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30 Jan 2011

Post 267: The rocky road of post-stroke life

Despite having a few tough training sessions lately that have made me question why I put myself through this I received an encouraging email from Tom Balchin the other day (the stroke survivor who set up a physical rehab charity ARNI that Ian and I went to see last month. Interestingly I had met him 3 ish years before when some friends of mine had put on a fundraiser for me Here's what he said
Hi Dom

It was such a pleasure to meet you again after a few years - you have progressed astonishingly - in Oxted you were brought to the venue in an ambulance if I remember right. Now look how far you've come, I'm going to train Ian through the ARNI Accreditation and your progress will go through the roof. You and I will also be swapping trance music! Looking forward to next time we see each other at the ARNI Centre...

Once again, this should cheer me up but if only mere words were the solution, I'd be fine. Yes, talking it out and writing this helps, but it's not the solution. Instead this week has been diabolical. I have decided that my priorities in life that make/will make life worth living again are:
1.My family and friends
2.Keeping busy and trying to enjoy life
3.My physical therapy
You will notice that I am not going to bother going for full independence. In my opinion this would only be a goal worth pursuing, if I wasn't afflicted with this bloody fatigue. All the stroke survivors I have met who have achieved basic independence again have not been afflicted with anything like the fatigue that this stroke has given me. I have tried to overcome it but nothing budges it. Therefore, I decided that the only way I could live that makes life worth living is if able bodied people in the vicinity do things in seconds, that would take me minutes of struggle to do because of my exhaustion and disability.
Herein lies the problem, apparently this is me being lazy and 'giving up'. F*ck that, has no-one any idea how hard everything now is compared to anyone else? this is me accepting that my left arm and fatigue have not improved and will not improve and me trying to navigate the rocky path that is now life by placing absolutely minimal demands on others and trying to live the rest of my life according to my objectives:
1.My family and friends and finding love, if I found love, the chances of me chipping in more with occupational therapy tasks are infinitely higher, plus someone who genuinely cared about me would want to help me.
2.Keeping busy and trying to enjoy life well within my means
3.My physical therapy and staying in shape. (learning to walk within the constraints of this bloody stroke
Given what the last five years have been like, I honestly think this adheres to reason and logic filtering out emotional nonsense. Emotion is important and should be understood but logic is unflappable.
In other news I went to see comedian and cricket Buff Miles Jupp at the Bloomsbury theatre. I first got whiff of him on TV, he is certainly the poshest sounding comedian (even more so than Michael MacIntyre). In this his first solo national tour) he tells the rather entertaining story of how he went to India under the auspices of being a regional BBC cricket correspondent but has to bluff his way through being a cricket hack when his already sketchy credentials fall apart. Very luckily I managed to find a lastminute lift off college partner in crime Guy Wolf, I was obi-wan Kenobi to his Yoda at college and despite us being a bit late we managed to meet my old schoolfriend Owen there. Owen, a bit of a former Cricketer, I think loved it. We all had a good chortle, mission accomplished. Tonight (Saturday), I am taking in Cirque du Soleil for the third year on the trot (Here's my report from last year) Guttingly, my neighbour Trace can't make it but the legend that is Sacha can, and Trace's lastminute replacement is Sacha's friend Tasha who I'd only ever spoken to on facebook but any friend of Sacha's is a friend of mine. I must report they are hilarious together, a comedy double act and I hope they won't mind if I compare them to the 'birds of a fevver', but funny. Getting to spend the evening with them should be enough of a laugh, indeed it was, but if we have good seats in the Albert Hall it will be spectacular, sadly, I don't think they'll ever be as good as last year because of the design of the stage which I haven't got a photo of because all photography was forbidden. I remember saying a long time ago that one of the good things about the Albert hall was all the cute well spoken ushers, sadly the flipside of that was the balding speccy middle aged automoton male usher jobsworth Nazi that was incredibly officious about making sure that you are deprived of photographic evidence. I hate these people – they're up there with customs officers for enjoying being b*stards, I couldn't care less if 'they're just doing their jobs', they wield what faux power they have like a sadistic teacher. Grrrrr. Sorry, it really wound me up! As for the show, it really was amazing. I can balance independently on two legs for a few seconds. Some of thes guys get launched thirty feet in the air, do a couple of summersaults and land without breaking sweat. I like to think of it like this
I used to be able to juggle with three balls, it wasn't easy, your average cirque de Soleil performer can juggle with 20 balls, wearing a blindfold. They are freaks, superhumans. I can't even begin to describe how inadequate they make me feel.
Speaking of spectacular, I don't think that would be the wrong adjective to use to describe the cinema film that my 6 months pregnant friend Vicky Denning kindly took me to in Esher on Friday. It prompted me to post this update on Facebook 'Dom Understands why Avatar was amazing but can't quite put his finger on why the Kings Speech is better' It was awesome but made me think 'How weird was this country?'
Finally, while I was on Facebook I noticed that great friends of mine, The Rowlands (Shaun and Renae) have finally had their first baby, Polly was almost two weeks late but she's here at last, and mother and baby are well. They maybe on the other side of the world, but that doesn't alter the fact that I'm so proud of them.

