Charly Cox – Validate Me at Off the Shelf festival

On 10th October, I was honoured to interview Charly Cox in front of a live audience for Off the Shelf festival in Sheffield. She is a poet whose work has inspired many on instagram and through her books.

Text: Hello my name is Charly Cox and I am code dependent. Will you please, please validate me?

Charly Cox

“Charly Cox’s writing focuses on destigmatising mental health and young women surviving the modern world. she must be mad was the best-selling poetry debut of 2018. Her latest Validate Me explores the havoc the digital hemisphere plays on relationships and mental health and how a life lived online is both liberating and screwing us all up. Funny, heartbreaking and achingly relatable, Charly’s writing has the power to make us all feel less alone.”

Charly Cox poet and Sam Cleasby presenter for Off the Shelf festival Sheffield

Though I interview people every week on my BBC Sheffield radio show, it was a very different beast to do it live on a stage in front of an audience. But I absolutely loved it. Charly Cox was such a great guest and was generous in her answers and in giving a lot of herself. It was an absolute pleasure to chat with her. She also read some of her poetry for the audience and hearing it read out loud was just beautiful.

Charly Cox poet and Sam Cleasby presenter for Off the Shelf festival Sheffield

Validate Me

You can find Charly’s book Validate Me here, it is a collection of poetry that is so relatable to women living in a modern, social media obsessed world.

“This is an account of a life lived online. Swiping for approval. Scrolling for gratification. Searching for connection. From the glow of a screen in the middle of the night, to the harsh glare of the hospital waiting room, Validate Me is a raw and honest look at the highs and the lows of a digital life. The new voice of a generation, Charly’s words have the power to make us all feel less alone.”

Head over and follow Charly on instagram today. You can find out more about events and talks I am part of here.

Peace and Love

Sam xx

Henderson’s Relish – Strong and Northern

Henderson’s Relish is a Sheffield staple. It is a vinegary relish that goes on pretty much any foodstuff and beloved to the Steel City. They have just released their second cookbook – Strong and Northern and they asked lots of people who love Sheffield to be a part of it by sharing a little anecdote about Hendo’s. And I was proper chuffed that they asked me!

strong and northern cookbook Hendersons relish

The launch was last night and it was great to meet some of the Sheffield heroes in the book and hear speeches by Steve Edwards and Joe Scarborough.

Hendersons relish strong and northern cookbook

Sheffield is my birthplace and home and I am immensely proud of my city. To be a part of this book with so many amazing people is truly brilliant and I feel really honoured.

You can buy the Strong and Northern cookbook here from the Henderson’s Relish website.

Peace, love and Hendo’s

Sam xx

Sheffield Makes Music

On Thursday 26th September, it was Sheffield Makes Music, an event by the University of Sheffield and BBC Music Day. I was invited to host the main stage and help celebrate the amazingly talented and passionate artists of Sheffield.

They say “The reasons we participate in music are endless, varied, sometimes mysterious, often confusing, always rewarding. But we do it. We love it. We are it. And once again we celebrate it on BBC Music Day.”

Sam Cleasby hosting BBC Music Day Sheffield Makes Music 2019

There were some wonderful artists performing all over Sheffield. It was an honour to be a small part of the day. Sheffield’s poet laureate Otis Mensah also hosted his hand picked artists in his Mash Up House in Orchard Square. Seeing him perform with Sheffield’s finest Steve Edwards was the highlight of my summer.

Though I present on the radio and have done talks all over the UK and Europe, it was very different to be on a stage all day introducing the acts. But I loved it and was so chuffed to be asked to be part of the day.

It was tons of fun and though I was pretty scared beforehand, it was a great day and I would love to do more stuff like this!

Sam Cleasby hosting BBC Music Day Sheffield Makes Music 2019

I have done talks all over the UK and Europe and it was great to do some live stage work, I have really pulled back on doing talks over the past year due to my health. But I hope I will be able to pick up a little more in 2020. You can take a look at some the past events and talks I have done here.

