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What makes me, me.

The first task to tackle in my Dawn French ‘Me You Diary’ was to list everything that I am. I thought I’d find it quite difficult but actually, once you open your mind it’s easy to do. For example, I started with the easy things: a daughter, a sister, a friend, a teacher but then, having looked at Dawns very funny list I went to town: a baker, a music lover, a listener, an Idris Elba fan, a Neighbours watcher, an author…you get the idea. However, this then lead to me thinking about what makes me the person I am – partly a nature, nurture line of thinking but more intrinsically, it got me to thinking about the people who have helped me become the person I am.

Throughout our lives, from day one, we encounter people who will influence us. Some in a negative way but on the whole, no matter who we meet, they will teach us something. From a very young age I knew I wanted to teach or work with children and this was partly down to my parents but really it was down to the teachers that I had at Primary School – the ones who cared, were kind and helped me, accepted me for who I was and always encouraged me to try my best. I think throughout our school, college, university and work lives we will work with people who expand our knowledge, challenge our thought processes and teach us new ways to approach things. I really do believe you are never too old to learn something new.

When I looked at my personal life, I thought about the people who are in my life now and those who aren’t and everyone that I though of, I could name something they taught me. Something that they contributed to making me, me. Granted some of these things started with, “They taught me to never be….” but that’s just life and negative experiences often mean you become a better, stronger person anyway.

For me, I have been shaped from a huge circle of my parents friends. My mum and dad have the most amazing group of extended family! They have taught me to cherish, respect and nurture my friendships, to never take them for granted and they have done that through holding parties, dinners, writing emails and letters and visiting people whenever they can. It’s so important to maintain friendships because they are what gets us through not only the tough times but are who you want by your side to experience all the happy times too.

I am lucky that I have a strong unit of close friends too and over the years they too have taught be invaluable lessons. One main one being, that you do not have to remain friends with someone if they cause you hurt and stress. Just because you’ve had good times, like with a relationship, sometimes things can’t be fixed and that’s okay. You wouldn’t stay in a relationship with someone who makes you unhappy so why do that with a friendship? It’s a really hard lesson to learn but one that many experience and eventually, you’ll remember the good times but move forward knowing that you only have friends that truly get you, understand you and accept you for who you are, faults and all.

My friends and family have also shaped me into a person who tries to see that the glass is half full. Being positive helps in so many aspects of life and whilst I am a terrible worrier and can have a moan with the best of people, I have definitely moulded myself into someone who tries her best to see things in a positive light. And that ties in with checking myself in terms of ensuring that no matter what I am going though, to still be aware of what is going on with others – we are all going through something or other and it’s so important to talk, share and face things as a unit.

Something I have learnt within the last 5-10 years is to stand up for myself more. To speak the truth, ask for help when I need it, be brave enough to speak up when something isn’t right, say no to things that I disagree with or don’t want to do and try not to feel guilty about it. These lessons have come from a whole range of people – work colleagues, therapists, parents but mainly it’s been something that I have wanted to change about myself. Being a ‘yes’ person can have many amazing connotations but saying yes all the time can also get you into a tired, bald, stressed out, ill human being state and nobody wants that! For a long time by saying no, speaking up etc I felt guilty and selfish but I now see it as looking after myself. Self preservation would now feature in my top 3 of what I do to look after myself. Making those simple changes are hard to do and you have to be brave enough to implement them and if you’re like me it’ll be a phased introduction into your life but believe me, it’s totally worth it.

Time. This is something we all have to give. It’s free and you can always make it. I am a real advocate that if you want to make time for someone, you can. Simple as that. No arguments, no excuses. If I can manage to stay in contact with one friend in Dubai and one in Chicago, all in different time zones, we can all manage a quick – Hi, thinking of you, how you doing? – text.

The majority of people who have been in my life have the most amazing sense of humour. Laughing keeps you going – living with my mum teaches me that every day! Yes, we all have days where we don’t want to laugh or be merry but if you can find humour in a situation, a smile will make you feel lifted and again, this is something that I try my very best to do.

Take opportunities that come your way. Sometimes you have to face your fears and do it anyway. My family has always been of the thought that you should try new things, stretch yourself and have adventures. Grasp opportunities as and when you can because you never know when you’ll have that chance again. Over the years I’ve had dance lessons, swimming lessons, singing lessons, become a life guard in America, learnt the violin (badly), flown in a helicopter, lived and worked abroad, sailed around the Whitsundays, hiked the Grand Canyon, helped in an elephant orphanage, seen the pyramids in Egypt…and in turn they have shaped the person I am. They’ve given me life experiences and memories to talk about with others and made me a much more rounded individual. I’d rather have an album full of photos and diaries full of memories than a bank full of money and nothing to talk about!

I could go on forever about other things that make me, me but put simply into a list, here are my top tips for what’s helped me become the person I am today.

  1. Surround yourself with family and friends
  2. Don’t be afraid of self-preservation
  3. Give time and spend time with interesting, fun people
  4. Have adventures and experience all that life offers you
  5. Laugh often
  6. Be positive
  7. Learn from others – let bad experiences shape you as much as the good ones
  8. Don’t be in any kind of relationship that is a detriment to your own happiness
  9. Keep learning
  10. Never apologise for being you.

Point 10 is one I am beginning to take on board more. We recently went to the cinema to see ‘The Greatest Showman.’ If you haven’t seen it yet – GO! The main song has become a bit of a personal anthem! It’s called This is Me. The more I listen to the lyrics, the more chords are struck within me. I’ve hidden away so much because of how I feel about myself – “I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars, run away, they say, no-one will love you as you are.” That sums me up in so many ways. But it turns into a song that is about empowerment, taking strength from bad experiences and that we are all glorious in our own ways. So I’ll end the blog with a verse and chorus of the song that brings tears to my eyes but also gives me strength…check out the video on YouTube of Keala Settle singing the song in the audition room to get the film green lit…if that doesn’t make you cry, I don’t know what will!

“Another round of bullets hits my skin, well fire away, ‘cos today I won’t let the shame sink in. We are bursting through the barricades and reaching for the sun, we are warriors, yeah that’s what we’ve become.

I won’t let them break me down to dust, I know that there’s a place for us, for we are glorious.

When the sharpest words wanna cut me down, gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out. I am brave, I am bruised, I am who I’m meant to be…this is me.

Look out ‘cos here I come, and I’m marching on to the beat I drum, I’m not scared to be seen, I make no apologies….this is me.”

Happy Thursday.

#hairlesshannah

 

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Flashback Fridays: The Kylie Days

I’ve decided to do a little mini series over the next few months of the key stages in my life, starting today with ‘The Kylie Days.’ I was lucky enough to grow up over a couple of decades where music was out of this world. From the age of about 3 – 6 I was obsessed with Kylie Minogue. She was the first famous person I ever ‘fangirled’ over and to this day I continue to think she is an amazing role model for children and adults. I guess you could say she was the person who got me interested in dancing. At every opportunity you would find me dancing in the front room – either naked, in a swimming costume a leotard or some kind of fancy dress outfit. I would copy the dance routines on the TV for hours on end and then go off and make up my own little routines to the music that was in the CD player at the time. When I look back at home videos of this, there’s a part of me that doesn’t recognise the girl staring back at me. I was very outgoing, confident and not camera shy at all! To be honest, I look at the clips and feel irritated at how annoying I come across!

I find it fascinating that many children find it so easy to let go of their inhibitions yet as some they get older, as they learn what’s socially acceptable, they begin to close themselves off and become timid and shy. Of course we aren’t all the same and there will be some children who were shy as children and become outgoing as adults – there isn’t a rule, I’m just basing this on me and my life. I guess in many ways I do have confidence because to teach I think that’s a personality trait you need, but I am a worrier and I care almost too much about what people think, even when it’s people I don’t know.