23 Jan 2011

Post 266: The soul-crushing inevitably of hope


Still trying to make something of the nothing month that is January, a month that only used to be any use because I used to give up Alcohol. It used to be amazing how much better you felt until I read somewhere that proving to yourself you could stop drinking for a month was a sign of being an alcoholic – meh, whatever you do you can't win! The myriad people I know who have taken up running, think of your knees!!
Anyway, the last few days have bucked me up a bit to make up for the unfortunate mental hammering that is the beginning of January – if more proof were needed – surely winter is more proof for the non-existence of god? Winter and the cold is sh*te. Especially in the UK.
Slightlty mitigating my meteorological low pressure ( see what I did there?) I was thrilled to be contacted out of the blue by an old schoolfriend who had googled me after a drunk old man on a train had muttered something about Exeter College .My equally pissed mate had overheard him and thought, I know someone who went there. Anyway the bloke in question was a guy called Owen Griffiths, a guy who I'd been good friends with at school (over 15 years ago) and last seen the night princess Diana died, at a Party which I have limited recollection of. Good times clearly. Owen now lives 15 minutes away and is married with kids. I shouldn't be surprised by this, he was one of my more charming friends and as I recall was very much a ladies man. B*stard!
Despite any underlying jealousy I may harbour he took me out for lunch at the bear – it was so good to see him!
My other efforts to recapture any latent youth have been about going to a couple of concerts (as usual). That's what this is about I suppose. Following on from that program I saw on the noughties the other day , apparently in the internet age the only music we're prepared to pay for is live music or rather the live experience which can't be replicated. This explains a lot of my behaviour actually.
On Friday night I went for the 2nd time to see some early to mid-teen favourites of mine 'The Cult' at the Hammersmith Apollo with 3 of my best college mates, Guy, Alex and Ric who unbeknownst to me were much bigger Cult fans than me, no, not gothic Satan worshippers, although we all agree that lead singer Ian Astbury, has eaten one too many pies (personally, I thought he looked like Meatloaf!) but the lead guitarist Billy Duffy rules! In fact very few people I know appreciate bands for much more than their music. None of my friends are moody black t-shirt clad gothic self-harmers – we can't be arsed. I can't be arsed with people trying to be something they're not. Fools. To further illustrate this I took in the Manic Street Preachers at Brixton Academy last night with Simon and Yvonne Dawes. I lost count of the number of times I said 'this is/ that was f*cking brilliant'. Particularly touching was the moment when bassist Nicky Wire said 'I just want to introduce my best friend, the genius, James Dean Bradfield' I love moments like this, although I find his 'working class hero' credentials disingenuous, he is a genius. I think I'd mentioned how much I'd loved the Manics in the first love letter I'd ever wrote aged 11 more than 20 years ago. Not even drunk I found myself saying to Simon last night 'mate, you're living the dream, you've got a wonderful wife, two awesome kids, and a promising job and future – nice!'. An honourable mention must also go to Christine,the security lady, who heroically cleared a path through hundreds of people to the disabled loo, without her help we would never have made it!
When I go back to my soul-crushing training regime tomorrow, all I can do is hope and be grateful to have been given some chance I suppose.

