Special Needs Parents: How Crossfit is Changing My Life!

It was a cold September Saturday in 2013 and I was working at an outdoor event when I bent to lift a crate of bottled water.

I immediately felt a stab of pain travel from my lower back down my right leg.

I knew this wasn’t good!

I struggled through the rest of the day in a haze of pain relief and by the time I got home, needed help to get out of the car my back had seized up so much.

What happened that day was a result of 5 years of moving and handling Daniel incorrectly.

I was strong and fit – regularly running 10km and half marathons but I ignored the niggles of pain.

Lifting him was no problem to me.

Or so I told myself.

He’s an average boy in terms of weight and height but with low tone and no ability to assist whoever is moving him, his dead weight feels significantly heavier than his actual weight.

The weeks and months that followed gave me a scare.

‘Suspected torn discs on L5 & L6.’

‘Complete rest.’

‘No lifting.’

The stuff of nightmares for a special needs parent.

How were we going to cope?

Did this mean I’d not be able to manage Daniel by myself?

Our home at this stage wasn’t adapted nor did we have a wheelchair accessible vehicle.

With minimal weight bearing, Daniel needs significant help with every aspect of movement and all his transitions.

Another comment also filled me with dread.

‘Your running days are over.’

Running was my thing, don’t get me wrong I wasn’t any good at it. But it was my stress relief, my down time, my hobby. And the thought of never doing it again, well…it was hard to take.

While I waited for an MRI scan, I began looking at other ways of healing/strengthening my back and finding a new hobby.

So I tried – Yoga, Pilates, Personal Trainer, Gym Classes, I even got a Cross Trainer (it became a clothes horse).

Nothing clicked with me.

This period of time did give me an opportunity to rest though.

I concentrated on minimising the amount I lifted Daniel.

I really focussed on lifting him correctly when I had to, our home was adapted, we moved him downstairs and we took delivery of a shiny new wheelchair accessible car or the bingo bus as it’s affectionately called.

I found the spasms of pain were reducing, I could cut back on the painkillers, my movement was freeing up and I felt ready to start running again.

New trainers, a date in the diary for a half marathon and my first run – January 2016.

It didn’t go well. 3 miles in and I admitted defeat. I sat on the side of the road, phoned my husband and in tears asked him to come and pick me up. Think Paula Radcliffe in the Beijing Olympics, it was that dramatic. Well for me anyway!

‘Why don’t you try Crossfit?’, he suggested in the car on the way home.

He’d recently taken up Crossfit and I’d watched the YouTube videos with him, WODs, Double Unders, AMRAPS, Metcons. It was like whole new language and it looked ridiculously hard.

‘Don’t be daft, I’d never be able to do it – not with my back.’

After months hearing all about how amazing Crossfit was, watching him go from strength to strength. I decided to give it a go.

It was with much trepidation that I went along to Crossfit MCI for my first fast track session.

It many ways it was exactly what I expected.

It was scary. It was like no other form of exercise I have ever done. It was like learning a new language.

But it’s what I didn’t expect that’s been the most surprising.

And that’s how quickly Crossfit has improved my strength, most importantly for me, my core strength and also how it’s improved my movement.

Crossfit Coach Matt McLoughlin explains, ‘Crossfit is based on functional movements – the core movements of life. These movements reflect the best aspects of gymnastics, weightlifting, running, rowing and more. We vary these functional movements constantly and perform them at high intensity.

Crossfit programming is scaled and suitable for all ages and physical conditions. We never change the programme but rather scale the load and the intensity to suit the individual.

That’s exactly what we’ve done with Claire – we’ve worked on her mechanics and form. It’s great to hear that she’s already feeling the benefits in a short space of time.

The focus is very much on mechanics followed by consistency and then on intensity, The more work you do in less time, the more intense the effort, making it a perfect programme for anyone with a busy schedule who needs to make the most of their time.’

So three months in and although my focus is still very much on not doing it unless I have to, I’m finding that on the occasions where moving and handling Daniel is still necessary, it is easy and more manageable.

Another unexpected surprise is that Crossfit is about so much more than an exercise programme, like the world of special needs it’s a Community. It’s a community of like minded individuals supporting each other, encouraging each other and even competing against each other using a system of whiteboards and records creating a sense of camaraderie like no other.

I’m glad I took that first step into the Box (a Crossfit gym – told you it was a whole new language).

Not only am I a happier, healthier person. I’m also a fitter and stronger one.

Crossfit is helping prepare my mind and body to care for my little boy who I have to accept is not so little any more.