Sam Cleasby hosting BBC Music Day Sheffield Makes Music 2019

Sam xx

Lola’s last walk

Thank you so much for all the kind messages after I shared that we may be losing our darling dog Lola. On Tuesday, we took her to the vets and made the heartbreaking decision to have her put to sleep.

Lola was our dog for 12 years since being a tiny pup. She gave us the most amazing life, filled with joy and love. And in her final days, we made sure we repaid her kindness. We tried to give her the gentlest time and all our love and respect.

Saying goodbye

Our son left for Uni this year and we knew we needed to give him a chance to say goodbye to her. So we drove her up to his Uni house and we all had a bit of time together.

We bought her a McDonalds on the way home!

dog eating burger

We made sure the kids had time to say goodbye to our gorgeous girl.

girl and dog
boy and dog

Lola’s last walk

On Tuesday morning Timm and I took Lola for her last walk. It was a beautiful sunny, winter day. She slowly trotted around the park with us and we took in the last precious time with her. We then took her to the vets who confirmed that her blood tests were very bad and she didn’t think she would have long. She talked to us about options and her fears of Lola going downhill very quickly. She was bleeding in her tummy. We agreed with the heaviest of hearts that putting her to sleep was the kindest option. It was devastating but it was incredibly peaceful and she passed away laid in our laps, looking in our eyes and being told how much we love her.

dog walking in the sun

Then we had to make the decision of what to do with her. I am thankful a friend had recommended a Pet Crematorium who had looked after her pet when they died. She said ‘his name is Chris, just give him a call and have a chat’. We did and he was so caring and kind that we decided to take Lola to him at Old Flatts Farm.

Old Flatts Farm Pet Cremation

We pulled up to a beautiful farmhouse that Lola would have adored, and took her into the chapel of rest where she was placed in a basket. The room was lit with candles and was peaceful, we were given as much time as we needed with her. It was a lovely room and it was so nice to have the space and time to say goodbye away from the vets.

Then we went into Chris’ office where he encouraged us to talk about Lola and our relationship. How we got her, our favourite memories, the times we had together. He told us about how he started the business after his own dog died and he just wanted to make somewhere that gave pets the service, respect and goodbyes that they deserved.

We weren’t rushed, there was no hard sell, there was no pressure. It almost felt like speaking to a therapist! We both cried and were upset but Chris was warm, caring and professional and we left an awful event with some peace and the knowledge we had done the best for her.

I received Lola’s ashes back in a beautiful cardboard tube wrapped in dried flowers. We also got a condolences card with some forget-me-not seeds and chose to have Lola’s paw print in clay framed.

dog cremation South Yorkshire
dog memorial

What next?

I can’t recommend Old Flatts Farm Pet Crematorium enough. This isn’t about me trying to advertise them (and it was of course fully paid for by me, this isn’t some some of blog gifting) but I am just so grateful that we were told about this service and I want to pass that on. I had no idea what the process was after death with pets. We have had a cat and a chihuahua die before. But due to their size, and where we lived, we buried them ourselves. But Lola was a larger dog and we are moving house next week. So the idea of burying her seemed difficult due to size and also we didn’t want to bury her in a house we were leaving!

It was such a beautiful way to deal with her after her death. Chris has so much compassion and care and is very easy to talk to. He made an awful situation just a little easier. And I do have to say that his service (including the paw in the frame) was cheaper than the vet service.

After

The house is now very quiet. We have another dog, Lemmy, and he seems confused and unsettled. We all keep crying over small things, noticing her dog bowl being moved, finding an old toy, seeing her lead. But we are talking about her and we will never forget her.

Some people say “it’s only a dog”. They are wrong. Lola was our family, she made us laugh, was there when we were celebrating, she was there when we cried. I told Lola things that Ive never told anyone else. I have cried into her fur after surgeries when it all seemed to much, I have whispered my pain to her, told her my secrets. She has forced me to get out of the house when I was depressed to walk her. And I know she has had a similar relationship with Timm and all three bambinos.

