry for themselves.
Cake came up again in December, as I was in charge of providing the puddings for the Drop In Games Club Christmas party. I love my nights with my games club peers, and I really wanted to treat them all to something special. I embraced my inner American for this and made a large chocolate sheet cake. As it was a Christmas party I added a festive twist and made a candy cane topping for it. I have to say, I was so pleased with the results (it was a bit of a gamble adding mint). To counteract the sprinkles and icing, I also provided meringues with fruit (everyone loves a strawberry) and whipped cream. The whole night was such a laugh. I really have such fun at this group, and even though my 30 challenges are drawing to a close (how has that happened so quickly!?) I will absolutely continue lending my support to the drop in games club for as long as they’ll have me.
Last but not least for December, I completed a Reverse Advent Calendar. This morning I went into Aberdeen and donated the contents to Street Friends Aberdeen, the charity that I volunteered with in the Autumn, who help the homeless and vulnerable in Aberdeen city. Within the box of donations was a variety of, hopefully, useful items, from toiletries to warm clothing and food items. A special mention to my friends Laura and Pip, who both added items to my Reverse Advent Calendar, and to my mother, who made her own box to be donated to a charity of my choosing. While I was in Aberdeen, I also donated some books to the Archie Foundation at the Children’s hospital, as I was so moved by the hard work put in by the volunteers at Santa’s Grotto. I hope that these books are enjoyed by many.
And with that, I will close. My birthday is drawing ever closer and I still have one more ‘challenge’ to write about, but that can wait for tomorrow. Now I will pour myself a nice cup of tea and curl up by the fire. Until next time, thank you for reading and I will hopefully see you back here soon xxx
PS: apologies for the sideways photos, my computer and / or this website tool thing have updated and I have no clue how to rotate them 🤷🏻♀️🤷🏻♀️🤷🏻♀️
Oh my goodness my rate of blogging and doing are so incredibly out of sync with each other. I am sure that I could have given myself a much easier job if I wrote as I did. Alas, that is not what I have done, so here we are again, on a post that is playing catch up with the present. Incidentally, Happy New Year!! I wish you all health, wealth and happiness for 2019 🥰
But, for now, let’s rewind back to November 2018. Specifically the week beginning the 26th. This was the week that I completed the challenge voted for by my local community – Allowing the kids to dress me for a week. I have to say, my kiddos did me proud. Between the two of them, taking it turn and turn about, they put together some truly knockout outfits for me. I received more compliments during this week alone than I did for the rest of 2018 combined. This may well be as I was dressed in clothing that no one has seen before. In fact, shamefully, I had forgotten that most of these items were in my wardrobe. Generally I tend to default towards comfort over style, which means the same old ripped jeans and whichever sweater is at the top of my drawer that morning. This week however, I wore an array of outfits, and jeans only featured twice. One particular pair, was a lovely hue of bubblegum pink, worn on a primary school trip that I was a parent helper at. My daughter paired them with a big glittery bow (also pink), a sequinned black blazer and a dinosaur t.shirt 🎀 I looked very 80s Madonna. The day following this trip, I had an important meeting. I informed my son of this as he was picking out my outfit. He used excellent logic for his choice… “Daddy goes to meetings at work, Daddy dresses smartly for work, Daddy wears a tie…”. What would you know, I went to my meeting in a shirt with a bow tie, checked trousers, brogues and a Harry Potter knit. I went from Madonna to geek chic within 24 hours, and I loved both looks. Another amusing highlight from that week was going to the gym in my tiger onesie (yes, I own a tiger onesie). Other gym goers did their best to act as though this was completely normal and chatted to me about everything from the weather to Donald Trump, clearly trying to avoid talking about the elephant in the room that was me. For this, I thank them 😘. Less subtle with their conversations were the mothers at my daughter’s ballet class (Sarah and Clare, I’m looking at you!). I turned up in bat wings, a sparkle hair band aaaaand… one of my daughter’s ballet tutus. Let’s all just pause here and take a moment to appreciate that I got this up over my bottom. I know, it’s impressive right?! The fact that I ripped it while posing for a photo is irrelevant 😝
So, what can I conclude from this week. Well, one thing I certainly learnt is that it is not so much what you wear, but how you wear it. Even in outfits that were truly ridiculous (hello again tiger onesie) I got complimented on as I “… wore (it) with the right attitude” (not my words). Without sounding like a huge walking, talking cliche, Confidence is definitely one of the most stylish things you can wear. Yes, I know I sound very cringey right now. I am cringing in my seat myself, but it is true. I also learnt that I have a lot more clothes than I realise, so one of my (many) New Years resolutions for 2019 is to not buy any new clothing for 12 months. Given the amount of lovely things popping up in the sales right now this is already proving tough, but 3 days in and nothing has be acquired. Only 363 to go… 😳😳😳
I saw a post recently on Facebook that showed a woman holding a new born baby. Beside her was a board that read:
“Don’t complain about your postpartum body, when there are people out there that wish that they could have a postpartum body at all”.
