Life · Personal

Finding balance 

Today’s been a really quiet one. It’s been a day of taking things slowly, resting, doing things that require little energy or concentration. I’ve watched some telly that I’d recorded or that had appeared on Netflix while I was away, I did some easy crafting, I played my new favourite low brain power game on my phone. 

And now? Now I’m tucked up in bed with my last cuppa of the day, quickly writing something here before I crack open my copy of American Gods so that I can make a few pages start on reading it before starting to watch the TV series. 

This is what my looking after myself after I’ve overdone it looks like. I had a fantastic long weekend away but the consequence of having a few days away like that is the need for downtime to manage the pain and fatigue that overdoing it brings. The fun I had seeing my friends and their boys is definitely worth it, but now I have to balance myself back out. This is one of the sides of having an invisible disability that most people don’t see which in itself made me decide to blog a little about it tonight. 

Personal

Moving on from fear.

A bit of advance warning, this one’s going to be a bit on the long side. It’s important to me though so I’m not apologising for this fact.

I made a decision a while ago to stop talking about my Hypermobility Syndrome (HMS from here on in) on this blog, and hid all the posts I’d made about it behind a password. This was a decision made entirely through fear, and one I’ve come to realise was entirely wrong.

Why did I make it? I’ve been applying for full time jobs for quite a while now, and as anyone doing the same knows, you’re bombarded by a constant message that anything you put online may be seen by a prospective employer and influence their decision about you. I thought that having anything on my blog talking about the difficulties I face as a result of my HMS would make any prospective employer reject me before I even got through the door for an interview.

I’ve changed my mind about this now, hence this post. The thing is, whether or not I blog or tweet about being a bendy (one of the adopted terms for anyone with one of the hypermobility syndromes) I still am one. Whether or not I talk about it I will still have days where everything hurts (there are no days where nothing hurts) and will still have days when I have obvious strapping or need to use my stick.

My stick. He’s a thing all of its own. I have a walking stick, his name is Eames*. Here he is:

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I bought him after a trip to Portmeirion showed that sometimes I need a bit of assistance getting round places, and that without that assistance I’m putting myself at risk of injury and forcing the people around me to share the stress of this risk. Since buying him I’ve found he’s really helpful – the instability of my joints means each step I take is a little more effortful than each step a non bendy person takes. Over a day out this is quite a bit of extra effort, if I use the stick then this extra effort is reduced and I can, within reason, keep up (and significantly reduce my risk of falls).

After buying Eames I used him most of the times I should. But not always, and in recent times not at all. This too has been driven by fear – fear of judgement, and in some cases fear that a prospective employer might see and again decide against employing me. See how much this fear has taken a hold? That I would actively not use something that makes my life better for fear it might stop someone employing me?

The penny dropping moment came during my recent fixed term employment in a HR department. As I’ve already mentioned, nothing I do will change the fact I have HMS – it’s a chronic, lifelong condition. I need to work somewhere that will accept I have HMS and will give me the necessary support (though this pretty much amounts to a comfy chair and workstation with things at the right heights – same as everyone would need), the types of employers I’m imagining who wouldn’t employ me because of the condition (and yes I know they can’t outwardly say it’s because of this) wouldn’t support me long term anyway and wouldn’t be the right fit for me.

Fundamentally I know how to manage myself. Regardless of what is hurting on any given day I know my personal work arounds so I can still achieve what I need to achieve. I’m not going to be applying for jobs that would be beyond my physical capabilities (there was a great sounding job I found that specified it involved carrying boxes up and down a spiral staircase so I sensibly didn’t apply) so the truth of the matter is that there’s no reason my HMS should be a barrier to anyone employing me.

I actually think that my HMS has given me skills that I’ll use in the workplace. I’ve become increasingly creative with my problem solving (I’ve had a post about how I bake despite having bendy hands written in draft form form for ages). I’ve also developed my information finding and evaluating skills – there’s a whole heap of help and support out there online but finding it amongst the less helpful stuff is a challenge.

