A tribute from one Warrior to another

 
Regular followers of this blog will know that I’m extremely active in a national business networking organisation called 4Networking.

Like plenty of similar organisations, it has an incentive scheme to encourage members to bring along new faces - in this case, the incentive is free days added to your paid-for membership. It’s worked for me and I reckon that I’ve accrued about nine free months in the seven years I’ve been a member - sounds pretty good to me.

Earlier this year, I had an email from 4Networking telling me that I had been given free days for introducing someone who had just joined. It didn’t say who the new member was, or when I had introduced them. But enquiries on social media uncovered the fact that it was Mike Gardner, a time-management expert who I had met when I was just another freelance journalist, rather than a stroke-awareness activist,

Mike had been to a meeting with me, decided not to join 4N, then changed his mind and joined three years later, earning me my free days. Every time we met after that, Mike and I had a laugh about it.

I first met Mike several years ago in my pre-stroke life at a series of networking meetings around the Midlands but it was only after he joined 4N that I really got to know him; got to know his history, got to know what a great person he was and got to know how much we had in common. A former RAF man (OK, we didn’t have that in common), Mike had survived heart attacks and strokes to become a determined and talented long-distance runner.

And his was the only presentation at a 4N meeting that I’ve ever seen (apart from mine) that made me cry. Entitled
‘S@@@, I never got my to-do list done’, it was about how nobody ever says that on their deathbed and how important it is to concentrate on the things that matter, like friends, family and making memories, rather than worrying about work.

It was, of course, frighteningly close to what I bang on about and I remember sitting at a 4N breakfast a few months ago in tears as Mike told his story.

Mike Gardner passed away last Sunday after suffering a heart-attack while out running. The news came as a terrible shock to his vast number of friends and is yet another example of the importance of living life to the full while you still have the opportunity - a mantra that Mike definitely held dear.

My social-media feeds this week have been packed with hundreds of generous tributes to a lovely man taken from us far too quickly. Mike’s life-experiences made him appreciate, as I do, that life is a very delicate flower that can be stolen away in a second. It’s something I talk about a lot, of course. Every time I say it from now on (including when I give the keynote presentation at the Coffee and Natter business networking event in Burton-on-Trent next Thursday, an afternoon which I suspect Mike would have attended), I’ll think of him.

Rest in Peace, Mike Gardner.

Medical matters

I mentioned here a couple of weeks ago that I was awaiting the results of various medical checks which I had asked for as a result of not feeling at my best in recent weeks.

As someone who believes in complete honesty with regard to such things, it’s only fair that I bring you up to date. I went for my flu jab and blood test, but also asked for my blood pressure to be checked as it somehow hadn’t felt right lately. Various pains and headaches had got me thinking and as I’ve mentioned many times, my knackered brain is very prone to thinking the worst in such scenarios.

So I had my blood pressure checked and it was ‘significantly higher’ in the nurse’s words, than when it was checked at my annual stroke review in May. Cue panic (from me, not her). She arranged to have it taken again by my GP four days later while I (or rather, my strokie brain) contemplated a life on blood-pressure tablets, having to give up alcohol and/or caffeine altogether and various other ‘restrictions’ on my already tightly-controlled life.

Now, there is a history of high blood-pressure in my family and having had a stroke, I suppose I am more susceptible. But various unpleasant scenarios unfurled in my brain, until I consulted various friends and found out that a lot more people than you would think are on BP tablets, while my ‘significantly higher’ reading was actually nowhere near as high as it could have been.

And, of course, when it was checked again, it was back to what my doctor considers normal. Panic over, no BP tablets to add to my daily cocktail yet. But there was one significant outcome. The blood test came back completely normal except that my Vitamin D levels are lower than they should be.

My ideal solution, of course, would be a nice, long, naturist holiday to somewhere with plenty of sun. But the finances at Warrillow Towers don’t allow that, so we’ll have to find another solution. Consequently, as from Monday, a Vitamin D tablet will join that daily cocktail. That makes it 13 a day, but if they are doing their job and keeping me alive and relatively healthy, I can’t complain.

