Keeping the show on the road - despite a wobble.....

I always try to adopt a positive tone when I sit down to write this blog every week; Firstly, because nearly 30 years in the journalism trade taught me that no-one wants to read 'Woe is me.' They want to be uplifted, inspired, made to feel better, not made to feel miserable and have their day ruined.

Secondly, because it uplifts me personally; life as a stroke-survivor is often tough, but I don't want to dwell on that. I want to dwell on the fact that I got up this morning, heard the birds singing in the trees outside Warrillow Towers and could (more or less) walk, talk and go about my daily business.

But sometimes it becomes incredibly difficult to keep that positive tone and still tell a true story; to avoid lying to my readers by telling them everything's great when it's very far from great. This has been one of those weeks.

Monday was fine, thanks largely to England winning a football match that mattered in relatively convincing fashion. But storm clouds started to brew up on Tuesday and by Wednesday lunchtime, I was in a black and despairing mood. I launched into the kind of 'why me?' rant which I long ago learned achieves absolutely nothing and even my attempts to sleep, which normally clears my head, weren't working.

The details of what happened aren't important but I do know that it was my worst day, both mentally and physically, for several months.

Many of you may know that I appear every evening on Facebook with what I call my 'glad-for' post. Inspired by my dear friend Jo 'Happiness' Howarth, it compels me to think of ten things in each day that I am glad for. They don't have to be 'big' things (Jo tells a terrific story about being glad for the things that make up a good cup of tea) but I can't stop until I've thought of ten.

I can't deny that Wednesday evening's post was a struggle. I was never going to admit failure and not post, but I alluded to it being 'my most difficult day for several months.' I also noted that the day's difficulties made it 'more important than ever to appreciate the good stuf.''

And I did. It wasn't as much of a stretch as I feared to think of ten things and yes, I felt better for doing so.

Then, my inbox practically exploded. Within minutes of posting, I had texts and Facebook messages from people saying 'are you ok?', 'what's happened?' and the like. I know the #inboxmehun hashtag is a bit of a social-media cliche these days, but my friends meant it. I had several late-night conversations, explaining what needed explaining, getting advice on possible solutions, all of which made sense.

And now it's gone. It was a wobble. Life hit a pothole, as it were. But the car was only slightly knocked off track. It definitely didn't crash.

This weekend, Mrs Warrior and I are having some friends to stay at Warrillow Towers. The weather looks set fair, we'll all enjoy ourselves. Wednesday will be in the rear-view mirror. It's something of a cliche that you have to experience the bad to enjoy the good. 

I've done that this week. And like the Warrior I am, I've come out at the other end having survived. 

A man I am proud to have called a friend

In a previous life, between being made redundant from ‘big’ journalism on December 31 2009 and having my stroke almost exactly four years later, on December 16 2013, I was a freelance journalist. I edited British Naturism magazine for those four years, most of which saw some of the most memorable days of my working life; I wrote articles and press releases for businesses as diverse as computer software providers and life-coaches and I ghost-wrote books.

Two of the most memorable were 'Grandad Was a Sailor', the autobiography of the late Ed Dickinson, who spent his career in the Merchant Navy and whose son, Simon, approached me to produce the book as a gift to his father and ‘I’ve started so I’ll finish’ for Steve Paterson.

Steve was a friend who I met through networking. An ardent marathon runner and Liverpool fan, he ran at least 11 London Marathons to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support.

Having prematurely lost my mother for the same reason over 30 years ago, I could see where he was coming from.

Steve was almost the archetypal Scouser; Ridiculously tall, he dominated any room he walked into. He lived for most of his life in the West Midlands and spent much of his time over the last two years in Saudi Arabia, training insurance people. Yet he was a Liverpool season-ticket holder and spent many a Saturday on the M6, travelling to Anfield.

The idea for the book came about via a series of short videos which Steve made and put online, explaining how the principles he used in preparing to run a marathon could also be used to build a business; principles such as planning, collaboration, attention to detail, having dreams to fulfil and the importance of celebrating success.

The videos can still easily be found on YouTube but Steve wanted to say more than could be said in six three-minute films, so we collaborated on a book. Steve had the ideas, I used my experience of a lifetime in journalism to put them into words. 

One of the sayings Steve used in the video and the book has stuck with me and always will: "There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing." It was intended to encourage the would-be marathon runner not to be put off training by rain or cold: if you want to do it, you'll find reasons, not excuses.

The same applies in business (or politics, come to that); if you are prepared for problems, you'll deal with them but if you aren't, you won't. Will someone please tell our Government that?

You may have guessed what this is leading up to. Steve Paterson died last month of a heart attack while working in Saudi Arabia. His funeral was held this week. Unsurprisingly, for Steve was a man who seemed to know everyone and be friends with everyone, it was 'standing room only.'

Steve came to visit me in hospital while I was recovering from my stroke. He cared. He made a huge impression on me and plenty of others. It won't surprise you to know that 'You'll Never Walk Alone' was the final piece of music played at his funeral. 

Nothing could have been more appropriate for a man who could make friends with anyone, was such a devoted Liverpool fan and did so much to inspire so many. Including me. 

'It's not real work, is it?"

Are you guilty of under-valuing what you do? Of not appreciating the importance of your work as it’s viewed by other people?

I am sometimes, because I don’t have a business in the sense that ‘real’ business-owners do. Since my stroke ended my career in journalism at the age of 49, I’ve tried to raise awareness of stroke in working-age people. And with this blog, my Warrior podcast (on iTunes and other podcast platforms worldwide now) and my public speaking, I’m more active in that field than ever. But it’s not real work, is it?

Then, last Tuesday, I realised that it is. I was listening to a talk by Mike Gardner at a 4N networking meeting. Mike has had three heart attacks and a stroke. Perhaps he shouldn’t be alive. But he tells his story to inspire others; to make them think about their lives; to realise that the stuff we want, the work goals we have, aren’t what life’s about. Life is about family and friends and experiences; all the things you miss while you’re working yourself into the ground. As Mike said, your perspectives change when you are in a hospital bed wondering if you will see your family again. That’s why what Mike does, what I do, is important - we make people think about that. And having heard Mike speak, I’ll never devalue my ‘work’ again.