What hits me most about my childhood is the lack of technology I engaged with. Yes, I was in love with my first ever cassette player, my first portable CD player and then later on my Game Boy and Tetris but part from them, my childhood days were spent colouring, playing with Lego, making perfume in the garden from flower petals and water and using my imagination to play for hours with my toys. I absolutely loved writing stories and having stories read to me. There are of course children who still do all of these things but a lot of children also have so much “screen time” everyday and that makes me sad. I am aware that there are many educational apps and devices out there but for me personally, as a teacher and a grown woman, I don’t think there is anything better for a child’s development than to be making things,playing with their peers and families, exploring the world around them and by spending time by themselves with toys that evoke imagination, promote problem solving and above anything else provide them with happiness; after all, you only get one childhood so spend it taking in the world around you rather than staring down at a screen.

My imagination was always quite out there! We have never had pets in our household (allergies!) but when I was younger I was always desperate for one, and you know what they say, desperate times lead to desperate measures! I would tie rope around the handle bars of my stabilised bike and pretend it was my horse and then position all of my teddies, (who became farm animals) so that I could feed them from my basket! The all time low though was what I came to do to get over the fact that I didn’t have a dog. Goodness knows who’s bright idea it was but somehow I ended up having a ball in a sandwich bag with a long piece of string tied around it which I would then walk. Not just around my house and garden, oh no! I would also walk it around the park and down to the newsagent!! One of the worst days of my life was when one of the balls popped and technically my dog ‘died.’ I was so upset and we had to go out and purchase a new ‘dog’ ASAP! Granted I was very young and I didn’t see anything wrong with it but that don’t mean I don’t laugh uncontrollably about it now! When I was 18 mum and dad bought me one of the battery operated dogs that flip and walk because they thought I was entitled to one after my deprived childhood!!

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I loved Primary School, I guess I have always been known as a bit of a geek. I was never the popular kid in the class but I always had a great circle of friends. I never felt like I properly fit in with the cool kids, it didn’t really bother me because I have always been quietly reassured that being my own person is okay. Primary School is where I made my first ever best friend – Kayleigh. We did everything together, we crimped our hair, had sleep overs (some of which I wimped out of half way through the night! I was a home bird from such a young age!) went to swimming lessons, trampolining lessons, we sang, danced and looked out for each other. We ended up at the same Secondary school too which was amazing and like some things do, sadly we did drift apart but we are in touch now which is so lovely. Seeing her become a mum, even though we aren’t close anymore made me so happy. There will always be that bond there, in a way it’s like a first love. When you look back at your childhood and you school days there will always be that one person who shaped those years for you and Kayleigh is that person for me.

I had some wonderful teachers at school and I reckon this is one of the main reasons that almost from day dot, I knew I wanted to become a teacher. School seemed so much different back then, I know I am remembering it from a pupils point of view and I am sure that even back then teaching had its troubles, stresses and strains but I just remember it being so much freer than it is now. We had time to actually make topic books and make the marble covers using ink in water. We spent ages at different times of the year doing big arts and crafts projects, we did PE in our knickers and vests to a certain age without having to worry about the teachers being inappropriate or that boys and girls should be separate to get changed. Yes we had spelling and times tables tests which terrified me but school was, on the whole fun! Everyone enjoyed watching a film in the hall at Christmas and having big parties. We loved assemblies where we would sing hymns and giggle at the boys trying to make underarm farts! Year 6 always seemed so exciting because you’d get to sit on the bench at the back during assembly and not on the floor – you’d really made it then!  Although the world has changed over the past 30 years, fundamentally, children have remained the same, they want to be accepted, they want to learn and they want to have fun.

And then there were the toilets, namely the toilet roll that my school used. It was literally like using greaseproof paper to wipe your backside! Playtimes were always great fun – rolled up socks were banned at one point (the start of health and safety?!), but we loved playing IT, stuck in the mud and bulldog. In the summer when we used the field we would continue to play these games but would also spend time making daisy chains and later on pretending we were in The Spice Girls! Practising cartwheels and round-offs always occupied us and in Year 6 we all had to take it in turns to muck out and look after Guinness the rabbit! Guinness was the only pet I ever had and one holiday I got chosen to bring him home to look after…it was then I realised that the reality of having a pet wasn’t actually for me!

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Birthday parties were always a talking point at school, like they still are today. Bowling parties with the big bear in Bexleyheath were always popular, as were swimming parties with the magician at the end at the Lido. Time was always made for birthday cakes to be brought into school, mum always brought in ice lollies for my class as May tended to be hot which was always a novelty! My birthday cakes were always homemade and were always incredible – how mum and dad discovered the recipes and had the time to create such amazing cakes is beyond me. They always took the time to make me feel special, not just on my birthday, but everyday.

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We had the most amazing trips at my primary school. I had three weekly trips away which was so exciting – getting to spend a week away from your parents just to do fun things and hang out with your friends is every child’s dream!  All three trips were to farms or activity camps, the most memorable being the farm that Michael Morpurgo owns in Wales. As a book lover, that was such an exciting week for me. Michael Morpurgo came one evening to actually read from his book to us and then signed copies for us to buy. We then spent the week learning how to be farm hands and I loved every second. We got to share rooms with our best friends and stayed up late to go and watch baby calves being born. I was so lucky to be able to do those things and have those experiences because they were the things that started to mould me into a well-rounded human.

I was always busy, something that continued into my teenage and adult years. I was never good at being bored but then that was a very rare occurrence as I could easily think up activities to do or be happy to just sit and read a book.  I was so lucky to be part of a family who were able to support my hobbies and encourage me to try anything and everything. Dancing was my thing and from a very young age I joined New Eltham Dance School and there I remained until I left for uni at 18. Without any doubt in my mind, that dance school was a main contributor to who I am today. Miss Sandra, Miss Yvonne and later Miss Amanda treated us as their own children. Both Miss Sandra and Miss Yvonne were original Tiller Girls which I always thought was so impressive and would talk about with my friends at school! Those wonderful ladies taught us about discipline, encouraged us to have fun and also taught us about dedication, working towards a target, improving on a skill and about the importance of being a team. I made so many friends at dancing, it was an extremely special community. We did exams and annual shows which I adored because we got to play at dressing up, wear make-up and have posh hairstyles! I do look back at the dance show videos and laugh at some of the costumes though – one year I was a glow-worm with a torch stuck to my head! My main style of dance was tap although I loved modern and did try my hand at ballet for a few years but was rubbish! With tap I reached the stage where I was ready to do my teacher’s qualification but never finished it off, maybe I will one day. I was so sad when I left to go to uni but have stayed in touch with NEDs and enjoyed a little reunion a few years back. What a special place that I am so lucky to have been a part of.

Holidays were always fun – most of them being spent between Norfolk where Dad was born and Swansea where mum grew up. Langland is the beach of choice, still is to this day. We’d spend every day with Andy – who is like mum’s sister and is my Godmother and her son Adam. Ad and I didn’t always get on but we did have fun most of the time! Jack and I were both lucky enough to go on skiing holidays throughout our youth which I did enjoy but wouldn’t necessarily be my holiday of choice now! I’m more like mum, carrying those skis and wearing those boots are not a fun thing! We also got to visit family in Canada where my uncle, niece and nephew live. All of these experiences at such a young age for sure started my love for travel. The infamous moment in Canada is when we drove all the way out to Niagra Falls, one of the most awe-inspiring places in the world, and all I was bothered about was seeing the floral clock!!!

But the best thing about this stage of my life was receiving the thing I’d wanted more than anything – a little baby brother or sister. I was never lonely as a child but I just knew that being a sister was a job I could be good at. When Jack was born, all of our lives changed and I simply loved it. I loved being old enough to help mum and dad feed, change, bath and burp him as well as treating him like a play thing at times! We formed such a strong bond and I do think in part that’s because of the six, almost seven-year age gap. To this day he remains one of my best friends and is someone who I know I can always rely on. He has turned into such an amazing man and I couldn’t be prouder of everything he is and everything he does.

