Tag Archives: ageing well

“How are you?” “Fine Thanks”

” Hello, how are you?” say the cheery bank teller, checkout lady, bus driver and many drama bods. “Fine thanks” say I .   Well , let’s face it, one can’t very well answer “just diagnosed with Grade 3 cancer” can one, especially when the questioner is just being polite.  In any case, I AM fine.   I am actually probably physically fitter now than I have been for a good few years – the irony is not lost on me.   I am fine, honest, I’m not just ‘being brave’.

Since Monday’s diagnosis, when my wee world imploded on me, I’ve been totally fine for a few minutes every hour when I was being distracted by a Fringe show or something, but it was not long before my brain flicked back to this greedy thing inside my womb.  I can’t claim to have been worrying about it per se but my brain was going over all sorts of things,  drafting random ramblings in my head, almost as if I were blogging. (!)  It was as if there was a little engine chugging away trying to get my brain in gear.  As with a dream, despite being clear at the time, few thoughts were able to be recalled afterwards, though I know some were predicated on the fact I have good genes so expected to live another twenty-odd years, after recovering from pneumonia and getting the all-clear after breast cancer.

However, something happened yesterday – Friday.  I wasn’t aware of any reason in particular, but I suddenly felt quieter inside, as though that little whirring engine noise had switched off.  It’s as though my brain has finally processed what’s happening so is now just getting ready for whatever lies ahead.  Maybe this is all par for the course, and my state of mind-cum-emotions will fluctuate often – I don’t know.  All remains to be seen.

I’m aware of the ‘blogger mode’ thingy-wotsit in my brain is still chundling away,  but its effect is different, I don’t feel ‘boverred’ by it as I was earlier in the week.  In particular, I feel far calmer about my decision to step down temporarily from some of my drama responsibilities in order to give myself a less-stressed few months.  Luckily this is the ideal time to hand over – after the Fringe and before the organisation of the following year’s one-act festival starts – so whomever stands in for me will not be thrown in at the deep end right away.

A very supportive friend referred to cancer patients as having a war to face which consists of many smaller battles. One has to make sure one’s army is in the best possible condition for the skirmishes ahead, there being no point asking them to fight if they are undernourished and/or tired. This wee scenario of the fighting force preparing to do battle with cancer for me really appealed  because it chimed exactly with the theme of the recent film ‘Inside Out’ which had quite an effect on me. (I’m a simple wee soul really) . There’s a place for Fear and Anger but I’ll just keep them both busy with trivialities like world politics so that they don’t have time to bother me much.  I dare say Disgust will get a larger role, especially if I do have chemo which makes me sick ( I cannot stand vomit – urrrgh!).  I accept that Sadness has her role to play, but Joy will continue to be in charge at my control panel, strengthened when I go feeding my soul w11039845_10204965326752811_3696481917482359627_oith Scotland’s wonderful nature and refuelled from the support of my partner and friends.

So, I might have cancer but I’m fine really, just fine, how are you?

Don’t Stop Believing

The last ‘Feeding The Soul’ blog I wrote was two years ago.   I didn’t do any ‘real walking’ in 2013 but earlier this year my friend Debbie and I starting walking together again and the main reason for my re-starting the blog  is because one walk in particular made me start believing in myself again.  Prior to that, I had started having my doubts about my fitness, especially after the year’s break.

Anyway, in January we went along the Union Canal from Linlithgow to Philpstoun and back. Neither of us had taken sustenance as we fondly believed there was a café just under half way along.  We saw the café after about four miles but were full of vim and vigour so decided just to call on the way back.  Huh!  Like a silly so-and-so I was wearing jeans (which no sensible walker does if rain is threatened), and on that return journey the heavens opened.  This resulted in my being the wettest I had experienced for a very, very, very long time, with utterly sodden legs trailing water behind me.  We were still in good spirits though because we always make the best of whatever the weather throws at us, but we were sooo desperately needing a hot drink – only to discover the aforementioned café was closed for refurbishment!  It certainly taught us never to rely on buying food and drink on a walk ever again!   Left pic: view from the canal before the rain.    Right pic: a sight no drowned walker wants to see.