That's why it wasn't difficult to haul myself out of bed at stupid o'clock on two mornings last week to publicise my stroke-awareness work. On Thursday, I was at a networking meeting at Bawtry in South Yorkshire; There, I met a number of new people who wanted to know my story. I am hopeful that a speaking opportunity might emerge from it.

Then, on Friday, I was on an early train to Manchester for a networking lunch with nearly 100 people present. I wasn't speaking, but the networking opportunities in a room that big are obvious. I can't say anything yet, but I made some very interesting contacts. 

The next few weeks are a lot quieter, which is probably sensible. They will however, contain two funerals of people taken far too young. What was Mike Gardner saying? 

De-stressing - the natural and quiet way

'What do you do to de-stress?' is one of those annoyingly-clickbait questions which pops up on social media from time to time.

You know that, most of the time, it's only been posted to get a reaction so that the poster can point to the vast number of hits they are generating; yet very few of us can actually resist the temptation to show off occasionally about our hobbies and what we do in our 'down-time'.

Of course, I've never made any secret of the fact that one of the main things I do to de-stress is to take my clothes off in public - I'm one of Britain's 4.5million-strong naturist community (and that number is going up).

Living in Britain, of course, where the weather is unreliable at best, isn't as easy as being a naturist in the south of France, or Spain, or Croatia, or California, or Florida; so we have to make the most of our opportunities. Mrs Warrior and I are fortunate to live within a 20-minute drive of Clover Spa (cloverspa.co.uk) which bills itself as 'the UK's only clothes-optional spa and hotel'. We've visited dozens of times, in my capacity as a naturist journalist, with naturist friends or just by ourselves, but until this past weekend, we'd never enjoyed an overnight stay.

This weekend, Mrs Warrior's birthday, gave us the opportunity. I've known Mrs W for nearly 30 years and my experience of the weather on her birthday is that it rains (quite often), or is dull, cold and cloudy (quite often), but rarely is it something approaching warm, sunlit and remotely summer-like. So the fact that we could sit outside until 9pm on the Friday and for most of Saturday this weekend was approaching a miracle.

The result was de-stressing par excellence. Clover Spa may be in suburban Birmingham, on the junction of two of the city's busiest roads, but as we lay sunbathing in the garden on Friday afternoon, or in the hot-tub, all you could hear was the sound of singing birds. Even the fact that Clover lies on a flight-path into Birmingham Airport five miles away is not that much of a problem - rather, the planes are so low that I always amuse myself by wondering what the passengers are making of those crazy, naked, people down below!

It was so quiet, so relaxing, so de-stressing that we didn't want (OK, we never want...) to get dressed and go back into 'the real world.' My neuropsychologist regularly warns me about the dangers of what he calls 'over-stimulated environments' (I think he means our local branch of a well-known pub-chain at 8pm on a Saturday, lol...) so he would probably approve of the peace, quiet and near-total silence and tranquility to be found in the garden at Clover Spa.

I've been seeing him for nearly four years and I've never told him we are naturists. Maybe I should.....

''You don't look as if you've had a stroke....''

It’s incredibly common after a person suffers a stroke for them to look at another stroke-survivor and say ‘Well, he/she was affected in this, this and this way so that’s roughly what I can expect to happen to me’.

It's something I've come across several times recently when I've spoken to stroke-survivors who are still trying to come to terms with the situation - and it couldn’t be further from the truth.

Because a stroke, however severe or minor, damages the brain and because the brain is such a complicated piece of kit, with hundreds of billions of neurons all reacting and connecting with each other, the extent and type of after-effects depends on which part of the brain is damaged - and which precise smaller part within that larger part is affected.

My stroke, for instance, was centred around the cerebellum, the small area at the back of the brain which controls my balance and co-ordination. Therefore, I often have to walk with a stick and sometimes I fall over without warning far too often, or can look drunk. I have crashed to the floor in front of a dozen taxi-drivers at 10am on a Wednesday (not a good look....) and I was refused alcohol in a supermarket recently because the checkout assistant thought I was drunk. However, I carry with me at all times an ID card issued by the brain-injury charity Headway (headway.org.uk), which explains that I have a brain injury and details some of the symptoms; as soon as I was able to gather my thoughts and produce the ID card, the assistant's attitude changed.

I can't criticise her for doing her job - after all, selling alcohol to someone you know to be drunk is illegal and carries a fine of up to £1,000 - but it is annoying, to say the least, that people don't appreciate some of the effects a brain injury can have. 

There are few other physical signs where I am concerned, however - I was speaking to someone this morning who said: ‘’To look at you, you wouldn’t know you’ve had a stroke’’ That’s a common view - yet I know stroke-survivors who are partially or totally blind, who are partially or totally paralysed down one side, whose memory is catastrophically poor, whose speech is seriously impaired..... We’re all different - indeed, one of the stroke-survivor charities I work with is called Different Strokes. Making that point is one of the main reasons I work to educate people about stroke. 

Because, believe me, being refused alcohol is just one of the many small things stroke survivors have to deal with every day.  And if I can stop one person from having to go through that by making them think about their lifestyle before they have a stroke, I'm doing something worthwhile. 

A new, exciting, chapter for The Warrior

Over the past few months, I have been trying to find ways of spreading my stroke-awareness message which will do the job, but won't require me to put too much physical and mental strain upon myself.

I'm aware that I am often accused (sometimes not entirely seriously and always by people who have my goodwill at heart) of doing too much; of travelling too often and too far to give talks, to be involved in Stroke Association activities, to help out people. It's undoubtedly true that, at times, tiredness does become an issue. A close friend told me this week (and she isn't the first to say this) that I'm doing all this with abnormally-reduced brain capacity and that factor should be front and centre of every decision I take.