My childhood ‘Kylie Days’ were so much fun looking back. Yes I had incidents, who doesn’t?! – two involving my bottom though(!) one where I fell off a stool which flipped and I sliced it open and the second when I jumped off the end of a bed landing on a portable radiator and burnt, quite badly my poor little butt cheeks! I would cry when life didn’t go my way i.e when I wasn’t allowed to watch Neighbours and an episode of 999 scarred me for life when I saw what a grizzly bear was capable of! But even those experiences are part of my history which I wouldn’t erase, even bad experiences have hidden agendas, for me – learn how to scare off bears if you’re in their territory!!

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Our childhoods shape us more than we know, I have always felt that as a teacher. I may not have children of my own, but each child that I teach becomes so very important to me. I look back and thank all my teachers as they gave me, alongside my parents, the life skills that I have needed to succeed in my life thus far. I think everyone has that one teacher who they hold dearly in their hearts and mine will always be Mrs Counter. She was the kindest, most caring lady and teacher in our school and I idolised her. She is the reason why I have Jessica teddy in my classes because that’s the name Mrs Counter gave our class bear. As well as Mrs Counter I was lucky with every teacher I had, they prepared me for how to cope with failures, they taught me how to be careful in potentially dangerous situations, they taught me how to read, write and solve problems. But they also instilled in me the importance of trust. I always knew I could talk to my teachers, I learnt how to build relationships and trust my peers and that is what I have always strived for as a teacher. It’s a profession that holds so much responsibility, more than we realise probably and that is why I have always taken my role so seriously. Yes, I want all my pupils to do well academically but I also want them to look back and remember all the fun, crazy things we did in class but mainly I want them to look back the way I do and be thankful that they had me as a teacher and as part of their life.

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So that’s my first trip down memory lane – did it spark some memories for you if you grew up in the 80s and 90s? Maybe it’s made you think about how your childhood shaped you – let me know in the comments below.

Have a really lovely weekend,

#hairlesshannah

 

Do you think you’re depressed?

This is a question I have been asked numerous times over the past few weeks by every medical professional I have seen. I think they ask it because if I say yes, they could prescribe me something and be smug in the fact that they solved part of the mystery that is Hannah Green.

They seem slightly confused when I tell them that no, I wouldn’t describe myself as depressed. I ask them to try to picture themselves in my situation and ask whether they think they would be jumping for joy. Yes the last few weeks have been tougher than ever but that is because my symptoms have worsened. Therefore, yes, I have felt sad, I have been extremely emotional and teary, I have been quiet and felt very isolated. But I am not depressed. I continue to try to keep positive as and when I can and smile and move on once I’ve kicked myself back into shape. They just find this hard to understand.

I have now seen an immunologist, a dermatologist and a neurologist (privately otherwise the wait was until April next year!) and still no one can help me. They can’t even help me dumb down the pain or the burning on my head. I have been prescribed sleeping tablets and Tramadol for the pain but these combined with some of the other tablets I’m on mean that I am a zombie most of the time. I haven’t driven for two weeks again and I can’t walk far because my legs feel like jelly and I’m unstable on my feet.

The dermatologist didn’t really know what to do or say so has asked me to go next week for a case conference where several specialists are in the room and can assess me – that part is great but she also wanted me to let my hair grow for two weeks in the lead up. I tried to explain through my tears that I never shave the huge patch where I lost my hair, just the parts that kept growing because otherwise it was so unsightly. After a week of regrowth and feeling my confidence shrivelling with every day, I rang her and explained once more how distressing it was. Thankfully she said that if I could take lots of photos of it, I could bring them along and shave my hair. So that has definitely been something good that’s happened. Well, it is but that was until I had to shave my re growth off. Although I wanted it gone, for a short time it has been nice to stroke the soft hair that was growing. That must sound so odd to you but I haven’t had hair on my head for a year so to know it still grows was a relief, it was a joy to use a little bit of shampoo for a week, to have to use a towel to dry off my hair after a shower. So shaving it was like a grieving process once more. Not as bad as before because I was regaining control again and you’ll be impressed, I used shaving foam and a razor and wet shaved it off without a cut in sight – now that is a talent I never knew I had!

My body – mainly from the neck up is fighting off any drug, ointment or cream I use to help me. I have the most painful, itchy, irritating patches of raw skin around my eyes, cheeks and eye lids. It hurts to smile, blink – it’s just an added symptom that is unbearable. I have red, painful spot like lumps and bumps on my scalp that come and go but are so painful too. To combat all of this I am finding myself trying to do things to occupy my hands rather than use them to itch and scratch my face and make it even more painful. It’s a counter productive experience because doing anything on top of all the drugs in my system means I get super tired and have pay back from anything I do but I feel like I don’t have an option because otherwise I would get depressed. So, I’ve tried new baking recipes, made a personalised advent calendar for the family, watch TV or films and sorting Christmas presents and cards on a budget! I also have spent so much time sleeping again which is the only true release I get. My word I never thought my thirties would be so fun!

So, I’m hibernating again. I don’t feel like going out because I am very self-conscious but also because I don’t physically feel like I have the get up and go to do much, to deal with the noise and bright lights and people’s stares. And with today being December 1st it makes me sad to think that a year ago I was telling myself, it’s okay, this Christmas is going to be pretty rubbish but by next year you’ll be better and with some hair regrowth but that simply isn’t the case.

So no, I am not depressed, maybe I’ve dipped in and out of it in split seconds of weakness but I think most people would in this situation. No one can be positive all the time and that’s alright.

Happy Advent everyone,

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#hairlesshannah

That Don’t Impress Me Much

I have written this blog over several days/nights this week. Several long, tiring, emotional, painful days. I have to say, they have been the toughest so far. The mask has slipped – I cried in front of friends, in the middle of a restaurant one evening. I was mortified. Some of those girls hadn’t seen me cry since I’ve been ill. I’ve managed to keep strong and just try to magic away what’s going on and simply enjoy normality for a while whilst in their company. It didn’t matter to them of course, they were concerned about me but to me it mattered. It shattered that illusion that “I was fine.” But I adhered to my own advise and decided to leave and come home – I had taken on too much, hadn’t paced myself properly and hadn’t acknowledged that my symptoms were starting to worsen again.

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A combination of things have led to this moment in time. From my tenant letting me down last-minute so therefore having to find someone new to move in and incur the costs that go with this process. Since I’ve been home I have gone through all my savings and relied on the support of my family. I am incredibly lucky and I am very aware of that. We talked several times about the fact I should see what I may be entitled to but I guess out of pride, I never wanted to. But then, I thought, why shouldn’t I be entitled to anything? I am working two hours a week, have no savings and am relying on my parents who are both entering retirement and that just isn’t right. I know I have worked outside of the UK for a few years but I have contributed a lot to the system whilst working and living here so surely that counts for something? At the very least I should be able to contribute to the food bill or heating – (that bill must be considerably higher with me being home – sorry ma and pa!) So I bit the bullet. First I rang the citizens’ advice bureau who were very helpful and gave me the appropriate phone numbers. I felt quite positive but that was soon to change!

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I got through to a man who talked to me as if I was something he was scraping off his shoe. He was sarcastic and rude, presumptuous and self-righteous, unhelpful and unprofessional. I was honest about everything from working in Dubai, to telling him about my flat I am subletting. Yet I found myself having to defend my situation, explaining how I was a professional woman who had worked since the age of 15, been to university and qualified as a teacher. It is only now, after being ill for a year that I had contacted the benefits agency because I hadn’t wanted to abuse the system, however, things have become a little tougher, and I needed to find out what my options were. I had to defend the price of my flat which he scoffed at and asked how anyone would ever want to pay that price. He repeated several times, just to clarify, that I was single, 30 and unemployed! Yes, I am – and your problem is?! It was just an unbelievable phone conversation which actually really upset me. It made me feel like I was the scum of the Earth.

