Quite a long one as it happened. In a nutshell, I took on a lot and something had to give. But that was then; this is now. I’m going to take you through the last 18 months of my life, the approximate time it took me to get to the great place I’m in now.
It’s good to be back.
In the space of the last 18 months, I:
Hit the floor. Not majorly, but enough to take action;
Bounced back up. ‘The ground is a great place to build from’ JK Rowling;
Exercised/not exercised, put on weight. Who hasn’t?;
Recovered in a big way;
Dated. A few times;
Achieved in a big way.
More importantly, the cubs remain to be my everything. The fire in my belly that’s pushed me on, the source of my happiness when I was low and my reason for never giving up. It really hasn’t been easy.
I’m going to take you through my period of exhaustion, including the funny times. It wasn’t all bad!
I’m going to talk about home schooling, including why it can be so hard but rewarding.
I’ll talk about dating. In your late 40’s. Online. In lockdown; in a global pandemic.
And (and I know you shouldn’t start a sentence with an and, but, my blog; my rules..) I’m going to talk about family court. In detail. As much as I can, without breaking UK law.
BSD needs a shake up! to the extent that I need to learn how to use all of these new features on here! they look pretty sweet.
Some of the relationships I forged through this blog; If you’ve reached out to me, I will try to reach back!
New BSD. Just like me; more focused.
Writing is so cathartic. Thank you for sticking with me.
So to conclude and end this series on 5 life skills, I would like to summarise on my thoughts.
Firstly, this was quite a difficult series to write. It taxed my brain to come up with relevant superlatives when describing the skills, as they were quite similar.
It was also quite challenging to narrow it down to just 5 skills; let’s face it; we want to teach our children everything.
The reason I settled on these 5 is quite vicarious. I reflected on my life and the mistakes that I’d made, including the people who I’d allowed into it (for too long..) and focused on the skills that maybe, would have helped me make better decisions.
I recognise that I have the benefit of hindsight and also that memory is a sketchy thing once exposed to our inherent bias’. I also recognise that as a parent, we can do everything that we think is right, but free will will come into play.
This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try.
Here is a link to all 5; please enjoy responsibly and as ever, thank you for your support.
‘The quality of having a modest or low view of one’s importance’ oxforddictionaries.com
For the final part of this series, I wanted to look at humility within children. I came across quite a bit of advice in books on modesty in adults with the premise that is better to undersell then over deliver, than to do the opposite. I guess the exception to this rule would be during an interview, when you have a small window of opportunity to sell yourself.
For me, the goal is again about striking the right balance. I want to instill the confidence to try new things in order to find out what they are best suited to. Everyone is good at something so whatever it is that they settle on, and eventually excel at, I want them to recognise their own ability to achieve without crushing the spirit of others who are not so fortunate. All whilst ensuring that they still have drive…
In the world of competitive martial arts, there have been occasions where I have recognised quite quickly that I have an opponent outclassed; as a result, I’ve made sure that I did enough to win but not to humiliate. I recognised that my opponent had trained hard to get to this point in their fight career and while they had not made the grade on this occasion, they would hopefully use the defeat as a springboard for more focus and eventual success. I know I certainly did.
I want my cubs to know:
Everyone is good at something
Find your thing; then excel
The stairs to success have a couple of floors marked failure
The green-eyed monster
The power of quiet..
What a creepy photo…
If everyone is good at something, and I truly believe that they are, then it’s the appreciation that no one is good at everything. It slightly eases the pressure on them, without diminishing the desire to try new things.
Once you find that thing, then do it to the extreme…
I remind them that many will see the end result of success but most will be blind to the hard work that leads to it. Failure is necessary as it provides learning opportunities and [for me] serves to increase humility.
Defeating envy. Spot it first. Recognise why it happens then recognising the signs in others. There are two options of dealing with envy in others; 1) Ignore it or 2) Offer advice; after all, envy in others can be borne of a desire to achieve.
As for envy in oneself, I refer you back to my first point.
My favourite skill is silence. I doubt I want the cubs to use it the way I do because I’ve managed to weaponise it. Actions speak louder than words; let the empty cans make all the noise.
If you judge a fishits ability to climb a tree… that watershed moment when they nail something that they enjoy doing is priceless. The motivational driver has switched from external to internal, in that they now want more of that feeling so will keep doing it. They then recognise that they can replicate this feeling in other ventures.
The trick is to celebrate the success appropriately which I don’t think I’d mastered myself.
‘The quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate’ oxforddictionaries.com
Maybe its just me, but kindness seems to be in short supply these days. It could the news outlets I watch but the media seems to be full of hateful intolerance. This is probably why I watch less news now!
As an adult, I like to show random acts of kindness whenever possible, although this has become a bit of a balancing act. In my recent experience, kindness can easily be mistaken for weakness and if you don’t establish proper boundaries, plenty will seek to take advantage of that.
I still prefer to offer a hand if I can.
I want my cubs to know how to:
Be kind to you first!
If you can help; do help.
