Health outcomes and why you should try

It’s that time of year again. Around about now I’m reminded of the past as well as who I used to be – and for a number of reasons this can prove to be a mentally tricky period.

Firstly it’s time for my semi annual diabetes checks and I always get a bit nervous when these roll around.

This morning I headed off to the first of two appointments that I’ve got to attend over the next week with a nice warm urine sample tucked away discreetly in my bag.

It’s always nice to arrive with a present.

In some ways the checks are always a bit amusing – because each time I go there seems to be a new(ish) nurse. Typically this means that I have to plod through broadly the same suite of queries as they look me up and down and then do a double take on my medical history.

Firstly they think they’re looking at the notes for the wrong person – because lately my test results show no evidence of diabetes whatsoever. Secondly they do a double take when they see the history of my weight.

Then they also make me stand on the scales.

Sometimes twice.

Today it wasn’t so bad, and before the nurse started asking me questions I quickly explained how much weight I’d lost, how much exercise I do, and why my resting heart rate is so low (40 bpm).

She seemed surprised – but also very interested and as she took my blood pressure we chatted about how I viewed the whole process of weight loss – and in particular my opinion of Slimming World vs hers.

She wasn’t so keen on the plan because (she said) it ‘promoted large portions’ and ‘had a lot of carbs in it’ – which (to her) meant that people would inevitably regain the weight that they had originally lost.

It’s not the first time I’ve come across this argument.

I told her that I both agreed and disagreed with some of her points – because in my view whether you regain any weight depends firstly on your mindset and secondly on what you eat in terms of processed food.

I told her that the majority of my syns came from unprocessed natural food (olives or avocado etc) as opposed to things like chocolate.

I then said that I feel though (and always have) that it’s folly to have a diet plan that doesn’t allow for processed food like chocolate to be eaten (who these days would embark upon any plan if it completely denied them?) and occasionally I too eat these things – but in serious moderation.

The vast majority of the time I only have one item of processed food per day – and for around three days out of seven there’s often none at all. However (I told her) I’ve always felt that you can lose weight having processed food as part of your daily intake.

But did I think this was the right approach?

No I didn’t – because I personally feel that if you want a healthier life it’s not as simple as just counting ‘syns’.

Although it works for some people you will never catch me with a ‘syn bag’ full of crisps and chocolate in front of the TV in the evening.

Sure this can still see people lose weight – because ultimately it’s (at least partially but not exclusively) about being mindful of calorie intakes.

But what happens if you fall from grace and you still have a taste for these foods?

This is also why I don’t do ‘fakeaways’. I don’t want to crave these tastes any more and it often irritates the hell out of me that I still have a ‘need’ for cereal or hi-fi bars – which I’d much rather was completely replaced by fruit as a regular craving.

In my view you should aim to take as much processed food out of your life as possible.

At the very least you should diminish it to the point where your fridge is almost exclusively full of raw vegetables and (if you’re not a vegetarian or vegan) a small amount of meat and fish (particularly oily ones).

The nattering about the merits (or otherwise) of my approach to SW soon stopped however, because the first of the two appointments is only a short twenty minute one to gather data.

It’s not until next week that I get the HbA1c (average sugar levels fr the last 2/3 months based on my blood sample) results – which I’m most interested in.

They have recently been so low as to not register even as pre-diabetic, and I’m keen to keep them that way. I see diabetes as a beast waiting to pounce rather than something thats been cured. In my mind it’s always chasing me in the rear view mirror – and if I take my foot off the gas then it could come back at any time.

The one result I could get immediately though is my blood pressure – which irritatingly appears to be somewhat elevated since the last time it was checked – although I did arrive at the appointment after a rather brisk walk.

The last time I looked it was 116/68 – but today it was different.

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Since blood pressure isn’t something that’s typically on my radar I always end up having to google what these readings mean – and according to the NHS website I appear (at least today) to be annoyingly on the cusp of pre-hypertension.

blood pressure 17th jan 2019

Their advice states:

Your blood pressure is described as being high-normal and ideally, it should be below 120/80mmHg. Known as the “silent killer”, high blood pressure rarely has obvious symptoms but, left untreated, it increases your risk of heart attack or stroke.

The good news is, it can be brought under control through lifestyle changes such as:

  • Losing weight (if overweight)
  • Reducing the amount of salt in your diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Cutting back on alcohol and caffeine
  • You may also need medication

There’s not really an awful lot left on this list to change other than caffeine which is my one remaining vice.

Truthfully it’s a big one – and I’ve often felt that my willingness to remove other more harmful things from my life has been at the expense of a significant increase in coffee consumption.

It’s my go to drink of choice – and as I type at 11.15 I’m already on my fourth one of the day.

Maybe I’ll have to change this aspect of my lifestyle, because heaven knows I can’t easily lose any more weight, reduce any more salt or do any more exercise (I’m currently burning a total of around 4500-5000 kcal a day).

Sigh.

How annoying.

This brings me to my second reason for remembering the past – because in just over a week’s time I will have been sober for three years.

This (now comfortingly regular) annual milestone is a double edged sword, because whilst it makes me feel no small amount of pride it also carries with it a deep sense of regret.

This is related partially to my inability to control myself in the past – but primarily to the death of my mother, which happened two days after I gave up drinking on the 26th of January 2016.

Although many may view the latter as the more significant of the two anniversaries I only tend remember it because of the former.

This subject came up today when talking to my nurse – because she asked me (as many people do) why it was I suddenly decided to change.

It came up in conversation earlier in the week when I was visiting a friend in Lichfield.

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As we walked around the town and explored the cathedral I chatted about this upcoming event (it’s been on my mind for a while if I’m honest) and how I can never seem to manage to separate my personal triumphs from their associated emotions of guilt and regret.

I feel guilt because (despite the fact that my mother was a continually detrimental influence in my life) I don’t miss my her at all – and I never feel sadness because someone that I loved is gone forever.

Typically I don’t think about my mom at all day to day. The anniversary of her passing (as significant as it should probably be) only provides an overwhelming sense of relief that the abuse I endured at her hands is over.

As well as guilt I also feel regret – because ultimately although she proved to be the catalyst for most of the positive changes that I made I wish I’d been able to do it for more positive reasons.

I ultimately chose to change because I didn’t want to be anything like my mother. I suddenly needed to move away from any possible correlation between me and her at a million miles an hour.

It’s because of that impulse that I am now an infinitely better man than I ever was before.

The annoying thing is though I didn’t do it for love of myself or anyone else.

I did it because I had no love at all for her and I couldn’t stand seeing any element of my mother when I looked in the mirror.

If anything I hated myself way more than I disliked her and it was this personal revulsion that fuelled my actions.

I regret my reasons because I would have been delighted to have suddenly decided without any prompting that I needed to be a better man who deserved a future filled with love and happiness – but I didn’t. Instead it took other (far more negative) emotions to begin the process of becoming the man that I am today.

For some reason I don’t ever seem to let myself escape that fact.

The truth is that it makes it really really hard when people ask me for advice on how to change because I can’t suggest they wait until a parent who has mentally abused them for most of their childhood and adult life passes away before they change.

The truth is I don’t know if I would have ever become a different person without this event – and I might be the one that would have been dead now if she hadn’t beaten me to it.

However – what I do know is that although the even that created the man I am now was predominantly negative, the results were almost exclusively positive – because when the ball started rolling my mindset changed to a fundamentally better one.

I can now see many of the ‘truths’ I subscribed to back then as nothing more than self delusion. My approach to life these days is rooted making choices because they are the right ones – not despite the fact that they are.

choose to be healthier.

choose to be fitter.

choose to invite love and friendships into my life.

I choose to share my failures and successes so that they will help others.

So maybe (just maybe) I will give up caffeine too. Maybe it’s one of the final crutches I’ve been clinging on to, in the mistaken belief that I still need something that’s a ‘vice’ so that I won’t go quietly crazy.

The truth is that I don’t really need any substance to make me feel good any more. All I need is the security of knowing that my choices are the right ones, that I have people in my life that I care deeply about, and that I feel loved.

After all – what other motivation do we really need?

People not motivated by wanting to live longer arguably don’t fully appreciate the life that they have. Maybe this is because it’s never hung in the balance or because nothing has threatened to take it away prematurely.

In my case I nearly threw all of it away on a casual whim because I didn’t care about myself.

Now I do – and I want to do anything and everything that I can to keep feeling the way that I do because I love each and every day of my life. It’s why each morning I get up and start walking, swimming, hiking or making other healthy lifestyle choices.

It’s why YOU should too.

Whatever your reason to do so – choose to be better.

Davey

Christmas update

I really am a big kid in many respects.

If you tell me I’m going anywhere nice then the possibility of me sleeping properly beforehand is practically zero.

It’s why I’m wide awake right now.

My mind can be quite hyperactive at the best of times but honestly when it’s faced with the prospect of going to do things that take me out of my usual comfortable bubble then I start going into ‘planning mode’.

This is the side of me that makes lists and lies awake at 2am completely unable to nod off.

It’s thankfully not a huge element of my personality – because for the most part I prefer a degree of last minute chaos.

I’m not the type of guy that typically chips away at gradual preparation – and find usually that a pressing need to do things with very little time to spare usually results in better creativity.

Such added urgency also means that tasks appear to get completed in lightning fast time with practically zero faffing.

Or at least that’s what I tell myself.

I like to think that doing things at the last moment saves time, because there’s rarely a wasted moment just before an event.

I guess the truth is that I actually just fit in all the dead time before I finally give up procrastinating and get around to doing what I have to do.

It’s not hard to faff about over the Christmas period though.

It’s what the holiday’s there for after all!

While I’ve been doing some exciting new things over the last couple of weeks (more on this maybe in another post further down the line…) for the most part I’ve been experiencing a rather relaxing Christmas on my own.

Many would may see this as the absolute opposite way that Christmas should be spent (and at any other time I may have been in agreement) but I’ve rather enjoyed it.

With very good reason I haven’t felt as if I’ve been in solitude at all.

Everyone that matters to me has been in practically constant or semi regular contact – and once again I’ve been reminded that I have some very creative and very caring friends who (it appears) are always thinking about me when it comes to gifts.

Newer readers may not have heard of Swanlings before – but back when I first started losing weight and could barely move around the park, I motivated myself for a while by following the progress of some cygnets in St Nics.

Nature can be cruel, and out of a large staring group of several cygnets they slowly dwindled in number until only one remained.

This swanling (now fully grown) is still a solitary presence in the park – and whenever I pass by him or her (I have no idea!) I can’t help but stop to say a metaphorical hello.

We’ve both grown and developed together and because of that Swans (and in particular their offspring) hold a special significance in my heart.

My friend (initially a passing blog reader who eventually became much more) clearly understands this and totally out of the blue made me this wonderful piece of embroidery for Christmas.

When it comes to gifts It’s true that big things don’t matter at all.

It really is the thought that counts.

This year I’ve received and given items and cards that probably cost much less in monetary terms than any preceding year in my history – but in truth what’s passed in both directions has probably done so with more love and thought than ever before.

This has led to me feeling rather cared for and supremely relaxed – and has probably been the cause of another feature of the last few days.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day definitely saw me take my foot off the metaphorical gas – and despite ambling around the park for a while on The 25th and 26th (the swimming pool has been closed!!!) the vast majority of my time has been spent eating, reading and playing video games.

I know that dietary excess is something of an expectation that goes hand in hand with the Christmas experience, and I shouldn’t really do guilt – but I can’t help harbouring a little.

I always find periods where I let my appetite off the leash somewhat unsettling – because I immediately realise I’m still capable of eating a LOT of food in a short space of time.

It’s really easy to undo hard won victories on the scales in a very short time – so I resolved relatively early in in the experience that Christmas would mostly be vegetarian.

With the exception of chicken on some days over the holiday season the last few days has consisted almost entirely of roasted and boiled veggies with a few carbs and lots of apples or plums.

Everything I’ve made (particularly in the above picture) was practically oil free and very Slimming World friendly.

I’m not gonna lie though and say I had small portions – because I ate the flipping lot as well as a huge pile of fruit afterwards.

Truthfully I enjoyed every last mouthful of it.

Consequently the evening of the 25th saw me flopping heavily into bed after playing Shadow of the Tomb Raider for the vast majority of the day.

I was quite satisfied with my resulting food coma and felt rather Christmassy.

At least one of us got a good level of exercise in.

By time time I fell asleep (in comparison to my short five mile stroll around the park in the morning) Lara Croft had killed two rather deserving jaguars (whom I turned into some rather fetching boots after they relentlessly stalked me for two levels) brought a swift end to several bad guys and in doing so had clambered over a significant amount of South American jungle.

Frankly I was exhausted just watching her – but couldn’t help admiring her new attire.

I’m just a hair’s breadth away from her approach to personal styling myself – and I’m barely one party invite away from buying something ridiculously outlandish to wear just for the hell of it.

I’m genuinely surprised that many of the things I’ve tried on recently (mostly as an attempt at personal humour) have actually resulted in me thinking ‘You know what?! I’d actually wear that!’

This is a sign that I’m far from unhappy in life – and that the man I’ve become is in a place where he feels so secure that experimentation is just something that happens naturally every day – instead of to be avoided at all costs.

I am still a creature of habit in some respects mind you – and I do like some certain things to remain the same.

As well as regular canine contact (how can you not love a face like that?!) one of these has been the continued joy of bottomless coffee and a good read – which you may well have noticed has taken the place of writing over the last few days.

This is partly because another very generous friend gave me an old (slightly damaged but still fully functional) Kindle as a present – and having never owned one before I can say with complete surprise that I’m totally in love with it.

It only has one purpose (unlike my iPad) but the featherweight nature of its construction and razor sharp text make it instantly pleasurable to read in any light.

The only problem is the numb posterior that it’s caused in both coffee shops and the smallest room of my house…

So that’s been my Christmas internet – and it’s not over yet.

When day breaks I’ll be off to do the things in life that make me happy.

There will be lots of twalking and lots of exploration.

It’s gonna be fun!

Excuse me though. I need to see if I can get at least another hour’s sleep under my belt…

Davey

Christmas Tree

My Christmas tree is up and dressed.

It looks all sparkly and bright – and when there are no other lights in my living room my tree adds a pleasing seasonal glow between my TV and book case that wasn’t there before.

It took me about an hour of casually attaching baubles and tinsel last night to get it to the point where it looked ‘balanced’ as opposed to ‘busy’.

I kept standing back and looking at it from different angles to try and gauge whether or not it looked ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ until I finally decided that it was a pointless exercise.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder (in this case me) and I came to the conclusion that my tree looked nice.

After all – nobody but me will be looking at it for the next month so the only opinion that mattered was my own.

Liberated from deliberation I sat down in my armchair to enjoy the satisfaction of a room lit only by Christmas lights and quietly sipped my coffee.

It looked nice but…

It made me feel…

Sad.

And there it was.

A dark cloud was suddenly hanging above my armchair – and in its long shadow sat myself and my Christmas tree.

I’ve had my head buried in books all week – and rather than outputting to my blog I’ve been focusing on inputting to my brain.