And is just going to get bigger.

More, “Me Time.”

After facing some health issues and surgery last year, I’ve tried to make a more conscious effort to put myself first once in a while.

I thought it would be fun to share a few of the things I’ve been doing lately to de-stress and relax.


A long soak in a hot bath is a classic way to unwind at the end of a long day. I’ve been trying to take the time to do this more frequently, and it’s amazing how a tub of hot water can soothe some of the day’s stress away. 

Must haves for a relaxing bath include lavender bubble bath, candles, and dark chocolate.

Do yourself a favor and find this chocolate. It’s amazing.

Shop Alter Eco Chocolate Bar

This vanilla bean soy candle is in my house and nearly gone.     

Shop vanilla bean soy candle

And this bubble bath has the greatest relaxing, calming scent.  

Shop Dr Teal’s Lavendar Bubble Bath


I have been taking a class at our local YMCA for a few months called BodyFlow. It includes a combination of yoga, tai chi, and pilates moves.

I am not the type of person who needs to take a five-mile run to feel as though my body got some exercise.

This class makes me feel composed and strengthened. Finding some type of physical exercise that makes you feel strong and de-stressed is key in keeping yourself healthy both physically and mentally.

If mama is stressed nobody is at their best.  (That’s a saying, right?)

Fun with the children

Our daughter and I have been enjoying a mommy-and-me style yoga class the last four weeks.

It is geared toward 3-5 year-olds and has been a great way to share an activity I enjoy doing with our daughter. We go for half an hour on Wednesday mornings and just have fun.

I have learned, and am still learning, that having a child with special needs takes up a lot of time, and it can be difficult to prioritize time with your other children. My daughter needs to feel like her wants and needs are the most important thing sometimes too, so this class has been a great bonding experience and opportunity to have some time together.

Girls’ Night (recipe)

I am hosting a girls’ movie night this weekend, which is one thing I love to do.  Having a few girlfriends over to enjoy drinks, snacks, and a chick flick is an enjoyable way to unwind at the end of the week.

A friend of mine shared this recipe with me, and I assured her it would be on the menu for movie night.

S’MORES NACHOS RECIPE Major yum, am I right?!

The Beauty of Inclusion

My daughter is five years old and she attends school in a PMD (Profoundly Mentally Disabled) classroom environment.

I have blogged before of how the label of PMD was originally very difficult for me to accept. If I had to label her, I would label her as beautiful, happy, determined and inspiring. 

The name of her classroom is really quite deceiving. When we walk through the door, we are greeted by the wondrous sight of interactive learning, friendship and joyfulness.  

There is a plentiful array of special equipment to help her and her equally amazing classmates to reach goals. It’s obvious that goals and achievement are very important there. 

Music fills the room and creates a light-hearted and cheerful scene. Her loving teachers give the atmosphere a warm and secure feel.

While I love this enriched classroom, and see it as her perfect safe haven, I also love the opportunity that she has each day to spend time with a typical kindergarten class.

I have watched (with my heart bursting) kindergarten students competing to be my daughter’s “buddy.”

They help her participate in Music, Art, Physical Education and other activities that are part of the typical school day experience.

She is nonverbal, but it is truly magical to see the interaction that takes place between her and these students.

It doesn’t matter to them that she is in a wheelchair.

They want to push her in her chair and help her roll a ball…. They laugh with her…They tell her they love her sparkly shoes….They encourage her.

They are imparting skills and providing immeasurable teachable moments for her. All the while, she’s unknowingly teaching them valuable lessons about life, friendship and strength.

It’s clear to see that the interchange between them is mutually rewarding.

When I was in high school, I had the honor of working with children with special needs. The experience has remained with me throughout my life and the lessons I learned from them had a tremendous impact on my heart.

By allowing typical children to spend time with children with special needs, I believe that kindness and compassion are strongly ingrained into them, and it builds upon their character.

Children aren’t judgmental at that young age.  I firmly believe that opportunities like this promote sound character traits that carry on with them into adulthood.

Being embraced and included by these kindergarteners, my daughter is not treated as inferior.

She is treated as a peer and as a friend.

The great beauty of inclusion is that remarkable abilities are realized and treasured relationships are formed.

I am very grateful to her wonderful teachers and to the caring Kindergarten teacher who promote this idea.

They may not realize it, but their actions are changing the world little by little, and making it a better place.

8 Tips To Help You Get A Good Night’s Sleep

Through my own mission to get good quality zzzs, I have collected a selection of tools that really have helped me. They might be obvious, but in your sleepy state they may not be at the forefront of your mind.