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In February  we tested the newly opened John Muir Way from Bo’ness to South Queensferry, starting with the weather a bit driech but cheering up nicely .  It is a lovely walk along the coast with varied terrain and the finish at the bridges made a perfect ending as we sojourned in The Hawes Inn waiting for Debbie’s husband, Martyn, to collect us. Left pic: Debbie at Bo’ness at the start of the walk.  Right pic: Debbie at South Queensferry at the end of the walk.

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April saw us tackling Kilsyth to Falkirk, a longer section of the John Muir Way.  Debbie’s husband drove us to the start and my partner, Walter and our friend, Sid, met us at the Falkirk Wheel to drive us home.  Again we had a very enjoyable walk, meeting friendly folk along the way, with a lovely ending at the Falkirk Wheel.  Mind you,  the start was a bit fraught when Martyn couldn’t find Kilsyth, and his SatNag took him off the motorway to spend 3/4 hour traversing back roads to rejoin the motorway 10 miles on – but, hey ho, it all adds to the great tapestry of life – or so I’m told.  Pic above: The start of the walk at Kilsyth marina.  Pic below: The finish of our walk at the Falkirk Wheel.

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We had a few adventures/silly incidents on all our walks, which we giggled our way through.  Laughter is a great energy booster.

Now, walking along the canal was ‘safe’ for me insofar as long as I was on the flat I was fine, never having any problems with my legs, even after 15 miles.  However, I was very cautious about coping with much of an ascent because I had problems breathing deeply enough to power my body uphill – or at least that’s what it felt like to me.  However, although the low-level walks fed the soul to a certain extent, there was something missing when we were not actually in the hills, so we both knew that we had to go up again.

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Anyway, in May we went up Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh. I was really struggling with my breathing – half a dozen steps…stop – half a dozen steps….stop – until we met up with Walter and Sid , who had approached from another direction.  Before meeting the boys on the plateau, Debbie and I had already been to the summit and back (albeit with me panting away and scarlet-faced), but I was so thrilled that Walter had managed to climb the hill, that there was nae problem at all going back to the summit with him and, lo and behold, all signs of difficulty breathing had vanished.  Pic: The four of us at the summit of Arthur’s Seat.

I began to accept then that my so-called breathing problems were ‘in my head’ and the crunch came when in August, Debbie and I decided to go up Scald Law, the highest hill in the Pentlands.    I parked at Flotterstone and we began by walking alongside the reservoirs – a gentle way to get the body working.  2014augPENT-1  We had a couple of false starts which added to the overall distance and amount of ascent but also greatly increased the fun. First we missed the turnoff for Scald Law and went around another mile or so before meeting another walker who told us where we had gone wrong.  We retraced our steps and set off at long last for yer ackshual ‘ills.  Left pic: Glencorse reservoir. Right pic: the correct place to turn up to Scald Law.2014augPENT-5 When we got to a bealach we went left, but half way that hill up Debbie noticed that the one on the other side of said bealach was higher – hence that had to be Scald Law.   2014augPENT-hangONSo, off we went down again – climbed up to that higher summit then back down and up the first one again, (that being Carnethy).  I can go at a fair walking speed on the flat but an experienced hillwalking friend had advised me to take it a lot steadier on any ascents – slowly, slowly catchee monkey – and it worked,  I was able to pace myself much better, albeit at half Debbie’s pace.  It was a lovely day and we eventually did all three – Scald Law, Carnethy and Turnhouse – loving every minute.  Right pic: “whoops, we should be on that one”.  First below left: Me on the summit of Scald Law.  Second below left: Me on Carnethy. Right below: Debbie with ‘walker hair’ .  Next two right pics: view across the hills and view across the town from Turnhouse.