Therefore, the more things I can do without actually leaving the cosy confines of Warrillow Towers, the better. To that end, I currently have my IT expert working on how to retrieve 14,000 words of an unfinished book, plus dozens of old blog posts, from a long-deceased Apple Mac computer so that I can reconfigure them into new content.

I expect an answer from him next week about that; but I have also been talking to a networking friend and highly-experienced radio broadcaster called Pete Morgan, of MonkeyPants Productions, about taking an exciting leap into the 21st century; about using my journalistic skills learnt over the past 30 years, plus the public-speaking skills I have developed more recently, to produce a podcast. ("What's a podcast?" said Mrs Warrior).

And today I can unveil the first episode of what will be a monthly series of 'The Warrior Podcast." The first episode sets the scene by telling the story of how I came to be doing this; I hope that subsequent episodes will give a full flavour of life as a strokie, educate people about how to avoid stress and reduce the risk of stroke and cover the important area of making sure you are prepared financially if the worst happens.

You can hear the first episode at http://traffic.libsyn.com/thewarriorpodcast/1_-_Welcome_To_The_Warrior_Podcast.mp3. The Warrior podcast has been accepted by iTunes, where it should be available shortly; it should also be available on other podcast platforms soon (get me, sounding as if I know what I'm talking about, lol). There is also a podcast page at http://thewarriorpodcast.libsyn.com. Please have a look and a listen and feel free to share it across your social media.

I'm excited about this because podcasting is, obviously, a worldwide phenomenon. I'm not just talking to a few dozen people at a talk, or to those who discover my blog via mentions on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn; because it's on the iTunes platform, it will be much more visible - and as far as I know, it will be the only podcast out there which is talking about stroke-awareness.

At the end of a week when I was contacted concerning yet another friend who has had a stroke (that's three this month), the Warrior podcast is a way of making people aware of an important subject without putting myself at risk of damaging my health - every episode can be recorded in my front room.

I'm excited about it; I hope people find it useful. I'll always be looking for topics to discuss so if you have any stroke-related questions, I'll try to answer them on future episodes.

Podcasting, here we come! 

Life at the top - and at the bottom of the pack

Another week, another Stroke Association event, another trip to London....

This time I was in the capital for a bigger version of the strategy workshop I attended in Birmingham two weeks ago. The attendees included a number of stroke-survivors I have encountered previously, research professionals from the Stroke Association and a decent amount of very  senior medics, including Professor Marion Walker MBE, who gave the Stroke Association Keynote Lecture which I attended in London earlier this month.

Even for an experienced journalist who is used to meeting 'big-name' people, it was an interesting experience talking to Professor Walker over coffee - and she did remember me from our London encounter!

What came across very clearly was how difficult it is for the people at the top of the tree to appreciate the day-to-day problems of stroke-survivors. That's not a criticism, just an observation. So often, highbrow plans are formulated which are supposed to make our lives easier, but if GPs and (remarkably) hospital consultants don't really understand stroke, which too many don't, the plans don't move forward. 

  Obviously, what was said in the room has to stay in the room, but I can say that some of the examples we gave left the medical people horrified about just how little doctors at the sharp end actually understand. 

I heard this week about someone who suffered a mini-stroke last July 'and to date has received zero rehab support so no encouragement to exercise.' As my source said: "I guess the GP thought that because he bounced back so well, there was no need. In many ways, treatment was very delayed. It's actually a miracle that it wasn't a lot worse.''. Doctors who think like that fill me with anger. Even a mini-stroke has a lasting effect on the sufferer but because there are little or no visible consequences, too often people are sent away to get on with life. 

Yet according to Stroke Association research, one in ten of the 46,000 people every year who suffer a TIA will go on to have a major stroke within a week without treatment. The study said that if all patients experiencing a mini-stroke in the UK were given emergency treatment, almost 10,000 of the 100,000 strokes in the UK each year could be avoided. 

Not enough is known about stroke, probably because not enough is known about the brain. Yet in 2012 (the latest figures available) £56million was spent on stroke research while £544million was spent on cancer research. That's not a complaint about money spent on cancer research (I have good friends who used to work for Cancer Research UK) but rather a plea for better understanding of stroke and the brain generally. 

What we know now is not enough and the inadequate way in which too many GP's deal with stroke is terrifying.  

 

A rewarding week living life as well as I can

I talk a lot about the new directions in which my life has gone post-stroke. This week has provided two really good examples of that.

In last week's post, I mentioned my work with the Stroke Association, as a 'talking head', a member of a research-grant funding panel and as a stroke-survivor helping to formulate the Association's new five-year strategy.

For the last three years, that work has seen me receive an invitation to attend their Keynote Lecture in London - a lecture by an eminent academic in the field of stroke research, delivered to an audience of medical professionals, academics and stroke-survivors. This year's lecture took place last Wednesday at the Guildhall in the City of London and was delivered by Professor Marion Walker MBE, Professor of Stroke Rehabilitation at Nottingham University. 

The lecture was entitled: ''Living Life Well: Rehabilitation matters.'' Stroke rehab is a subject close to my heart as I don't believe the NHS takes it anywhere near as seriously as it should, for a number of reasons inside and outside its control. The professor was joined by a stroke survivor who told how his rehabilitation had been helped by his employer having an enlightened HR department who were willing and able to manage his return to work effectively.

That's all very well if you have an employer, of course. If you are self-employed, as I was when I had my stroke in 2013, your HR department can very often be you - and you will probably be in no fit state to argue a case. The evening was hosted by TV newsreader Alastair Stewart and in the Q&A session which followed the lecture, the excellent Mr Stewart allowed me to make that point in my usual forceful, but polite, manner.

I was also able to collar the Stroke Association CEO, Juliette Bouverie, over the post-lecture canapes and she told me that the difficulties faced by self-employed stroke-survivors would have to be addressed as part of the SA's new five-year strategy. If you had told me before December 16 2013 that I would be putting such a case so forcefully in such an environment, I'm not sure if I would have believed you. Talk about getting a second chance at life and grabbing it...

