Category Archives: Family

Domestic Abuse: 4 reasons why we stay

I was watching a documentary the other night about a lady who was in an abusive relationship which ended in her being set on fire by her partner and dying.  A horrific story, but it set me thinking…  I lived in an abusive relationship, it was just more subtle and very insidious, some physical abuse but mostly mental and controlling.  The law now recognises this type of abuse as ‘coercive control‘ and can carry a sentence of up to five years imprisonment.  It’s also very much a gender biased form of abuse with most abusers being male.  I felt it would be useful to analyse the reasons why I stayed with Paul for so long, and having done so, I also realise that the reasons are pretty much the same regardless of the type of abuse.  So, for those of you who cannot begin to get your head around ‘why we stay’, maybe this will help you to understand how powerless you can feel in these relationships and how staying can feel like the easier option.

 

1. Fear

This is probably the biggest and most chilling reason why so many women stay in an abusive relationship and the fear is very real on a number of different levels.  There may be children involved in which case the fear of not being able to look after them adequately is very hard to overcome.  Another, more sinister fear is of your partner coming after you and hurting you, either physically or in any other way, this can be paralysing.  There is also the fear that life will actually become worse if you leave because of your partners inability to let go. Many women from abusive relationships end up being stalked by their partner and the consequences can be deadly.

 

2.  Love:-

It’s easy for onlookers to forget that we fell in love with these people, that they were wonderful when we first met them and we wanted to spend the rest of our lives with them, that is, the person we initially fell in love with.  When you’re head over heels in love you don’t see, or ignore, the negative aspects of your partner, you’re actually so blindly in love that it’s almost impossible to believe what you subconsciously suspect.  And hindsight is a very wonderful thing that we are deprived of at the actual time we need it!  I know, I look back now and realise that the writing was on the wall from very early on in our relationship but I blamed myself for causing his behaviour, vowing to become ‘better’.

 

3. Isolation:-

Sadly, in a lot of cases, the changes happen slowly and imperceptibly, distancing you from your family,  restricting your access to friends for what always seem to be perfectly good reasons and the anger if your partner suspects you may have confided in someone, always preventing you from doing just that.  The isolation builds until there is no-one left that you are close enough with to be able to ask for help, being totally alone makes the prospect of leaving even harder to contemplate.  Another aspect of this type of abuse is the constant reinforcement of your belief that it actually is all your fault and you’re the one who is lacking.  I was brainwashed over many years to believe that I was the one who was mentally ill due to my childhood experiences and my mother dying when I was a teenager, eventually I believed it wholeheartedly.  It was only a few years before Paul’s death that I ‘woke up’ and saw the reality, by that time I had 7 children, all with special needs, and leaving was going to be painfully slow and also a mammoth task, but do it I must.

 

4. Hope:-

Maybe the most paralysing of all, the constant hope that the person you fell in love with will suddenly return and the sheer bliss that you experienced in those early days will be here again.  Deluded? Yes, of course, but by the time you realise that you’re deluded the rest of the damage has already been done.

My book ‘Unravelled‘ was published a few years ago and since then I’ve received a number of messages for women telling that they read the book, realised that they were living in a coercively controlling relationship and found the strength to leave.  I feel horribly responsible, but, fortunately, all of these stories had a happy ending with the women involved finding true love with a new partner.  Leaving was incredibly hard for all of them but it ended up being the right thing to do.

Anyone who has seen ‘Kingdom of Us‘  will know that one of Paul’s considered plans was murder/suicide, we found a notepad after his death which outlined in detail how he would kill all of the children in front of me, then me and then himself.  It was terrifying to realise how close we had potentially come to such an appalling end and really highlights just how mentally ill Paul actually was.

We were lucky, Paul didn’t carry out his plan and chose instead to end his own life, a tragedy in itself, but I’m thankful that the children have had the opportunity of living their lives free from fear.  I guess there was never going to be a perfect ending within my relationship with Paul, it was so flawed in so many ways but here we are, still standing and living the best lives we can with hope in our hearts.  It fills me with joy to watch my beautiful children living full lives and working towards their dreams, dreams that could so easily have been snatched away, I have so much to be grateful for…

The Mad Shanks Residence Easter Challenge

How quickly time flies, The Mad Shanks Residence Easter Challenge was yesterday, feels like only a few months ago that we had the last one!  As always, the people in attendance were given challenges to complete and be judged on before running out into the field to find 312 hidden chocolate goodies which were spread far and wide.

