Sunday, 20 July 2014

"World cup wheelchair fraud", or invisible illness and disability discrimination

Image: The Mirror

While I like how the World Cup brings people together, and I enjoyed watching the final, I generally didn't pay too much attention to the coverage.

However there was one World Cup based feature which I couldn't really ignore. The article was from The Mirror. The headline read: ''Disabled' Brazil fans miraculously jump out of wheelchairs to celebrate goals' and was accompanied by an image of Little Britain's Lou and Andy.

It seems touts were selling tickets meant for wheelchair users onto the general public at highly marked up prices - especially as if sold through the official channels, the companion's ticket would be free.

This fraudulent activity is obviously awful, with people making a lot of money by taking an opportunity away from people that genuinely need it.

But that's the thing - the implication in this article is that all of those standing did not have a genuine need. This is a worrying indication of misunderstanding around disability.

The headline sarcastically hints at miraculous healing of the legs, as if to say that anyone in a wheelchair is confined to that chair, and that to leave the chair is evidence of fraud.

This also seems to be the thoughts of the general public, with thirty people having taken photos of people in wheelchairs standing for goals.

The Telegraph also covered the story, but at least finished on a paragraph displaying a healthier perspective, explaining that "the investigation is likely to be tricky and sensitive for police because some of the fans may be disabled and unable to walk long distances, but can still still stand for short periods."

I've had problems in the past with people misunderstanding disability so I just wanted to use this story, and people's reactions to it, to relay that not everyone in a wheelchair can't stand, but also not everyone with a disability is in a wheelchair.

The phrase invisible illness is often used to describe chronic illnesses which cannot be seen, such as M.E. or POTS, but it could really be used to talk about a whole number of issues. It's helpful in that it reminds people that even though they can't see a mobility device, or actually the illness/disability itself, the impairment is still there.

I've seen several people moaning about "non-disabled" people using disabled parking spaces on social media. Often they indicate they've said something to the person at the time or they just want to have a vent.

A recent post about apparent fraudulent use of a parking space, which prompted lots of discussion...

Reasons for disability (parking, wheelchair or otherwise) which are not immediately visible could include brain injuries (someone recovering and rehabilitating from a stroke), pain disorders such as fibromyalgia, chronic illnesses involving fatigue, respiratory problems, conditions causing frequent and unpredictable blackouts/seizures, someone picking up their elderly and frail parent who they care for, someone picking up someone with any of the above conditions etc etc etc.

Basically, you have no idea what people's needs are.

I realise that people illegitimately using these spaces is a real problem. So, look for the blue badge. If it's not there, then perhaps ask the question. It's the immediate reaction of anger or suspicion I have an issue with.

What people might not realise is that asking for and accepting help is difficult. My Grandad was a stubborn, proud man and resisted getting a walking stick or hearing aid because they were for old people (he was in his nineties at the time).

It can also be hard asking for help when you don't look "the type" to need that kind of support. I'm in my early twenties and think that can affect people's perceptions of healthiness. Even health professionals have insisted I must be drunk, on drugs or an extreme diet after I've passed out, despite me showing documentation about my condition.

I also wouldn't have expected needing to use a wheelchair or motorised buggy at the airport, but only two years ago I did. It was when my POTS (a condition causing frequent fainting, fatigue and pain) was still really bad, and we went to Turkey.

A holiday after my final year of university (during which I was passing out everyday, if not a few times a day) was much needed. However as it was extremely hot I got weaker and weaker, passing out several times but also lacking the strength to walk very far at all.

While I usually look okay despite what's going on with my body, by the end of our holiday I looked pretty awful. I'd gotten increasingly pale, I looked shattered and through fatigue my posture was poor.

Arriving home we knew that walking across the airport or waiting in line (standing still being a trigger for my blackouts) wouldn't be possible, so we'd asked for some assistance. It was our first time doing this, and the airport staff were lovely and so helpful.

On the motorised buggy was myself, two older men and a lady. There wasn't enough room so my mum walked alongside us.

The queues for security were massive and slow, and I knew we'd made the right decision. Then, a man from the line stopped in front of the car - preventing us from moving. "If we have to stand in line, why can't they? No, I'm not having it. That's not fair."