I saw this picture on Hannah Ensor’s blog and it really spoke to me (the fact it suggests I’m a penguin is a happy coincidence)

Penguin

No matter how much I try to avoid mentioning I’m a bendy, I am and always will be. I’m stopping wasting time and energy worrying about this – I’ve got far better ways to use both!

* Eames is of course named after the character in Inception. One of my favourite films, and the part played by one of my favourite actors. When choosing a name (I always name things after characters or real life people) I wanted someone stable and supportive, and entirely illogical the patterning made me think of Tom Hardy’s tattoos – something we have no idea whether Eames shared or not!

Baking · Blogging · Craft · Personal · Photography · Writing

New and Improving.

AKA The post where I talk about last year’s not really resolutions and set this year’s not really resolutions.

Last year instead of making specific resolutions I decided I was going instead to try and make a couple of changes in how I thought. I decided I was going to get back to focusing on the positives (for various reasons I’d started to fall into the trap of focusing on the negatives which was really out of character for me) and I was going to be more grateful for all the things in my life that made me happy. I definitely feel like over the course of the year I did quite well with this, my positivity has returned and I often catch myself before I focus on the negative of something. I don’t do it always of course, it’s a work in progress but one I feel content about continuing.

This year I’ve decided to do something different. It’s shaping up to be a year of change in many ways and I thought I would use that as my inspiration. I’ve thought about a lot of the things I love to do and I’ve decided for each area of my interests something I want to try and something I want to get better at. Here’s the list:

Baking.
New – Sweet treats.
I want to start making sweets and truffles, and anything else little and sweet. I had the Sweets Made Simple recipe book and a sugar thermometer for my birthday so I’m looking forward to a year of experimentation and tasting!

Improve – Making biscuits.
Making biscuits. I bake lots of cakes but always avoid biscuits, I haven’t had great success with gluten free biscuits so always return to cakes which work. This year I’m going to get better at biscuits.

Crafting.
New – Project Life.
This year I’m going to start Project Life, a journalling / memory keeping technique. I have plenty to say about starting this so expect a blog post in the next few days dedicated to it.

Improve – Crochet.
I taught myself how to crochet around 20 years ago but didn’t really keep it up and now barely remember any of it. I’ve been pinning all sorts of cute patterns to my boards on Pinterest so this year I’m going to brush up my skills and start making some of them.

Photography.
New – Photo editing.
Despite taking loads of photos I’ve never developed any editing skills whatsoever. This year I’m going to start learning how to make the most of my photos once they’re taken.

Improve – People photos.
Taking photos of people, particularly grown ups is something I’m not very good at. The majority of the photos I take are of views, flowers, objects and young children – basically things that don’t talk, or don’t require significant interaction. I always feel very awkward approaching the idea of taking photos of people so end up avoiding doing it, but this year I’m going to try to get much better at it.

Writing.
New – finishing a novel.
This is probably the one thing on the list that I feel most strongly about. I have started and stepped away from a good number of novels, never having the courage to push through to the end. This will be the year when this changes though, I will finish a novel and put it away and then get it back out and start learning how to edit something creative.

Improve – blogging.
I talked recently about stepping away from reviewing books on my blog (expect news about how and where I will be reviewing them later this month) and returning to a more general blog. I want to improve two things in my blogging that are entirely linked – I want to improve the frequency of my posts and I want to be better at writing longer posts. I don’t feel like I have established my blogging voice – spending so long writing reviews and writing academic things has definitely had an impact so this is what I want to improve over the year.

 

There we have it. 8 plans for the year, 4 things to try and 4 things to get better at. All of them are things I want to be blogging about so hopefully it should be pretty easy to track my progress over the year.

Personal · Reading

My 2014 in books – the halfway point.

I love reading and I love statistics so I always love posts about reading stats, whether my own or others’. The last time I talked properly about the stats behind my reading was at the end of 2012 (you can see that post here) – I wasn’t so good about keeping detailed stats in 2013 unfortunately.