The low Vitamin D levels could explain my recent lethargy - needing sleep in the afternoon as well as at least nine hours every night. Stroke-fatigue is undoubtedly partly responsible but constant lethargy makes you feel ill in other ways. Let’s hope one source of stress can be banished.

Scare people? Yes, of course I do

Having a National Day for this, that and the other seems to me to be nothing more than a great way to keep PR people in business. But when someone who has no interest in PR but is actually a former schoolteacher-turned-talented-IT-person tells me that today is National Stress Awareness Day, it looks like an open goal that even I can’t miss. So here goes….

Anyone who has followed my story knows that my stroke, in December 2013, was caused by stress. I was a self-employed journalist editing a national magazine, then I lost 90 per cent of my income in one phone call when my annual contract to edit that magazine wasn’t renewed, through no fault of my own.

It was a month before Christmas. How was I going to pay the bills? How was I going to pay the mortgage? What was I going to tell my wife? For the previous four years, I had edited that magazine pretty much single-handed, with little or no help other than from a graphic designer.

I worked from home so, just because I could, I’d write emails at 7am or 11pm. I’d write articles at 7am or 11pm. Work had merged seamlessly into home life. But was I stressed? Was I f@@@. No, of course I wasn’t stressed. I could cope. Until I couldn’t. In the last six months, things turned south very quickly and I was under more and more pressure.

But could I see it? No, of course I couldn’t. We never do. So that when the explosion came, when that phone call came, I wasn’t prepared. And my brain exploded. Literally. An artery burst in the back of my brain, causing permanent brain damage at the age of 49.

That’s what stress can do. Sometimes it causes minor, but regular, viral infections; if you listen to James Perryman talking on my podcast ‘The Warrior’ at thewarriorpodcast.libsyn.com and on iTunes, you’ll hear how his work-related stress caused serious psoriasis. Mine didn’t do any of that. Mine just built and built and built until one Monday afternoon, as I was crossing a busy road, that artery burst.

My legs gave way, the whole of my left side was paralysed for a fortnight, I was left with memory loss, cognitive issues, massive ongoing fatigue, I had to learn how to walk and talk and use my left side all over again. I had to develop a whole new series of strategies just to cope with getting through every day.

I do a lot of public speaking about stroke-awareness. When I do, I always say that I scare people. And I do, because people need scaring about stress and what it can do. ‘‘It’ll never happen to me’’. Well, it happened to me.

If you feel stressed, the first thing to do is recognise it and talk about it. Then coping strategies can be put in place. Ignoring it, not being aware of it, is a good way to kill yourself.

'I'm not lazy, I'm a Warrior'

“I fight for my health every day in ways most people don’t understand. I’m not lazy, I’m a Warrior.”

If you’ve met me in person, either to have a conversation or at one of my stroke-awareness talks, you might recognise those words. They are the basis of the tattoo which adorns my left forearm and they are on the T-shirts I wear when I give my talks.

A young friend of mine found them (she knows who she is) and they sum up perfectly what it means to live as a stroke-survivor. Yes, there are countless physical manifestations but the mental strain of daily life can sometimes be the toughest part and that has certainly been the case this week for me.

I mentioned here seven days ago that I was awaiting two key medical appointments. Well, yesterday was the day (you become accustomed to going from hospital clinic to GP surgery to blood test in the space of a few hours) and although one question was answered, some key ones still remain.

My epilepsy consultant’s view was, essentially, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. In the past, he has toyed with changing my cocktail of medicines but is now minded to leave well alone. Changing or withdrawing treatment could have consequences and as I haven’t had a fit since February 2010, that wouldn’t be sensible. So, I’ll keep taking the tablets and see him in 12 months.

Having spent much of the morning at hospital, I came home for a brief lunch-break before heading to my local GP. I have become increasingly concerned about my hearing in recent weeks, so a test is now on the horizon but the main reason for my visit was my worry about increasing bouts of lethargy.