Then, on Friday, I gave a talk at a business meeting about the brain - explaining how the various parts work, what each one does, what happens when they go wrong - all things which would have been well outside my capabilities before that fateful day.

I spent most of last week telling people that having a stroke at 49 could have led me down two paths - give up on life or make the most of every day. I would like to think I'm doing the latter and last week was so rewarding that I'm glad I chose that path.           

Speaking up for those who don't have loud voices

I suppose it's always been in my nature to stand up for the underdog - for those who, for whatever reason, don't get their voice heard loudly enough in society.

That's probably why I became a journalist all those years ago and why it makes me so angry that courts and councils are no longer covered anywhere near adequately as the local newspaper model changes beyond recognition.

And since having my stroke, I've realised just how much the health and benefits system in this country walks all over those who won't or can't make a fuss.

The benefits system makes it difficult to claim (24-page application forms when you may have trouble writing or understanding questions, for instance) and seems to want to take the earliest opportunity to penalise you for the slightest error. Meanwhile, the badly-managed National Health Service is often reticent about telling you what help may be available when you leave hospital and often fails to provide what help they do tell you may be available.

I've often found that it's up to those like me, with inquiring minds, to go hunting for information. I can do it, it's in my DNA even after my stroke. But for those who may have been a lot less confident before their health broke down (and certainly are after it broke down), life with ill-health is a minefield.

That's why I believe it's up to those of us who can and will make a fuss to do so. It's why I get involved in stroke-support groups, I write to MPs, I lobby councillors and it's why I volunteer for the Stroke Association. I am on panels with medical professionals, which decide where the SA's limited funds for research into the causes of stroke and stroke-treatment are used and it's why I am one of their 'talking heads', stroke-survivors who will go on TV and radio and in the newspapers, tell our stories and shout about the need to get the voices of stroke-survivors heard.

On Thursday of this week, 15 of us met with a group of professional research people from the SA to discuss the charity's overall strategy for the next five years from 2019-24. Those talks are obviously at the very early stages, but it isn't giving away any secrets to say that the stroke-survivors in the room were adamant that the needs of those living with the aftermath of a stroke have to be front and centre of how the organisation thinks.

We don't want academics pursuing ideas which might be useful to the stroke community in 20 years' time. More than 100,000 people every year in the UK have a stroke. That's one every five minutes. There are over 1.2million stroke survivors in the UK. People of working age are two to three times more likely to be unemployed eight years after a stroke than the rest of the community. Stroke costs society £26billion a year. Stroke survivors need support and understanding and encouragement now and it shouldn't just be for those of us who will bang on doors and have loud voices.

I get asked regularly why I do what I do to promote stroke awareness. I could think of plenty of reasons but one of the most prominent is the desire to help those who can't raise their voices as loudly as I do. This blog, as well as my Stroke Association work, are part of that effort. 

 

Know your limits - and make sure you stick to them

Obviously, I'm passionate about helping stroke-survivors, passionate about promoting awareness of stroke and passionate about warning people of the dangers of work-stress.

It's what I do, my USP, my raison d'etre, the thing that keeps me going. But sometimes I have to remind myself of my physical and mental limits; that I too am a stroke-survivor; that having that atom-bomb go off in my head was the worst thing I've ever experienced and I don't want to repeat it.

So there is always a fine line to be trodden between getting out there and promoting myself and looking after myself. This week, on Thursday to be precise, was a fine example. I was up early for a hugely successful networking breakfast, home for an hour to see Mrs Warrior, then off again to a networking event in the afternoon. 

The latter was highly worthwhile - meeting people I had only ever seen on social media, listening to a fascinating talk by my good friend Mel Eves, talking to people who really 'got' what I do and why I do it. So much so, in fact, that I was still talking to people over an hour after the meeting ended - on the hottest day of the year so far, with temperatures in the high-70s.

As I've often documented, I would far rather be hot than cold, but heat like that does take its' toll, particularly if you end the afternoon by travelling home in a hot, crowded, steamy train carriage.

 I didn't get home until just after 6pm, almost making it a 12-hour working day - exactly the kind of thing I tell others not to do. As I sit here writing this post, at just before 2pm on Sunday, I realise that the effects of those exertions have only just worn off. That's why my consultant, with whom I met last week, tells me that a busy day must always be followed by at least one quiet day. Do I heed his words? Usually not and I always pay the price - a fuzzy head, a tired brain, balance even more uncertain than usual. 

Those are the things I live with every day if I push myself too far. It's why I tell people not to push themselves too far, not to find reasons/excuses to do just that little bit more. Because there is always the risk that doing 'just that little bit more' will be the thing that tips your brain over the edge.

I didn't see that; sometimes I still don't. Please take heed of these words and don't let it happen to you. 

'You just never know...' so why worry?

A good friend, who knows a lot about such things, told me a few years ago that we have 80,000 thoughts a day and 80% of them involve things that will never happen "So why worry about it?"

That statistic (I have not the slightest idea whether there is scientific evidence for it, by the way) has stuck in my mind ever since, especially through a series of scenarios which could have ended badly. The latest, of course, involves the friend I have mentioned several times recently who has been in hospital after an accident.

In the early days in hospital, things looked very grim and a lot of those 80,000 daily thoughts involved things like: "What if she doesn't survive?"; "What if she's paralysed?"; "What happens if she can't live independently at home?".

At that time, the prospect of her living a normal life seemed quite a way off, but the NHS has worked its' magic in various ways and as I write, she is coming home to resume a normal life. She is quite battered and bruised, still fragile and not a little scared about the same thing happening. But I've told her there's no point in worrying about any of that, no point in worrying about anything other than today, in fact, because 'you just never know what will happen.''