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Well, “loving every minute” until we came “the other way down” (being straight down a steep tussocky hillside, wading through a Burn and crawling under a fence – none of which is to be recommended). This meant that I used every ounce of energy my little legs possessed, which resulted in their refusing to work properly for a few days afterwards, but hey! the breathing was ok.  I was not sure exactly where we were when we finally reached the minor road leading to the reservoirs so I stood, arms akimbo, in front of an approaching car. ( I tell you – for a few seconds Debbie and I both thought he wasn’t going to brake. ) The desperado action was to make the driver stop just so I could ask directions, but the kind chap offered us a lift to the car park which we gratefully accepted.   I had to bite my tongue when he started going on about women not being any good with maps, but then his car the last place for me to deliver a lecture on feminism considering that a) we had just come down a hill the most ridiculous way  and b) I had stopped him to ask directions.  Let’s face it, I didn’t have had a leg to stand on metaphorically, morally or even literally at that moment!   After a well earned rest at Flotterstone Inn  I managed to drive Debbie home to Linlithgow, but on my own way back to Livingston, my legs finally gave up the ghost and cramped badly, meaning driving became a little scary – luckily I was on quiet back roads.  I was totally spent but happy.  2014augPENT-susSLEEPRight pic: Me the following day , my system going into ‘auto-recovery mode’  at every opportunity – this one at Knockhill car-racing course.
That walk in the Pentlands was my cathartic moment referred to at the beginning of this blog.  The distance we had walked, and the overall ascent covered on the three (and a half) hills in the Pentlands, was a “Munro’s worth” , so that made me start believing in myself again – hence the title.  Therefore, a couple of days later when Debbie asked me about taking part in doing a Munro for the Skye Whisky Challenge to raise funds for Mountain Rescue, I immediately agreed.

We chose to climb Schiehallion on 22nd September.  I completely underestimated how difficult that mountain would be.  Although I knew there was a boulder field leading to the summit, I did not realise it covered so much of the mountain.  There are umpteen false summits too.Schiehallion-002-2    There is a good stony path up the ridgeback  but it vanishes at the boulder field.  I had forgotten to take my stick out of the car and was really missing it as I walked up.  I happened to comment about this as a few people went past me going down, then to my absolute astonishment a lovely thing happened. The lady of a couple who were both using sticks said she too would be lost without hers,  then moments later she called me back and insisted I take one of theirs!  Naturally I declined because there was no way I would get back down in time to return it to them, but the man came up to me and made me take it, saying that they had more in the car and that I really would need it later.  How kind was that!   I didn’t ask their names so I will never be able to thank them.   As I said, the path is fine for a good length of the way and afterwards it is not that difficult to work out a route, but I found the later terrain to be ultra challenging.  It’s not too bad for those with long legs and good balance because they can use the big boulders like stepping stones, albeit with occasionally loose ones, but for folk like me with short legs and a dodgy sense of balance it was a laborious job of picking a way around and over the boulders.    I was so grateful for that stick!  I honestly don’t think I would have managed without it, especially on the ‘everlasting’ boulder field.

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Anyway, three hours after we had started (!) and a few hundred yards from the final summit, I knew that I had to stop in order to have enough strength in my legs not only to get down the mountain but to drive the two and a half hour journey home as well.  Debbie continued by herself to bag her first Munro and photograph the Skye Whisky Challenge flag and a Yes flag at the summit cairn.   I never took any photos on the way up or down this mountain – I was too busy concentrating  hard on where to put my feet.  However, I did get a few snaps with my mobile phone while I was waiting for Debbie   – unfortunately they are not that clear but believe me the pic on the left of the summit really does have Debbie waving from the top!  The other has Debbie waving her flags on her way back to where I was waiting.