It’s not my usual type of behaviour.

When I withdraw and do this kind of thing I realise (mostly after the fact) that it’s generally because something seems to be ‘missing’ or ‘off’ in my life.

I’ve been really rather enjoying ‘The pursuit of Happiness’ by Ruth Whippman – which is written in a humorous and engaging style that has really sucked me in.

Sadness was far from my mind when I started reading this current tome (despite its title) because I wasn’t really expecting to be confronted with the answer that it professed to have.

The book rather bravely gave away its conclusion quite early in the first chapter – with the author deciding instead to spend the remainder of her book supporting her initial hypothesis.

Her argument is that whoever studies suggest are the happiest individuals (be they in cultural groups, religions, family units or even cults) all happen to have one thing in common.

Fundamentally they provide happiness because they all have human relationships at their core.

Families often persist through the worst abuses and difficulties and members will forgive many transgressions, forgo short term freedoms and sacrifice personal happiness for one another in the hope that life will ultimately be better for their sacrifice.

Whilst situations like this may cause stress there’s an implied payday waiting at the end of it all.

Husbands, wives, children, brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts and uncles will have an enduring family, companionship and love.

No matter how restrictive your religion is, however difficult you find parenthood, whether your philosophical clique requires you to work for free or give up your wealth in its service they all provide happiness because of the sense of community and belonging that they offer.

Some become oddly abusive relationships – such as homosexuals continually trying to exist in restrictive Mormon churches that consider them aberrations.

Even in these extreme situations – (despite a tradeoffs where they are required to make immense personal sacrifices) they can still come to believe that the pain is worth it.

Ruth Whippman argues that if we can bear to give up certain freedoms to remain part of a tribe – we can still legitimately and truthfully profess to be happy because the sense of belonging and support that other aspects of it give us still outweighs the ‘bad’ aspects of membership.

This is what keeps us coming back for more.

The need for human connections.

The pursuit of happiness makes some interesting and thought provoking arguments – and therein lay the origin of my Christmas tree related feelings.

I looked up from it’s pages in the warm and chatty coffee shop that I was sitting in.

My legs were crossed and my booted feet were resting on a low radiator which ran along the length of a large window looking out onto a street below.

Outside the sun had broken through the clouds of the early morning and it was shining.

My coffee tasted wonderful, my feet were warm, my clothes loose and comfortable and my surroundings were pleasing.

Like most things in my life though I was suddenly aware that all of these things were being experienced alone.

It all began to hit me there.

I was reading a book that was convincingly explaining why a huge chunk of the western world is fundamentally unhappy and it was describing me.

All of the people it described that were isolating themselves in mindfulness, yoga or spiritual retreats to find happiness were me.

Frustrated by other parts of my life that didn’t seem to be ‘working’ I was looking inward, trying to understand myself and gain insight into what would make me a more contented and loveable person, when in fact just being with other people made me feel and come across that way.

For many years I’ve actually been very comfortable with my situation.

Well.

Not really.

That’s not entirely true.

What I really mean is that I’ve learned to just exist on my own.

This isn’t because I dislike the company of others.

It’s quite the contrary in fact because I revel in it – but several (mostly self inflicted) factors led to me feel like it was ‘normal’ to live the way I do.

For the longest time I never really felt that there was an option to be otherwise.

My weight and health provided an excellent excuse for my lack of impetus to address this part of my life and was a really convenient cover.

After all – who would want a man that was so physically colossal and such a huge failure in life?

Compounding this internal thought process was part of the reason things had gone so wrong with my life in the last two decades in the first place. My last relationship (which ideally I wanted to continue forever) ended rather abruptly, and frankly when it did I felt cheated out of happiness.

I was angry and in pain – and I smoked, ate and drank to avoid dealing with it.

For many many years I treated this point in time the same way that others treat a bereavement. I felt like the part of me that could love and trust a partner ‘died’ the day that she left my life.

If I’d have been Queen Victoria this would have been the beginning of my humourless and stoic ‘black period’.

I isolated myself in self flagellating grief.

Honestly it wasn’t that hard to do.

I’d had a largely solitary childhood with a mother who was abusive and a father that was distant.

My nearest sibling was over a decade younger than me and school represented nothing more than a war of attrition. Looking back it feels like I only ever seemed to learn how to not show fear, pain or loneliness during the relentless bullying I suffered on an almost daily basis.

It wasn’t until the age of 16 that things started to change – and at this point I embarked upon a previously undreamt of period of popularity with friends and the opposite sex.

I remember at the time (by then having lost a lot of weight) that I was ‘fixed’.

The past was behind me and I was now free to bend the world into whatever I wanted it to be.

Furthermore I’d enjoy it in full technicolour and get as loaded as I possibly could.

Unpopular Dave became ‘party Dave’ and he did EVERYTHING to excess.

Ultimately though we all realise the folly of our personal delusions – and I now know that I smoked, drank and did many other mind altering things to paper over painful personality cracks.

I never once tried to repair one of them – mostly because I lacked the self awareness to see them for what they were in the first place.

I couldn’t see that every action was the result of childhood damage and the vast majority were either physically or emotionally self destructive.

Relationships were an extension of this – and were all designed to prove to the world that I was ‘normal’ and ‘deserving of love’ when deep down I felt I was neither.

If I’m truthful I didn’t love the majority of my partners.

I liked them a lot – but back then I was far more concerned with whether or not they loved me. If they did then they functioned as outward proof to the world that I wasn’t wicked or evil (my mom’s preferred way of describing me) or the odd little fat kid alone in the playground.

When the poor lifestyle choices related to the weight of my emotional burdens eventually translated into physical bulk it actually made things easier.

Now I didn’t have to prove anything to anyone.

No one expected me to have a relationship – and instead all I had to do was learn to manage my time and construct a framework to my life that would make loneliness instead appear to be ‘freedom’.

Now though things are different and physically I have a new lease of life.

I possess freedoms that I’ve fought hard to regain. It’s real rather than imagined – but all of a sudden I feel desperately alone in it.

Over the last couple of months I’ve quietly tried to fill it with personal entreaties and dating sites – but so far I’m not making much headway.

Up to this point I’ve just made choices that ultimately served to exacerbate my feelings of isolation and instead of feeling closer to anyone or anything have been left feeling generally alone and more disconnected.

I’m not really into writing ‘poor me’ blog posts – but I can’t deny that currently this is pretty much how I feel.

The Christmas tree with it’s glittering tinsel and baubles in front of me is a reminder of my problem – not the cause.

Life isn’t meant to be lived alone.

A Christmas tree is meant to be shared.

In some ways making ‘steps forward’ and trying to fix this has made the problem even more acute than it was before.

Whereas previously I felt like there was a gap that I probably needed to fill at some vague point in the future – now I’m just beginning to feel rejected and needy.

Every chat that I have on dating apps seems to put me in contact with people that are either not interested in me or that have omitted huge things from their profiles.

This is presumably in the hope that somehow people will never ask whether they’re actually divorced, if they have loads of children or a job that means they have around 1 hour a week spare if they’re lucky.

So far I’m at a loss.

I have also become painfully aware that whilst I’ve succeeded in transforming myself into a ‘normal’ man I still feel that underneath all my success lies an uncomfortable truth that even if I find someone I like that I’m never going to be accepted for who I am.

In the dark of my living room, in the half light of my tree I feel lost.

On the plus side though internet my Christmas tree looks nice, so that’s something at least.

Davey

Fictitious Dave

A while back I attended a large social event – and it was a really lovely day.

The sun was shining, everyone there seemed happy and content – the music was laid back, children were roaming all over the place with smiling, painted faces and there was a nice vibe in the air.

At the time however I really struggled.

Conversation didn’t come easy and even though I chatted with people I didn’t feel like I was doing a very good job of it – which made each subsequent interaction more difficult than the one before because I started to overthink and worry about it.

People that know me may be surprised to learn that this used to happen to me quite a lot. When it did I tended to just clam up and retreat into the cover of silence – and my natural tendency is still to try and avoid repeating the same situation again.

When I spoke to friends about this behaviour I couldn’t help but bookend it with nostalgic and romanticised thoughts about alcohol.

Over many years pretty much all of my major social events have been both lubricated and propelled by it and on a few occasions lately I’ve been left feeling that things (in this respect) used to be easier when I drank.

In response they’ve naturally replied ‘have you never considered just drinking on special occasions? Just one or two here or there? Surely you’re in control now?’

The truth is that I probably am in control and would be if I did – but I really don’t ever want to do it again. The health implications regarding diabetes alone make my blood run cold.

However the more I thought about it (I try not to dismiss anyone’s suggestions – whatever they may be) the more I realised what the truth was.

I just wasn’t very good at socialising and I hadn’t had enough practice.

In just the same way as I used drink to cover or diminish intense emotion I also used it as a crutch for my feelings of social awkwardness – and having to go back to it seems like admitting I have a personality flaw that I’m incapable of addressing.

Irked by this realisation I resolved that rather then paper over the cracks of a weakness with alcohol the answer was just to get better at socialising!

If I can lose 20st then I can definitely crack being a bit nervous in front of people I don’t know.

Having some very good friends is a plus and a minus because their unwavering support means it’s comfortable and easy to be with people that I love and know well.

My life is currently blessed with many meaningful friendships and because of these I haven’t had many situations where I’ve been forced to think on my feet and walk into an environment knowing next to no-one and just fend for myself.

With this in mind I’ve been trying to work on my weaknesses.

Just like walking it’s definitely something that gets easier the more you do it – and as that happens the more you enjoy it.

Yesterday I knew I was taking a day off from SW and didn’t weigh in – instead heading over to Sping Grove House (link) in the West Midlands Safari Park.

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This is a truly stunning Georgian Mansion – and yesterday became the wedding venue of one of my brother’s best friends – who (after a lengthy engagement) had finally gotten around to tying the knot with her partner.

Although we’ve always known of one another peripherally – and spoken on social media we’ve not entered eachother’s physical orbit much in the past.

If I’m honest this was completely because of my long standing weight related embarrassment. I just couldn’t handle the fear that people would judge me harshly and I’d developed some serious hermit tendencies to cope with it.

Whenever the opportunity came up to socialise with someone I didn’t already know I invariably found a way out of it, and as a jokey reaction to never seeing me in person for many years she had slowly begun to refer to me as ‘fictitious Dave‘.

It’s testament to her kindness and persistence therefore that despite my previous reticence to engage she invited me along to share their special day.

And it was special.

The whole ceremony was lovely – and being a civil one was wholly about the love and bond that they shared, which truthfully left something of a lump in my throat.

These guys are so well suited it’s nuts.

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The venue couldn’t have been more perfect – and from the surrounding to the decor, food and music everything just flowed.

The music was also darn near perfect. The happy couple entered to ‘Somethin Stupid’ by Robbie Williams and Nichole Kidman and once married left to ‘Mr Blue Sky’ by ELO.

I doubt anyone could have picked better songs. The sun was shining for the WHOLE day – and when we exited into the garden (so that the room could be prepared for the wedding lunch) there was a lovely surprise.

On one of the tables laid out on the patio a Safari Park keeper has brought along some animals for the children to stroke – and since I’m a sucker for anything small and furry I made my way to the front where my sister in law was already petting what seemed like a baby hedgehog.

Although I forget the proper name that the keeper used this (I think) is an African Pygmy hedgehog – and it’s no baby. It’s actually fully grown and was really content with being stroked and peered at.

The next animal (a chinchilla) wasn’t so chilled however – and didn’t stay still for long at all.

However it did allow me a couple of gentle passes with my hand on its fur – and I was absolutely blown away by how incredibly soft it was.

According to the keeper (in comparison to a human) a chinchilla has ten hairs in the same space that a we would have one.

Consequently it’s so fine and delicate that it’s like touching air.

This broke down a lot of barriers with people and once we’d all sat down and agreed how cute they were I got to know a few of the guests – who I was quickly realising came from pretty much everywhere.

Before we knew it we’d been shooting the breeze for nearly an hour – and by this time everyone was really relaxed.

I don’t have many group photos of me, my brother and sister in law but this one (taken at the same time) I think is a keeper.

It’s not the only good photo though – because quite unexpectedly I found myself on a really chatty dinner table full of people that seemed to have the same sense of humour that I did.

I’m not sure whether this was planned – but two of the people actually lived in Warwick too – and the super friendly lady next to me appeared to be a really capable conversationalist who had me laughing through most of my dinner and occasionally sniggering during the speeches too.

She diverted my attention so much in fact that (despite my tendency to photograph most of my meals) I completely forgot to get a snap of the main course.

The starter looked and tasted awesome however – and was a ham hock terrine with piccalilli and a crusty piece of bread.

I’m not sure whether this is good or bad from a dietary perspective but I’d made a pact with myself to avoid the other temptation and ignored the sweets that were sitting (looking innocently evil) on all of the tables.

I also passed on dessert (which looked rather nice) AND the cake later on – but DID indulge in the buffet curry that rolled out just before the dance floor opened up in the early evening.

By the time we left though I have to admit I was flagging. Despite the excellent company I needed to prop myself up with caffeine – but sadly (even though I managed to secure several cups of brown nectar) this completely failed to perk me up.

It had been a long day though and I wasn’t alone in feeling this way.

By 10pm the girls on the table were all making pained noises about the agony of wearing unfamiliar heels and the boys were just yawning.

My work event (where I lost an entire night’s sleep) was still looming large. It’s simply not possible to miss out on that much shut eye with no consequences.

However there was still just enough in the tank to drive the people I’d met back to their nearby hotel and make my way home to Warwick with a smile on my face – which was still there when I turned off the light and climbed into bed.

I have to say it was one of the best weddings I’ve ever been to – and not just because of the organisation and the setting.

I left feeling like I’d made some new friends, strengthened relationships that I’d neglected to develop for many years, and just got to know a thoroughly lovely bunch of guests.

Dave is no longer fictitious.

There’s a face associated with the name now and he’s becoming surprisingly social.

Davey

Separated by carpet

Sometimes a bad day is a bad day. There’s absolutely no avoiding one when it really hits and occasionally it might seem like the fates are intent on conspiring to make you feel miserable.

At other times however there’s more going on – and people often fail to see the truth.

They can make and then perpetuate their own misery – becoming trapped by it as the years roll by.

Yesterday was a nice day.

By that I mean it was hot, oppressive and full of thunderstorms or rain but heat doesn’t bother me any more and I like rain.

I love the sound it makes when it’s really heavy.

I started the day getting burned though – and quickly realised that going out in a teeshirt without any sun cream was a bad idea.

It seemed cloudy enough – but clearly cloud is only half of the picture and today my forearms are still itching.

It didn’t matter at the time though because I was wearing red.

For those who are newer readers I’ve always had an uneasy relationship with this colour and avoided it in case it singled me out for bullying. This used to be a common occurrence (link) but one day it seemed to stop (link) and since then I’ve adopted red as my favourite colour (link).

It’s not so much because of what I look like wearing it – but more about how it makes me feel.

I feel strong when I dress in red because of its symbolism.