It wasn't fair I was passing out all the time. It wasn't fair I couldn't fully enjoy my holiday. But to him this was the injustice.

His wife moved him away, embarrassed, and we got to move on. Walking through the crowds, my mum heard so many people tutting or commenting to each other sarcastically "oh so they can't walk then?".

The driver told me that this happens a lot.

I get that people are tired and grouchy, just wanting to get home, but these comments are indicative of a much wider ignorance around what disability is. For people's first thought to be suspicion or out right believing someone is faking a disability is pretty awful.

I would have so much rather been standing bored in that queue with everyone else, having enjoyed a nice holiday and without this problem.

Then there's the conversations I've had through an intercom at a train station when I've needed to use their access gate as there's no lift. Being told it was actually an access gate, and one time after explaining my condition being asked, in a disbelieving tone, "really?" As if I'd say "nah, just messing mate" before skipping away to the front entrance and stairs.

When I told him I was going to the hospital to see my specialist (based in London) he told me I was going the wrong way. As in, the local hospital is near here, so you're a liar.

Looking through a security camera he'd clearly decided he didn't believe me, because I was standing. I looked fine. It was so odd and I felt like I was on trial, having to explain myself and plead with him to be let in.

I'm now doing a lot better, but the fact I've had to deal with my body failing me, my own frustrations over this and then also other people's ignorance and rudeness is ridiculous.

You only need to look to Everyday Ableism to see countless examples of discrimination faced by people with all kinds of disabilities and illnesses, visible or or not.

This piece from The Mirror thinks it's doing a good thing pointing out the wrong-doers but it's really not. A small (tiny) minority may abuse the system in a given situation, but articles like this add to the suspicion and prejudices people sadly already seem to have.

That's also why I hate the documentaries, of which there seem to be a huge amount lately, about all the benefit cheats or immigrants supposedly sponging off our government. It's such a tiny proportion of people  (and only 2% of estimated total annual fraud in UK) and all it does is breed contempt and suspicion to anyone genuinely in that situation.

I remember reading a blogpost by a friend of a friend who'd had a stroke and was in rehabilitation. She was making good progress and went to a concert in her wheelchair. She even managed to stand for a short while. That should be a brilliant, blissful feeling but she was then met with suspicious glances.

Articles like this are only going to add to that experience. It's not anyone's, nor a a major publication's, responsibility to make judgements on how valid someone's disability is.

Everyone's fighting their own battle, which you know nothing about, which is worth remembering in life generally but especially when you begin to raise an eyebrow over whether someone is really entitled to some kind of benefit.

It's 2014. Things are complicated. Let's not be on a witch hunt for anyone with a problem we don't understand.

The disabled population is the world's largest minority of which anyone can become part of at any time.

Have you experienced discrimination for not "appearing" to have a disability? Let me know in the comments below.

Click here to read what else I've written about my experience with my chronic illness POTS.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Derren Brown: Infamous

Photo: Seamus Ryan

If you get the chance to see Derren Brown live, take it.

I'd seen him a few years back and saw him again on Friday with his latest show Infamous at The Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury.

I can't say too much, as I wouldn't want to spoil anything, but I will say that he is a phenomenal performer with a brilliantly constructed show.

We have so few "showmen" these days, and no one else that meets his standard. What he does could be tacky,  but this is far from it. He deconstructs as he goes, reminding us not to be fooled (though of course, we are - how does he do it?) but he also gets you on his side.

If you're a skeptic, you shouldn't worry: he's not masquerading as a magician blessed with powers.

The theatre experience is also very different to television. You're so close (we were row C), surrounded by other members of the public. It's much harder to, say, shout "stooge" at the telly and move on. He'll keep you guessing.

All that aside, he's funny and also incredibly relatable. He makes you feel safe, even amidst the trickery.

In this live show, he really shares with his audience. He talks us through why he is interested in particular tricks, and his experiences of being made to feel inadequate growing up because of his sexuality, and his interest in magic too.

In so doing, the show becomes interesting on a different level but also inspirational: especially for the younger ones in the audience but really, anyone who's ever felt like an outsider.

The instantaneous standing ovation from all 1200 in the audience was because he'd blown us away but also because we were rooting for him.

