Natalie’s Story

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:

Social Communication

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.

Routines:

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”.

Sensory:

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.

Natalie and her daughter

Thank you 😊

Thank you all so so SO much for all of your love and support over the last 8 months. I have now reached over 70% of my fundraising target! What a beautiful start to my September. Only 12 more ‘challenges’ to go…!!

 

“… shooting through the air Superman Style“ Completing more charity challenges

Oh my goodness it has been a long time since I last wrote a blog post. Between weddings, children’s birthday parties, my daughter returning to nursery, my son starting school and general summer chaos writing has taken a bit of a back seat. However now that the dust is starting to settle again, my iPad and are happily enjoying a reunion. I just hope that I haven’t lost my touch… let’s find out.

First of all, I completed vegan month! As I’ve mentioned before, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed vegan cooking and food. That being said though, a vegan I am not.

That smell was 👌👌👌

Towards the end all I wanted to have was a cheese sandwich and really good cup of milky tea (cows milk is really the only option in my opinion). The final day of the month was especially tricky, as my kids and I were invited to a BBQ. Never has meat smelled so good to me! In the weeks following Vegan Month my family and I have all enjoyed some vegan meals, but we have also enjoyed our fair share of steak, cheese, butter and milky tea (I’m actually drinking one right now ☺️).

Also in August, I completed my zip wire challenge. This one was beautifully unexpected – Originally when compiling my ‘Big 30’ list, I had planned to complete the zip wire locally. However, as it happened, between the list being made and my zip wire attempt, my husband and I were invited to a wedding in Cornwall. We decided to make the most of our trip South, and booked a couple of extra days onto our visit to be tourists. Of course, when being a tourist in Cornwall, you obviously visit the Eden Project… and would you believe you can zip wire over it!? So, naturally (or perhaps that should be ‘unnaturally’), I took up the gauntlet. I booked it in advance so there would be no turning back. The Eden Project Skywire is England’s ‘longest and fastest (60mph) zip wire’. At 100 meters above the ground (and right over a cliff edge) I think it nicely ticked the box of challenging myself for charity. I won’t lie though, it was actually quite a comfortable shuttle over Eden. They use special flight suits, which I can only really describe as flying hammocks, to get you from point A to point B. For me this was very comforting as, despite shooting through the air Superman Style, I was snuggly cocooned with no awkward harness wedgie distracting me. I could take in the views and enjoy the experience from my safe little pod. In fact, the bit that made my stomach flip over the most was actually coming to a stop at the end, as the deceleration did knock me back a bit. I have my reaction on film and my very words were “Holy Moly, that was a stop!”. I was not aware until that point in time that I actually used the phrase “Holy Moly” 🤔 you learn something new every day… 

Did it!

Becoming a twiglet piglet 🐽

Yesterday I completed one of the most difficult challenges of the year, nay my life. I ate a tub of Twiglets in one sitting – Well, what else is a girl meant to do on a wet Sunday afternoon when she is playing at being a vegan?! My thoughts on this activity… Oh, my, word. If I never see another twiglet again it will be too soon 😆

And so it begins

I will give this challenge some context, as it is probably one of, if not the most, random of my 30 things. All the way back in November / December 2017, when the idea of ‘30 things for 30 years’ first came to me, I was at home coming up with a list of things that I could do for charity that would be both challenging for me to do and, at the same time, be realistic to achieve. My husband was sitting with his evening gin and preferred savoury snack – Twiglets. It is a bit of a running joke in our house how much I dislike Twiglets. My husband, my kids and even my dog all love them. He jokingly offered me some, to which I outrightly refused the offer. He then asked me if I would “… do it for charity”. Well, of course I would!

All gone!

So here we are, 8 months or so and one tub of Twiglets (extremely overpriced for a tub at this time of year) later. Thank you for the donation Super Hubs 😚

https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=1951465515145137&id=1851091861849170&notif_t=page_post_reaction&notif_id=1532878591614376&ref=m_notif 👈 if you wish to see video evidence, please follow this link

M-Excellent dining

Not so much a blog post as a homage to this amazing vegan dish that I just cooked – Mexican veggie chilli with sweet potato nachos, guacamole and coconut cream. I am now 28 days into vegan month and this is definitely one of the stand out meals. Easy as pie, and deeply satisfying. If you’re interested, please see recipe below:

Ingredients

1 red onion
140g courgettes
2 garlic cloves
300g sweet potatoes
coconut or olive oil
240g drained kidney beans
300g tinned chopped tomatoes
1 tsp chilli flakes
1 avocado
1 lime, juice
20g creamed coconut
40ml boiling water
sea salt and black pepper

Method:

Preheat the oven to 200c

Finely dice the onions, courgette and garlic.