It's becoming a bit of a mantra for me. I gave a talk this morning in which I said there is supposed to be a 30% likelihood of me having another stroke because I've already had one. But I can't let that thought rule my life. Sure, I have to be sensible and keep my stress down, sleep properly, eat and drink sensibly, but there's a 70% chance I won't have another. And as a betting man since the 1973 Grand National (I was nine, my nan placed the bet - on Crisp, who led until the final few yards when it was overhauled by an animal called Red Rum), I'll live with those odds.

This week started, as I said in my last post, on a downer. For whatever reason, I felt about 150, everything ached, I had no energy. Monday was rubbish. Yet it ended this morning with me delivering a talk about the brain and how it works, which was described by someone in the audience as 'riveting' (a comment which has made my day.).

So five days ago, I was in the depths, now I'm on a high. 'You just never know.' So why worry?

Helping people deal with life after stroke

Statistics issued by the Stroke Association in February of this year show that there are more than 100,000 strokes in the UK every year. That's roughly one every five minutes.

All those strokes, plus the fact that most strokes are no longer instantly fatal as they were even just a few years ago, mean that there are 1.2 million stroke survivors in the UK. And those people are younger than they used to be - another set of figures released in February showed that the average age of a person suffering their first stroke fell between 2007-16 from 71 to 68 for men and from 75 to 73 for women.

At the same time, the proportion of first-time strokes suffered by 40-69 year-olds went up from 33% to 38%.

So it's undoubtedly true that there are more of us out there than there used to be. It's undoubtedly also true that I'm becoming more aware of that fact - news about stroke attracts my interest more. But it does seem that in recent weeks, I can't do anything without hearing about someone (or someone's friend or relative) who has had a stroke.

And I seem to be becoming the person everyone I know is recommending as the man to speak to for advice. About ten days ago, a friend posted on social media that her father had suffered a stroke while at a sporting club's awards night. Within a few hours, the post was full of comments from people saying: "You've got to speak to The Warrior "; "Have you spoken to The Warrior?"; "The first thing you need to do is speak to The Warrior".

She told me afterwards that I was the first person who came into her mind. We have spoken on several occasions since and will speak again soon. I'm pleased to say her father is now out of hospital, but his family are starting to realise that this is when the hard work begins; when the  support which the NHS is unable to give is most needed. That's when I hope I can help.

On Saturday afternoon, I put myself through the 90 minutes of unnecessary stress which is watching Tamworth FC fight against relegation from Nationwide League North, the sixth tier of English football. They put in a typically shambolic performance, failed to take any number of chances and conceded two goals in the final five minutes (including one when the goalkeeper let a harmless shot squeeze through his legs).

Like any good football fan in those circumstances, I was spitting blood as I left the ground so I nearly didn't see one of the matchday volunteers rushing across the (artificial) pitch shouting my name. She caught me just in time and told me that the husband of a friend of hers had suffered a stroke last week. Could she give her friend my details, she wondered?

Of course. It put Tamworth's defeat in perspective, for a start. We haven't had that conversation yet but I am sure it will happen later this week.

I always say when I do talks about stroke-awareness that if I can stop one person from going through what stroke-survivors go through, if I can help one single stroke-survivor cope with their 'new' life, it's worth it.

I just wish the high-speed, high-pressure, lifestyle which too many of us live in the 21st century didn't lead to so many strokes.

Have a happy Easter weekend - I intend to

It's been rather depressing around this blog over the past couple of weeks. The talk has been of hospitals and accidents and worry and stress. Totally understandable, because the nature of this blog is that I reflect what's happening in my life and yes, the last couple of weeks have been tough personally.

But as I sit here on Good Friday morning, pondering for longer than usual to write, I've decided to try to strike a positive note. The last two weeks have really prompted me to focus on dealing with stuff as it happens, then putting it behind me, rather than worrying about what has happened or what could happen.

For instance, a letter arrived in the post on Tuesday. I don't need to expand on the contents here, but in past times, it could/would have frightened me to death. I'd have spent days worrying about how to deal with it. Instead, a chance meeting with a business contact later that day gave me a solution. A letter has been drafted in reply and the situation has been dealt with.

Then, on Thursday, I was contacted by someone who had taken offence over a post on social media. Until recently, I would have let it ruin my day and probably my week. Instead, I chose to take note of what was said, not get involved in a back-and-forth slanging match which would do nobody any good and would probably escalate the situation, but rather to move on with life.

 And that means thinking about two instances this week where my message about the dangers of stress has obviously made a difference. On Wednesday morning, I had a Skype call with a trusted friend and business contact during which they said: "I know I've been working too hard and doing too much recently and it's made me think about your story and realise things have to change.''

The following day, someone asked me: "Why do you do what you do, when you could just sit at home without any stress?''. I was able to tell them that the obvious impact I have made on my friend is why I do what I do.

And while I sit writing this, I see that someone else has mentioned me on social media with the observation that: "The Warrior has a very strong message that EVERYONE (his capitals!) needs to hear.''

Again, that's why I do what I do. And it's why, over this Easter weekend, I'm focusing on those kind words; on the conversation I had yesterday about walking naked through a forest of bluebells; on the fun things that have happened this week, rather than the difficult stuff.

I'm not ignoring the difficult stuff; I'm just saying there's absolutely nothing I can do to control it, so why worry about it? I suggest you spend this holiday weekend doing the same.

Any progress is good - however slow and faltering

Another week, another hospital - literally. After a fortnight in intensive care, the friend I mentioned last week was transferred on Wednesday evening to a hospital nearer home. 

It's a good sign that the doctors consider her fit enough to be moved, but past experiences suggest the quality of care (and certainly the number and visibility of medical staff) might not be as good.

We'll see; all the signs are that the road to recovery will be long and complicated (as with a stroke-survivor, obviously) but progress has been made in the last week and my own case shows that any progress, however faltering, has to be seen as good.

What the past fortnight has done is remind me how exhausting supporting someone who is seriously ill can be. Hospitals tend to be hot and stuffy (which, of course, is better than being cold) and my tendency to nod off at the first opportunity has been sorely tested. Throw in the fact that packed train carriages tend to be equally hot and stuffy and I seem to have spent most of the last two weeks falling asleep alongside a hospital bed or falling asleep at home.