Feel free to use one or all, building it into your day.

It only takes a few minutes and could work wonders!

1. Eye Eye Captain

An eye patch can really help to shut out the world and calm down your brain in order to get to sleep quickly.

This is particularly relevant at the moment with all the light evenings and early mornings.

I wear it every night without fail.

2. Crank Up the Routine

Whatever time you are going to bed at the moment, give yourself the best lead up you can.

This doesn’t have to involve elaborate rituals, but winding down at least one hour before getting into bed including no caffeinated drinks or stimulating activities can really help to get you off to slumberland.

3. Be A Bit Boring About Bedtime

To really get your body in the sleep groove, go to bed at the same time every night, even on weekends.

If you are getting up in the night to take care of your child, it is an idea to go to bed early.

Give yourself as much chance to fill the sleep tank as possible.

4. Drink A Sleepy Blend or Milky Drink

I’ve tried a few of these. Good old Horlicks is calming, warm and lovely.

I have also been trialling some sleep infusions. Sleep Easy and Snore and Peace by clipper are fantastic.

They have a lovely blend of lavender and chamomile as well as things like orange and cinnamon. The aroma really helps to relax down too.

5. Hot Shower or Bath

As a parent, I don’t get time to have a bath before bed now, but scientifically it is a very good sleep aid.

Our bodies have an internal thermostat and once it cools down it acts as a sleepy switch.

Instead of a bath, I now have a very quick hot shower before bed, it really works and is very relaxing!

6. Pillow Spray/Candle

Before getting into bed I lit a lavender candle for a while until I had finished reading. It really helped me to feel relaxed and definitely helped get me to sleep.

The problem was I couldn’t keep lighting it when I woke up in the night. Instead I ordered a pillow spray from This Works. And it really does!

Just inhaling the waft of a few spritzes has me falling into a deep sleep. If I wake in the night I give it another spray and hey presto!

7. Read the Psalms

Reading these can bring great encouragement and comfort; here is a link to pick one out.

Psalm 4 or 23 are especially recommended.

You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. 
In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.”
Psalm 4:7,8

8. Read a Few Pages of a Book

Even if it’s just five minutes – this can also help to take your mind off the day and transport you somewhere else.

This distraction can really help your brain to wind down.


To quote Dr Weissbluth, the most important goal is a well-rested family, and hopefully these tips can ensure you can get to sleep too!

Feel Better: Thump Your Thymus

Sounds simple enough, but where’s your thymus gland?

Your thymus gland sits right behind your breastbone.

When we have an emotional or physical disturbance our thymus gland can shrink or become depleted of this vital life energy.

Can you imagine what that feels like? Or better yet, you know what that feels like no doubt.

You see, the thymus functions as both an endocrine gland and a lymphatic gland. That’s a double whammy in a good way to protect us.

T-lymphocytes (T cells), also known as “killer cells” are produced in our thymus. They’re such critical cells of our adaptive immune system.

Curiously enough, the thymus is the largest when we’re children, before puberty.

As we age it shrinks and is replaced by fat but those important T-cells continue to be generated through our adulthood.

When life gets out of sorts and daily stress seems to eat us up inside it is these very critical cells that get minimized in production.

Here’s what I’m talking about — a way to thwart that process in times of swirling stress!

T-cells are the hunters and destroyers for your immune system. We need to boost those!

So what’s the thymus?

Think of your thymus as your immune system’s surveillance gland.

Not only does our thymus gland change with age it can also be hampered when we overuse medicine. Too many pills can overtake the responsibilities of a healthy immune system.

Our system can stagnate and atrophy, becoming even less able to fulfill its responsibilities.

But even in an atrophied thymus gland, the production of T-cells continues throughout our adult life.

So boosting that function can only serve us.

The Thump to the Rescue!

You can use the thymus thump as a means to reinstate the single most important function of our thymus gland: to keep it active and bolster our immune system, especially when our lives get so busy and we’re scurrying left, right and center.

Thumping the middle of your chest can help bring up your life energy.

When the thymus gland is in harmony it can increase your strength and vitality.

Thumping the thymus can help keep your own life energy pumping and vibrating at a high frequency.

You need all the vitality you can get.

And it’s easy peasy to do!

Okay, how to do it:

You can thump in the middle of your chest with your fist (think Tarzan).

Or, you may want to rub softly or firmly or scratch with four fingers of your hand.

Do this for about 20 seconds and breathe deeply in and out.

