New Life

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I’m sitting here having breakfast, after seeing Mr Alt off on the inaugural Velo Birmingham. This is just another race to my husband, but for me it has become a powerful metaphor, and only this morning have I fully grasped the significance.

When Dave was diagnosed with Type Two Diabetes, it was a wake up call for him, instant incentive to get fitter and work harder to deal with a problem that was, to an extent, of his own creation. His father was diabetic, so historically the deck was already stacked, but I think we both know had he had made an effort to be healthier before, this diagnosis may not have happened at all. Now it has, it isn’t somebody else’s problem to deal with, it is ours. That doesn’t just mean him either: I have a duty of care as his wife. That’s why I’m here today, as support, and why I’m doing more to help as time goes on.

When that diagnosis was made, we could both have done nothing. He might have ignored the advice, still be overweight and not tried to be fitter. We could have blanked the problem and carried on as if nothing had changed, which would have been both ignorant and potentially dangerous. Instead, we are proactive and positive, sometimes when that’s hard to do. The key is acceptance: what is both possible and doable, what is worth focusing on. Wasting time on the pointless when it is out of our hands is counter productive, so we learn to both focus on the achievable and let go of shit beyond the remit.

Except sometimes, things are not as out of your hands as first appears.

Someone tweeted this into my timeline this morning, and it struck a chord, because as a piece of writing it can both be read and interpreted in so many different ways, and there is no real method in 140 characters to accurately interpret them all. This tweet was, I suppose, the final straw: after a weekend of self-reflection, and realising that I never want to try and discuss anything complicated on Twitter ever again, this message distilled what is the real problem: US. No, not the United States (though some may consider they started all this) but me, and Mr Alt, and everybody else who thinks that improving the World isn’t their task.

The World is our problem to solve and not to complain about because we can no longer have ‘fun’ any more.

Life, like it or not, has always been difficult and hard and ultimately painful. Thinking that somehow if you just ignore everything else that is going on and hoping/expecting/dictating that someone else will fix it is the Elephant in the room no-one can now afford to ignore. Sure we can all still have fun and enjoy life but not at the expense of other issues. More importantly, believing that your own opinion has merit and has to be justified, internally and externally, with every breath is simply not the case. Yes, it is tough and hard, but if you’re using Social media to pretend you’re part of the conversation, you cannot dictate what is said or expect to be allowed to pronounce without consequence.

Conversation is fluid and malleable: arguments should be passionate but never at the expense of learning a contrary point of view. If your standpoint is so inflexible as to exclude everybody else, expect to meet resistance. If you will not look outwards and grasp the possibility you are wrong, you will make things worse. In many cases, what one person thinks is kindness ultimately ends up as the most vicious of cruelties, and spite is all that results. Then is the moment when you’re convinced you know someone else’s motivations, and ultimately end up with the entirely wrong end of the stick… the problem isn’t the people, however.

Twitter has never been the medium in which to fight these battles.

Part of me hopes that 2017 will be the year that blogging undergoes a renaissance, that the long form of debate will replace petty name calling and mudslinging now favoured by the President of the United States. Needless to say, his ‘actions’ in the week have simply heaped more shame on an office that used to stand for all that was good about America, and has now come to symbolize the worst of individual xenophobia and arrogance. Ultimately, those of us who regularly use Twitter are now going to be tarred by the same brush, like it or not. That means it is time to start a reassessment of what the platform is good for, and what is ultimately detrimental.

After a really bad week of social media drama, I’d already taken the decision to not go to bed with an electronic device any more (starting on Monday) and if I want to read, to start buying books again for that purpose. The idea of taking written social media (Facebook, Twitter) off my phone is certainly attractive, and instead to only use Instagram for ‘reporting’ as that will automatically post to both platforms without the need for me to read. That’s the key here: getting sucked into other people’s arguments, when I should be out either a) enjoying myself right b) doing something constructive. That means social media is only for my ‘job’ or when I am working at my desk.