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Strength was definitely needed at the start of the day too – because I was walking around the Warwick food festival.

Although I could probably eat a lot of the things there and work them off I’d already had my ‘Saturday off plan’ (which is becoming something of a regular thing).

This post weigh in day of weekly culinary relaxation only works if I’m willing to then draw a line shortly afterwards.

If I carry on eating then I doubt it will stop in time for next weekend’s weigh in.

As lovely as all the food looked I don’t think a massive frying pan full of sausages is for Davey any more…

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So I kept walking.

My objective (as always) was to build the miles and keep going until the scales (at least in my mind) were balanced – and around 8 miles later I sat down for a rest.

I was in a good mood. I’d done lots of exercise and I’d smashed my daily goals.

Fortuitously this happened just before the heavens opened – and as I sat in the window of a friendly hostelry drinking a coffee whilst watching the rather Biblical deluge outside I started listening to the couple next to me – who were also looking at the same scene.

The lady and her partner were separated from me only by carpet – but in attitude they couldn’t have been more different.

The woman looked angry.

Her whole body seemed to be coiled and ready to strike the first person to enter her personal space.

The skin on her knuckles was whiter than the rest of her hands and both were being clenched and unclenched.

‘She doesn’t deserve that job. I make her life possible by working for her. She’s a waste of space.’

The man nodded and sipped his wine. He looked tired and drawn and although generally slender had a large beer belly.

‘I hate her.’ Said the lady, also drinking wine, slim and in possession of a rotund middle.

A waitress came over to tidy the table that they were on and the lady whispered something to her – most of which I missed.

‘…and don’t think I’m being funny with you – it’s not your fault. It’s your manager’s.’ She looked behind the waitress, motioning at an unseen space behind her where no-one stood.

‘No-where to be seen. Makes me sick…’ she finished as her words once more returned to audible levels.

The waitress nervously smiled, said sorry for whatever the problem was and shuffled away.

‘It’s the same everywhere.’ The lady hissed to her partner, after the waitress had retreated. He remained silent and continued to look out of the window at the downpour – which by this time had turned the street into a shallow river.

They exist because of us.’ Said the lady under her breath. ‘They wouldn’t have a job without us.’ She concluded – by this time almost growling.

The man stoically looked out of the window – and I turned up my playlist.

I was buying some summery tracks on iTunes and making a happy collection of tracks to walk home with while I waited for the rain to subside.

I had an umbrella but I like to walk without one and feel my arms swing back and forth.

I had my feet on the low windowsill in front of me and was flexing my toes in my trainers to the beat of my music.

People were rushing by outside in soaking wet tee-shirts and many were laughing at how ridiculously drenched they were. Above the volume of my headphones I could still hear peals of thunder as flashes of lightning briefly illuminated the suddenly dark street in front of me.

The heat was ebbing out of the afternoon with each raindrop though and the air was slowly beginning to cool.

I looked across the carpet to my right again – and could see the pursed lips of the woman silently moving as she talked to her companion.

I could no longer hear the words but her body language spoke volumes.

Whatever private hell she’d constructed in her mind was still in full flow. Her obvious feeling that someone else in life had what she deserved was busy consuming her.

The man sat in silence and I wondered how many times he’d heard this speech or a variation of it.

He looked like he knew that the quickest way to bring it to a conclusion was not to react, and instead just to let it flow over him whilst waiting for a change in the wind.

I’ve seen that face before – in my childhood home as my father, my brother and myself waited for the storms surrounding my mother to subside and for blue skies to re-appear.

They rarely did though. The skies mostly remained cloudy and we were always separated by this.

By carpet.

Just carpet and perspective.

That was all that stood between us.

A stretch of worn rug, trodden on by thousand of feet and aged with time – but combined with her outlook on life it might as well have been an ocean for the gulf it presented.

I was pulled back to the present as I re-focused on the scene in front of me, watching this bitterly unhappy woman looking through the same window with a totally different way of viewing the world.

She was bitter and her eyes showed that this emotion was no stranger to her life. The lines on her face bore little evidence of smiles and she seemed to be drinking her wine with anger – to fuel and enable her mood rather than to relax it.

All of a sudden there it was.

The end to the rain.

This event passed her by as she continued in her angry rant – and I doubt she saw the first shafts of sunlight hit the pavement in front of her.

She was still there and still angrily hissing through her teeth when I left half an hour later – and her husband/partner/friend still hadn’t said a word.

She’d not once asked him for his opinion – or sought through him another way of looking at the situation.

The only monologue she could hear was her own and she’d made at least two people unhappy in the process – as well as herself.

I marvelled at the energy it must have taken to remain that angry.

As I walked away and the physical gap widened between us I felt the cool breeze that had replaced the humid heat.

Everything looked fresh, and damp trees slowly dripped themselves dry onto the pavements below their shade.

The world felt renewed somehow – even though it was just the same but a little damper.

I walked home thinking about the gulf between myself and this woman – and how some find the gift of perspective whereas others never do.

I’ve no idea what causes people like my mother or her to remain rigidly unmoving and bitter throughout their lives – or what makes them so inflexible or incapable of change.

I’m glad that it’s not how I feel about the world though.

I’m glad I’m not angry and that I don’t feel continual resentment about what other people have and the things I don’t.

The truth is I have enough – and that’s all anyone needs. I am healthy and I am alive – and EVERYTHING else is a matter of perspective.

The past doesn’t matter – and neither does the future. I can influence it but I can’t control it and to think otherwise is folly.

It’s also better to live with an absence of want. If someone earns more than me then I wish them all the best and hope that it brings them happiness.

Money and possessions have never done this for me though.

I feel happy with a red tee-shirt that cost me £2 in a charity shop not because it’s a material possession – but because of the mental and physical change it represents.

It makes me feel happy because I worked hard to wear it and I chose to not just sit there and feel bitter that I couldn’t.

I got up and made my life better because I didn’t want to be like my mother – sitting at the opposite end of that carpet and separated from her by nothing.

Davey

Loud shirts are back baby!

Sadly I still feel rough as hell but on a day like today I’d be a complete muppet to stay in bed and be ill.

It’s absolutely flipping gorgeous outside at the moment and I’ve been up early (armed with tissues) walking around in the sunshine and feeling generally pretty good about life.

It doesn’t take much convincing for me to wear a loud shirt – and today is no exception, because ever since I received a really generous gift for my birthday (given to me by a kind extended family member who posted it all the way from Indonesia) I’ve been dying for the right weather to break this bad boy out – and TODAY WAS THE DAY!!!

Let the summer commence!!!

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I’m meeting my brother and sister in law for a coffee and whilst I’ve been idling away the hour prior to our scheduled appointment I’ve been walking around the parks of Leamington – which are currently a riot of colour.

With flowers like this everywhere it’s next to impossible to not feel super positive about life.

It did help that the day started pretty well in socialmedialand too – and quite out of the blue I was tagged in a post relating to a photo I made a while back for a Slimming World award that didn’t exist – and had to be created.

The Club 50.

Just like most things on the internet it’s next to impossible to create something that no-one has thought of before and this is no exception.

If you head over to Instagram here (link) you’ll see what I mean.

They’re a bunch of people who’ve totally turned their lives around by doing this (and often quite a lot more too) – and it’s genuinely a wonderful feeling to unexpectedly find yourself in the middle of a bunch of positivity that strikes such a resonant chord.

People can do so much when they put their mind to it – and they can also be pretty generous and awesome at the same time too. For all the downsides to social media (Donald Trump I’m looking at you…) things like this just make me feel like part of a much bigger community of like minded people that otherwise would probably never get to hear of each other or ever connect.

Ain’t life cool?

(Goes for coffee, does a bit of shopping, comes home and finishes the gardening postponed from yesterday)

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After a really good nattery catch up (and some pretty flipping nice coffee at Corleone’s in Leamington) I decided that I’d go and see if I could find some bargains – and I did.

I got a superb pair of 36in waisted long leg shorts for a fiver (which replaced the cargo ones that were too big for me and had to be taken to charity a month ago) and a really cool pair of lightweight cotton pyjama/lounge trousers for the summer.

What’s more, by the time I’d walked home the grass at the front of my house was nice and dry so I spent a while completing its first haircut of the year.

Unbelievably when I stepped out to retrieve the mower from my shed the back lawn (trimmed yesterday) had some fully grown dandelions in the middle of it already!!!! How flipping fast do those things grow?! They’re the flower equivalent of bluebottles! It’s astounding how quickly they spring up (no pun intended)…

Anyway – the next order of the day is food. At the moment there’s a chicken & chorizo chilli stew bubbling away in my slow cooker – and frankly I’m Hank Marvin.

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I’m not gonna lie.

I’m gonna eat all of it  and since I put way too much chilli in it this morning I’m also probably going to regret it dearly. However I also have some nice cold natural yogurt and some frozen berries on standby for dessert, so there’s going to be a remedy close to hand.

Whilst I eat this I’m also going to be watching (through chilli tears) the new ‘Lost in Space’ series on Netflix (It’s pretty good so far!) and basically just loving every last minute of my Sunday afternoon – which I plan to make as chilled as it can possibly be internet!

Davey

Part three: Suppression

Before you start reading it’s probably a good idea that you recap on Part One (here) and Part Two (here). By now you know the drill. It’s gonna be a long post. Get your cup of tea ready.

(As before my ‘lightbulb moments’ will be in red. Time will also skip forward as we go on – because this particular lesson was learned in segments.)

Chronologically to start with we are in March 2016. At this point I’m a month into my journey (It started when I gave up drinking on January 26th) and little has visually changed.

This is how I looked.

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After almost completely screwing up by handing in my resignation at a job I’d held down for 16 years my manager allowed me to take some time out to deal with my alcohol issues. At the time I was regularly bursting into tears without warning and couldn’t understand why.

I wouldn’t miss my mother (who had passed away a month before) and I couldn’t explain the phenomenon – which was something I’d never experienced previously.

I didn’t feel like I was grieving.

Yet years and years of emotion seemed to be arriving all at once without any warning and it was scaring me. I felt out of control and needed to understand why.

With an agreement from my employer that I could take some time out of work I enrolled in a four week daily course in addiction recovery. I soon found myself in the cold and grim light of a March Monday morning in a bland meeting room surrounded by men and women in a circle.

They too had problems and all were nervously bouncing up and down in neutrally coloured Ikea Poang armchairs. They looked like they needed something badly.

This selection of people were dealing with alcoholism, heroin addiction and the far more visible and arresting effects of years of cutting, burning and self harm. Some were there under a court order to attend or had been compelled to join by the terms of their parole.

Others (such as myself) were voluntary participants with no criminal history.

I felt metaphorically and physically apart from all of them. Firstly, unlike them I didn’t identify with the label of ‘alcoholic’ or ‘addict’ (I preferred alcohol dependant back then) and secondly because I was relegated to a conventional seat – and sitting higher up.

At 35 stone I was too heavy to sit in the comfortable Swedish Poang simplicity enjoyed by the others and felt exposed.

Initially I also felt like a fraud.

I didn’t deserve to be there because I didn’t have the severity of problems that they had.

These people seemed to be way further down the rabbit hole than me. I’d stopped drinking – whereas others were either cutting down, using methadone or sporting fresh bandages from A&E the night before.

Many had also shoplifted, cheated, lied and brutalised their way though life and I felt that I was nothing like them.

Until we started the mindfulness exercises and examined triggers.

These (it turned out) were common to ALL of us.

During these we sat in the dark, slowed down our breathing and went through some guided meditation. The point was to just experience the moment and filter out the mental noise caused by the chaos of addiction.

Most days I felt that this was just a method of relaxing before difficult discussions – and I simply enjoyed it on an abstract level – interested in how mindfulness seemed capable of slowing time down. Until the second week I just enjoyed the sensation of peace that it brought – but then one day the group leader quite unexpectedly said something along the lines of ‘now imagine that you want a drink.’

I did as I was told and imagined it.

I suddenly wanted a drink for the first time in weeks and felt instantly stressed.

‘Now follow the feeling.’ He said.

‘Where is it in your body?’

Amazingly I felt it! I could trace the actual thought moving through my body!

It was in my chest – right in the centre, behind my breast bone. As I zeroed in on it the sensation moved and began to flow upwards, through my neck, until it stopped and hung there – tingling in my cheeks.

I was absolutely gobsmacked. I’d known this feeling all my life. It was as familiar to me as my own face in the mirror – but I’d never noticed it before.

The difference was that this time it was paused under a microscope for examination. I’d been able to delay its progress for a brief moment and while it was slowly moving I could track the sensation and resulting thought process that trailed in its wake.

It was fascinating!

When I’d experienced this in the past I realised that it happened at the speed of thought. My mind had been reacting to happiness, sadness or anything in between and my body had experienced a corresponding physiological reaction. This had in turn triggered a quietly waiting mental process and I had instantly moved from the flush of adrenalin to a fully formed ‘I need a drink’ feeling. 

By then the choice was made and I always acted upon it.

How had I missed this for so long? More to the point how did I deal with it if it happened again?

Well – there was some help at hand to manage cravings in the form of the ‘Three D’s’ which we discussed shortly afterwards (link)

Delay, Distract, Decide.

  1. Delay the decision to give in to the craving for a set time. This could be 15-30 mins or an hour. Usually by this time you’ve forgotten about it.
  2. Do something that will occupy your thoughts and grab your attention. Perhaps do something physical to use the energy of the craving or read a book.
  3. After the set time decide what you want to do (there are no right or wrong answers, just balanced choices) – but in order to answer consider the following:
  • Advantages of not doing it
  • Disadvantages of doing it
  • Reasons I want to stop
  • My life goals

Like many things in life you take what you need from what you experience, and often leave behind what you don’t. In my case these two lessons were my ‘wins’ from attending that group.

At the time I felt that I’d been filled with wisdom and understanding. I thought I’d finally cracked it. I understood things about myself that beforehand had been invisible to the naked mind – and furthermore I now had a coping mechanism!

There was nothing I couldn’t do!

However – the only thing that you can know for certain is that you don’t know everything

I hadn’t realised back then that what I’d failed to ask myself was why that thought process existed in the first place. I was content to simply acknowledge that it was there.

It wouldn’t be until over a year later that I found a deeper insight into the reason it happened. This was thanks to a book lent to me by a lady that I met in my Slimming World group (link).

By this point I was definitely making progress. Externally and internally I was a very different person.

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The book was called ‘Living like you mean it’ by Ronald J Frederick link.

Honestly it wasn’t my kind of thing (it still isn’t) and at the time I only opened it up because this lady had become a friend and I respected her opinion. She had been kind enough to think of me in the first place and it was rude not to investigate something so freely given with the best of intentions – so I started reading the first chapter.

It irritated me.

I mean it really irritated me.

It was all about allowing yourself to feel things.

In my opinion I was more than capable of dealing with my feelings and I wasn’t afraid of talking about them. I wrote a blog for flip’s sake. I knew the value of exploring my emotions and I talked about them with anyone who wanted to listen.

It was kind of my thing. Always had been. I didn’t get why anyone wouldn’t. Even if I didn’t understand why I had them I wanted to talk to my friends about mine and theirs.