All went well, they had three challenges this year, first was to make six beautiful and imaginative chocolates fit for Gordon Ramsay, again I stipulated, NO turds on plates!  Secondly they had to transform a hat with bunny ears into something creative.  The ‘hats’ were pink and the ears resembled pigs rather than rabbits, probably the reason they were reduced to 50p each in Hobbycraft!

Lastly, they had to paint each others faces, this was a first for the Easter Challenge so I was waiting in eager anticipation to see what they came up with.  They had an hour per challenge, and , as always, no rules, they could do whatever they wanted, and boy, they did!

The hats turned into everything from Easter Chicks to genitalia (both male and female, I shouldn’t really have been surprised!), they were all absolutely ingenious.

The face painting featured everything from the beautiful to the astonishingly bizarre and the chocolates were all genuinely, beautifully executed and tasted delicious, all round a huge success.

Meanwhile, I hade been roaming the field creating the egg hunt, we’d started late so it was already evening when we realised two of the dogs were missing, the deadly duo of Lexie and Cody.  The ‘dog hunt’ started and after well over an hour was called off so that the egg hunt could go ahead before darkness fell.  I’m fussy about the hunt being done as soon as possible because of the risk of the local wildlife finding the treats (all wrapped in either plastic or foil) and risking their wellbeing if they eat them, wrapping and all.

We decide to incorporate the hunt with continued efforts to find the dogs who’d both been renamed with words that really are not suitable for this blog! As eleven people scatter gunned around the field searching, I sat and waited for their return, by this time I felt as though I’d done my bit and was shattered.

Fortunately Osborn found the wayward dogs a little way from home and brought them back safely and the chocolates were counted and prizes awarded to the winners of each category, a brilliant day enjoyed by all who attended.

Bearing in mind that the children now range in age from 17-26, will the tradition continue?  I really don’t know, but all the time they are as enthusiastic as they were yesterday, I will continue to organise it.  There’s no age limit on having fun you know!

HS2: The brutal reality finally revealed…

A lot of you will already know that HS2 will be passing less than 100m outside our back door and we have 10 years of on and off construction to look forward to.  Whilst the ‘experts’ insist on telling us constantly that the noise level will be very low and they will minimise the impact on my family as best they can, the reality is that it’s going to be very intrusive indeed.

We live in the middle of nowhere, tractors ploughing the surrounding fields are extremely noticeable as we live in silence bar the birds singing and the odd car going past.  And yes, we’re so incredibly lucky to live where we do but, I personally have spent every single one of the past 31 years working myself into the ground in order to be able to afford to keep it, for what, I now ask?

Was it worth the blood, sweat and tears I’ve put into being able to have the opportunity to live in a peaceful environment?  It now all feels as though it’s been in vain as I look forward to spending my older years (a time now when I really appreciate the peace and quiet) with the never ending noise of construction, the dust and loss of trees and environment that we are all so emotionally attached to.

We had a total of six people attend a meeting this morning to discuss where exactly the construction will be and what mitigation can be offered.  These people are the messengers and therefore do not deserve to be shot, but, I do resent the placating comments intended to convince us that ‘it won’t be as bad as we’re anticipating’.  I have stood next to many, many construction sites over my lifetime and I’m only too well aware of what the noise and visual impact is going to be.  Couple that with the fact that over the last seven years we’ve been told that the land they need will be ‘x’ and now we’re being told it’s a lot more than we ever imagined, no wonder my daughter broke down in tears.

On a very personal level it feels as though another part of Paul is being taken away from us as he loved our house so much and fought with me for 20 years to be able to keep it.  The ancient Oak tree that we used to sit under and where the children have some incredibly fond memories of their father will be chopped down at the end of the summer.  “You have it for the whole of the summer so you can still enjoy it” they told us.  Great, we have five more months of enjoying it’s beauty and then a tree that has taken 100’s of years to grow will be destroyed forever, along with dozens of other trees.

Yes, this blog is emotional, I’m feeling very emotional.  Something we don’t want and will never use is being forced upon us whether we like it or not, along with thousands of other people the length of the line.  None of the engineers from HS2 live near the line so it doesn’t affect them, easy to be blasé when it’s not impacting on your life.  For us, it’s the best part of our home being taken away along with so many happy memories, memories that we want to hold on to in order to override the sad ones.

