Reaching Every Goal:
The Incredible Mindset of Arlene Howe
Covid-19 has forced many of us to adapt to a new way of living, placing us in circumstances we could never have anticipated or imagined. The current lockdown restrictions have impacted on almost every area of our lives, leaving a lot of us feeling hopeless, frustrated and overwhelmingly fixated on the negatives of the situation.
However, the same simply cannot be said for one incredible woman.
Arlene Howe, 39, has chronic rheumatoid arthritis and has been suffering symptoms for sixteen years. Her condition is so severe that her ankle and elbow joints have fused in place and she requires a wheelchair to get around. An operation was scheduled to relieve the fusion in her ankles but was postponed due to her low iron levels causing concern that she could bleed out during surgery. She has also recently been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.
Arlene’s experience with the Community Brokerage Network began when she was put in touch with our broker, Andrea, through a community link worker. Since then Andrea has been providing Arlene with support and guidance in her efforts to secure a more fit-for-purpose house for herself and her five-year-old daughter, Sophie:
“I love that I was put in touch with Andrea and it’s great to have someone to speak up for me. I’ve had a lot of battles and sometimes don’t have the fight in me but Andrea’s always in my corner. I wish I’d known about the Community Brokerage Network sooner.”
Arlene currently lives in a council house with an upstairs and downstairs set-up. Despite having a ramp and wet room it is still far from ideal for her day-to-day life and means she is sometimes confined to living upstairs when her multiple conditions cause her too much pain to move.
She has requested a move to a house on one level and is keen to stay local to keep Sophie in the same school and to keep things as normal as possible for her:
“[Moving house] will make things better. We won’t have to keep going up and down stairs and there will be more space to do things. My wheelchair doesn’t fit around the corners or doors so I feel restricted. If I had a bungalow I’d be able to wheel out into the garden and it would make things more normal for Sophie.”
Arlene has a fantastic relationship with her neighbours who, even before lockdown, regularly helped her out and made sure she had everything she needed:
“They’ve been hanging washing and hoovering when I can’t manage and my neighbour Yvonne asks me every morning what I’m needing from the shops. Since lockdown a lot of my friends haven’t been working so they’ve been on hand to help me too. I’m enjoying lockdown and feel I’m finding out more about people because I have the chance to talk to them.”
Arlene applies a sparkling ‘can-do’ attitude to every aspect of her life, demonstrating enthusiasm and motivation that would put most of us to shame. She and Sophie, with the help of their family, friends and neighbours, have completely transformed their garden from a tired and nondescript space to a beautiful outdoor retreat full of colour and imagination:
“Everyone came in on different days and did a little bit while Sophie and I painted all the scrap wood to make new edging. My niece and I spent two days lifting all the chipping stones and putting them into bags then we laid new weed membrane and put the old stones back down. My neighbour Yvonne let me take some of her old decking and we cut it and screwed it together. Then I painted it for the new edging and a raised bed for my pear tree. Yvonne and my friend Jackie put up a balcony screening to hide the unsightly bushes then I painted the old stepping stones and plant pots. I had a whole pile of plant pots, wood and old garden edging that was heading to the dump but we managed to use everything by cleaning and painting it. Yvonne’s husband even made me a planter box and a wooden love heart from the scrap wood. I am very proud to have managed to salvage everything.”
“I felt it was important to have the garden functional and entertaining for us both as I am shielding and it’s the only place I can go to. I purchased a cheap patio set, a sand pit, a mud kitchen, slide and basketball ring for Sophie to make sure she has plenty to do.”
They also have a patch in the garden where they plant their own vegetables and can enjoy their own organic produce and herbs:
“Since I’ve had problems with my health I’ve been more aware of chemicals and pesticides and what I’m putting into my body. Sophie and I planted lots of vegetables and we have just built a small artificial greenhouse that we purchased on Amazon. My other neighbours have an allotment and gave us tomato plants in exchange for some of our pepper plants. Sophie enjoys watering all our vegetables and can’t wait to pick them. We’ve planted onions, potatoes, carrots, peas in the pod, peppers and herbs and I’m getting Sophie to try two new foods every week.”
As well as sticking to organic produce, Arlene and Sophie have embraced a chemical-free lifestyle. Together they make their own candles, wax melts, lip balms, shampoo bars and soaps and intend to give them as gifts to everyone who has helped them during lockdown:
“It keeps me busy and Sophie likes them as well. I know there are no harmful chemicals in anything so I don’t mind her using them.”
Some of Arlene and Sophie's organic candles and wax melts
Sophie looking proud as punch with her handmade soaps
A self-taught makeup artist, Arlene’s creativity also extends to the world of cosmetics and special effects makeup:
“I was self-employed, selling makeup supplies to colleges across Scotland when I was first diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. I decided to put myself through a home learning course to train as a makeup artist in the hope that I could take on a lighter job that wouldn’t put a strain on my body. However, I found the makeup artist world very competitive and I never got much work, especially when I turned up to jobs wearing wrist splints. After Sophie started school I decided it was time to expand my skills [to special effects] as I like to try new things and you never know where it might lead. I enjoy creative work and can spend hours painting my mannequin.”
Despite the mental and physical challenges Arlene must face on a daily basis, she remains determined to show Sophie a positive image of disability and illness. She has a true ‘glass half full’ personality, consistently choosing to focus on the positives of her situation and to be grateful for what she is able to do. I felt genuinely humbled after listening to Arlene and finished our video interview feeling more upbeat and motivated than I had in a while. Her unwavering outlook of optimism, resilience and gratitude is nothing short of awe-inspiring:
“Sophie has a 50% chance of getting this illness and I don’t want her to see a negative example of it. I want to teach Sophie that illness doesn’t hold you back and that you need to focus on what you can do, not on what you can’t. I want to show her that I may be disabled but I can still reach every one of my goals. I just get there a little differently.”