First and foremost, children have to learn how to be kind to themselves! I catch my cubs in negative self talk quite often and I’m quick to challenge it. As earlier readers may remember, I’m big on autosuggestion. I try to reframe their points of reference, whenever I hear a ‘I’m not very good at that’, I ask them to add the word ‘yet’. I then remind them that no one is born good at something and that while natural talent can play a part, discipline, determination and self-belief are usually the strongest determining factors.
Negative self-talk will kill any ability you have to help others because a lack of self-belief will leave an opening for exploitation.
For reasons of self-preservation, kindness, at any given time should be a finite resource. We need to teach limits and for our children understand the need to draw a line in the sand. They’ll have to learn what their tolerance levels are which initially will have to come from experience. Recognising patterns and learning these lessons will help them make better decision in the future.
Active listening! hear [sic] we go again. My cubs have listening down to a fine art. Usually things I don’t want them to hear. Things that they will only then repeat again in company. People will always tell you who they are; you just have to listen.
Balancing the needs of yourself versus that of others is a valuable skill. You must put your needs first, but help where you can. Time is the most precious gift you can give but take care that it is not wasted.
Cubs will emulate the most influencial adults in their lives. If we engage in negative self-talk, they will too, because we’ve normailsed it. I try to openly congratuate myself for things, or reflect on an event where my acting differently may have produced a different outcome. I externalise my inner thought processes for them to hear.
I’m a bit of a fan of Freud, so watching the cubs develop through the id, ego and superego was fascinating. Without dipping too deeply into the structure of human psyche, toddlers are controlled by the id and the immediacy of their desires, as this is necessary for survival. Young schoolers learn to control those desires through the development of the ego and superego. The id and the ego will set limits! if a situation isn’t beneficial then interest is quite quickly lost. In the development of the superego, selflessness is a new attribute to wrestle with. I don’t think that swinging pendulum stops until well after the teenage years.
As this sense won’t develop for a while for my two, I’m happy for them to roleplay sharing and sympathy until they find a natural level they’re happy with. Youngest’s helpful side shows itself in acts of independence such as tidying his room. He’s pretty bad at it but there are two important factors at play; 1) he gets a sense of accomplishment and 2) he thinks he’s doing it for me. It works. Eldest will often interupt her own play to help me with a chore, especially if she thinks I’ve been on my feet for too long. I called her chief helper when she was younger.
Conscious of cramming too much learning into tiny minds, I try not to rob the cubs of their childhood and their right to get things wrong.
Positive reinforecment of desired behaviour is most effective; I try to live these attributes and lead by example. They experience me listening and giving time. They also experience me setting limits; not just with them, but with others. I help others when I can but more importantly, if I don’t help someone, I’ll explain why.
True kindness is an act of strength! but the greatest acts of kindness should be spent on oneself.
‘Courage in pain or adversity’ oxfordditionaries.com
One of the most difficult elements of writing this 5 part series was putting these life skills in some order of importance. I tried, but eventually gave up. The irony of me admitting this on a blog entry entitled fortitude is not lost on me, but the reality is that any combination of these attributes are what is needed to succeed in life.
Life is tough. It’s also the most amazing gift but that perspective won’t chime with this entry! Determination will get you over a great deal of life’s obstacles and to the prize on the other side.
As a parent, I want the cubs to realise that failure is a part of success. The approach here slightly mirrors that of my approach in the courage blog entry, but that is intentional. Concentric lessons are reinforced positively, and this is where learning happens.
I want my cubs to:
Embrace the fall and learn the lesson
Avoid the herd
Be the lone voice
When my eldest was in transition between crawling and walking, I observed her with fascination. I watched her figure out her terrain, mapping textures and adjusting her cadence. Most memorably, I watched her master a chair, in order to sit at the dining table. She scrambled, grunted, yelped a couple of times, looked to me once or twice, but continued with focus, once she realised that I wasn’t going to do it for her. Eventually, she manoeuvered the chair correctly, made herself enough space and sat at the table. The place that she had earned.
In giving the cubs the courage to speak up, I hope to empower them to be the lone voice. Not everything they will be told will be correct and not every action they observe will be moral.
Parentally, I encourage them to explain to me why they’re upset when they burst into tears, or what led them to lash out in the on-going sibling battle for primacy. In doing this, I hope to enable them to vocalise when they feel wronged as adults, although it’s also important that they can differentiate between that and keeping their own counsel.
The importance of this is that they shouldn’t feel the need to run with the herd, ridiculous pack animals that we are.
Finally, goal setting. At their age, most goals are predetermined. I do add some in, and encourage them to set their own. Goals are challenges that lead to growth. Growth leads to reward.
In my humble opinion, the best way for cubs to learn most of these is to play! Play often; in different environments, with different people and different games.
Like most sentient beings with nurtured offspring, life’s lessons can be learnt through the dress rehearsal that is play. That is, if we as parents let them get on with it!
I will discuss events with them when play goes wrong, in order to help process things as play invariably goes wrong, but that’s the plan.
One thing that I’ve noticed writing this 3rd installment, is just how much overlap there is in these life skills. I guess it’s because they’re based on my own value system
I guess the challenge for me would be to teach the cubs to master skills that I don’t posses or that are lacking in my personality.
As 2018 draws to a close, I’m moving into reflection mode.