Following this phone conversation I have received roughly ten letters from various departments all stating different things – some requesting me to complete questionnaires, some stating I was unable to claim benefits due to renting my second (?) property and having savings in excess to the limit. There were many mistakes – I only have ONE property, I can’t afford to live in it so am living with my parents! I understand that my flat counts as savings and if I’m desperate I should sell it but that seems unjust somehow. I worked so hard to save and get onto the property ladder as a single woman and I don’t want to let it go. I then had a letter stating that the doctor’s certificate I sent was out of date and needed to send the next one (I hadn’t yet posted my doctor’s note!) I spent thirty minutes on hold to question this only to be told that when you register with them they count that as day one of seven days self certification and an automatic letter gets sent out saying that this “self certification is running out.” I told them that at no point in the letter was self certification mentioned and that the whole thing was badly written and very misleading!

I then received two text messages saying they had received my doctors note and that my payments would be out into the bank on my pay-day – result. Or not. It appears that when doctors certificates are sent in, that department assumes you’re in the system and sends an automated text informing you what has been received and that your payments will be continued. After another thirty minutes on hold this was explained to me and was told once more that actually, no, I’m still not eligible but that decision makers were still considering my case. Stupid, stupid, STUPID system!

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I have since had more back and forth phone calls and letters because they did my flat valuation incorrectly  – if their valuation was correct, I would be a very rich girl! It took Dad and I a while to decipher their workings and write a response. I was also informed over the phone when I was disputing this latest issue, that I needed to provide proof of my shared ownership because they’d assumed it meant I was sharing the ownership with an ex husband! Firstly, you made me clarify SEVERAL times how single I was and secondly, read the endless pieces of paper I filled in for you stating it was a housing association property!! ARGHHH! Now this was clarified (she didn’t like the fact that when she got her calculator out she realised Dad and I were correct so by this point she was being quite brusque with me) she informed me that I hadn’t sent in any proof from my mortgage lender or shared ownership company that they had agreed for me to sublet or that I was indeed sharing with them and not an ex….that is because nowhere, at any point was I asked to do so! But, this has now all been sent off and I am awaiting a response – what do we think all??  I feel this may, possibly, result in a big fat nothing!

And then there comes me. Me and my stupid body. It appears I am beyond most people’s help – no sarcastic comments here please! I became desperate last weekend. I have no idea if my symptoms have worsened because of a slight change in medications, whether the cold if affecting me or if I’m just simply getting worse. I now have a constant ringing in both ears and my noise sensitivity is through the roof. Lights are now even more painful and I am oh so glad that the darker nights have drawn in because there are more hours in the day where I don’t need my sunglasses on! The fatigue and muscle/joint pain is gradually getting more painful again but the worst thing is my head. I saw my GP two weeks ago where she informed me that in her opinion specialists most probably couldn’t be able to do anything and that the best thing I could do is ‘hope.’ Yup, you read that correctly, her prescription to me was hope.

Since Saturday the pins and needles have just gone insane, I now even have them on my eye lids making me want to reach in tear those bad boy eye balls out of their sockets. And on top of that it feels like my head is on fire. And I mean, white coal, pizza oven, scold yourself on a pan FIRE! Now, I have coped with the constant pins and needles for ten months now, I have learnt not to itch and scratch and have grown to accept that I flinch when the wind blows across my head, that my face physically hurts when a tear runs down it and that the pins and needles are accentuated when loved ones kiss me on the cheek. But come Monday, I was done. I slept for about three hours Sunday evening because of the pain. So I went to my GP. I can’t go into detail because it will make me cry. But long story short, she said there was nothing she could do. Nothing. That is why she has referred me to a neurologist. This is the same GP who back in February said I didn’t need to see a neurologist and that unless my face started to go numb, it was nothing to be concerned about….see face below….

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So, I cried. I kept myself busy because if I was busy I wasn’t thinking about the pain and the itching but being busy is tiring and being tired is one thing but not sleeping and being tired is another. Fatigue on top of fatigue is not good. Being busy hurts and the pay back from being busy hurts even more. But, I smiled and kept going, had my reflexology Tuesday morning but you know what, it was too much. So, although I really didn’t want to because I know how much strain the system is under, I had no other choice but to take myself to A&E. And you know what? The doctor I saw looked at me and said, “you are out of my skill set. I’m sorry but I have no idea what to do to help you. There’s nothing I can do.” That right there is the sound of my heart breaking. Eventually he said that he could prescribe me sleeping tablets to try to get me through to Thursday when we’d managed to book a private neurologist appointment….my NHS one was April next year – yeah, thanks GP! But, they haven’t worked so…great. I’m trying the ice pack on the head which he suggested but it hurts so much. I haven’t had anything on my head in months so applying a freezing cold pack isn’t the greatest. However I’m persevering because it might start to work…might. It made me wonder, if I walked into the surgery or A&E with my head literally on fire and ants crawling all over my face with pins attached to their feet – would they have sent me away so casually? I think not. Hidden illnesses are brushed away so easily, it’s quite scary.

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And then we get to Thursday. Mum and I hit traffic on the way to the private neurologist appointment we made which led to her using a phrase I have never heard pass her lips but did break the nervous air that was surrounding us… “shit the bed!” The neurologist was very nice, South African. Mum was obviously nervous because he asked if we minded him just popping to get a glass of water when we went in and mum replied (in a very poor South African accent) “sure, no worries mate.” I mean come on mum, taking the p*ss out of the man who we have all our hopes pinned on?!  But we did giggle, mum said she has no idea why she said it, it just came out – and I suppose we should always have a story to tell right?! We giggled more when I had to strip off and don a very fetching gown – all pre tied in a little scrunch at the front – that’s what you pay for when you go private I presume?!

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Annnnnd guess what? There is nothing he could suggest for the time being. So that is my GP, a doctor in A&E and a neurologist that cannot suggest anything to help me right here, right now. I am trying so desperately to stay positive but it’s hard. I can’t stand what is going on in my head. I’ve got my little coping strategies to stop me every time I reach to itch my eyes or scrape my head with my fingernails. I’m writing lists left, right and centre, planning blogs, watching rubbish TV, planning future ventures all to keep my fingers busy and away from what they really want to be doing which is to rip the skin from my body. I try to lay and rest and hope that my over tired, crying from the inside out body will sleep and have some freedom for a few hours yet laying still and doing nothing means I can only focus on the pain and the burning and the itching so my body is reignited and sleep gets further from my reach. It. Is. Horrendous.

He did however say I needed to get an MRI and C Spine scan urgently and luckily I was able to get one book in (privately) the very next day. It was at 8.20am so you can imagine how getting up to London that early was for me! I think I was rather naive about the whole situation. I got into the scanning room and was told that the scan was going to be incredibly loud – never even considered that, so immediately I was on edge because of my noise sensitivity. Even through the ear plugs and ear protectors they gave me it felt like my ears were going to explode. The first 15 minute scan I had, a grated head-piece was placed over my head and as I was slid into the machine I suddenly realised that I was in fact quite claustrophobic – they do say you learn something new every day! The panic bell they gave me was almost squeezed several times – I went into full-blown panic mode. But then I talked to myself quite sternly: There are worse things in the world.  Imagine you’re on ‘I’m A Celebrity’ and you need to win those stars for camp! It’s fifteen minutes you wimp – man up. It’s only noise, big deal. And then, for some reason, Shania Twain, ‘That Don’t Impress Me Much’ entered my head and I hummed away to that for a while. Intermittently the noises and patterns on the machine sounds would change which would over ride my train of thought and plummet me into breathlessness and near on full blown tears.

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But then I was brought out of the machine, the grate removed and a new head-piece applied – equally as awful and then, back in I went. It was worse that time because I knew what was to come and I knew how long 15 minutes felt! But….back I went, making lists in my head, thinking of how I could make some money, picturing my favourite places in the world etc etc and then..out I came – I DID IT! But…no no no, they forgot to tell me there was one last scan to go…of my chest. So a wedge was applied followed by a heavy-ish plastic plate which seemed to push down on my chest so I was suffocating but back in I went. That was the longest 15 minutes of my life.

