After 871 days (that is 2 years, 4 months and 20 days) as warden at Agnes Blackadder Hall, University of St Andrews, I’ve hung up my gown and moved on.
I loved being warden, living and working amongst around 540 students and supporting a team of six assistant wardens. But it wasn’t great for my health, to be honest. It turns out you sometimes need sleep and time for yourself. And for many weeks I got little of either.
So I have moved back down the Fife coast to the East Neuk and am living in a wee two-bedroom mid-terrace house in Crail.
This is my third house move in as many years.
I’m much closer to my children now, and it’s an area that I used to cycle around over the years so I’m looking forward to getting out on my (newly serviced) bike over the next few months and gently improving my fitness.
The boys like my wee house and have been over to stay for a few weeks, and a few overnights during the week too.
I needed to buy a dining table and benches and a couple of chests of drawers (at Ikea, of course) plus a bunch of storage boxes for linen and shoes. But two weeks in and I have fully unpacked now and organised almost everything the way that I’d like it.
Here is to relaxing for a bit, regaining my fitness, losing the 2 inches or more than I put on my waist over the last 871 days, and figuring out where life will take me next. It’s exciting…
Here’s a video I found online from the developers. My house is featured about 17 seconds in.
Although I attend clinics at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee on a regular basis, on account of my having inherited autosomal dominant polycystic kidney (ADPKD) disease from my dad, the last time I visited Ninewells Hospital in Dundee was when I accompanied a really close friend to her clinic appointment.
While I was waiting for her to finish, I got chatting to a woman in the waiting room who turned out to be a coordinator for SHARE. She told me about the scheme and I signed up straight away.
What is SHARE?
SHARE, the Scottish Health Research Register, is a new NHS Research Scotland initiative created to establish a register of people interested in participating in health research.
When you sign up for SHARE you agree to allowing them to use coded data in their various NHS computer records to check whether you might be suitable for health research studies.
One example is in allowing SHARE to use any leftover blood following routine clinical testing.
This can be incredibly useful when it comes to developing new tests, treatments and cures for a wide variety of health conditions.
Why I joined
Every time I visit the renal clinic—currently every six to nine months—I have blood taken to check my kidney function. They can’t possibly use it all when they do their tests, so I thought it sensible to give permission for my leftover blood to be used for research purposes.
As I write, there are currently 177,848 people registered.
On Friday afternoon I attended my bi-annual renal outpatients’ clinic at Ninewells hospital in Dundee. My appointments usually follow the same script.
Doctor: Hello, come in, sit down… how are you?
Me: Fine, thanks.
Doctor: Good. How have your kidneys been over the last six months? Any problems?
Me: Fine, no problems.
Doctor: Your blood pressure is a bit high, but you’ve probably been rushing to get here. Let’s take it again… Hmm… still a bit high. You’ve put on more weight, I see. You really need to lose weight. That will help with your blood pressure.
And off I’m sent with a slap on the wrist, a ticket to get my bloods taken, and an appointment for six months’ time.
Change of script
Well, dear reader, not this time. This time we had a change of script. I was in and out in about five minutes. No reprimand, my blood pressure was looking good, just a a request for bloods and to return in not six but nine months’ time (always a good sign when they don’t want to see you quite as soon).
The reason: over the last five months I have been exercising. A lot. And yesterday afternoon I discovered just now much weight I’ve lost: 6 kilogrammes (13.2 lbs).
I knew it must have been quite a bit: I am now back into my XXL t-shirts, and my 38″ jeans.
The last seven years have been in many ways the most brutal, the more difficult that I’ve ever experienced:
sleep deprivation (twins and then singleton) for about four or five years
two back injuries
two neck injuries
Whenever I did exercise (walking, cycling or light dumbbell weights) invariably I’d get ill pretty quickly, within a few days I’d come down with someone, or I’d overdo it and pick up an injury.
And with a regular pattern like that comes fear. And so I ended up avoiding exercise because I didn’t want to get ill.
In June of this year I knew that something had to change. I was experiencing major headaches again, comparable with the ones I had experienced during last year’s meningitis. I knew that I’d put on more weight, I was already in XXXL t-shirts and these were beginning to feel a little tight. I was feeling so unfit and so ashamed of my size that I knew that I had to do something about it. It actually got so bad that I felt I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror.
I knew that I could do it, I’d done it before, after I’d moved from Edinburgh to Fife. I just wished that I had written down what I’d done so that I could do it again.
So I committed to the following:
Eat less (especially, cut out unnecessary sugars and sweets).
Lift weights more.
With the exercise I committed myself to a little, often. And with that I got on my bike and tackled a familiar circuit that I used to do: home to Kilrenny, up the farm track to the main road, then back home. I knew that it would take me about 13 minutes to reach the top of the farm track, up a gently hill, and about 26 minutes to complete the loop and get back home.
A few weeks in, I started lifting weights again. A little and often. Squats, preacher curls, bench presses. I hit major muscle groups. I followed a couple of Men’s Health dumbbell guides that I’d collected over the years.
Then I went back out on my bike, and was amazed that I could go significantly faster. The weight lifting had given my legs strength. Who knew?!
The clocks changed and I continued to go out in the dark. I have fabulously powerful LED bike lights that illuminate the road ahead. And that’s when I realised that one of my biggest enemies, one of the things that had been holding me back, was myself.
