Demolishing comfort zones - eventually

When I started this blog, I thought it would do two things; it would help me continue to satisfy my lifelong desire to write and it would help raise awareness of stroke by telling my story and my experiences as a stroke-survivor.

There's no doubt it has done that. I'm not sure about my readership figures (and as long as someone somewhere finds it, reads it and feels inspired, that's what matters to me), but I do know that an awful lot of people are aware of it because they tell me.

It did take a while to develop its current incarnation on this website, because a series of technical problems and my inability to deal with them meant a number of false starts. If you look hard enough on t'internet, you'll find me blogging under various guises on various platforms, as far back as 2008. But I count this version, on askthewarrior.com itself, talking solely about stroke-awareness and under the Warrior flag, as 'the proper one.'

I was similarly slow to move into audio. I thought about launching a podcast for months before taking the plunge, partly for financial reasons and partly because I wasn't sure I could handle the technical stuff.

Then I spoke to Pete Morgan, of a company called Monkey Pants Productions. I went to one of his seminars on podcast-production, finally realised I wanted to do it but also finally realised that self-production was a complete non-starter. I'm a words person and all the technicalities would be beyond me, even with a complete and fully-functioning brain.

So we agreed that I would hand production duties over to Pete. Once a month, he sets up a mini-studio in the kitchen at Warrillow Towers, he interviews me or a guest and roughly five days later, I get a social media link to the podcast edition itself, the relevant page on the platform where all the editions live, plus a link to iTunes from which people can subscribe. I then promote it as hard as I can on social media. 

It's easier than I thought and it's going much better than I expected. The Warrior Podcast appears to be the only one in this fast-growing part of the social-media forest which is talking about this stuff from the perspective of someone who has been through a stroke and can explain in a coherent fashion what life as a strokie is like. 

So now, I'm preparing for another leap into the unknown - and it's fair to say that before my stroke, I didn't do leaps into the unknown. I won't say too much yet, but two conversations this week have hopefully paved the way to take the marketing of The Warrior podcast on to a completely different level.

Meanwhile, two other conversations may have opened the door to take my public-speaking about stroke to a different level. Comfort zones may be about to be demolished.

And if you haven't heard The Warrior podcast yet, why not? The latest edition, featuring a former senior teacher explaining how the stresses of the profession gave him a stroke, is compelling listening, even if I say so myself. You can hear it at http://traffic.libsyn.com/thewarriorpodcast/4_-_Interview_with_Trevor_Baker.mp3. The podcast page is http://thewarriorpodcast.libsyn.com and it's also on iTunes.

Steam trains, dogs, children and helping friends - a good week

Even the least perceptive of readers might have detected a certain melancholy tone to my posts over the last couple of weeks; a feeling that the ups and downs of stroke-survivor life were getting to even this most hardy of bloggers.

And yes, they'd be right; the mental challenges were manifesting themselves in physical difficulties - more fatigue, more headaches, more balance problems, all of the things that rear their heads when I'm on a low.

So let's start by saying that there won't be any of that here this week. Instead, there will be talk of steam trains, dogs, children (good and bad....), good friends and helping people who are in stressful situations.

Let's start with the latter. A month or so ago, I enjoyed a night out with some friends I hadn't seen for 30 years. In the course of the evening, someone mentioned to a mutual friend that their father had recently suffered a stroke and was struggling in the aftermath, for a variety of reasons - and the family was struggling under the pressure of being expected to provide the sort of care that the NHS cannot/will not.

My name was mentioned as being someone who could provide some support and perspective, as a survivor who has been in that situation and, in many ways, still is.

That resulted in a 45-minute conversation on Monday evening which opened my eyes as to how things have worsened in the years since my stroke, but I hope gave my friend a glimpse of light and a feeling of support. Too often, stroke survivors and their families are left to fend for themselves without that support - if I can help in some small way, that makes me happy.

Tuesday was where the dogs came in. Seeing our own dog running around a pub garden, playing with dogs ten times his size and gnawing excitedly on a bone, whilst Mrs Warrior and I had lunch with my stepmother was enough to lift the spirits. Attending a networking event that evening and meeting a dog who is having chemotherapy treatment for leishmaniasis (Google it; it's not nice) did so even more. The animal in question has lost much of his hair due to chemotherapy but given that many vets put dogs with this condition to sleep, he is lucky to be alive. Maybe we have a shared outlook on life.....