This made me sad on first reading, and I emphasised with the post. I may have even given it a ‘thumbs up’. However the more I have thought about it, the more it plagues me.
I agree that we should all be kind, and be sensitive to other people’s sufferings, but does that mean that if things are making us upset we should bottle them up for fear of offending. Surely making people feel bad about the things that make them feel bad is counterproductive? Personally, I have a body that definitely shows that I have had two children – my C-section Shelf is always there when I button up my skinny jeans and, as much as I love that having cesarians allowed my children to brought safely into the world, I still can’t say I love the way my body now looks as a result. I don’t mind it, but it doesn’t ever come up on a ‘Bits of myself that I love’ list (my ears however do, have a look next time you see me and admire). This post made me feel guilty and selfish for thinking this way, and I chastised myself for my thoughts. Was this the same for others reading the same post? As someone who strongly advocates speaking up when things are troubling you, and passionate about changing the stigma around mental health, is it hypocritical of me to have liked that post. If I found it again I would remove my thumbs up. This is not to say that I don’t feel for those out there that are unable to conceive. I really and truly do. But feeding someone else’s guilt and insecurities will not solve another’s problem. Instead it could create a problem that was not originally there, and this problem could be kept hidden and left to manifest itself in ways that could be destructive.
I am not promoting insensitivity here. As I said earlier, we should always lead with kindness, and yes, we should ‘choose our audiences’ wisely. But if something is on your mind, or making you feel unhappy in any way (no matter how ‘trivial’ you may think seems) and speaking out about it will help, then please, I implore you to speak out about it and not feel guilty for it. We all have our own battles, and fighting them alone out of shame is not the answer.
I mentioned in my previous post that I had completed another two challenges – creating the art of stained glass and hosting a beauty brunch.
I will finally start this post now. I have woken up early on a cool December morning, before the kids. I have discovered that this is key to my success at undisturbed writing. As soon as they are up they are on my lap and a large number of colourful emojis would be appearing across my screen. My friends, I am sure, appreciate this erraticness in my messages during the day… don’t you? But I digress (once again). So, tea is in hand, dog is at feet, fire is lit, Christmas songs are playing and the tree is glowing in the corner. I shall begin.
It was early November when I made the trip North to my mother and father’s house. My mother is a very skilled stained glass maker, having made countless decorations and pieces for both her friends and family. For my father’s 50th she made him the most amazing window scene featuring a fisherman catching his catch of the day.
She is very skilled, and very patient… two things that I am not. Despite my mother’s passion for her craft, I have never felt any inclination to try it myself. I am not dexterous and, with the right stimuli, I get frustrated very easily. However, this is the year that I put myself out of my comfort zone and try new things. I can’t remember exactly who it was that suggested this as one of my 30 things, but the idea of creating a piece of art for my home came up, and my mother was more than enthusiastic to be my guide for this challenge. Her studio is outside, and not heated, so we were very lucky to have a really beautiful, bright warm day for our crafting, something that is far from guaranteed in Scotland in November. The fates were smiling upon us. My first task was drawing my design.