So much has happened since the start of the year; some things I’ve enjoyed sharing, others I’ve kept a little closer to my chest. I like to get things near to completion before I publisice them to the world these days. It’s a response to my prior habit of announcing my intentions too early..
I feel I’ve grown; a lot. I’ve watched my cubs grow too, as I’ve continued to nurture their development the best way that I can.
I’ve matured into the co-parenting role too. On reflection, this wasn’t the easiest of years in that respect. The challenges that I have faced crescendoed to such a frustrating level that I genuinely feared for my health at the start of this month. That’s behind me as thankfully, self-care kicked in.
Bonds of words have been broken, so I’ve drawn a line in the sand. The final straw being Christmas Day. The cubs were blessed with gifts. Not so much with attention. That left me frustrated but determined, that it will not happen again.
For me, the power of relection is to take the opportunity to learn. It isn’t about regret, as life is too beautiful for that. I promise you, if you search hard enough, there is a positive message in every single negative event in your history. It’s your job to recognise and capitalise on it.
I am so blessed that simply focussing on what is in my life is enough to make me smile out loud.
The cubs have their issues, but none are insurmountable. Plans are in place to deal with those.
Carry on with the plans, unabbaited. They’re progressing nicely, but require concentration and patience.
Build better relationships based on my values, mutual benefit and reciprocity.
Focus on my health. Healthy eating, exercixe, good food, fresh air and relaxation.
Kill procrastination; my greatest foe.
For the cubs
Reflecting, has got me reflecting. What do I want to teach my children? what do I want them to learn?
I narrowed it down to 5 life skills. I’m going to discuss one every week from the 5th January. I hope you enjoy them.
I’m trying to make sense of the times that we’re in.
It’s now been 3 weeks since the cubs have been with me. It could be more; I’ve lost count. I’m balancing the loneliness and vacuum with a morning wakeup call from eldest, lunchtime updates and Facetime at bedtime.
Thankfully, I’m also self-aware so I recognise the need to take action. Not before the Universe gives me a little more incentive.
First World Problems
During lockdown I stick to routine. Wake, wash, work or watch (movies..) workout, wepeat..
Then my wifi dropped out. I tried to put it into perspective (global pandemic and all) but as I sat down to do something else my stomach knotted, causing physical pain. Add to this, a digital date that I had been talking to for the past two months had gone cold and has enabled ghost mode. Bummer. Easy come; easy go but none the less, I took the signs.
‘ it’s not the journey that wears you down, its the stone in your shoe ‘
I sat on my sofa, looking out onto the freshly cut lawn and watched the sun stream in. I opened the windows. Thankfully, my ‘share the love for our music’ neighbours were yet to start broadcasting, allowing nature to flood in.
I switched everything off at the wall and sat down.
I decided to meditate. Something that I hadn’t done in a while. I decided to count backwards from 100, breathing; where in would be one count; out would be two. I closed my eyes and started.
This is actually harder than I thought. I saccade regressively (or whatever the cognitive equivalent is) and end up double counting.
The intrusive thoughts are immeasurable. Everything tries to push me off my path; I won’t let it happen.
I notice a tightness in my chest; I keep going.
My line manager pops up. We get into an argument about goodness knows what.
I create a grey, swirling mist and use my mind to push him back into it. I’m in control of my thoughts; they are not in control of me.
I noticed my teeth are clenched.
I can feel the morning air on my skin. I breathe it in. I breathe out pollution; dirt, more swirling mist and use my mind to push it away.
I unclench my teeth.
My posture relaxes and I find some extra softness in my seat.
I’m still hyper vigilant. It helps with my job but I’m not. there. now. That has to go too.
I start to go through rapid eye movement (REM). Usual for a sleep state but something I have done historically, whilst stressed and fully awake.
I recognise it.
I now hear my breathing. I slow it, I deepen it; I want to get past the tidal volume and into my reserves. If I can clear out the stale air inside me, I can reset my physical state and my mental state.
I look inside; I visualise my lungs; tidal, reserve out; fresh, clean, cool, in. I’m now actively controlling my diaphragm.
The count slows. The feeling is amazing.
Although my eyes are shut I can see the sunshine outside. It appears to be flowing into my lounge, into me.
I can feel the oxygenated blood moving through me after my heart and lungs exchange the gasses; what’s been used goes out; what I need comes in.
Birdsong. I’ve made much of this with the reduction in traffic and so have they. I can pick out individual songs; a blackbird; a very vocal robin, a song-thrush and some sparrows.
Nature is making the most of the lockdown.
I don’t want this to end. I slow my breath and count even further.
I do something I haven’t done in too long. I pick up a pen and begin to format a blog post. Just things that I’m thinking; just my thoughts..
And in the beginning
I’m reminded of who I am. My core identity that I rely on for everything. The strong foundation and self awareness that sees me through anything.
Times are tough but they could be a lot, lot worse.
In fact, I remember joking about it in the delivery room, staring into the adoring eyes of my eldest as I held her in one hand. Now, nine and a half years later, that moment has arrived.
She’s noticed her body changing and the bodies of her friends. Her mother has also attempted to impose a preparedness kit on me, that consists of chocolates and cuddles. Niceties aside, I recognised that a growing young woman would need facts.