And then there were children. So many, in fact, that they had their own table to the side of the meeting room. They were immaculately behaved (my kind of children, lol) and one even introduced herself to the meeting, something which can be daunting to experienced networkers. All in all, a lovely day.   

The Severn Valley Railway (svr.co.uk) always raises my spirits. A heritage railway running steam trains from Kidderminster, where I was born, to the lovely riverside town of Bridgnorth and back, it is definitely worth a visit. Views of rolling English countryside, stops at spectacular village stations and a great pub in the King and Castle on Kidderminster station; not even screaming children running up and down the carriages could ruin my morning.

The fact that I was doing it in the company of fellow members of a local stroke-survivors group on Wednesday only lifted my mood; Being with these people always does. Many are afflicted in worse and different ways to me, a fact brought home when we stopped for lunch at a country pub after our train excursion.

Often, stroke survivors have varying degrees of blindness and it is fairly common for people to lose their peripheral vision - they can see what's straight in front of them, but not to the side. I've heard of it but not until this week have I seen what it really means to try to eat with no peripheral vision. Put your hands up so that you can only see directly ahead; now try to eat a plate of food . That's what it means. That's why I'm not the only Warrior around here.

Yes, it took nearly four hours to do the 60-mile journey home due to traffic delays; yes, I could barely walk when we got off the coach because my legs were so stiff, but the whole day was an exercise in enjoying myself, something that has been too absent lately.

I'm in north Wales next week, giving a talk on stroke-awareness. It will be an arduous trip, but I'm looking forward to it. And I will remember this as one of the good weeks. Maybe I'll have another one next week.

  

Learning a lesson (hopefully.....)

I've written a lot over the last couple of weeks about how life as a stroke-survivor is a roller-coaster; about how smoothing out the ups and downs is important to enjoying (that's the wrong word, actually; I mean 'surviving') the journey.

Well, last week was such a roller-coaster that I have had to wait a couple of days to calm down before I could sensibly write this blog post. I won't go into the details because it's not worth stressing over and I am on the upswing now, but for a time at the beginning of last week, I began to wonder whether it was all worth it. Whether giving up all this 'stroke-awareness' stuff and just retiring to stare at the walls for the rest of my life would be a more sensible option.

I was giving myself too much to worry about, too many people weren't being helpful, in fact too many people were being difficult, my stress levels were too high. Undoubtedly, seeing pictures of happy family holidays all over my social media when Mrs Warrior and I haven't had a holiday in eight years wasn't helping. 

But by the end of the week, I began to realise that when my neuropsychologist talked about doing three things a day, and only three things a day, he meant it. And now I know what those three things are. You have to learn lessons out of bad times, or what's the point? And I have. I consciously felt my health deteriorating through last week; my fatigue was getting worse, my irritability was getting to a point where Mrs Warrior was wondering if she could continue putting up with it.  

Of course, it's possible that the continued heat isn't helping - it's definitely a good thing that I'm a confirmed naturist. But it's been affecting my sleep, which is probably affecting my fatigue, which is probably affecting my mood.

Last week was a lesson. I have friends, two in particular, who tell me that I'm not very good at learning lessons about living with stroke. Well, if it means I don't have to go through another week like last week, I'll happily learn this one. 

Surviving a week on the brain-injury rollercoaster

I wrote last week about the importance of not letting things 'mither' or bother me, especially in the run-up to my 28th wedding anniversary on July 21.

I'm happy to say that I managed to do that. The weekend of our wedding anniversary was a huge success. Since then, though, the rollercoaster which is life with a brain injury has been going at full speed - and I'll happily admit that I've really struggled to cope with the twists and turns.

Monday was fun, if busy - busy enough, in fact, that I completely forgot the dental appointment I should have attended that afternoon, despite having it written on whiteboard and calendar, as well as in my phone calendar. Normal people shrug off stuff like this; those with brain injuries take it very personally. I've rescheduled it and the surgery were fine about it; to me, it shouldn't have happened.