You can also add an affirmation such as “all is well in my world” or even think about something positive and pleasant.

You may know when you have activated the thymus gland as you will feel a little tingling or a subtle feeling of ‘joy’ or ‘happiness.’

Another variation is to do three thumps at a time but emphasize the first thump more firmly.

For some people it may take a little time before you ‘feel’ anything.

Persevere and be patient, you’ll get it. Your body will pick it up.

Do it everyday. It’s simple and easy to do anywhere.

If you suffer from anxiety, panic attacks or overloaded stress, thump your thymus several times a day.

This will allow your life energy to come alive.

And because it’s easy to do try to make it a regular practice.

I end my shower every morning whilst the water is still on me with about 7-10 three beat (da-da-da) thymus thumps.

Thumping your thymus will:

Stimulate all of your energies.

Boost your immune system.

Increase your strength and vitality.

Now, go THUMP!

Fight Stress with Healthy Foods!

Unfortunately, many of us have a habit of turning to traditional, “comfort”, foods when we are stressed – pizza, pasta with creamy sauces, ice cream, candy bars…

They may help us to feel better in the short-term, but are likely to leave us feeling lethargic and even more stressed!

High-fat, high-sugar foods such as these can raise our cholesterol levels over time. Stress itself can also drive up our cholesterol and blood pressure.

So, if you turn to high-fat, high-sugar, “comfort”, foods, you have essentially dealt your heart-health and your stress level a one-two punch.

Fortunately, there are many delicious, healthy foods that can actually help to alleviate stress.

Choose the right carbs!

Carbohydrates help your brain to produce a calming hormone called serotonin. But take note – not all carbs are created equal!

Refined carbohydrates, such as those in white bread, white pasta, white rice, sugary drinks and desserts, are digested rapidly and cause spikes in our blood sugar.

This can cause us to feel a, “crash,” and end up having less energy and more stress.

Complex carbohydrates, found in whole grain breads, whole grain pasta, brown rice, beans and oatmeal, are digested more slowly and provide a more even energy source.

They also help our brains to produce serotonin, so they are a great choice for calming our bodies and reducing stress.

Meal Idea:  Veggie chili made with black beans and lots of veggies, served over brown rice.

Go Nuts!

When you are feeling low energy or stressed and need a snack, reach for the almonds (or pistachios, or walnuts!).

Our bodies’ stores of B vitamins go down when we are stressed. Nuts contain a lot of B vitamins and can help to build our stores of this essential vitamin back up again.

In addition, nuts such as pistachios contain a lot of potassium, which can lower your blood pressure.

Meal Idea:  Wholegrain pasta with walnut-parsley sauce

Load up on vitamin C!

When we are stressed, our bodies produce more stress hormones.

Eating foods high in vitamin C can help to lower stress hormone levels and bring us back into balance.

Next time you are feeling overwhelmed, reach for vitamin C-rich foods, including bell peppers, spinach, broccoli, berries, kiwifruit, tomatoes and papayas – all good choices to help bring your stress level down.

Meal Idea:  Spinach salad with salmon, red bell peppers and tomatoes

Magnesium-rich foods

Magnesium helps to decrease our stress hormone levels and blood pressure.

In addition, magnesium-rich foods can help by lowering the amount of a certain protein in our bodies that leads to stress and sometimes depression.

Most of us do not get enough magnesium in our diets.

Focus on magnesium-rich foods such as dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, swiss chard), beans (black beans, kidney beans), brown rice, nuts, seeds, avocado, whole grains and banana.

Meal Idea:  Wrap made with whole grain tortilla, beans, spinach and avocado

Enjoy your tea

Next time you are feeling anxious or stressed, make yourself a cup of tea! Both black teas and herbal teas help to lower stress hormone levels.

Since the caffeine in black tea may increase stress response, however, your best bet is to stick with green, herbal or decaffeinated black teas.

Not only does drinking tea lower stress levels, just holding a warm mug in your hands can be so soothing and relaxing!

And with so many varieties of herbal teas available – chamomile, lemon balm, peppermint, ginger and green teas, just to name a few – you are sure to find one that you like.

Meal Idea:  Whole-grain muffin made with bananas and yogurt, with a mug of chamomile tea

Don’t forget the chocolate!

If you are really feeling stressed and want a little treat, go for some dark chocolate.

Like tea, dark chocolate can lower stress hormone levels.

Dark chocolate has more beneficial nutrients (and less sugar) than milk chocolate, so choose chocolate that is at least 70 percent cocoa.