Stroke fatigue is well-known, of course. I’ve referred to it here many times, told how it can floor you for days on end and discussed how it can sometimes make getting out of bed a challenge. But I’ve never suffered fatigue as badly as I have in the past few weeks. The unknowing could mistake that lethargy and fatigue for laziness, hence the apt nature of the words with which I began this post.

My increasing lethargy might simply be worsening stroke fatigue and if that’s the case, there probably isn’t a great deal I can do about it. After all, as I have said here previously, my brain’s had a good kicking and sometimes needs rest as a result.

But it could be due to a host of other things, as well. I hope and suspect that it isn’t but as I spend a lot of my time these days telling others to get themselves checked out and be prepared, it is only sensible to do so myself. An extensive blood test is now booked for Monday November 5. We’ll see what it says but in the meantime, I won’t be doing too much.

That’s not laziness, it’s simply looking after myself. After all, my stroke-damaged brain is apt to think the worst outcome of any scenario these days, so getting concrete evidence of positive outcomes is essential to my mental well-being.

That sense of thinking the worst about everything is hard to explain, but I discuss it in the latest edition of my podcast ‘The Warrior.’ You can find it on iTunes or at http://thewarriorpodcast.libsyn.com. As you’ll hear if you give it a listen, any suggestion that my life is now stress-free because I am aware of what stress can do is completely wrong!

A big decision - at last

‘You’re doing an awful lot of good with your stroke-awareness work, but you’re no good to anyone six feet under.’

That’s the blunt warning I’ve had from several close friends (I’m thinking of two, in particular) over the last few months. They worry about me dashing all over the country doing talks, they worry about me getting up at stupid o’clock too often for breakfast meetings, they worry about me not getting enough rest and sleep and not remembering that, as one of them told me a while ago, ‘you’re medically retired for a reason.’

And by and large, I’ve ignored them and, by definition, ignored the message I am so passionate about delivering to others. Like too many of the people I speak to about stroke-awareness and the dangers of stress, I’ve shrugged off the warnings because I felt OK in myself.

Recently, however, I’ve started to feel far from OK in myself. I’ve begun to feel increasingly fractious (especially in the mornings), stressed, tired and worn. And if I can’t see that those are warning signs, how can I expect other people to see the warning signs in themselves?

More importantly and scarily, however, I’ve started to get headaches. Not the searingly painful ‘atom bomb going off in your head’ experience I suffered when an artery burst in my brain and changed my life forever, but annoyingly noticeable headaches that get worse when I’m tired. Again, it’s an obvious sign. And when I saw something on social media this week with the daughter of a stroke-survivor commenting that: “I have to remember all the time that my dad’s brain is having to work ten times harder than mine just to have a conversation,’’ it flicked a switch for me.

This isn’t the place to go into detail, but things have been going on recently which have caused stress that I don’t need and could easily walk away from. The fact that I haven’t walked away has been, I accept, entirely down to my desire to help others. But, as they say in those flight-safety films, ‘‘You must inflate your own life-jacket first.’’ In other words, you can’t help anyone if you’re dead before they are.

So on Monday of this week, I did something I probably should have done weeks ago. I sent a WhatsApp message resigning from a position I have held (and held dear) for nearly three years. I may go back if several sets of circumstances change, but when an oft-quoted statistic about there being a 30% chance of me having another, possibly fatal, stroke starts becoming increasingly prominent in my thoughts, it’s time to act.

For the last 48 hours, I have taken plenty of rest and done pretty much nothing other than watch TV and write this blog - and I feel better for it. I intend to continue that theme over the weekend and into next week. I have appointments with my GP and my epilepsy consultant next Thursday which hopefully will start to uncover any problems and I have asked my neuropsychologist’s secretary to organise an appointment, because I cannot continue down the road I’ve been on. Mindfulness, meditation, rest and recovery have to be my watchwords - not stress and tension and anxiety and pressure.

I missed the signs last time and came within a few inches of being killed by my ignorance. I’m not going any further down that path again.