When I finally came out and sat up I felt so light-headed. I thought I was either going to faint or be sick. But Dad was there waiting and let me cry and sip water until I was ready to leave and off we headed to John Lewis for a smoothie and croissant!  He even let me have a little wander round their Christmas department! Dad’s are heroes right?!

I’m glad that’s all done now though and I only have to wait until Thursday for the follow-up appointment and results. I desperately hope that something shows up – nothing too bad, just something fixable. Because if nothing shows…what do we do then? (Let’s deal with that at the time eh?!) As always, humour came into play and a message I received from Carly on how she pictured my situation made me howl with laughter – she was picturing me from Silence of the Lambs and wondered if I was more like picture 1 or 2…I’d say a combination actually! Carly Dean – legend!

 

That afternoon I went back to my doctor’s surgery and saw someone else – not my GP – and begged, once more for some help. He has given me some Tramadol to try to stop the pain from the burning but because its neurological pain it may not work but I will try anything. Apart from that, he also said there was nothing. Take the pain killers and the sleeping tablet and see what the neurologist says when I get the results back. Joys. And a little silver lining is my dermatology appointment for May 2017 has been moved to January 2017 – it shows how desperate I have been when these words left my mouth: “I can live with being bald for another six months as long as something else can be sorted.” I miss my hair every day and detest how it destroys my confidence a little more every week but I can live with it…I can’t live with the rest of it.

I also seem to have had more experiences with idiots over the past few weeks too. On one occasion, for the first time ever I responded but the other two I didn’t and regretted it a little.

Scenario 1: In Boots waiting for my prescription so I buy a few toiletries. A lady next to me is asking the cashier to find the price of something. It’s £38 so the woman says don’t worry and walks off. I am the only customer left so of course, my cashier strikes up a convo with her mate because, you know, that service for you these days.  The conversation went as follows:

“What cost firty ate quid then?”

“Some stuff that’s meant to make your eyelashes grow when you lose ‘em.”

“God, if I lost my eyelashes I wouldn’t bovva. It’s only ‘air ain’t it?”

“Yeah, god so not worth it.”

I couldn’t help myself. Not at any point had either of them looked at me as I was being served or gauged the situation stood in front of them, so I drew their attention to it.

“Excuse me, but unless you have been in a position where you’ve lost your hair, not from choice but from illness, I don’t think you have the right to say what you’d be bothered about losing or how much you’d be willing to pay to make yourself feel better.”

My heart was thumping, I was on the edge of tears but felt so angry. They looked so shocked, one stayed silent and the other started to apologise but I cut her dead, I was on a roll.

“I don’t want your apology, I would just like to pay for my things and go and maybe from now on you could be more aware of your customers and what you say or don’t say in front of them.” Conversation..DONE and I turned away and beamed from ear to ear #hairlesshannah had the power that day.

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Scenario 2: In the Co-Op. A five-year old looks at me and states, rather loudly to her mum how she is “scared of that lady with no hair.” The mum glances at me, I am obviously looking at her to see what response she gives her child. She just says “SHHHHHH” really loudly. The child then repeats her statement again but points at me this time as well. The mum repeats her response but this time pulls the child around the corner so as not to offend her child’s eyes any further. I work with children, I get that they don’t always understand however, that child was rude, plain and simple. Her mum simply needed to explain quietly that some people are different blah blah blah but she handled it so badly. I got home and said to mum that in a totally uncharacteristic way what I really wanted to do was crouch down in front of that child and say, “you should be scared of me, see you in your dreams tonight little girl!” Obviously I would NEVER do that because I’m a teacher and I’m human but god, it would have taught her a lesson – if only it had still been Halloween and that would have given me the right…right?!

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Scenario 3: I got caught leaving Holland&Barrett by charity questionnaire men. Literally the first words from stupid man one: “That’s a brave hair style you’ve gone for there madam.” Firstly – madam?? I am 30, please! Next, “so why do you choose to have it that way?” And I failed here with the come back I prepared because, as always, I was flummoxed by his sheer front, so I just replied that I was ill (normally I’d say alopecia but that day I felt ill so that was the natural response). On comes the cancer assumption. “Well madam, I’ve just spoken to a woman who has survived ovarian cancer twice so I’m sure you are going to be just fine.” Wow. So I stay silent and am just about to say thanks but I need to go when his colleague, stupid man two, comes over and immediately says, “I’ve just grown out my hair from that style, hated it.” At which point first stupid man is giving him a look and explains that I have cancer and that I am going to survive it because I’m a fighter. Wow. I looked at them and just said, “I have to go.”

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So there you have it. My two weeks summed up in under 4000 words (sorry it’s been such a long one, but I feel like this blog has been like talking to a friend I haven’t seen in ages with lots to catch up on!  Well done to those of you who have read to the end!) But on a serious note, contrary to this somewhat down beat blog, I haven’t let myself get too down. I’ve had fleeting moments, well hours, sometimes days, where I have felt totally sorry for myself and thought, if this is my life now, it can bloody well do one. However, I am lucky. Even though I haven’t really been up to seeing many people or doing things other than make it to appointments, I have friends who text me, email me, send me balloons with my face on and gorgeous flowers and generally keep me sane from afar. They make me feel like I’m still part of the gang even though I not always physically present. And of course I have my family who, well, are as they have always been, the best.

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#hairlesshannah

 

Travel Tuesdays: Egypt

I’m noticing more and more how many of my blogs have links to music – it’s not intentional I promise! The song ‘Walk like an Egyptian’ will forever be linked to my time in Dubai. One of our Year 2 topics was Ancient Egypt and we always had an Egyptian day where the children wore an Egyptian outfit (hopefully) homemade and we would head up to the playground and parade along the catwalk whilst listening to the Bangles classic.  Take a moment to picture it, even splitting the Year group into two groups, that’s still seven class, around 196 children…so about an hour’s worth of catwalk and goodness knows how many repeats of that one song!! But it was fun and I will always have fond memories of those days.

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What’s that got to do with anything I hear you ask? Well, this is my first “travel” blog. Travelling has always been something that intrigued me; discovering new countries, new cultures, meeting new people ands creating memories just has such an appeal to me. Although I have been incredibly lucky from a young age to travel to many parts of the world, Dubai enabled me to fulfil even more of my travel dreams. I’ve never been afraid to embark on trips alone, using tour groups and setting off on a new adventure yet Dubai also allowed me to find like-minded people who also wanted to travel which worked out perfectly.

This is always a risk – being friends with someone and travelling with a friend are two different things to some extent. You can be friends with someone and love them to pieces but travelling with a friend means they will be with you for almost 24 hours a day for the duration of the trip and in this time you will discover things you never knew about that person before…which can be a good or bad thing!

Our year group in Dubai was a unique one. We were a power house, a real team. We supported each other, had fun, socialised, made sure our main aim was the children and stuck to our guns when it came to what we believed in. She will hate me for saying it, but the main reason for this was our APC (assistant phase co-ordinator), Sharon. In my first year we didn’t become friends until half way through but from day one I knew we would get on; we are very similar in so many ways, she’s fiery, you wouldn’t want to mess with her but she’s loyal to a fault and I am so very glad to call her my friend.

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In 2015, February half term seemed to come round really quickly and Sharon and I decided quite last-minute that we should go away and both said how we would love to explore Egypt.  At the time I hadn’t quite realised the degree of possible danger in Egypt and mum only let me know of her fear when I was back safely! We were lucky to know many Egyptian families at school who gave us advice and helped to plan our little trip.

