Sick of being sick

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This has pretty much been my life for the past 9 months. Twice a week. Herbs, vitamin supplements, probiotics, restricted diet, no alcohol, and a RIFE machine (a machine that transmits frequencies into my body to kill things). I’m sick of Lyme disease, I’m sick of having it. I’m sick of hearing about people who have just been diagnosed with it and about to enter an unknown world of suffering. I’m sick of reading about people who have been suffering for years with a mis-diagnosis. I’m currently battling off a very snotty, coughy cold. No problem, it’s just a cold right? Except that it’s not, because every bit of energy my body needs to shrug this off is energy my body also requires to fight Lyme too.

It’s partly my own fault (well mostly) – I do too much. My mind still believes I can do things that I used to, that I still have that energy and capability, ever the optimist. So I’ve thrown myself into skydiving – something that brings me joy and let’s me feel free. Things were going good, it was bringing me closer to a lifelong dream, which previously was always a ‘one day’ thing because climbing occupied all my time. Of course, typical me has no concept of moderation. I’ve done over 100 jumps this year already, and broken myself in a new way. It’s a hard situation to accept for me, that I can’t and possibly may never be the same again. That my body simply isn’t as robust as it used to be, and cannot physically maintain strength and recovery as before. My limits have changed, so instead I need to build in a large margin of safety, which I still don’t know how to gauge.

In evolutionary terms, I should be dead. I would not have survived on my own without acupuncture, I would be lying next to the Dodo. It’s thanks (or not) to medical advances and humans triumphing(?) over evolution that we can live for so much longer these days. We refuse to succumb to the path laid down by disease, and so millions of pounds from charity marathons, bake sales, car washes, tandem skydives etc goes to Big Pharma to find ways to cheat Darwin. But is that really the answer?

I believe that we as a species are regressing. Without evolution separating out the bad genes, along with the ingrained societal belief that we are too clever and powerful, we’re creating many new problems for ourselves. An example is from Chinese medical practice and theory, where it is believed that food has certain hot/cold properties which maintain balance in your body. This valuable information has been passed down through generations over thousands of years but is now being lost, dropped in favour of, “I’ll eat whatever I want to because I can” and, “drugs will fix me, and quick!” We choose what we eat, and food is made now simply according to taste and what people crave, even if it’s bad for you and will cause you problems. Most of us know that eating a spicy curry will probably give us a bad stomach the next day, but have you ever noticed that eating a lot of fried food gives you a sore throat too?

Trying to live with this disease, and deal and manage all the complications that come with it has brought me greater awareness of what I put in my body, and how my body reacts to it. I’m more in tune with what my body is trying to tell me, such as good and bad pain. I’m aware of situations that I want to take myself out of, but currently the mountains is not somewhere I can retreat to, to find my peace and solitude, but it’s coming…I’ll be there soon, inshallah.

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“Every experience, no matter how bad it seems, holds within it a blessing of some kind. The goal is to find it.” (Buddha)

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Update on vanlife and Lyme disease

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The point at which things started going really wrong, April 2017

It’s coming up to a year now from when I first started suffering, and I’ve been having acupuncture fairly regularly now for the past 6 months, so I thought I’d write an update.

Most people when they see me ask me how I am, and I sense that it’s not the typical casual greeting. So I answer them honestly without trying to be on too much of a downer. I’m about 80% better – my shoulders and collarbone are still ‘crunchy’ when I move them around, my neck still feels a little stiff at times, I still have sciatica down my right leg, and I’ve still got a fair bit of joint pain/discomfort in my left foot – heel and little toe. I’m a world away from the state I was last year, where I was afraid to leave the house in case something happened, I couldn’t walk even a couple of steps without pain, constant sleepless nights and having to lift my head and provide support to my neck to get myself up out of bed every day! And that’s just the physical stuff, mentally I’m a different person! I have regained mental clarity – I can think straight, I don’t forget words I want to use, I feel positive and confident I can get over this and I’ve even got (very) vague plans for the future!