I looked through some of my mother’s catalogues for inspiration and decided that a Christmas angel would be perfect – not too many pieces and, most importantly for me, not too many small fiddly bits. Once I had drawn my angel (lovingly known as Dumpy Dawn as she ended up quite a bit wider than I had intended), I got to choose my glass. I hadn’t realised, or appreciated, until now just how much different glass was out there. I could have spent ages just admiring all the different patterns and shapes in the pearlescent and marble effect sheets. There was something quite hypnotic about them. I eventually chose one of these sheets to make the wing of my angel. I then had to cut and grind my glass to shape. This was where I felt my frustrated tendencies would come to the fore. Luckily my mother was an excellent wingman and she kept my annoyance levels to a minimum. In fact, I don’t think I actually had any looking back. I definitely wasn’t very adept at the actual cutting of the glass. I had to use the grinder a lot to get my shapes to fit and to actually look like the shapes that they were meant to be. I know that my mother would have had much more accuracy with her cuts. I lacked a lot of confidence in my tools and skills, which resulted in cuts far away from the lines marked on the glass for my design.
I still don’t fully understand how the tiny little tool used can result in a clean straight break in the glass sheet. In my mind I still feel it should make the glass shatter and splinter. Of course, it doesn’t, but that’s me. Several hours and several cups of tea later I had copper foiled and soldered by beautiful Dumpy Dawn. I am so incredibly thrilled with her. She is absolutely worth all of the little cuts my fingers endured (all healed now). Dumpy Dawn is now proudly suctioned onto my kitchen window and she makes me smile every time I look at her. I genuinely did not think I had it in me to make something like her. I am still a long, long, loooong way off creating anything comparable to my mother’s window panes and 3D designs but my Christmas angel to me is a thing of beauty. Better than Dumpy Dawn though, was the day that I got to spend with my mummy.
Having two small children running around my ankles normally means that when I see my mother, most of the time (in fact all of the time since having children) we have our ‘Mama’ and ‘Grandma’ hats on. This is of course no bad thing, but it was so wonderful to remove those hats for a change and replace them with our ‘Daughter’ and ‘Mummy’ hats instead. This was so long overdue and it was amazing. We chatted about all sorts of things as we worked, none of which were interrupted by a request for “Juuuuice!”.
Next year one of my resolutions is definitely to spend some more one on one time with both of parents (darling husband, if you are reading this, I am signing you up to a few days of Daddy Day Care duties).
I have also hosted a beauty brunch for my three charities. This was a really lovely way to spend a morning after the school drop off. I cooked a selection of pastries (setting off my fire alarm in the process 🤷🏻♀️ nothing makes your guests feel at home like a communal cushion wafting session), chopped some fruit into an artful looking fruit platter display and bowled up yogurt and granola.
While my guests and I ate, my friend Louise showed us her products and gave us some really incredible demonstrations – I am still gawking at the flammability of a well known baby oil brand compared to one from Louise’s range (NuSkin). Louise has very kindly put all proceeds from my beauty brunch towards my fundraising. If anyone would like to hear more about her products (quick pitch, they are amazing!!) you can go onto her Facebook or Instagram pages “The Mum Bun Diaries”. Thank you to all those that came (my anxiety levels were extreme the night before, with visions of just me and Louise surrounded by food, beauty products and tumbleweeds rolling by to the hollow sound of crickets chirping in the distance) and of course to Louise herself. Again, the support that I have received this year has been incredible. I am very grateful 😚
As many of you are aware of already, at the start of this year the pub quiz that I had planned on hosting had to be cancelled. This was due to a tragic accident, which resulted in the loss of someone very loved within our community. I am sure that you will all appreciate that I did not feel it was appropriate to peruse this ‘challenge’ further. Instead, I recently created a poll in which people could vote for an alternative challenge for me to complete in the name of my charities before my 30th birthday. The poll had three options, all suggested by my local community:
- No internet for a week
- Allow my children to dress me for a week
- Learn sign language
After a week of voting, ‘Allowing my children to dress me for a week’ came out the victor. So, as of tomorrow (Monday 26th November) I will be at the fashion mercy of my 5 year old and 3 year old. It is said that the older you get, the uglier you are willing to go out in public… watch this space…
After my last, more serious post, it is time to tell you all about what I have been doing for my charities. Before that though I would like to thank you all so much for your lovely feedback and kind words regarding my last post, be that on here, my social media pages or in person. You are all amazing! Even more of the fog has dispersed now and that is in no small part down to you. Thank you.