I’m not sure about Sharon but I was a little nervous about going away together – Sharon is very confident and out going in many ways and I didn’t want to be that boring friend that was always conscious of being cautious! Carly, who had travelled with Sharon before gave me two tips which I adhered to…thank goodness! 1) ALWAYS carry snacks and 2) ALWAYS carry something to keep her warm! Hangry, cold Sharon is not a good combination but we avoided that for the entirety of the trip and we are still friends now so our travels clearly made our friendship rather than breaking it!

Travelling with Sharon was a new experience for me. I am quite often the person in charge of organising things, being OCD about booking, checking, re checking and setting things in motion but in this case, Sharon did the majority of organising the trip and I actually quite enjoyed it. It was refreshing to take a back seat, I think it was because I trusted her..until we landed at the airport and saw the car we were being collected in! No seat belts, a bit rickety and similar driving to Dubai, let’s just say I was slightly terrified but after a few days and realising that hardly any car in Egypt had seat belts, I relaxed and went with the flow! We laughed, a lot. I learnt very quickly to just let go and enjoy it. It was a trip like nothing I’d experienced before.

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We turned up to our hostel in Cairo and I must admit my heart sank a little!  There were cats outside and inside the building – I assumed all stray – and to get up to our little hostel in the block, there was an old-fashioned lift where you pulled across the metal grating, a bit like those you see in Titanic!  We let the kind man take our cases in while we took the stairs – we didn’t risk that lift once! The hostel was basic but so lovely. The people who ran it were so friendly and helped us to plan some of the next bits of our trip, sorted taxis and tour guides and provided us with nice breakfasts!

I was not too excited about going to Cairo initially.  After  watching ‘An Idiot Abroad’ I was dubious about what the pyramid experience would be like but I have to say, it was one of the best things I’ve ever done. When we arrived outside, it was as described by many, very touristy with a KFC and people trying to sell over priced camel rides and tacky souvenirs. However, once you walk through the entrance, it’s like you’ve entered another world. It was oddly quiet and the space was vast with pyramids of all sizes stretched out before us. Quite quickly a little boy named Hassan took us under his wing. He wasn’t pushy like some of the unofficial tour guides in the compound and maybe because we are suckers for children, he guided us around for the duration of our visit. He reeled off facts and figures about the pyramids and the sphinx and enjoyed taking selfies with us. As we walked towards the exit we decided to tip Hassan – he had neither asked nor expected it, I think he had just enjoyed spending time with us rather than spending his day being shooed away by other tourists. I will never forget his face when he took the money we gave him, our only hope is that he got to keep it and spend it on himself.

Our tour guide took us on many pit stops that day – one stop was to a papyrus shop which in hind sight we were majorly conned by! It was fascinating watching how papyrus paper is made and we both spent money on our own “original” papyrus art! We were both thrilled but later realised we had been total suckers for a nice guy! Our favourite thing in Cairo though was the Khan el Khlalili night market. It was like something out of Aladdin; little stalls everywhere, friendly faces, lamps, spices, scarves – it was wonderful. The Egyptian people were consistently friendly and welcoming and that night a shop keeper invited us in and sent his son to buy us a shawarma and can of coke! We sat and chatted and had a lovely time, he didn’t pressure us once to buy anything and we bid farewell after a nice dinner!

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It was in Cairo that I first witnessed Sharon’s immense bartering skills and picked up on some of her Arabic. The bargains we ended up with were fab and I came away with life skills from that holiday that will last a life time! The citadel was also a cultural experience I would highly recommend along with going into some mosques. We laughed so much when we donned the bright green robes they gave us to respectfully cover us – I hadn’t taken off my back pack so I just looked like a turtle walking round which amused Sharon greatly! The rest of our time in Cairo we spent simply walking around, exploring real Egypt and finding off the road places that we otherwise wouldn’t have discovered. Our final night in Cairo found us on a little cruise with a traditional Egyptian menu.  What we realised quite quickly though was that we were also extra guests at a wedding! It was one of the most bizarre nights of my life!

We then moved on to Aswan where we stayed in a Nubian village. Sharon and I both said this was a place to stay for anyone who wants to have a traditional, once in a life time experience. The house we stayed in was colourful, beautiful and so peaceful. It was off the beaten track but the owners were once again faultless. Just a walk away from our accommodation was a little market where we bought fabric and Sharon held a crocodile in the Crocodile House!

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We spent one afternoon at the Philae Temple which again, wasn’t busy and was so interesting to spend time at. Seeing hieroglyphics carved into bricks first hand was exciting and we couldn’t wait to show the children! We spent a while taking silly photos but then we stopped and sat, had a drink and ate some snacks and whiled away an hour or so just talking. We did go to the Aswan dam but to be honest, it was a let down and I wouldn’t recommend it.

One night in Aswan we went to a Nubian party which we were expecting other tourists to be at yet it became obvious very quickly that we were the only ones staying in the village so we spent the night dancing, listening to music, drinking Arabic coffee and smoking shisha with the Nubian people – again, an experience I will never forget! The other night we stayed in our little haven and were provided with the most incredible meal. It was just such a serene place and I’d go back in a heart beat.

We had then organised to be picked up for an overnight felluca cruise on The River Nile. This would probably rank in my top five travelling things ever. Our little crew were so friendly and we just had such a laugh. Until sunset we listened to music, talked and chilled out. We stopped to take in sunset over the Nile and then shored up. There was no toilet on the felluca so whilst two of the crew made us dinner, one walked us through fields to a little Nubian house which I have to admit was slightly dodgy! We sat and had some shish, well Sharon did, tied scarves on our heads to stop getting cold and laughed at the absurdity of the situation we were in. That night on the felluca was sooooo cold and I discovered over that day/night that I have not mastered the art of going to the loo in the bushes!!

Sunrise on the Nile was stunning and our home-made breakfast, although very old, was lovely. We cruised on a little more before shoring up and being collected for the next leg of our trip. Our driver then took us to Luxor. It seemed that we attracted random men who wanted to show us round and this night we met Ahmed who became our little tour guide for the evening. It was another wonderful place to explore but unfortunately there was a power cut as we headed back. We sat and talked to Ahmed for a while but it was when he invited us back to his home that I started to get Daily Mail headlines flashing through my mind of two careless travellers who went home with a stranger to be found murdered the next day! It would have probably been fine but that night I became cautious Hannah and made Sharon come back with me to our hotel!

It was in Luxor that we spent the day at The Valley of the Kings. Wow. What a day. It was very hot but such an awe-inspiring experience. I think because we’d taught so much about Tutankhamun, it just seemed surreal that we were in his tomb, in his chamber. The other  tombs and chambers were also incredible and we had to soak it all in because no photography was allowed as the flashes, over time, would destroy the hieroglyphics. It was quite steep in the chambers and we definitely hit our 10,000 steps that day! It was of course the busiest place we visited in Egypt but we had expected that, having said that, it wasn’t bustling and we saw everything we wanted to with ease.

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Our only regret of the holiday was that we didn’t get up early and take the trip to Abu Simbel but that just means we might have to go back one day! I honestly would recommend going to Egypt. I know it isn’t the safest place to go now, but when, hopefully things settle it’s a place more people should visit. We didn’t venture anywhere near Sharm El Sheikh although I would like to go one day but I think because we lived in Dubai, we wanted something different to pools and sand and desert safaris. Getting to see proper Egypt was the best decision we could have made, if you get the opportunity – go.

 

#hairlesshannah

 

365

Three hundred and sixty-five days. 365. A year.

I’ve tried as much as possible not to measure events in my life by time, like mum says, it helps no one. But, I’ve been back in the UK for a year today and that is a milestone. It’s a long time. I’ve watched one of my best friend’s little boy experience his first year of life and witnessed all the things he’s learnt to do. Life passes us by in a flash really and this year has made me slow down and take stock of what’s really important. In the grand scheme of things a year isn’t the end of the world I know; I’m only 30 and have many years ahead of me, yet, this is also the point that I struggle with. I know I haven’t “lost” a year of my life, believe me I’ve lived through every single day of it, but I feel like I’ve lost a year in terms of what I should be doing at my age.