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We  were both more than chuffed with our achievements – Debbie for bagging her first Munro and me for getting back out there again.  pic above: we celebrated with a selfie.  Despite six hours of really hard terrain and my legs beginning to shake on the descent, I was absolutely fine afterwards – no stiffness or aching.  My breathing was a bit tight at first but perfectly ok most of the time, though admittedly I was probably moving at a quarter of the pace needed for effective hill-walking.  We are planning more Munros now I have started believing in myself again – possibly Ben Ledi or Ben Venue at the end of October .  All that remains is for me to get back the voice I lost in 2010 – but that’s another story.

Two steps forward, one step back

I’ve always believed the only way to conquer fear is to face it but I was snookered  today because, to do that effectively, surely we need to know what it is that is scaring us! Try as I might I just didn’t know why  I was hyperventilating and  shaking as soon as I started cycling on the canal path.  But, let me backtrack a wee bit……..

After a gap of about 15 years I have started cycling with the help of an Ageing Well project along with my partner, Walter and our fellow ‘Intrepid’ Sid.  I wrote another blog about how scary this was for me – see http://wp.me/p2xEo6-2H .  After 5 weeks we felt gallus enough to try a ride from Glen Ogle to Lochearnhead and, despite initial waryness, I had a great time, as did we all, and my confidence was increasing leaps and bounds.  I even manged to “weeeeee!” down about a third of the steep slope at the end.

Photos: Sid and me at the start of the route /   Walter and Sid on the Glen Ogle viaduct. / Me on the steep path down

After this adventure we all all made good progress at the next Ageing Well session, especially me because I eventually got the hang of pushing off properly instead of scooting first.

So we agreed to go on the Union Canal path, a section of which started very near Sid’s place.  I admit I was doubtful right away because I knew the canal path was narrow with water very close (sic!) but Walter pointed out there had been a massive drop on the Glen Ogle route which I managed fine – so we scheduled it for today.  This morning the wind was quite brisk so I felt even more uncertain.  My main reason being that I wobble a lot and if blown by the wind as well – on a narrow path with water alongside…….you get the idea maybe.    As a result of my doubts, the boys initially agreed to cancel the ride but then I felt really mean and cowardly so I changed my mind and we set off.

On the side roads to the canal I was OK but as soon as I started on the towpath the horrible fears started – but they were nameless!   I tried so hard to reason with myself…  Am I afraid of falling?  No, not really cos I’m going slowly enough to stop easily.  Is the wind too strong?  No, it’s not having much effect.  Am I afraid of other people on the path? Yes, but I can slow right down or get off if necessary.  Am I finding it too much physically?  NO, I am quite fit – I can walk for miles and not feel any effect.  Then what the ***k is the matter?!!!  I don’t know!  All I know is my heart is pounding, I can hardly breathe, my mouth is completely dry and my hands are shaking.  To be honest, I was finding the actual riding difficult because my arms and hands were so tense I was wobbling all over the place but this was ‘chicken & egg’ – the more tense my arms, the more I wobble, the more I wobble, the more tense…..

I can see the tension in my face in this shot taken as we stopped for a drink and as I walked across the aquaduct the first time.

Eventually I just had to stop – my system was protesting so much.   I realise the problem (whatever the heck it is!) is mental and emotional but it becomes physically inhibiting.  I suggested the boys finish the trip to Ratho while I went back on my own, but they were both adamant that it is “All For One And One For All” so we made our way back.  Now – surprise, surprise…not!…I was nowhere near as stressed going back – by gum the mind’s a funny thing.

I can see the stress in my face here as well, even though it was far easier by then because we were on the way back. We covered about 4 miles in total.

Walter has suggested that one of my problems may be not looking far enough ahead, hence making me wobble and starting the whole viscious cycle (pardon the pun).  So at the next Ageing Well session I shall concentrate on rectifying that. Then the boys and I will have another go at the Sighthill/Ratho Union Canal ride next week. The debilitating fear has to be conquered. It was two steps forward, one step back this time but stay tuned – I shall overcome.

The end of the route – phew!