Aaaand now, on with the show…
I have managed to tick off another four (yes, four!) of my charity challenges. Two of the most physical challenge items are successfully in the bag 🙌🏼 and I’m not going to lie, I am so so chuffed with myself. If you had told me this time last year that I would have achieved walking 15 miles over hills in the dark or that I would have scaled a 12ft wall, I would have sniggered (possibly even snorted a la Miss Piggy) and continued tucking into the cake that I was most probably eating (… a la Miss Piggy). Pre 2018 me has a lot in common with Miss Piggy now that I think about it. Although 2018 me does still snort, a lot, when laughing… and I still eat cake, a lot… But I digress.
Just like my bike ride along the Deeside Way in September, for both of my recent physical challenges I was joined by two of my wonderful friends. The Banchory Beast race took place a week after I completed the cycle of the Deeside Way and my companion for this escapade was Linda. Together, during our trip around the Beast circuit, we composed a short poem. Humour us, and tell us how we could become the next Wordsworth / Keats / Shakespeare et cetera:
“We went for a wee joggy,
through a bit of a boggy,
and Linda hadn’t a foggy,
About the course…”
I know, you are in awe aren’t you. That day still makes me laugh and smile so much. I don’t know exactly what I had expected, but I was more prepared than Linda who, as mentioned in our poem, did not have a clue. She informed me as we were waiting for our registration that she hadn’t looked at the course map and when I mentioned that the Loch looked ‘pretty chilly’ she replied “we are going in the Loch?” 😂 (Spoiler Alert – we went into the Loch… 3 times). The Beast was by far the most fun I have had at a competitive event this year.
Linda and I both agreed that various obstacles on the course were nothing more than ‘Extreme Parenting Skills’: The Ankle Biter – simply negotiating your child’s messy bedroom. The Squirrel Scramble – a kids climbing frame on steroids. The Log Drag – easier than taking an unwilling toddler on a shopping trip to Tesco. We absolutely had this in the bag! The one real obstacle that was a true test of strength, and cemented mine and Linda’s friendship, was ‘Hit the Wall’, a 12ft wall (obviously) between us and the finish. With upper body strength that I didn’t know I possessed and Linda’s hands shoving my buttocks upwards with impressive force, I scaled the wall (and then promptly came back round to do the same for her). With clay handprints (we had also navigated our way through a clay pit – see picture) on our posteriors we completed the course, and tamed The Beast of Banchory!
The second of my two most recent physical challenges, and actually my last physical challenge for this year (!!!) was the ‘Illuminator Night Race’. Would you believe it, but up until last month I had never ventured up the Fungle in Deeside. I have walked for miles around the villages in this area, along the Deeside Way, lapped the Queens Loch at the foot of the Fungle more times than I can count and I have forged many paths through various woodland areas. But up, I had not been. Maybe this was a psychological avoidance, as whenever the Fungle has been spoken about to me, it has been in tones of caution and trepidation. To paraphrase one friend the Fungle is “… the worst walk in the world”.
I had visions of myself buckled over and breathless at the foot of the climb, let alone actually on the ascent. So, why do it, when there are a myriad of other places to walk around Deeside. I do not consider myself an unfit person and the thought of walking 15 miles wouldn’t have phased me at all if it was a non undulating path from A to B. As I am sure many of you know already though, the Illuminator does indeed undulate, and one of those undulations is the Fungle. So, it was time for my fear to be cast aside.