Initially I walked away from the book simply with an agreement that I would try to let myself feel down a bit more – and that in itself proved to be very helpful.

I’d not really accepted that it was OK to feel crappy and let it temporarily consume you. This was actually natural and normal – and it was the precursor to healing. If you denied the need to experience pain and sadness by relentlessly smiling through the bad times then all you did was defer it’s arrival – and when it finally hit (and it would) the force that it had gathered by that time would be of a much bigger magnitude.

Some thoughts are slow burners however – and the really good realisations – the ones that matter often take you a while to reach.

I still wasn’t there yet.

Sure. I talked about emotion. I wrote about it. I enjoyed pulling it apart and understanding why I felt what I did.

But why did I do that?

I realised out of the blue – some time after reading the book that I did all of my emotional investigation after the fact.

Every time I got round to talking about how I felt it was a historical analysis. I was dispassionately looking backwards at a moment in time and examining how something had happened, intellectualising the feelings associated with it and chewing through their constituent parts.

never ever talked about a feeing while it was happening – but oddly this fact had always escaped me.

Out of the blue I recognised that as soon as a thought capable of provoking strong emotion had entered my head it then instantly caused a physical reaction. This immediately resulted in my mind moving to one of several well practiced remedies – depending on what I was using at the time.

In these moments I would do one or more of the following:

  • Eat to excess
  • Get drunk
  • Have a cigarette
  • (Insert whatever poison springs to mind here)

What I’d never realised was that all of these activities were actually me moving to immediately suppress emotion – and I’d been doing it since I was a child.

But how had this happened?

Then I remembered a conversation with my Dad when I was very young relating to my mother. After a particularly abusive day where we’d both come under fire from her and I was in tears he had shared his own method of coping in such situations.

It went something like this:

‘Imagine that you’re inside yourself, and then curl up like a little ball and don’t listen. Nothing can hurt you if you withdraw. After a while you don’t feel a thing.’

I’d taken this advice on board and began to use it to deal with her behaviour.

It worked because it typically just made things worse if you reacted when she was on the attack. The verbal beatings just extended from 30-40 minutes to hours. Sometimes if you fought back they would meander into the early hours of the morning – even if you’d surrendered and tried to go to bed.

She would frequently wake me up in the middle of the night, filled with rage, stinking of stale cigarettes, spitting in my face as she shouted at me – adding ‘and another thing‘ (her favourite phrase) to the argument – whether it was related to the initial explosion or not.

A member of my family once woke up with her sitting on top of him, and she was punching him in the face.

It was better not to feel.

It was better not to react.

During the day I could eat a huge mountain of mashed potato and sausages – but at night I had to find another way to cope, and I retreated a little deeper each time. Over the years the mechanism ceased to be conscious and became so practiced that it moved to one that was completely unconscious.

In my later teens (after some experimentation) I learned that I was a placid and happy drunk. When I consumed alcohol it helped me to not react to my mother, and initially I even consciously started to use it to help manage my interactions with her.

When I was drunk time passed quicker and things hurt less.

This was just the start of it though. I realised that I hadn’t just been suppressing pain – eventually I was suppressing happiness too – because the physiological reactions associated with any extremes of emotion were so strikingly similar.

Over time I’d created a situation where if I thought bad thoughts and felt bad emotions then I immediately moved to suppress them by self medicating. By 2016 I’d been doing it for so long that I’d ceased to recognised it for what it was. 

I was eating, drinking and smoking my pain AND HAPPINESS away.

Feeling sad? Have a (insert crutch here). It will make you feel better!

Feeling happy? Celebrate with a (insert crutch here). It will make things even better still!

Incredibly it had taken me 45 years to understand this about myself – but one by one the dominoes were falling. Each time I wrote something new down in my blog it gained a sense of permanence – and as time progressed (and I discovered more about myself) the dots were becoming connected.

I was building a picture of who I was – and gaining a deeper insight what my motivations were than I’d ever done before in my life. I no longer just forget something after a revelation and moved on.

Instead I could refer back to them, build upon them and consolidate my gains.

However – back in March of 2016 I was only a sober man.

It wasn’t until April that the real work started….

Davey

Part two: The beginnings of honesty

Before you start reading it’s probably a good idea that you recap on Part One (here).

If you’ve already done that (and you have a cup of tea or coffee ready to go) then let me continue…

(note – bits highlighted in red are things I feel are important. In this ongoing little series they’re the lessons I think I’ve learned along the way.)

In early February 2016 I was just beginning to lift my head above water. I felt like I’d been drowning for the longest time and (by then sober for around two short weeks) I was also trying to deal with the mountains of stuff left behind when my mother died.

It was frankly more than enough to drive a man to drink.

Everywhere I turned there were hidden things squirrelled away. As well as piles of soap, detergent and hundreds of drawings or paintings in the most unexpected of places I was also discovering other, more disturbing things.

There were orderly manuals for how to interact with people (written by her many years before she became ill) and hair in little bags (collected for decades both from her and her children) that were chronologically labelled as DNA samples for testing.

Occasionally I also found more valuable items such as photos, correspondence, bills, stamps or money which meant that I couldn’t just throw it all in a skip. I had to wade through every single box and bag of it.

The process was both upsetting and unsettling, I was looking inside the chaotic mind of a woman that I had never understood. As well as as being a task that was mentally difficult to deal with it was a physical challenge too.

I wasn’t a fit man and it was wearing me out just looking at the scale of the problem in her bungalow.

 

Everything was in disarray – and as I was trying to withdraw from alcohol I realised that I’d probably chosen one of the most stressful times of my life to do it.

I didn’t feel like I was getting better.

I felt as far from ‘better’ as it was possible to be in fact – and it seemed that absolutely everything was wrong with my life. It was completely out of balance and even when faced with the death of a parent I was preoccupied with trying to understand the cause of a deep emotional numbness that had been with me as long as I could remember.

For many years I hadn’t even been able to ask why I felt it – because I couldn’t vocalise what it was. Frustratingly, even when I finally managed to put it into words I found that I was still no closer to an answer.

The question that I couldn’t resolve was ‘what do I love?

Sure – I could say that people fitted into this category – because I genuinely loved my friends and family – but I didn’t mean the love that came from a relationship.

No matter how many times I asked myself this there was no response. There was just a blank space – a placeholder for where the answer should be. An empty podium with no medal winner.

Then one day I accepted the truth and it was horrible. I felt like screaming because deep down I had always known the answer. It was way worse than not knowing what I loved because I hadn’t faced up to the bleak reality of what this really said about me.

I loved nothing. I had a passion for nothing. I existed to do nothing. My total contribution to the world if I had died immediately would have been nothing.

What I’d begun to recognise is that I was nothing more than a consumer. I had voraciously consumed everything around me for my entire adult life.

Throughout it I’d had an endless appetite for food, alcohol, cigarettes, ‘stronger substances’, video games, box sets, music, DVD’s, magazines, books, trash television – the list went on and on.

I spent my spare money on ‘things’ because I ‘loved’ the ‘things’ that I bought. I thought the ‘things’ gave me pleasure.

I didn’t really love them though, and they certainly didn’t make me truly happy. Buying a huge television and a games console with the latest game and a Blu-ray made me ‘feel’ for moments – and then I once again became just as empty as my wallet.

Films and television were providing my emotions for me – serving them up endlessly to be consumed. Conveniently I could also turn them on and off at will. If I wanted to feel happy I watched something funny. If I was angry I played a violent video game. If I wanted to numb myself I got drunk.

I managed everything with external inputs and nothing came from inside.

Living like I had for so long, being anaesthetised to the reality of what it meant to be part of the world around me made me question whether I could love anything anymore.

I’d been hiding how I felt about this and and other things about myself for so long that I felt like I was about to burst. Back then It seemed that for my entire time on earth I’d been trying to pretend that everything was ok when really it was as far from OK as it’s possible to be.

In public I was controlled, ordered, dependable and a known quantity. I was a reliable and safe pair of hands in the workplace where I was a team leader and tried to be outgoing, cheerful and gregarious as soon as I walked through the door.

In my personal life I made sure that I supported my friends and family whenever I could and wanted them to feel that if they needed me they knew they could call at any time of day or night.

I almost never asked for help though. Not because I thought they wouldn’t give it – because they would have, but because if I did then it meant not only that I was admitting I couldn’t cope – but because doing so would force me to deal with the causes – and that I was never ready to do. 

So I did two things.

One was a bad idea, and the other was one of the best decisions of my life.

Firstly I handed in my notice at work. This was the bad idea. Being unemployed whilst also a recovering alcoholic dealing with a bereavement and suddenly faced with endless free time on my hands wouldn’t have helped.

Secondly came the good idea – and after handing in my notice I wrote my first ever blog post (link).

Despite what people might think I didn’t start doing this in public because I wanted attention. The exact opposite is true actually – because most of the time I really dislike the focus being on me.

I did it because if I started airing my dirty laundry in a public forum then everyone knew. I didn’t have to painstakingly tell each and every person my darkest secrets and I didn’t have to sugar coat or change what I was saying depending on who would see it.

A post was a post. If people didn’t like it then they didn’t have to read it. If they didn’t like me then au revoir.

There were plenty more fish in the sea.

It also meant that it was now harder to change my mind. If I said I was going to do something in public then I also felt that I either had to follow through with it or come up with a very good reason why I couldn’t.

It didn’t really matter whether people liked me or my blog though – because I wasn’t writing it for them. I was writing it for me – and what I’d started doing was engaging in on my own very public private therapy. 

I decided very quickly upon some ground rules.

Above all else I wanted to be sure that my blog would do no harm. I wouldn’t talk about anyone else unless they explicitly agreed and I wouldn’t use photos of anyone but myself with the same criteria.

It was primarily about fixing myself – and learning to live life.

I would also cunningly hide my true name by adding a ‘Y’ at the end of it (for the first time I can reveal that my real name is actually Dave) and when I talked as Davey I wouldn’t talk to myself or to a person – but to ‘the internet’ – because the internet wouldn’t stare back at me disapprovingly.

Its job was simply to listen – regardless of what I had to say – and mine was to talk to it with absolute and unflinching honesty.

The first post was the hardest – not because I couldn’t write down how I felt – but because I knew the next thing that I had to do was send a link to it to absolutely everyone that I knew or worked with – including my family.

I had to ‘out’ myself and step outside of my own personal closet.

In it I admitted that I wasn’t coping. I admitted that I was a drinker. I told everyone about my health problems. I told them I had to discover what it was that I loved – but above all else I was truly honest and open for the first time.

Then thing that I really didn’t expect happened.

Firstly – no-one (not one single person) told me I was a total loser or a waste of space. Instead they actually applauded my fragility and my attempt to be open about what I was going through

Secondly – almost immediately (literally within minutes) the human traffic started come toward me in torrents. People I thought I’d known for years started telling me their deepest and darkest secrets. They began to open up (sometimes for the first time too) about their family issues, their own alcoholism, their cancers, their struggles with Autism, their unhappiness, their loneliness, their abusive relationships…

The list went on and on.

All of a sudden, standing naked in front of everyone for the very first time and expecting my honesty to be the defining moment of my life I was faced with a stark realisation.

Everyone else was broken too.

It wasn’t just me.

As I continued to write this became a theme. Without realising the power of what I’d enabled by clicking ‘post’ on that very first entry in my blog I’d started an honest two way conversation between myself and unlimited numbers of people which is still going on.

Plus – through it I found both a focus and an unexpected paradox.

I eventually realised that the very tool I’d employed to answer my question (writing) was something that I absolutely loved doing.

I now understand that the unexplainable feeling that had made me want to scream was an understanding deep down that I wasn’t giving anything back to the world. I was just taking from it all the time – and because of that I had begun to feel that I was a parasite.

With writing came honesty and through honesty I discovered that I could not only help myself but others too. 

At this point though I still had a long way to go – and in many ways I was still in denial. Although I’d stopped drinking I still thought that this alone was the answer and that everything would just naturally fall into place.

Back then I still didn’t really understand why I’d drank so much – just that I’d stopped and didn’t plan to start again.

I was still 35 stone, still slowly dying and I hadn’t accepted what the problem would truly take to fix.

Join me next time to find out what I mean…

Dave(y)

Part One: Where did all this start?

Firstly I apologise to those that have been here a while. I’m probably going to re-tread a lot of things because the story of how I came to lose all of this weight is pretty complex.

You might need a cup of tea.

If I go right back to the earliest time that I recall trying to drop some pounds it was after a visit to a childhood obesity clinic in Birmingham. I’m not sure how old I was at this time, but I’m guessing it was somewhere between the ages of 10 and 13.

It was a miserable experience.

I was referred to a special unit in a hospital that dealt only with what was then a relatively uncommon phenomenon. My dad took me there on the advice of our GP but I don’t really remember what happened in the consultation – apart from the fact that I was sent home with a single page A4 photocopied diagram of food groups that showed my plate looking like a pie chart.

I can’t remember anyone in my house ever putting this into practice though. Portion sizes were pretty big when I was growing up. The mashed potato on my dinner plate may have fitted into the segment on the diagram – but it would probably have been 12 inches tall with several Bernard Matthews turkey sausages sticking out of it.

Bootiful.

I do remember shortly after this though that my dad put me on a diet solely consisting of cabbage and bacon.

Mounds of it in fact. Pretty soon I was sick of cabbage and I was sick of bacon. I lost a little bit of weight during this – but after a while (as habits tendeded to in our house) things crept back to the status quo and I put the small amount of weight I’d lost back on.

That was my very first first faddy yo-yo diet.

This theme continued for some time over the years because what I’d started to do was view losing weight in terms of a restrictive diet. It was a short term exercise where my willpower faced down the problem at hand and turned it into a battle between the competing sides of my nature.

One side was insatiable, naughty and couldn’t stop consuming – whilst the other was austere, disliked the other side intensely and did nothing bad.

By holding one at bay with the other I could temporarily get results. However in order to do so this meant feeling like I was cutting out things I loved – and when I did it was only a matter of time before I rebelled.

When things went wrong in life food was there to ‘help’. This frequently ended with me metaphorically or literally face down in a kebab or pizza after falling off a dietary wagon and when I became old enough to pass for 18 alcohol joined the party too.

This constant restriction and resurgence had a pernicious side effect. I began to get really sick of my own behaviour – and I started using intense anger with myself to fuel change.

After leaving school (where I was mercilessly bullied every day) at 17 stone I starved myself for months – only eating a couple of slices of bread a day until I was 12 stone 7 pounds – and initially I thought I’d cracked it.

I thought I was ‘fixed‘.

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(Author note – this next bit is important and I’m going to highlight the pivotal bits in red – because these thoughts are the ones I think people need to concentrate on)

This was the first part of the problem – and something I see in other people a lot. They say (or think in private) a variation of the phrase ‘…all I need to do is lose weight and then I can go back to eating normally’.

Often because of this they fundamentally fail to realise that this is not possible without significant re-education – because in order to end up in a situation where they need to lose huge amounts of weight in the first place they’ve proven that they have no idea what ‘normal’ is to begin with.

