aliisaacstoryteller

Today is a significant one in world history. No matter which side of the fence we stand on, we have no choice but to accept. Around the world, governments are also preparing to show acceptance. And yet, there seems to be a global sense of uncertainty, and fear.

I fear for the minorities. I fear for acceptance. For tolerance. And I am reminded of something I wrote a few years ago for 1000 voices speak for compassion, which I think is as relevant today as it was then, if not more so.


I don’t like moths. I don’t like how they enter my house uninvited, fluttering blindly about, and cluster in a seething panic around any available light source. The frenzied flapping of their dull, tattered wings gives me the creeps.

But I love butterflies. When they gate-crash, I feel privileged, blessed, and patiently herd them out to freedom for fear their short, beautiful lives might meet an untimely end within my four walls.

When I found a glorious creature with stunning red and black markings walking determinedly across my doormat one spring morning, I assumed he was a newly hatched butterfly ready to test his wings. I opened the door respectfully, and watched him take flight.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered he was actually a day-flying cinnabar moth. Who knew that moths could be so gorgeous, or that some of them flew by day and not in the shadow of night? Read More

Sometimes, things happen in our lives that fill us with deep joy; we can feel it swelling and expanding within us until it is so great, we think we might just burst, because we can’t possibly contain it. Have you ever had that feeling?

But it carries on growing regardless, because it’s not something bound by our physical limitations; it exists within our  soul. And quite often its caused by the little things in life, not that lottery win, or a new car, or a designer handbag that cost more than a house.

It’s climbing a mountain, admiring a beautiful view, inhaling the fragrance of a beautiful flower, feeling the sun on your face, the impromptu hug from a child.

Two weekends ago, I had this feeling walking through the Burren. I tried to capture it in my pictures. I don’t know if I did, but it doesn’t really matter. My senses still remember.

My walking enabled me to be in the Burren, and my senses enabled me to experience it. And it was truly an unforgettable gift.

Imagine if you can’t walk. Imagine if your senses interpret everything around you all wrong. Your life is limited already by being immobile; just think for a moment how that would impact everything you do in your normal daily life. Read More

A Mother’s Thoughts and Fears | Update

Covered in blood

Covered in blood

Some people say that the internet community is not really composed of actual friends. I always felt that wasn’t true, and now, after yesterday’s experience, I know it.

I’ll admit I was fragile yesterday. I know if I had reached out into my physical locality, I would have found love and support from my ‘real’ friends, but I actually couldn’t face facing people, if you know what I mean.

So I poured it all out here, and you rallied round. It was amazing, and humbling. Something I am grateful for, and will never forget.

But what you really want to know is, how is Carys?

Well, she is a little star! Daddy brought her home about 1pm. She looked like she’d been in a war zone, she was covered in blood, and I mean, it was everywhere! But she smiled, she ate and drank, took her meds, played, interacted and was completely and utterly charming, as if nothing had ever happened.

9 perfect baby teeth

9 perfect baby teeth

But wait till you hear what they did to her! Removed 9 baby teeth, because they were obstructing her adult teeth and preventing them from coming down; four fillings, and snipped the skin flap which joins her bottom lip to her gums, because it was too small and tight.

Poor little girl!

Anyway, thank you for all your kindness, support, caring comments and love for Carys. Have a great weekend, everyone. xxx

A Mother’s Thoughts and Fears

It’s 630 in the morning, and outside, the sky is dark, but not so black as my mood. Carys is on her way to the children’s hospital in Dublin, and I’m sitting here, chain-drinking coffee while my heart breaks.

It’s only dental work, but it’s never ‘only’ something for children like Carys. There’s no way she’s going to let a dentist look in her mouth, or go anywhere near her, thank you very much.

A year ago, it took five of us to hold her down while a dentist gave her some temporary fillings. No needles or drills involved. It was a traumatic experience for everyone involved, not least poor Carys herself, who has absolutely no comprehension of why we’re doing that to her, except that it’s bound to be something she’s not going to like. Or hurt her.

So today, she will be having a general anaesthetic, and I’m scared, really scared. GA always carries a risk, but for Carys, with her bloated fragile heart, it’s a very serious risk, and I’m terrified she won’t wake up.

I know she will have an excellent anaesthetist. I know he will have read her file. I suspect her cardiologist will have been consulted. I know she is in good hands.