Wheelly, wheelly scary stuff

See that phrase “It’s like riding a bike – you never forget” ?? Huh! That is SO not true!   I never rode a bike as a child (yet another totally unnecessary  restriction imposed on me because of having epilepsy) and don’t  recall any particular trauma learning for the first time in my early 30s, but I do know my bike didn’t have gears and I never went far.

I didn’t cycle again for another decade and getting used to it that time round was horrendously traumatic.  Eventually I coped and my late husband and I went on cycle tracks all over Scotland and a couple in England.  I managed the gears OK though was never too keen on anything very steep, and could even signal (!) but very rarely went in traffic .   I loved the Sustrans tracks where there was a scupture every mile – it made the rides so enjoyable.  I have such fond memories of those journeys.  Here are some scanned images from those days – Cycle Route 75 .  I had forgotten where the foot soldiers and centurion could be found but a friend told me they are between Bridge of Weir and Kilmacolm .  The other one was taken the same day but I’m not sure exactly where.

We did a lot of the long distance tracks in all seasons.  I used to go shopping occasionally with panniers on the bike and have toured along English waterways, again with panniers and with a rucksack on my back – so I did get fairly competent.  We highered my saddle over the months until I could cope with just toes on the ground which made pedalling more physically economical.  By gum, I need my full feet firmly on the ground now and cannae even push off, I have to scoot to get going!  That is what hurt me so much when I found myself back to square one when it came to riding this last time.  Thank goodness for two albums of photos proving that I had been on these trips – otherwise it would seem like I was completely havering.  I suppose that was my biggest problem – it hit me really hard when I realised I had lost so much confidence that it belied the belief in my own history and memories.

You see I had a very nasty fall from my bike early 1999 on the Bathgate to Airdrie cycle track – out in the middle of nowhere.   Although I had to get back on my bike to cycle back to my car thence drive myself to hospital – I  hadn’t ridden since. I did not realise how severely I’d been affected by the accident until a few months ago when my partner decided to get a bike.  I knew I would need to get back in the saddle if I was to join him but when  I accompanied him to the bike shop I felt physically sick and had palpatations – just in the shop – how pathetic is that!   I tried to brazen it out and get back in control by getting my bike serviced but inside I was terrified.  Anyway, another friend told us about cycling training sessions being run for older folk by Ageing Well at Meadowbank so we registered for them and went along. (It puts a whole new perspective on ‘recycled teenagers’ ) .
The tutors understand how hard it is to get back to cycling after decades away from it and take things from absolute basics. I borrowed one of their small bikes and spent ages just scooting with it before being able to pedal but, once I did, I was proper chuffed and thoroughly enjoyed myself.  At home I enthusiastically got my bike out of the shed but I couldn’t even mount – I was completely inhibited by it.  So….I decided to buy a folding bike like my partner’s, so it’d be convenient to carry in the car and more importantly, easier for me to ride by having a smaller frame.

At Meadowbank the following week  I reverted to feeling very stressed by the effort of cycling with my new bike but I kept control of myself……just.  Walter’s bike got a puncture so he took the chance to get some snaps – here I am attempting to steer round a slalom. (that’s me on RH side in a blue top)

However, gradually my voice was becoming higher pitched again – a sure sign of stress.  I didn’t go back to squeaking but it was noticeably higher.  Then, this last week the tension built up to boiling point and I had to let go.  It might seem embarassing for a 65 year old to be in tears about riding a bike but I wasn’t fazed by that happening per se because I know now that repressing it is what does the damage. Walter was so supportive and the others all understood because they had fears of their own to tackle.  After I had ‘let go’ I did my own thing  rather than join in with the exercises.  The previous week I had so much tension in my arms and hands that it caused quite a lot of discomfort/muscle pain so I practised riding with relaxed hands and very soon I felt a whole lot better.  And low and behold my voice went lower too!

I am fairly sure that next Monday I will be able to ride far more confidently.  In any case I won’t give up – I am determined to conquer this.  It may be wheelly, wheelly scary but there’s only one way round it and that’s to push on through the fear barrier.