By this point food is not about sustenance – it’s about emotion – and a gap created by pain is impossible to fill with food.

You will not stop because you’re full.

The main issue with my approach was that in order to make any kind of significant difference in my life I had to play a game of brinkmanship with whatever I was doing at the time. If I hadn’t done something to serious excess and emotionally sunk into the depths of depression then I was unlikely to pull back from the precipice.

I had to be so sick of myself and so full of self loathing that I just couldn’t take it any more.

To make matters worse this often yielded tangible results – such as successfully giving up smoking, and for a long time I was convinced that this was ‘my method’. Deep down I just hoped that sooner or later I’d become angry enough with myself to do something about my weight.

I now recognise that this was also a way of self harming – because when I periodically restricted my food intake I used the withdrawal as a punishment. I told myself that I deserved to have things I liked taken away. 

However – unlike cigarettes I needed food to live.

Although I could restrict it for a while and starve myself I never really ever faced up to what I was eating and why. This meant that when I fell off the wagon I kept falling back into exactly the same cycle. The only way I knew how to deal with anything was to either cut it out completely as punishment or do it until I was killing myself.

Then in July 2015 my mother came back into my life after a long period where I’d neither seen nor talked to her in many years.

It wasn’t the best time to be re-introduced. I was a morbidly obese heavy drinker with a lot of health issues (if you want to see how many have a look at my NSV’s in the main menu) whilst she was a heavy smoker who had been admitted to Heartlands hospital with pneumonia.

She was slowly dying from the complications typically associated with her habit.

The fractures (or coping mechanisms – depending on how you look at them) that already existed in my life were instantly widened – and my own habits immediately increased in severity to compensate. To make matters worse initially she (quite unexpectedly) recovered and I became burdened once again with the weight of her expectation and criticism.

In September of 2015 I looked like this – swollen with food and booze.

(There is one thing in this video that is worth taking note of – aside from my dimensions – and that is what for the first time is on my wrist – which I’ll return to in another post.)

If I wasn’t already by the time she re-entered my life I soon became what I now admit was an alcoholic.

Then one day (after a row with myself and my brother) she told me that she was misunderstood.

The context of this comment was that she had been discharged from hospital (after around 6 weeks of being in a chronic dependency unit for smoking related cardio pulmonary issues) and had lasted less than two days before she had started her habit up again.

Even when attached to pure oxygen she continued to puff away nonchalantly.

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This was just a teeny bit dangerous according to the big red sign on the machine that was keeping her alive and continually whirring away next to her…

My brother was angry – but I wasn’t. I understood her. I could see the truth of it. She knew she was invulnerable to explosions and didn’t see a point in stopping. The end was coming anyway and she saw it standing on a hill in the distance.

IT WAS INEVITABLE.

Unknown to her I’d also started thinking things were inevitable – and at the age of 44 I’d quietly started planning my own death.

I hadn’t been plotting to commit suicide – at least not quickly. I’d just come to view the heart attack or stroke that what was bound to happen at some point in the future as something I no longer had any power (or willingness) to change.

Instead of setting aside money for a pension (which I was convinced I’d never live to see) I was instead frantically trying to pay off my mortgage so that I could leave a house in a will to a brother nearly 11 years younger than myself.

In my head this reasoning had started to make complete sense – and I’d ceased to see it as madness. To me it was just history that hadn’t happened yet.

But…

There she was. A woman who I had no respect or love for, who’d emotionally abused me and the rest of my family for as long as I could remember. I couldn’t stand to be in her presence without a pre-prepared excuse to leave.

She was probably the one person in the world that I disliked more than myself.

I thought about alcohol from the moment that I walked through her door until the moment I bought some on the way home and I was only happy when I started to drink it and forget her.

Yet she was a mirror.

I was looking at what I already was and also what I’d eventually become.

Then the self loathing once again hit me with full force, and two days before she died I decided I didn’t want to be like her (or myself) any more. I accepted that my relationship with alcohol was the same as her relationship with cigarettes and I stopped drinking.

It wasn’t an ideal way to begin but begin it did – with its roots firmly planted in self loathing and self punishment.

Nevertheless it was my first tentative step outside of the closet of denial – but I left one foot in the door – because in my mind I thought that this would fix everything.

(Not true. I’ll come back to this later)

However – as massive a change as that was internet – it wasn’t as big as what came next…

Join me next time to see what happened.

Davey

Yay for maintenance

I slept like a log last night.

I wasn’t stressed or worried about losing weight at all – which I’m honestly not sure how I feel about. I already miss the anticipation a little bit of getting a new, lower number in my book – because now I have a range to adapt to rather than a target.

There’s a magical 6lb bracket (3lbs either side of 14st 7lbs) that I have to stay within as a Slimming World Target Member and so far this week I think I’ve remained comfortably within this ‘goldilocks zone’.

Although (from a SW perspective ) I suppose really shouldn’t talk about them I’m absolutely chuffed to bits with my decision to buy the Weight Watchers Scales of Ultimate Accuracy the other day. They do exactly what they claim to and it’s been a huge help to finally be able to see the ebb and flow of body weight – rather than avoiding the scales altogether all week long and then nervously rolling my dice on a Saturday with absolutely no idea of what to expect.

You could argue that this takes the point out of going to a group – but honestly the scales alone are no longer my motivation to attend mine.

It’s the people that I go for -and the fact that they keep me focused.

Honestly as far as that focus goes today I really needed it to attend anything because it’s bitterly cold outside.

I’ve kept the heating on in my house pretty much continuously at a low level this week (which is unheard of) mostly because I don’t want any pipes to freeze – but also because I simply cannot take feeling like i’m on the brink of hypothermia anymore.

Thankfully I’m no longer unemployed so I guess I can treat myself to warmth.

(Author goes to group)

Well – if there was ever a confirmation that the scales I bought tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth today reiterated it.

Whilst in nothing but my pants the scales showed the following…

In my weigh in clothes they said…

And at Slimming World the result was…

So – it looks like I have a really useful tool that can enable me (hopefully without getting too obsessed) to make adjustments during the week to my food intake and land at a pre-determined point on the scales at the weekend.

In theory this will result in me getting less stressed overall and losing less sleep – and I’m cautiously optimistic that I can do what’s required to make this a reality.

Honestly I’m still not sure that this is my end weight because there’s still a problem area around my waist that I’m really unhappy with – but I’m not obsessing over it.

My body is now far from perfect and I don’t see that changing any time soon. I’m left with an awful lot of excess bits and bobs and because of these I can’t imagine ever being able to look in the mirror and be truly satisfied with who I am – but for the most part I’m good with that.

I’m fit and healthy and that’s what I focus on.

The things that I’m NOT so good with relate to how (or not) I ever manage to disrobe in front of someone ever again – and that part of the future (should it ever come to pass) fills me with dread.

However I’m not alone in this and that gives me comfort.

Through my writing I’ve come to know a lot of people with their own private battles that are fought (often on a daily basis) over hidden scars (self inflicted or otherwise) that have dogged them on an emotional level throughout their entire lives.

I draw strength from the fact that they’ve been able to work through this and find love when it arrives.

I hope one day I’ll work through this just as they have (and still do).

This is on my mind partially because I’ve been asked by a couple of people to go speed dating with them recently – but honestly I can’t face it. I don’t know how to even begin to mentally approach the subject of romance and for the time being I’d rather not face up that particular demon.

In the meantime there’s lunch to be had.

(Author joins his family for some food at the Fat Bird’s Cafe in Leamington Spa)

Well if nothing else I’ve learned to admire the iron clad digestive tract that one member of my family possesses today. I tried a tiny bit of this frankly apocalyptic sauce on some salad leaves and I have to say that Davey isn’t Ghost Chilli compatible.

I’ve no idea how people eat food with this kind of thing on any more. I used to like it when I was younger, but somewhere along the line I completely lost my tolerance for it. Now it just represents pain and burning rather than nice tasting food.

In contrast my lunch was far more sedate and came with a minted yogurt sauce – which I was quite happy to smother my food with.

I found myself bargaining internally about whether I should have the bread and butter that came on the side of the plate – and ultimately chose to leave it where it was.

I also passed the croutons onto someone else that wanted them.

Although I’m not against carbs (free foods like rice and potatoes are a big part of my meals) the refined nature of white bread and my previous brush with diabetes makes me (possibly very over) cautious about it.

I’ve zero need any more to introduce needless fat or highly processed food like that back into my diet.

Besides – there’s more to it than that. I also have no wish to be bloated by bread – especially when a ridiculously funky and superb quality shirt presents itself in a charity shop.

Who in their right mind would choose a lump of crappy bread over the truly wonderful feeling that picking a LARGE shirt off a rack and knowing that it will fit gives them?

Not me that’s for sure.

If you need me I’ll be looking loud and proud in my new pink check item of clothing.

Yay for maintenance internet. I think I rather like it!

Davey

More weight loss psychology…

It’s Friday – and more than I have been for a while lately I find myself both preoccupied and a little concerned about my weigh in on Saturday.

Although I don’t feel that I’ve lost my way in any significant sense I do have a lingering feeling that at the very least I’ve temporarily misplaced my mojo.

Whereas this time last year I was rattling along at a very respectable three and a half pounds a week loss on average I now feel like I’ve been becalmed.

Although I want to lose more weight and I’m doing just as much exercise as ever (slightly more actually) there hasn’t seemed to be much wind in my dietary sails over the last two weeks.

I’ve definitely not been myself emotionally – as my posts have probably periodically indicated (link) and with good reason. Some poignant anniversaries have passed recently and I’ve been a little taken aback by the tears and upset they’ve provided.

It’s been a period for reflection but I’ve hopefully begun to emerge on the other side in a (mostly) functional state.

Thankfully for the bits that still need time to heal there’s always a Boris.

I can’t help but feel better when he and his owner pop round to say hello – and I’ve noticed that the more this sweet, grunty little frenchie gets to know me the more likely he is to automatically jump onto my lap whenever he comes to visit.

Although I look like a hair bomb exploded on my jumper when he leaves I can’t deny that he really cheers me up – and manages (at least temporarily) to take my mind off the fact that for the last month I’ve gone pretty much nowhere in weight loss terms.

Part of me has been sorely tempted to just ‘call target’ as they say in Slimming World and stay right where I am.

After all – all of my clothes look great, I’ve no intention of putting any weight back on, I can walk into any high street store and buy something to wear, I’m fitter and healthier than I’ve ever been in my entire life and I only seem to want to do more as each month passes.

So why am I looking at my target and not letting it go?

Well – I really want a 20st certificate firstly.

I also want to get lower than 15 stone – because when I do the stupid stupid pointless measure of my BMI on the NHS website finally admits that I’m no longer ‘obese’ and I instead enter the infinitely preferable boundaries of being ‘overweight

This is a screenshot of the calculator with my current weight of 15st 6lbs…

obese

….and this is at 15st exactly.

not obese

It would be really really nice to no longer be classed as obese. I’ve been medically categorised this way for the whole of my childhood and (almost) all of my adult life.

However the ridiculousness of this rigid scientific calculation isn’t lost on me.

My ‘healthy range’ starts at 9st 7lbs. At that point (if nothing else) I’d at least be more than prepared to audition as an extra in Hollywood’s (probably inevitable) remake of Jason and the Argonauts…

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It still bugs me though – and like many aspects of extreme weight loss I’m often confronted with somewhat odd and illogical internal conversations.

Why does it all matter?

Why does a number bother me?

I’ve told plenty of other fellow slimmers that it’s how you feel that counts – not an arbitrary number on a scale or a stupid BMI chart, yet I still don’t seem to be able to accept my own advice.

Becoming thin is hard…

It’s one thing to physically lose it all – but it’s quite another to address how you feel about the whole process.

I think that part of me is of the opinion that as soon as I stop losing weight that I’ve failed somehow – even if I’m already in a range that people say I look good in. I still see stopping as getting comfortable and complacent yet nothing could be further from the truth.

I finished Jan with the same ‘write everything I eat down’ mindset. I had managed to maintain it for 31 days straight.

31st Jan
Stir fry chicken with courgette, red onion, mushrooms, leek and savoy cabbage leftovers
Large salad with beans, mackerel and tuna
Yogurt and frozen berries

On top of this I just keep walking and I can’t stop.

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I don’t know anyone else in my peer group that walks 70+ miles a week, every week over and over again, yet for some reason I do. There’s something internally that’s driving this behaviour and it’s by no means a part of me that’s intent on slacking off.

In January Apple Watch set me a task that initially I thought was a joke – but when I worked it out all it was encouraging me to do was keep on with what I was doing already.

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It had been watching my exercise levels – and in an effort to keep me on an even keel decided that I’d only get an achievement if I kept up the good work.

Just to make absolutely sure I’d hit target I ended up earning this a day early (hence the number in the screenshot) and including the 31st I did 3906 minutes of exercise in January

That’s an average of 126 minutes a day!

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Back when I first joined slimming world in April 2016 I was doing a frankly pathetic 5 minutes a day. To put this into context my daily average exercise for THE WHOLE of 2016 was an average of 11 minutes a day.

For non mathematicians that’s (365 x 11= 4015) – which means that I did almost as much exercise in January 2018 as I did FOR THE WHOLE OF 2016 COMBINED!!!

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So why do I feel like my dietary mojo is ‘relaxing’ and why is it filling my thoughts?

Maybe I’m classifying it incorrectly. Maybe my mojo has actually just reached the point where it doesn’t really want to shave any more calories out of my diet just to drop a few more pounds.

Maybe I’m just happy with how I feel now and what I eat?…

Is that wrong?

Am I showing weakness at the worst possible moment – or is this (like so many other things recently) entirely in my head?

Who knows internet…

The only thing I know at the moment is that I’m still not looking forward to weighing in tomorrow…

Davey

Anniversaries on the horizon

After the euphoria of adrenaline that my short attempts to run produced on Sunday (link) I’ve been dealing with the after effect – which is raging cramp in my quads.

It’s not apocalyptically awful if I’m honest (I can still move) but it is surprising because it took a couple of days for the full effects to be apparent.When I climbed out of bed this morning it definitely wasn’t with my usual zesty spring and I’m sure I heard a creaking noise that sounded like a tree about to fall over in a haunted Disney forest.

Unsurprisingly this didnt dissapear with a couple of stabs at the ‘snooze’ button and after geriatrially pottering around for half an hour I headed off to the office. My walk to work was waaaaaaaay more of a chore than it usually is.

I felt sluggish throughout and didn’t enjoy it at all.

In a way this is good mind you – rather masochistically I like cramp. It means things are improving. I’m still not sure what to do with all this though. I’m cautious about what it means, and I’m still reluctant to give myself any goals that I potentially won’t keep. In the past doing that has proved to be both self defeating and demoralising – so I’m just going to see how I feel when I recover and decide what I want to do based on how I feel.

In the meantime I still seem to be subject to a rather insatiable appetite in the evenings – and whilst I’m eating good food I’m still eating too much of it.