The other major change to my lifestyle, starting this morning, is what I pick to react to. If I’m going to choose a hill to die on then from now on Twitter is not the place to do it. If that means I lose people’s interest by refusing to take part in debates, then so be it, but if I have learnt anything from the last week it is that people will only hear what they want if they consider you’re attacking them. There is neither space, convenience or ability to have a clear discussion on Twitter. It is a place to profess clear, well thought out opinions or engage in quick, visually-enhanced point scoring. For everything else it is a fucking disaster, and yet people like me forget this, time and again. Well, not any more.

It is time to rediscover the value of silence. If you’d like to have a discussion with me, that’s what the comments section of this blog is for, and I’m looking forward to your responses. As of right now it is time to practice what I preach, and be the change other people keep hoping is going to happen. If you don’t like my idea of change, you have every right to step up and disagree.

Welcome to the next generation of Social media.

Saturday

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I know, instinctively, that the days of not pushing myself are over. The moments when I’d rather just curl up with a duvet and a good book, especially after a poor night’s sleep, are over (at least for now.) Lying awake at 3am this morning, in the midst of a hot flush that was so fierce my skin felt as if it were melting, I remembered the mindfulness practices I am learning and reduced panic to an inhale, exhale, focus on the breath. Amazingly, it worked. There is always this rueful disbelief when something I’ve been taught turns out to not only be helpful, but a revelation.

This week has been a lot of that.

Journeys are not simply getting to your destination: more often than not is the stops along the way that define the final trip. Today, that means sitting in a clubhouse built as Legacy content for the 2012 Olympic Games: a place that is buzzing with life and enthusiasm, where a continuing commitment to sport has become the true significance of events from five years ago. Watching women warm up outside the window, a really decent men’s hockey game on Pitch One below, is the reminder that life happens in ways I forget.

The TV above me is the reminder of a constant backdrop of concerning and often disturbing World news: Brexit, Iran’s missile testing, an escalation of world tensions that then put my existence against an even larger backdrop. Once upon a time all I would have cared about was the stuff that directly affected me. Now I realise that, with 50 years on the clock, the time for such selfishness must be over. The moment has come to try and find ways to give back beyond my personal bubble. How I do that is still very much in flux.

There are starting points, however: the Patreon this week, when I focused on personal development, got more interest than at any point in three months, and I’ve learnt an important lesson in combining academic and individual experience. I’m writing something this weekend to help a friend hopefully resolve a personal issue successfully, grateful I can utilize a skill for good. Then, I am giving back to my husband, which to my shame I should have done a long time ago. He is the kindest and most forgiving of men in that regard, and I am very grateful that there is still the opportunity to do so.

Once upon a time, a Saturday alone would have been my desire, but I’ve spent far too much time alone already. Destiny remains mine to dictate only to a point, and the understanding now that I willfully, for so many years, wouldn’t push myself out of that bubble… it is like looking at someone I no longer know or understand. Most importantly, at 3am this morning, came the final understanding that introspection makes for great poetry, wonderful fuel for fiction, but crap content when I write a blog. The days of blaming myself for things out of my control may finally be coming to an end.

Sometimes I am told I care too much about things that do not matter, in the wider scheme of the planet. When this happened before, my reaction would always be the same: well, it matters to ME and that is all that is really important. Only now do I grasp the truth, that only by stepping back from emotion and truly thinking about WHY things happen can you ever expect to improve as a person. Only after having children has there been the ability to put self aside and truly learn how basic emotional reactions matter, and that you have a direct control over consequence.

Only by being able to accept what is wrong with me have I been able to change.

I’ve officially had enough of introspection. The best work I do however is with that quality at my core and not the periphery. The trick now is to put aside the stuff that doesn’t matter to focus on the people and things who do. Next week is the most important week of my new ‘career,’ where my own actions will effectively make or break a potential stream of revenue. If I’m going to succeed in this venture, I cannot afford to allow myself to lose belief I am able to do so. Sometimes, you instinctively know when you’ve fucked up, and then there are moments when you simply have to trust your gut that this is the right path.