Puberty can be terrifying if you don’t know it’s coming. There’s a world of changes that will take place over the space of a decade, without warning; I wasn’t going to leave her unprepared.
At her age, change is not impossible; the process of puberty has been reported in children as young as eight, with girls being notoriously early developers. As a woman, I had asked her mum to discuss menstruation with her but was left disappointed by her efforts.
I’m neither inarticulate, nor shy, but I needed help on this one.
I hit the keyboard, or in this case the phone browser in search if child friendly reference material.
As luck would have it, a friend of mine had recommended a really good book, but I decided to do a quick check of what was out there. Amazon didn’t disappoint.
The trick here is not to be sucked in by well illustrated covers, but to read the reviews from verified purchases. Not to put too much emphasis on this but this is one conversation that as a parent, you can’t afford to mess up.
Not surprisingly, there is quite a range of advisory material for puberty. Some aimed at parents to guide conversations and some written specifically for children. The book that my friend had recommended appeared to fall into the latter category and ticked all the boxes according to the reviews. Changing bodies, menstruation, attraction, moods and even sex. I clicked one copy into my basket.
Approaching my weekend, I picked the cubs up from after-school club on Thursday. As is the norm, the floodgates of information and questions opens. This evening, she is full of questions.
‘Dad, I’ve been doing a lot of learning about bodies and how they change. What’s sex? and do you have to have it?’
Before I could answer, she continues.
‘Mummy was talking to me about periods and all of it and some of the girls at school have been talking about sex’
Ok; well what have they been saying?
Let me just get this out there; I think that there are very few conversations that you shouldn’t have with your children; done in the correct way, most information can be handled sensitively but informatively, without inducing fear nor wonder. Kids are sponges; they’re nourished by information and in this digital epoch, there are a lot of places that they can get it.
What I heard next both scared and angered me.
‘Well my friends haven’t said anything really but when mummy was talking about periods I asked her about sex’
Ok; so what did mummy say?
‘Well she was busy so she just walked away, so I waited until night time, when I couldn’t sleep and I looked up sex on my tablet [PC]’
I almost crashed. I had asked my ex to set up an age appropriate account on all of her devices, following a similar incident last year. I also asked her to restrict browser settings to ‘Safe Search’, which would limit access to inappropriate material. I doubted that either had been done and what I was told next confirmed this.
‘Loads of scary things came up that I didn’t understand and it really scared me! I turned it off! do you have to have sex daddy??’
I suppressed my rising ire and took a few seconds to think. The irresponsibilities of my ex would have to wait for now; this was the time for damage control.
Sweetheart, sex is nothing to worry about and more importantly you don’t have to think about it for a long time yet. You really must be careful when you use the internet and the things that you saw were not meant for you; try not to think about them.
‘Can we remove Chrome from my tablet?’
I don’t think that’s necessary, but when you come back to mine from mummy’s bring it with you and daddy will make sure that you can’t see things that you’re not supposed to. Now, when we get home, I have a present for you that will help to answer all your questions and then we can have a talk.
Fortuitously, the book had arrived the day before. Some of the reviews had stated that the depiction of sex within it may have been better left to older children. With this in mind, I had wondered if I should sit on it until her tenth birthday. Now, I feel that decision had been taken out of my hands.
At home, she tore at the protective wrapper eagerly.
What’s Happening to Me? (Girls Edition) (Facts of Life) by Susan Meredith sat in her hands.
‘Thanks Dad! two of my friends at school have this book!’
Double confirmation that now was the right time for this. Having skimmed through it and rewrapped it for her, I gave her the options of reading it herself or us going through it together.
She chose the former, telling me that she would read it before bed tonight. In fact, she went from cover to cover in about 45 minutes. She ran up to me and gave me a big hug.
Do you have any questions?
‘Yes; lots; but can we read it together over the next few nights?’
His bedtime is 7pm; hers is 8pm, but the rule is that she fills that hour creatively. She usually reads, but is not averse to origami or sewing. After tucking her brother in and going through our usual, goodnight; sleep tight sing-song, she calls me in.
I read and begin a guided Q&A session. Taking it slowly, we discuss the basic body changes around weight, height, pubic hair and breasts. I use the correct names for body parts, shying away from nicknames and the like. I don’t see the point in learning something twice.
As expected, she takes it all in her stride. We have appropriate levels of laughter but mainly, this is about reassurance; I’m aware that I’m sewing seeds of body confidence that could stay with her for life.
We will spend the next few nights working through the book, including sex and sexuality.
I’ll end on a couple of points. We need to give young minds both the credit and respect they deserve. Handled appropriately, they can handle almost anything as their brains have the elasticity to do so.
My second point is really a warning; please do not allow young minds to wander the internet alone. Their appetite for knowledge can lead them to places they do not know how to get back from and the damage can be everlasting.
They deserve knowledge and protection in equal measure.
This one is a mixed bag! strap in, keep up and enjoy!
The days between me last seeing the cubs and my weekend had dragged. The Thursday pick-up couldn’t come soon enough.
The after-school club collection was the usual long hugs and excited storytelling. The immediacy of filling in the last seven days crammed the next few minutes. Youngest however maintained his usual reserved stance.
How was school?