After a hearty breakfast I dug out my walking boots and stretchiest trousers, harnessed up the dog, ate another banana for good measure and set off to put the Fun into Fungle. I am pleased to say that the walk wasn’t actually nearly as arduous as I had envisioned. I won’t lie, I did have to stop and catch my breath several times on the way up, but it was so beautiful and tranquil the rest stops didn’t matter.
When I reached The Guard at the top of the Fungle it felt like stepping into Middle Earth and I actually decided to continue to explore further on up. I am so glad that I did, as once I had climbed up through the woods and cleared the trees the view was astounding. Deeside rolled out in front of me like a patchwork quilt. Granted, I didn’t see this view again during the Illuminator due to the dark and snow (yes snow!), but having conquered this section of the walk already, I felt free to just enjoy the event and energy around me. I did this event with my friend Claire.
I met Claire at a toddler group many moons ago and we immediately struck up a really great friendship. But, the clue is in where we met, we both have small children, and so most of our catch ups are also spent retrieving children from behind trees / using food for bribery / having 17 different conversations at one time (and not getting to the conclusion of any them) / spotting ‘monkeys’ hiding in the trees et cetera. This walk was an amazing time for us to actually hang out as Claire and Victoria.
I learned new things about her, she learned new things about me, we laughed, we swore (🤫), and we covered a mile in what felt like light-speed. The Illuminator was a true testament to the, quite literal, lengths we would go to for some child free conversation. We have both agreed that we are going to walk the Illuminator route again, but do it in the middle of summer, so we can really enjoy and appreciate our surroundings – Half the time during the night race I hadn’t a clue where we were other than on the right track 🤷🏻♀️
I will conclude here for now, as I appreciate that this is a long post, and if you have reached here without me completely losing you, I tip my hat to you. I will write again soon about the other two of my challenges that I have completed recently (creating the art of stained glass and hosting a beauty brunch). These two things really brought joy to me and I want to do them justice in my writings. So, until next time, arrivederci all 👋
I feel that I should start this post as openly as I can. It has been far too long since I wrote anything on here and the truth is that I had started invisibly, even to myself, falling back into a state of depression. I did not notice it happening, but I can in retrospect link it to my son starting school. After dropping my children off I would come home and feel a lifelessness and loneliness within my home, although at the time I did not recognise that this was what it was. When both of my children were at nursery I never experienced this aura in my house. But that was definitely what it was. I started becoming very mindless and forgetful, neglected simple every day tasks, stopped taking any pride in my appearance, ate poorly and found myself putting on cartoons more and more often for the children instead of engaging with them. I was also incredibly tired, often going to bed soon after my children and then hitting the snooze button multiple times the following morning. All this time though I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly was going on. This was not depression as I had experienced before. I wasn’t spending my days gripped with anxiety, I wasn’t crying hourly and I wasn’t carrying out my obsessions or compulsions. But then, out of the blue, I was standing in the school playground watching my children play one afternoon, and I felt overcome with a complete loneliness. Before I knew it, I was crying. I wasn’t sobbing, but tears just poured out and I could not stop them or even fully explain them to passers by. I felt like I was crying for everything, but also for nothing. Soon after this episode, my children had their half term break and I found myself more able to relax and do some introspective soul searching. I made myself a doctors appointment and, as always, I was heard and felt completely safe. We spoke a bit about all that I had been doing this year and my doctor stated that I could have reached a stage where my body was feeling ‘burnt out’ and needed me to stop ‘doing’ and to just ‘be’. She also organised some blood tests for me to see if there was anything else underlying that could be causing my tiredness (they came back showing lower iron levels for which I now take supplements for). It was about this time that I came to the realisation that I was becoming lonely, and that this was what the strange feeling in my home was. With my son starting school, my daughter’s nursery drop offs had become quick ‘ins and outs’, when before I would pass the time with fellow nursery parents at a more leisurely pace. Then in the school playground, drop offs for many parents and families have become a chance for them to step back into the working life, something that I have yet to do. I feel that, as my children’s worlds get bigger, mine has become smaller. I do not go to toddler groups or book bug sessions with fellow mothers any more. That time has past for me. I didn’t realise until now how much I enjoyed those groups, and how much I do miss them.
