Understanding and forgiveness – I’m a failed befriender

It seemed the right thing to do; loneliness to me seems to be one of the most challenging things to face in older age in modern society and surely befriending could help? Two years ago in January I set out to try to offer something to help with loneliness somewhere. It took me ages to find a way of helping (blogs about that here and here) but earlier in 2015 I became a befriender for a small local charity.

I am no longer a befriender.

This feels like a confession but I equally feel compelled to write this down – It didn’t quite pan-out as I thought it would.

The charity, rightly, do loads of vetting before you can go one the list of befrienders. Interviews and CRB checks. We both went together, thinking that as a family unit we might be more helpful to someone. My husband is a great handyman and can be really helpful doing ‘jobs’. I am a consummate chatty coffee drinker and have loved working with older people all my nursing life. I know I’m friendly, chatty and kind.  What could go wrong?matching

It all started with the matching process really; for me it didn’t feel right at the start. The lady I went to see is lovely but I confess I didn’t feel the connection, somehow it didn’t feel right inside.  One of the primary reasons for ‘matching’ us is location, we live quite close to each other.  But even that didn’t feel like enough.

But that’s just me, right? Not trying hard enough?

I went every weekend for weeks and weeks. I learnt that she hadn’t asked for a befriender but her daughter, who lives 3 miles away, had done so. She has other family too who come fairly regularly, grandsons and their children. I got to know her and heard all about her family. But it still wasn’t right.

The task of visiting became more like a chore as the weeks went on. We did talk but there was no depth to our relationship.

She once said to me – ‘you don’t have to come you know!’ and I said to her ‘But I like to come’ – I lied.caring hands

From then onwards she seemed to think I was going for me, that it was me that needed her company. I continued to not to want to go but do so from a sense of duty and my natural optimism – ‘It will get better’ I used to tell myself.

But it didn’t and in the end I stopped going and I feel guilty.

What did I learn?

  • Relationships are organic and dynamic and sometimes two people may not connect.
  • Befriending is sophisticated and complex.
  • Just because you want to do good it doesn’t mean you can.
  • Kindness is a good start but it takes more to be a great befriender.
  • Lonely people and potential friends are tricky to match well.

I feel bad, I feel guilty but I have stepped away. I want to have a healthy befriending relationship not one where I don’t want to go and it feels like a duty and a chore.

I am rethinking my thoughts on loneliness and befriending. Perhaps in my naivety I was in fact patronising – of course I would be a great be-friender! Err, no Anne, it’s much more complicated than that.

So I continue to find ways I can help.  My next plan is to say hello to as many people as I pass in the street and smile more.  Being well-meaning isn’t enough – friendship is more than that.

Best friends at the seaside

Fun photos of friends at Scarborough beach

Information Governance Ironies

Going to the hospital always frustrates me but it is an opportunity to watch – people and processes, communication and clues on culture.

waiting chairsI’m actually writing this sat patiently in the waiting area – we have just been told the clinic is running more than an hour late. So I watch people come and people go.

Last time I was here I wrote a blog about information governance, about how, when you arrive in clinic, you have to declare all your personal details to the full waiting room. I did give them this feedback by the way and I also recognize the challenges in the clinic area. Today the same ritual continues.

[pause – I’ve been in to see the doctor who was lovely. But I’m back for another wait…. so I continue…..]

I am not sure that declaring your personal identifiable information in public is best IG culture.

notesThe next thing made me smile. A man with a big trolley arrives in the clinic. The trolley is piled with notes – over it is a sheet. He gallantly throws it back to reveal and remove a set of notes. Then back again when he is done. Either he is keeping the dust off or he is trying to protect them from view. I gaze on as people adjacent to him continue to declare their full name, address, date of birth and GP including the GPs address!