16 Jan 2011

Post 265: Information overload!

For once I've got too much on my mind to write about and it's terribly confusing. I've got roughly three topics:
1.New developments in my physical training regime and generally what I've been up to.
2.The phenomenom that is 'trying to be cool' and what a shower of sh*t that is
3.Inspired by seeing a program about the 'noughties', some thoughts I had.
Anyway, in the first instance, I have been getting a bit frustrated with my physical therapy program – in that I felt like I was doing a lot of hard work for no reward. I know I am in a fortunate position of living next door to my main trainer and having a personal trainer both paid for by the money friends have raised for me. With this in place you would have thought I would feel pretty optimistic about my prospects – sadly not. I never felt like anything was improving despite always turning up to my sessions and doing much more than the NHS were ever prepared to do. With this in mind I got in touch with an organisation called ARNI (action for rehabilitation of neurological illnesses) and Ian and I went down to see the guy who set it up, a rather remarkable guy called Tom Balchin, himself a stroke survivor who has through his own determination trained himself back to independence and set up this organisation that trains people in various techniques for rehabilitating stroke survivors. I would like to do a similar thing but as ever my problem is fatigue, I hate to go on about it, but I've never met anyone with fatigue like mine (ie it seems to visibly affect me), I haven't met a single other person it so obviously visibly affects. I am hoping this will be the missing link in helping put together a program which will help me feel like I'm doing specifically the right thing rather than generally the right thing. It was the most exhausting day, so much so, that by the end of the day I was so tired that I actually fell off my chair like a parrot falling off his perch! Jesus! Tom has recovered amazingly, the day was very useful because not only did it give him a chance to assess me and say some encouraging words I really felt Ian bought into it too. Ian has been a sports therapist for years and to me, it's vital that he finds this credible, new and useful. We are going to focus more on me independently balancing rather than faster assisted walking. I'm also going to focus more on strength work and taking more bodybuilding supplements.
On the Monday I saw my friend Simon. He is always good value and we have a laugh, on Thursday, I did what I do best these days, got a group together to go and see comedian Stephen K Amos at the Norden Farm Centre for the Arts just outside Maidenhead. I've been to see Amos several times now and he's always someone you can bank on. The evening was in honour of my friends Stevie and Naomi who have come over to the UK for January from their home in Melbourne -it's so good to see them again! Before they left I organised a similar outing to see Amos back in 2009. which was such a success that it is now the model night. Then he had had the same warm up man, a guy called Seann Walsh, who as warm up acts go is pretty tidy – an angry, lazy, observational comedian who says he needs to improve his health as he gets out of breath 'grating cheese'. Amos himself is sharp as a tack, too-ing and fro-ing with the audience with ease. I'm not too surprised he's got his own TV show now. So not a bad night really
Secondly,I was unfortunate enough to half watch a film the other night called 'he's just not that into you' which could be a porn film for blokes with little dicks but instead is a rom-com which should have come with the health warning 'WARNING, CONTAINS JENNIFER ANISTON'

Actually she's passable but what struck me about the film is how awfully all the guys behave. A lot of the premise is about how it's convention to 'play it cool' with someone you've just met ie pretend to not be interested. God this convention annoys me and creates so much unnecessary insecurity – it's fine if you genuinely don't like the other person but I just don't understand 'not being too keen' on someone you genuinely like, plus this film appears to be full of good looking, charming self assured types, you know, the kind of people you'd reverse over just to be sure. What I particularly hated about it was the almost assumed assured belief that the male characters could just get any girl and could then keep them interested by 'playing it cool' aka 'being nasty', maybe I am a bit rusty and slightly more insecure than I used to be but there's never a time and a place to be a 'nasty bastard'.
And finally 'phew' I saw a program about what living in the noughties meant. Very interesting – it was apparently the decade where we all refused to grow up and we tried to recapture our youth because the only time we were truly happy was when we were kids and weren't really capable of worrying about the future, this probably also explains a lot about why my unhappiness has been compounded. In a decade where I was trying to be all youthful my youth has been taken away from me. I was looking forward to my thirties, but now I might as well be in my nineties. I do try and recapture my youth but I can't seem to reachieve any of the feelings or independence of my 20s. Help!