Please know that if you are reading this that I am not expecting a pity party. Anything but in fact. I just wanted to write down how I have been feeling and start moving forward from this spell. I am taking positive steps and responsibility for my emotions, which in itself has given me a much required boost. Owning and accepting my depression takes away its power. I have also taken some needed rest and enjoyed some ‘me time’ having completed the last of my physical challenges for ‘30 things for 30 years’ (more on that soon!). I am now actually a blonde (well, bronde) as I felt a change was needed – I now have my own little sunshine glow.
The fog in my mind is dispersing. I am confident that my next post will be a much more lively one and that good things are coming. As always, your lack of judgement on this blog, and in life, is so incredibly affirming and it gives me the strength to be myself.
I show my scars so that others may know that they can feel too 🌺
Gracious my blogs are becoming less frequent but more full!
I literally hit September running, at one point straight into an inflatable wall, and completed the Gung-Ho 5km on the 1st. Despite still not being a runner (but, oh, how I still so want to be) I was pleasantly surprised by how undaunted I was about taking on another 5km.
A distance that felt Herculean in April now felt obtainable. I won’t put you under any illusions, there was still a good smattering of walking interspersed between runs, but my pre race anxiety had been replaced with pre race excitement. True, this could be due to the fact that the Gung-Ho 5km is the ‘Inflatable Fun’ 5km – Scattered around the race route were giant obstacles that would have been more at home a child’s birthday party than at a National Trust property. Yet here they were, in the shadow of one Aberdeenshire’s many historic castles, and I was ready to take them on! After all, I have spent my fair share of Saturday afternoons clambering over bouncy castles trying to persuade my sugar crazed children that it’s time to come home. It would be a piece of cake! And so it was, except for… The Wall. I would like to speak to whoever thought it was a good idea to put an 10ft (I’m guessing the height) bouncy wall towards the end of a 5km. Sweaty hands + a smooth, low resistance, vertical edge to scale = really hard work!
In fact, I couldn’t do it alone. After being spatchcocked on the side of the wall three times, I decided to ask for assistance from the race marshal. He very gallantly grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and the waistband of my leggings and, like a sack of potatoes, he heaved me over the top. No small job I’m sure 😄
A few days prior to this, I went to a local farm and I was tutored in the skill of sheep shearing. I have a new found respect and awe for farmers.
I sheared one sheep to their hundreds, and the contorted postures that I had to maintain whilst holding down said sheep and using a shearing tool in a uniform manner was exhausting. My right arm and wrist were genuinely limp by the end. I’m just ever so grateful that the sheep Ian selected for me was a relatively docile one, and I was only bucked off three times.
This month I also started volunteering with “Street Friends Aberdeen”. This group was set up by Justin Ritchie. They meet 4 times a week in Aberdeen City centre and provide food, hot drinks and warm clothing to vulnerable and homeless people. I had such a humbling evening with them. Before this year I used to turn a blind eye to those on the streets – I was anxious about engaging with them for fear of attack or theft. But hearing their stories and sharing jokes together really brought home to me how short sighted I had been.
I have since decided that all items that I collect during my ‘reverse advent calendar’ this December will go to Street Friends Aberdeen, as the work the Justin and his fellow volunteers do is simply inspiring and truly incredible.
Now we come to Saturday 15th September 2018. This was the day that Natalie Pinnell and I Deeside-d (see what I did there?) to cycle our bikes from Aberdeen to Ballater, following the old railway line along the Deeside Way.