Meanwhile I overhear someone near me, after seeing the man with the notes tell a story: ‘eeee*’ says the lady to her (assumed) daughter: ‘you will never guess what they told me about my notes?’ The daughter asks for more information. She continues ‘they parceled mine up into a brown paper bag and sealed it with tape when I was going for my scan. I asked them why. They are MY notes after all. She told me they sealed them so I couldn’t open them as they could charge me £15 to look at my notes. This was to stop me looking at them!’

I listen and I watch and I despair.

Nothing really ever changes very much.


I’m being called again…..

*’eeeee’ is a Yorkshire expression that preceeds an interesting fact!

Dear anniecoops

I had a complicated teenage years. At 14 nearly 15 I found myself looking after a house and Dad after our Mam had left; Dad was clueless, he didn’t even know how to write a cheque let alone look after all the household affairs. Mam had done it all. I picked up where she left off.Anne 1975

The foundations of our lives are laid down in our early years. As a result of these circumstances independence has always been really important to me. I left school at 16, having been one of the top stream at school, and started work in a bank. I was, of course, advised to go to University – nearly all my contemporaries did exactly that – but wanting to be able to look after myself was a key objective for me and financial independence a key driver.

It was 6 weeks into my first proper job that I started to feel unwell. There was a small supermarket next door to the bank and I was buying can after can of pop to drink – I felt so thirsty. As a result of my drinking I was constantly up going to the loo at night. Classic, had I known it, symptoms of type 1 Diabetes.

I think it must have been the tiredness that did for me and after a little while I decided I really didn’t feel right and went to see my GP. In those days he took a blood sample himself to send off to the lab.

Two days later I was out with my boyfriend – on the motorbike where we spent all our spare time – when the GP came knocking on the door to ask me to go to the hospital. He was non-too pleased when Dad told him I wasn’t at home and of course we had no mobile phones back then so I was summoned to North Ormesby Hospital early the next day. It was there, at 16, on my own, I was told I had Diabetes.

005The experience of being on an adult female medical ward at 16 was fundamental, I think, to my deciding to become a nurse. But this blog is more about what things I would tell myself, the things I have learnt about having Type 1 Diabetes in the 36 that have passed; things I couldn’t have known. They are not all things I have done wrong – some of them are a celebration of things I feel I have done right too.

You can do it yourself

For me taking control and being independent has been key to the way I have managed to live the last 36 years. There are only two times in the last 36 years that anyone else has given me my insulin injection – the first was the very first time when a nurse showed me how, the second was when I let my husband have one go to see if he could do it, ‘just in case’. Diabetes usually needs you to do exactly that – take control. I think I have done this well and I have refused to let Diabetes be the dominant part of my life.

I would say: ‘Don’t worry – you can do this yourself’

Finding Diabetes friends

I learnt this lesson much later in my Diabetes career but I wish I had known it sooner – knowing other people who have Type 1 has really been helpful in the last 5 years or so. I have found new friends on social media, people who inspire me, have helped me, make me laugh and I know I have helped some people too. I just wish someone had told me, encouraged me and helped me 36 years ago when I was 16. I really could have done with a mate!

I would say: ‘Go find people to connect with who have type 1 too, they will understand better than anyone else’.

Never stop learning

It took me a long time to realise that keeping up with what is happening in Diabetes care can be really powerful. For many years I took no interest. I let my (then) British Diabetic Association (BDA) membership lapse and just carried on in exactly the same way for many, many years. Diabetes is complicated and I wish I had carried on learning constantly throughout the last few decades.  I think this is partly about ignoring my Diabetes; I don’t mean not looking after myself, but only caring about knowing enough to live.

I would say: ‘Never stop trying to learn more about Diabetes, it will help you to both improve the quality of your self-care but also make sure you know when treatments have improved as no one will necessarily seek you out to tell you’.

Almost everything is possible but some things are a bit harder than others

ward sisterI have never let my Diabetes get in the way but it can be a bit of a challenge. I remember people doubting that having a baby would be OK but it was, I remember a school of nursing telling me that they didn’t take people with Type 1 Diabetes for nurse training but someone else did and I remember working night shifts and wondering if I would cope but I did. Sometimes things are a bit harder than others but I have never let my Diabetes stop me from doing things I really wanted to do.

