Undateable…

This is a blog post that I’m not entirely convinced I should be writing, as I’m not really sure where my mind is with the whole thing. I was going to just brush the whole thing under the carpet and pretend it had never happened, but I can’t seem to stop thinking about it, and I figure writing about it will help me move on.

So here it is… On Friday morning I woke up to an email from the TV company Betty, who make the show ‘The Undateables’ on Channel 4. One of the casting assistant producers was basically asking whether I, or anyone I knew would be interested in appearing in the new series of the show. The email was fairly polite, and cleverly written in that it was obviously trying to not insult me… but I’m afraid that it failed pretty miserably with that.

The first thing that I was completely insulted by was the fact that she (I will not name the person who sent the email) claimed to have read my blog and had found it ‘really interesting’. However, a couple of paragraphs later she asked if I could help put them in contact with people through my charity work with Reach. Well Reach is the Association for Children with Upper Limb Deficiency, which I’m sorry to say I hadn’t even heard of, let alone worked with, until she mentioned them. So I’m guessing that she was using some sort of standard template email and forgot to change the charity name to one slightly more relevant to a spinal injury.

If this is the case that there is a standard email that the company is using to ‘recruit’ undateable people then I find that pretty appalling to be honest. To approach people specifically with a programme title of The Undateables is quite a bold move, and I think even the most thick skinned people would take some offence to that. It is one thing to advertise online somewhere that you are looking for people to appear on the new series, but to target individuals is pretty harsh.

Now I haven’t actually watched the show, but from what I hear from my family and friends is that it is quite a sweet show. It’s main focus seems to be matching up people with learning disabilities, or other mental/physical disabilities that people have had their whole lives. That doesn’t mean that they are happy about being different or that they enjoy not being ‘normal’, but it does mean that they don’t know any other way. In my case, I was ‘normal’ for the first 23 years of my life. And then I had a pretty horrendous accident that I still find extremely hard to come to terms with. In my mind I still try to be the person I was before my accident and I try so incredibly hard to not let the wheelchair hold me back. I tell everyone that I’m just the same person I was before, except I’m sitting down all the time now. So reading that email was pretty much a slap in the face if I’m honest.

I have also made no secret of the fact that I don’t really think I will ever meet anyone and have my happy fairytale ending that I used to believe I would have. I find it hard to believe that someone will be able to look past the wheelchair, beyond the paralysis and see the real me. I know this sounds really negative and cynical and sooo many people have told me that they are sure I would meet someone if I just put myself ‘out there’. Well I’m not ready to do that yet; confidence since my accident has been a real issue for me. I still don’t really like going out in public and don’t like that I can’t blend in anymore. But I have got much better at it over the last year, and I’ve actually started to have a bit more fun and feel more like my old self at times. Being labelled as Undateable knocks me right back down again and just reminds me that actually I’m not the same as everyone else and that I was right to think that I will probably never find anyone.

My family have been completely outraged by this email. They think it is completely unacceptable, and my brother-in-law is actually going to meet with the head producer next week to discuss it further. I, as usual, am putting on a brave face and saying it doesn’t bother me…I have learned over the past 3 years that this is the easiest way. I have grown a pretty tough outer shell, but underneath it all I am unfortunately still a little ball of slightly screwed up emotions. My future love life, and probable lack of marriage and kids, has always been the thing that I am most sensitive about. And somehow a complete stranger from Betty TV company has managed to hit me right where it hurts.

 

Round 3

I am once again back in Kunming for the third, and most likely, final time. I have been back for 10 days now, and have settled back into my routine. This time I found it extremely tough to leave England and I have to say I was absolutely dreading coming back here. The hours I put into the gym are so exhausting, and all I remember from the last time I was here (Feb – May) was the huge amount of strength and motivation that I had to dig deep to find every single day. However… I am giving the programme another 3 months, and I will return home for good at the end of October.

There are numerous reasons why I will end my time here then; the main one being that it will have been a year (on and off) by then, and my apartment lease runs out, and I would have to commit to another full year on the lease if I wanted to stay longer. The apartment rental system out here is strange, and you actually have to pay a year’s rent up front, and not on a month by month basis. I also do not want to spend another winter out here with the lack of central heating! And there are a few things happening in England this winter that I am NOT missing out on…but I can’t say any more about that for now.