I have certainly been extending my afternoon nap closer to two hours than the usual one and there have been times when my brain has been so fuzzy that I haven't wanted to get out of bed in the morning. When I talk about the little things I live with every day as a stroke-survivor, that's what I mean.

It's also affected my balance more than I expected. My stroke damaged the cerebellum, the area at the bottom of the rear of the brain which is responsible for balance and co-ordination. This often means I have to hold on to Mrs Warrior while we are out walking and if I am out on my own, I usually walk with a stick - the alternative is to risk walking like a drunk and possibly taking a nasty fall, something I have done far too often.

That damage gets worse under stress and I have definitely felt my balance become much more uncertain over the past few days, hence my stick has become a regular companion. It's taken me back to the days immediately after my stroke when putting one foot in front of the other and staying upright was an achievement. Given that my friend's accident involved a serious fall, she is going through the same emotions. Frightened to put one foot in front of another in case she falls again, she is extremely wary of getting out of bed, doing the most basic physiotherapy or even moving.

It's not a good feeling and it's one with which I empathise. I had the drive and determination to keep going despite it (and I was considerably younger); I'm not sure my friend does. Being able to say 'I've been where you are and I've come through it' is one of the most important parts of what I do. A lot of stroke-survivors feel as if they are the first person this has ever happened to - I know I did. Being able to provide support and experience as someone who has been there, done it and worn the stroke-charity T-shirt is important to me.

It's why I write this blog, it's why I do public-speaking about stroke-awareness, it's why I hope to venture soon into the 21st-century world of podcasting. When that happens, you'll hear about it here first. 

A week in the life of the National Health Service

This week, I have mainly been in hospital. I'm pleased to say there's nothing wrong with me besides my usual difficulties, but someone I am very close to suffered an unpleasant accident last Sunday and as I write this on Friday afternoon, is still in hospital.

Mrs Warrior and I have been visiting every day, which has brought back the joys of commuting by train, but which has also allowed us to be reminded of the NHS and all the stories surrounding it.

My friend suffered the accident at about 6pm last Sunday. Within 20 minutes (and yes, I know there are people who would wish it to be two minutes), two paramedic ambulances were on the scene and four excellent paramedics were at work. Within an hour, my friend was in A&E and actually being dealt with.

Within three hours of the accident, she was transferred by ambulance to another, better-equipped, hospital at which consultants had judged that she could be properly dealt with.

For the next four days, a nurse was constantly at her bedside, consultants visited twice a day, the family were kept fully informed about the situation and her health was as closely monitored as possible. 

On day five, she began the long, slow, process of physiotherapy (been there, done that!) in the caring company of two simply excellent physiotherapists who understood her situation and adjusted accordingly. Day Six is today; I haven't visited today because the strain and stress of commuting was beginning to tell - as one of my closest friends often says; "I am not coming to visit you in hospital if you wear yourself out....." - but I am hopeful of hearing of further improvement.

It's easy to knock the NHS - stories of five-hour waits in A&E make for simple clickbait journalism - but nothing Mrs Warrior and I have seen makes us think anything other than that the National Health Service at the frontline is staffed by anything other than talented, dedicated people who often work long hours in stressful situations and cope with them superbly.  

Off on my travels - and getting lost again

This week has seen me off on my travels again. No, not driving just a few miles down the road and getting lost in the process, as I did recently. This time, I was using my absolutely invaluable Disabled Railcard and going off to spend two days in South Wales.

I had been asked to make the journey several months ago, by Dr Bridget Kirsop, a former GP who is now an NLP trainer and business coach. We met through the business networking group 4Networking (www.4networking.biz), Bridget heard my story and asked me to tell it to a 4N branch in Swansea. 

That's 162 miles from Tamworth and far too much for me to tackle in a day, so I arranged to travel down on Wednesday lunchtime, stop overnight in Swansea, do the talk on Thursday morning and have a leisurely journey back on Thursday afternoon. And I'm pleased to say that it all went very well.....apart from the moment when I tried to check into the wrong hotel in Swansea. Same well-known national chain, two hotels within two miles of each other and as I was unable to check the email confirming my booking because my phone had run out of charge, I chose the wrong one. A simple mistake which anyone could make, even someone with a fully-functioning brain, lol......

I was even able to enjoy some excellent real ale on the Wednesday evening. If I want to know anything about any pub or brewery in the country, I simply consult the encyclopedic brain of Adrian Smith, of The King's Ditch micropub in Tamworth. Not too many people know more and when an initial search of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide seemed to suggest three outlets of less-than-inspiring national chains, I knew where to turn.

''You must try the No Sign wine bar'' said my encyclopedia. It turned out that the said establishment was a decent rugby penalty-kick away from my hotel, an oasis in a street full of places which are probably packed every weekend with teenagers wearing not a lot and getting wrecked on cheap cocktails. You could get a sense of the atmosphere by the fact that even on a rain-soaked Wednesday night in March, there were police vans patrolling the street.

The No Sign, however, was outstanding. Five handpulls on the bar, excellent food, real ciders and a wall full of awards from CAMRA branches. I could have stayed all night, but business breakfasts start annoyingly early in the morning.

I got a good night's sleep (don't you love it when you wake up two minutes before the alarm goes off?), my talk was very well-received, I've made some very useful contacts, I've been invited back. Can't ask for anything more. Of course, I was zonked when I got back to Warrillow Towers, straight to bed for two hours' rest, a quiet day today, a quiet weekend ahead.

Plenty of people tell me I do too much on these trips. I know they have my interests at heart and I always tell them I can cope. I can, as long as I know my limits. And I could have stayed at home this week. Instead, I've scared more people into thinking seriously about stroke and stress, I've enjoyed some excellent new ale, I've spread my very important message. To me, that's a good week. 

Little or large? When minor irritants become major worries

Having a stroke is devastating; of course it is, that's stating the bleedin' obvious. It ended my working life at the age of 49, for a start. 