He was impressive, yes, and had held us in the palm of his hands for the past few hugely entertaining hours, but I was also so much more aware of his journey as both a performer and a person. He looked emotional and I felt it.

We left stunned. Trying and failing to suss out how he'd done it all. Really, I don't think I'd want to know. I guess that's part of it: the mystery and the "magic" that keeps us coming back for more.

I can't wait for his new tour. The first leg of this has been announced, with a second set of venues to follow. Infamous is also coming to London for a few dates end of this month.

Derren is also a brilliant photographer and has been snapping away on his tour, including some really lovely shots of Canterbury. Check these out here.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Happy birthday and thank you to the NHS

Today is the 66th anniversary of the NHS, so I just wanted to say "happy birthday" (to a massive organisation, little odd, I know) and to share this video.

At the heart of it, the NHS was born out of an ideal that healthcare, and good healthcare at that, should be available to all - regardless of their wealth. A wonderful concept and one which makes me really appreciate living in England.

Staff are underpaid, understaffed and overworked and yet continue to do their best to make sure that you and your loved ones are ok. That's both awful and incredible: it shouldn't be this way, but it is.

Maybe they don't always get it right, but they're there. They put up with abuse for things that are not their fault - waiting times and decisions that come from much higher up than them.

Alongside intoxication, incontinence, rude relatives and death. All in a day's work.

So thank you, to anyone that works in healthcare. You do an important, wonderful job.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

June favourites: beauty, skincare & fragrance

Cacharel's Amor Amor, The Body Shop's Vitamin C moisturiser SPF 30, Soap and Glory Hand Food, Soap and Glory Sugar Crush Body Wash

It's that time again for me to ramble on about what I put on my face and that! So here goes..

Preparing to go on holiday I really wanted to find a moisturiser with a good SPF. Going on days out I wanted to be able to wear a little bit of make-up but didn't want to then slather sun cream all over my face. Somewhere I found a recommendation for The Body Shop's Vitamin C Daily Moisturiser which had an SPF of 30, so I decided to give it a go.

This is such a lovely moisturiser with an orange scent that applies really nicely. It's not chalky or too thick like some facial SPFs, so perfect for on its own or applying under make-up. The only problem was that I sometimes forgot to re-apply in day so ended up burning a little, but that was my own fault!

I should probably be wearing this day to day, rather than just to avoid burning and the lovely application and smell makes that a much more appealing prospect than it could be.

Another favourite, which I've pretty much now finished, is the Soap & Glory Sugar Crush Body Wash. I bought this when I was going back and forth to Liverpool in March, to keep there then bring back with me. At £6.50 it's a little pricey for a shower gel, but when in a 3 for 2 (as it is now - go go go) it's not too bad, especially as it lasts so long!

The fact I'm only now running out is pretty ridiculous. Especially as I use way too much because it smells so good. The name put me off at first. I thought it'd be sickly sweet but it wasn't, just really fresh, limey and just lovely.

Also from Soap and Glory is their Hand Food. The moisturising effect doesn't seem to last as long as The Body Shop's hand cream which I had before, but the smell is pretty glorious. This one is more sweet smelling (like marshmallows), but not over powering.

Lastly, a scent. I used to wear Cacharel's Amor Amor Eau De Toilette everyday but when I ran out I replaced it with Sarah Jessica Parker's Lovely. I loved that at first but actually now find it a bit rank. Odd. Anyway, I love this one. I find it hard to describe scents but I guess fruity and floral, or at least that's what Boots say and it sounds about right. It's also very affordable, which helps!

What have you been loving this month? Let me know anything you would recommend.

Past beauty favourites posts: April / March / February

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Going to a theme park with Dysautonomia (or another fainting condition)

Port Aventura, Salou 2014

I used to love theme parks. My now best friend and I bonded through going to Thorpe Park in 2009 when we didn't know each other very well. We went on all the rides, laughed a ridiculous amount and just had the best time.

When I got ill with POTS and was fainting all the time I wouldn't have even considered going somewhere like that. Standing up would trigger an episode so rollercoasters would just be pushing my luck.

I'm doing so much better these days, rarely passing out and the Ivabradine has really helped the tachycardia too - I'm now hardly ever conscious of my own heartbeat, which is lovely!