I massively blame my family for me not wanting to return here this time around… I had such an amazing 6 weeks back in England with them that I just didn’t want to leave. Two of my sisters got married and my parents moved house, so it was extremely chaotic and I was busy pretty much every single day. The weddings were both absolutely stunning, and were just such happy occasions. I know that sounds so cheesy, but it really is true. And now all three of my sisters are married, and for the first time I have some brothers 🙂 My dad must be quite happy that there are some more men in the family now… he has been outnumbered for years and years!

Sam

My very proud dad walking Sam down the aisle

My favourite picture from the day... the brand new Mr and Mrs Joe North!

My favourite picture from the day… the brand new Mr and Mrs Joe North!

I'm not sure Pip could look any more happy if she tried!

Mr and Mrs George Hamilton… Could Pip look any more happy if she tried?!!

I'm not sure the confetti experience looks all that fun based on these photos!!

I’m not sure the confetti experience looks all that fun based on these photos!!

The other major event while I was back home was my parents moving house. It was very sad to say goodbye to the house they have lived in for the last 10 years. There are so many amazing memories from ‘WC’ and it will be sadly missed by a lot of friends and family who have spent time there over the last decade. But, the new house will be fantastic (it needs a bit of work still), and it has the most spectacular views over the South Downs.

Creepy misty morning view!

Creepy misty morning view!

And 3 days before I flew back to China I braved my fear of crowds and went to see Eminem at Wembley Stadium. Anyone who knows me well will know how much of a huge Eminem fan I have been since I was a teenager… I was never really into boybands.. just Eminem! So when I heard he was coming to London I had the major dilemma about whether to try and get tickets or whether to return to China as soon as the weddings were over. Wellllllll…. my over excited teenage self won after my sister managed to get me the last remaining accessible tickets. So I delayed my return to Kunming and off I went to Wembley Stadium. I had such an incredible evening and I am sooo glad I went. And I have to give massive credit to Wembley Stadium as the whole experience was very stress free. I parked right next to the stadium (less than 100m from the main entrance), and there was an accessible loo right near where we were sitting. I had an amazing view of the stage, and the staff were very attentive and helpful. And considering I am really scared of crowds, I managed to enjoy being surrounded by 90 000 other people!

90 000 is a lot of people... and it wasn't even full by this point.

90 000 is a lot of people… and it wasn’t even full by this point.

Excitement mixed with sheer terror!

Excitement mixed with sheer terror!

But it was so worth it!!!

But it was so worth it!!!

After my whirlwind 6 weeks in England it wasn’t really a surprise that 30+ hours a week in the gym in China wasn’t the most appealing prospect! I was, however, really looking forward to seeing the great friends that I have made out here… especially Ali, Emma and Jenny. I wouldn’t have bothered coming back if they weren’t going to be here, and they are definitely all firm friends for life. It will be very hard to say goodbye when I do finally leave Kunming, but we already have plans in place to see each other again soon.

And now that I’ve been back in the gym for a week I am getting used to it again… I do enjoy the exercise, and I know how good it is for me… So with some great memories of my England visit…bring on the next 3 months of hard work!!

Sorry it’s been a while…

Apologies for the lack of blogging over the last few weeks. I am currently back in England enjoying some down time. I would love to say I am relaxing and recharging my batteries before I return to Kunming in a few weeks but actually things are pretty chaotic here! In between 2 of my sisters’ weddings, a house move and sorting out a new Motability car I am trying my hardest to keep up with my exercise regime.

As a result, blogging has taken a bit of a back seat. But my friends at the Rooprai Spinal Trust asked me to guest blog for them again to talk some more about my experience in China. So my latest blog entry is over on their website…

http://www.rstrust.com/blog/a-taste-of-china-part-2/

And I will be back blogging on here again very soon.

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Sorry it’s been a while…

Apologies for the lack of blogging over the last few weeks. I am currently back in England enjoying some down time. I would love to say I am relaxing and recharging my batteries before I return to Kunming in a few weeks but actually things are pretty chaotic here! In between 2 of my sisters’ weddings, a house move and sorting out a new Motability car I am trying my hardest to keep up with my exercise regime.

As a result, blogging has taken a bit of a back seat. But my friends at the Rooprai Spinal Trust asked me to guest blog for them again to talk some more about my experience in China. So my latest blog entry is over on their website…

http://www.rstrust.com/blog/a-taste-of-china-part-2/

And I will be back blogging on here again very soon.