Entering the lions' den - and taming the lion

‘Never work with animals or children’ goes the old showbiz saying. ‘Be wary of school/college audiences’ seems to be the equivalent among public speakers.

For several months, I’ve been working with the staff of a local college, with the intention of delivering a series of talks about my story as part of their life-awareness programme. As one of the staff told me: “Kids of this age often think they are invincible. The idea of these talks is to show them what life is really like.’’ I have plenty of experience of the realities of life, obviously.

I mentioned the upcoming talk in a business group on Facebook and someone observed sagely: “Student audiences are a tough crowd for speakers. Half won’t turn up, the other half are only there to miss lessons.’’ Well, at least it would be good practice for me……

In the end, I had an audience of 25-30 (a 50-50 mix of boys and girls) on Friday of last week and even though I say so myself, they looked spellbound. It’s entirely possible, of course, that I scared them into silence but the classroom was full, you could have heard a pin drop throughout my 45-minute talk - more than twice as long as I normally speak for - and they even commented in a good way on my bling-y walking stick which I mentioned here recently!

There were sensible questions asked at the end of the session, always a sign of a successful talk, while I have been invited back at least once every half-term for the rest of this academic year. And as is often said, who knows where this will lead now that I have my foot in the door.

On Tuesday, I was back on more familiar territory speaking to a business networking group. It’s all experience, it’s all helping to get the message across (as is this blog and my podcast ‘The Warrior’ which continues to produce amazing listenership figures) and as I told my student audience, if just one of them went home and told their parents and just one person or one family was moved to become more aware of stroke by hearing me speak, I’ll have achieved my aim.

Walking on sunshine (or maybe not)

Last week’s post, titled ‘Is that person really disabled?’ obviously touched a nerve. It got more reaction on social media, more comments on this blog itself, than anything I’ve written for a long time.

A lot of the reaction came from people who don’t necessarily consider themselves disabled, but merely ‘inconvenienced’ by their various problems which mean they sometimes have to use a disabled parking space or a disabled toilet.

Well, I would say that although I don’t look disabled for most of the time, I’m more than inconvenienced, specifically because the damage caused by my stroke to my cerebellum means my balance and co-ordination is less than good at times and downright bad at others.

Walking in a straight line is often difficult, sometimes impossible (particularly when I’m tired, which is often) and I have been known to fall over in the street, at 10am and even when using my walking stick. And this week, I lost my walking stick.

Well, that isn’t exactly true. I didn’t lose it, I left it somewhere - in the pub where I’d been attending a business networking breakfast, to be exact. But I didn’t realise I had left it there until I got home, the pub was six miles away, Mrs Warrior needed the car……

I texted various members of the team that runs the group to see if anyone had picked it up (they hadn’t) but the group has a good relationship with the pub’s owner and I wouldn’t be surprised if he hands it to me when we meet there next week.

What’s more, there is a shop just five minutes’ walk from Warrillow Towers which sells walking sticks; not NHS-style ones in metallic grey but sticks in a myriad of colours and styles. I could have pink with flowers (no thanks….), bright blue, red, purple stripes (one that looked like a stick of 1950s Blackpool rock), brown, green…..

I could even have ones with wrist-straps attached, so that I wouldn’t leave them in pubs.

In the end, I opted for a black one with a design of silver fern leaves wrapped around it; I haven’t yet checked to see if it glows in the dark (I’ll wait until winter nights for that), but it does look very smart with a black wooden handle and a bronze top.

It cost slightly less than I expected, although when you are on a fixed income, unnecessary expenditure is generally best avoided. But the fact is that I now can’t do without a walking stick, even for the couple of hours it took to replace the lost item. I’d rather not be using a walking stick at the age of 54, but if the alternative is broken glasses, or broken skin or broken bones thanks to a fall in the street, I have no choice.

And now I have my first idea for a Christmas present. Does anyone want to buy me one of those contraptions which folds up your stick when you’re not using it?

Is that person really disabled?

