Saturday, 29 August 2015

Suffering and perspective

Someone said to me the other day that I bet I wished I could turn back the clock and change the course of my life, so that I wasn't living with a bag and hadn't gone through all this stuff.

You know what? I wouldn't. I honestly mean that. I'm genuinely grateful for the experience and the journey. Yes that sounds all new-age and weird, but it's true. It's taught me so much; about my life, my body, my running and what's important to me in life. The simple pleasures in life - such as going for a run, or hiking a mountain with my family - are treasured, not taken for granted.  I'm actually happier in myself, stronger in my relationships and weirdly have better body image and self confidence. I would never have imagined that outcome.

And anyway, what's the point in wishing you could change history? All you can do is accept it, keep it in perspective and move on. It's that simple.

Suffering teaches us so much. When you're rock bottom and you not only survive, but you come back stronger, you know you can handle anything.  Suffering gives us perspective. It gives us an opportunity to learn and change. How we deal with suffering is our choice. You can let it take you down, or you can use it to come back stronger. 

I've been reading 'Runner' by Ultra Runner Lizzy Hawker recently and it blew me away. I could relate to every word. Her story, her journey, passion for running, the mountains and her suffering resonated with me in a way that no other runner or writer has ever done before.  I adore her, I adored the book and I simply couldn't put it down. There are literally hundreds of quotes I could pull from it, but this is one of my favourites :

'Everything that came before had to happen for me to become the person I am. The greatest moments of clarity come when I look back and realise that it was and is all necessary and all beautiful. This is a journey of rediscovery and realisation'. Lizzy Hawker - Runner.

Since the Get Inspired article came out on the BBC website I've been inundated with hundreds of lovely emails and messages from others who are going through a similar surgery or illness, some who are struggling, others who just wanted to reach out and tell me that they'd been inspired or wanting to share their story with me too.

It's been humbling and moving. Being able to share my story; and through it give other people a bit of hope or inspiration that anything is possible. Life doesn't stop when you have a bag. In fact it might actually be the start of something much better...

As time goes on, living with a bag just becomes the norm for me. It's part of me, it doesn't define me and it certainly doesn't stop me from doing anything. 

I love this photo taken of me in the summer holidays in Zermatt. We'd just run the Zermatt marathon a few days beforehand and this was taken as we hiked up through a glacier at the foot of the Matterhorn. It was a stunning hike with my family - one of those days that you remember forever. 

Would I change what I've gone through? Yes I suffered, it's been brutal and the outcome is that I now live with a bag. But would I change it? No chance. As Richard Nixon once said:

'Only if you have been in the deepest valley, can you ever know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain'.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

I'm no superhero

'It's just a bag' I'm often heard to cry. I'm determined not to let my ileostomy stop me doing anything and for the most part it doesn't. I try to live a normal life. Most people forget I even have a bag. I never use disabled loos - even though I've been given a key - I'd rather just queue up like everyone else. I'm not different. I run, I cycle, I climb mountains and I do all the things I did before I ever got ill. Yes, I have a bag but it doesn't define me, it's no big deal. 

Well sometimes it is. Sometimes I have to accept that there are limitations and I'm not actually a superhero after all. There I said it. 

For a recap on what an ileostomy is and how it works here's an old post 'Me and My Fake Stomach'

The biggest challenge with an ileostomy isn't about the bag at all, or how it looks or whether or not anyone can see it - I don't much care to be honest. The greatest challenge for most people with an ileostomy is dehydration. Without a colon we don't absorb fluids and electrolytes in the same way. As the stoma is at the end of the small bowel we can also have very high fluid losses. My system regularly misbehaves and I often struggle with dehydration, nausea and periods of high output - imagine having diarrhoea 24/7. I live on Immodium (sometimes 20 tablets in a day) and gallons of dioralyte to try and replace the lost fluids and salts. 

I look back at my trip to the Himalayas last year and sometimes wonder how on earth I ever ran 100 miles in those conditions. Some good luck was certainly involved as my stoma behaved pretty well the whole time. I didn't get dehydrated, there were no leaks and I didn't get ill. Nothing short of a miracle actually.

But 'lady luck' wasn't with me this past weekend. After a preceding week of not being able to eat properly, high output losses and struggling with dehydration and low electrolytes, I had nothing left. Perfect preparation for a 31 mile ultra trail run.

But like I said, I don't allow my stoma to stop me doing anything, so I pulled my socks up and got myself on the start line of the Weald Challenge Ultra on Sunday. Well it turns out that no amount of 'sock pulling up' can get you round an ultra when you're stuffed before you even start.

I don't think I've ever felt so ill in a race. I was feeling fairly weak and nauseous from the start and just kept trying to force fluid and fuel down - in the hope it would make me feel better - which made me feel worse. At 20 miles I was ready to bail completely. Every 500m or so I stopped to take a moment, hands on knees which turned into bum on floor. I was literally on my knees and seeing stars. All I wanted to do was lie down and for it to stop. But thanks to the amazing support of a lovely lady from Burgess Hill Runners and my friend Tam - who refused to leave me - I dragged my sorry self to the finish. The only thing that kept me from stopping was the thought of the handmade mug I'd been coveting for a year and the fact I don't yet have a DNF on my score card. And I wasn't about to start now.

It was a spectacular race with absolutely stunning scenery - yet the last 10 miles were a total blur. That bloody mug and medal was my hardest earned. Ever. 

The morale of this story? it's probably better to have a DNS than feel like that ever again. I'll be ok and I'm sure my next race will be better.. in the meantime.. in the words of Batman