But what I try to do in writing and speaking about living with stroke is to educate people about the little ways in which it affects life; the things which most of us would laugh off as occasional inconveniences, but which stroke-survivors live with every day. I've had two of those this week and I'd like to share them with you.

On Tuesday morning, I was due to give a talk to a group of members of 4Networking, the business networking group I belong to and which I often mention (find them at www.4networking.biz). The meeting was only a few miles away and although I didn't know where the venue was, I thought it wouldn't be difficult to find.

I have a satnav, but I find them distracting; these days, if I'm driving I want to concentrate on the road. No radio, no conversation and certainly no irritating American lady chirping in my ear. So I went out and bought a brand new A-Z and studied it intently for two days until I knew my route off by heart.

Only I didn't. As usual, I left in plenty of time (even factoring in ten minutes to defrost the car windows) and all was well until I got to a three-way junction less than two miles from the venue. Left? Right? Straight ahead? I consulted the A-Z (having pulled off the road, obviously) and chose to turn right, expecting to see a left-turn a few hundred yards ahead which would lead to my destination.

I turned right, but the left-turn wasn't there. In fact, there were no turns off the main road for three miles, by which time I had a queue of angry drivers in Chelsea tractors behind me (it's that sort of area....).

I panicked. I pulled off the main road and consulted the map again. I should have gone straight ahead at the junction. So I turned the car around, found the junction, took the exit I should have taken and looked for my destination side-road.

Of course, rather than there being no side-roads, there were now side-roads every 50 yards - and I was late for the meeting. I hate being late for anything because I stress about people worrying about where I am. And on a freezing morning, it's just started snowing heavily.

Driving just about fast enough not to irritate those behind me, yet slowly enough to read the signs, I could feel panic rising. I was going to be late, I'd take another wrong turn and head in completely the wrong direction.

It can only have lasted a few minutes before I did find the right turning but, to me, it was scary. Imagine that happening not occasionally, but several times a day. Have I lost my keys? Did I lock the car? Did I lock the front door? Will I miss my train? Will I fall over? Will the hole-in-the-wall reject my cashcard? 

Those are all regular daily thoughts with which my knackered brain presents me. My sensible brain knows to reject them - someone once told me that we have hundreds of thousands of thoughts each day and 80% of them will never happen - but my strokie brain treats them as devastating. And there's nothing I can do about it.

There is a good ending to that story, by the way (there usually is, if I'm honest). The leader of the group posted this comment on social media after the meeting: "Today, I heard Martin speak about the lessons he learnt from the day he had a stroke and was nearly run over by a bus. They are really powerful messages. If you haven't heard Martin speak, I recommend you do.''

Testimonials like that make all the stress and panic worthwhile.

This week's other issue is one I usually try to make light of. I regularly point out how my memory issues mean I have two whiteboards and two paper calendars in the kitchen, plus a calendar app on my phone and Post-it notes all over the house.

And I have often noted that it's no good having all those aides-memoires if you put one date on one calendar and a different one on another.

Today, I'm due to have an hour-long FaceTime call with someone at 3.30pm. Which is what I put in the calendar on my phone and on both paper calendars. But on the whiteboards, I wrote: "Talk to X, Thursday'', thinking March 2 was Thursday. So when I texted X at 2pm yesterday, asking: ''Still on for this afternoon?'' she was rightly confused. Only half-an-hour later did I recognise my mistake.

I texted her, we shared lots of laughter emojis, the world hadn't ended. It was a minor inconvenience. But when minor inconveniences like that happen every day, they can get in your head. And my head has quite enough to deal with, thank you......  

So what does stroke-fatigue really feel like?

Telling people what it's like to live with brain damage is one of the most important things I do. 'Imagining' life with brain damage is impossible. Unless you're living on my side of the fence, you can have no understanding whatever of how it feels.

That might sound smug; it might sound condescending to some, but it's true. I often speak to people who don't actually believe that stroke-fatigue is 'a thing'. Rather than the truth, which is that stroke-fatigue is your knackered brain saying it's had enough and needs rest now, some people see it as an excuse - a reason to be lazy.

That misunderstanding is why my Warrior tattoo and all my branding carries the verse "I fight for my health every day in ways most people don't understand; I'm not lazy, I'm a Warrior''. It's why I put out a social media post on Monday which was intended to give some insight into stroke fatigue. It said this: ''Don't believe stroke-fatigue is a thing? Let me tell you about my morning. Up at 8.30 to feed dog and cat, into town to replace mangled cashcard (note to self - don't sit on them), home to write and send confirmation email for 4Networking Tamworth breakfast on Thursday, greet usual Monday 11am visitor, start to feel rubbish, need to go to bed, fall asleep, wake up three hours later. That's what stroke-fatigue does. Please don't work yourself into a stroke and have to deal with this every day of your life.''

It was intended to make people think, especially the last sentence. It was intended to make them realise that having to go to sleep for three hours on a Monday lunchtime is not a choice for me, it's a necessity. If I don't do it, I will simply be unable to function. My brain would decide it was going to sleep anyway and I'd find myself sound asleep where I sat, eventually waking up God knows when.

I was talking to a fellow strokie this week who has a heated pad to rest on because of the various aches and pains she suffers. She told me that even the heat from the pad can exhaust her brain and make her fall asleep. She has suddenly disappeared in the middle of one of our text conversations, only to reappear 30 minutes later and say: "sorry, I dozed off! (at 3pm!!).

My post prompted a reply from someone on Facebook who commented that a friend of hers was suffering similar tiredness after a nasty fall which left her unconscious for a week in hospital, with no memory at all of three of those days.

That made me want to point out again how delicate is the human brain. It comprises about 75 per cent water, is the fattiest organ in the body (about 60% of the solid matter in the brain is fat) and has the texture of blancmange or tofu. And yet we bash it around inside our skulls and put the 100 billion neurons inside it under enormous pressure every day of our lives. Is it any wonder if it sometimes decides it can't cope any more?