Last week in China (for now)

The last couple of weeks have been a bit of a struggle for me, and so I am very happy that I am about to start my final week out here before flying back to England for a month.

The main reason why I have been struggling is that I have been suffering from pretty bad headaches and dizziness/light headedness, which really makes a full day of exercise challenging. I have no idea why this has suddenly occurred, and I have had all sorts of blood tests and blood pressure/heart rate monitoring, all of which have proved inconclusive. The doctors at the hospital seem keen to come up with some kind of diagnosis for me, but I honestly believe it is just exhaustion and my body telling me to chill out for a bit. I have extremely sore back and neck muscles, which I definitely think contribute to the headaches, and I think the dizziness may be a result of the very hot weather that we have here again.

So I try my hardest to workout as much as possible, but unfortunately standing and walking seem to make me feel worse, so I have been cutting the afternoon sessions short to come home and lie down. But not putting in a full day at the gym makes me feel lazy and guilty, so I have this internal battle where I can’t decide whether to really push myself to breaking point, or to ease off a bit until I feel better.

My mum arrived here last week, which makes my decisions easier as she will insist I rest when I start to look pale and spaced out! She has also taken over with the cooking and domestic chores, which gives me even more time to relax (but again it makes me feel lazy and guilty!) It is so nice to have her back here for a bit, and to have some company… although it is very strange as I am so used to being on my own in my apartment.

Anyway, we will fly back home in a week, and a few days later my sister is getting married. And then at the end of June my other sister is getting married, and then after that I will return to China for another few months. I am so excited about seeing all of my family and friends, and I cannot wait to sleep in my own bed! Chinese mattresses are not very comfy.. they need to embrace memory foam out here!

I will also be able to continue my strict exercise regime in England, as I definitely do not want to undo all my hard work over the last few months. When I was back in January, I had a walking frame built that is an exact replica of the Chinese walking frames. A few times a week I was able to walk with the help of my mum, dad and personal trainer Jo. It was great, but I would have liked to have done it more. This time when I go back, I will hopefully only need one person to help me, so I will be able to practise much more often. Over the next few days in the gym, my mum is going to pay close attention to the assistance I am given with the walking, and will practice under the guidance of my physio so that she knows exactly what to do when we are in England.

A couple of weeks ago I made a ‘montage’ video of my time in China so far. There is an annual charity golf day held in my honour, which as I couldn’t attend this year, I decided to send this video instead. The funds they raised last year all went towards the Kunming Walking Programme, so I thought it would be appropriate to show everyone what their money is going towards. But I also want everyone else that has supported me to see this amazing opportunity that I have been given… and I am not just talking about those that have contributed money. All of the emails, comments, and well wishes are so so important to me to keep me positive. I can’t tell you how much they all mean, and how much I appreciate them all.

Here is the video…and hopefully I will be seeing lots of you over the summer when I am home.

 

 

Another year older (and wiser)

I think I am officially in my late twenties now, which I find quite depressing! I sort of feel like since my accident the years have just been wasted… and I have probably missed out on so much potential fun. But I don’t like to dwell on that and this year I had some very unique but very special birthday celebrations to mark the big 2-7!!

I was told a few days before my birthday that Dr Zhu, the head of the Kunming Walking Programme, wanted to throw a small party in the gym for me. I said there really wasn’t a need, but she insisted, and so plans continued behind my back for a few days. I have picked up enough Chinese to know when people are talking about me, especially when it is right in front of me, so I knew that something was being planned, but I had no idea what the actual details were…I will cut to the chase, and just show you a picture of the incredible effort that all of the staff went to…

birthday Birthdays are not really a big thing in the south of China. Emma, for example, didn’t tell me about her birthday until after it had occurred, and she said she hasn’t celebrated it since she was a child. So it was really touching that all of the Chinese went to such an effort for me. As my family weren’t with me, they wanted to make me feel special, and they definitely succeeded. I had a card, cake, presents, flowers and sooo much food. As you can see it was quite an impressive party.

The next day Ali and her dad Ralph took me out for lunch along with Emma and Jenny. We went to the InterContinental Hotel, which is our new discovery in Kunming and I think it is probably everyone’s favourite place now! It is less than 10 minutes away by taxi, which is amazing seeing as everywhere else is at least 30 minutes away. The hotel was only built about 9 months ago so is almost brand new, and it is absolutely gorgeous. It is also enormous, and accessibility is not an issue in the slightest (which is a first for Kunming!).