Going through all this has cemented how precious good health is and how wonderful it is to be alive. It has created focus in my mind that I want to live as true to myself as possible, and those that have negative and nonconstructive feelings and attitudes towards my goals and the way I choose to live and what I value are unnecessary drags on my life. Sure, some might be trying to think of what’s best for me or provide some balance of sensibility to my life but often I think it’s a projection of their own insecurities. Life is to be lived! But also there is not only one truth – you just have to do what you love, FOR YOURSELF. Forget trying to conform to what people expect of you, forget trying to show off to strangers, forget trying to live someone else’s dream. It is your life and you’re the only one who can decide what is right for you.

IMG_2197In terms of vanlife I’ve upgraded to a Hymer, so really it should now be #motorhomelife! I decided that to live in, especially in the UK and when I’m working, that living space is important to me. I want good living space, a proper bed, proper cooking facilities, and a bathroom. I’d always wanted to build my own van, have it exactly how I want it, but that wasn’t happening in my physical state so I looked at this one and it fit the bill. I’m actually so glad I bought this, it’s introduced me to a brilliant community (Classic Hymers on facebook) and I’m now living in something that just works (most of the time!).

It’s pretty cold here now, so I turn the heating on. Simples. I’m making good use of my pressure cooker, which I love as it locks in the nutrients from the food, and I’ve got virtually everything in here, including my skis! It’s left hand drive as well, which I don’t really find to be much of a problem, and it’s a good reminder that I can’t wait to get back out to mainland Europe and do some trips and just LIVE!

It’s easy to fall back into old habits, especially when you have a lot of time on your hands to think. I think a lot about why I sold my business and the direction I wanted to take my life in instead. I had an opportunity present itself to get back into business, and I considered it as maybe it would be a good distraction and even possibly fund the rest of my life. But that is not what I want. I don’t want to be old and retired before I see the world, I don’t want to be burnt out and too tired to explore. I don’t want to wait any longer to grow and nuture my relationship with nature. It’s crazy that it takes such catastrophic events for us to sit back, re-evaluate and understand what is really important to us, but maybe it has to be this way otherwise we’ll never truly appreciate the gift of life.

The main thing that I’ve realised going from a very dark place to living in a van again is how much I need FREEDOM. Freedom to eat what I need to, when I need to. Freedom to move where the universe guides me. Freedom to go for a walk and get some fresh, mountain air. Freedom to see amazing views for myself and exert myself physically, rather than to see everyone else living and becoming resentful for not being able to do the same. Maybe I should have made peace with that and accepted my situation and just lived in the present, but I couldn’t. All the things that I hold so dear to me now (and took for granted) are what now defines me; they’re the things that make me feel alive and happy and I’m not ready to let that stuff go!

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Me on top of Napes Needle, Great Gable (Jan 2018)

As Rachel Platten said, “This is my fight song. Take back my life song. Prove I’m alright song. My power’s turned on! Starting right now I’ll be strong, I’ll play my fight song. And I don’t really care If nobody else believes Cause I’ve still got A lot of fight left in me!”

“May the candle that burns you deliver your light.”

Patience and gratitude

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Some people say that disease is the greatest teacher of all. I’m not sure about that, but I do believe that everything happens for a reason. Karma, cosmic vibrations, bachi, yin/yang fate, destiny…these all mean the same across many different cultures.

2017 was a bad year for me, I had so many plans and ideas that I was ready to finally go for and not be afraid to do – to truly travel and live in my van, while keeping things simple and exploring what life can be with less. I’d planned to work a few months to save up some money then just go – one way ferry to Europe and see what happened.

Lyme disease changed that plan, it wasn’t meant to be for me in 2017. Instead I learned much more about myself in ways that I hadn’t planned for; how dark could my mind become, how positive could I stay in the face of potentially losing the life I’d dreamed of. I thought I had a healthy diet – lots of fresh vegetables, fish and occasionally some treats – but I gradually realised a deeper understanding of food, like that fresh veg isn’t just fresh veg – not if the soil it’s been grown with is depleted of nutrients. I learnt about the Chinese view of hot and cold food, of Chinese medicine and the principles underlying the theory. I learnt how I deal with extreme frustration, how emotionally immature I really am, the basics of meditation. I realised how much being outdoors and close to nature really meant to me, and how I dream about it when I can’t access it. I learned how much I used to take physical health for granted, simple functions such as walking free…how I longed to be able to just go for a run.