Lola was the best dog in the world. And we will never forget her.

Sam xx

Our Lola – when it’s time to say goodbye to your best furry friend

Grief is devastating. And if you have had a pet, you will understand that they are your family. I am going to attempt to write this tonight whilst I have the strength. Our lovely 12 year old pup Lola is heading towards the end of her life. Tomorrow we take her to the vets in the understanding that she might not be coming home with us. My heart is broken.

portrait of a dog crown and paw
Queen Lola – by Crown and Paw

Finding Lola

In 2007, we decided to get a dog. Timm and I both had dogs as kids and we knew we wanted our kids to know the joy of having a canine BFF. I went to the Rotherham Dog Rescue website and saw there was a litter of puppies that were in foster care. The mother was a family pet who got out and come home pregnant. We went through the home checks with the rescue centre and then I went to visit the pups.

There were 5 or 6 puppies tumbling out the kitchen, jumping up at the little gate, trying to get my attention. But one was shyly hanging back, looking interested but not pushing forward. I went and picked her up, she snuggled into my arms and promptly fell asleep. And I knew she was the one.

Our kids were 2, 4 and 6 at the time and they instantly fell in love with her. We got her around this time of the year, she was barely past 6 weeks but as she was no longer with her mother, they let us bring her home with us. They say a dog is for life, not just for Christmas. We are lucky to have had her for 11 Christmases.

Three young kids with a puppy

Our best doggy friend

Over the past 12 years, she has been our best friend, our constant side kick, my bed buddy when I was poorly and recovering from surgery. She was part of our wedding, has been a shoulder to cry on to all of us at one point or another. Lola put up with having bobbles on her ears and tutus on her back when the kids were little. She is the best dog any of us could ever hope for.

A few weeks ago she started acting oddly. She was weeing on beds and sofas, something she has never done before. She seemed a little confused and not quite herself. But we put it down to her age, as a 12 year old, she was allowed a few senior moments! Then last week she began to vomit. Not much, but it seemed odd. We thought she may have eaten something dodgy as she has a tendency to eat anything and everything!

Teenagers with a family dog

At the end of last week, her poo changed colour to black and she vomited a few more times, so we took her to the vets for some blood tests. They gave her anti sickness meds, though they didn’t help.

The worst news

Today they called with the worst news. They think she has cancer in her stomach. She is anaemic and losing blood in her vomit and poo. Her kidneys are failing and she has pancreatitis. We are devastated.

The vet believes that with her age and the blood tests, that the kindest thing may be to let her go. She can offer us more tests at this point but she asked us to seriously consider putting her to sleep.

I am heart broken. There is no good time to lose a pet, but with my health and recent bad news about needing more surgery, it just feels like a massive kick in the teeth. I just want a little brightness and the thought of losing my gorgeous Lola is too much.

Dog in a convertible car

Giving her the best day

Today we tried to give her a great day, lots of hugs and love. We took her up to Leeds where our son is at Uni so he could say his goodbyes. We took her to McDonalds and got her a burger! She spent the evening in our bed with us and the kids getting kissed and hugged.

We talked about all the good times we have had together. Our favourite Lola moments. From the time she went and dived into a huge black puddle of mud when we weren’t looking and then ran over to us through our picnic. We were screaming “Whose dog is this???” then I realised it was Lola!

Dog balancing a sausage on her nose

She has camped with us all over the UK, from Dorset through to Scotland. Lola loves swimming and is always the first to run into the sea. She went through a phase of diving into rivers and coming up with rocks, putting them in a pile and going back for more. At our wedding, she wore a bow tie and was our Best Dog. She once chased a ferret for about a mile and when she eventually caught it, she touched it with her nose and jumped a mile and ran back to us crying.

