Category Archives: Life generally

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.

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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

 

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?

 

 

 

Happy New Life

I had a moment just now when I brushed past a parallel me from a previous life.

Our village primary school grounds had been badly flooded, and the local media had turned out to report the story.

As I walked past in my woolly hat and muddy boots, with two even muddier dogs, I said a cheery hello to former colleagues, thinking in times gone by I would have been with them, the other side of the fence, interviewing the local councillor and rushing back to the office to edit the piece for the lunchtime news.

As I walked on up the hill, a reporter from the local BBC radio station I used to work for drove past. At the same time one of my neighbours was walking down the hill to help with the clean up. He called out: “Thanks for the book Jo,” my turtle story, I’d given his two boys for Christmas.

My past and present writing worlds meeting on the same page, within the same paragraph.

And I walked on without a trace of regret for what I have given up, to become who I am.

Logging in to my computer there was a message from a school asking if I would read my turtle story with them later this month, photos of me dressed as a Christmas parcel running in the recent Portsmouth Marathon, and queries to sort about community events I organise and the charity work I support.

In emails I sign myself as: Writer, runner, fundraiser.

It’s taken a while to feel that description fully fits, but yep, that’s who I am, that is my happy new life.

Happy New Year in whatever life you are living.

A final piece of news, Runner’s World are going to do a piece about my running and how it helps me cope with my OCD. Here’s that picture from Portsmouth, because, yes I am a bit mad as well…

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50 – it’s just a number!

49 at 49 – reaching the finish line of the North Dorset Village Marathon, my mum and her border terrier Toby in hot pursuit

Writing this on the eve of my 50th birthday – eek!

And what will be in a further three days, the eve of my 50th marathon – EEK!!

Fifty. Crikey! Where have all the years gone? Where have all the miles gone?

In my head I’m often 9, 19, or sometimes 90 – feeling like a child who’s never grown up; a teenager full of the mixed optimism, expectation and emotion of youth; and occasionally sage-like, wise, full of aches and pains and very, very old.

Marathon wise, it’s pretty much the same. Each time you set out on 26.2 miles, it’s a new journey of discovery – the heady excitement of gathering at the start line, finding your feet and a pace that suits, perhaps getting carried away and going too fast, only to rein it back later as it all becomes somewhat harder going, the sensation of having travelled an age and still no finish line in sight.

I remember starting this blog two years ago, my first post titled “Halfway”, when I was then on 25 marathons.

In reality was it really halfway? Halfway to what? Halfway through a notional challenge I’d set myself yes, but nothing more.

There’s lots of talk about the 50-plus age group, as if they – come tomorrow, we – are another species, a sort of sub-group of humanity, over the hill, the best years gone, the bloom fading.

But life no more starts to end at 50, than it begins at 40.

A marathon is no more just the thrill of crossing the finish line, than an accumulation of every step along the way.

Reaching 50 tomorrow, and hopefully the other 50 on Sunday, are simply mile-markers on the road of life – the highway continuing up ahead, a new view awaiting – the route yet un-marked, but waiting to be travelled.

50 – it’s just a number on a particular day. It’s every moment that counts.

New perspectives

The last few weeks have been very difficult. Thanks to everyone who has sent cards, messages, and support in many different ways.

As well as coping with grief, it’s been a time of making arrangements, dealing with what was a slight delay, but finally dad’s funeral took place on Monday.

It was a lovely send off, everyone in the family pulling together and playing a part and many friends attending.

It’s so strange to think of dad no longer being here – he was such a strong physical presence in my life, even when he was so challenged through his dementia.

I still think of him often, but from a new perspective.

I am in no way a poet, but I wrote this verse that was read at his funeral, which pretty much sums up how I feel.

POEM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dad and his collie Lexi at Ven ford reservoir on Dartmoor November 2012
Dad and his collie dog Lexi at Ven ford reservoir on Dartmoor November 2012

Here. Now.

I was sitting staring at the screen for ages earlier today trying to think how to write this post – wondering how best to describe how I’m feeling.

To be perfectly honest I’m not really sure. The positive and negative seems to ebb and flow like a tide. Catch me at one moment and I might be upbeat, another full of sorrow.

The “here and now” title came to me, because that’s what I spent much of Sunday morning telling myself as I tried to focus when running the Brighton Marathon, the first since my dad died just a week earlier, and number 48 of my 50 marathon challenge.

I wasn’t sure until the last moment whether I’d make the start, let alone the finish, but somehow on the day it just felt like the right thing, and also to do my best for dad. I know it’s what he would have wanted.

I returned to my “here and now” mantra many times during the race – having a conversation with myself, which went something like: “Where are you?” “Here!” “When is it?” “Now!”

brighton 2015It’s what I do to keep focussed when I’m finding running – or pretty much anything really – hard going. Just keep in the present, that step you’re in, don’t worry about where your foot was a moment ago, where it will land next – just be here, be now.

Something about it must have worked, because I got round in 4:25, my best time in the last 12 months. It felt like dad was with me all the way – cheering me on at the finish.

It was only after I crossed the line that I sat and cried my heart out.

I know dad would have been pleased as well when a couple of weeks ago at our Sidmouth Running Club AGM I was named the Runners’ Runner of the Year. It was a great honour – me not being one of the athletic speedy types in the club – to be chosen by my fellow members.

20150406_142213I meant to tell dad about the trophy – a beautiful rose bowl – when I went to see him a few days later in the nursing home.

Being totally absent minded I forgot.

I was going to write about it last week, but life’s been a bit turned upside down since then and somehow the bowl and the story lost its shine a bit.

But running is helping to keep me going – well sort of. It was club night tonight – I totally forgot that the venue had changed and tried two different places, before getting it right the third time.

I feel as if I’m living in a kind of fog – every now and then it lifts and I can do something clearly, then it descends again and I’m lost.

I’m sure it won’t last forever. I’m sure I will pull through it.

But for me, it is currently my here, my now.

PS: I wrote that last night, but I’ve woken up to a brighter morning, feeling slightly better and decided to add a couple of pictures today.