I didn’t set any specific reading goals at the beginning of 2014, I simply decided I wanted to be more mindful about what I was reading. I wanted to continue to extend the range of books I was reading, and I wanted to make sure there was greater diversity in my reading both when it came to the characters in the books and the people who were writing them. With that in mind I drew up a spreadsheet so that I could track all sorts of data about what I was reading and have been filling it in ever since.

I wasn’t going to write a halfway post which is why now I’ve decided to do it it’s coming towards the end of July rather than the beginning (I am still only counting the books read between 1st January and 30th June). Part of this was because I didn’t read as many books as I’d hoped in the first half of the year. I think though that it’s still worth looking at how my reading in the first six months of the year breaks down – I have a feeling the picture in the second half of the year may be a little different. No graphs in this post I’m afraid, you’ll have to come back at the end of December for that fun!

The Basics.
So far in 2014 I’ve read 32 books. Of these the target age breakdown is as follows:

Children’s (8 and under) – 2
Middle Grade (8 – 12) – 10
Young Adult – 15
Adult – 5

I’m a little surprised by this, whilst I knew the Children’s figure would be low I definitely didn’t expect the Middle Grade figure to be as high as it is. I love middle grade fiction but hadn’t realised I’d read quite so much already this year.

Only one of the books was non-fiction, of the 31 fiction books I read 1 was a novella, 2 were picture books and the rest were novels. I haven’t read any short stories or graphic novels yet this year.

The Authors.
So far this year I’ve looked at a couple of traits for the authors who’ve written the books I’ve been reading. In terms of nationality they breakdown:

Australian – 1
French – 1
Irish – 2
American – 9
British – 19

I really wish there was a bit more of a range here. I’m really pleased to see that I’m reading lots of books by British authors, but I’m going to try harder to read more broadly for the rest of the year.

The gender breakdown is also something I’ve been interested in. So far I’ve read 19 books written by a female author, 12 books written by a male author and one book co-written by a male and female pairing.

8 of the 32 books are début novels, 7 of the these are by female authors. The début novelists come from 4 of the 5 nationalities I’ve read (Australia, France, USA (2) and UK (3) ).

The Books.
I’m not going to drill too deeply into the data I’ve been collecting on the books in this post. I’m going to pick out three of the things I’m really interested in but save the rest for my big round up at the end of the year – I think there will definitely be a couple of posts in it.

One thing I have been curious about is whether I naturally lean more towards standalone books or those which make up series. So far I’ve read 18 standalone books, 8 series openers, 3 books that are second in a series, 1 that’s third in the series, 1 from a series of companion novels and 1 prequel (the novella). This is pretty much as I expected, I sometimes find series harder to keep track of so have a bit of a habit of reading the first book in a series and then waiting until I can read all of the subsequent books in a row.

In addition to looking at the the gender of the author I’m also looking at the gender of the main characters of the books I’m reading. This one’s a little more tricky to record, there are books where I’m finding myself wondering about the most accurate way to describe it – some are dual narrative (though this is easy, I’m just recording the gender of each narrator), more difficult are the ones where I find myself wondering whether they have a true main character or fall more into the ensemble grouping. As it stands the breakdown is as follows (only includes novels and novellas):

Male Ensemble – 1
Dual Narrative Male and Male – 1
Mixed Ensemble – 3
Dual Narrative Female and Male – 4
Male Main Character – 8
Female Main Character – 13

For the same set of books I’ve also been looking at representation of diversity. I’ve been noting books that feature at least a significant supporting character from one or more minority groups. 5/29 feature at least one LGBT character, 3/29 have at least one character with a disability and 11/29 have one or more characters of colour. I’m being at least a little deliberate in my aims to read books with more diverse characters – if they’re not being read and talked about they’re not going to increase in their numbers. This is an area I really hope to do yet more with over the second half of the year.

The rest of the year.
I’m glad I’ve taken the time to look back at what I’ve been reading so far this year. There are some gaps I want to fix; to read more non-fiction books and some short stories and graphic novels for starters. I also want to try and broaden my reading further, I want to make sure I’ve read books by authors from all of the continents. Finally I want to keep doing what I’m doing, but just do more of it. Reading as many varied books as I can and talking about them.