Peel and thinly slice the sweet potatoes. Toss with 1/2 tablespoon of oil and season with salt. Place the sweet potato slices in a baking tray and bake for 20 minutes, turning halfway through.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a frying pan and fry the garlic and onion for a few minutes, then add the courgette and fry for a further 5 minutes.

Add the drained kidney beans, chopped tomatoes and chilli flakes. Simmer on a gentle heat for 10 minutes until the sauce has thickened.

Peel and de-stone the avocado. Place the flesh in a bowl with the lime juice and mash with the back of a fork.

In a separate bowl, mix the creamed coconut and boiled water to make the coconut cream sauce.

Serve the veggie chilli alongside the nachos, guacamole and coconut cream. Enjoy!

“… getting into a wetsuit (again) but this time without the help of an outdoor instructor“ Further escapades, all for a good cause

The last few lengths

What a week it has been! I am so thrilled, and a little bit exhausted, from the last seven days. Since my last blog post, I have managed to successfully complete a further 4 things from my ‘Big 30’ list (phew!).

I put out the last book for my shared bookshelf, I made it to France (sort of) by swimming my 22nd mile in the local pool, I competed in an Aquathon (I was quite literally a fish out of water!!)

The final book

and I gave a talk for the NCT entitled “Mental Health and Self Care: Looking after Mum during and after pregnancy “. 

Of these four things, the Aquathon was by far the most demanding. Not only did it involve open water swimming, something that I am not au fait with, but it also involved getting into a wetsuit (again) but this time without the help of an outdoor instructor. I actually, not joking, pulled a muscle in my leg getting it on, before the race even began 😆 whoops!

Facing the unknown

Then there were the other racers… they were all spritely and lithe, wearing their wetsuits like second skins (my suit’s crotch was still halfway down my thighs resulting in my walk being that of someone who had lost their horse). They were clearly seasoned competitors who knew each other, the loch and the running route that followed the swim. I won’t gloss over this fact… I came stone cold last. But, I did it! Out of my depth, out of my comfort zone and, for the best part of my run, out of my trousers (the transition from wetsuit to running kit in an open area, whilst damp, is really quite a skill it would appear). I completed the course.

Still smiling… just

My husband and kids were once again key in this achievement, giving the best encouragement from the Loch side. My daughter actually started giving me a physical boost up the backside on my second running lap of the course! I love that, even in the evening drizzle, they were all there waiting for me to finish, and, when I eventually did finish, my son came bounding over to me with a big smile and a biscuit (which I didn’t eat as it is still vegan month).

With my medal

All of the other competitors were so kind and encouraging also, despite their initial intimidating appearances – I genuinely felt like an imposter at the start. Now that I know what to expect, I think that I will sign myself up for future events at the Loch, although I will just focus on beating my own time for now. 

The following night I gave a talk about Mental Health for the NCT. I was so nervous for this, my legs were very shaky I won’t lie. I also had a very sore throat, but I like to think that this resulted in me sounding husky and mysterious rather than like Darth Vader. I was one of 4 guest speakers at a Bump Club Fair, attended by expecting mothers and their partners. When I arrived was quite overwhelmed to see that the sign up sheet for my talk was completely full.  During the talk, I covered a little bit of my past battles with depression and OCD, how I began my path to recovery, including meeting my dear friend Natalie and starting a PANDAS group with her, and then how I practice self care and grounding every day. I really hope that someone in that room found what I spoke about of some help. 