Then on Tuesday, the black mist descended in style, despite temperatures in the 80's which normally help my mood. I was due to give a stroke-awareness talk in Chepstow on Thursday morning, something which would mean a train journey and an overnight stay. But the hotel in which I was due to stay suddenly doubled their price to a level which I couldn't afford. I'd have to cancel and let down a whole load of people, wouldn't I?

I spent most of Tuesday in a deep depression. I hate letting people down; once I've promised something, I do it. But I roused myself sufficiently to put in calls to a couple of friends to let them know how I was feeling and they offered advice. Another call and the job was done. Alternative accommodation was found at less than half the price. The trip was made, the talk went superbly and the possibility of a useful collaboration was raised. In addition, the man who drove the train is a friend of mine and he upgraded me to first-class. Did I mention rollercoasters?

On Thursday afternoon, I had a meeting with my neuropsychologist, who is by far the best part of my involvement with the NHS post-stroke. He cares, he empathises, he comes up with solutions to problems. We spoke for 90 minutes, I talked about a variety of concerns, he offered advice. I felt much better for the experience.

And I've left out Wednesday, which was the ultimate rollercoaster day. It started when the postman delivered a letter from my bank; I won't go into detail, but 'threatening' just about sums it up. I went to my local branch (yes, this bank does still have a local branch) to express my concern and was met by a lady who I now know to be the new branch manager. Sympathetic, understanding, everything banks have a reputation for not being. She consulted her diary and arranged an appointment for Friday to sort out the problem.

Which gave me time to attend my third funeral in less than six weeks. This time, the deceased was someone from a brain-injury support group I attend. Diagnosed with a brain tumour five years ago and given three years to live, he finally succumbed a month ago. Like me, he was a man who enjoyed life and realised that he had been given 'extra time' and should enjoy it.

He was a big rugby man. A rugby tunnel was formed as his coffin was taken into the chapel and traditional rugby hymns were sung. We'll miss him, it's not fair that he was taken so young, but we are comforted by the thought that he made the most of every day - which is what I'm trying to do.

Which brings us to Friday and my appointment with the bank. Financial insecurity has been my biggest worry since I was made redundant in 2009 and certainly since my stroke in 2013. We have been pleading for help and understanding from the banking system and it hasn't happened. Now, it appears to be happening.

The sympathetic and understanding manager is going to take us under her wing, completely restructure our finances, make sure we are secure and give us the help and understanding we need. As we enter a new week, the rollercoaster seems to be on an upswing. Sometimes, I wish I could stop it and get off, but I know that dealing with the highs and lows is making me a better person.

After all, that's what Warriors do, isn't it? 

 

 

'What's mithering you?'

Have you ever heard the verb 'to mither'? My dictionary (not Wikipedia!) describes it as of northern English derivation and meaning "to cause unnecessary worry or bother'' as in ''such-and-such a thing is mithering me''.

It's a word I learned from my grandparents on my late father's side, who moved down to Worcestershire from West Yorkshire in the early-1930's in search of work. They used 'mither' a lot and it's stayed in our family's vocabulary ever since; even Mrs Warrior, who is of Irish ancestry but was born in Birmingham, uses it.

She used it this morning, when I was having one of my regular low moods. "What's mithering you?" she asked as I sat silently gazing into my cappuccino. My usual response (everyone's usual response?) is: ''Oh, nothing.'' But this time, I explained. I told her about something that has been hanging over me since February. In my brighter spells, I brush it off, look at all the possible outcomes and concentrate on the positive ones.

On days like today, I convince myself that only a negative outcome is possible; I let this thing 'mither' me.

Now I know you can train your brain to think more positively. I know we have something like 80,000 conscious thoughts a day and that 80 per cent of them will never happen. But those concepts assume the existence of a 'normal' brain. A damaged brain, one affected by a stroke for instance, is very different.