So, when we were considering where to go on holiday, Salou seemed like a good choice. The weather wouldn't be too hot and there was Port Aventura - the theme park which used to be owned by Universal Studios and which I had such fond memories of visiting about ten years ago with my family.

After my last slightly disastrous holiday (Turkey in 2012, lots of passing out, getting paler and paler and weaker and weaker) I was a little nervous but I'm pleased to say my body behaved itself and we had a wicked time!

So, as people are often asking on the POTS and dysautonomia groups what people's experiences are of going on rides I thought I'd go through how it all went.

First thing I'd say is that it's different for everyone, so talk to your doctor. I spoke to my specialist back in January about this and he said that as I don't have a major heart defect I should be fine, and that it would be the queues that would be more of a problem. This makes sense as standing relatively still for any length of time still tends to be problematic.

I emailed the park to see how to go about skipping queues and they asked for me to bring a medical note. King's were able to write something for me which was really helpful. He did enclose a separate letter saying although it should be fine to be careful as rides can mess with blood pressure, and to make sure I was completely covered with good travel insurance.

When we arrived we went to customer servives and after checking the note and ID (don't forget passport or driver's license. I only had my EHIC card on first day but was fine), they gave us a pass for two of us to get straight to front, either via disabled or fast pass entrance.

The next day it was a different person who was a little funny about it, asking for a disabled card and initially refusing when I only had the letter. I tried to explain how the condition and fainting works and then she was fine. Think she'd rather give the pass than deal with me jabbering on at her or being on the floor in a line!

We went on the first rollercoaster we saw as we got into the park, not even really looking to see what it was like. Turns out it was the Furious Baco, the fastest rollercoaster in Europe. It was definitely fast but it also felt incredibley rickety with my head shaking from side to side, and also going upside down.

I got off and felt a little shaken up, literally and otherwise. I thought I might pass out but I was actually fine, just didn't really enjoy the ride that much.

We went on some more gentle rides and then headed for Hurakan Condor, the vertical tower drop ride. This is one we'd seen from our hotel balcony, the tallest building on the Salou skyline - so slightly daunting. I think skipping the queues also definitely helped in not getting ourselves worked up, we just got straight on the ride!

This one was absolutely fine. Scary, sure, but no bad physical effects. Success.

Hurakan Condor at Port Aventura, Salou

After a few other rides we finished the day by going on Shambhala - the tallest rollercoaster in Europe. We hadn't planned for this to be our last ride, but it sort of had to be.

I loved this ride. While it was super high and fast, it was smooth and no upside down moments. It was only when I got off that I didn't feel great. I sat in the shade, made use of my cooling spray and drank a lot of water. I just felt unsteady, and think the ride had definitely affected my blood pressure. Still, we'd already had a wicked day so headed home.

Shambhala in Port Aventura, Salou

The next day we went we started later in the afternoon having already done most of the rides. We headed straight for Dragon Khan. With eight loops in 69 seconds, perhaps this was a tad ambitious.

At first, I was screaming on every loop and drop. Not quite enjoying it but getting through it. Then I just started to feel really terrible. I felt myself blacking out. Joanna clocked I'd stopped screaming so checked I was okay, I think I was semi-conscious, not fully gone but definitely not all there.

Again, we got off and I had to sit in the shade. I rested my head and closed my eyes but felt like the world was spinning and my heart was going so fast. I then had to go and be sick in the toilet (classy, I know). So all in all, not a good experience - demonstrated by this ghost-on-the-verge-of-tears ride photo.

Draghon Khan at Port Aventura, Salou

Anyway, we timed it well as the Generation Forever show (surprisingly impressive and a lot of fun) was about to start, then slowly made our way to two water rides, which actually made me feel so much better.

The fact I didn't pass out after any of this shows just how well my medications are working.

Some tips

So as well as talking to your doctor and getting a note to skip queues, some other things worth bearing in mind...

  • Keep hydrated. Take a big bottle of water with you and refill wherever you can. Even if it means going to the toilet every other ride, it'll help you get through (and enjoy) the day!
  • If you can go when kids are in school, do. Even if you're skipping queues it'll generally be quieter and an easier day.
  • If you are able to stand in queues, or you can't get a medical note or fast pass, shift your weight from foot to foot and keep clenching to keep the blood flowing. Also if you get into the park for opening time, head for the back and make your way forward. Most people do the opposite so queues will be shorter.