The next few years are going to be extremely tough……

 

 

 

 

Parenting: A little lament and giving your children ‘Roots and Wings’

 

Parenting, probably the most difficult task we will ever undertake, and yet, we fall into it so easily, not fully knowing how totally life changing having a child can be.

A child is a permanent fixture, a little person that will forever be a part of your life, regardless of what life may throw at you personally, they will still need your love and support.  It’s also a job that has no real predictable outcome, it’s not a task that you can assign goals to, you can’t break it down into bite sized, manageable pieces.  It’s a minute by minute, day by day, full-time job that has no foreseeable ending.

If only parenting was a job that we could neatly process in our planners, with a measurable end goal and a system for seeing how much progress we’re making.  It’s not, it’s a constant, evolving roller coaster of emotion and practical tasks that have to be addressed, procrastination isn’t something we can easily employ when it comes to our offspring.

And yet, we have one, then we often have another one, in my case ending up with seven!  Do we have more children because we already have one to look after, life has changed unrecognisably anyway, so we may as well add to the family?  How much harder can two be compared to one?

Not wishing the above to sound negative, I couldn’t be happier that I had all of my children, I wouldn’t change a thing with regard to them and I know every parent feels the same way.  The biggest challenge, I believe, is that you have no idea whether you’ve done a good job or not until they’re adults and start to tell you where you went wrong!

I remember someone telling me when I was pregnant with my first child Jamie that, as a parent, I had to be ‘good enough’.  I also remember my hackles going up at the time and thinking, “I don’t want to be ‘good enough’, I want to be the best parent I can be”, and then being determined to do just that.

Some great advice I was given 24 years ago and I’ve tried to remember

And over the last 26 years that’s exactly what I’ve tried to do, knowing all the time that I wouldn’t know if my ‘best’ was enough for many years to come, all I can say is that I’m at peace knowing that I sincerely did try to do my ‘best’ at all times in spite of the curved balls that have been thrown at me over the years.

I’ve been very conscious of everything I’ve done and everything I’ve said, always trying to not say something that would have a lasting negative impact on my beautiful children.  I’ve tried to be strict enough without stifling their emotions and crushing them into becoming the empty shells of the person they should have been.  I can put my hand on my heart and swear that I’ve only ever wanted the best for them, whatever that may be.  I’ve always tried to encourage them in whatever they want to do and taught them to reach for the stars  and believe in themselves, because it’s likely that very few other people will believe in them.

And now they’re mostly all adults and preparing to spread their wings, I hope and pray that I’ve managed to give them the tools they need to be whoever they wish to be, to be able to aspire to being whatever they want to be and strong enough to pursue their dreams in the way they want to pursue them.

I’m not perfect, I have made mistakes and I hope my children will forgive those mistakes and understand that parents don’t always ‘get it right’.  Maybe when they have children of their own they will fully understand that parenting isn’t a perfect science and is fraught with ‘danger’ and then they’ll understand that every parent is, effectively, ‘winging it’. Babies don’t come with a manual, no troubleshooting tips in the back, no error codes to check, no virus software to upload, just a miniature person that is handed to you at birth that you then have to try to work out all by yourself, and there’s no other model exactly the same  to compare their performance with!

So, to every parent out there, you’re not alone in wondering whether you’re getting it right, and you won’t know until they’re old enough to tell you the error of your ways.  In hindsight you’ll see their point and wish you could turn the clock back, but having regrets is pointless, as long as you know you did your best, you have to forgive yourself.  One day they’ll understand how difficult parenting is and they’ll understand those ‘mistakes’ you made because they’ll be making their own mistakes without even realising it.

Being a parent is the most rewarding and frustrating task I’ve ever undertaken and I feel honoured and privileged to have had the opportunity to be a mother to my children.  I love them all so much, I would die for them without a second thought, but above all, I respect them all as people, things could have been so very different.

Thank you Jamie, Kacie, Lorie, Mirie, Nikita, Osborn and Pippa.  I feel humbled to have been able to spend a large part of my life with you all, you bring me the most intense and immense joy every single day.  As I say in ‘Kingdom of Us‘, I don’t who I would be without you……

An important final word…

 

 

 

Failure isn’t falling, it’s not getting back up again….

I’m going to let you into a secret, deep down I’m one of those people who would love to live in a world of rainbows, fairies, seahorses and unicorns!   It wouldn’t be for everyone but here is my idea of a perfect world…

….and this is what I’ve got!