When I cycle during the day and hit the bottom of a climb there is a small, nagging voice in the back of my mind that says, “You’ll never make that climb!” And coupled with the fear of getting ill, or pulling an injury, my brain gives in and replies, “Yeah… you’re probably right”, and I slow down and don’t push myself quite as much.
But at night… at night I can’t see the top of the hill. And so I don’t hear the nagging voices. I’m in the moment, and I just keep going, until I find the top of the hill.
So, I set myself a goal: get from my house to the top of the hill in under 10 minutes. A week in to my challenge I got it down to 10′ 52″.
I then realised that I was taking it too easy getting from my home to the bottom of the hill, so a couple of weeks ago I set out with the attitude of going for broke.
I pushed myself harder than I had in a long time, through the pain, up the hill, pulling on my pedals when pushing hurt too much, pushing when that started to ache.
At the top of the hill I slumped over the handlebars, out of breath, my heartbeat in my ears, sweat turning to steam in the cool night air.
I unclipped my bike computer and held it in front of my front light. Five minutes fifty-six seconds. What?! 5′ 56″.
Well… that’s under 10 minutes.
The next year or two are going to contain a lot of changes, big and small. Some I will have little control over, others I will grasp with two hands. This is one of them. I’m getting back on track (metaphorically and literally), getting fit and regaining my confidence.
Yesterday’s renal appointment was a significant milestone. Let’s see just how much fitter I can be in nine months’ time when I present myself to the clinic once again.
Between 2006–2007 I lost six inches (15 cm) off my waist, through a combination of changing what I ate, lifting weights, and regular cycling. My motivation was to get fit in anticipation of our IVF treatment working and us having children; we now have three.
Fast forward seven years and sadly I’ve put it all back on again. A combination of being on the parent-of-twins’ sleep deprivation programme, two back injuries (from lifting babies and pushing buggies), two neck injuries (what happens when twins jump onto your head from behind), and last year’s episode of meningitis.
Back in September my GP told me not to push myself: meningitis takes it out of you. He predicted that my stamina might return in January or February of this year. Now we’re approaching the end of February I feel it’s time to start working myself a little harder. The fact that it’s Lent — traditionally a time of increased discipline — should also help.
My plan is that I’m going to start gently and gradually build up my level of fitness. My immediate ground rules are:
Drink more water
Go to bed earlier (sleep is really important)
No fizzy drinks
Lift weights (dumb bells) 2–3 times a week
Cycling 1–2 times a week
I have to admit to feeling a little nervous. I know that I’ve done this before, but back then I was younger and I didn’t so easily experience the back and neck pain that I can now. I’ve never really been good at pacing myself, it’s time for a crash course (I guess, without actually crashing).
Three weeks ago I went to the health centre for an appointment with the GP who recognised that the headache I was experiencing wasn’t just a prolonged migraine but meningitis.
I was there for two reasons: I needed to be signed off for longer, and I needed painkillers that were stronger than ibuprofen but milder than the 30/500 co-codamol that were playing havoc with my stomach.
The GP was really kind and understanding. He signed me off for a further four weeks, gave me the prescription I needed, but also gave me some gentle advice: pace myself. He reminded me that viral meningitis, though not as dangerous as the bacterial variety, is still a pretty serious condition.
“Even if you’re having a good day,” he advised, “don’t try to run 100 metres in ten seconds! Pace yourself.”
Then he said something that really shocked me. “I expect you won’t be back to full stamina for probably 4–6 months.”
Not four to six weeks… months!
When I stepped out of the health centre I burst into tears. At that point, I’d been going for six weeks, trying my hardest to stay positive. Trying to will myself to be well. During those six days in hospital I had been the most afraid I’d ever been, and when I was discharged nothing had physically changed. All I had now was a label to affix to it: ‘viral meningitis’.
It’s common for someone with any kind of prolonged illness to experience a kind of grief reaction, a response to the loss of a more ideal self. It cycles randomly through familiar ‘stages’: shock, denial, anger, depression, defensive compensation, acceptance, and adjustment.
This past week, these last seven days, I encountered ‘depression’. I have felt so low. But like the weather, I know that this too shall pass.
This too shall pass, but at the moment I’m feeling quite isolated.The headache began two months and nine days ago, and apart from a few visits to hospital I’ve not been out of the house very much, and I’ve had three visitors.
I’ve tried to find a rhythm to the day to positively get me through this lethargy and sense of loss. At the moments mornings are better than afternoons, when I physically crash and sleep between lunchtime and when the older boys return from school. During the evenings I pick up a little, but I’m not particularly enjoying these shortening days. I now have four lamps in my study, with the brightest LED and low-energy bulbs that I can find.
As my eyesight improves at its glacial pace, reading and writing have become easier. So I tend to spend the early part of each morning—once the breakfast dishes have been cleared away, washing put on and beds made—in prayer and reading. And then, usually before the headache grips me, I get some writing in; I’ve enjoyed blogging regularly again.
The children have been brilliant. Their hugs and laughter have really lifted me through this week. Quite unbeknown to them, I’m sure… although I do tell them.
That’s where I am just now. It’s been a bit of a slog, but I’ll get there.