I saw a meme on Twitter recently which I would really, really like to have as a logo on the back of my fairly old and slightly battered car.

It said: “I don’t look disabled? Well, you don’t look ignorant, but there you go…..”. It was designed to highlight the fact that not all disabilities are visible, something which is especially important for those of us who have to make use of disabled toilets or disabled spaces in car parks.

I’ve never yet had an argument about a parking space but it would be very easy for me, in one of my angry road-rage moments, to assume that the driver of the seven-seater SUV parked next to me is only using it because it’s easier to unload prams and pushchairs and children, not because they are actually disabled. BUT I DON’T KNOW FOR CERTAIN.

Equally, it would be easy to assume that the person using the disabled toilet in my local coffee shop has purchased a RADAR key from Amazon and is using it to avoid queues, BUT I DON’T KNOW FOR CERTAIN.

I have very close friends who suffer from Crohn’s disease, one of the symptoms of which is persistent stomach trouble (to put it delicately). When they need to go, they need to go NOW. My various ailments have left me in the same situation, yet the chronic lack of public toilets these days has us scrambling (often literally) to use facilities in coffee shops, department stores, cinemas, railway stations and the like.

But we don’t look ‘disabled’ and I have had arguments about this with unsympathetic ‘able-bodied’ people.

The same applies to priority seating on public transport. I use a walking stick because my balance is so uncertain and when I was in London last week, I found that even notoriously unhelpful travellers on the Underground would leap up to offer me a seat. But not all stroke-survivors, not all disabled people, carry walking sticks or white canes or come complete with assistance dogs.

I was recently told a story about a lady who looks perfectly healthy but has a chronic heart condition (her husband is a stroke survivor.) She got on a bus and found that all the priority seats were taken by young mothers with pushchairs. When she asked to sit down on one of the seats, she received a volley of abuse from one young mother.

The driver was powerless to intervene (or claimed he was) and although I understand the lady could have escalated her complaint through the system, was it really worth all the stress? She is now allegedly getting verbal abuse from this young mother every time they meet at the bus stop.

That’s why I don’t put my walking stick through the window of the SUV; that’s why I don’t argue over toilet queues - because you just don’t know.

I have said before that I could have easily got involved in arguments in pubs if my mood-swings went the wrong way. I have admitted to swearing at children in pubs when they did. But I’m very conscious that because ‘I don’t look disabled’, I could be the one who was thrown out and banned.

I now carry an ID card provided by the brain-injury charity Headway (headway.org.uk) which lists the side-effects of my stroke - I’ve had it for a couple of months and it has already saved me on more than one occasion.

So don’t jump to conclusions about the person in the SUV or the disabled toilet. You might end up looking ignorant when you know the truth.

Lunch with a fellow Warrior made my week

If you’ve ever heard me deliver one of my ‘Warrior’ stroke-awareness talks, you’ll probably know that I often mention a girl I know who had a stroke in her early teenage years.

I mention her to help dispel the widespread and dangerous opinion, one I held before 3.15pm on Monday December 16 2013, that strokes only ever happen to 'old' people.

Yet my young friend was struck down at the age of 14. Her stroke was caused by having too many high-energy drinks (Red Bull, Monster etc) - the kind of drinks which were in the news this week because the Government is considering banning their sale to under-18s.

Her name is Jade Driscoll-Batchelor and she designed my Warrior tattoo, hence she is kind of where the Warrior brand started. She lives in south London; as regular readers will know, I live in Tamworth, just north of Birmingham. We're not exactly neighbours so we see each other incredibly rarely other than on Facebook. But I was speaking at a networking breakfast meeting in London on Wednesday and due to the joys of the train-ticketing system in this country, although the meeting ended at 10am, I was stuck in the metropolis until 4.45pm.

So I met Jade, who I call my Warrior-Princess and her sister in Central London for lunch. Jade and I share more than just our stroke-survivor experience; we have the same taste in loud music ('Warriors' by Papa Roach is our theme tune) and we both love body-ink although Jade, being quite a bit younger, has rather more tattoos than I do - at the moment.