I wrote last week about a couple of the lasting effects of stroke, one relatively trivial and one less so. My mood-swings are perhaps the most difficult for me (and certainly for Mrs Warrior) to deal with. On my low days, nothing will snap me out of it; I will sit in an armchair staring into space, ignoring (or worse, shouting at) Mrs Warrior, shouting at the dog and the cat (like they are listening, lol) and generally being a pain to live with. 

The number of relationships or marriages which break up after one party suffers a stroke because "he/she is not the person I married" is frightening. And of course I'm not the same person that Mrs Warrior married. I've gone through a horrific and life-changing event (several, actually) and lived to tell the tale. It's obviously had an effect.

But Mrs Warrior and I will celebrate our 28th wedding anniversary tomorrow (July 21), assuming all my usual provisos about getting through today and waking up healthy in the morning. Excuse my language, but that is one hell of an achievement these days for any couple, never mind a partnership who have been through all the stuff we have.

And the marriage vows do say "for better, for worse......in sickness and in health'' don't they? We're going out for a posh meal to celebrate. I promise I'll try not to let anything mither me for at least 24 hours......

Two realities of life with an injured brain

I talk a lot about how having a stroke affects your life in a million different ways. Some of them are just annoying, some force you to make dramatic changes to the way you get through every day. 

This week, I'd like to talk about two of the ways in which my life has been affected: one is trivial and Mrs Warrior might argue that I'm a better person because of it. The other is very much less so.

I used to be a sports nut: if it was on TV, I would watch it, whether it was football, golf, tennis, cricket, horse racing, rugby (union or league), or anything else, the TV would be on. Part of this came from my years on the sports desk of the Birmingham Post, where we HAD to know what was happening, so the office televisions had to be on, all the time, every day. 

If I couldn't watch it live, I would record it and watch it as soon as possible. I've never been one of those people who couldn't watch if I already knew the result - I just wanted to watch sport on TV.

But what happened on December 16 2013 changed all that - and I have noticed the effect becoming more and more pronounced as time goes on. My interest in sport hasn't diminished that much, I still browse the weekend newspapers and I like to know who has won a particular event, but I'm no longer obsessive. 

If I don't get to see something, that's too bad. This will be the second consecutive Wimbledon at which I haven't watched a single tennis ball struck in anger. I didn't watch the highlights of last year's Open golf, I doubt I'll watch this year's and I haven't seen a single second of golf highlights on the BBC this year (my dad, a golf fan and player for at least 50 years, would not approve).

As I said, I'm still interested, but I just can't be bothered to make it any sort of priority. I have 12 Saturdays worth of ITV Racing to watch. Will I? I might, but I might not. It feels as if something in my brain has changed. Things that were important for over 40 years now aren't. And this kind of thing is not unusual. Cases of people suddenly developing new skills after a stroke happen all the time. I couldn't draw a square before my stroke, but one of the support groups I go to put on an art-class and I produced something quite remarkable with the help of a good teacher.

Of course, this is all to do with changes inside the brain. I can't explain it (although stroke-survivors do find we know a lot more about the brain than is probably sensible), but I know it's happening.

As is my fast-fading ability to multi-task, something far more serious (no jokes about men and multi-tasking, please, ladies). Previously, I could easily read a broadsheet newspaper, watch the TV news, eat my evening meal and have a coherent conversation with Mrs Warrior all at the same time. Now, the third of those things takes all my concentration. Mrs Warrior often thinks I'm ignoring her. I'm not, it's just that my ailing brain can't handle all the hubbub.

It's why, if you see me sitting reading a newspaper in a crowded pub, I'll probably have my hands over my ears. I know it looks anti-social, but too much 'white noise' if you will, can prompt mood-swings. And you don't want to go there, honestly.......

So there's trivial and there's serious. Unfortunately, each is a fact of everyday life which I have to deal with. That's why I say that I scare people into thinking about the dangers of stress. Because the stuff I live with every day, as someone who didn't think about the dangers of stress until too late, is not nice.....

How sporting ability can leave a lasting impression

Football's coming home? I'll believe it when it gets here and I can shake it warmly by the hand, to be honest. 

Having been born in March 1964, I was two years old when England won the World Cup. I may well have watched it but I have no recollection. My first memory of watching England in an international tournament was in 1970; I was six and I cried when we lost to what was then West Germany.