I would say: ‘Almost everything is possible but you might have to plan a little bit more than other people, perhaps less spontaneous but doable nonetheless’.

Ignoring it won’t mean it goes away

Finally I would tell myself that trying to ignore Diabetes and pretend it isn’t there doesn’t mean it will go away. I learnt too late that testing blood glucose is a good thing to do and to do it for me not for the doctor. It’s better to know what’s happening and I care more about it than anyone else. But then it’s easier these days – 5 seconds was unimaginable back in the late 70’s, we were still testing urine in test tubes then. Technology has improved our ability to feel in control without it being the centre of our lives; for this I am grateful.

I would say: ‘Test more and learn about your body. Ignoring it and doing the minimum isn’t the answer but you can be in control of Diabetes without it being in control of your life.

Finally, AnnieCoops, love, laugh and hug more. Diabetes doesn’t stop you doing any of those things :0)IMG_3687


Anne 1986A good friend and colleague, Dr Mark Davies, blogged this week and set me thinking. His blog was his reflections on leaving general practice having been a GP for 21 years; what things had he wished he had known at the start of that journey. This blog is my attempt to guide 19 year old Anne on her journey and career in nursing that started on 31st January 1983 – what #5things would I like to tell myself.

They are not listed in any particular order:

  1.    Put your hand up

It took me a while to learn this but I did get it in the end – when there are jobs to be done, projects to develop and deliver – put your hand up. It doesn’t matter what the project is really and in many ways the projects that no one else really wants to do have been the most rewarding. I learnt slowly that my nursing career was often enriched by un-expected things. I think the point where I really got it was when I became fascinated by complaints from patients and their friends and families. I didn’t think what we did with these precious letters was right, so I set about looking into the process as a project for a management course. I ended up telling the Chief Executive that the organisation should have a complaints manager and that should be me. He offered me the job and I never looked back – it was one of the best opportunities I have ever had to really understand the experience of patients.

Never fail to volunteer – you are unlikely to regret it.

2.     We never know the impact of what we doward sister

I remember once meeting a nurse on a platform at a local station. She knew me but I didn’t know her. She approached me and told me that she had been a student on the ward where I had been a ward sister many many, years ago. I, sadly, couldn’t remember her. She went on to tell me how that ward experience had been fundamental to the choices she went on to make in her nursing career.

I think it’s scary to think that people watch us all the time and we may make an indelible mark on their lives. Patients will remember if we were kind, or not. Relatives will remember if we were helpful and smiled. Students will remember if we were patient and supportive.

Being watched all the time can be a burden but it can also be a fantastic opportunity to make a real difference.

Hold that thought in your head in everything you do.

3.     The importance of rehabilitation

My Grandad who had COPD and always wanted to do as much as he could including walking Trixie

My Grandad who had COPD and always wanted to do as much as he could including walking Trixie

I learnt this far too late in my career, I wish I had known it 30 years ago – the importance of rehabilitation and letting the patient set their own targets.

I have worked in acute settings for nearly all my hospital career. I was always in settings where we were dealing with the most acute type of medicine; chest pain and respiratory failure in the main. Looking back it strikes me that we had a ‘fix them up’ attitude and ‘get them home’.

More lately I have spent a small amount of time working with a fabulous advanced nurse practitioner in elderly rehabilitation and I learnt so much.

The most powerful thing was asking an elderly patient ‘What’s the best that you think you can be?’ then working with them on helping them achieve their goal.

I believe that we should have patient driven care – the phrase patient centred care no longer satisfies me.

My learning – how can we support people to take as much control as they feel able to take and achieve their own goals?

