Author Archives: Jo Earlam

About Jo Earlam

Writer, runner, fundraiser, community volunteer.

Life Awareness Week

I feel caught in a perfect storm of life’s difficult-to-deal-with-moments.

Every seven days it seems there’s a new awareness week for something.

This weekend marks the end of Dying Matters Week and Mental Health Awareness Week and begins the start of Dementia Awareness Week – three topics on which I have a current speciality.

Get me on Mastermind this instant and I’d answer every question. That’s how “aware” I am!

Having lost my wonderful mum less than four weeks ago in sudden, unexpected and traumatic circumstances – yes I’m going through the numbness, the “it can’t be true” questioning, the guilt of feeling in some way to blame, responsible, at fault for not doing more to prevent it, mum having died at my home, in my care.

The knowledge that professional help was sought on several occasions and that paramedics were there when mum died, because I called them, does little to stop me going over the course of events and trying to change them.

I feel physically ill, my body is doing strange things – even down to drastic bleeding from my gums a few days later. I go into physical spasms of grief, screaming aloud in my sleep, sobbing in a supermarket car park. This is not about wiping the tears away with a tissue.

I’ve been totally lost for words, unable to string a coherent reply to a question. Bad dreams, nightmares, getting up in the middle of the night, forgetfulness, I can tick those boxes, that’s if I remember and focus hard enough.

And the flashbacks and intrusive thinking, that’s all part of it.

That side of it, I was pretty accomplished at already. For 25 years I’ve suffered from bouts of depression, including at times self-harming because of the mental agony I’ve felt. My recurring anxiety, spiralling, hamster-wheeling doubt was diagnosed as OCD four years ago, with childhood traumas recognised as being part of the root cause, leading to 20 weeks of intensive therapy.

It helped me a lot, in learning how to deal with it, but it never totally goes away, so yes, I’d say I have a pretty solid awareness of mental health issues.

Dementia, is one of my identified trigger points – the scary demon in my basement. It’s something I’ve been terrified of since a child, when my lovely grandmother’s increasingly eccentric behaviour was put down to being “senile” with very few people at that time bothering to try to understand.

Thankfully, dementia awareness has increased massively since those dark days and there’s been a shift in public consciousness, research and care.

I learnt lots more first hand about this cruel disease, when my dad was diagnosed in 2011 at the age of 70 with vascular dementia, dying just over three years later. It was a journey of mixed emotions, challenges, despair, anger, grief, but also laughter, compassion, enlightenment, and love.

This Dementia Awareness Week remains hugely relevant and important to me – my dear husband John having recently been referred by his GP to the local memory clinic. The appointment is in a few weeks’ time, 20 years to the day that we got married. Happy Anniversary Darling!

It will also be a few days after the biggest event of my life, a women only marathon, which I’ve taken a lead role in organising and aim to take part in.

It’s called Women Can.

I love the positive affirmation of that simple straightforward statement.

The medals arrived yesterday, 450 of them glistening in a box. They made me think about all those women out there, going through their own journey of awareness, issues affecting their lives, but still signing up to our event and taking part, because through running, endurance running in particular, pitting yourself against that challenge, you learn that women can, men can, we all can.

It’s about getting through the tough times yourself and helping others through them also.

About being life aware.

Thanks to all the special people who are life aware, who have been, and are continuing, to be there for me.

*Special thanks to Sue, a counsellor with the bereavement charity Cruse, for her recent clarity and insight and her recommendation to visit the website of the charity Sudden Death – awareness definitely helps! For information about mental health issues go to Mind. For information about dementia research go to BRACE.

A Woman Who Could

When I conceived of the idea of the Women Can Marathon less than 12 months ago, it felt a daring, ambitious plan, not unlike running a marathon itself.

Family and friends are hugely important in helping runners get through the arduous training, comfort after the physical hard slog of putting in all those miles.

Chief of my support camp in this regard was my mum – always positive, ready to help, offer words of advice, encouragement, thrilled at every little step forward, sympathetic if the training schedule went a little awry, getting me back on track, heading towards that end goal.

Just seven days ago it felt like I’d reached the last 10km on the course – much hard physical effort behind me, a burst of energy required to push on the final six miles.

With a “head coach” like mum, I felt ready for the final part of this challenge, a drive on to the finish, mum shouting the loudest cheers and encouragement.

She fell ill last Sunday, and it was like I’d been knocked off course, stumbled. But mum remained steadfast, still behind me all the way. Despite being unwell – her main thought not her own poor health, but me completing my challenge.

“Don’t worry about me, go for it,” was essentially her message.

I pressed on as best I could, confident of her recovery, a bounce back to become main cheerleader before I reached the finish line. She was fighting my corner even from her sick bed.

You can hit a wall in a marathon and edge painfully over it, but when an earthquake erupts on the course and the road ahead explodes in front of you leaving a cataclysmic gap, then it’s impossible to keep going.

To use a military analogy, no plan can survive contact with the enemy.