I am on the right path. This is the way forward.

Consider Her Ways

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Normally my blog posts are named after songs. Today, I’m taking a book, one that was particularly significant in my youth. I remember being astounded by the main story in John Wyndham’s anthology and it having a profound effect for weeks after reading: I can’t really tell you anything about it either, because by doing so ruins a narrative that really needs to be read unspoilt. However, what I can tell you is that birth forms a key component of the conceit.

I was reminded of the Wyndham after reading this Guardian article about how premature lambs are now ‘grown’ in artificial wombs and, I must admit there was a stab of horror at the pictures I saw. Initially my thought was more of a ‘Brave New World’ scenario but then the same feeling emerged that I remember after finishing ‘Consider her Ways’ for about the twelfth time: humanity mucking about with nature does not sit well in my head. Of course, without that evolution, I’d be dead by now. I’d have never made it out of hospital as a baby.

Science has always trodden a delicate path between interference and assistance.

I suspect this has a lot to do with current concerns over my own health, but there is discomfort in growing amounts over what counts as ‘good’ science and what feels ‘bad’: I’m not a religious person, but the possibility that people could pick the sex of their child or ensure it has certain characteristics does not sit well in my mind. The Universe works best with the full spectrum of both diversity and chaos: trying to counter that or effectively guide the course of Evolution feels wrong. I’ve read enough speculative fiction to understand that for every wonder discovery or great idea, there’s always a price to pay.

I knew my great grandmother only for a very short time. One of my earliest memories is of her using a cloth hankerchief to make a mouse as amusement, and it always worked. She passed away, I remember, as not as a result of gangrene but the surgery that was supposed to extend her life. She never regained consciousness after the operation to remove her infected lower leg. I’ve always held a fear of being sent into a medically-induced sleep not simply because of this, but an incident when I was 4 or 5 and because of bad dental hygiene I had to have teeth extracted, and was rendered unconscious to do so. I can still remember exactly how this felt, enough to make me shake as I type. It is another fear that needs to be dealt with, as I have with so many others in the last year.

Science has made things immeasurably better in the last 50 years, yet it is still regarded by so many with a sense of trepidation. It is on days like yesterday I can understand that feeling, but the rational part of my brain knows that to move forward, this is yet another fear that needs to be overcome. Without science, there would not be a legitimate cure for asthma on the cards in my lifetime. When people with no other form of potential cure take gene therapy and the result is remission of their cancer? Science is amazing, and without it we’d all be lesser beings. Sometimes, taking the risk with the consequence is the best way forward, especially if it allows you more time to live.

The flip side of Science’s wonder remains the financial cost to the recipient.

When my husband and I spoke about the possibility of surgery, his first response was brutal, yet damning: at least I have the provision to do this without having to make a financial decision first. I am well aware of friends in the US currently in a state of near-permanent dread over what will happen to Obamacare, who have had to set up GoFundMe accounts in order to pay for unexpected medical expenses. I understand only too well that medicine is nowhere close to universally accessible to the people who need it most, and that this is intrinsically unfair. It may seem we live in a world full of wonder and potential, but if this is only available to a select few, is it really so brilliant to begin with?

There’s a lot to think about over my morning porridge today.

Size of a Cow

This is the story of how I FINALLY lost 10 pounds and moved my exercise journey forwards.

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This week, the scales shifted down for the first time in quite some weeks. Fitbit has only recently started registering and tracking weight loss, it never existed when I first signed up. However now, I can see how much has vanished since the new software kicked in. There’s a sad truth behind this 10 pounds that made me stop in my tracks. I didn’t grasp just how many times it has taken to get this far. The problem with apps is that they rarely lie, and that means that, at least for me, five pounds has been a millstone for quite a while.

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I was shocked at this statistic, and went to look at my weight measurements for confirmation. I’ve been trying to lose the same five pounds for close to a year.