4.        Politics (small p) is not a dirty business

When I was a fresh faced staff nurse I didn’t believe I needed to understand or get involved in politics, but I was wrong. Over time I came to realise that power and politics go hand in hand and even if you don’t want to dabble in the Machiavellian arts you need to understand them.  It’s naïve to think that you can get difficult things done unless you understand where the power is and how it all works. I still think it would be simpler not to need to understand these things but I now know that that is unrealistic.

Get to know where the power lies and how the system really works if you want to do things for good.

5.        Love yourself and be kind to yourselfkindness

Like many people there is no one harder on me than me. I drive myself hard, I take on too much and I hate it when I do something that hurts someone or is tactless; beating myself up through sleepless nights and tears is not unknown.

But I have learnt that no-one is perfect and that I know I am essentially a good person and although I still find it hard I can forgive myself more readily.

I have learnt to love myself a little and try harder to be kind to myself.

#5things I wish I had known. I am sure there are more and these are the things that came into my head today – I am sure my learning is not done yet!

never stop learning

People Drive Digital Reflections

networkI have been to NHS EXPO today. As always it was great to meet lots of people I have met and worked with over a number of years; I love seeing them, giving them a hug and re-connecting with them (you all know who you are). It is one of the privileges of my working life that I have met so many fabulous people.

Today was interesting for me as I didn’t go to EXPO in my professional capacity but in a personal one, as someone who has an interest in digital innovation but from the perspective of a citizen and patient and today felt very different – but is it EXPO that has changed or me?

PDDigitalToday I briefly presented with Victoria Betton and Mark Brown the work we have done on People Driven Digital and the PDD Awards (HT to the others too Michael Seres, Kat McComack). I realised that I had changed from a year ago.

I spent many years as a nurse giving patients advice and information. We thought it was the right thing to do and of course it is but it’s also paternalistic, based on the assumption that ‘we’ know and ‘they’ don’t.

Over the last year my experiences of working in collaboration with other people like my fellow collaborators for #PDDigital, and many others in my social network with Diabetes, has made me realise that the system doesn’t know what problems people face as intimately as they do. We can make assumptions, we can guess and in doing so we may well get it wrong; we may hit the target and miss the point. Mark spoke eloquently today (you can read what he said here http://thenewmentalhealth.org/?p=182 and it’s well worth a read) about focussing on trying to find digital solutions to those issues that really matter to people, not necessarily the big things but those that in people’s lives make a real difference. You can see our presentation here

So today, whilst I wandered around EXPO, I reflected on what felt ‘real’ and what maybe mattered the most. There was little evidence of people driving solutions and creating ideas and I realised I had changed. I have come to realise that unless we engage at the start with the citizens, we are unlikely to make the differences we need to make. We might create elaborate solutions but may completely miss the point. We need People Driven Digital Innovation.

pump openerI have an example: I was a grateful receiver of a new insulin pump a few months ago. It has a snazzy screen and some new functionality that means if you are a user of a continuous glucose monitor (I am not funded to be one) then it will switch off the delivery of insulin if your blood glucose goes too low – very clever indeed. But what was it that delighted me when I collected my pump? On my old pump, in order to access the battery to replace it (yes insulin pump are powered by a traditional AA battery!!) I had to carry a 20p coin in my bag. It’s the only reliable way to be able to open the battery space – it’s tricky but fairly crucial to be able to get in! On my new pump there is a removable clip that had a snazzy little device on the end that enables you to open the battery space. A simple remoulding of the clip – inexpensive and functional – I know, I know, so simple – but it was the snazzy solution for the battery opener that delighted me. A small but delightful improvement and now I don’t worry about 20p pieces. Let’s try focussing on the small things that might matter to people.

How do you think we could develop the ideas from #PDDigital? Let us know.

About being Kind and Adjectives

cropped-img_16971.jpgI am very lucky; people often say nice things to me when I work with them or meet them professionally.  Not all the time of course  – I feel sure I irritate some and that others actively dislike me but I do my best to be myself, to set my own standards and to be authentic.  I have previously blogged about authenticity so I feel confident they are responding to the real me these days.  I have relaxed into being me and increasingly only know this way.