  • If it's a warm day take a fan and spray with you to cool you down.

  • Think about how you structure the day. If you're abroad, can you get a two-day pass to spread out your visit? If you're going to a park for one day, I'd say to go for the easier rides first - water rides, rollercoasters which are pretty tame or at least smooth with no loops, etc. Then, save the big rides you want to do for the end of the day. If you're feeling rough afterwards at least you can head straight home and you've already had a cracking day!

  • If you're feeling a little wiped out the water rides are great for waking you up and cooling you down.

  • Make the most of any shows or parades where you can sit and take a breather or get some shade. Even if you cope with the rides, it's a pretty full on day so you want to rest when you can.

  • Lastly, just enjoy it. Whether you go on two rides or all of them - savour that moment and enjoy being with the people around you, laughing and just being silly. Take in the atmosphere. Pull stupid faces for the ride photos. Have a great time!
Our impression of Jack and Rose in Titanic...

Do you have any other good tips for going to theme parks with a chronic illness? Let me know!

Click here to read what else I've written about POTS.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Punchdrunk's The Drowned Man

The Drowned Man by Punchdrunk
Photo by Pari.

I was nervous and excited to see Punchdrunk's The Drowned Man. It felt like everyone I knew had been at least once - all being equally excited and encouraging about it.

Entering the performance space though I was down right anxious. I'd wanted to have my own little adventure so went alone but walking through a dark corridor I felt the need to cling onto someone's arm. I worried I might have a panic attack. The space opened up and I tried to take it in. Where to look, what to explore.

A large group of people rushed past me, with what felt like real purpose and desperation. I followed them and so the adventure began.

I wasn't conscious of anxiety or even myself any more. I was completely engaged with what was happening around me. 

In the programme note Josephine Machon describes the audience's experience as 'a feeling of being submerged in a dream while remaining acutely conscious.' That's exactly right, mixed in with the control of a story-based video game: picking up a document to observe but then eavesdropping on a character's interaction.

A side effect of my medication is over sensitivity to light when tired, and lines around objects moving, and that only added to the dream-like feeling - especially as I found myself moving from semi-darkness into harshly lit stairwells, rushing after another character to see where they were going and why.

The minutiae of details within this production alongside its huge scale make this an incredible and overwhelming experience.

I was in awe of the set pieces, the physicality of the performers around it (many of whom come from a dance background), but also the acting.

Don't think that because this is an immersive, experiential production that the acting wouldn't be there as strongly as it would in a straight play. It really is. More so if anything. 

It's heightened by the proximity to, and subsequent intimacy with, the performers. As a character's lover leaves in a jealous rage alongside much of their audience, you share a vulnerable moment that feels so sincere.

You'd think having a masked audience follow you and stay close to you (often overly close) could be off-putting but it seems to intensify the feelings instead.

As the performance finished I felt this strange frustration, thinking "is that it?" - not that I was disappointed, quite the opposite, but just that there was so much I missed, so much more I could have seen. I loved the unique experience I had, but I wanted and needed more time.

Leaving Temple Studios I was in a weird state of mind. I hovered near people excitedly sharing what they'd seen. It seemed everyone had a different story. I heard about characters, set pieces or even entire floors that I hadn't experienced. That's part of it: even with many trips you'll never be able to take it all in. I waited until people dispersed and started to make my way home.

I was buzzing but equally I wanted to continue the silence. It felt odd being back in the real world. I felt the need to follow strangers, but resisted. They wouldn't be interesting enough anyway.

Perhaps out of a need to continue making choices I ate at Yo Sushi, replaying the past few hours - enjoying the flashbacks to strange images but with an aching curiosity as to what I'd missed.

I think that lingering curiosity is a big part of the experience. You can go once and live with that, but the fact that you don't have to makes a return visit very tempting.

Knowing they close on Sunday 6th July it was a bit of a now or never situation. So, I've decided to go with the now option and satisfy that curiosity by booking for next Sunday. It was just too tempting.

You should also check out my friend's brilliantly written blogpost on his Drowned Man experience.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Myths and truths on alcoholism

Alcholism - the only disease you can get yelled at for having

I debated over writing this for the longest time but I really felt like I had to. I am so sick of the way alcoholism is talked about: in the media, within personal conversations, overheard snippets and social media output. Everything really.