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This belittles the work I’ve done to get this far as well, because it doesn’t show the level of effort or that muscle and fat have been swapped with a quite definite regularity. If all you see are the numbers and not physical change, the potential to go backwards is, I know, a fair deal stronger than it would be if all I had was weight loss as my objective. This journey’s become therefore a lot more about self-education: yes, I can read all the gumph in the world about eating to lose weight and what exercises work the best, but none of that is necessarily going to work for me. That’s the problem with the Internet: everybody is out there trying to sell you the best way to do things like they’re a) the only person doing so and b) their way is the optimal path for you, and that’s a bunch of wobbly dumdums. What is best for ME is when I understand WHY things are happening, and I can grasp the relationship between what I eat, how I exercise and how that affects my progress.

This is the new world I now find myself in, and it is amazing.

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I can tell you the key changes that have been made to improve my ability to lose weight: they include stopping with the Special Fried Rice on takeaway night, removing myself from temptation when hungry and not lying to my PT when she asks me if I did all my exercise promised from the week before. However, I hate to break it to you guys, but the #1 overriding reason why I’ve succeeded in losing weight is that I’ve worked myself into the fucking ground. That meant that yesterday, on the back of five hours sleep, I dragged myself out the door, walked to the Gym, ran for nearly an hour and did 30 minutes of weights, before walking home and promptly falling asleep. Yes, exercise is meant to give you energy and vitality, but in a menopausal 50-summat it was enough to destroy me yesterday almost completely.

That’s normally when you want to give up.

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When I look back at myself in pictures, from when I started the serious part of this journey, there’s now an inescapable difference between then and now. Once upon a time I couldn’t see it, and had I allowed myself to be swayed by the fact that nothing (apparently) was changing in my mind at the time, I’d be no further forward. All those years of trying and failing to lose weight had nothing whatsoever to do with how I did it or with whom. The biggest single issue, ultimately, was myself. That’s easier to write now than it has been at any other point in the past too, that there’s come the final grasping of a truth that underpins everything else that I do. When jokingly I’ll mention that ‘people are stupid’ to someone in conversation, I’m talking about myself. This inability to want to grasp the failings and shortcomings that have hindered progress for decades makes the current revelations all the more bittersweet.

This could easily have happened a long time ago, but never did, because until fear was addressed and faced, everything was impossible. Shame and embarrassment are potent shackles in a mind that believes that what matters more than being free and happy is conforming to norms that were never placed on you to begin with, but end up being applied by everybody else. Once there’s the ability to look beyond the constraints of what the rest of humanity tells you is possible or acceptable? The only thing stopping progress, ultimately, is death. I write this sentence for a friend of mine who, right now, is going through the most difficult of circumstances as a reminder: every day is special, each moment to be appreciated and treasured as if it were the last, because that might well be the case. A life not lived well is not really a life at all.

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Now I’ve lost 10 pounds, the next goal is 15. These are hardly real world issues for you or anyone else but for me, this is a journey I am determined to complete. It has become a metaphor for an ability to do what is needed, to allow honestly to underpin everything, and to not be a lie. It is in effect, not clean living but honest living. I don’t need funky foods and stupid fads to be better, just myself and common sense. This then becomes a measure of how the two combine with current circumstances.

I believe I am capable of anything I now want to do.

The Sound of Silence

Occasionally, I’ll end up in a situation with the kids where I’m forced to make a difficult decision. Inevitably, this will boil down to their word against mine in any given scenario: you were asked to do X, why are we at Y? Once upon a time I’d attempt to assert a measure of authority to remind them that at some point, they will need to deal with contention, and how you react to that is often more important than the argument to begin with. However, you reach a point with a young person where it becomes obvious that forcing a point will only make a situation worse. In fact, you could end up causing more damage in the long term than would ever occur even if the issue is dealt with incorrectly. So, as a parent, you learn to step back. You keep thoughts to yourself. Then, with the benefit of distance, you can grasp what will be the best course of action moving forward.