But she’s out of mine. My hands have always held her, but not today. I am home with my boys, and Carys is with her Daddy, and I am riddled with guilt. I can’t leave the boys here on their own, but I should be with Carys and Conor.

Yesterday, I was in such a state with this hanging over me, that my youngest son asked me why I was so angry and doing so much cleaning. Sounds funny, right? Conor said it would probably be best if he took her to the hospital.

Carys is always calmer with her Daddy. She’s a Daddy’s girl. She sleeps in his arms. I do the feeding and the nappies and the hair-washing and the therapies. I do the activities, the work and the fun stuff. With him, she feels safe and relaxed. I am in a stressed and emotional state. Today, I am not Carys’s best advocate.

I know this, but still I feel guilty. Not only am I not there for Carys, but I am not there for Conor. He will have to make that long walk down the corridor to the operating theatre with Carys in his arms, alone. I have condemned him to hold Carys while they administer the first drug which puts her to sleep.

If you have ever had to hold your child while this is done, you will know it feels like watching them die.

And then, while you are still in this extreme condition of terror and bemusement, they snatch her out of your arms and manhandle you out the room too quickly for your mind to register what just happened.

To wait, while some butcher takes a knife, or in this case a drill, to your precious baby.

Of course, they’re not butchers, they are life-saving angels, and two of my children are alive and well thanks to these very special people. Words can never convey such gratitude. ‘Just doing my job, ma’am.’ They really think it’s just a job.

Last time we went through this, Carys was only four months old, and she had a complex surgery to remove her haemangioma. It took four hours, and I remember sitting on her hospital bed, waiting, holding her blanket to my face and breathing in her baby scent. I remember how helpless and desolate I felt.

Today’s procedure is only a short one in comparison. But I’ll still feel the same. The risks are just as great. Conor is on his own in Dublin, and I am alone here. And we’re waiting. Just waiting. And hoping. And while Conor is being a good parent, I’m feeling like a bad one, because I’m too weak and too selfish to be there in his place.

And I’m so afraid that she won’t wake up. That her weak heart can’t cope. That after everything we have been through together in the last ten years, we could still lose her.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

And please, if you want to leave a comment, say anything at all but not what a good mother I am. I can’t handle that today.

No Nativity and an Update on Brushing

Carys dressed as an angel for her school nativity a couple of years back.

Carys dressed as an angel for her school nativity a couple of years back.

We have no nativity to attend this year. It is the first year in a decade that we have not attended a nativity. Our little Carys is now too grown up to be in a nativity. She will be ten years old in one week. How the time has flown! Double figures, and no nativity.

I loved watching Carys in her school nativity. She was usually dressed as an angel, sitting in her wheelchair, holding a shaker with bells on it. She would shake her bells throughout the play, totally oblivious to everything going on around her, except the songs; she adores music.

Seeing her on a stage, taking part… well, being included might be a more accurate description, lol… always gave me pause for thought; it made me see her differently, not as just my little girl, but a person with her own life, if not independence, making her own friendships and bonds, on her own terms. And it filled me with a flutter of mixed feelings; gladness, sadness, pride and probably others that were so intertwined and mangled, I couldn’t put words to them.

An update on the Willbargar Brushing and Compressions; we’ve been brushing for six weeks now. At the time it was introduced, I felt quite perturbed; why had no one ever suggested this for Carys before? Surely that is what having experts like OT’s in her life is for, to recognise what Carys’s requirements are and match them with treatments?

One week in, and I quickly realised that there was no way I could have committed to it in the past. I don’t know how receptive Carys would have been when she was younger, but believe it or not, it’s not just about her; it’s about the parents and caregivers, too.

Life was bitten into 90 minute segments. Although the actual technique only takes five or ten minutes to complete, there is all the organisation, the dressing and undressing etc that it involves. Which means that realistically you only have about 70/ 75 minutes till the next one.

That’s an hour and fifteen minutes. Just enough time to cook dinner. make a start on the ironing, make a start on the hoovering, make a start on most things and then abandon them halfway through, not enough time to do the food shopping, go out for lunch, or in fact do anything outside of the home.

This process is one that needs consistency and routine. If you don’t commit to it, it wont be effective. I suspect that half of the time it fails, it is because the adults providing this care are unable to commit to it. When you have work and other children, it is hard to stick to.