2017 created a lot of empathy in me, empathy with patients and others who I’d previously marginalised as hypochondriacs, sufferers of their own doing, or simply desperate people who didn’t know any better or couldn’t find or get the help they needed. I’d always been so caught up in my own well-being and personal growth that I didn’t have time for other people’s problems – Lyme disease made me realise that we all have battles, not all are obvious, and we should all be more understanding and caring to others as we don’t know what they’ve been through.

2017 gave me time to continue my kaizen (constant, never-ending improvement of self) in other, less physical, ways. I sought more information and knowledge about this disease, about it’s causes, onset, symptoms, manifestations, and spiritual and emotional connections. It made me reflect on what I really wanted from life, what was important to me and what I wanted to do with the life I have.

This is a very vague post but I just want to say that I’m grateful for all the friends I have who, even though I may hardly see you anymore, still offer me support and friendship through difficult times. I’m grateful for the people I’ve met who have inspired me and provided positive vibes to live life fully no matter what. I’m grateful for whoever gave me this body and to the tick who passed me Lyme disease so that I could grow in ways that I hadn’t been my focus. Life goes on guys, so I’ll just say Namasté to you all 🙂

(In case you don’t know Namasté means – I honour the place in you where the entire Universe resides. I honour the light, love, truth, beauty and peace within you, because it is also within me. In sharing these things we are united, we are the same, we are one.)

 

“No matter what, everything is connected, and everything has a purpose, even this seemingly purposeless, torturous disease. There is a meaningful kernel in it that helps me to evolve, perhaps even plays a part in the evolution of the planet as a whole.” (Heiner Fruehauf)

Lyme disease – the darkness and the light

Ok so I’ve got Lyme disease. There I said it. I admitted to it. I’m learning to accept it. I still can’t believe it.

How did this happen? When did this happen? Why did it happen to ME!? The what if’s could go on forever, but I don’t think it does me any good. It doesn’t change anything, it doesn’t make me feel better, and it certainly won’t help me get better. I will, though, give you a brief run down of how I think it happened.

Ok so I spend a lot of time outdoors, from the small gritstone edges of the Peak District, to the higher ranges of the Himalayas. That all sounds very grand, but it’s not really. I’ve barely scraped the surface of the world’s mountainous areas, but it does mean that I’ve bushwhacked through the overgrown bracken of Stanage and got lost while trekking the high passes of the Everest region. What they have in common is they both provide a suitable habitat for ticks. Ticks that may bite you. And give you Lyme disease.

From the past few years, I can only think of one occasion where I got bitten by a tick – in Nepal, shortly before I got lost, I noticed something that looked like a lentil attached to my left arm. I first tried to flick it off, then in a little panic I ripped it out of me. It hurt a little, and felt like a little hard, numbish lump. I didn’t really think much more of it, and anyway, I was about a day’s walk from the nearest major village, which was another day’s walk to the airport that could have flown me out and to proper medical help.

Fast forward to 2017. Winter had been a successful first season doing the vanlife thing in Spain, visiting various famous climbing spots, until my shoulders started to feel a bit twingey. I shrugged it off, and decided to go bouldering as obviously I needed to get them stronger. From then on, started a slow chain of events that led to me experiencing a variety of symptoms, including: very stiff neck (almost unable to turn side to side), pain in upper back, heel pain, little toe joint pain, inflamed little toe, sciatica on my right side, lower back pain and possibly some more. I went to see physiotherapists, osteopaths, chiropractors, acupuncturists. Everyone had a different opinion. I had blood tests, an x-ray. Still nothing conclusive – just raised inflammatory markers. Eventually, on my third blood test they tested for Lyme disease, and the penny (slowly) dropped.