Yes, a lovely day out and a chance for two busy mothers of two to catch up and get a change of scene, but this ride was more than just that for us. This ride was in honour of Natalie’s daughter, who was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2, and also part of my ‘30 things for 30 years’ challenges. If you have read previous blog posts you will know my choice to support the National Autistic Society this year is my way of saying “Thank you” to Natalie, as she supported me through one of the most difficult times in my life. She in turn wanted to thank me back, and volunteered to join me cycling the 44 mile route through villages, forests, roadworks (with unexpected dead ends) and the most stunning scenery around the River Dee.
We set off early from Duthie Park hoping to ease ourself into a steady pace before the cycle path became too busy. We actually had to set off twice, as I somehow managed to derail my chain before I had even completed one full rotation of the peddles. The second time around though we set off strong, and despite the coolness of the morning, were soon powering along the beautifully smooth tarmac path. That was until… the bypass. My OS maps did not account for this, and neither did google. We met an abrupt stop in the form of a large fence and steep drop towards the new roads. Luckily for us, after a quick token photo for our records, another couple joined us at the dead end, and as a four we ventured out onto the road (well, the pavement if I’m honest) and found our way over the roadworks and back to the safety of the cycle path. Natalie and I reached Banchory in good time (via a visit to the steam engine at Crathes) and, of course, rewarded ourselves with an elevenses stop. Refuelled with good baking and swelled egos at the ease and beauty of our first leg, we set off to Scolty Woods… Oh. My. Goodness!
With each churn of our bike tyres up the hills our egos dropped lower and lower. There is no putting it lightly, this stretch was hard going! The undulating track was forever lulling us into a false sense of relief, but each glorious downhill section was followed by an uphill section, each one just that little bit longer than the one before. Our average speed plummeted to a mediocre 4 miles an hour. I am pleased to say though that even with legs of lead we kept our spirits high, revelling in the unrivalled beauty of where we were. Royal Deeside truly is a sight to behold. With every stop to catch our breath we couldn’t help but stand in awe at the views before us. They were spectacular. When we finally reached our final peak, we whizzed down from Slewdrum Forrest and into Potarch with the speed and delight of two small children – We may well have startled other walkers and cyclists as we suddenly appeared in the car park whooping with joy and proudly announcing to anyone we passed that we had come from Aberdeen. After a quick luncheon in Kincardine O’ Neil we continued on our way. The next destination, our hometown, Aboyne. It was a rather surreal experience cycling past our houses and family members (thank you for the KitKat pit stop Steve and Sue!) knowing that we still had another 10 miles to go before actually getting to return to the comfort of home. But continue on we did and finally we pulled up to the Old Station in Ballater after 9 hours of pedalling, and a fair smattering of walking. Greeted by our families who were armed with water, chocolate bars and prosecco, Natalie and I made our final dismount of the day. Our legs were tired, our buttocks ached and standing up was a lot more difficult than it had been that morning, but we were smiling and absolutely thrilled with our achievements. We had cycled the Deeside Way (and I only fell off once!).
Throughout this year I have had many people asking me why I chose The National Autistic Society as one of my charities to support. My struggles with depression and O.C.D are well documented and fully cement my desire to represent both HomeStart Deeside and Mental Health Aberdeen. My advocacy for NAS however is a way for me to say a “Thank You!” to my beautiful friend Natalie, who has helped me more than she will ever realise on my journey, not only this year, but for years before, and I know that she will continue to be a rock in years to come. Natalie has her own blog – Rainbows and Lighthouses – and I asked if she would do me the honour of writing a guest blog post here to tell her own story, and to let you all see why The National Autistic Society is a charity of huge importance to me…
Guest Blog – 30 Things for 30 Years. By Natalie – Rainbows & Lighthouses
I was so honoured when my beautiful friend Victoria asked if I’d like to write a guest blog for her 30 things for 30 years.
Victoria and I first met a couple of years ago, when I was suffering from PTSD after the traumatic and premature birth of my second daughter. After her own perinatal mental health struggles, her loving nature had lead her to reach out to the local midwives in the hope she could set up a support group and they had given her my number.