As always, I have tried to combat every negative thing I can think of that’s happened in the past year with something that has been positive and actually, the more I’ve thought about it the happier it made me. Being forced to slow down and have time to think and assess life has been a good opportunity. So here are my year’s pros and cons!

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Firstly, I haven’t worked full-time for a year. I miss my job, I still resent not being able to properly finish my time in Dubai and I hate the fact that for the first time ever, I’ve doubted whether teaching is something I want to eventually return to. I’m so lucky to be able to be doing two hours a week at my old school, reading 1:1 with children and don’t get me wrong, I love that and it’s started to build my confidence. Actually, I can still make a difference and I do adore working with children. But seeing the stress that my friends and colleagues are under panics me. It saddens me to see people I love so swamped by paperwork, percentages, facts and figures rather than being able to totally focus on the important part – the children. I am just unsure whether this has been a wake up call to lead me down a different path because teaching isn’t for me?

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That thought terrifies me but then on the other side of the coin is the fact that because I haven’t been at work, I’ve discovered my love for writing. I will be forever thankful to Claire for encouraging me to start blogging. It’s enabled me to be totally open and honest in a way I otherwise wouldn’t have been with not only myself but with the people in the my life. Since starting the blog last December it’s given me some purpose, it’s something manageable I’ve been able to do – a little every day or as and when I’ve wanted/needed to. I’ve never written it thinking about who may read it, in a selfish way it’s been for me and me alone. I’ve written a daily diary since 1998 which has always been my way of processing things and ensuring I don’t bottle things up and the blog has been an extension of that. It’s just been an amazing bonus that people have read it, enjoyed it and supported me along the way.

This year has given me the time and material to write a children’s book which I am in the process of trying to get published. But the exciting thing is the door that’s opened in the process. One publisher loved my story but couldn’t take on any new authors this year however, said they were looking for authors to write books for titles they had. This was all new to me – I suppose publishers see gaps in the market and come up with titles and then find authors to write for them! I had to pitch three ideas for the title which they then presented to the bosses against other authors who had also submitted ideas. And amazingly, one of my ideas was chosen! I have since written the book and been through the editing process and now it’s being illustrated and will be published at some point next year! Okay it isn’t the book I hoped would be published BUT it will still be my writing, in a children’s book which has always been a dream and I can’t wait! It’s a step in the right direction so fingers crossed the next step is getting my manuscript published!

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Alongside not working comes the not earning money scenario and this has been one that’s plagued me more than most other things. I’ve always been fiercely independent. Money for me was a way of making sure I could live but also treat and support my family and friends. Not having a penny to your name is something I never considered for my life. It’s meant I’ve encountered feelings I’ve never had before; I know it’s not my fault, but I feel ashamed and embarrassed to have to ask for help from my parents. I hate it with every fibre of my being. They know and I know that I will pay them back every penny but for me, that doesn’t help, I hate it. But nthis situation has meant I’ve found pleasures in other ways that don’t involve spending copious amounts of money. My poor friends have received homemade gifts for presents, I’ve picked up hobbies like my writing that don’t cost a thing and baking which doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. It’s the little things that count and it’s made me appreciate them even more now.

When I was working and earning, there was always more that I wanted to aim for. Another country I wanted to travel to or something I wanted to save for and treat my self to. Always something I would see that I’d want to buy for someone. But not having money has made me realise that is isn’t the money that brings the happiness. It’s the people who you want to experience those holidays with, the people you want to spend time with – that is what is worth more than money. I will always want to travel and treat myself and others but I will be more mindful about it. Money enables us to do things and with that brings happiness but money isn’t the catalyst for happiness, we are.

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Last week I decided to finally give in and try to see what benefits I may be entitled to. Well, what an experience that was! Again, I can laugh now but that phone conversation was hellish. The guy was so rude I couldn’t believe it! Some of the questions had multiple choice answers but were so misleading, on a few I got confused and stumbled a bit,to which he exclaimed, “you’ve obviously never applied for benefits before!” Well actually, no I haven’t! I explained how I’d always had a job and that I didn’t want to abuse the system but after a year and going through all my savings and eating into my mum and dads, I should look into it! He also felt it necessary after asking about my marital status to say, “hmmm, 30, single and unemployed,” followed by a little chuckle!!!! SERIOUSLY?! I almost said, “yup, bald as well!” And when I declared the costs of my property and the rent I was getting from subletting, he couldn’t help but tell me how amazed he was that someone would pay that “for a flat.” I promptly told him I was a professional and that the people who rent are professionals who work hard to afford a decent place to live, but what I wanted to say is – it’s none of your bloody business you rude bastard!  What a phone call!

This year has also highlighted things I took for granted. Driving for example; I am now driving a little further than I have done previously but even then the furthest I’ve driven is Swanley. There are days when my ankle hurts too much to drive or I know that I’m too tired to properly concentrate. Not being able to get in the car and drive to see friends or do things is so frustrating. Then there’s things like going shopping or going to London or eating out or going to the cinema. I now religiously carry my ear plugs everywhere. I’ve got a new-found respect for autistic children who explain how horrendous it is when there’s too much noise, it’s indescribable. It is like my ears pick up on every single thing that is occurring in any given place and I then can’t focus on a conversation, it’s exhausting and it’s painful. I find myself wishing myself home to a quiet bedroom or place where I can control the noise. I look like Greta Garbo whenever I go out now because my light sensitivity is so bad I need sunglasses on!

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I just miss being spontaneous. Popping out, seeing friends, not worrying about how tired I feel and knowing that I need to pace myself. If I could be out doing things, either alone or with friends I would. It’s made me re-evaluate how much time I spent doing work and not spending time doing things with people I enjoy spending time with. I know that when you’re living “normal” life, it can be so hard to get that work life balance but as and when I get stronger and better, I will definitely get my priorities sorted and ensure that my life isn’t dominated by work. There is just so much more to life than that.

This year has made me see who my friends are and has made me start to say “no” and do things that enrich my life and theirs. I haven’t done a whole lot this year but the things that I have done and that I have spent my spoons on have been amazing. I cherish those days and moments so much more than things I’ve done in other years because they’ve all been with people who I now know I have an equal relationship with. They know I’d do anything for them and I know they’d do the same for me. It’s refreshing.

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There are some things that I can’t pitch a positive against like the whole hair situation. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, people who I see on social media with alopecia that embrace it and say it’s part of them and they are happy, I admire them. I feel like I have embraced the bald now but although it is part of me and I don’t feel as embarrassed anymore, I continue to detest it. Living with alopecia isn’t life threatening but it is life changing and rightly or wrongly I still have all my hopes pinned on the day that my hair will return. But as I write this paragraph I’ve thought, there is a positive – it has made me stronger. I’ve had to encounter social segregation and ignorance and verbal attacks that have shocked and upset me. But through my blog I have spread awareness for the condition but also developed an invisible armour around myself to field off any idiotic comments or stares.

I was wearing this armour the other week when I received a phone call from the estate agents outside Holland and Barretts. As I was on the phone a man walked past whilst staring in shock at my head – so much so I thought he was going to trip over the bin ahead of him! But I stared him out until he silently apologised and scurried away. Then to my utter dismay another man approached and did the same. So I stared back but this time, he stopped and approached me. My heart was thumping because I obviously expected the worst, but as he got closer he said, “I’m so sorry for staring, you’re just so beautiful!” Talk about a chink in my armour, it made me realise that not all stares will be for negative reasons and maybe I really can pull of the bald!

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When I saw mum and dad at the arrivals gate a year ago, I had never felt relief like it. I was safe. And I continue to feel that way a year on. My family is just beyond words. Everyone thinks their family is the best and that’s only right and I don’t dispute that but I just know that my family are my best friends and have been my rock. I already knew that but they have gone above and beyond this year and there really are not enough words to express my love or gratitude to them.