Most people seem to have no idea about addiction. For that I am jealous in a way, but it also really troubles me - hearing the flippant remarks people make.

Then the ones that do know (of which there are many) keep quiet - perhaps on fearing judgement based on what they hear others say.

The whole public perception of alcoholism is pretty two-dimensional. There seem to be three types of alcoholic that are openly talked about.

Firstly, the homeless drunk swigging cheap, strong cider on the streets (though not always alcoholic, that is the presumption). Then, the high-functioning alcoholic - ie the professor in Educating Rita swigging spirits in between class, a little pathetic and a little romantic. Lastly, the celebrity. We hear stories of their struggles or success, rehab perhaps, but not of the day to day.

I'm not undermining the experiences of these people, it's just worrying when people think alcoholism is limited to "types" of people.

So when people make jokes it's clear they can't view alcoholism as something real and tangible - instead, something either dramatic or pathetic that happens to other people. Mostly the latter. But never to the people around them.

In the past few years there's been such positive movements within mental health awareness, moving away from stigma and into understanding. People post on social media - messages of support for campaigns, or "coming out" about their own problems. There have been some great documentaries covering a range of mental illnesses - depression, eating disorders, anxiety, OCD...but rarely addiction.

This omission from the campaigns seems odd - it's such a huge problem and no one seems to be talking about it. And it really is huge - you only need to look up the number of AA/Al-Anon meetings within a city to discover the scale of the problem, and that's just supporting the ones that get help.

Perhaps there's something in the secrecy that aids recovery - to battle through, trying to stay sober without the anxiety caused by other people's judgement. However, it feels problematic that nobody is speaking honestly about alcohol addiction.

For people to have some understanding would help: to recognise when you have a problem before it's too late, to recognise it in someone else, or to be able to provide better support - to those suffering and to their families. To make these people feel less alone.

Perhaps secrecy breeds stigma, but really it's up to people how they handle their own problems. Still, if the adverse is that understanding breeds support and empathy then perhaps I can try to shed a little light on things by looking at a few misconceptions.

Myth: He isn't the type to be an alcoholic. Alcoholics are a certain kind of lowly person.

Truth: Nope. Anyone can be an alcoholic. There isn't a "type". Plenty of people with addictions do cross into your life everyday. You just don't know it.

Your doctor, manager or friend could be an alcoholic. It doesn't mean you should be scared or mistrusting. Everyone is fighting their own battle and that is often a private rather than public one.

Alcoholics can be charming, intelligent, good people. Good managers, husbands and dads - like my Dad. Being his friend or working alongside him you wouldn't know unless he chose to share that with you. Alcoholics are not constantly drunk.

Myth: It's their own fault. They just shouldn't drink.

Truth: I think this is where a lot of the stigma comes from - the element of choice. They put the drink to their lips. They drink it. They continue to drink when they know they shouldn't.

As much as the situation has caused me pain and anger in the past, I do know that no one would choose to be an alcoholic. It's something that happens to you, and it escalates. Yes, they take the first steps by drinking but then so do most of us.

The media talks about the potential of liver damage from long-term drinking, but never that you could end up addicted. If someone talked about doing cocaine once you might freak out. If someone was drinking most days after work at home, you probably wouldn't bat an eyelid.

So yes, they shouldn't drink once they know they have a problem but it's not as simple as that. The mind plays tricks on them, it's a deep and at times irrepressible need. Logic goes out of the equation.

I still can't get my head around it really, so many times asking "but why didn't you talk to someone? Put the drink back? Walk out of the shop?" but all I really know is, to do that is not easy. It's really, really hard.

Myth: "I know this ex-alcoholic."

Truth: There's no such thing as someone who "used to be" an alcoholic. If you're addicted, you always will be. Whether you drink or not is a different matter. More likely, what you mean is a recovering alcoholic.

Even if someone has been sober for 20 years, they are still an alcoholic. They still cannot drink. I can't speak for the level of difficulty or daily struggle in that but I will give an analogy that may or may not help.

Someone with a nut allergy, even with abstaining from nuts for 20 years - they still can't have nuts, and they are still a person with a nut allergy. A nut problem if you will.