Now, don’t get me wrong, Lorie asleep in her Unicorn onesie that I bought her for Christmas is wonderful and very endearing, and I love Bear very much indeed and he does do a passable impression of a Unicorn, for a dog.

But you can see the difference, huh?  It’s not quite the same as my fantasy world is it?

It’s sad that we can’t all live in a happy world of unicorns, fairies etc….but this is real life and sometimes it sucks!  The last year for the Shanks family has been one of incredible highs and desperate lows, it’s all very confusing.  The film being launched, winning a major award and being nominated for a BIFA and now a BAFTA was beyond our wildest dreams at the time of filming, and the film receiving such an incredible response from the audience on Netflix is simply amazing.

On the other hand, me having a heart attack, the children’s grandmother passing away and  various other rubbish events have had us all on a rollercoaster of emotions from which we’re all still recovering!

But that’s life isn’t it?  Highs and lows…the trick is managing to ride them well enough to be able to get through to the next rainbow on the horizon.  Oh yes, and keep searching for Unicorns, they’re out there somewhere!

 

Autism: Kittens in the freezer

Yes, your eyes are working just fine, the title does say ‘Kittens in the Freezer’!  I put something up on Facebook yesterday mentioning this and had a lot of raised eyebrows, should we be reported to the RSPCA?

No, it wasn’t quite like this!

Errrr…no, we might be bizarre, but we’re not cruel, so let me explain.

It came to pass some years ago that myself and all of the children were on holiday in Devon for a week and a very dear friend was very kindly house sitting for us.  He was minding the dog and all of the cats and making sure the roof didn’t blow off in a storm (it has happened!) or marauding invaders didn’t take over the property (that hasn’t happened yet but there’s plenty of time!), he was also minding our very pregnant cat who wasn’t due to have her babies for at least 2/3 more weeks.

On day two he rang me to say that she’d had 5 beautiful but very small kittens in one of the girls wardrobes, and, so far so good.  Maybe we’d got it wrong and she was a lot further gone than we thought, anyway, she’d had them and Lewis was doing a stirling job of making sure all was well.

Until the next morning when he rang to say that one had died overnight but the rest seemed fine.  I was heartbroken and knew the children would be even more so and they hadn’t even had a chance to see the one we’d lost.

Now, I guess in a normal house this wouldn’t present too much of a problem beyond the grieving process, but, as a lot of you know, most of my children are on the autistic spectrum, so normal rules just don’t apply.  I had to think quickly to try and work out an appropriate resolution where they would at least have the chance of seeing him/her before burial.

I could think of nothing other than emptying a freezer drawer, wrapping it in tissue and putting it in a freezer bag so that we could bury her in the ‘animal burial grounds’ when we returned.  I felt pretty chuffed with myself, this seemed to solve the problem pretty well I thought.

The next day there was more bad news, we’d lost another one, so, the same instructions for poor old Lewis, wrap it in tissue and put it in the freezer.  Over the next couple of day the remaining 3 sadly passed away, they had obviously been born far too early and just couldn’t survive.  The children were all devastated but actually took it better than I had hoped, and they also knew that they would be able to see them when they returned and give them the send off we give all of our departed pets and random wildlife that we’ve tried to rescue over the years ( all dearly loved and named!).

We returned from holiday a few days later and we agreed to bury the kittens the next day as it was late when we got back.  It didn’t happen, nor the next day, or the next.  Chaotic life carried on and the kittens were forgotten, which I feel terribly guilty about but with 7 children to focus on I should probably let myself off the hook!

Time went by and it was about 6 months later that someone came across some mysterious plastic freezer bags with tissue inside.  One of Osborn’s weird experiments?  Probably!  And then it dawned, the kittens!

Everyone felt terrible, how could we have forgotten them for so long?  Life I guess, just busy life.

They were duly given a fitting funeral within the next day or so and laid to rest in somewhere rather more appropriate than the spare freezer.  Putting the kittens in the freezer in the first place had just been a rather wacky solution to the challenges that autism can throw up, they need to see for themselves, they need proof most of the time otherwise it’s too abstract, it’s not real.  My intentions had always been entirely honourable.

So, there it is, the story of The Kittens in the Freezer!

COMING SOON, THE PUZZLE OF THE COTTON BUDS THAT WEREN’T!

 

 

Kingdom of Us: Searching questions on Woman’s Hour by Jane Garvey

BIFA’s!