What I find confusing though is the feedback I get and I can’t decide if it matters or if its just another thing I need to relax into, I mean is this enough?

When people say nice things to me I often ask ‘What do you mean? Can you tell me exactly what I did that made you feel x or y?’.

Their response is most often ‘you are kind’.

kindnessI struggle with this – I wonder why kindness is something that isn’t ordinary and deserves feedback in this way.  Am I being damned with faint praise?  I’m not being disingenuous (or looking for reinforcement) – but isn’t kindness ordinary? I honestly don’t understand the feedback.  I’m not looking for more kind (there it is that word again) words but why is the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate (definition of kindness) seemingly of note?

So I have thought about all of the adjectives I would like to be and am thinking perhaps need to try a bit harder! Here’s the list:

  • Clever
  • Musical (I think I can sing but I fear its not musical)
  • Creative
  • Loving (I need to practice this a lot more)
  • Generous (there are some things I would struggle to give away)
  • Knowledgeable
  • Funny ( I would so love to be funny – if you don’t know what I mean look up @gussiegrips)
  • Sassy
  • Agile
  • Flexible (I can’t even touch my own toes)
  • Athletic
  • Brave (r)
  • Focussed (To say I’m butterfly like is being kind!)
  • (more) organised

Don’t even get me started on the list of things I don’t want to be!

Well that’s my list for today.  Do you have a list of adjectives you would like to be described as?

A messy unpredictable future?

Recently I was lucky to be a member of a leadership Indaba. An Indaba is a South African word often used to describe a gathering or meeting and I was with a diverse group of leaders thinking about the system challenges we see in the health and care system and this blog is my reflections at the end of the Indaba.

anne 1983I started my nurse training on 31st January 1983. As it turns out 1983 was quite an important year for the NHS too. On 6th October of the same year the Griffiths report was published. Funnily enough it was mentioned in our training; I can remember being intrigued as to why a Director from a supermarket called Sainsbury’s should be asked to look into how the NHS was run. We didn’t have a luxurious Sainsbury’s in the North East where I lived so that made it exotic and slightly strange and I confess I might have been more impressed back then if it had been M&S! Little did I know how important that report was going to be for the NHS but also my career.

Sir Roy Griffiths was asked by Margaret Thatcher to look into and give ‘advice on the effective use and management of manpower and related resources in the National Health Service’. As the Griffiths recommendations were implemented it started the evolution of a strong management culture that had by all accounts been lacking before this. Griffiths clearly pointed out that in his opinion there was little difference between NHS management and business management and the NHS went on to be restructured into a management hierarchy not unlike a national ‘for-profit’ business.

So how did that affect me? By the time I qualified in 1986 many of these structures were in place, budgets were devolved to wards and gone had ‘nursing officers’ and we had brand new ‘unit managers’ (who often happened to be a nurse). The first additional serious studying I did was a Certificate in Management, I had already been identified as having potential so this was the first thing that was suggested, and I went on to complete a Diploma in Management. I was ambitious and had a hunger for a healthy career – studying management was the way to go!

I believe that most of the senior managers in the NHS of my generation were brought up this way. Of course we need excellent general management in the NHS, probably more so than ever before, but this type of approach and culture may not be the only thing we need in 2015. Most senior managers are of my generation and if they have a career spanning decades in the NHS they too are likely to have a background context firmly embedded in general management. OrganisationManagers work through cultures of systems and order – give them a messy problem and they will seek to resolve it in a systematic and logical way. They most often seek order and control and although they believe in delegation, power is only given with a good dose of performance management sprinkled, or is it heavily blanketed, over the top. They seek organisational structures with clear and logical relationships, the right ‘span of control’ and formal reporting mechanisms that allow them to feed their external regulators. They seek to be successful at an organisational level as that means survival of their organisation – they are organisationally centric.