I have often described the pain I felt when having my stroke as: 'like having an atom bomb go off in my head' as an artery burst and the flow of blood to my brain was blocked. Don't fancy having an atom bomb go off in your head? In that case, please take care of your brain. Feed and water it properly, give it rest when it needs.

If you do, it will serve you very well as what it is, which is the greatest piece of kit ever invented. If you don't, it might not - and as I discover every day of my life, that's the worst feeling in the world.

Why do I do what I do? This is why......

It's the nature of writing (and, I suppose, speaking) as a skill that sometimes, you sit in front of your computer, as I am now, with one single idea in your head and know instantly what to write about. For instance, I could do 800 words on why my post-stroke brain often fails to distinguish between 'now' and 'know.,

At other times, you can sit here for a very long time waiting for an idea to present itself. When that happens (and it does, believe me) I usually go off and do something else, during which time an idea presents itself for no reason whatsoever.

Then, there are the times when you are positively bursting with ideas and struggle to decide on one. Today is one of those. I could write about Monday when, with a foresight which is often beyond me, I booked Mrs Warrior and I Christmas Day lunch 2018 in a good restaurant. 

I could write about Tuesday, when I had a very useful conversation with a friend which helped in a number of ways, then went to see Brad Burton speak at a 4Networking event in Tamworth and still managed time to fit in the last 45 minutes of Tamworth FC being hammered by Blyth Spartans, followed by beers.

I could even write about my restful Wednesday. Instead, I'm going to write about a less-than-restful Thursday, because it sums up so well what I do these days.

I was up much too early for the launch of a 4Networking group in Lichfield. There, I met a lady who runs her own coaching business. By her own admission, she was working too hard, doing too much. When I told her what I was all about, she was horrified. I don't think it had remotely occurred to her that what she was doing, how she was living, was dangerous. Now it has and we intend to discuss it in more depth next week. 

When I speak at networking meetings, I say I scare people (in a good way, obviously) because I don't want them to end up like me. If that lady has been given pause for thought by what I said, it's made my week.

What really made my week, even though it was stupid logistically, was what I did next. I drove home, rushed in to say hello to Mrs Warrior and the dog, then rushed off again to Walsall. I shouldn't have done that, I should have rested, but I wanted to spend time with a friend called Rene Power of Vision B2B and the members of his Vision Inspire group at his Vision Live workshop.

One of the issues I struggle with in terms of marketing what I do is where to focus my efforts. There are so many ways to market yourself these days and I often feel that because of my health issues, I'm not doing things that I could/should be doing.

Three hours with Rene and co (I have to mention Julie Scott, Alison Thomson, Owen Costen, Martyn Coton, Rich Amor-Wilkes, Sian Rowsell, Paul Thompson, Mark Wilkins, Phil Davenport and Michelle Dalley) focused my mind and reminded me that writing is what I am good at and enjoy (even if it is one-finger typing these days), so that is what I should do; this blog, a book which I am making slow progress with...

I didn't get home until after 7pm, making it a stupid 11-hour day. I crashed into bed immediately for an hour to 'rest my eyes', got up to eat, then went back to bed almost straight away and slept for 11 hours.

That's my life these days - bursts of energy, then long periods of rest. That's what brain-damage does. But as I say so often, at least I have a life. Too many like the lady I met carry on like that and kill themselves. Making them think about the consequences before they do is now my 'why.'

Every little helps to raise my nationwide profile

One of the great difficulties of trying to get across a message such as mine is the fact that it is very easy to end up talking to the same people all the time.

Even though that core audience may consist of tens of thousands of people, you have to remember that only a very tiny percentage of them are interested; it's a truism of what I do that people only become aware of/interested in stroke when it affects them or a friend or a family member. 

Therefore, I have to take every opportunity to widen my audience. My health and my finances often make it difficult for me to actively go out into the wider world and do that (I could do five networking meetings a week, but doing that was what helped put me in this hole in the first place) so I can't afford to turn down chances which are presented to me.

The radio interview which I mentioned in last week's post is a case in point; something similar has happened twice this week. Months ago, I went to Hull to give a talk. Yes, it was a long day; yes, it tired me mentally and physically. But while standing in a queue for lunch, I got talking to a lady who said: "I really must introduce you to someone. She's an academic with an interest in stroke research. You'd be perfect.''

Then, as often happens, the trail went cold for months. Life got in the way. I met the lady from the lunch queue at another event and she said: "I really must....''

Then, the trail went cold for months again. Until I got a message on LinkedIn last Friday, shortly after writing last week's blog. It was from the lady from the lunch queue, finally connecting me with her friend. Messages were exchanged and we agreed to talk on Monday of this week.

That conversation lasted 30 minutes and could have gone on for hours. "Do you know....?'' "Yes, I've met them several times.''. "Have you ever spoken to.....?'' "Yes, regularly."

We have since exchanged contact details, connected across all the important social media channels, I have read one of her research papers and plans are being discussed for me to take part in an exciting project later this year. All because we persisted until the time was right for us to connect properly, a networking mantra which my good friend Stefan Thomas (what Stef doesn't know about networking isn't worth knowing) says is crucial to finding new links and a new audience.

Then, over the weekend, I was contacted by another person with an interest in what I do. Dr Bridget Kirsop lives in south Wales. I've met her once in person, at a networking event late last year. Off the back of that, she invited me to speak at an event in south Wales next month. Now, she wanted to know if I would be interviewed live for her Facebook group  'One Step Closer - Business Success''

As I said last week, three decades of being around the media means that live interviews don't bother me. The group contains over 400 members; some will know me well, some will know me vaguely, some wouldn't know me from a hole in the wall. So it was an opportunity to introduce myself to another audience - even if just one person was interested. 

So, we did the interview via Zoom, I hope I scared a few more people into thinking about how stroke might affect them and hopefully, a few more people are aware of The Warrior.

As I said at the start of this piece, I may not be able to do as much as some, but I can do what I can, when I can. Hopefully, the last two weeks have helped with that.