I admit that in the past, I wasn’t always in a happy headspace over Carys. I believe this would have been barrier enough. I would not have been able to commit to it. I know that. I also firmly believe that things happen in our lives when they need to.

There is no point in being aggrieved over the fact that no one suggested brushing to us five years ago. Carys may not have been ready for it; I was definitely not. I am so grateful that all the right circumstances are in place now; the right OT, my attitude and willingness, and a teacher at school who is equally willing and passionate about helping Carys to achieve her full potential.

Now we are entering Phase Two; the frequency has reduced to five brushings and compressions a day, but now we have something called a Sensory Diet to accompany them. This is nothing to do with food; it is a series of deep pressure sensory activities tailored to Carys’s needs and abilities, such as lateral swinging, deep massage, rocking, back pressing, being rolled tightly in a duvet etc. It takes no more than 15 minutes to carry out, and is fun to do, more like play than therapy, parent-child bonding time. We like doing it, and that makes it so much easier to stick to.

There will be other aspects to it in the near future; vibratory tools and exercises for desensitising Carys’s mouth, and the use of weighted vests and blankets. But for now, I won’t think of them.

If you are about to embark on this program, be warned that it takes a LOT of commitment from everyone involved, and it will change your life. Like me, you will become a slave to that alarm on your phone, how you will grow to hate that ring tone! But the rewards will transform your life!

Already, the results are good; Carys is more relaxed, even in situations outside of the home. She has become more curious, more willing to reach out and touch things. She allows me to wash her hair, without even a murmur… whoever would have believed that could happen? She is reacting with less sensitivity to touch, although she still wriggles and squeals when I brush the soles of her feet, but then, who wouldn’t? She doesn’t pull away when I kiss her face, and that’s nice. She opens her mouth for her toothbrush and allows me to brush, you have no idea the battles that used to cause! Carys has the strength of Hercules when she wants!

We have a long way to go, but we’re getting there.

Why I Won’t Let You Mind My Special Needs Child

Carys on holiday 2012. www.aliisaacstoryteller.com

Carys on holiday 2012.
http://www.aliisaacstoryteller.com

It’s not that I don’t trust you. It’s not that I think you won’t take proper care of her, or that I think I’m a better parent than you. It’s nothing arrogant like that at all.

But there is a lot of potential for things to go wrong. In particular, Carys could go into heart failure at any time. It’s a fact we have to live with, although to look at her, so robust and full of life, you would never think so.

She also has a tendency to stop breathing when she coughs, or a little bit of food lodges in her throat, or she takes too big a swig of juice, because her little system is too weak to cough up effectively.

I know that you are just as capable as me in dealing with situations like that. Every parent knows what to do when a child coughs or chokes. Every adult knows when they need to call an ambulance for events they cannot deal with themselves.

So that’s not it either.

My friends are precious to me, because I know I am not an easy person to be a friend of. I’m a bit of a loner, I spend a lot of time tapping away at my computer or visiting ancient piles of stones in the middle of nowhere, when I could be socialising.

Or Carys is sick, or like now with the Wilbargar Therapressure, going through something which can’t easily be managed outside of the home.

My friends are precious to me, because I have no family around to help out when things get tough or I’m not coping very well. I know I lean on you quite a lot at times.

But still I don’t ask for you to mind Carys.

The reason for that is something I feel sure many other parents of children with special needs will understand. It’s because my friends are precious to me that I won’t let you mind Carys.

Maybe that doesn’t make sense… I mean, who can I trust more than my nearest, dearest friends? But it’s not about trust. The thing is, I don’t want to lose any of you.

If you minded Carys for me, and something went wrong, I know that you would never forgive yourself, even if I did, because that’s the kind of person you are, and that’s one of the reasons I love you for.

And even though I know what the risks are with Carys, and even though I know you would have done everything humanly possible for her, there would still be a nagging doubt in the back of my mind, a doubt I would not want to acknowledge, but which would gnaw away at me from it’s little dark corner forever.

You would feel guilty, and I would too; for leaving her just so I could go and have fun, and for putting someone I care about in such a horrendous position.

I don’t want to do that to us. I value my friends, and don’t want anything to come between us. And that’s why I won’t let you mind Carys.