I was trained and educated like this but I believe that in 2015 and beyond it will no longer work. Over the last few years I am starting to see that the complex adaptive system that is the health and care system can’t survive if we behave like this and yet I still see these old styles of thinking. We often say the right things but we don’t walk the walk. So what do I mean:

1     Giving things up

In the new world working across communities, which is what we need to do, means giving up power and sometimes resources for the greater good. If we are going to change the way we deliver care it means some organisations will have to change and give up some of their share.  It takes good managers to make this happen but it takes guts to lead it.

I have blogged about this before, and I won’t repeat it here, for me Buurtzorg remains a fantastic example of siting power in organisations back where it matters, in the staff working directly with communities.

2               Dealing with messy people

Change in the way that we need it means messiness. It means small may be beautiful, that solutions delivered in local communities may be messy unpredictable and probably don’t look like to corporate solutions managers know best. It’s taken me a while to get used to this, the idea that each local ecology may be different from its neighbour but that’s how it is – messy and complex – so get used to it!

Salford Dadz for me is a perfect example of how messy can be glorious and beautiful – you can read more about it here. I’m not saying that it’s disorganised or out of control, more that its perhaps unexpected and beautiful for it – an example of asset based community development outside of the corporate systems with a unique system of its own.

3     The role of citizens and the impact of unexpected choices

Systems think they know best for people. I hear people talking this way all the time, assuming that all the expertise is in the ‘system’ and implying that there is none beyond. I do not believe this is true. Citizens, patients if you prefer, or even service users, may also have other ideas about what is the right thing to do and choose differently.

I remember working on a rehabilitation ward a couple of years ago. At the team meeting they were discussing a lady who wanted to go home. She wanted to go home despite the fact she couldn’t get up independently during the night to go to the toilet. She chose to go home and be ‘padded up’ at night, preferring her own bed and a sort of adult nappy rather than being in a care home or institution. It really made me think about the choices I might make. We may have some way to go with personal budgets but I think they could provide a way for people to make different choices. As system leaders we will need to help to make these things a reality even if they mean breaking up what we know and throwing it away and living with unexpected choices.

4     Finding energy where it smoulders

digitalawards VB, RL, AC

Lovely Victoria Betton, wonderful Roy Lilley and me kicking off the #PDDawards15

We need to find the energy where it smoulders, in communities, in people, in hearts and let it burst into flame. As well as the Indaba I have been helping Victoria Betton (@victoriabetton) to deliver the People Driven Digital unAwards – a celebration of people and solutions that come from the ground up. We had the award ceremony on Friday 3rd July (you can see the nominated people here) and its humbling to hear about people finding solution to problems for themselves. Yet we do little in the way of supporting these people, our systems are bureaucratic and laborious, almost impenetrable – we need to take some of this red-tape away to let the smouldering passion burst into glorious flames – this is how we can find new solutions. By the way the solutions came from everywhere, not just ‘patients’ but from staff, students and citizens with a drive and ambition to make things better. It was humbling.

5     Networks

connections 2I think John Kotter is right that in addition to formal systems we need to have in place there is a role for networks that sit alongside. The role of networks is the more creative change work, whilst letting managers get on with making sure the books balance and the operational services remain on track. These networks need to operate beyond the boundaries of organisations and may be populated with unexpected people. These will be the people who want to make a difference, the ones who are smouldering with the passion to do things differently and they will drive the change. Gone are the days when networking was just about careers now it’s about doing real business, making connections that drive and shift the whole system ecology.

So all in all the last year has been great for thinking. The last few years have helped me to perhaps evolve past the manager I was trained as in 1986 and I look forward with to the messy unpredictable future we face.

never stop learning

Charting the passage of time


My favourite shot from 2014

My favourite shot from 2014

Some of you will remember last year, on the final day of my 50th year I had some photographs taken with my best friend. We went to Scarborough and had fun having a series of lovely photographs taken in the fresh air at Scarborough Spa. I enjoyed it very much. I found Jess Petrie, the photographer, totally by fluke – I wanted a female photographer, who I thought was up for middle aged, some fun but also someone who did natural photography – no studio shots for us.