Since chocolate is a high-calorie food, you will want to watch that you don’t overdo it.

But a couple squares of dark chocolate each day could be a delicious way to lower your stress level.

Dessert Idea:  Strawberries dipped in dark chocolate

Next time you feel stressed or overwhelmed, do yourself and your family a favor by choosing these healthful, stress-reducing and delicious foods!

Taking Better Care of My Back (and me!)

She has recently started doing a sort of stylized bum shuffle/bunny hop technique to get across the floor (very exciting for us as it took her a long, long time to develop the motivation to move herself forwards!).

Although she can weigh bear in a standing position pretty well she has only just started taking a few (supported) steps, so is quite a long way from walking – if ever.

Therefore my day involves a lot of lifting, carrying and transfers from floor to chair, in and out of the bath and cotbed, sitting on the floor, crouching down and generally getting into awkward positions to help with her physio and mobility needs.

I’ve always had dodgy posture and a bit of a tendency to lower back pain, but I’ve been noticing the strain much more recently and it has given me a bit of a wake up call.

It’s so easy to ignore your own aches and pains and problems as the children are the priority but, as my husband works long hours, I am on my own with the wee ones most days from morning until bedtime – so if my body packs in our family really would be struggling!

With that in mind, my new year’s resolution was to start yoga and try to improve my core strength and posture….

And (a big surprise to myself!) I actually did join a studio!

I have so far managed to go along once a week (well ok, I have missed a couple of weeks – but I still think I’m doing pretty well!).

It feels very reassuring to be doing something which will help my posture and hopefully protect my back.

As an added bonus, I also get a little bit of ‘me time’ and some extremely useful tips on relaxation techniques.

Life with small children can be pretty stressful and chaotic at the best of times, but with additional needs in the mix – appointments and therapy ‘homework’ to squeeze into our day – it can be extra stressful!

In fact before each class, as I’ve run around trying to get the kids sorted and into bed in order to run out as soon as Dad comes through the door from work, I wonder if it’s actually worth the hassle and if I’m just cancelling out any benefits I might get from the relaxation elements!

So far thankfully not, although I can’t say my mind doesn’t sometimes wander back to random thoughts about home as I’m lying there in the studio….!

Let’s Talk About Our Mental Health…

Did you know about 25% of the UK population will experience some kind of mental health problem this year – it most likely to be a combination of anxiety or depression.

Statistics also tell us that more women than men are treated for a mental health problem each year.

Does this sound familiar? Yeah I bet it does.

I’d say our chances of falling into that 25% are a good bit higher than the average mum – wouldn’t you?

I want to talk about this because I don’t want you to make the same mistake I did.

Shortly after finding out that our much wanted first born son had special needs and would need life-long care, I began to experience mental health problems.

I know what they are now, at the time I didn’t have a clue what was happening to me.

I HAD to be the strong one, I had to answer everyone’s questions, reassure everyone that it would be OK, that we would cope – so outwardly I think I put on a pretty good front.

No one ever asked if I was OK, so I’m assuming I did a good job at pretending. Inside, I wasn’t doing just as well.

I felt like a horrendous weight was dragging me down, I was constantly fighting through a thick cloud of fog – even the simplest of tasks felt like I was climbing mountain.

I think I spent more time crying than not.

I stopped going out, I stopped seeing friends and I stopped doing the things I enjoyed.

But I absolutely did not need any help. Asking for help would be a sign of weakness, taking medication would be a sign that I was not coping, I was sure no one would want to listen to how I was feeling.

In hindsight, now I’m in a brighter and better place, I wish I could give my old self a good shake.

I recently hurt my back, I immediately went to my GP, started a course of anti-inflammatory medication and spent a small fortune on physiotherapy treatment.

However, when it came to my mental health why did I think seeking the same help would be a sign of weakness?

Please don’t make the same mistake I did.

I managed to climb out of a deep dark hole very slowly, but it took far longer than it should have.

How much time did I waste by not asking for help?

I’ll never know now, but what I do know is that if I should ever feel myself sinking into that place again, I will most definitely be asking for help.

Time to Talk is urging us all to Take 5. http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/timetotalkday

Take 5 with a friend to find out how they’re doing, watch and share their film or have a conversation online – these are all small things you can do to make a big difference. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T5EvbjiaCcw&feature=youtu.be

Why not introduce yourself in the Firefly Garden, you’ll find a supportive group of parents, therapists and carers. It could be the start of a better and brighter future for you too. http://community.fireflyfriends.com/community/viewthread/122/