Watching The Orange Twat settle into the White House has been at times terrifying and laughable, especially as it has become apparent he’s actively responding to Social media’s comments on his actions. Yesterday it became apparent that the full force of that ‘scrutiny’ is beginning to exert some influence:

It’s the equivalent of the entitled teen who can’t understand why, when he’s the best he can possibly be, that he’s not getting either the credit or the changes he demands because, honestly, that’s all that matters here, right? The self is all, because as President (obviously) you are the centre of your Universe. That works, right up to the point where it becomes apparent that maybe, just maybe, you’ve not been elected for your own reward. You do this not to become the leader of millions of people, or just to feel good about yourself and be cool at places and show off how great you are. It doesn’t work unless you start giving shit back, but more importantly nothing changes if you can’t become a useful part of the place you live in. Assuming the world revolves around you is beyond dangerous. Suddenly, everybody becomes a critic overnight. The more you shut down bad press, the more anonymous sources spring up to discredit… and then you realise the only way to shut people up for good… and nobody wants to even think about where that train of thought might end.

Sometimes, the best thing you’ll ever do is walk away and not have the fight.

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As you do, you hear the person whisper under their breath that you’re a fucking idiot, and have no idea what’s being discussed. How can you understand what’s wrong when you refuse to accept that your point of view is flawed? Isn’t it simply easier to pretend the argument never happened to begin with? Well, yes and no, because when you’re fairly confident that you do have a point and perhaps there is more going on in the World than just this one flashpoint… this is a really tough ask, most days. As a parent you know what growing up was like. You can’t get a child to grasp your view of it because, in most cases, it’s a world away from their own perception of reality. So, do you push it or do you walk away? Sometimes, your inability or reticence to engage can be enough to make your child think that perhaps there is something up. It’s not a given, though. However, after I’d seen Executive orders signed in the Oval Office with a posse of grim male bystanders and watched countless women on Social media hate the decisions made over their own reproductive rights by a bunch of guys… lo and behold, women started showing up in the background of shots. This doesn’t make pillaging native lands or shutting down environmental projects any less galling but HEY we got the memo about needing diversity in the room, so come on, cut us a fucking break already.

There’s a piece of video I can’t bring myself to post here from the Inauguration. It’s when The Orange Twat turns away from his beautiful, elegant First Lady wife and the smile she’s saved just for him vanishes in a heartbeat, like a lightbulb being switched off. It is the moment I realise that even being close to someone is no guarantee they will ever listen to sense or reason. It is the reinforcement of the understanding that in the patriarchy that is now running the USA, women don’t stand a fucking chance. This man’s Campaign manager might be female, but she’s never going to be given anything but a notion of control. There is no equality here. There is simply a desire to roll back any good that the previous Administration did, and stamp agendas to the country that further prove how wonderful the President is, and how much money he will make from being in office. This will not be the most successful Presidency in anything except financial gain. I cannot believe, having watched the last year play out, this man cares about anyone or anything except himself.

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I interact every day with people exactly like this. The world will never revolve around anyone except them. It is depressing beyond belief but inevitably it boils down to someone at some stage in their childhood not pointing out that life isn’t just about what you want. Yes, this matters and it is important, but never at the expense of understanding you are part of a whole, a planet full of people who often don’t have a voice, or are suppressed from even expressing an opinion. The bigger picture matters more, ultimately, than anything you might want or need when all is said and done. It is only a game, nobody makes you play it. You don’t need to be either rich or famous to be happy. Popularity is a game you would be best never to play to begin with. On the flip side of course, people I disagree with see me in exactly the same way. I’m the selfish one. I’m the person who doesn’t care about them.

It’s really easy to blame someone else for your failings, far harder to accept you’re less than perfect. I know my flaws, and I’m never going to be a perfect person. I have to work every day, long and hard, sometimes to even keep my head above water. This isn’t about winning, or who’s the best, and most certainly has nothing to do with belittling anyone else. The problem here is self-awareness. I know what’s wrong with me.

Can you say the same about yourself?