Thank You

To everyone who read and commented on my recent post, My Daughter is NOT Disabled!, I just want to say two little words… Thank-you, and Sorry! (Is that actually three?)

I haven’t replied to any of you yet. To be completely honest, I was quite overwhelmed and blown away by the  beautiful, impassioned responses you wrote, and as you know from previous posts, I tend to get a bit weak and watery at such times.

When I read your comments, I just can’t understand why humanity is in such a bad place. Clearly, you are all a wonderful minority I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by.

Today, though, I will reply to each and every one.

My Daughter is NOT Disabled!

Disabled.

I hate that word. Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with it as a word in itself. It’s just that, when applied to people, it’s so negative and judgemental. I mean, is it just me? When did it become good and proper and acceptable to define people by what they can’t do, by what they’re not? We don’t apply that concept to any other section of society.

Here is a definition of the word ‘disabled’ according to the Oxford Dictionary;

(Of a person) having a physical or mental condition that limits their movements, senses, or activities.

Really? Is that all they are, persons limited by their conditions?

Ok, we know that children and adults like Carys are different from the majority, and we have to have a way of referring to them. Don’t we? Because we like labels; they make things nice and clear, and everyone knows where they stand.

Well, this may come as a bit of a surprise to some, but my daughter Carys is NOT disabled. I don’t define her by labels, especially not negative ones. She’s not a cripple because she’s in a wheelchair. She’s not a mute because she doesn’t talk. And she’s certainly not ‘slow’, or a retard because of her mental abilities.

The first time I heard the R-word applied to Carys, I was shocked. I had honestly never perceived her in that way since the day she was born. It shocked me even more that said assessment came from the mouth of a friend. The second time I heard it, I was better able to handle it. (In a firm but polite manner.) The R-word has been denounced and rejected by society, and rightly so.

I don’t like the term ‘special needs’ either. Her needs are not special, they are the same as everyone else’s, to love and be loved, to be nurtured, kept safe, have access to food and toys, a roof over her head, education, to be accepted.

I have heard people saying of her to their children, ‘We have to take care of Carys, she’s special.’ Well yes, she is, but no more special than all our children. I know this is meant well, but have you ever had to explain to your five year old why its Ok for a certain person in his class to pull his hair, because teacher said she (the person who did it) is ‘special’? I have. Not only is that wrong on the teacher’s part, but it is not an excuse for bad behaviour.

I define Carys by what she CAN do; in spite of all her challenges, she has overcome great suffering. She has learned to crawl and walk. She loves music and singing and dancing, and can actively partake. She has the most brilliant smile. She is cheeky and feisty, demanding at times. She laughs… a LOT. And oh, she has an infinite capacity to love.

She doesn’t judge people by the colour of their skin, how they look, what car they drive, or how big their house is. She doesn’t care about any of that. She willingly shares her food and toys. All she asks is a bit of attention, a full tummy, somewhere comfy to sleep, and as many hugs as you can spare.

What she has, is a rare syndrome. It’s called Cardiofaciocutaneous Syndrome. That is label enough. It’s completely true. It’s not insulting. It is a fact. It doesn’t make her special, just different. She’s not a victim of this syndrome, or a sufferer of it, or a patient. She is not impaired. She is not handicapped. It is simply something which is a part of her.

Here is a great quote;

The most appropriate label to use is usually the one given by  the parents.

In our case, that would be Carys. Carys is a Welsh name which comes from the word ‘love’ (cara’). I believe it is also very similar to a Greek word meaning ‘happy’ or ‘joy’ (περιχαρής / pericharí̱s). You can’t get more appropriate than that!

Carys, like all people with syndromes, is a human being, just like you and me. I think there are many so-called ‘normal’ people out there in the community who are far more disabled and non-functioning than Carys will ever be.

Carys on holiday 2013

Carys on holiday 2013

I bawled in public again on Friday. I don’t know why I can’t seem to keep my emotions in check these days. I had gone to Carys’s school to meet her new Occupational Therapist. Halfway through the session, and the tears started to fall.

“Why are you crying?” she asked, handing me a wad of tissues. I couldn’t really explain. It was a whole crazy confused bunch of things I had absolutely no ability to extract and define at that point. Having had time to think about it, it has become a little clearer.