Her tricks include the usual paw, roll over etc, but we put a piece of meat on her nose and tell her to leave it and she won’t touch it till we say so, even if other people tell her. She is the best jumper, the fastest runner, the softest cuddler and the most gentle dog.

dog in a bow tie at a wedding

Our responsibility

We talked with the kids about how for the past 12 years, we have had responsibility to make sure she had the best life, now we have the responsibility to ensure she has a pain free and gentle death.

I can’t even believe I am typing these words. It is truly heartbreaking. She has grown up with our bambinos and has been such a huge part of all of our lives.

Tomorrow, we will take her to the vets and plan for her to have the gentlest passing we can. She has given us so much over the past 12 years and we have been the luckiest family in the world to have so long with the best dog ever. Hug your pet a little closer tonight for me.

My heart is broken.

Peace and love

Sam xx

Positive Advent

I saw a tweet from Munchies and Munchkins on twitter about Positive Advent and thought it was a lovely idea. They said:

Now as much as I love the idea, I don’t think I have the time to commit to so many, but I am going to try and share one for each day up till Christmas. Things are hard for me but I know we can always find some positivity in each day.

Munchies and Munchkins

Please head over and take a look at the Munchies and Munchkins website here to read more about Positive Advent and if you are joining in, it would be lovely for you to follow them on social media and tag them into your positivity. They say:

Post something which you are thankful for each day or something positive happening in your life. Each day increased the amount. The important thing to note is each day you are increasing the amount of good things you are looking for rather than adding one new thing each day. Hopefully in time helping those partaking to notice positives over negatives more often.

Day 1 – one thankful or positive note
Day 24 – twenty four thankful or positive notes 

Don’t feel obligated to join in every day. This is meant to help improve your mental health not add more pressure. Join in once, every day, every week or not at all. Be a lurker and just join in from the sidelines. Do whatever suits you or nothing at all, I am doing this for me rather than to have hundreds joining in. Every one who does join is a bonus. If you want to follow this on social media you can do so by using the hashtag #positiveadvent 

Day 1 of my Positive Advent

Day 2 of my Positive Advent

Peace and love

Sam xx

Hello my old friends – surgery update

Well, it has been a while! I have had a break post surgery as things are not going too great for me and I just haven’t had the energy or headspace to write about it here. You may have caught up with me over facebook, instagram or twitter in the past couple of months. But now I am back and blogging.

Surgery update

So what has been going on with me and my health? Well after my last surgery in April this year, I really hoped that it would be the final one. I followed the rules, no lifting, no smoking, lots of rest. But unfortunately things didn’t go as planned. I had an abdominal reconstruction, they fixed two hernias and moved my stoma again.

The hernia on my left side has come back with a vengeance, my abdominal wall has completely opened up. From my hip bones to my ribs, it is all open and I have a large lump and swelling where my insides are pushing everything outwards.

I also now have two hernias either side of my stoma that cause a big swelling and blockages. The worst thing is the constant pain, it is incredibly painful and a huge struggle in day to day life. My stomach looks awful, it is so wonky and lumpy and the swelling is pulling my scars in all different directions.

I am having to wear 2 or 3 hernia supports all the time or else it feels like my insides will tumble out. I am taking a lot of pain killers, paracetamol, codeine, nefapam and naproxen. This is affecting me so much, it is hard to do very much when you are off your face on pain meds! If I have to do anything, then I have to skip meds, so I am either drugged up or in a lot of pain.

Self esteem

It is really getting me down, I am just devastated. I honestly thought last year would be the start of a new life and for it to be just another hurdle is shit. I can’t see a happy future now, just surgery after failed surgery, pain, inability to live the life I want and the burden on those around me.

My self esteem has taken a huge knock. It is hard to feel confident when my body looks so different. I don’t feel beautiful or sexy, I feel like an utter mess. My clothes don’t fit, you can see these big lumps through clothes. I have taken to wearing huge dresses to try and cover it all up. I keep trying to make an effort in my appearance, but it feels like a waste of time when I just feel horrible. It feels a bit silly to worry so much about appearance when everything has gone to shit, but it really has knocked my confidence.