What was your most favourite part?
‘Some of it’
What was your least favourite part?
‘None of it’
Ok. Good to catch up.
‘So what’s the plan this weekend dad?’ eldest chipped in; recognising that her brother would yield no more for now.
On Saturday, we’re going to a Kung Fu lesson, then on Sunday we’re going to do a ParkRun. Youngest quickly found his tongue.
‘I already know Kung Fu dad!’ he replied cheerfully. I expected an explanation in line with his recent, I can drive now dad as I’ve seen you do it loads of times; you just press that button and turn the wheel a bit and hey-presto, but his conclusion hit even a well seasoned, left-field receiver like me.
‘When someone turns around, you punch them in the back; then when they turn again, you kick them in the stomach!’
His sister was reduced to hysterical laughter whilst I shook my head in disbelief. That’s not quite right darling; I think we’d better wait until class to learn the correct way. Until then, no punching or kicking anyone please. He tilted his head, before nodding ok.
As it’s the weekend, and training doesn’t begin until 13:00, morning routine is changed. Lie ins all round, apart from youngest, who found his into my bed bright and early. It was still dark outside so we decided to share an audiobook via headphones.
Everybody gets porridge. It’s going to be a high energy day so we all need slow release. They’re then headed into the shower, while I pull out some suitable fightwear.
Things seem to be taking a long time and despite beginning early, I feel the advantage slipping away. My ire rises and I start snapping. He’s ready; I’m in full uniform but she is in her underwear. I then notice a squeezed tube of toothpaste on her floor. I become extremely irritated. We’d had new carpet fitted a couple of months ago and I’d already chastised her for wandering around and brushing her teeth, dropping toothpaste on the carpet.
She’s scolded, and told to hurry up. Whilst she grabs her bag of bits, I pull the rest of our packed lunch together. Neither for love nor for money, will youngest put his coat on. Then he can’t find his shoes; I suggest that looking may help. Then she has no trainers, as they’ve all been left at mummy’s. I ensure that she has good socks on then give her some casual slip ons to wear. We head to the car.
As I strap her brother in, her tablet needs charging so her second action, after belting herself in is to seek out the USB socket in the centre console. To do this, she has to lift the soft armrest. I get in the car and hit my elbow on the now exposed edge. I snap..
YOU TWO ARE REALLY ANNOYING ME TODAY!
It’s fifteen miles before anyone speaks. They both had their heads buried in electronic devices but the tension was palpable.
‘Dad; I’m sorry that you find us annoying. We don’t mean to be’
Eldest’s words cut like a knife.
No darling; I’m sorry. It’s not that I find you annoying at all, it’s just that sometimes your actions can frustrate me; usually I can deal with it but today I had an outburst and that wasn’t right.
To complete the emotional triangle, youngest chips in;
‘Do you still like us?’
That hurt; a lot. And so it should. I’d fallen so far below my standards of parenting. It was a rapid reminder of the power of words on young minds. I had to repair this; fast.
Listen; I love you two more than anything and that never ever changes; I do get frustrated at times and very, very rarely, I say something like that that I immediately regret. It’s a reaction, rather than a response. A response means that I’ve thought before I’ve spoken; a reaction means I’ve spoken before I’ve thought, but never, ever forget this; there’s not a day that goes by that I’m not thankful for having you too wonderful people in my life and I will never stop loving you.
I learnt a lesson today and I have a theory. My words and actions will probably work to erase my harsh outburst but I fear that it takes a number of congruent actions over a length of time to build back that trust to 100%
Be mindful of how you interact with little minds.
On the way home
Kung Fu transpired to be a mixed affair. He had an abundance of energy and a shortage of concentration; exactly what you’d expect in a 5 year old. She was better placed having taken Karate lessons a few years back. We kept it at falling correctly, kicking and punching.
I decided to call time after the umpteenth time of being asked for snacks, a break, water, a pop to Aunty’s and anything else to get away from my instruction. It wasn’t bad for a first attempt.
A quick visit to relatives and we headed home.
All of us are chatty, discussing the lesson, the chocolate we ate at Aunty’s and what we were going to do tomorrow. Without trainers for her, the ParkRun was postponed. Not the whole thing obviously.
‘Mum has a new boyfriend! he’s taller than you and has a nickname!’
Good for mum. With the exception of wanting to know who is around my cubs, I have little interest.
‘The last one she had didn’t stick around too long though! she wants to get married but I’ve told her that I don’t want a stepbrother or sister! one is annoying enough!’
I chuckle. She continues.
‘I’m not sure about her plan is but she can’t just keep rummaging around in men like that; it can’t be doing her any good’
Admittedly, at this point I nearly crash the car for laughing. We’re driving on the motorway, through the narrow lanes of roadworks too.
The whole car is full of laughter, and nothing makes me happier.
Laughter is such a great sign and for us, as a family it seems to be our greatest medicine.
As for their mum, I wish her every success in her quest…
I’m not what you would call a slouch. I like exercise. I’ve grown up around it and I’m vocal about the benefits of maintaining health and wellbeing through exercise. Recently, I have been a bit of a slouch.