Relief post talk

Next up on my list of challenges is one that will quite possibly be harder even than the Aquathon. Next, I will endeavour to eat an entire tub of Twiglets. Please, send love and support my way! I will need it for this… 

“…On a bender with Lady V’s Blender” Vegan Month, Weeks 1 and 2

I have been vegan for a couple of weeks now and I have to admit, I sort of love it! I have been pleasantly surprised by how much you can actually still eat on a vegan diet. Before starting Vegan Month, I had visions of me being hungry all the time and desperately clinging to lettuce leaves like they were the holy grail, or walking past the butchers and having to have my fingers forcibly removed from their door frame. Happily, neither scenario has happened (at least not yet, but never say never I suppose). 

My mummy’s vegan chocolate cake

I began Vegan Month the day after climbing Everest. Sorry did I say Everest, I meant Nevis (on the day it certainly was my Everest!). I was very lucky that I was staying at my parent’s house that day and, as always, my mummy took excellent care of me. She whipped me up a vegan Sunday feast – I had not only a scrumptious vegan crumble after my vegan pecan pasta lunch, but she also baked me a wickedly rich vegan chocolate cake. I hadn’t appreciated how decadent vegan dining could be (thus the lettuce leaf vision). That day, in recovery mode from the ascent and decent of the previous day, I sat down with some vegan cookery books borrowed from the library and wrote myself a menu for the coming week. 

In the 17 days of being a vegan, I haven’t actually repeated a meal and many of them I will absolutely be cooking again, regardless of my dietary preferences. The Indian spiced chickpea tacos I made for one of our weekend dinners, complete with a cashew nut ‘sour cream’, was honestly one of the best dishes I’ve ever had.

Indian spiced tacos

Then there were the vegan Oreo brownies that I made for afternoon tea when we had guests. Oh. My. Goodness. They were some of the fudgiest and moreish treats known to come out of my oven. I’ve also become a bit of a smoothie and soup goddess, if I do say so myself. I could write a catalogue, as a follow up to “50 shades of Red”, called “On a bender with Lady V’s Blender”. For example, today for my breakfast I had a cacao, peanut butter, almond milk and banana milkshake, followed a few hours later with lightly spiced red lentil soup for lunch.

Breakfast milkshake

Liquid lunches are a lot more nutritious now than they were in my university days that’s for sure.

I haven’t felt any extreme deprivation in my diet but there are two definite gaps in my July… I do miss having cow’s milk in my tea – sadly I personally find the alternatives too insipid for a true cup of English Breakfast. I also miss bacon. Last weekend I was away camping with my family and on our last morning we decided to treat ourselves to breakfast at the beach diner. My kids and husband all had waffles for their breakfast (my husband’s waffle came with bacon) and it took a lot of will power not to reach across the table and snaffle a morsel from each plate. I did have a very tasty breakfast of mushrooms and beans on toast (no butter), but I will definitely be going back to sample those waffles once July is over. 

Campsite black bean stew

Despite these two ‘pangs’ in my new diet, I will say this, I feel so so healthy, both in mind and body. I have noticed a significant reduction in headaches and mid afternoon fatigue in the last couple of weeks, and on the days that I have accidentally forgotten to take my medication, the side effects have not been nearly as severe. In fact, I sometimes don’t even realise that I’ve missed a day until the following morning when I look at the pill packet. Usually I would suffer from a very harsh headache, nausea, stomach cramps and general weakness. I’m sure you can imagine it is rather pleasant not experiencing that. 

She carried a watermelon 🍉

“…50 Shades of Red” Feeling the Ben Nevis burn

Onwards!

I will start this post quite frankly. Ben Nevis was, by far and away, the hardest thing that I have done this year. I genuinely did not think that it would be quite as difficult as it was. I knew that it would be a challenge (which is why it was picked as one of my 30 things) but the physical and mental struggle that day was constant. With other challenges the nerves / fear / pain et cetera were all fairly swiftly displaced by excitement and even enjoyment. This was not the case for Nevis.

On a mission to find water

I felt physically sick with the effort. It was a scorching day (at the end of the day I was sporting a rather impressive Ben Nevis Burn, despite applying and reapplying factor 50) and I drank my own body weight in water. I was not alone in struggling in the heat. I could create a catalogue of faces from that day and name it “50 Shades of Red”. Even my husband, a keen hill walker and Nevis veteran, found this particular climb arduous. At times I honestly thought that this would be a challenge that I would not complete. The temptation to turn back and go home was incredibly strong. Had my husband not been ahead of me carrying the water perhaps I would have done, but my thirst kept driving me forward towards him 😄

Smile or squint

This is not to say however that I had a bad day (I am fully aware that I sound like I am contradicting myself now). I really loved that I was up in the hills with my husband. Spending time, just the two of us, together while doing something fun doesn’t happen often. Two small children and a full time job do take up a considerable chunk of our lives as I’m sure many of you can emphasise with. I loved sitting at the side of the path with him during our breaks (we took a lot!) and looking at the ever expanding views.