21st Jan
Tub of cottage cheese
4 apples
Chilli con carne made with pork mince, kidney beans, onions, broccoli, tomatoes, red pepper
Yogurt and frozen berries

22nd Jan
Chilli leftovers + couscous
4 apples + tub of cottage cheese + 200g ham
Two bowls of slow cooker beef stew
Yogurt and frozen berries

23rd Jan
Slow cooker beef stew leftovers
500g carrots and 6 tomatoes
Chilli con carne + half a pouch of microwave basmati rice
Yogurt and frozen berries

I know that this doesn’t seem like a bad day on the page but I’m hyper aware these days that if I want to lose weight I have to do a lot more and eat a lot less, because I’m no longer benefiting (if you can call it that) from carrying around all that extra timber.

It’s way easier for the weight to fly off when you’re carrying lots of baggage on your person everywhere you go – and in many ways I’ve not significantly modified my eating habits for at least a year.

Maybe I’m being a bit hard on myself though. I’m suddenly aware that I’m being critical of my successes and looking down on what I’ve done…

I’m probably eating a bit less overall than I used to – but I feel that things (broadly speaking) have remained the same. This is almost certainly because every time I consider how I feel about reducing my portion sizes a tiny (yet uncontrollable) part of my brain begins to panic somewhere in a corner.

On the plus side (even though I’m judging myself harshly when I shouldn’t) I seem to have found a rough ‘maintenance’ amount of food for when I get to target…

However I still need to get to target!

Today it’s been all that’s on my mind – and to try and stop myself overeating in the evening I’ve been munching carrots and tomatoes at my desk and had some lovely healthy leftover slowcooked beef stew for lunch.

(author pauses)

Oh screw it. Who am I kidding?

I’m preoccupied by more than food – and I’m feeling self critical and a little maudlin because two anniversaries are on the horizon.

Although I didnt join Slimming World until April 2016 the turning point in my life that started all this was the death of my mother on the 28th of January, and my decision to finally stop drinking myself to death two days before she died on the 26th of that month.

 

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For all of the water that went under the bridge between us it’s sometimes easy to forget that when I was born she was a young woman of 28. Although I know a lot of her troubled history now at that moment in time she was just a young mother with a newborn infant in her arms and there was nothing was written in stone for the future.

For all she knew the bond that she had with me would be unbreakable and we would be inseperable forever.

Time changes many things though and that potential relationship never came to pass. At the end we were barely on speaking terms and communicating with her (at least from my perspective) felt agonisingly painful.

Even close to the end I counted the moments until I could leave her company and get blind drunk.

Maybe somewhat paradoxically today I found myself, sitting alone in my lunch break looking at a photo of her death certificate.

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It says ‘exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease’ as the cause of her death – and in the other significant conditions section the words ‘breast cancer’ in black biro sit there staring back at me from otherwise empty dotted lines.

I’ve not looked at this picture since the day it was taken – and it occurs to me that it was around this time that I began to accumulate documents, photos and paintings that I never really wanted to be in posession of or to own.

Like this piece of paper they’re all just scribbled words on a page but they hold a power.

Even now though for some reason I can’t bring myself to dispose of them, despite how they make me feel. They remain buried in drawers for another day filled with greater fortitude.

(sigh)

I’m not sure why anniversaries are so important.

It really shouldn’t matter that another year is about to pass by without her in my life – and I probably by now should have shaken off the ever present nagging sense of guilt that it’s not her death that I remember the most about those awful days, but my decision to stop drowning my problems in alcohol and to reach out for help.

It’s been 727 days since I put down my glass after finishing that evening’s third bottle of wine and never picked one up again.

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I’m still struck by the paradox that such an awful event caused so many positive things to happen in my life – and despite it not really being the true anniversary of either big moment I dedicate the rest of this post to her memory and what’s changed about my life since she died.

It’s all been seen here before – but I don’t care. It’s my blog and I’ll post what I like. I’m proud of it all, and also more than a little sad that things ended the way that they did before I made what sits below this paragraph happen.

Despite knowing that if she was still alive she’d probably find some way of undermining these achievements the fact is is that I owe every single one of them to her passing.

 

  • I was unable to sleep in any position other than my left side or sitting upright at 34st 8.5 lbs. Now I can sleep on whichever side I choose (including my back) and no longer wake up in a panic because I think I’m suffocating
  • I’ve walked the cumulative 3000 mile distance from San Fransisco to New York (and almost 1000 miles more) since joining Slimming World
  • I overcame Plantar Fasciitis, two torn calf muscles, ligament problems in my left thigh and shin splints caused by my weight and persisted with my walking and exercise
  • I’m no longer taking medication to control my (type 2) diabetes – and have a HbA1c reading of 28 compared to 94 when first diagnosed
  • My blood pressure is down from borderline hyper-tension to that of someone 20 years younger than myself
  • The usual resting heart rate of an adult male in his mid 40’s is around 70bpm. Thanks to all the exercise I do now mine is currently around 40bpm.
  • I’ve dropped from the 8xl shirt and 66in waisted trousers I was wearing to XL shirts/large coats and waist size of 34-36in (depending on the retailer)
  • I can put my socks on
  • I haven’t broken any furniture by sitting or lying on it for over a year and a half
  • I can buy clothes from pretty much any supermarket or high street store. They cost approximately 75% less than they used to at specialist retailers
  • I can now fit into cars and taxis, including the smallest ones available in all my local dealerships AND get the seatbelts on (I tried them ALL!!!)
  • I can take the train or the bus because I fit into public transport and can walk to and from where it stops
  • I can fit in my bath
  • I don’t get out of breath walking up hills unless they’re really steep
  • I can mow my lawns without being in agony – and maintain my gardens
  • I can stand up without grunting or straining from pretty much any position
  • My skin no longer burns instantly when exposed to the sun (often it doesn’t burn at all now) and I don’t have dry eczema all the time like I used to
  • I no longer wear glasses for reading and have dramatically improved eyesight due to my diabetes being under control
  • I can sit in restaurant or cafe booths – in fact ANY kind of fixed bench or table seating is accessible – as well as garden picnic tables and plastic chairs.
  • I can go to the cinema and not have to pay extra for premium seating because I don’t fit in the standard seat or am worried that they will break
  • I can walk up to 17.5 miles a day and average 20,000 steps daily and 70+ miles every week. Previously I couldn’t walk to the end of my street 200 metres away
  • I can concentrate for much longer periods and take in (and retain) information a lot faster
  • I need less sleep – usually 5-6 hours is enough now. I used to need at least 10 because it was so hard to get rest with sleep apnea
  • I can now walk a mile in 14 minutes and 51 seconds. When I first tried to do a mile it took well over an hour to an hour and a half with continual rest stops. I usually have to stop every 7-8 miles now.
  • I can jog up stairs
  • I can jog back down stairs
  • I’ve taken large amounts of outsized clothes to charity and by donating with gift aid have helped other people by doing so.
  • I haven’t had an alcoholic drink since January 26th 2016
  • I’m now able to buy clothes from charity shops as well as deposit them and when I do they cost around 1/8th of what I previously was forced to buy
  • I can take a selfie without hating myself
  • I have climbed Snowdon
  • I no longer have constant oedemas (fluid retention) in my ankles
  • I can go outside wearing shorts without feeling self conscious
  • I don’t need to get my shopping delivered and I often walk two miles to the supermarket and carry it miles back home in a rucksack
  • I can stand for long periods without crippling back, knee and tendon pain
  • My knees no longer hurt all the time. They used to be painful even when I was seated
  • I can’t hear my own laboured breathing when I sit and relax
  • I no longer sweat all the time regardless of the temperature and I need to wear thick socks, gloves a coat and a hat to go outside in the cold
  • I regularly meet lots of new people through my efforts, Slimming World and my blog
  • I’m now confident enough with my appearance and fit enough to stand and speak in front of groups about my weight loss. Previously this would have been impossible because I quickly became breathless and physically shook from the effort of standing upright
  • I no longer get publicly bullied and called names related to my weight by youths (and adults) on the street
  • I’ve gone from eating (and burning) 7,500 calories per day to around 2000 and because of this my shopping costs around 2/5ths of what it used to.
  • I can ride a bicycle again
  • I can sit in an IKEA Poang armchair without fear of breaking it
  • I can do press-ups
  • I can do sit-ups
  • I can climb ladders and use stepladders (none held my weight before) to get into my loft
  • People I know frequently fail to recognise me in the street until I speak
  • I’ve never spent more quality time with friends, family and people that I care about in my entire life – and when I do we’re usually exercising so I seem to be promoting positive behaviour in those that mean something to me
  • I no longer make excuses not to meet up with friends I haven’t seen for a while (or don’t see them at all) because I feel embarrassed about putting lots of weight on since they last saw me
  • My friends and family can hug me and put their arms all the way around me
  • I’ve appeared in the Leamington observer (link)
  • I’ve appeared on BBC local radio to tell my story
  • I can run (although not very well yet)

Davey

Stay creative

I’m easily pleased.

Silly silly little things make me really really happy – and I’m thankfully not alone in this.

Today I was at the recycling centre in Leamington. I always pop in as I pass – and whilst browsing at the Age UK shop I saw a young girl. She was around 10-12 years old, wearing a fluffy pink parka with a warm looking fur collar and some matching woolly ear muffs. Both she and her mother were checking out the used bikes near the entrance.

One by one they went through the frames, colours and conditions. The quality of the bikes there often varies wildly – but there are usually diamonds to be found amongst the rough.

After a while of earnestly considering her options the girl had selected one that she liked. It looked sturdy and had purple handlebar grips which she clearly approved of. There was also plenty of tread on the tyres, and she had tested them over and over by pressing her tiny thumbs repeatedly into the back and the front.

No punctures. It looked like the one.

Her mother agreed with the choice and paid for the bike at the till.

Afterwards the small family (two little brothers were also in tow) left together, walking in the same direction as me.

As they made their way past Morrisons the girl (who had been trying unsuccessfully for around 200 metres to lift herself up into the high saddle) finally managed to get upright and pedal a few metres in front of her mom and past her (clearly impressed) siblings.

Her mother and she had smiles from ear to ear, and both were giggling. As I peeled off in a different direction I realised that I too had a big grin on my face.

Something that the last two years has shown me is that it’s possible to reset your life, to change your viewpoint, to want less and enjoy the smaller things in life.

Whereas in the past I thought nothing of buying a £1000 TV to take my mind off my problems I now find happiness in my 99p beanie – purchased from globalcare yesterday.

It keeps my head warm, saves me money and benefits charity too – just like the little girl’s bike.

My blog happened for a similar reason believe it or not.

I don’t do it for profit and instead I began to write it purely because I needed to feel like I create something rather then endlessly devour the output of others.

Maybe by being less of a consumer in my every day life, and putting something (anything) back into the society in which I live I’m making the world a bit of a better place in my own small way.

I remember that as a child my first bike was a collection of parts put together in secret in the loft that eventually became my Christmas present. To me it didn’t matter that my family couldn’t afford a new one.

It was the bike I wanted – and for the time I had it I loved it.

Over the years I learned to want new things – mostly because I saw other children with them, and unconsciously I began (in almost every aspect of my life) to become a consumer instead of a creator.

I forgot about the drawings I used to do all the time (mostly because my mother became jealous – and angrily said again and again that art was her thing not mine – that my creativity served purely to undermine her) and I stopped writing poems and stories.

I used to create a lot to excise negative feelings – but (partially because this seemed to antagonise my mom) I found it was easier to drink – and so bit by bit one activity replaced the other.

Instead I retreated and the more I consumed the less I created. Without realising what I was doing I ate and drank away the pain of many aspects of my childhood.

I did it for so long I ceased to realise that I was doing it any more.

Today though, watching the cheerful little girl, I remembered that little boy with his recycled bike for Christmas and the happy feeling it gave him to ride it back and forth outside his house.

If you want a new year’s resolution internet then maybe you can’t go far wrong with ‘want less and give more’.

It’s what I’m going to do – along with constantly trying to be a better version of myself.

Happy New Year’s Eve everybody. Have fun and stay creative x

Davey

Au Revoir Supercoat!

As regular visitors (and subscribers) to this blog have probably noticed there has been a higher volume of posting than usual this week, and I heartily apologise if you’re getting sick of hearing from me. A few more introspective posts have left my drafts folder than normally would primarily because the last seven days have been quite emotional ones.

Today’s is a little introspective too, just so you know.

There’s been a lot of time spent with this week with close and extended family – and quite a few associated good (or bad) memories and feelings explored and talked about that all of us have maybe waited a bit too long to express, or possibly felt we couldn’t.

One of the nice things about my time spent with my Dad while he’s been staying has been chatting about his childhood, alongside memories of his father and mother and how they met. Often you can forget that your parents are themselves someone’s children and they too inherited their own fair share of blessings and difficulties from their upbringings.

As I mentally compose this post he’s telling me about why he has his name – and I find out for the first time that it was the middle name of a man that his mother greatly respected who owned a brewery. I doubt he remembered this himself until he looked into the bag of letters from her that he’s been avoiding since she died nearly two decades ago.

As I watch him reminisce about his school years and I look down at the yellowed 10 length swimming certificate in my hands bearing his name (which he’s kept since 1952) I drift away from the words and find myself thinking how much I love the old fart.

I’ve hugged him several times while he’s been here – but probably not enough.

As he readied himself to leave today I looked at Supercoat, which was hanging in the hall. It represented (and still does) a lot to me when I purchased it from Debenhams – as it was the first item of mainstream clothing I’d been able to buy since I started my blog – but I haven’t worn it for a while.

I first tried it on in February (link) and it was a big day (in terms of both my diabetes and my clothing).

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Initially worried about whether I could afford it I didn’t buy it in that post – and instead tried a cheaper, less waterproof alternative. I discovered quickly that we were incompatible when it rained…

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I eventually threw caution to the winds a couple of weeks later (link) and went back to treat myself – this time trying to smile for the camera after multiple reader complaints about looking like a miserable sod the first time around!

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I’ve worn Supercoat a lot in the (almost) six months since I purchased it.

Whilst wearing it (or the detachable inner fleece) I’ve been completely soaked by arrogant t**t Porsche drivers, climbed the Malvern Hills (link), navigated large portions of the Grand Union Canal, got lost near a windmill, explored several greenways, walked along the Thames Path, sneaked lots of flasks of coffee into the cinema in its spacious pockets and (literally) walked hundreds of miles with it keeping me warm and dry.

 

If I’m honest I’ve kind of bonded with it and I really didn’t want to give it to charity or sell it – so today instead I gave it to my Dad. It fits him quite well – and winter’s coming, so it makes me happy to know he’ll also be warm and dry inside it. I hope he enjoys the walks it takes him on as much as I enjoyed mine, and as he wears it I hope it also reminds him of his visit this week and the conversations we’ve shared.

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In my case I’m cosy enough in my old/new charity shop jacket (link) and at some point when the cold weather hits I’m going to try and find another all weather alternative (it’s not water proof but water resistant as I discovered in the picture above!) that’s suitable for strenuous exercise and good for mountains and hills – which I plan to spend a lot more time exploring in my future.