Sunday night saw the entire Shanks family attending the BIFA’s, a glittering awards ceremony celebrating all that is best in the world of British Independent Film Making.  It was all very surreal, walking down the red carpet and having dozens of photographers taking pictures and shouting directions to us to look this way and that, and stand here and there, all very confusing!

Party time at the BIFA’s!

It was a fabulous night and we had the best time, we didn’t win Best Documentary but just being nominated and being in the top 5 was accolade enough when you consider how many documentaries were submitted.  It was an experience we will never forget and a huge ‘Thank You’ to Netflix for enabling us to be there.

Woman’s Hour

The morning after saw Lucy, Julia, James and I plus 2 babies (Lucy’s and Julia’s) at Broadcasting House for Woman’s Hour!  It was my first time on Woman’s Hour and very exciting, I’d been really looking forward to it.  It was Jane Garvey, a tough presenter and she had some pretty hard-hitting questions to ask.

‘The Gang’ at Woman’s Hour!

Having covered the back story to the film she mentioned that she had felt uncomfortable at watching parts of the film, as though she was intruding into our lives.  She’s the first person to say this, most people feel that whilst the film is very intimate and raw, the way it was filmed meant they didn’t feel as though they were intruding.  We wanted the film to be extremely honest and hard-hitting, we wanted to start conversations around the issues raised in the film, and you can’t accomplish that unless people feel strongly in some way when watching it.

She also asked Lucy whether she ever felt as though she was intruding too much.

Lucy answered by telling Jane that she knew not everything would end up in the final cut and as we had total control over the finished film she knew that some of the hardest things may never be broadcast.  She also said that she felt it was important that some of the hardest moments be caught on camera as they were important to the essence of the film.  We had total faith in Lucy and never had any reason to question her integrity.

Jane then asked me how many times I asked Lucy to put the camera down and ‘push off’?

The answer to that one is NEVER!  I knew, as Lucy did, that we had total control over the final cut and felt that everything should be filmed so that we had the choice.

The truth of it is that I never asked Lucy to stop, but there was one occasion when I told her to carry on and she decided herself to put the camera down.  That was a huge moment for us, we knew then that we could trust Lucy implicitly, she has become one of our closest friends over the years and we love her dearly.

Jane also asked whether it was right of me to put the children through making the film, and was it too much for them now that it’s out, in view of how much they’ve already been through?

I agonised over this one for the entire 4 years of making the film, but the children kept reassuring me that they wanted to do it, and they knew they would have the opportunity to cut anything out of the final edit if they didn’t feel comfortable with it.  They felt safe in Lucy’s very capable and compassionate hands and were always passionate about the whole thing being totally ‘real’.

Do they regret making it now that it’s available to the entire world?

No, if anything they are even happier about the project now that it’s out.  We’ve been swamped with messages from all over the planet thanking us for making such an honest film about the realities of the subjects it covers.  The people who’ve watched it say they feel reassured that they’re not the only ones experiencing some of the issues raised and they now understand people they are close to much better.

‘Besmirched’

Jane also made the statement that she felt ‘besmirched’ after watching the film.  This seemed to be a slightly unusual way of describing her feelings and very personal to her.  Besmirched means:-

to detract from the honour or luster of: to besmirch someone’s good name.

We all made the film in good faith, hoping that it may help some people in some ways.  Our intentions were honourable, we had no desire to make people feel ‘dirty’ in any way but we  were quite happy for people to feel uncomfortable.  We need our boundaries to be pushed sometimes in order to make us think in a bit more depth about certain things and I believe ‘Kingdom of Us’ does that.

 

 

The interview is here…

 

Numerous people have also messaged us to tell us that they were contemplating taking their own lives but have now changed their minds because they realise the terrible impact on the people they would leave behind.  That is a powerful reason for being so happy that we saw the project through to its conclusion.

And it does cover all kinds of things that we feel uncomfortable with, but knowing that people can relate to it and are potentially being helped makes that pale into insignificance.  If a little discomfort for us can change a few things then it’s all worthwhile.

Without controversy and discomfort there is no debate, and there must be conversation around subjects that make us uncomfortable.  

Episode 1: What they don’t tell you about heart attacks!

Anyone reading this who has a child will know this…..no matter how many books you read, classes you attend, Google searches you make or advice you gain from existing parents, nothing can ever prepare you for how drastically, totally and ever-eternally your life will change once you have children!  And, to be honest, how many of us wouldn’t have them if we actually knew the reality?  I wouldn’t change my children for anything on this planet but it doesn’t alter the fact that my life was never going to be the same again once my children started arriving.