I’d heard about Lyme disease, I was aware of it. I read more and more about it, my symptoms matched. My GP prescribed me a 2 week course of antibiotics. That didn’t seem to do much. I self-prescribed another 4 weeks. I kept up with the acupuncture as it seemed effective against the inflammation in my joints. I felt like I was getting better. I almost had a whole week asymptomatic. Then bam! I feel like I’m back at square one. Obviously I’m not, I’m still a million miles better than before (my neck was so stiff and I was in so much pain I struggled to sleep at night, which turns into a horrible endless cycle of constant sleep deprivation (and therefore the obstruction of the time for the body to heal itself, increasing pain, and inevitable depression).

These setbacks take you to a dark place. A place where you become desperate, willing to try anything that might work, believe any idea. A place where you wonder if you’ll ever get better, where you scour the web for stories of people who ‘have’ beat Lyme disease, who were successful and their story can form the basis of your inspiration and motivation to keep fighting. To not feel helpless, to regain some control over your destiny and direction of life. To not feel like you want to go BASE jumping and not worry if the parachute doesn’t open. To truly live out your bucket list until the end.

In fact, the success stories are very few and far between. Maybe because those lucky ones are too busy living the rest of their life to the full. Maybe they don’t have time to write about it on the internet. Let’s hope that’s the case, rather than the much less cheerful idea that this is something that I’ll have to live with for the rest of my life. This is a hard pill to swallow. My entire world and identity has shifted; my life, as I had shaped it to be, is currently over.

I believe that everything happens for a reason. I really do. So maybe this is to make me slow down, take a step back and reassess. Maybe it’s to push my life in a different direction. Maybe it’s to make me thankful for what I do have, and to acknowledge and be grateful for the supportive friends that care about me and are standing with me through this. Without this, I wouldn’t have made a whole new bunch of friends that I have now. It’s almost pulling me back into society as a necessity, because now I am unable to go to the mountains in solitude and find peace, now I need to find peace through other means; more accessible means. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

“Happiness only real when shared” (Christopher McCandless)

A bloody good day out!

Ned working the roof on Quietus

Well it was a bloody good weekend in fact! I’d had a terrible week at work, and really needed to just leave that all behind and decompress. The weather didn’t want to make it too easy for me, because nothing worth having is easy right!?) and so it began with a lazy start on Saturday with plans to hit Burbage North (my first time there actually) mainly to aim for Long Tall Sally (E1 5b) which is on the Top 50 Eastern Grit ticklist that I’ve been working through. Ned also planted a seed for The Sentinel (E2 5b) and then we’d see what else we fancied. 

The Sentinel


After sending The Sentinel (which I was pretty chuffed about) we were having a late lunch and ready to call it a day when someone was wandering along talking about the arête next to us Now or Never (E1 5b) which he’d solo’d years ago and found it pokey and stiff for HVS (hence the upgrade). Danger? Not much gear? Committing? Sign me up! Anyway all went well and we found out later at the Ape Index Hard Grit Live was that this guy was part of that whole scene! Brilliant!

Which nicely leads onto what a weird, inspirational, funny and very, VERY random night it was at the Picturehouse in Sheffield presented by Niall Grimes. The background to these legendary climbs and a peek into what the world of climbing was like back then was more than enough to send my psyche levels sky high, and so after reaching my customary 2 pint limit to get me wasted (due to my Chinese ancestral heritage and general inability to tolerate alcohol and late nights) we packed ourselves off to la la land in eager anticipation of the good forecast for Sunday (with a divinely almighty,Olympian – no HERCULEAN list of Hard Grit routes to aspire to, though chasing these for mere mortals such as us would surely end in broken legs, concussions even death!?)…