What’s the plan?

So what’s the plan? Well I have had CT scans and seen Mr Adam, the abdominal specialist and even he feels a little stumped. He is taking my case to a group of surgeons to try and come up with a plan of action.

On the left side for the huge hole, he wants to put in a synthetic mesh. But it’s a big job, forgive me if this description isn’t very medical (or even fully accurate!) it was a lot to take in! He said I would need to go in for botox injections pre surgery to paralyse the muscles in my stomach. Then during surgery he will put a large mesh into the muscle and then wrap around my hip bones to keep it in place.

But on the right side where my stoma is, he is unsure on the best course of action. This is why he is meeting other surgeons and specialists to make a plan. What he has made clear is that it is a huge surgery and not to be taken lightly.

PTSD

I don’t know what to say about it. I have developed PTSD from the surgeries and the mere thought of being in hospital sends me into sheer panic. My chest hurts, I can’t breathe, I start sweating. Just writing about it here has made me cry.

But I am in so much pain. I have been signed off work and I am not living much of a life right now. I can’t carry on like this, so I have to go through with another op. But I am so afraid. Im scared of the pain, the hospital stay, of not making it through the op, of the recovery, the burden to others. Mostly of it not working and going through all of this and being in the same situation this time next year.

So there we are, the update I have been dreading. I am going to be back and blog regularly now so I won’t leave it so long next time.

Peace and love

Sam xx

Before I get out of bed

Before I get out of bed, I can do ANYTHING!

When I wake up in the morning, before I stand up, before I even sit up. The world is my oyster and I can do anything I desire. Before I stand and the pain starts , I am queen of the world.

This morning, I woke up and googled sea kayaking in Lanzarote. We’re having a few days away over there and I’m obsessed with kayaking! By that I mean that after my last surgery I spent every day in hospital dreaming of kayaking. I’m not sure why as I’ve only ever been on one once. But the fear of never leaving hospital was huge and when I meditated, I imagined being sat in a kayak with my husband on a calm serene lake with the sum on my face and it’s what got me through.

So this morning, before I got out of bed I searched for these kayak adventures of coastal exploration and snorkelling.

I thought about what I want to do today, starting with a long dog walk with the pups.

I thought about a big old clean up at home, mopping the floors and hoovering the stairs.

Going to pick up some gorgeous fresh ingredients and cooking a big leg of lamb and a sunday roast, inviting friends over.

Heading to the gym for a good work out, maybe a yoga class and then chilling in the spa after.

Before i get out of bed, I can do anything. And that’s why I’m putting off getting up. I’m laid on my side typing this on my phone because once I stand up, the dream is over.

Once I stand up, it feels like my tummy is going to open up and fall out. Without wearing support garments, its hideously painful. In the last op they did a huge abdominal reconstruction and honestly it feels worse than before now. I am going to see my consultant in a few weeks.

So when I stand up, all my dreams flutter away. My choices narrow, the plans have to begin. It’s not that I cant do any of these things, but its picking one. And then putting on support garments and planning when I take painkillers, getting the balance of proper pain relief without being zonked out. It’s not simple, or independent. It becomes a task to complete.

Before I get out of bed, anything is possible and life is much simpler. So I might just stay in bed dreaming for a little longer.

✌🏽&❤

Sam xx

The exhaustion of pain

Something that I have learnt over the past few years is just how tiring it is to be in pain. When you have ongoing, daily pain, it takes up so much energy both emotionally and physically. I don’t think people really understand just how exhausting it is to live in pain.

It is so hard to pinpoint which aspect of having a chronic illness that is causing fatigue and exhaustion. Is the tiredness a thing all on it’s own? Is it due to the sleepless nights, the pain or is it an emotional reaction? I think for me, it is a combination of a lot of things, but I am sure that the pain makes things so much worse.

sam cleasby ostomy bag

Pain

I am in almost constant pain right now. The last surgery doesn’t seem to have worked and my stomach is swollen and misshapen. It feels like my insides are falling our both forward and downwards. I have to wear multiple support garments and take strong painkillers all the time.