In a way, I forgot the golden rule that exercise serves to callous an individual against most of life’s stresses and strains. Instead, I gave in to those stresses and strains. Both exercise and diet suffered.
One of the [many] positive outcomes of finding out I’m not yet on my final path, was that my cholesterol level was quite high. Not wanting to bring on what I had feared was ailing me, I decided to buck my ideas up and get back on track.
I’m on week two of the ‘Couch to 5K’ training program. I began while I was still under the perceived heart scare as in my head, 5k wasn’t a massive distance as I’d happily run 12 miles before; admittedly, it was a few years ago. I figured that it could only do me good and if I did have a heart condition, that distance wouldn’t tax me too much.
The program is an app that you download to your phone. It’s backed by the BBC Sport as part of their ‘Get Inspired’ initiative, aimed at getting Brits to take regular exercise. You get a choice of coaches, who happen to be personalities from the broadcasting world. They tell you when to run, how to run and how often. The only thing not provided is will power.
It seems to be working and more importantly, I’m enjoying being out on my feet. They do a ‘Couch to 10k’ too, for those without perceived heart conditions..
Leading by example is important to me so I’m also sourcing Park Runs for me and the cubs. School has notified us with mild concern about their body mass index (BMI) and whilst I’ve never held much truck for the system I have noticed that both of my darlings are a little on the big side.
Rather than beginning to stigmatise and label them at such a young age I intend to just make them more active when we are together. This weekend they are coming to a Kung Fu session with me. I can’t wait.
Killing me softly
This Christmas just past a friend, work colleague and neighbour of mine invited me to his house for dinner with his family on the 27th. He has three children of comparable age to mine and we occasionally have play dates.
For the meal, we were accompanied by his partner’s family; her sister, her mother and her father. Her father was doing the majority of the cooking so we sat in the kitchen keeping him company. He looked in his late 70’s and had noticeable poor posture. He revealed the reason in a conversation.
’40 years of sitting at a desk has rendered my abdominal muscles useless’
That scared me. My job used to be more practical, but promotions have meant that I’ve been more managerial for the last decade or so. Work does give us the option of using ‘standing desks’ but I’d always declined, favouring getting up and moving around every hour or so. The only problem with this approach is that I tended to get stuck into a task and by the time I lifted my head, two hours had passed.
I set my watch alarm to the hourly alert. The annoying function that I had disabled many moons ago. Now, every time the double beep sounds, I get up from my seat, perform 30 star jumps followed by 30 squats. In time, I hope this will become a Pavlovian response that will pay dividends in later life.
If anything good has come of my near miss, it was highlighting the fact that I had been taking my health and welfare for granted.
I never fail to marvel at the complexities of the human body; especially my own.
Over the past two or three months, I have been suffering. A nagging tightness in the chest that began to radiate. This eventually caused headaches and dizziness, but it was not too long before pain and discomfort spread to my left arm.
I have rudimentary medical training. It comes with what I do. I suspected cardiovascular issues, but in a ridiculous act of fear induced denial, I did no more than wait, for far too long. Eventually just before Christmas I finally sought medical help.
The NHS wasted no time. I was plugged in, X-rayed, stethoscoped and generally very closely inspected by anyone who had served time at medical school. My GP even went to the extent of phoning me twice, in the evening.
I quickly received a letter from the Rapid Access Acute Chest Pain Clinic in my local hospital. They wanted to see me on the 21st. The letter stressed the importance of attending the clinic, but also attempted to reassure that an appointment was in no way indicative of a heart condition.
I could not ignore the pain; it was now a constant.
Sitting in the waiting room I held the company of many. Noticeably all much my senior and in varying degrees of failing health, I could not feel anything other than incongruous.
A nurse called my name.
It was ECG time again. I was asked to strip to the waist and lie down. For the ease of parking I’d travelled on the bike so my attire was a little of a hindrance as the nurse needed access to my feet for the sensors. It took longer to hook me up than it did to get a reading. Rather than getting dressed fully, I put my teeshirt back on.
Returned to the waiting room, I looked even more out of place.
I was eventually summoned by a more mature lady in scrubs, with a stethoscope around her neck. I duly followed.
She sat me down and asked me to remove my teeshirt again, so she could listen to my chest and back. I breathed in and out as requested as she moved her pre-warmed device to various locations on my torso.
She then prodded and poked.
“Does this hurt here?”
Not so much
My chest spasmed and contracted away from her touch.
The Clinical Practitioner sat down. “Tell me when it hurts; for example, how do you feel on exertion?”
The pain usually subsides or is non-existent.
“Ok” she said, as she took off her glasses.
“It is my opinion that you have nothing wrong with your heart. Your ECG is fine; your blood pressure is fantastic and your bloods, although you show slightly elevated levels of cholesterol show nothing else”
I tilted my head in curiosity.
“You’ve torn a pectoral muscle working out”
So, basically, I thought I was dying, but I’ve just…ripped a tit?
She smiled. “Yes”
I laughed. Very, very loudly and slightly hysterically. She began to laugh too. This continued for some time, to the point where her colleagues came in to see what was happening.
I apologised to her [and the entire NHS] for wasting her time.
“Better to be safe than sorry” she reassured.