The Archangel


And so, with a late start we rolled into Sunday. A day I’d been dreaming (nightmaring) of for over 15 months. Today was the day for me to return to The Archangel. An E3 5b with no gear for the first 10 metres up the arête, and so effectively a solo. A route that I’d tried once before, and fell off about 6 metres off the deck. This is a climb which has got under my skin, has festered in the deep recesses of my mind and cast doubt on my ability. I’ve questioned myself time and time again whether I wanted to give it another go, is the risk worth it, why does it matter to me so much. But anyway, enough of the back story.  I warmed up on Crescent arête, conditions not feeling brilliant, and also a bit midgey. I then almost managed to psyche myself out while waiting for the cavalry (spotters) to arrive – it’s never good to think too much! So after setting up the pads and Wilson ‘the beast’ anchoring in and therefore taking lead spotting duties to try stop me rolling down the hill (!!) I went for it. I took a couple of nervous falls, one of which I knocked my head on a boulder (injury 1) then casually sent it in decent style I like to think, with maybe a bit (a lot) of shouting to myself to relax! Job done, and I felt I was too for the day, but Ned wasn’t going to allow me to bask in that success and so it was over to Calvary E4 6a to try my first of that grade. 

Suffice to say I didn’t onsight it. Even more so I didn’t reach the crux first go, instead taking a controlled fall that had me skimming the ground (as a result of extending my first piece of gear to reduce rope drag as we only had a single) and whacking my heel on a boulder (injury 2) and scraping my back on the same Boulder on the backswing (injury 3). We gave it a few more goes before retrieving the gear and retreating, still with optimism for the rest of the day. Little did we know…

We plodded all the way over to Stanage High Neb for another one of Ned’s now famous sandbags. This time it was Quietus E2 5c, possibly the hardest E2 around! It starts with easy slab climbing up to a giant roof, thankfully through juggy flakes, and into the crux. As to what to do from then…who knows!? There’s 3 hand jamming cracks and we tried all sorts of combinations repeatedly, all the while tearing our hands to shreds before Ned arrived on scene smug and told us to tape up! Lightbulb!

Time was getting on, and my muscles began to ache and lose power. The jams felt more painful. The sun started setting. People were calling it a day. And still none of us could send it. Wilson felt he had more blood to donate to the route rather than the NHS and so he set off for a few more brutal jam sessions (which probably weren’t so bad for him as he’d done a decent job of taping his hands!). He got close…but couldn’t wrap it up. And so we accepted the reality that we would have to abseil down to retrieve the gear.

Ned opted for alternative beta…no-one else fancied it


But wait, I’ve technically not even sent ONE route today! (I solo’d The Archangel). My poor ego, this will not do, not at all. I need redemption! Conveniently there was a slab right next to us, called Impossible Slab E3 5c/6a, which would get us to the top of the crag to ab off over Quietus and get the gear…why not!? What could possibly go wrong!

Another near ground fall that’s what! The first crux is low down and a balancey step up on a thin side pull. I barn doored and fell, got tangled in the rope and finished half a meter off the ground sideways staring directly at Ned! Who promptly burst into laughter because my face must’ve been one of absolute shock and confusion! I quickly righted myself and pulled back on before fear and doubt set in and prepared myself for the insecure smeary mess. This time I got it, in a very touch and go dynamic foot swap hand slap Johnny Dawes-esque moment of brilliance (or luck). 


So that was that. The end to a very successful day of not being very successful. The result of a lot of Hard Grit psyche. Falling off more stuff than a typical day sport climbing! A lot of laughs, hairy moments, questionable jokes, and top off action considering it’s only April! As Ned put, poetically, …a bloody good day out!

Freedom

What is it to be free? Truly free? It’s something I’ve wanted for a long time…

As a teenager I understood financial freedom – to not have to worry about money. To buy something if I wanted it without having to worry. I had ideas of raising a family and being able to provide for them AND to not be a slave to work so I could spend time with them. Obviously many of those ideas of mine have changed now, and without the prospect of kids on the horizon I am (relatively) financially free. I can stick it to ‘the man’ if I want to, I (mostly) choose when I work and who with, and I’m fortunate that I get to spend a lot of time doing the things I love. But am I free?

Not really, because I’ve realised I’m still an emotional slave. I preach about letting go and embracing life in the present, and fluttering along whichever way the wind blows, but I don’t actually do that. I consciously think I am, but I’m really not. I still can’t let go. I’m still tied to convention and comfort and security. 