So one year on – I sometimes get funny ideas – and those photos and the pleasure they gave me, gave me ideas…. What if my BFF and I had a photo shoot with Jess every year for the next decade, charting our 50’s? A sort of record of our aging.

Leeds-Portrait-PhotographySo that’s the plan and I hope we make it, taking nothing for granted. I will count each year as a blessing and watch as we grow older, hopefully with grace!

Each year will have a theme – this year I chose shopping in Leeds, a place I love very much and Max and I used to work and have often shopped together.

Here are a sample from #Taketwo 2015

You can find out more about Jess Petrie, our photographer here. She is a wonderful photographer!

Leeds-Portrait-PhotographyLeeds-Portrait-PhotographyLeeds-Portrait-PhotographyLeeds-Portrait-PhotographyLeeds-Portrait-PhotographyLeeds-Portrait-PhotographyLeeds-Portrait-PhotographyLeeds-Portrait-Photographyanne max book shop

Trying to make it look easy

I stand. I’m not quite sure what to do, the lights are flashing, I look up to see if I can work out what I’m supposed to do but I feel confused. I know I need food but I also have to pay and I just can’t work out where the tills are. I don’t know how long I stand there, minutes, but I know I need to move.Diabetes

I had been busy, focussed, trying to fit stuff in and get everything done. I had popped out to buy a present for a girl who was leaving and we didn’t have too much time so we needed to crack on. I suspect I felt a bit light headed then but I was absolutely focussed on task, it was only afterwards that I realised I needed to eat.

No matter what everyone tells you about being prepared, that’s all fine, but when my brain is struggling and thoughts are fuzzy I am not always as logical as I could be. I did have hypo treatment tablets in my bag but I seemed to have forgotten all about those. Believe it or not in a city centre buying food, preferably fast acting junk food, isn’t as easy as it sounds. I bought some Jellies from Thornton’s and crammed a few into my mouth, barely chewing, merely trying to ingest as quickly as possible.

Sometimes, for some reason that doesn’t always seem to bear any relevance to logic, it seems harder to bring my blood glucose up. It’s a rare event but nevertheless happens now and again. I needed something to drink, something with sugar. I knew what I needed to do. I walked through the shop doorway and stood.drinks

I stand a while. No one seems to notice. I close my eyes and try to think. I walk a few steps, wander past the isles. I see a fridge and eventually a grab a drink. But where are the tills? I feel mildly panicky. I can’t drink the drink without paying can I?

This happened to me two weeks ago. I manage this day, as I have managed for 36 years. Eventually I feel marginally better and slowly make my way back to the office. I tell no one and get on with my work. I know that there will be an inevitable rebound high so I keep a close eye on my blood glucose but giving myself more insulin seems counter-intuitive and I worry – too little and I will feel rubbish through ketones, too much and I will bounce down again…. It feels a little bit like Russian roulette.

I tell no one because I don’t want pity. I get on with some work but pack up early and make my way home.

I feel like I have the worst hang-over ever. My head feels sore and slow, my brain reacting to the lack of glucose, objecting and asking me to slow down.

Somehow it seems worse, the recovery, as I get older. It takes me longer to bounce back, to be on top form. This time the feeling of other-world-ness and being in a different space to everyone else persists for another day.

Type 1 Diabetes is hard. It’s a bit hard every single day but that’s OK. But just sometimes it’s more than hard, it’s disabling and frightening.Jelly babies

Do you know what it’s like to feel seriously hypoglycaemic?

Here is what a few of my twitter friends with Type 1 said when I asked them:


Me and my unofficial carer! He looks lightly scared I know!