9 Jan 2011

Post 264: Materialism: A sad fact of modern life






In the last week (a sad reflection of how little there is on at this time of year) I relistened to Cityboy, a book that when I had listened to it last time had caused me to write this
It is a vile story, that I found funny because there are a few situations and people I can directly relate to my time in the city despite the fact I was a paragon of virtue compared to the main character. It was a horrific time when materialism was everything, and I'm slightly ashamed to say that a bit of it wore off on me at the time, and although I hate materialism it is an objective measure and the way I feel has to be the starting point to any sales pitch of myself to people who don't know me. I am not a materialist, I am a realist, and not in the same way racists sometimes say they are realists. I recognise that there must be some materialism in the world but the proof to me that materialism is not the right way is that premiership footballers and hip hop stars are not the happiest people in the world. The path to happiness is through not being a f*ckwit. We've all done stupid things, I know I have, but that was always in the pursuit of fun and hilarity which is ok in my book, it's just when stupidity and the absence of common sense define behaviour when I start to lose the plot. I believe the same things now as I did before my stroke, it's just difficult for me to get over the physical barriers this stroke has left me with so I find myself falling back on the material things I have rather than trying to force myself to try and be my old self. I have tried to look the same and sound the same but my body won't let me do it, it's because somewhere deep down I believe that all this physio might actually do something and I might be able to walk, talk, look and feel normal again at some unknown point in the future, although I remain realistic. I may sound like a broken record but I am convinced that I will start to feel better on the day I meet the right girl who I want to share my material possessions with after a meeting of the minds. This is the only form of materialism I can possibly embrace.
At the other end of the scale, I was taken out for dinner last night by some of my dearest friends, Nick and Sally Walmsley to one of my favourite local fish restaurants, the Loch Fyne in Cobham. When I got slightly overexcited about this in an email, Nick shut me up by describing it thus: 'Steady on - it's just some fish surrounded by Daily Mail readers... ' He's right of course.
The other noteworthy news is that Steve and Naomi are back over from Melbourne for a month and they dropped in on me last week. A couple of years ago we had a great night out seeing comedian Stephen K Amos in Farnham back in March 2009 , next week we're going to try and better it by seeing the genial Mr Amos in Maidenhead with a big group. It should be fun – Materialism, f*ck it, it's for premiership footballers and hip hop stars. Both a bunch of idiots.

2 Jan 2011

Post 263: 2011 arrives (with a fizzle)

I have been thinking about what to write in this post for a couple of days. I'm not really sleeping well either which helps nothing.
I'm not a sociopath, i.e. someone who just says the first thing that comes into my head. Arguably, I think I have quite an effective tact filter but have found myself thinking lately when someone blathers something that wouldn't interest anyone at all, I have resisted the temptation to say 'excuse me, you appear to have mistaken me for someone who gives a sh*t' – apparently that's quite harsh. Someone I don't know all that well wrote me an email today asking about what I do with my post stroke life. I had to think about it and came up with this – I suppose the only bit missing is that 7 days a week, I put myself through a physical training regime which keeps me in shape but normal humans would 'give up' on but I'm not in the habit of letting people down
'Firstly, thanks for keeping up with the blog - it feels that writing it is somehow more worthwhile. It does sound like we would have been unlikely to have crossed paths. Before my stroke I was very London-centric. I lived in Brixton, worked in Victoria and a lot of my friends were quite centrally-London based. Now, I live totally differently, friends aren't just on my doorstep and I'm rubbish at being alone, so life is now about meeting new friends and asking existing friends (nicely – sometimes almost pleading) to make plans to come and see me or take me to an event. This has pretty much become my life now. Feeling alone is pretty much my idea of hell, so I try and keep busy and in good company.'