Mum’s illness turned out not to be the “wall” but the earthquake. The enemy not a sniper, but an army.

She collapsed and died on Wednesday night.

I have been buried in the rubble, the fall out ever since, my marathon progress halted, no head coach to pull me out.

My own personal race support team – the rest of my family around me – we’ve all taken a massive direct hit and are reeling from it, shell-shocked.

With the dust slightly settling, I can dimly make out that the course is intact. Other members of the marathon organising team are out there working hard to clear the debris, help me forward, keep things on track.

I want to lie on the ground and abandon any personal attempt on my part to try and reach the finish line. Bail out, be written down as DNF, Did Not Finish.

But the words of all the best coaches don’t leave you. Death cannot remove the influence and guidance that coach played in your life, even when they are gone.

mum

The last picture of mum, taken two weeks before she died and on the second anniversary of dad’s death.

So I’ll pick myself up. I’ll press on, however, hard these last few miles are. I’ll give every bit of my energy to reach that finish line.

 

The rest of the marathon organising team I know will try and make it as easy as they can, do their best for this incredible, inspirational event. My family will rally and help each other get through.

And that’s what mum would want, because she was a woman who could, also fearless and strong to the last.

*This is the first post I’ve written that mum won’t be here to read. She read every single blog I’ve written from the start and was always the very first to “like” it, write some comment of encouragement. Mum I miss you already SO much. But I know you would say: “Come on, pull yourself together. You’ll be fine.” RIP my lovely, beautiful mother. X

 

Run, because We Can

Running has been high on my list of priorities lately – to the point that the obsessive compulsive tag is quite apt.

I’ve done pretty well in my challenge for the mental health charity Mind, to Run Every Day in January, notching up 26 out of 31 days, or an 84% success rate.

Ironically, one of the things that’s diverted me from the physical act of running, is in organising a running event.

womencan-logo_master-2The Women Can Marathon is an idea I had in the summer of last year, when I realised that a landmark milestone in women’s endurance running combined with the same year that outdoor sport took off in my home village.

1967 was the year that Kathrine Switzer defied the men-only rules in the Boston Marathon, to be the first woman to officially cross the finish line, despite a race official trying to rip off her bib. (Photo credit: Boston Herald).

MARATHON

This was at a time when women were believed incapable of racing that distance. The resulting publicity, and Kathrine’s own campaigning, opened up a future for women’s running, inconceivable at the time.

In my village the same year a farmer’s riverside meadow was bought by local people to become the well-used, much-loved Tipton St John Playing Field, the heart of outdoor recreation in our community and starting point of our popular Otter Rail and River Run 10km.

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The scenery around here is stunning and I’d often pondered a longer distance course taking in the spectacular nearby Jurassic coastline, a World Heritage Site.

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Walking my dogs alongside the river one day. Lightbulb moment!

Why don’t we organise a marathon from the playing field to mark this joint 50th anniversary?

Even brighter lightbulb moment!

Why not make it women only to give it a unique and special context, celebrating how far women’s endurance running has come in 50 years, whilst acknowledging that many women are still unable to access sport for a variety of reasons?

And so for the past few months, I’ve been part of small team beavering away to make the Women Can Marathon a reality.

jo-pavey-3The event is taking off beyond wildest dreams.

In November we received the endorsement of 5-times Olympian Jo Pavey.

Jo has pledged to be there if other commitments allow.

 

We also received a wonderfully warm-hearted personal video message from Kathrine Switzer herself.

In the last few days Women Can has been named as the first UK partner for her 261 Fearless organisation, which empowers women’s running around the globe.

When I told my husband John of my idea back in May last year, he paused, in supping his Sunday lunchtime pint of beer, and said: “I reckon you’ll only get about half a dozen people interested in that. But give it a try if you want.”

Yesterday our 200th runner signed up. This month our website hit a record high of nearly 5,500 visits.

gemma-langford-2We have women coming from across the country and around the world. We have women coming from the village, able to walk to the start from their doorstep.

We have women coming who’ve never run a marathon. We have women coming who’ve run dozens. We have women who are challenged by illness or disability. We have women who are trained athletes.

We have women taking part as paired and team relays and also women who are Nordic walking the 26.2 mile distance.

And we have men too, dozens of them pledging help and support in advance, and to act as marshals on the day – our runners may be women, but our event is about being inclusive.

We have businesses on board – our main sponsor, a telecommunications firm IP Office Ltd, our local gym network LED Leisure, and a host of others.

Dartington Crystal, which also celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, is making bespoke trophies. The energy bar people Luna sent two cases of 500 bars for our goody bags.

cakeWithin the local community excitement is building. People are pitching in to offer accommodation, provide transport, bake cakes, make the tea – pulling together at every level to make this happen.

The goodwill and enthusiasm is incredible.

Shortly we will announce our international charity partner, something we hope will further raise awareness and interest.

Marathons with a big profile are normally the big city events.