She knocked on my door one day and I broke down and sobbed to a total stranger. She sat with me, listened to my story and for the first time I felt truly heard and understood. She told me about her own experiences and I didn’t feel alone anymore.
In that moment, I knew I had to help her with the support group as I could not allow other women to be sat in their homes feeling the way that I was feeling – like there was no way out.
That encounter lead to us founding Deeside Pandas and a friendship that will last a lifetime.
I can remember the first time that Victoria told me what she was planning to do for her 30th Birthday (her 30 challenges to raise money for charity during her 30th year). She told me that she had an important question for me…. and asked if I would be okay if she chose an autism charity to benefit from her challenges and asked if I would help her choose a charity. I cried. In fact I’m crying now just remembering that moment.
See, not long after we first met my eldest daughter was diagnosed with autism. Victoria was so supportive during this time, and when she asked if she could support an autism charity she made me feel heard and supported all over again. The fact that our story had touched Victoria enough for her to do this meant the world to me.
On the day my daughter was diagnosed, I had been expecting it, as over the previous 12 months my daughter had regressed developmentally. She had lost spoken language, no longer interacted with us, and was showing several red flags which indicated an Autism Spectrum Disorder. That day of the diagnosis was the day I realised that our future wasn’t going to look like everyone elses.
So in deciding what I was going to talk about for this blog, I thought I’d shine a light on autism so that you have an insight into what this looks like in reality for us.
So what do I want people to know about autism?
The current prevalence of autism is classed at 1:100 in the UK. In the US it is 1:60 and indications show it may well be closer to 1:30 as many people go through life undiagnosed due to a reluctance to put a label on children. This means that it is far more common than people think. As a result, there is a significant chance that a child in your child’s class has autism. The rate of diagnosis is growing at an alarming rate which means there are probably environmental factors that are increasing the prevalence of the condition.
It is a hidden condition, which means that you can’t always tell if someone is autistic. It is a developmental disability that affects how your brain works. According to the National Autistic Society, it is incurable and affects people in a variety of areas including:
People with autism can have difficulty in interpreting both verbal and non verbal communication like gestures or tone of voice. Some may not speak, or have limited speech but will often be able to understand more than they can express. Others may have good language skills but struggle to understand social norms and expectations. They may struggle to read or understand the feelings or intentions of others. They may find it difficult to make friends, despite wanting to.
Some people with autism can struggle to handle changes to routine. For example my daughter has to walk certain routes to certain places, or eat things in a certain way. It can be very distressing for her if there is a significant change to her “norm”.
Often people with autism struggle with over or undersensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light, colours, temperatures or pain. For example, my daughter is a sensory seeker, which means she has an unusally high pain threshold and seeks sensory stimulation from impact or spinning.
For my daughter, I want to share some things that I think would be helpful for parents of children to know so that they can help their children relate to her and others like her.
• She may not respond to you but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to play. Let her be involved in her own way.
• She may not speak but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have something to share.
• She may not understand social norms. She is exploring and trying to make sense of a world which can be triggering for her.
• Just because she doesn’t react doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel.
• Just because she doesn’t communicate it doesn’t mean she doesn’t understand.
• Just because she doesn’t sit or give eye contact doesn’t mean she isn’t listening. She just needs increased sensory input to be able to process simple things like listening.
• She needs routine, struggles to handle change and needs time to process things.
But most importantly
• She shows us NEW ways to communicate and NEW perspectives to view the world.
• She has potential.
• And she will change everyone she touches.
As a thank you for choosing the National Autistic Society as one of her chosen charities, I have offered to join Victoria in one of her challenges and next month we will be cycling the entire Deeside Way together. So if you feel called to donate some pennies to support us I will love you forever.
And finally…. To Victoria…. I couldn’t be prouder of you. Thank you for being such a rock to me, for choosing to support something so important to me, and for making me snarf my tea pretty much every time I see you. To lots more laughter and magic together.
<3 You are an inspiration.
Written by Natalie from Rainbows & Lighthouses (www.rainbowsandlighthouses.com) @rainbowsandlighthouses.