Myth: "But they could have one drink, right? They're doing really well."

Truth: Alcoholics can't have just the one drink. That's the whole problem. One glass of champagne at a wedding and it's all down hill from there: not just that night but the weeks after. The drinking and lying starts back up and it's harder to stop again. It's not worth it.

Myth: "Real alcoholics only drink seriously strong cider, or whiskey."

Truth: Most likely alcoholics will drink whatever would be their usual drink, but a heck of a lot more. Someone isn't less of an alcoholic because they drink cider or beer over spirits.

Equally, there isn't one "rule" for how alcoholics behave. Some may drink first thing in the morning but many won't - being more likely to drink after work. Not everyone will, when trying to be sober, have a problem with going to a pub with their family. For my Dad, he would drink at home - so being home alone when struggling would be much more difficult than being in a pub with company. Not everyone will count their sober days.

Basically, don't ever doubt how much of an alcoholic someone is (or, how well they're coping) based on a behaviour you've heard about alcoholics doing. It varies.

Myth: "If they're not physically abusive, it can't be that bad."

Truth: It can. It really, really can. Even if the individual doesn't get angry or physically abusive, it can be much more insidious than that. It's the lying and the deception of it all.

The wanting to help them only to be met with more lies. The denial of drinking, even in the face of them being blind drunk. The hiding places and the tricks they play. The dragged out mind games. You can't have a normal conversation. You're the bad one for asking if they've been drinking. It's turned round on you. The taking risks with their own and others' lives: the drink driving.

But more than all that, it's a loss. In the grips of this illness, my Dad couldn't be my Dad. It's an illness that changes the person and makes them selfish.

They can only be an alcoholic - wanting their next drink and lying so they can keep drinking with the least amount of hassle. Even if it means hurting those around them - over and over again. When they're gone, it's easy to lose hope of ever getting them back.

Well if it's that bad, why don't you leave? They don't deserve your help.

Because it's not that simple. Because there is hope. Because it's not about "deserving".

As I said, no one chooses to be an alcoholic. They hate hurting the people they love, and yet they keep doing it - stuck in a self, and outwardly, destructive cycle. That must feel pretty awful.

Equally, if we're talking about choice, I doubt anyone would choose to be with an alcoholic from the off-set. You don't go into it knowing that's the case - it's progressive. Though if you've chosen to be with that person, you'd want to help them - to hopefully get back to being the person that you know and love.

Saying that, I wouldn't judge anyone for leaving. It's so hard to deal with, and without the right support (for you or them) you could lose it, and it could become your life. There's no right way to handle things. It's just such a hard, horrible situation to be in.

I didn't have hope for a long time, but am (hopefully) now being proved wrong. Relapses may occur, and that will be inevitably difficult to deal with, but hopefully they will get fewer and further between.

This was a hard post to write, and I had serious doubts about sharing it. Whether it was my story tell, whether I wanted to make another personal trouble public, whether I could write this with truth but without causing damage.

In the end it was more important (with my family's blessing) to get this message out there.

That to live with and love someone with an addiction is an overwhelmingly difficult experience, but that alcoholics are not inherently bad people. They are troubled, and were unfortunate enough to be susceptible to addiction. They're also unfortunate that the substance they're addicted to is so readily-available and enjoyed.

In Britain, there's no stigma around drinking alcohol (if anything you're deemed odd not to) but there is about alcoholism. That's a little strange. Perhaps a sense of "if I can drink happily and sensibly, why can't you?" Well, because we're all different. Some have asthma or diabetes, others (many, many others) have an addiction.

With this post, I didn't want to get all personal memoirs on you - dragging up particularly painful memories or images that stay with me. Yes, we've had some awful times but (and this is hard to remember when living it) - that is the addiction, not him. He isn't defined by his addiction. That's the point.

I just wanted to talk about the overall experience that people don't seem to understand - largely out of ignorance rather than malice.

If you're supporting someone with an addiction, please don't be afraid to talk to someone about it. You need support too. That can be hard with so much shame kicking around but good friends will listen without judgement - and it will help them understand.

Click here for some really helpful information on alcoholism and alcohol abuse including signs and symptoms, effects of alcoholism, getting help, and advice for when a loved one has a drinking problem.