This is sport at grassroots level, where it happens in the heart of a community.

We may be small, but we’re equally passionate.

This is the Women Can Marathon from Tipton St John reaching out to the wider world – because by running this event together, perhaps one day all Women Can.

tipton-sign-small

 

 

 

Another DoubleMarathon Challenge

A fabulous blog about an event I’m helping to organise. Time for me to write my own summary of this momentous and exciting event, I think!

Dr Juliet McGrattan

All of a sudden I find myself with two spring marathons in my diary this year. How did that happen? Well, I just couldn’t turn either one of them down, they’re both too good to miss. I mean, when you’re invited to run the Boston Marathon with Kathrine Switzer on her 50th anniversary race you simply don’t say no do you?! There’s quite literally a long road ahead but my training plan is well underway and is going well so far. I anticipated giving my absolute all in Boston and then not running another marathon until the autumn at the earliest….

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All eyes on TV broadcast

I sat down last Friday afternoon to watch the broadcast of an historic event, a public spectacle worthy of live TV coverage.

And what a delight it was. What a joy.

I was watching in a packed café, where all eyes were on this special TV broadcast. People gathered together to witness this moment in time.

Respect and pleasure glowed on the faces of the watching crowd as the service took place. Such warm support.

The significance of the event clearly meriting to the broadcasters and rapt attentive audience, that it deserved live coverage beamed into every home.

For this was the ceremony of Sant Sebastia, the Patron Saint of Palma, the capital of Mallorca.

The television station was the Balearic’s IB3 channel, which reflects that culture and tradition are hugely important here, by providing coverage of local festivals and fiestas at length – sometimes throughout the entire day.

I was sat in a café, Can Moixet, in Pollensa, in the North East of the Island. The service taking place was in the church opposite.

The focal point of the ceremony is two men dressed as dancing horses – choreographed without artifice, without pomp, simply a natural fresh innocence. Heart-warming and charming to behold.

Somewhere on other channels there was another live broadcast taking place with two prancing men at its centre.

It made a 30 second sound bite on the news round-up. But nobody paid it much attention.

IB3 TV – a triumph of local news reporting. Fantastic!

cavallets-pollenca

 

 

 

 

The New Year

rn0sm1sIt’s last year since I wrote a blog. September. Very last year.

January 2nd seems as good as any to stop in time. To look back. And to look ahead.

I started this as a weekly posting in June 2013 to highlight my 50 marathon challenge for the dementia research charity BRACE. And raise awareness about mental health issues, having suffered from depression for many years and just then been diagnosed with OCD.

It’s still a source of massive daily relief that my OCD was finally identified, followed up with 16 weeks of individual therapy and a group course on mindfulness, all thanks to the Devon Depression and Anxiety Service.

Some people think such things are hooey, get-over-it nonsense – I know that’s the case, because it’s been said to me many times.

When you live with constant anxiety, when you think you’re weird, when you suffer agonising guilt, critical voices and self-judgement, when you want to destroy yourself because you loathe who you are – that’s not hooey, that’s fighting a battle for survival.

Whether it happens for minutes, months or years, when you’re in that dark place, it feels like nothing in your world will ever be light again, that the black tunnel is endless.

I’ve been very lucky, to mostly get on OK with my life despite my underlying crippling fears, to find things I enjoy, things that help me and to want to share and promote the benefits to others. Running and writing, strongly coupled with being outdoors and nature, are two of my strongest torchlights, shining a beam in my darkest despair.

When I saw that the mental health charity Mind had a Run Every Day in January challenge I thought what a great idea to start the new year.

So it seemed a good time today to post that I’ve signed up for that challenge – Freddie my lurcher dog is delighted.

As for other projects, lots to do and write about, which I’ve been saying or mentally thinking for weeks, I’ll do in the new year.

Now it’s here. Better add, weekly blog to the list then.

 

Pax Tecum

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It’s a strange, confusing, difficult world at times…

…a world of conflict – from our own internal mental struggle to the misery and devastation humanity can wreak upon itself.

…a world of struggle – overcoming obstacles, striving to do your best against the odds

…a world of doubt, fear, judgement and anxiety – those demons that prey on our inner consciousness and can taint our wider view of society at large.

But it’s also a world of good things – of love, joy, laughter, friendship.

A world of positive energy that helps us overcome adversity, in whatever form it takes.

Today is World Alzheimer’s Day, a collective global raising of awareness about dementia and its profound impact on those living with this cruel disease and those who care for them.

It’s also the International Day of Peace.

When my dad was in advanced stages of his vascular dementia and could no longer speak, some words that helped me were the opening lines to Desiderata: Go placidly amid the noise and the haste and remember what peace there may be in silence.”

My grandfather, a devout Catholic, instead of saying goodbye at the end of a visit would often say: “Pax tecum”.

Whatever suffering in this world – from Alzheimer’s to xenophobia – and whatever one’s view of religion, on this International Day of Peace: “Peace be with you”. What better quality to wish for?