'I like to think I've always been compassionate. I was always the type to proactively listen to peoples problems, but having this happen has made me appreciate others more, my parents are a great example. Since I went to Uni in 1995, I was always fairly independent of them even though we've always been close. Since my stroke they have been unbelievable. I often used to joke after 2 years in hospital. 'I've seen more of them in the last 2 years than in the rest of my life!' They gave up holidays and a peaceful retirement to try and make my bloody awful hospital sentence less unpleasant. I like peace and quiet too but I hate being bored and idle which is probably why I go to so many shows, probably too many given my fatigue and resources, but what else would I do? Sleeping and watching telly alone are dull.' Especially sleeping alone.
Audiobooks are one place I take refuge, they certainly increase the breadth of my knowledge and give me the ability to voice less bullsh*t strewn opinions about things. In the past I have been less than generous with my opinions on the city and those who work for financial institutions, investment banks and stockbrokers (here is just one example of my ranting) , anyway, the book I listened to before to try an explain the virtual 'end of the world' 'the Trillion Dollar Meltdown' was interesting but perhaps a bit dry so I turned up 'The Big Short' written by Michael Lewis, the same guy who had written 'Liars Poker' (my musings)
Now it's easy-ish to say you saw a financial crisis coming with the benefit of hindsight. Lewis doesn't actually do this, instead he cleverly and wittily tells the story of a few guys who did, and my conclusions were pretty much unaltered although I am slightly more incredulous that financial Armageddon basically happened. If anything, I recommend some of my more firebrand friends listen to it as a jargon-reduced way of understanding why the taxpayer forked out billions to prop up a banking system that nobody likes anyway, because apparently banks need to be prepared to pay for 'the best' people. The very same 'best' people who practically brought down the system, ironically they must be sniggering all the way to the bank! B*stards. who should take the flack for this? Well plenty of people, Banks for inventing these investments backed by worthless pools of money that clever Maths PHDs said were perfectly safe, misincentivised mortgage salesmen in an America who were simply rewarded on the total number of mortgages they sold rather than the total number of performing mortgages they sold (where performing = people who could actually keep up repayments). It was a sick joke, a fraud and a scam, dressed up in what turned out to be the emperors new clothes. I am gutted to be in a world where we do this to ourselves, where the greed and power of the few subordinates the happiness of the many. I accept totally that power has to be concentrated in a few hands to represent the rest of us, it's just such a shame that the interests of a few seem to be so different to those of the many and how money and power are so corrupting. I'm no idealist so I'll shutup, I'm just existing because I'm allowed to, this isn't remotely funny so is hardly worth reading. I will try and make this funnier in 2011.
Big thanks go to my friends who made time for me over the New Year Period. Richard 'He Shoots, he scores' Lloyd and his six months pregnant wife Vicky who have moved in down the road (in Claygate) (I went to their wedding in October last year)
On New Years day, I had two separate visits from mates of mine who had obviously had as large a New Year's eve as me, James Renshaw, a mate of mine from college and a friend, who I have got to know through facebook, Froniga. 2011 will doubtless be more graft and a lot of the same as 2010, on the Physio side I have committed to get Ian trained and accredited by ARNI (action for Rehabilitation of neurological injuries). Ian is a jack of all trades and as he is my main trainer, it makes sense for him to get some neurological speciality input from an organisation that has got people like me walking again.
I keep trying to find the girl who'll help me through this and despite being in touch with a few she remains elusive. I should probably just stop going on about it. The kittens are growing up into very nice cats, and are now less convinced that anyone showing an interest in them clearly must want to kill them. They are quite happy to be fussed over and are totally dedicated to Susan (my housekeeper), as is she to them. My neighbours have just got a dog, which is not the nightmare it might sound like, he has been an angel (so far). Dylan (next doors 8 year old) is thrilled. At last, he finally has a play companion with as much energy as him!

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