I am back in limbo a bit now whilst waiting for more specialist appointments but I do feel hope for the first time. The specialist at Kings was and continues to be amazing. She’s made me feel like they are doing all they possibly can to get to the bottom of whatever is going on and get me better. This has been the positive to oppose the negative feelings that are unfortunately creeping in about my GP. If you don’t know what’s wrong, just say. Do a referral, hold yours hands up. Just. Be. Honest. If my GP had done that months ago when we questioned if a specialist was the way to go, I would be much further along at this stage. But, I’m not and there’s no point in dwelling on it but it makes me sad and angry and definitely more prepared to fight for my cause than I was before.

So, there it is. My year. A truly crappy 365 that has uncovered so many wonderful things that I wasn’t aware of or didn’t appreciate as much as I should have. Making your own sunshine, as cheesy as it is, really works. A year ago I came home and cried and revealed my increasingly big bald patch but a year on I learnt how to use a power drill and used it to carve my pumpkin whilst being all wrapped up sitting at the patio table breathing in the fresh air. Now, it may not be how I’d have spent a half term before but you know what, it was bloody good fun!

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#hairlesshannah

The art of saying no.

How often do you use the word ‘no?’ And I don’t mean in the usual way, like answering a child in class who asks – “can I gowa toilet?” or by replying to your mum when she asks, “can you empty the dishwasher?” I mean, saying no when that is really the answer you want to give but feel you can’t for fear of upsetting someone, letting them down or in case you encounter the guilt that may follow after using it.

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I have come to the conclusion that there are three types of people in the world. The ones who say and do what they want with no thought at all, ones who internalise the reality of what they want and think but on the surface and on the whole, give answers that will please and keep the peace and finally, those who are just genuinely, sickeningly nice people who do anything and everything to please others! And I suppose, there’s a possibility that some people are a mix of all, or some of the aforementioned.

All too often, if we are truly honest with ourselves, we will occasionally find ourselves in situations where we are being asked to do things or spend time with people we don’t know too well and have no inclination to either. However, when we are put in that tricky situation when you are asked by them or a mutual friend to do something, we, well, definitely myself, find ourselves automatically spurting out the word – “yes.” And all the time internally thinking, “why on earth did I just agree to that?” and spending the days before worrying about the upcoming event.

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Over the past year I’ve been placed in a position where the word ‘no’ or variations of it have had to be used more honestly than ever before in my life. I’ve always been a mix of the three ‘types’ of people I just mentioned, depending on how I’m feeling on a certain day, week or month! On the whole, I am a people pleaser. I like to be kind and nice and really, really hate confrontation. But, due to life experiences thrust onto my path in recent years, I’ve had to grow some balls and realise that actually, we only get one life and we should live it, as much a possible, how we want to, with people we want to.

Now, of course, there are people and situations in life that you want to avoid but that doesn’t mean you have to be nasty to them. On the contrary, there’s no need to be nasty to people, a lesson in life is that we can’t and won’t like everyone that enters our lives. Some people will always just be colleagues, some acquaintances and some become treasured friends. But no matter what category people end up in, unless something truly catastrophic has happened, you should always be civil, because let’s face it, if we said or did things to some people that we’d like to, we might get into trouble!

I’ve had to learn to say ‘no’ more often to protect myself and help myself heal. I learnt quite quickly that by saying ‘yes’ to people when really my mind and body were saying ‘no’ (I’m sure there are a few of you singing lyrics in your head now to R.Kelly!) I was disadvantaging myself and my recovery. I have been extremely lucky that the majority of my support system understand that when I cancel things, it must mean that I really and truly can’t be there and function like a normal human being. There have, of course, been the odd few times when “friends” have not understood this and that is when the self doubt comes into play. My mind has then questioned whether I have upset my friends, let them down, maybe I have even pushed them away. But, again, as I have learnt the hard way, those people really weren’t your friends in the first place. That’s such a hard concept to grasp when all you’ve done is be ill and they just can’t deal with that.

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On the outside to many people, they will see me as a strong character but I’ve had that stronger exterior bumped and bruised over the past year. I’ve questioned many things but that has also meant I’ve had time to evaluate many aspects of my life. Working as a teacher means that you form very close bonds with the people you work with and as I have found, many of these people become very close friends. But moving to Dubai and working in such a ridiculously large school meant that you can’t be as inclusive as you may once have been! I learnt that actually, it’s okay to have colleagues and it’s okay that some of these colleagues become friends and some don’t. It’s a matter of who you want to spend your social time with, talk to about things of meaning and who you can be totally yourself around. It was hard in Dubai because there is that element of becoming part of an expat family and supporting each other. But after that first year when you cling to anyone and everyone for dear life, you start to filter out and spend more time with the people you have more in common with and I learnt that that’s okay. As I said before, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t ‘friendly’ to others, it’s just that those relationships were of a different nature.

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In smaller environments it’s much harder to do this but I think because I had so many new life experiences in Dubai, I’ve come back feeling more confident in thinking, I don’t have to include everyone because it’s alright to not be friends with everyone. Sometimes, we have to be selfish. I’ve pondered this word because it throws such a negative light on whatever your’e talking about. I had several conversations with a few people about what the word is I’m looking for to describe this ‘selfishness.’ Is it really ‘selfish’ to spend time with the people you care about most and do things you want to do? Of course there has to be give and take, but if they are people in your circle then that’s not a problem. If you know what word I’m looking for, please let me know!

Learning to say ‘no’ is so hard when it doesn’t come naturally. I have this overwhelming need in me to not let people down, for them to not be disappointed in me. It has been educational to me to realise that actually, whether in your personal and professional life, if people know you and care about you, they would rather you were open and honest with them and then together, you can find a way forward. In my case I also wear a mask a lot at the moment, I want to appear ‘fine’ to people and I’m learning that that doesn’t always help me. By not being honest and saying, “well actually no, today’s not a good day” people think that’s the truth and wonder, why isn’t she coming to things, why isn’t she working, why, why, why? So gradually, I’m being more honest without becoming the moaning Minnie no one wants to talk to.

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I honestly think this is a much more female problem. In my experience, men are much more care free about who and what they spend their time on. As women, we fret and worry about hurting people or people then talking about us behind our backs…and believe me, as women, we all know that person who is vicious behind our backs – we aren’t that stupid! So therefore, unless absolutely necessary i.e organised events, meetings where your paths may cross, it’s important to turn things on it’s head and consider – do they include me? Do they benefit my life like I benefit theirs? Do I know of times when they’ve made me feel rubbish about myself? And if that’s the case, they are an acquaintance, someone to be civil to but not to spend your treasured personal time and space with. It’s a hard thing to grasp at first but believe me, it gets easier. That person will never call you out on it and if they do, remember, you never, ever have to justify what you do in your own time, period.

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Social media plays a part in this so much more than it did even a few years ago. Being un friended is the ultimate low…but is it? I’m not talking here about the friend you made at the pub ten years ago that you haven’t seen since, I’m talking about the people you see often and are actual face to face friends! If they un friend you without having the guts to call you or see you to talk about things that may be getting under their skin, then that’s their loss not yours. If your “friendship” with someone ends by an un-friending or blocking on FaceBook, they have a lot of growing up to do and it’s more of a reflection on them than you.

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Even as a thirty year old woman, I felt I needed to write about this topic because it is something that affects me and I know affects many of my friends. How sad is that? Surely by this age we should have the self confidence to do what makes us and our lives the happiest? Life isn’t about social media updates, likes and shares. It’s about time, love and memories. I don’t see some of my closest friends for weeks and sometimes even months but that doesn’t stop us being in touch and I know when I see them it will be like nothings changed. I know that with any of them, if I say ‘no’ or ‘I can’t’ they won’t be angry, they’ll be sad I can’t be there (maybe!) but it won’t alter our friendship in the slightest…and that’s what is worth more than anything else in the world.  It’s something to ponder on anyway…

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Spend your time wisely because you can’t get it back.

#hairlesshannah