Since then, I've sat through disappointments, disasters, endless penalty shoot-outs...48 years of hurt, as the song nearly says. So I'll be there on Wednesday evening in a pub, watching the game with the same friends I was with in 1990, 1996, 2006 and two years ago, when losing to Iceland in the European Championships seemed to be as low as England could go.

A different pub, though; our favoured haunt from 1990 and '96 is now a pizza parlour, a sad reflection of the way 'proper' pubs have been treated in recent years by money-grabbing companies with no understanding of the trade. 

And in my mind will be a picture of Andy Biddle. I went to Andy's funeral on Friday. He played nearly 500 games as a talented left-winger for Sutton Coldfield Town in the 1980's and '90's. I watched him every week when I was sports editor of the Sutton Coldfield Observer from 1990-92. He was an incredibly talented player who could easily have played at a much higher level, but he loved playing football on Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings with his mates and playing cricket for Sutton Coldfield Cricket Club.

It was while playing cricket for Sutton CC Veterans that Andy suffered a fatal heart attack last month. It would have been his 53rd birthday on Sunday July 1. I attended his funeral last Friday; it was packed with his former team-mates in both summer and winter sports, far too many of whom looked fit enough that they could still pull on a pair of boots if needed.

I got talking to one of them, who played behind Andy in the back four of that Sutton Town team. He said: "Andy will be up there laughing about the fact he died playing cricket. In his mind the shot he played went for four, he will forever be not out."

Which is what sport is all about. It means everything and it means nothing. Andy Biddle will probably be livid if England win the World Cup next Sunday and he's not here to see it. I'm pleased that his talents were a part of my life, however fleeting. And life is about making a lasting impression when you've gone. I'm trying to do that, through my stroke-awareness work. Andy Biddle, through his sporting ability, certainly did. 

Trying to look at life from the positive end

I left you last week with a dismal few days receding in my rear-view mirror while I looked forward to an enjoyable weekend. 

It will surprise none of my readers who know me well that the weekend involved naked recreation. Some naturist friends we have known for nearly 20 years came to stay at Warrillow Towers and we spent plenty of time at Clover Spa (cloverspa.co.uk), the naturist spa and hotel in north Birmingham.

Happily, the weekend did the job. The weather was idyllic and warm verging on hot, the company (couples-only) was perfect and not even the fact that something appears to have bitten me very painfully on the eyelid could dampen my mood.

One of our guests is a highly-accomplished amateur photographer and some of the pictures he took during the weekend (of churches, gardens and Tamworth Castle, not from Clover Spa...) can be found on my Facebook feed.

I suppose the rest of this week could perfectly describe the helter-skelter-mood-swing life of the stroke-survivor. Monday was quiet, but Tuesday saw me spend the hottest day of the year on a train to and from Hemswell in Lincolnshire for a speaking engagement. It was fun, the audience loved me, the venue was spectacular, but it was nearly five hours in total there and back on a sweltering train. That's three ups and a down; I'll take that.

But I must have known there would be a hangover and there was, for much of Wednesday. A feeling that I couldn't cope with this physical and mental roller-coaster. Luckily, I have friends I can rely on to step up and help in these situations. On Wednesday, they did - plans are now being put in place to smooth out life's bumps for me.

Thursday was another high. A speaking engagement at a 4Networking breakfast in Tamworth went superbly, with several people saying they had specifically come to hear me speak. Obviously, I'm doing something right.

I was also told at that meeting that my Warrior podcast (hear it at http://thewarriorpodcast.libsyn.com or you can find it on iTunes) has had nearly 1,000 downloads, which I understand is spectacular for a home-produced podcast. A second networking meeting in the afternoon brought further interest - as someone said: "No-one else is doing this stuff from the perspective of a stroke-survivor."

So on to today. Well, this morning was rubbish. Too many things for my knackered brain to sort out. But the unbeatable Mrs Warrior stepped up and took some of the pressure off, leaving me feeling positive enough to end this post on a good note.

What's that? There was a World Cup match on Thursday evening and England lost. Was there? Did they? I can't dwell on the negatives - and neither should the England team.

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.