Sitting astride my bike I reflected on how my mindset had changed at the impact of such a serious illness. I’d rescued my diet, taking Omega3 oils and eating a clove of garlic a day, as well as ensuring that I got my 5 a day.
I’d also considered creating video diaries for the cubs, should the eventual prognosis be, not so good.
I’m lucky. I already have a healthy regard for life and I try to remain grateful for everything I have, not less my gorgeous cubs. More importantly, it was the reality of my mortality while they are so young that weighed heavily upon me. Selfishly, I didn’t want to be without them. Watch this space…
For now, I’ve dodged a bullet but it served as a good reminder to maintain a healthy lifestyle; sleeping, eating and exercising well.
I might give the kettlebell swings a miss for now though.
About two months ago (maybe more) my body started to feel differently. When I say my body, I mean my chest. When I say my chest, I mean, the area where my heart is. I really couldn’t think of a better way to write that..
In the tail end of the last year, things started to really ramp up in both my personal and professional life. I changed roles in my workplace and was given a baptism of fire. It was more full-on than I had experienced in a very long time. My energy was being pulled in every direction; I had to relinquish some activities and my beloved BSD blog suffered neglect. I had to prioritise.
Two other elements of my life became neglected; my fitness and my diet. Skipping workouts became the norm as did convenience foods. Processed crap was back on the menu as contactless payments at a fast food outlet are a lot quicker than putting basic ingredients together into a decent meal.
I had my annual fitness test at work, which I scraped through. I put it down to age but decided that I would schedule some moderate workouts.
The intention to train three times a week was there, but the intent fell away to other pressures quite quickly. They were only short workouts too, but intense; I value HITT.
Coparenting was failing. Apart from missing the cubs due to an inequality in access, things had taken a more sinister turn on the maternal side. Details aren’t for this entry, but I will disclose in time. It spurred me to take action.
More time; more energy needed; more stress.
The creeping realisation that my energy reserves were actually a finite resource was always a difficult premise; historically I’ve solved most things by going at them harder but this was getting more difficult as a game plan.
Something had to give.
I’d been lying to myself about the pains I had been experiencing. Infrequent at first, then more regularly. A pressing feeling in my chest, towards the left and in the upper quarter. Easy to dismiss as anything too serious, but hard to ignore due to its persistence.
A gym session will shake it. Or a run. Or perhaps a bit of fresh air.
At Christmas; it became almost impossible to ignore, worse still, I was now getting irregular, but strange sensations in my left arm. Then, one day, into my jaw. Even without any medical training, this should be a red flag to anyone. I went to see the Doctor.
Well actually, I registered with a new surgery and undertook a general assessment, as is the norm. I told the nurse of my pain; she immediately strapped me in to an electrocardiogram (ECG). It took longer to connect the leads than it did to take a reading.
The nurse ripped off the ticker tape, took one look at it and left the room. I didn’t take it as a good sign. She returned quickly, apologised and informed me that she had taken it to the Doctor for a quick look. we did the rest of the assessment, which turned out to be questions before she left the room again.
On her return, she said that the Dr wanted to see me in a couple of days. This reassured me slightly, as an appointment in a couple of days would be futile if I was in immediate trouble.
The National Health Service (NHS)
Later that evening, my phone rang. It was my new Doctor. That worried me. He told me not to worry, but he was making sure that I was going to attend the appointment with him in two day’s time. Absolutely I was.
Later that week, sat in front of the General Practitioner, he went through a series of questions.
Do I smoke?
Do I exercise?
Does the pain increase or decrease with exercise?
Do I suffer from anxiety or depression?
Do I suffer from pain in my calves?
Do I have dizzy or vacant spells?
Had I ever used drugs?
Had I ever taken steroids?
Strangely, I took the last question as a compliment. I guess I hadn’t slacked off that much. Men’s minds.
He then asked me about what I did for a living, and my working hours. When I told him the hours I worked, he put his pen down and stared at me.
“Mr (enter real name); imagine you have a brand new car and over the space of two years, you put 150,000 miles on that car; what sort of state do you think that car will be in at the end of those two years?”
Is it a Toyota Hilux or Landcruiser?
He stared through my attempts to deflect from the truth.
“I would seriously consider reducing the hours you work”
Easier said than done. He then booked me in for bloods and a chest X-Ray.
Having answered ‘yes’ to a lot of the wrong questions I was asked, I went home to stew. What if the pain in my calves that I had experienced during training sessions wasn’t muscle soreness but thrombosis?
Had I been neglecting something obvious or had six month of prolonged stress (probably longer) finally started to take its toll?
Whatever the outcome I admitted to myself that I’d left it far too long before seeking help. So many ailments can be treated successfully with early intervention. I knew that, but had neglected to act in my own best interests early on.
Bloods done I was slightly annoyed that the nurse stuck me in the arm that I hadn’t mentally prepared. I hate needles. But, I’m pretty fond of being alive so I sucked it up. I had the day off so I immediately presented myself to hospital for an X-Ray. After driving round looking for a parking spot, I went home and transferred to two wheels. I was in and out extremely quickly.
The next day the Doctor rang me. Again. I think I might store him as a regular contact. My bloods were back and my Cholesterol was high. Very high. I reflected on a Christmas of biscuits and rich cakes. I was relieved. High Cholesterol was a precursor to more serious heart conditions, but it was also treatable with lifestyle changes.