The entrance is impressive enough...

The entrance is impressive enough…

2014-04-26 11.02.41

2014-04-26 11.03.382014-04-26 11.17.22We ate in the Chinese restaurant within the hotel. Even ordering food from here is exciting as the menus are on iPads and each dish has a photo and description in English and Chinese. And then you just select what you want and the order goes through automatically. I was pretty impressed with this!

birthday

The food was delicious…I had been quite overwhelmed by the huge amount of choice, so Ali took charge and ordered a selection of dishes for the table. There was so much food and it was all presented so beautifully. And for dessert Jenny had bought be a cheesecake, which was probably the best cheesecake I have ever had. I thought the Chinese were pretty rubbish at sweet food, but I guess I was wrong!

More Than We Could Eat

Birthday Reflections

For me the lunch was absolutely perfect… the hotel makes you forget that you are even in China and instead transports you to some luxury tropical paradise. It was just what I needed after a few very intense weeks in the gym.

I also managed to celebrate my birthday with my family over Skype… my mum and dad very kindly made a cake, lit the candles and sung happy birthday to me, along with my sister who was part of our 3-way conversation. My parents then ate the cake in front of me (they’re nice like that!)

Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 11.41.43

So now I am a year older, and I would like to think wiser! I never imagined on my 26th birthday that I would be in China celebrating this year… so who knows where I will be next year and what I’ll be doing.

Still plodding along…

I thought that being in China would give me much more interesting things to write about on my blog… but as I wrote in my previous post, I have such a set routine here and I rarely do anything else! Even at the weekends I don’t often do much. I always have so much catching up to do… emailing, skyping, sleeping… that the time flies by and Monday morning always comes around so quickly again. I think this is probably a good thing though as if I have too much free time to think about things then I start thinking too much about everything!

I have tried to change my attitude in the gym over the last couple of weeks… and think I am finally starting to show some progress here! About two weeks ago it started to get really hot, and for the same reason why it gets very cold in the gym in winter, it gets very hot during the summer. A large part of the gym has a glass roof, so it sort of becomes like a greenhouse when the sun is out, and it gets very stuffy and was making the afternoons extremely unpleasant. I really let it bother me and was getting so frustrated every afternoon as I would start to feel quite light headed and dizzy when I was trying to walk. The more frustrated I would get, the worse my walking would be, and I would get even more angry.

After trying to walk in different parts of the hospital but finding that either they were just as hot or the floor was too slippery, I finally just accepted that the weather isn’t going to change any time soon, and I may as well just try and stay calm so that I can get some decent walking time in the afternoons. So this week I managed the whole week without crying or getting angry. And I am pretty happy with that because I am often at the point of physical exhaustion, a time where my emotions are on the edge anyway!

With regard to my walking progress… well I think it’s still progressing in the right direction although I often wonder what the next stage is for me, or whether I will ever reach a stage where my progress becomes useful in everyday life. This is why I mentioned earlier that I don’t like to have too much time to sit and think about everything. I have finally stopped asking my physio constant questions about progress and expectations and the future… and I am just putting everything into this programme and seeing what I can gain from it. I have realised that this is the most sensible option because otherwise I drive myself mad.

The concept of ‘progress’ for spinal injuries is always so difficult to measure anyway…Changes can be so minute and quite often do not result in useful function anyway. And because my injury level is around waist height, it is always hard for me to know if I have improved my core and back muscles because they are all sort of joined together. Obviously from looking at the videos of my walking since December it looks like I have made progress, but I find it so hard to judge that because I only focus on the negatives! I look at my current walking videos (I will upload a new one tomorrow) and see all the things that I still can’t do as opposed to the things that I can do. I did say I was trying to work on my attitude… I obviously still have a little more work to do!

Last week I also embraced some Traditional Chinese Medicine and had some Cupping Therapy on my back. The idea is that it releases toxins from you body. They use little cup things that suction the skin and burst the blood vessels on the surface of the skin for the toxins to leave the body. It was sort of painful at the time, but I quite liked it and am definitely going to keep having it done… The picture makes it look a lot more dramatic than it was!

cuppingAnyway, I have a some things happening over the next few weeks outside of the gym that will keep me motivated and energised. Next weekend it’s my birthday so I’m going to the InterContinental Hotel for lunch, which will be awesome. I will have to take lots of pictures to share as the hotel really is spectacular!