As a result of that meeting, today we started the Wilbargar Therapressure and Compressions Protocol. It’s a pretty intensive treatment for Carys’s multiple sensory defensiveness. It involves performing a particular treatment every ninety minutes between waking and sleeping for the next three weeks, after which she will be re-assessed. If the treatment has been successful, we will hopefully then be able to reduce the frequency.

So what does it involve? Well, we have a special brush with which we have to brush Carys’s arms back, legs, hands and feet. It requires deep pressure. This is followed by compressions of the joints. All told, it only takes about five or ten minutes.

But how does this help? It’s kinda complicated. From my understanding, there are two basic pathways feeding information to the brain. One is just for general info, the other is for ‘flight or fight’. In children with sensory defensiveness, all the info they receive, even that which is harmless and benign, gets fed into the wrong pathway, the ‘flight or fight’ one. It’s sensory overload.

This is what got to me. Imagine walking all alone down a strange dark alley in the middle of the night. Every sound, every shadow feels like a threat. There’s no one to help you. It’s unfamiliar and terrifying. Your body is on high alert, anticipating that something bad will happen.

We’ve all been in a situation like that at some point in our lives. Can you remember how it felt? Imagine if that happened to you every day. If you lived your life in a constant state of high alert and fear.

You’d be exhausted. You’d be nervous. You might react inappropriately. You might lash out aggressively at a perceived threat. You might not be able to eat or sleep. You’d be distracted, anxious, emotional. And you’d be misunderstood.

Well, this is how it often feels to suffer from sensory defensiveness. We know this because, although Carys can’t talk, other children can, and have. And that is one of the reasons why I cried. Carys will be ten years old in a few weeks, and all this time I never realised how she was feeling.

It’s no wonder she never wanted to leave the safety and familiarity of her room; why she played up so badly last year on holiday; why we have had so many issues trying to take her out to restaurants and on family days out. And the more we tried to familiarise her with these places, the worse it got, not better.

As I sat there, listening to all this with tears and snot streaming down my face… yes, sadly, I’m not a pretty, film star style crybaby… I realised that what this woman was proposing could work for Carys.

When she was a baby, I had taken her to a baby-massage class which had significantly improved her defensiveness against touch, particularly around her chest, shoulders, neck and head. She still enjoys massage now. She enjoys Reiki, and she loves nothing more than a full on cuddle!

And then I felt hopeful, that no matter how intense, time consuming and temporarily debilitating it might be for me personally, here was something which might actually make a significant improvement to Carys’s life. My hopes and dreams for Carys had been renewed. And that was another reason why I cried.

How lucky we are!

I left feeling humbled and grateful for the events and people who had brought this young woman into our lives; grateful for her knowledge, and grateful for the research which had created this procedure in the first place. I’m also grateful for Carys’s teacher, who is willingly sharing in the burden of all of Carys’s care, from her education and development, to physio, and now this. And that was also why I cried.

You can read about the Wilbargar Therapressure Protocol here. You can read about sensory defensiveness here (Carys has most of them). Finally, you can read a really touching blog post by author and blogger Rachel Carrerra who describes what it feels like very movingly.

See that face? It's the face of a little girl I love with all my heart. See that scar? It's not a facial disfigurement, its a badge of her triumph, courage, and beautiful soul.

See that face? It’s the face of a little girl I love with all my heart. See that scar? It’s not a facial disfigurement, its a badge of her triumph, courage, and beautiful soul.

My mobile phone rang this morning, and I saw from the display that it was Carys’s school. I answered with some trepidation; there must be something wrong.

“Don’t worry, nothing’s wrong,” said the voice of Carys’s teacher immediately. “I’m ringing with wonderful news! Carys walked about 50 steps today, all by herself, all the way down the classroom and along the hall…”

Well, I think you know me well enough by now to guess what happened next. Overwhelming emotion of any kind usually finds its release in tears, but this time they were tears of joy. They made the conversation a little one sided, I must admit, but Carys’s teacher didn’t mind; she was just as excited and emotional as me.

I phoned Conor. He was driving, but happily, he managed to avoid crashing the car. I felt like my heart was going to burst. From the sounds I was hearing, so did he.

In just under 6 months of corrective insoles in her shoes instead of AFO’s, a walkolong instead of a walker, and her new physio exercises for core strength and balance, she has gone from not walking, to walking 50 steps all by herself, of her own accord.

And if that’s not a miracle, I don’t know what is.