I say all this because I believe the same is true of having a heart attack, no-one would ever do anything to increase their risk of having one if they actually knew the reality of what it involves and what ensues, myself included!

For most people who have a heart attack, this isn’t the first warning sign!

The stereotypical heart attack we witness mostly is of the artificial variety, TV, film, plays etc…and the actors involved in these representations are obviously portraying the event as accurately as they can.  However, having now spoken to many different people about their experience via the Cardio Rehab programme, I can tell you quite emphatically that the experience is not like this for most of us!

Firstly, the extreme pain we see portrayed is very rarely the first sign of heart problems, you’ve heard it all before but ‘indigestion’ is most people’s self diagnosis for the angina pains they start to experience, very often before the actual heart attack.  And indigestion is exactly what it felt like to me.  It’s not an agonising pain in the area where your heart is located, it’s a generalised pain that spreads across your chest, arms, back and neck and tends to feel a lot like acid reflux.  Click here to see the NHS list of symptoms and what to do if they occur.  Of course, we’re all different but this is the sensation a lot of people have described to me so it’s worth clocking that!

Most of the people I’ve spoken to have also continued with whatever they were doing as the warning signs were building up, thinking they should power on through.  I’ve spoken to people who were ripping up carpets at the time, up ladders fixing roofs or loading vans, they’ve all carried on with what they were doing.  And there-in lies part of the problem I think, we all think a heart attack is a dramatic event where we’ll collapse on the floor clutching our chests, (and it can be!) but, more often than not it’s a sensation that can easily be ignored and passed off as being nothing very important.

Not that I’m suggesting that we should run to our doctor every time we experience indigestion type symptoms, just that we should be aware that heart disease can start showing symptoms in a very non-threatening way.  In fact, I had had extensive tests done on my heart only 18 months before the attack and was told that my heart was ok, I went for tests in the first place because I suspected there was something awry.

I’m not telling you that tests are unreliable to scare you, but to make sure that you know that getting the all clear from Nuclear Stress Tests, Monitoring and Scans doesn’t mean there’s nothing that can go wrong.  I took my test results as meaning that my heart was perfectly ok, so when the symptoms started it was the last thing I thought was wrong.

I’m going to write a few of these blogs about heart attacks, hence the fact that this one is called ‘Episode 1’, but I’m going to try to cover aspects of the subject in a very real way so that you get a better idea of what they’re really all about and how they affect your life, keep your eyes open for more!

 

 

 

 

 

Autism: 4 things I believe contribute to the tragically high Suicide rate in Autistic people

Following on from the piece we did recently for ITV News regarding Autism and suicide, I think the facts and statistics speak for themselves, 66% of people on the spectrum have contemplated suicide, that is an alarming figure.

We can all do our part in giving people a hand up

 

What we don’t yet fully understand is why the actual suicide rate is so high within the neurodivergent population, although I have a few theories of my own.

  1. Having watched my own children grow up with the challenges that autism can create, and knowing the degree of mental health difficulties they ALL face, I believe that a proportion of their struggles relate directly to the everyday challenges they have to deal with just having to understand, and be understood, in a world that they find hard to relate to.  Autism can’t be ‘seen’ so it’s very difficult for ‘neurotypical’ (I hate that word, what is ‘Neurotypical’ anyway?) people to know that they may be having difficulty in communicating.
  2. A large number of people on the spectrum also have to contend with various sensory issues, constantly.  It may be a sensitivity to sounds, smells, textures, the list is a very long one.  What most of us don’t understand is that these sensitivities are not just irritating, the offending issue actually creates very real, agonising pain.  My children have a variety of sensory challenges and I’ve witnessed them contort with pain at  various inputs that they can’t cope with.  While they are out in the wide world they have no way of controlling their environment so these problems can ambush them at any moment.
  3. Another challenge is that people on the spectrum need to know what’s going to happen next.  They visualise everything in their heads, the problems occur when the reality doesn’t match their expectations, but, when does life ever pan out exactly the way we want it to?  Most of us adapt readily to the vagaries of life, imagine not being able to do that?
  4. Another huge challenge for people on the spectrum is actually accessing the help they need.  So many conventional therapies don’t work for them so even if they manage to ask for help in the first place, the likelihood of it helping them in real terms is very slim.  Fortunately, Autistica is doing very real research with people on the spectrum to find strategies that actually help, long may they keep up the good work.