The Big Sky

It was ‘Back to Work’ Day for me at the Gym this morning, and I walked both to and from the site despite slippery pavements and just above freezing temperatures. Once upon a time I could use a footbridge across the main road I need to cross but the Council in their wisdom have taken it away and now it’s dodge the traffic time, which makes me decidedly nervous. However, it is what it is, and so I will get used to the change. An hour’s worth of pretty brutal PT later? MANY things have changed for the better.

  • Running is no longer a chore. Spending two weeks making myself do the work has taken most of the fear away.
  • Recovery times are very much up and I can speak a lot sooner after being pushed.
  • I’m lifting more weight, and doing it consistently better.

However, there is a limit now to what my lung capacity can provide which means burst exercise (for want of a better phrase) is still really tough. The trick now is to measure my effort, and to try and not go full out at the start of sets and instead take a more long term approach to what needs to be done. However, I can row 250 metres in a minute flat out. Don’t ask me to do much after that, mind, but there’s another benchmark to add to the rapidly increasing pile. I’m leg pressing 50KG and feel confident enough to go up to 60, and generally speaking this is a pretty perfect place to start the year in.

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The next piece in the puzzle therefore is food. I’ve used My Fitness Pal to log my intake for a while, but it’s never really been taken that seriously. That changes today, and I will ensure that, for as long as possible, everything that’s eaten is recorded. It is often a thankless task, and if I snack this just makes things worse. This will be the hardest task of all in the next four weeks, without a shadow of a doubt, because I know only too well the temptation to go ‘oh I won’t log that, it’s only x calories.’ The only way this works is if I play by the rules, however annoying and frustrating they may become.

After that, it is a very simple equation: if I want to lose weight, the amount I eat in calories must, every day, be less than the number of calories I burn doing exercise. That means, I’ll be off to the shops on foot shortly to add to my daily step total. I’ll be in the Gym every day this week, either running or exercising generally. My PT is going to help me create a new exercise plan to start working more than just my core muscle groups. After that, I just have to hope the changes to diet and lifestyle finally have the required effect.

In the end, that is all I can ever do.

Faith

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This is my last major Objective for 2016. I’m not talking about the second definition: sorry, those out there hoping for a quick Convert, it’s been tried before, and they failed. It’s not that I don’t possess belief, or confidence, because if I didn’t the health thing would be simply a possibility and not a truth. What I lack now more than anything else is a consistent faith in everything and not just the highlights I choose to share, and that needs to be addressed as a matter of priority.

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Social media makes you act differently, there’s no denying that when I get a compliment from a random stranger it becomes somehow more worthwhile because it was unprompted. What I crave most however is compliments from the people I care most about and to get those is going to take a phenomenal amount of hard work. This is where I lack most, and some might argue that it is other people’s jobs to change too and not simply mine. That’s only true to a point. You can be unique and special, but if you refuse to work in the World’s version of Reality (whatever that happens to be at the time) you’re screwed. I’ve never reacted well to change. I’ve always been slow and awkward and nervous. These are the true issues that need addressing in 2017, the ones I never share with you because I’m too afraid to find the right words.

These are the biggest hurdles I am yet to surmount.

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When all is said and done, I don’t want to be the person with their life laid out in public for everybody to see. This isn’t about standing up and unloading all the emotional baggage in one hit. A lot of what needs to be achieved is in how I react to things, managing when stuff doesn’t go to plan, what takes place when challenged with something that amends or alters my world view. This is where the biggest growth needs to take place, and in the last couple of weeks I feel I’ve made some genuine progress on this front. However, I’m not the one who judges that progress, it is the rest of the World, and they have very short memories. People won’t remember how great you were, only the bad stuff. You are only as good as the last review, after all. You have to try and make each one better than the previous, and that’s a tough ask.

It’s funny watching people decide how awful 2016 was for loss, when I know how much I personally gained in the last year. If I can maintain a fraction of that momentum I’ll be beyond happy. Three words will be written and inscribed on a Post It Note, and we’ll come back here (fates willing) in a year and see how I did. That should be the biggest take-away all of us who remain on this earth have from the last 365 days. We’re still here. Never stop fighting, learning and growing. Make every day worthwhile.

#BeBetter with every step you take.