I have an adventure already lined up for next week – but more of that will come in another blog…

In the meantime I’m just thankful.

I’m thankful that my Dad is in my life to give my coat to, and I’m thankful that he’s shared his memories with me. I’m thankful that I’ve not run from the difficult ones and I’m thankful that we can talk about such things. I’m also thankful that maybe I can bring some of the lessons that I’ve learned in life recently back to him and that he too can benefit from them.

I also realise now that it’s Friday evening and unusually I don’t care what the scales say tomorrow. Today numbers are immaterial and any progress in life is being measured with a different yardstick.

Instead all I can think about is that I just want him to be well, happy, and pestering me for many many years to come.

Davey

It’s slowly getting easier

It’s amazing how much power there is in a photo.

Some of them seem almost translucent in their insignificance, and you can flick through them like decks of cards. The subjects that they contain mean absolutely nothing – but then you’ll see one that for no apparent reason contains a spark, which makes your heart skip a beat.

When my Dad came to stay recently he brought with him lots of old photos – and has been passing them on along with their contextual history. There are a lot of very old black and white ones of my grandmother in the 1930’s and of the family properties in other parts of the country – but some are more current. They’re his memories of our time together, and what he felt was important to cherish.

Consequently I’ve been looking at and scanning a lot of them over the last few days and they’re bringing back both happy and sad memories. However it’s the things in the photos that cause the feelings and thoughts to resurface that I’m most surprised by.

While looking at one photo I’m sighing and shaking my head – looking at the effects that my mother’s hoarding had on the family – and I realise that what I’m seeing is the rear of my toy Millennium Falcon that I was given for christmas (circa 1983). I loved it once – but in the photo (which I’ve never seen before) it’s looking old and yellowed by cigarette smoke. It’s barely recognisable because it’s being swamped by a tidal wave of rubbish spilling from the sideboard onto the dining table in my old living room.

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The year on the back of the photo is 1998.

I left in 1995, unable to take life in that house any more and many of the possessions that I couldn’t escape with were slowly buried under mountains of yellowed and dusty piles of nothing. The photos themselves fit into this category – and until recently I had very little evidence that I was ever a child, let alone that I existed at all before my mid 20’s. My mother held the vast majority of it hostage, cutting odd patterns in photos (with no surviving negatives) to make strange collages.

She did this to early photos of my Dad too. Now only the oddly shaped corners remain with occasional faces by the side of them, and I’ll never know what the missing silhouettes were or who (or what) they might represent.

There are gaps in so many things.

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In another picture it’s now 1999 and I’m standing in the bay window of my old flat with my Dad.

Several pictures have been taken in the same place and in the background of all of them, hanging from the ceiling by the window is a wind chime. It’s a little blue clay dolphin riding the crest of a wave. I recall the sound that it used to make – and I feel the memories of the day I bought it rushing back uncontrollably.

I remember the shop it was purchased from on the promenade, the cloudless sunny sky outside, my girlfriend’s flowing light summer trousers and long brown hair as she browsed the shop looking for cheap and pretty nick nacks to decorate our first home together.

The cashier wrapped it in a little purple paper bag, which was folded over at the top and closed with sellotape. When we got home, clambering over boxes still not unpacked, we hung it with a drawing pin above our window seat. We used to sit talking on a chunky grey and white cotton blanket and looking out at our sea view with cups of tea.

I don’t know if right now I miss my youth, I miss my girlfriend, or whether I just miss the window seat and the flat that surrounded it. I guess maybe I miss all of it. Most of all I probably miss what they represent. Although they were far from simple times (the flat was often cold and damp and the relationship could only be described as ‘complex’) it seems in retrospect as if I had the world at my feet back then and that I let it slip through my fingers.

The other, more upsetting aspect of seeing many years of photos all in one go is that for the first time I can see the physical results of the emotional pain that I went through at the time. By 2001 I had split with my partner, was beginning to struggle and I can see that my hands and face look noticeably fatter.

I’ve grown a beard because she didn’t like them and I think it makes my face look slimmer.

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My habits were taking their toll – and my weight was dramatically increasing. By late 2002 I was (at the time) heavier than I’d ever been before – and around here my father’s record of me stops. I visited less and I didn’t like my photo being taken.

My stomach now fills the photo and is evidence that I’m drinking ever more heavily to forget.

31st August 2002 the day i picked pete up to move to Warwick4

I’d already hit the self destruct button even before thy relationship ended. I steadfastly held my finger on that button for almost a decade and a half until I (not once, but twice) got to well over thirty stone.

As I type I’m angry. I’m mad with myself for not seeing the things back then that I do now. I’m also annoyed because I was unable to make changes in my life that were needed to crawl out from beneath the weight of my past. It’s irritating in the extreme that with hindsight I now know the reasons I drank, smoked and ate – and how these vices (amongst others) enabled me to avoid truly dealing with anything in life.

I never truly realised I was running away from everything until I couldn’t run any more.

But I’m not running now. Metaphorically speaking. Annoyingly physically speaking I still can’t really – but I’m getting close.

Fuelled by the feelings that this all caused in me yesterday and today I propelled myself around the park this morning trying to beat my mile record – which I’d previously left at 16.31 minutes in March 2017 (link).

This morning I smashed it – wiping 40 seconds off the last time I went all out for it.

I did a 15.52!

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On my third lap I met two ladies from Slimming World, who were in the park for a run, and we hugged before stopping to talk for a short while as they stretched out and readied their workout programmes.

We discussed our mutual progress and goals and it felt nice to bump into the smiling positivity that doing something good brings into your life. We were all grinning when I left them to start their run – and even now, after another day of mostly painful memories and other difficult issues I’m left thinking that I could have opened the freezer door and made my way through the shelves.

But I didn’t. I exercised it off.

Each time I look at these photos and compare them with my current progress the pain of regret gets a little less. I can’t feel it scratching away beneath the surface so strongly any more (although its still there) and I no longer feel the need to run from it at any cost.

It’s slowly getting easier internet.

Davey

Mint on saucer

Boris is getting fitter.

The poor little mite’s suffered quite a bit of late with some spinal pain and has been seeing a doggy therapist. With some physio he’s managed to progress from yelps of pain when moving to a noticeably more bouncy gait as he trotted around the park and today, as I walked sedately with my friend in the rain he seemed really rather happy.

Well – as cheerful as a dog with a largely expressionless face and permanent frown can look.

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It’s all contained in the eyes and ears with Boris.

He can’t wag (he has no tail) and he doesn’t pant or open his mouth much – but after a while you can definitely tell when he’s in a good mood. His ears swivel slightly, his eyelids lift a little and when he likes you he sits on your foot to keep his bottom warm and dry.

I do rather like the little guy.

I also like walking in the rain – which is fortuitous because the only way we were going to get any exercise in Memorial Park today was under the cover of umbrellas.

The absolutely best thing about weather like this is that the world looks truly lovely. It’s all fresh, green, and you have it to yourself.

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I really felt like I had to do more than normal today.

I needed to somehow be faster, go further – or to climb something. This is mostly because currently my appetite seems to be swinging back and forth like a pendulum and exercise appears to be the only way to suppress or control it. I appear to be alternating between moments where I’m ravenously hungry and days where I don’t think of food at all.

In both instances I’ve been trying to make good choices – because I’m increasingly aware that in a couple of days I weigh in for the first time in two weeks and I’m more than a little nervous about what the result will be.

So much so that as soon as I got home I immediately hopped on my exercise bike whilst chatting to my dad who sat nearby. He’s staying with me for a few days at the moment and I’ve been trying to gently persuade him that he should get bike of his own.

I (much to my surprise) managed to convince him to hop on my own after I’d finished and showed him via the wonders of a heart rate monitor and the readout on the bike what kind of activity he would need to do to burn 100kcal.

In my Dad’s case, freewheeling on the bike with no resistance for 15-20 minutes or so did that.

I then showed him the kcal values on the food he’d just been eating and together we began to join the mysterious dots between energy consumed, energy burned – and finally energy stored. It sounds really obvious – but until you realise exactly what it takes to burn off a bag of tasty crispbreads you’re unlikely to think twice about putting them in your mouth.

It worked for me – although it took quite a while to face up to the painful reality of this – but when you do it’s a great way to motivate yourself to eat more filling foods with a lower salt, fat or sugar content.

In my own case nevertheless I’m still unsure what will happen on Saturday.

On paper the results should be good. I’ve done a lot of exercise (I burned 5500 kcal climbing Snowdon alone) but that in itself doesn’t necessarily mean that my weight will go down. Sometimes the opposite has been true – and radically increased workouts have occasionally resulted in static figures on the scales.

Needless to say at the moment (because I’m preoccupied with this) vegetables are very popular in my house. I’ve been having lots of salads, stir fry vegetables, fish, lean chicken, fresh fruit and basically anything that’s speedy or free on Slimming World’s plan.

There are some days though where the cooking is out of your control – and you are at the mercy of an unknown chef in an unknown place. All you can do then is make educated guesses and hope for the best.

Unusually I texted my Slimming World consultant tonight because of this and asked for help. There was a family meal planned at a nearby Peking and Cantonese restaurant (The Emperors in Leamington Spa) and I’ve hardly eaten out at all in place like this since I started my plan last April.

She was (as always) very helpful – and as well as a few personal tips directed me to a members only part of the Slimming World site (which I’d missed by not logging in) that gave some low syn suggestions for eating out:

  • Chinese cuisine provides loads of meaty choices! Tuck into a 160g serving of barbecue spare ribs (about 4 ribs) for 8½ Syns, or for just 8½ Syns* enjoy beef with mushrooms. There are chicken dishes galore with chicken in oyster sauce at 6½ Syns*, chicken and black bean sauce (7½ Syns*) chicken and mushrooms (9½ Syns*). If you fancy rice with your dishes, boiled rice is Free!
  • Rice and noodle dishes make excellent options. A serving of chicken chop suey with noodles is 9½ Syns*. For a veggie option, stir-fried mixed vegetables are 10½ Syns*. Top up with loads of Free boiled rice for a Chinese banquet.

Armed with this info I ordered a ‘sizzling chicken and black bean sauce‘ from the menu when I got there, along with some steamed rice.

Frankly it looked lovely when it arrived with all of the other food, and thankfully tasted just as delicious.

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Everyone seemed to agree that whatever they’d decided to order was cooked to perfection, and apart from some rice being left on the table (there was a massive bowl to share) everyone’s plate was clean by the end of the night.

The only thing left was to indulge in something naughty – so we called for the drinks list.

When it arrived I scanned quickly up and down. My favourite wasn’t listed!

I looked again. Baileys, Cointreau, Sambuca….

Nope – it’s not there!

I asked the waitress.

She nodded knowingly and scribbled on her little notepad.

I needn’t have worried. They were prepared for my one remaining vice!

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Everything is right with the world when you add coffee.

It’s also right internet when you manage remain on plan – even when you feel like eating the furniture in an unfamiliar setting. It’s even righter-er when the evil little chocolate mint that they’ve given you remains on side of the saucer as you walk away with a self satisfied smile on your face.

Davey

Snowdon epilogue

There are lots of after effects when you do something negative in life – and over the years I’ve carried around more than my fair share of regret about lots of things I’ve done – or (more often) not done.

Right up until the day she died my mother was trapped inside memories of her past, and consumed by bitterness about people she believed had somehow slighted her or opportunities that she felt had been denied. 

I always viewed her as someone very different to myself – as unlike me she regretted nothing and everything bad that had happened in her life was simply someone else’s fault – until one day, when the universe held a mirror up to my face and I unexpectedly saw a reflection of her looking back at me.

I realise once again as I type that 18 months after she died I’m still coming to terms with what her passing means to me and the ways that she affected me both in life and death. 

Although I blamed no one but myself just like her I’d become trapped by inaction and my own addictions. She smoked – whereas I ate and drank. 

However I had instead become stuck in the present rather than the past. I lived my life a day at a time with no promise of a different future and little hope for change.

Today (I write this on Monday 24th in the early afternoon) I feel invigorated by the after effects of cumulatively positive choices. I’m crackling with energy and a sense of personal renewal. 

Although my muscles ache from my activities over the last few days I barely notice the pain at the moment because I’m looking at a brighter horizon than I’ve ever seen in my entire life.

One of the things that I never mentioned in my Snowdon posts was the different emotional tones of the ascent and descent. On the way up we were surrounded by energetic and predominantly youthful climbers who (mostly) were powering up the slopes and leaving us in their dust. 

There were also lots of ‘hello’s’ with people and little chats about which way was the best route to make swift progress.

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On the way down we saw group after group walking with purpose, wearing bright tee shirts proclaiming that they were climbing the mountain because of the loss of a loved one – or for a charity. We overheard snapshots of tale after tale as we passed people during our descent – but almost all were along the lines of ‘if you feel tired then think of (…) he would have loved the view and been so happy today’.

I walked by one woman on her way up as she was describing the tumour in a loved one’s head and how it was growing uncontrollably. One of her companions put a hand briefly on her shoulder as I passed.

Another child shortly after, holding her mom’s hand clambered by me enthusiastically rattling a small pink plastic bucket full of change with a picture of someone sellotaped to the side.

One man was making his way slowly up in silence on crutches.

They were all walking to remember lost loved ones, those still fighting to stay alive or trying to make sense of tragedy by doing something good that might prevent it happening again in the future.

When I got to the bottom of the mountain at the time I could only think about how much my muscles hurt – and the day after I was just overwhelmingly happy about having finally climbed Snowdon after a year of saying I would.

Now I’m home and reflecting on my time away I can’t help but notice how alive I feel – and how precious life is. It’s meant to be lived and I intend to take advantage of it every day that I can until I die.

I think that I partially feel this way so acutely because in many respects I feel like I’ve had my own near death experience.

I don’t mean to be over dramatic or attention grabbing. I’ve not stepped out of the path of a speeding train or fallen from a great height and survived – but when I break my past down those examples are kind of what’s happened to me – but in slow motion.

Not so long ago I was hastening my death – and without realising it I was doing it by becoming just like the last person in the world that I wanted to be compared to.

Then it hits me. 

Just like the little child with the pink bucket I was walking up that mountain because of a loss. Although I didn’t realise it at the time every step was taken in my mother’s memory because the moment of change that made it possible came to me when I was looking into her eyes. 

She never meant to give it – but it was her final parting gift to me. 

I’m not sure why that transformative spark arrived when it did. I’m not even sure that if I was faced with the same circumstances again on a different day that I’d have come to the same conclusion. I don’t know how to fix anyone else and generally I don’t always know how to fix myself – but I’m glad that a random selection of electrical impulses and memories collided in my brain at just the right moment and conspired to give me my life back.

The only thing that I know for sure about myself these days as everything about me changes physically and mentally is that I want to continue to be better.

Today someone contacted me privately and showed me their half a stone slimming world certificate. ‘I just wanted to show you this…’ they said ‘… I finally did it!’

It made me smile from ear to ear. That person had found their own moment in time to move forward and taken the crucial first few steps to begin. 