I’ve only briefly listed a few challenges above, but try for a moment to imagine living in a world where there are so many variables that you find so unmanageable that your life is lived at the highest end of anxiety at all times?  We all experience stress, unfortunately, autistic people very often experience it on a totally different level, is it any wonder then that they often feel that they can’t cope any more?

The proportion of people living in our society with neurodivergent brains is actually very high, we need to be doing a lot more to create environments that they feel comfortable with.  A quiet room in shopping centres, colleges etc…would go a long way towards offering a calm space to collect oneself before trying to continue.

Autistica are an amazing charity that fund research into ways to help people on the spectrum manage anxiety and understand their mental health challenges along with a huge amount of other very important research.  If you would like to get involved with helping them you can join their ‘DISCOVER’ network to help them work with even more people so they can gain more insight, they already have 5000 people involved but the more the better.

We shouldn’t be losing lives to suicide and so much more needs to be done to help, let’s all join the army and shout for change….

‘Kingdom of Us’: Can a film really save lives?

 

Kingdom of Us

Life throws all kinds of stuff at us, some good, some bad, some absolutely earth shattering.    Paul’s suicide was one of those earth shattering events that left myself and my children in tatters.  10 years after the event and we’re still here, still in one piece and, remarkably, moving forward in spite of the fact that life just keeps giving….more shit that is!

I need to write a second book in order to tell the story properly (something I’m planning to do) but suffice it to say that the proverbial ‘icing on the cake’ was my heart attack 11 weeks ago, a defining moment indeed!

But in amongst all of the interesting events that have littered our lives over the last few years we made ‘Kingdom of Us’ with the incredibly talented Lucy Cohen.  Lucy is one of those people you meet once in a lifetime, someone who is so sensitive, empathetic, insightful to the point of appearing to be telepathic and so caring that she almost seems to be from a higher plane.

We met Lucy via ‘Unravelled’, the book I wrote a few years ago, in a roundabout way.  My literary agent, Andrew Lownie, introduced me to an agency called ‘Find a TV Expert’, through this agency a lady called Dee Kahlon found my profile and got in touch.  We met with her and she wanted to make a TV documentary about autism and introduced us to her preferred Director, Lucy.

It felt as though it was meant to be, love at first sight actually!  We adored Lucy and quickly came to trust her implicitly and we started filming.  The road to completing the film was anything but smooth and there were times when we all kept filming, really not knowing why.  There were no backers, no production company, no-one interested in the project which had long ceased to be a documentary about autism and had become, well, we didn’t really know what it was going to become.

And then through Lucy’s hard work and persistence a production company called Pulse became involved, they believed in the film and Lucy.  Funding came along a few months later and Lucy started to get the feel of what the final film would be.

It’s winning awards!

Four years after starting the whole process and 18 months of editing later and we have the finished article.  The film premiered at the London Film Festival, which was awesome and it won the Grierson Award for best documentary, unbelievable!

Now it’s been nominated for a BIFA (British Independent Film Awards) and we’re off to London on Sunday for the ceremony.  Who knows if the film will win but just to be nominated is too incredible for words, who knows what next?

In amongst all of this, Netflix became interested in the film long before the final edit was complete and snapped it up.  We were overjoyed, being available on Netflix meant that the film would be easily accessible globally and we hoped that it might just change some perceptions and maybe change a few lives.  The day of the release was a tense one for us, we had no idea how the film was going to be received, it could have gone either way.

But, we have been blown away by the response from people all over the world since it’s release on the 13th October.  We have received hundreds of messages from people thanking us for making the film and allowing people into our lives, and messages like the ones below have been so humbling but also, so awesome.

 

“Wow, what an amazing documentary. I’m in a real shitty place at the minute you and your family have really made me realise the possible devastation certain decisions could possibly have on others x”

 

“I watched your documentary today I just want to thank you. I have had suicidal thoughts lately & seeing the impact it has on children has made me stop”

 

These are excerpts from messages we’ve received and there have been so many others along the same lines.  We made the film in the hope that it might make a difference, we didn’t expect this but comments like these make the whole, difficult, four year process so incredibly worthwhile.

Thank goodness Lucy believed in the project and put everything into it for four years.

Thank goodness we all kept believing in her.

Thank goodness all the other people who became involved in the project believed in it as well.

We all hope that the film will be seen by as many people as possible and continue to make people think twice about mental health, autism and suicide