I won't go into it here, but the story of Jade's life makes the 'Warrior-Princess' nickname more than appropriate. To say she's a fighter is like saying that Harry Kane is quite good at football - an understatement of the most ridiculous kind. Yet her experiences have left her shy and reserved about meeting people and not the most confident of young women at times. 

We talked for a couple of hours on Wednesday and she told me she had considered writing a blog, but didn't know where to start. Hands up if you've ever considered writing a blog but didn't know where to start.... It happens to us all.

As I said recently, this is about my seventh blog over the years. I've written about football, about sport, about politics, about life in general but they weren't quite right - this one hits the mark.

So I told Jade she should write her blog (I know a good proofreader if she needs one, lol....). She has a lot to say, some stories to tell and as my good friend Graham Todd (aka the social-media cowboy) always says, we all have stories to tell; the thing is having the confidence to go out and tell them.

Seeing Jade and her sister made my week and possibly my month. It wasn't a carefully though-out plan - it wasn't even on the horizon until Sunday evening and the script had any number of re-writes before Wednesday lunchtime - but life isn't about carefully thought-out plans. Life, especially when you are in the position that Jade and I find ourselves in, is about going out and making things happen. As my good mate Taz Thornton is fond of saying, JFDI. And if you think I'm telling you what that stands for..... 

Jade.jpg

A pair of Warriors pictured in London this week. 

Being glad for my glad-fors

Every night without fail at 9pm (usually 10pm on Saturdays), I log on to Facebook and compose a post consisting of ten things I am glad for that evening.

The ten things can range from the ridiculously trivial (Wednesday's post, for instance, gave thanks to whoever invented Wensleydale and apricot cheese) to the intensely serious - Monday's recorded my thanks for BBC Radio's Test Match Special after commentator Jonathan Agnew read out an emotional email from a listener explaining how TMS had been the soundtrack for the last moments of his dying father's life. 

There have to be ten things, however. If I get to nine, I can't stop and think 'That'll do'. It has to be ten, even if it takes all night to think of No 10. I've recorded here previously how this idea comes from my dear friend Jo Happiness-Howarth, who uses it to make herself and others look hard for the good and positive things in every day, rather than focusing on the bad, the difficult and the negative.

What I haven't considered enough, though, is just how popular and infectious these posts are. I've found that a growing number of friends have started doing their own nightly 'glad' posts and I'm increasingly getting surprise emails or messages from people who follow me on social media saying how much they appreciate my posts.

This week, I met a lady at a networking event. I admitted to her that I didn't know who she was or where she lived; she told me that we knew each other because she had messaged me out of the blue two months ago, when she was going through a tough time in both her work and personal lives, to say simply: "Loving your glads." My post had cheered her up and made her day.

That got me thinking about the number of people who see my nightly post and appreciate it but don't respond; those whose appreciation gets lost in the social-media forest. It's not exactly gone viral and as one of those people noted this week when they did respond, I do it for me, not for other people. As with my stroke-awareness work, if it encourages just one person, then that's good enough for me.

But no author of any sort writes just for themselves; no-one sits in front of a laptop for however long and composes anything without secretly hoping that someone, somewhere, is sitting and reading it and enjoying it.

That's why I left small weekly local newspapers to work on a regional daily; that's why editing British Naturism magazine, which went out to an international audience in print and on the web, was the pinnacle of my career; that's why I'm so pleased that my podcast (at http://thewarriorpodcast.libsyn.com and on iTunes) is doing so well. 

I can't imagine life without my nightly post now. Even if Mrs Warrior and I have been out all night and don't get home until the early hours, I won't go to bed until I've written it. Even if I'm in a hotel room the night before an early-morning speaking gig, I'll make sure I do it. And what's pleasing is that more and more different people are appearing in it. Things happen throughout my day which make me think: ''Must mention that tonight." It's slowly changing my outlook on life. Which, as Jo Happiness-Howarth will tell you, is what it's supposed to do. 

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.