A week ago another person messaged me to say they’d made a significant change in their life that would dramatically improve their health. On and off we’d been talking about this for some time and a few days ago they found the strength and courage to be who they wanted to be in life – and to cast off their self imposed burdens.

I realise now that I’ve heard a lot of stories like this over the last year and a half – and the greatest gift I’ve received from sharing my progress (or occasional lack of it) hasn’t just been the generous (and often humbling) personal support that people have given me – but the energising and empowering shared tales of personal battles with their own demons.

Each and every single one of us is free to be the absolute best versions of ourselves that it’s possible to be. All it takes is one little moment where enough is enough and you decide to do something different. 

So internet – I can’t tell you how to spark change because I don’t know – but I can say without a shadow of a doubt that you can climb your own personal mountain.

Whatever it is.

However long it takes you to get there.

Regardless of how you feel now.

Life can be better than you can possibly imagine if you want it to be.

Davey

Pegs

When my mother died there were many many things left behind. I hated pretty much all of the time that I spent with my brother sifting through what I viewed at the time as the rubbish and wreckage of a decaying life.

For those who didn’t arrive at the start of my blogging career (which started not coincidentally shortly after her death) there was little love between us towards the end – and even my sense of duty to someone supposedly so close had long since faded. 

My mother was like a magpie – constantly collecting shiny rubbish and nik-naks with little or no value and always seemed supremely adept at burying herself in meaningless trinkets from pound shops. 

From an inheritance perspective (which I didn’t want) she left behind little more than a small sum of money and continual headache that seemed to last for months. 

In some ways it never left me. 

There was no real closure between us except that which I endeavoured to construct in my own mind after the event. However for all the pain it caused the act of emptying her bungalow was in some respects a huge cathartic release. 

My brother and I threw much of its contents away – apart from the dolls, crockery and ornaments that seemed relatively new. They went to charity. 

Most of what I ended up taking home with me I kept because I was too tired to decide what to do with anything any more. It sat filling my spare room for a long time before I eventually gave almost all of it away – in the hope that one day someone else would get some positive use out of it. 

Some small things however I kept. 

Photos for instance are obvious – memories like this are rarely discarded. Those didn’t require much thought. I don’t really want to look at them yet but they’re still in a drawer for a day when I might change my mind. 

The things that meant the least to me at the time – but were silly to throw away were usable items like clothes pegs, washing powder, garden tools, and door hanging tidy pockets. 

It used to endlessly irritate me that she wasted her money on things like this (there were multiples of everything and she didn’t need them) but as I sit in the garden today my clothes are drying on a washing line secured by her pegs. 


On the back of my utility cupboard door there are boot laces, batteries, dusters and light bulbs all neatly arranged in her hanging pockets. 

On the inside handle of my back door is a foam knee pad for weeding. I’ve used that too. It’s useful. 

Below the pad is usually a heavy red pair of suede gardening gloves, which I’ve used over and over again lately to pull nettles and thorny brambles out of my garden. They’ve saved me many an injury. 


I’m struck by the fact (as I watch my washing dry with her pegs in the warm afternoon sunshine) that these items unexpectedly represent something that I loved about her and I feel a little sad. 

She was a practical woman from a working class background who valued tools and items that helped get a job done. When I put my hands into her old gloves I realise that quite unexpectedly they have begun to mean something to me

Her hands used to fit inside them too, and she also used them to weed her garden like I do. All of a sudden we’re connected by such a trivial item and I’m taken aback by the rush of poignancy this brings. 

It’s like I’m somehow holding her hand…

Oddly I’ve realised that this practical side of her – divorced from the emotional closeness that one expects from a mother (but that we never achieved between us in life) is what helps to make my thoughts of her fonder than they otherwise would have been. 


I still can’t understand the complex nature of this troubled lady but I can attempt (every time I fall into the trap of anger about past events) to forgive her and try to remember the good things instead. 

There’s no mileage in bitterness internet. 

All I have to do is put her gloves on to feel some warmth. 

Davey

Spring

I think my mood is being affected by my cold as I’ve no other reason to wake up feeling glum. However for some reason I did.

Oddly today everything seemed grey when I opened my eyes and my enthusiasm for anything and everything was at rock bottom.

Although… now that I think about it – maybe there is something on my mind.

I know I started to deal with my clutter the other day – but I’ve not finished. Doing so has unearthed items I’ve avoided for a quite a while – and some ‘scabs’ are still sitting in drawers and cupboards waiting to be picked.

It’s been over a year since my mother’s death and I’m still seeing things around my house that came from her bungalow or that belonged to her and remind me of times and places I don’t really want to remember.

There was so much of it that it seemed impossible to deal with it at the time. However – now I’m feeling like I want a new start for so many aspects of my life it seems appropriate to try and face up to this.

I’ve not buried any of the feelings I experience about her. It’s quite the opposite actually. I’ve lived them in public as I’ve written them down here – and it’s helped.

There are some things that I ‘inherited’ that are tougher to mentally process and physically deal with though.

I’ve given a lot of the generic stuff away rather than sell it. There were things that could help friends and that I had no need for. Practical stuff – like incontinence pads, cleaning supplies, garden tools, and cans of food.

It made me feel good to see her possessions helping people and re-wrote much of the negative narrative in my mind about the items I was left with. The things she obsessively hoarded could now be used as they were intended to be – in a positive way. 

But then there are her paintings and masses of scribbled (and repetitively duplicated and muddled) notes about the family. All of these are individually wrapped – as if a squirrel inhabited her mind instead of a human being.

It makes pulling the mental puzzles apart that are contained within exhausting.

However the information they hold is useful and relates to the history of my family. I can’t just throw them away – but I also can’t easily order or make sense of them. Up till now it’s been easier to leave them in a cupboard and come back to them at a later date.

‘Later’ is now a year on though and I still haven’t tackled those or the paintings – of which there are a lot – all painted by her.

Although this may sound callous none of them have any emotional attachment for me. With very few exceptions I dislike every single one of them both in style and for what they represent.

The frames and the oil paint she used is discoloured and yellowed by the same cigarettes that killed her and every one of them has lived in the house of a heavy smoker – in some cases for 40+ years.

They smell – and every time I catch a whiff of the odour it brings back a memory of her, attached to oxygen and struggling to breath – but still smoking.

By the same token though they’re paintings and getting rid of them seems almost akin to burning or defacing books in my mind.

On top of that they’re by my mother. She created them. They’re the legacy of her mind and one of the few things she really loved in life.

They’re also one of the few things (now that I reflect upon it) that seemed to make her happy.

It makes me feel nothing but bad that I want to discard them – and I fear that if I do so then later on I’ll regret my decision.

But I don’t want them in my life. 

It’s a conundrum that I don’t have an answer to. Every time I look at them I then immediately look at the loft hatch, which leads to the last totally empty space in my house.

Do I move the problem to yet another location and ‘store’ them there – or is this just avoidance? If I put them in my loft am I deferring the decision or am I sensibly preserving the past? 

I honestly don’t know.

I do know that the only things that make all this go away (at least temporarily) are exercise and going outside.

Doing so gives me a sense of purpose that blows away the cobwebs of the past and reminds me that even if I feel a little low today that tomorrow is a totally new day.

Walking fast and getting out of breath makes me remember that regardless of what’s in my cupboard at home I’m continually moving forward. Even though I’ve yet to deal with this aspect of the past I’m making progress. 

Plus it’s the right time of year to confront the reality of bereavement because the world is suddenly walking up. Nothing truly dies. It’s all just a process of continual rebirth.

As I walked briskly toward my customary coffee shop this morning I noticed that (during the last 48 hours that have passed since I last walked here) spring had arrived.

Hiding in the grass by the path were the first crocus shoots of the year, pushing upwards into the warmth of the Sunday morning sun as it peeked through the cloud cover above.


They look lovely and really cheered me up.

So – after my coffee I’m going to go home and start again.

I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer. I don’t think that grief (or whatever I was left with when she died) needs to be experienced in any particular way or in any particular timeframe.

I do know one thing though.

It’s important to come out the other side feeling like more than you were and not like you’ve been somehow diminished. A person may be gone but they left a legacy – and I don’t mean in terms of property.

Each and every life that ultimately leaves us lives on in the changes that they prompted or the thoughts they left in our minds – be they good or bad.

Every day is a conscious choice for me about what to do with the memories of her. Each time I think about my mother I consciously choose to be inspired by her failings in life and not buried by the weight of her problems.

Plus she liked crocuses Internet. She’d be happy to see them right about now.

If she was alive she would probably be contentedly watching her own grow from a seat in her back garden. She’d be wearing her well worn and faded slippers and thoughtfully smoking a fag – all the time sipping from a hot, milky, sugary mug of tea with a picture of the queen’s jubilee on it.

Davey

Anniversaries

The 26th and 28th of January are a big days for me – but for very different reasons. Whilst one is cause for celebration the other is not, and both have been playing on my mind for weeks.

I need to get my thoughts about these out of my head and onto the page, despite their anniversary still being a few days away.

Firstly – the 28th. The bad one. The day my mom died a year ago. It doesn’t seem like five minutes ago since it happened.

My thoughts on this subject are complex. I wasn’t alone in thinking that she was a damaging and often abusive lady who struggled to connect with anyone on a level other than passive aggressive hostility. Until the day she died she created nothing but conflict with those that found themselves in her orbit.

But she was still my mother…

Because of this I am left with a sense of loss for what should have been rather than fond memories of what was. Over the last year (with varying degrees of success) I’ve had to learn to forgive the person that I knew and try to love her regardless.

I’ll be very honest. Sometimes this means that I have to consciously ‘re-touch’ reminiscences of her so that I can retrospectively experience them in a warmer light – because in reality there are so few good ones that I’m left with.

I don’t do this with anything or anyone else in my life. I have consciously chosen this approach to her memory because there’s no milage in bitterness – especially when it’s directed at someone who’s gone.

All it does is harm those that remain and that’s no way to live.

So I instead remember the (often partially fictional) moments when she smiled and hid special presents at Christmas when I was a little boy, or walks that we went on in the park, and a pirate costume she made for me when I was at infant school.

I jealously guard these memories when I find them. They’re insanely precious. Over the last year I’ve tried to grow and propagate them like flowers in a garden that’s otherwise barren.

For the most part I’ve succeeded. I’m not angry when I think about her and I don’t have animosity in my heart. After a lot of effort I can now see images of her in my mind where she’s happy and smiling.

However I can’t find it within myself to miss or mourn her in the way I think people might expect me to. As much as it would salve my conscience to know that I feel the appropriate and socially acceptable grief one normally associates with the death of a parent, I don’t.

I have a lot of guilt because of this and I often wonder if it makes me abnormal or a bad son.

This is compounded by the fact that (if I’m brutally honest with myself) the 26th of January is a far more significant date to me than the 28th because it represents a massive and positive change in my life.

It’s the day I gave up drinking.

For newer readers who haven’t been following my blog for the last year I don’t consider myself to be an alcoholic – and never did when I was drinking either – although toward the end I had begun to accept that I was probably ‘alcohol dependant’.

This (probably wafer thin) distinction between the two terms meant (to me at least) that while I wasn’t physically in need of alcohol I had learned to emotionally rely upon it to manage almost every aspect of my life. The truth was that instead of helping me it was damaging me almost every conceivable way.

It helped me excuse my eating behaviour over and over again and made it much easier to ignore the reality of my situation – which was that I was committing suicide with food and drink as surely as I would have if I’d taken a bubble bath with my electric toaster.

In a darkly comic moment I realised afterwards that even if I had wanted to take it – this domestic appliance related demise was no longer an option. Although I had the toaster (and the electric) I could no longer fit in the bath.

I had told many close friends I didn’t expect to live to see 50 and that I had accepted that I would probably have a very early death.

Things hadn’t always been this way though. Although my eating and drinking issues started early in life the more pernicious consequences of my habits (such as diabetes, mobility problems, breathing difficulties etc etc) only became problems over time.

Initially alcohol and food were just convenient (and enjoyable) ways to deal with unresolvable and painful emotions. In the early years these were mostly related to my mother but by the time I left home for the second time the patterns that would begin to control me were firmly embedded and I used both substances to deal with the bad times and celebrate the good ones.

I blocked my mom out for years – but in the last stages of her life (through a convergence of circumstances rather than a conscious choice) I finally allowed her back in again. In many ways I was convinced at the time that this was a mistake. In the months following our reacquaintance (up until just before she died) I upped my alcohol intake dramatically to counteract the stress that dealing with her brought.

Then during a particularly disagreeable visit to see her (just after she had left hospital for the final time) my brother stormed out of her bungalow. He exited in a fit of frustration and anger with her (mostly) because she had lasted less than two days without a cigarette after not smoking for almost six weeks in a high dependency COPD ward.

As my mother and I sat alone in her house, and the silence following their argument slowly descended, she turned to me and after a moment said ‘I’m so misunderstood.’

I laughed.

Not because it was funny. It was an exasperated laugh, born primarily out of incredulity. Everyone was trying to help her and she was continually pushing all of them away, making each one in turn regret that they had tried to care.

I didn’t know why she so often did or said so many things to hurt people but in that moment I definitely understood her capacity for self delusion. I knew what it was like to give in to seductive but self destructive impulses. I also knew what it was like to eventually feel consumed by them – and to decide that there was no way out.

I realised the reason why I was still sitting with her was that unlike my brother I felt no anger or disappointment that she had started smoking again.

I didn’t feel that way because I expected it. I knew deep down that I was looking in a mirror when I looked at my mom. She knew she was dying – and she had known for years that what she was doing would eventually kill her but she did it anyway.

And there it was.

I drank and ate the same way that she smoked. There was no reason to worry about the consequences because (like her) I’d convinced myself that nothing mattered any more. The end was inevitable and I couldn’t change it.

Until that moment I was so sure that I was nothing like her.

I often couldn’t bear her company. It was impossibly hard to avoid arguments and I found it completely exhausting playing the games of mental hopscotch that were required to do so. She was full of anger and bitterness and could never move past anything that she considered was a personal slight or injustice.

And yet I was doing exactly the same thing that she was to herself but with a different substance.

So two days before she died on the 26th Jan I had my last drink. It was one of the most difficult mental transitions of my life – but now as I sit here a year later I know that it was also the most important.

So – it’s complex. I feel happiness that I finally found my current impetus for change – but I also feel guilt because of the reasons behind it. My shift didn’t start because of a nurturing, loving mother. It came as the cumulative result of years of pain, frustration, anger and sadness and because I wanted to be nothing like her.

I feel very conflicted because of this.

In an ideal world over the years she would have led me by the hand toward being the man I am now with support and love. She’d have been here with me as I type to celebrate my successes and commiserate my failures in life. We’d share a cup of tea while we talked about the good old days, and the happy memories that we had made together as mother and son.

That’s not what happened however – and every day that I get better and recover from years of self abuse I have to construct my own, better reality. In this new world I continue to choose a healthy life, and not live in the past or give in to anger or bitterness.

As I sit here nearly a year later I think the best that I can do is say that in her memory I’ve done something good with the last year, and that wherever she is now I hope she’s content and that she too has finally found happiness.

mom

Davey