Thumbs up for lunch

I did burn my bottom on one rest stop though, as the rock I chose as my perch had been heated up quite drastically by the sun, but otherwise the stops were very pleasant. I also, completely by chance, bumped into a chap that I used to go to school with.

He was coming down from the summit as I was, still, on my way up to the top. This encounter was not only lovely and funny, it also provided another chance for me to catch my breath. Win, win! I found it incredible too the amount of charity t.shirts being sported on Ben Nevis.

Oh hey there!

So so many good causes being represented give me hope for humanity. Also (as mentioned in previous blog posts, I am rather competitive), all of the various groups and individuals I set my sights on during the climb, I managed to beat to the top – Even the tall, tanned, hot blonde whose legs alone were the same length as I am tall. The views from the top, and the elation of getting there, were splendid. That moment when we reached the summit was absolutely amazing. Even with the nausea, jelly limbs, dry throat and ever increasing body temperature, I couldn’t help but smile as though I had got a coat hanger stuck. And, it is quite a cool thought that, for a brief period of time on Saturday, David and I were the highest people in Great Britain.

That view though…

 

Ben Nevis, I’m coming for ya!

Tomorrow I am taking on one of my biggest mental and physical challenges for ‘30 things’, climbing Ben Nevis. I am both nervous and excited by this. I just hope that tomorrow I can believe in myself enough that my excitement overcomes my nervousness…

“… It was wet, muddy and such a giggle“ becoming a human sponge target

I have a couple of things to write about for this blog post. I will start with the good…

I completed another one of my challenges for 30 things this weekend 😊 I was a human sponge target, to the joy and hilarity of my kids.

My son checking the stocks

It was fun to be doing something that both my family and the community could join in with. It was wet, muddy and such a giggle (These three things seem to be a theme of my year so far). I am very grateful that on the day that I was pelted with dripping wet sponges it was a warm, calm day and the water was a refreshing splash rather than an icy torture. I did however make the rookie mistake of talking at the same time as someone was taking aim and throwing a sponge at me, resulting a mouthful of muddy, barky, water. After that, having learnt my lesson, I kept my mouth and eyes firmly shut. I don’t know if I should be flattered or concerned at the eagerness everyone had for flinging sponges at me. The smiles that I could see before scrunching up my face in its defensive position were full of excitement and pleasure. This morning as I write though, I am feeling optimistic, so I am going to settle upon flattered. I had been in the stocks for about 45 minutes and I was just about to be released, happy that I had truly embodied the sponge target role to its full potential.

Set for a bullseye

Oh how wrong I was…! Enter stage left, my good friends and their entourage of children. Before I knew it multiple sponges were flying at me from left, right and centre culminating in the entire bucket of sponge water being enthusiastically upturned over my head. Like I said, I am glad that it was a warm and calm day 😆

The other point that I would like to write about today is an emotional realisation. Over the last five months I have been so lucky to meet many wonderful, kind and inspiring people. It has been a pleasure to invest not just my time but also my heart and soul into my activities with them. Had I not been doing my ‘30 things’ challenges the likelihood of ever crossing paths with these groups and characters would have been slim to none. I have been pushing myself out of my comfort zone, resulting in some wonderful bonds and connections, completely unique in my life up to this point. But, here is the question, where do I draw the line? I am naturally a caring person, and I don’t like seeing others distressed and upset. I can care so much, that their turmoil can become my turmoil. I can’t help but put myself in their position in a desperate attempt to remove the weight from their shoulders and put it on mine. This is not healthy. So, what can I do? I need to find a way to support and empower those that I care for, but in a way that I can still keep my emotional sanity in tact. I need to ensure that at the end of each day I can introspectively disengage from external stimuli. I need to allow myself a clear conscience. Easy, right…? Sadly it doesn’t always seem to be.

Soggy charity buckets