I am so tired. I feel thoroughly exhausted. And I am sure that a lot of this is due to the physical pressure of constant pain. My body is working overtime to deal with it and the exhaustion of pain is so draining.

Tiredness

Tiredness and exhaustion is often overlooked as a small side effect, but it effects every single part of your life. Work, family, friends, intimacy, diet, exercise. How can you cook a healthy meal (even though you KNOW a good diet will make you feel better) when you are so tired, you can’t get out of bed, never mind get to the kitchen and stand and cook.

And it really effects my mood. When I am in pain and tired, I find it hard to be patient. I feel so down on myself and everything around me. I feel like I am weak and powerless and it sucks.

There are of course medical reasons for tiredness and if you are experiencing new tiredness with no reason, you should see a GP. Unfortunately for a lot of people with chronic illness, tiredness just becomes a way of life.

I suppose I am just trying to find a way to explain this tiredness to others. I worry people think I am lazy when I spend my time in bed. Or that I am rude when I am yawning and dropping off. But can you remember a time when you have been really poorly, and that draining feeling where it feels like every ounce of your body’s energy is being used up fighting illness? Well that’s how I feel most days.

Exhaustion is something I need to learn to live with, but today it all just feels too much.

Peace and love

Samxx

The University List – a parent’s guide to what to pack for Uni

When my son told me he wanted to go to University at the beginning of this year, it threw us all into a bit of a panic as he had always said he didn’t want to go! We were miles behind in planning, hadn’t done any of the Uni open days and as neither Timm or I went to university, we didn’t have a clue!

We buckled down, got some visits done and he filled in all the applications. We went through so many uni websites trying to decided which would suit him best and eventually decided on three options.

sam cleasby parent blogger leaving for university

He did well at college and got into his first option and so we started to plan for the big move. He decided he didn’t want to go into halls. His friend was starting his second year and they decided to get a house together. After much searching, and house visits, they decided on one and finalised plans to live there. Student financing was sorted and he was well on his way!

And then I started to think about all the stuff he was going to need and felt totally overwhelmed. But after a lot of research we pulled it together. Here is my Uni Packing list for parents.

Bedroom

  • Bedding – Mattress protector, duvet, pillows, bedding
  • Lamp and bulb
  • Clothes, shoes, coats, underwear
  • Coathangers
  • Things to make it their own – pictures, teddies etc
  • Dirty washing bag
  • TV, Games console
  • Chargers and extension cables

Kitchen

  • Plates, cups, bowls
  • Cutlery
  • Utensils
  • Chopping board
  • Scissors
  • Pots and pans
  • Toaster
  • Kettle
  • Microwave
  • Sandwich toaster
  • Tea towels

Bathroom

  • Towels
  • Toiletries – shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, soap
  • Razors and shaving foam?
  • Toilet brush
  • Toilet roll

Cleaning

  • Washing powder/pods
  • Toilet cleaner
  • Washing up liquid and sponges
  • Kitchen rolls
  • Bin bags
  • Shopping bags

Food

  • Tinned fruit/veg
  • Sauces
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Tomato ketchup/salad cream/mayo
  • Tinned beans and tomotoes
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Cereals
  • Noodles

Etc

  • Paracetamols/Ibuprofen
  • Stationery, paper, laptop
  • Cookbook or recipes from you
  • Noticeboard
  • Diary/calendar
  • Alarm clock

To do

  • Register to vote
  • Register with a doctor
  • Register with a dentist
  • Have bank accounts
  • Sort budgeting
  • Sort bills etc
  • Are they up to date with all vaccinations?
  • Tell them you love them and give them a big hug
  • Make sure their flatmate/roommate has your number in case of emergency

I’m sure this isn’t a full and complete list but it is everything I can think of right now. If you can think of anything else, then do let me know!

Good luck!
Sam xx