Personal

A satisfied reader.

On Wednesday I read a brilliant book. Yesterday and today I haven’t gone near a book, I’ve read a few short stories, a heap of blog posts I’d got saved in my read it later list, and a couple of magazines. But I can’t bring myself to pick up another book, and I probably won’t for a few more days. (I should probably feel a little bad for the book that I left halfway through on Tuesday but I can’t quite bring myself to).

I only realised I did this earlier this year, but looking back I’ve done it for a long time. That point where you finish reading a book and you’ve loved it so absolutely and completely that the idea of starting another book feels like a completely alien concept? That’s where I am right now.

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The book in question was Something Like Normal by Trish Doller. I don’t know if I’ll review it or not, I have a couple of pages of notes I simply had to pour out of my brain once I’d finished reading but quite often I can’t find my way to review the books I love the most – there never seem to be the words to adequately do them justice.

I’m curious though about other readers, do they do the same and take a break after a perfect reading experience or do they dive right into the next one hoping to repeat the experience? I’m sure that like with everything to do with reading there’s a real variety of approaches – what’s yours?

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Hypermobility Syndrome and me.

In the lead up to this weekend’s 48 Hour Book Challenge I thought I would blog a bit about Hypermobility Syndrome, what it means to me and why I want to support the Hypermobility Syndrome Association through getting people to sponsor me.

I have always been clumsy, I could fall over in an empty room without even moving. I got a real reputation for picking up injuries in the stupidest ways – like damaging the ligaments in my wrist picking up a video cassette, that one took over 6 months to get to a basic level of healing. It was only a few years ago that I got an explanation for this, that it is Joint Hypermobility Syndrome (HMS).

The biggest effect HMS has on me is that it causes pain. Currently it affects my hands, arms, legs and feet. My legs are pretty equally affected, but I’m lucky that so far my left arm and hand are far less affected than my right. Every day is different, there’s little predicting with it – today for instance is a pretty good day and other than my right hand everything feels pretty good.

HMS does have some lesser effects too, it’s the reason I fall over – my joints are less stable than a normal person’s, making them wobbly. Even standing still takes effort, having to concentrate on keeping my hips, knees and ankles all cooperaing together. I also experience partial dislocations from time to time, though these feel weird rather than particularly painful. Finally it causes me fatigue – wobbly joints are less efficient joints making it more tiring to do things.

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The Hypermobility Syndrome Association (HMSA) provides loads of help, support and information. Their website has become my first port of call when I want to know anything, they have answers to pretty much any question. They also have a forum which I have found invaluable – being able to search and find out how other people manage the effects of HMS is incredibly useful, and reassuring.

So this is why I’ve chosen HMSA as my charity to support for the 48 Hour Book Challenge, I know they’ll continue to support me for many years. I’ve already had a few sponsors, and I’m thoroughly grateful to each of them, but of course I’d love a few more so if you would like to help you can sponsor me here. Thank you.

Personal · Reading

I read because…

This morning I saw this poem shared on an email discussion group I’m part of, and I remembered that I’d seen it before and meant to blog about it and then promptly forgotten all about it. So here it is, author Richard Peck’s poem about reading.

I read because one life isn’t enough,
and in the pages of a book I can be anybody;

I read because the words that build
the story become mine, to build my life;

I read not for happy endings but for new beginnings;
I’m just beginning myself, and I wouldn’t mind a map;

I read because I have friends who don’t,
and young though they are, they’re beginning to run out of material;

I read because every journey begins at the library,
and it’s time for me to start packing;

I read because one of these days I’m going to get out of this town,
and I’m going to go everywhere and meet everyone, and I want to be ready.

I can’t begin to put into words how much this resonates with me. Every single one of these things describes my life at one time or another, that final one feels incredibly relevant to my thinking at the moment.

When I looked for the full wording of the poem for this post I found this lovely post from Notes from the Slushpile about Richard Peck. He sounds absolutely fascinating, I know I’m going to be reading more about him as soon as I can.