Reflections on becoming a befriender

I think it was the autumn of 2013 but it may have been earlier; I watched the Hairy Bikers presenting a programme about trying to set up a meals on wheels service in Slaithwaite (pronounced Slawit) which is not so far from where I live. There was an old gentleman who cried when they arrived as he hadn’t seen or spoken to a soul since they had been the previous week; my heart broke.Loneliness empty bench

I mulled it over. Thought about it. I knew I wanted to do something but what?

I find the thought of loneliness distressing. This article from the BBC website  shows how people in 2001 were less connected to their communities (anomie) in 2001 than back in 1972. Age UK campaign to bring attention to the loneliness amongst older people:

 Loneliness is key indicator of social exclusion/disengagement and is a significant problem for older people. Approximately 10% of those aged 65+ in England report severe loneliness with a further 32% moderate levels of loneliness which represents 777,690 and 2.2 million individuals respectively. Loneliness has important negative consequences for both older adults and society being associated with a range of negative health, social and service use outcomes. Rates of mortality for older people who are lonely are reported as 50% higher; emergency hospital admissions are a third higher and GP consultation rates 3 times higher compared with their non lonely peers.


But Age UK, as I do, also recognise it is a complex problem.

As a result of these musings I decided at the start of 2013 that I would become a befriender. I made a public declaration on Twitter as I know if I say things out-loud I am more likely to do it.



The story of my quest to do so is described here  on the blog site of Gill, otherwise known as @whoseshoes .

I did eventually find a way of helping. A great local charity that primarily offers Childrens’ and Learning Disability Services eventually found me on Facebook.

This is my reflection of the journey since then. I have thought hard about writing this down as I did not want to breach the confidence of my friend so the blog is focussed on the reflections from inside of me.

anniecoops Grandad and Trixie 1979

Granddad and Trixie. My grandparents were lucky. we had a close family and they lived in a great community.

The process of being matched to someone who may be lonely is an odd one for the use of the word ‘friend’. You are first (and rightly) checked over and then matched by the charity to someone who you might be able to help. I was complicated to match as I have little time – I’m time poor generally especially during the week – so it had to be weekends. I was almost matched with someone who needed some relief while they were caring for their partner with Dementia. But the be-friending service don’t like you to do that as its seen as more then be-befriending; that made me feel bad as I knew I could easily do that if I had more time. Eventually though I was matched with a lady who is much younger than I had anticipated.

It’s very surreal – my friend is so little like me. We have little in common. Our life patterns are so very different and even our family backgrounds but it’s amazing what eventually creeps through. The relationship is not what I expected. I suppose I expected it to be cosier really, more like the elderly people that I have cared for over the years but it’s not that, not that at all.

At first I found it quite hard. I had to draw on my natural communication skills (Yikes) but has time has passed its getting strangely easier. I try to go at least once a week and if I can’t go I try to ring. Even that is hard now I’m back to working full-time but we manage. When I arrive the kettle goes on and I am presented with my coffee in the same blue mug each week.

I know she likes me and my company – I can tell. I always ring to say I am planning on a visit and she always sounds pleased. I always do what I say I am going to do, keep my promises. We are not allowed even to take gifts but I sneaked two cheese scones down once and she said she loved them. Last week she had some photographs out to show me, her family past and present.

The thing that I have learnt is that loneliness isn’t always what you think it might be and you can be a comfort for people by just showing you care. My friend has family who visit rarely and can get to the shops but I think she is lonely despite these things.

I’m glad I made the commitment and intend to carry on for as long as I can and she wants me to.

When I retire I also plan to do more. I would absolutely love to set up a #henpower project and who knows, now I have said it out louds perhaps I will. You might want to as well if you watch this video – the Hen Men . See what a difference it can make – this project is also a great example of impact.

If you want to explore being a befriender Age UK have some information here:

Or check out Contact the Elderly here:

And look out for more information about hen-power here:

If you want some help if you are lonely please check out the Mind site here: