A Lack Of Self Care

It would be fair to say that all the signs were there. I just didn’t notice them all stacking up!

I knew I was feeling tired – all the time and I couldn’t shift it. I was getting cranky and annoyed at silly little things. My willpower was right down and I wanted to eat everything. I was procrastinating over almost everything and avoiding anything vaguely important. I could see friends having a truly torrid time and I was unable to send even a message of support, let alone offer any useful assistance. I was getting more susceptible to emotional responses rather than rational ones. My memory (not great at the best of times) was worse than ever.

So many signs but I didn’t see it coming – until it was too late. There was so much else going on demanding time and attention I wasn’t looking after myself and I couldn’t put any measures in place until I crashed. And on Friday, the moment came where everything toppled over and I crashed.

The tipping point? A friend sent me a gif! A 2 second long sodding video clip!

That one actually very kind and thoughtful gesture was the final thing to push my emotional state over the edge and drop me like a stone into the world of realisation. My demons had steadily taken over my mental state again. I cried!

Fortunately, although I never saw it coming, I have been able to immediately take a step back to a controlled state of mind. I can’t say that I feel great but I do feel better for realising and acknowledging what just happened. And, having been here so many times before, I could finally do something about it. I sat down and had a cup of tea. I did some mundane tasks. I planned just 2 things to do for Saturday and 2 for today – writing this is actually number 3 today, go me! I achieved all the things I planned. I went for my run yesterday morning and then prepped the last but I the field before the sheep arrived yesterday afternoon. Today I went for a bike ride and then taught my 2 Taekwondo classes.

So what now? Well I have my plan for tomorrow which starts with me time and then only has 2 tasks after that. The same the next day and then the same the one after that. KISS formula for the win!

Most important though, I refuse to feel bad for not seeing the signs. Over the last 2 weeks events have conspired not to put one cat amongst the pigeons but to take a whole pack of feral wild cats and dump them into the middle of Trafalgar Square with it’s multitude of pigeons. Then they appear to have added the madness of a box of frogs and the craziness of a bag of snakes. None of it is too much on it’s own but altogether it was way beyond my processing capacity and it took every minute of time and every ounce of energy. I stopped all the self care routines to try and fit it all in.

I will however choose to feel not necessarily good but relieved. Being able to respond and recover with the tools available is essential for all of us. It will take a while to be back up at full operating capacity but I have had a reminder of the need for regular self care if I’m to avoid a repeat. Hopefully next time I’ll see the signs a bit earlier and avoid the crash but if not, I can take reassurance from this weekend that I can keep fighting on.

So, apologies to anyone who needed a shoulder or more that I haven’t been able to help this last week. Please know that I have been thinking of you all and the struggles that you have been going through. And a massive thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to the person who sent me that gif on Friday. You could never have known the effect that it would have but it stopped my downward spiral dead in its tracks. If ever you need me I will always try to be there for you x

Parkinson’s UK – Conquer The Alps


Today is World Parkinson’s Day, which seems the ideal time to launch my fundraising campaign for one of my next crazy challenges.

In September I will be joined by my wife and others to take on 3 of Italy’s most famous mountain passes. Over 2 days we will cycle 200km, 60km of which will be uphill.

The first day is 80km of riding and taking in the mighty Stelvio Pass, the highest paved road in Europe. 21km of continuous climbing around 48 hairpin bends.

Day 2 will be an epic challenge with already tired legs, starting with the Passo Gavia, 25km of continuous uphill then following a safe but speedy descent, straight onto the Passo Mortirolo, the shortest of the 3 climbs but maxing out at a 20% gradient, once described by Lance Armstrong as the hardest climb he had ever ridden – and we won’t be using any of the pharmaceutical assistance he used to get to the top!

So why take on this challenge? Parkinson’s Disease is incredibly indiscriminate. Any of us could be affected at any time. There is no diagnostic test for it and no cure. 1 person in the UK is diagnosed with Parkinson’s every hour and 1 in 20 of those are aged under 40.

Parkinson’s UK undertake research and provide care and support to anyone affected by Parkinson’s. They also provide training and education to care professionals to try and ensure everyone receives the best possible care.

Though the challenge is not until September my training is already underway. A broken wrist may be preventing me from cycling just now but I am dragging my sorry ass out running and walking while attempting to shed a few pounds (14 down so far).

While I continue to push myself to train I need your help. Please send me your messages of support and if you can, any sponsorship would be very gratefully received, just click the following link!

Thank you!


Talking To Strangers

Since I came to Twitter, one thing has always puzzled me. We all talk to each other as though we have known each other for years but in my experience, most of us have never met.

Of all my Facebook friends, there is only 1 that I’ve never met – and I’m going on a bike tour with him in September. There is a mixture of people I went to school with, university friends, work friends, sports club friends, family, neighbours, other friends, etc, etc….

On Twitter however, I’ve met less than 10% of those I follow or who follow me. There are a few school, university friends and former colleagues but beyond that, everybody else I have met purely online in the strange world of Twitter.

Despite this lack of physical connection though, I often feel to have closer friends on Twitter than on Facebook. There are people there I can, and sometimes have, bared my soul to and who have on occasion done likewise to me. We discover each other’s likes and dislikes, loves and hates, fears and comforts in posts of 140 characters at a time yet somehow we end up as lifelong friends, helping each other out, offering comfort, sympathy, joy, laughter, you name it.

I have had discussions and conversations on Twitter that I would never have on Facebook or in real life. To me Twitter seems to have a strange anonymity that allows us to be more open with each other. Perhaps this comes from the fact that we are in a way talking to strangers. There is no past history or back story. We are not trying to maintain a perceived status or position within a social group. If we are open from the start, these strangers are choosing to follow us, or us them, with some knowledge of our position in the here and now, not who we once were.

I have found that talking to strangers has been very liberating. It has allowed me to express myself in a way that I would never otherwise would and I am grateful to all of you strangers who have taken the time to listen and help me along my journey. I hope that I can help some of you in return someday, I am always happy to listen and to talk. And if, someday, we meet up we will be strangers no more and virtual friends no more, not because we never talk again but because we will talk in the real world having already shared more than we probably would have done had we met a few years ago.

Who Do You Think You Are?

I’m not being aggressive and challenging you, “Who do you think you are?”. And I’m not stealing the idea from the TV and trying to find out who your great great grandmother was or whether she was the illegitimate offspring of Queen Victoria.

A question I was asked more than once during counselling sessions, and one I’ve asked myself a few times: Who is Nick? It seems like a bit of a strange question but one we should be able to easily answer. However, it is one I’ve struggled with everytime I’ve been asked. How do we actually describe ourselves and does that description define who we are.

When I worked in insurance it seemed easy, if anyone asked I’d just answer I’m an accident investigator. When I left that role and retrained, I was a plumber. Just over 2 years ago however, I pretty much stopped working as a result of my depression. I couldn’t bring myself to go out and do any jobs and all of a sudden, if anyone asked, I wasn’t sure who I was. I would still tell them I was a plumber but in my mind I didn’t actually know who or what I was. Was I still a plumber, was I a house husband, was I retired or was I something else?

Aside from my own feelings of not knowing, it left me thinking in greater detail about how we describe and define ourselves. If I asked you to tell me who you are, what would your answer be? Would you describe yourself as a mum or dad, student or teacher, lawyer, doctor, pilot, etc, etc, etc. Or are you Fred, Stan, Dawn or Anne? Or are you a combination of many things? 

In reality we are all a combination of a great many things, from our relationships, our professions, our friendships, our hobbies. We all have a great many roles that make us who we are yet we so often define ourselves by just our one main role. Is it just for simplicity because it’s too complicated to try and explain it all to someone? Is it because it’s a British societal norm to just give a one word answer? Or, is it because we’ve never really thought about what makes us who we are?

Perhaps most of the time it really doesn’t matter but when our circumstances suddenly change, what then? We might not consider it important to have a particular title but if you stopped doing what you do now and somebody then asked you who do you think you are, would you know how to answer?

For me now, who do I think I am? I’m a husband, home maker, dog walker, Taekwondo coach, very part time plumber, amateur climber, amateur cyclist, amateur skier, sometime diyer, occasional gardener and very amateur blogger, to name but a few things. I’m not just one thing now and I hope that I never will be just one thing again.

So if I ask you now, Who do you think you are? How will you answer?

What Is Too Much Risk?

So as I sit here putting off packing after another great skiing holiday I find myself already looking forward to my next adventure this summer, climbing in Bolivia, and thinking about the various risks. All this week we have watched safety teams carrying out avalanche control work, dropping explosives from helicopters to ensure avalanches happen in a safe way onto closed areas of the mountain rather than being triggered accidentally as happened in Tignes this week with the loss of 4 lives.

Whenever I am skiing or climbing, nothing else matters. There is the immediate enjoyment of what I am doing but also complete concentration on what I am doing. It might be low risk such as a gentle on piste ski slope where the concerns can be limited to making sure you don’t endanger anyone else by doing something erratic or watching out for someone else doing just that. My first ever ski instructor was a former international ski racer and he’d only ever suffered 2 major injuries when beginners collided with him while he was teaching other groups. The higher risks come on the steeper slopes when skiing where a mistake may see you falling and unable to stop until you hit something or you may go over the edge of a cliff. When I get to Bolivia I will climbing close to 6500m above sea level where there is less than half the oxygen available to breathe as you would find on a nice sunny beach. Everything becomes more laboured and decision making can become distorted. The oxygen level in the blood drops to around 60-65% which is normal at that altitude but walk into a British hospital with those levels and you’ll quickly find yourself receiving a lot of attention.

So why do it, when does it become too risky? For me there is sheer enjoyment of being in this environment. That and the challenge of succeeding at those levels outweigh the risk. As I cycle down Holme Moss it’s about the thrill of the speed, usually 45-50mph. The gradient is 1:8, for every 1 metre you descend you travel 8 metres forwards. On the following ski slope it’s no longer about speed but about control and the challenge. The gradient here is 7:1, for every 7 metres you descend you only travel 1 metre forwards.

Finding steeper slopes becomes harder so you start to look for longer ones. But what about the risk? There is the risk of injury but for me even more so, the risk to other people. If I fall and injure myself, that is my choice but someone will have to come and get me and they are the ones facing the bigger risk. In 2003 I broke my leg at the top of a mountain in a bit of a freak accident and in a relatively low risk environment. However, a 2 man rescue team had to come to my aid, load me into a stretcher and then ski down a very long slope holding onto me to get me to safety and medical assistance.

So when does it become too risky? Last year, Tomaz Jakovcic, a top Slovenian guide invited me to climb and then ski off Denali with him. Temperatures of -40c are common and the slopes are again around 7:1 but icy and over 1000m long. If you fall, you don’t stop. I’m fairly certain I could do it but I won’t. Not because of the risk to me but because of the risk to him. If I make one mistake it could cost him his life and for me that is too much. I will climb it with him in a couple of years time but I will climb down, not ski. I know he’s a bit disappointed about this as his wife was the first woman ever to ski off Denali and he has yet to do the same. He needs a paying client to do it however, it just won’t be me.

I’ve also been asked several times, would I climb Everest? The answer, I would love to, both Tomaz and a Nepali guide I’ve climbed with before, Pimba Tenjing, have offered to lead me but again the risk is too high. Not for my own safety but for those around. Around 2.3% of all who attempt to climb Everest don’t come back alive. This rate is falling every year but the trouble is who is dying. Over half of all the deaths are porters and sherpas, underpaid and overworked. They are placed at great risk for the benefit of paying clients and I would not accept that risk just for my own gratification. A good friend of mine, Dukchung Lama, was working on Everest as a porter in April 2015 when the big earthquake hit. He survived but 14 people didn’t. This is his tent, he got out of it 30 seconds before it was hit.

For me I know that my risk threshold is higher than some. If I get it wrong I know that it will hurt, if I get it right the reward is there. I know that it is my choice to take the risk which is why my line in the sand is drawn where I perceive that the risk is too high for others who are supporting me or will have to come and get me if I make a mistake. For now though, this sign will always be an invitation to have a look and see if I can make the jump – so long as I can get out safely if it goes wrong!

For The Love Of Dog

Much of my waking time is spent in the company of my dogs, out on walks or curled up on the sofa. They are a huge part of my life and most of the time, I wouldn’t change a thing. Let me introduce them to you:

First up is Corran, my 10yr old, highly neurotic Gordon Setter. In our canine collective, the brains of the operation. Now I know some of you will instantly be saying ‘Wait, what? Brains? It’s a Setter, they’re not clever’. Well actually they are very clever, it’s just that they have the attention span of a 4yr old child who has just necked 12 fruit shoots to wash down 12 sherbet fountains!

You’ve met the brains, now meet the brawn, Grier – our 7 3/4yr old German Wire Haired Pointer. Definitely not clever but very powerful and an incredible swimmer. She thinks that most things can be categorised as eat it, chase it or hump it!

And finally, there’s Spud – my LBD (little black dog). There are no photos of Spud as he resides only in my head. The black dog was of course made famous by Winston Churchill who described his periods of depression as like being followed by a black dog. 

There are many of us who have been followed around by the black dog. For me, Spud has been with me almost all of the time over the last 14 years. At times he changes size and shape, on occasion he will be a little dog, barely noticeable and with a bite that couldn’t harm a hamster. At other times however, he is more like Cerberus – a snarling 3 headed beast with a serpent for a tail, taking a break from guarding the entrance to the underworld so that he can follow me round with a look of menacing intent! At those times it is hard to do anything other than hide under the covers and hope that he goes away.

Why Spud though? Following a conversation with a friend who has her own black dog I gave him a name. He’d been with me for so long and he knew everything about me so I thought it was time that I got to know him. The first step was to give him a name. By knowing who he was I felt that I could start to tame him and get some control over his behaviour. As I’ve got to know Spud I’ve found ways to accept his presence and learned how to stop him growing into that snarling beast.

I said that Spud has been with me almost all of the time. There are certain times when Spud is never with me, in particular when I’m in the mountains. Whether I’m walking, climbing or skiing, Spud has never made an appearance in the mountains. The mountains provide me with the ultimate solace, where my attention is so focussed on the task in hand and the beauty of the natural environment that Spud doesn’t get a look in.

So, as I prepare to head off to the mountains again at the end of this week I was expecting to leave Spud at home. However, on this occasion I intend to take Spud with me. The reason? I’m hoping that it’s time for Spud to retire to the farm. I think that he’d enjoy a nice peaceful retirement, fields and woodland to roam around in, a stream to sit by and maybe a few squirrels to chase. So please join me in wishing Spud a happy retirement. And if you have your own black dog following you around, maybe give him or her a name, get to know them and see if it helps you tame the LBD.

Stepping Gingerly Out Of The Dark

So after much encouragement to get writing, welcome to my new blog. I’ve never done anything like this before so please be kind.

My life over the past 14-15 years has been dominated by an ongoing battle with depression. Unfortunately, it took me over 12 years to acknowledge I was suffering, that I couldn’t manage it on my own by just ignoring it and that I needed to seek help. During the last 2 years I’ve obtained help from my GP and the pharmaceutical industry, attended courses and counselling sessions and received incredible support from pretty much everyone I’ve talked to about it, both family and friends – many of whom I’ve never met but, through the power of Twitter, have become a huge part of my support network.

As time has gone on, I’ve come to accept a lot of things and acknowledged that so many of them are outside of my control so they really have not been worth the importance and control over me that I had allowed them to have. This process of acceptance and recognising when I am struggling has led me to where I am now, stepping gingerly out of the dark and back into the light.

Hopefully through my blog I will be able to share some of my story and the things I have learned. There will also be posts on travel, food, adventure and pretty much anything else that takes my fancy.

Before I sign off for tonight though, it would be wrong of me not to mention my wife. I suggest above that I spent the first 12 years battling depression on my own but nothing could be further from the truth. Throughout my illness, my wife has always been by my side, supporting me without question and without judgment. Helping me get through and constantly picking up the slack whenever I couldn’t even start something, let alone finish it. For so much of this time I never even knew there was anything wrong but the more I look back, the more I see where she held me up. I try not to think about where I would be now had I truly been fighting alone.