I do love travelling, but I hate the first hurdle of travelling (well after the booking your flights, getting through security without getting anything confiscated, reaching your destination without getting robbed, etc so it’s probably the fourth or fifth hurdle really) and that is meeting people. I’m an incredibly shy person, and going up to strangers and introducing myself fills me with dread. I’m also not good in big groups; I get intimidated. It seems silly (and don’t worry I think I’m silly too) because I like being on the edge of my comfort zone, it’s why I like climbing and snowboarding and travelling, but now I think I’ve worked out the problem.

We humans are creatures of habit, and we have a natural desire to familiarize ourselves with things – our surroundings, our friends, our gadgets, our work even (well maybe) so that we can live in this fairly controlled environment and hopefully not get surprised by much. It must go back to our caveman ancestry to avoid a surprise attack from a grizzly bear or something. So in climbing I try to spend time working on my fear of falling and being on the limit so that I’m familiar with the feeling and can deal with it in stressed situations. I don’t spend much time working on my social interactions with others. Once I’ve met some people I like I’m happy to be and stay with those people, safe in the comfort that I don’t need to go through the scary situation of meeting of new people again anytime soon. This is why I’m not free. 

I become attached to the people I meet and the experiences I share, and I hold onto that quite tightly. I’m not living in the present and letting people ebb and flow and change around me, remaining in a zen-like state of relaxation and peace. I become anxious and timid, and eager but afraid, to seek new friends and work out where I fit in this new social dimension.

I believed I was becoming free – comfortable in my own company, responsible for my own happiness, doing things that I wanted to do, moving locations as I please, shunning and disposing of materialistic possessions. But in reality I’m still enticed by social contact and tribal mentality – to belong, be accepted and maybe even be admired (apparently the trait of a Leo). 

So now what? I’m not really sure, but at least I’ve identified it and can begin to work on it, all part of the growing process right?

“I have been a seeker and I still am, but I stopped asking the books and the stars. I started listening to the teaching of my soul.” (Rumi)

Role models

When I was younger, I didn’t really have many role models. I, like most kids, wanted to be an astronaut, a Kung fu master, someone powerful. We are products of our environments and who we hang around with, and I went to a school with ambitious kids. Kids who listened to rap and wanted money, cars and girls. That was their idea of success and it became mine – I was not an original thinker. I looked up to rich people who drove nice cars and had power – power and control over others. I believed that money talks, money lets you do what you want, money gets girls. Pretty sad really…
I didn’t want to be famous, but I wanted to be respected, to be admired for what I’d achieved. As I grew older I believed that the path to respect was financial success. I don’t think I particularly cared about money in itself that much, but I wanted to win at life and I thought that meant being a fat cat with nice cars and a big house and a business empire. 
I’ve never been poor, never been close to being on the breadline. I moved in circles that were privileged and always had opportunities available to them, whether they acknowledge that or not. I always had opportunities, I always had options. I had a business, and that meant I met other people with businesses, and heard about how others with businesses were doing. I continued to be in awe of those who had collections of cars, with fantastically opulent houses and garages with huge man caves, because that was supposed to be ‘living the dream’ and ‘winning at life’. 
It actually took me breaking down and taking a step back to look at my life’s trajectory to start really thinking for myself before I began to realise that everything was wrong. I was doing it all for the wrong reasons. My role models were wrong. My ideas on success were wrong. My ideas on life were wrong. How did this happen? My life was being turned upside down.
I now look up to successful people who I see as those who understand what makes them happy. They can still be rich people, but they’re more likely ‘normal’ people who have realised that money isn’t the secret to happiness, they just want enough to do get by and the things they love. I look up to people who are following their dreams, who have stepped outside of today’s celebrity-obsessed and media-driven society and are actually consciously aware of the choices they’re making in life to improve their happiness. I look up to those people who are not afraid to try, who confront their fears and step out of their comfort zone in the search for their idea of success and happiness. That is the truth, that is what matters. 


I meet a lot of these people on my travels, and I am constantly inspired and driven and challenged to strive for my own truth, my own success, my own happiness. I haven’t got all the answers, but I think I’m heading in the right direction 🙂

“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” (Isaac Newton)