My Doctor, who was clearly not taking any chances and was an extremely thorough man had also referred me to the Rapid Access Chest Pain clinic at my local hospital. I was worried again.
I realise, and am reminded time and time again of how good the health service is in the United Kingdom.
I don’t usually end a piece with a direct message and in fact, this is not the end as I have my appointment at the clinic tomorrow but, I want to ask anyone who reads my words to make sure that you act early on any health concerns that you have. Don’t leave it, don’t try to walk it off and don’t wait. Modern medicine can do amazing things if given an early opportunity and dedicated health professionals will bend over backwards to ensure your wellbeing.
In the sprint up to Christmas, it’s a time of many birthday parties and events; the cubs and I are busy.
My weekend will be punctuated by one, 6th birthday party tomorrow but first, my two are due an eye test.
This was a fall out event from daddy having a new prescription a few weeks back. The optometrist and I got chatting and I realised that the cubs had never had an eye test. I booked one in.
Our last visit was a mirthful event as they were both on top form. At one point, the optometrist had to put the tools of her trade down as she was laughing so much. Apparently, say cheese! was not the correct response when looking for retinal scarring.
As we head toward the opticians, I ask them both to run through the rules of engagement (we’ve adopted these to keep innocent people safe from our shenanigans).
Always say please and thank you;
Look where we are walking;
We’re not as funny as we think we are; keep it down.
More can be added dependant on circumstance and occasion. For this occasion, we also included ‘swivel chair rotations will be limited to 180 degrees; no exceptions’.
‘Ok dad; we’ll keep operations obtuse’ chimes in the eldest, impressing me. Youngest nods agreement, but I’m unconvinced he’s on message.
Having watched me get tested, their reluctance to sit in the chair and cooperate is non-existent. Youngest goes first, on a machine that checks the condition of the retina, an autorefractor. His sister positions herself expectantly near the viewing screen.
The assistant adjusts his chair to bring him in line with the machine. ‘Try not to move and I’ll adjust the machine to you‘. He nods. And moves.
‘Ok; this time, try not to move…‘
He nods. then moves.
This happens three more times and I can tell that attrition is having an affect on the assistant. Before I can address the issue, eldest positions herself behind youngest and administers an effective headlock. That does the trick.
Picture taken and a ‘that all appears fine‘ from the assistant is cue for a quick scuffle. It seems that youngest wasn’t going to let the headlock go unanswered.
Her turn next. As she sits herself down, her brother eagerly gets behind her to begin a revenge headlock. I assure him that it’s not necessary, and plop him on my lap.
She’s the model of a model patient and the optician is impressed. A second ‘All good‘ is exactly what daddy wants to hear.
I begin to walk out but the I’m stopped. Apparently that was just the pretest. I thought that was too easy.
We’re moved to the room with the wall charts.
In turn, the cubs have various devices strapped to them and are asked to read, decide and look for numbers in colours. The tonometer makes them both jump and giggle, but the fun quickly wore off when eldest asked the optician why she bought a machine to blow air into people’s eyes.
“That’s all done sir! both your children need glasses!”
They both cheer, and race out into the main shop, bumping into an innocent bystander. I guess they do need glasses. I apologise, and reflect on the damage this will do to my budget.
They split like a display team to the male and female displays of frames. The adult displays. I shepherd them back to the children’s sections. Thankfully, the store has placed the more expensive ranges higher up. Their eyes are naturally drawn upwards.
He goes straight for a pair of specs with a Batman logo. They’re free, thanks to our amazing National Health Service. Great result (two pairs of glasses have cost me just over £300…). She goes for a lovely, purple rimmed pair; they match her coat and the fetching, cat eared headband that she has on.
The assistant places them on each of them in turn, then begins to take various measurements. She hands me her cat ears in order to get a proper fit. I put them on my head in order to keep my hands free to restrain her brother, who has clearly hit the limits of his concentration.
Business concludes without much drama. Both cubs hearts visibly shrink when the assistant tells us that the glasses will be ready for collection in a week. They wanted their reward now. I explained about the process of creating the lenses to their specific prescriptions, which seemed to bore them into submission. They both looked at me, looked at each other and giggled.
It wasn’t until we had walked the full length of the shopping centre to get back to the carpark that I realised I was still wearing the cat ear hair band.
Here in the UK, we have a turn of phrase for being busy; we call it spinning plates. It harks back to the circus act of erecting a number of head height poles into the ground, then balancing spinning plates on them.
The trick of it was to wobble the stick in a circular motion, causing said balanced plate to spin and remain in situ unaided. The skill arrived in getting all your plates spinning, by running to each stick in succession as they slowed, friction getting the better of them, and impart more energy to keep them going.
To be successful, the artist needed to be a blur of movement between each.
The act never lasted long.
Back to reality
My plates were projects, desires, goals and work. It was fun for a while, imagining the utopia of each whilst imparting that energy, but it was extremely tiring. Something had to give and BSD was the [temporary] casualty.
I even considered ending this alter ego but in the nick of time, I realised that it was a pity party move.