|Morning dog walk|
Firstly, I have been writing other stuff which has taken a great deal of time. A novel. It’s finished. Only had 5 rejections so far, which is fewer than JK Rowling received for the first in her Harry Potter series. If I do not submit mine to any more literary agents does that make my book better than hers? The big question for me is whether to pay for a professional edit and cover design, and then go on to self-publish. Depends on my level of vanity and willingness to waste money, I guess.
Secondly, for a long period I was not getting out on the hills much because of various health problems, so had little inclination to update the blog. These medical issues are of little interest to others but are sort of relevant to this post, which is supposed to be about why, despite some misgivings, I have found myself over the last couple of months preparing to backpack across Scotland again on the annual The Great Outdoors (TGO) Challenge in May 2017. But if the thought of reading about my health problems is boring skip the next two paragraphs.
My legs stopped working properly after my last Challenge in May 2015. Well, to be more precise, my left leg did. And I was tired. So tired. I think it came on towards the end of the walk when I believe I had a virus. I struggled up Mount Keen in the snow, feeling like I was running a temperature, and the last few days of the Challenge, the relatively easy bits, were really hard work. Back at home, by mid-June, I was having to lie down after a short dog walk. Leg pain would set in after 15 minutes along the lanes, and could last for several days. I was poked and prodded and scanned and tested for Lyme’s Disease (I’d had tick bites on the Challenge), Multiple Sclerosis and at one point the consultant neurologist said to me “you’ll be pleased to hear I don’t think you have motor neuron disease”. Well at that point it had never occurred to me that I might have, so you can guess what I felt after he said that. Never, ever use Google if you are feeling unwell! The consultant did find that I had permanent nerve damage and some loss of sensation and weakness in one leg and foot, though, which I sort of already knew.
To some extent despair set in. I was never going to get out in the hills or feel normal again. This was linked to things going on in my head. Mrs Fellbound had long previously diagnosed my condition. “SKOD”. Some Kind of Disorder. The psychiatrist I saw confirmed this. “You have SKOD”, he said. But Mrs Fellbound was wrong. It wasn’t “Some Kind of Disorder”, he said, it was “Several Kinds of Disorder”. General Anxiety Disorder, depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (“we all knew that”, said an old friend. Well I didn’t). "Keep taking the tablets," he said. I did and they made me feel even crappier, so I didn’t.
Then slowly, my leg began to work better than it had done in twelve months and the fatigue went. And thus, last October, I applied for the Challenge again. My main concern was being able to get sufficiently fit. No, it wasn’t, although that was a worry. It was whether I could cope with the levels of anxiety the Challenge would bring. Mainly completely irrational anxiety, and silly in the eyes of others no doubt, but no less real to me.
|TGO Challenge Training by the Shropshire Union Canal: Note the toughness of the terrain, perfect preparation for the Scottish Highlands|
Now about swans, something that is also relevant. I have this fear of some animals, mainly large ones or aggressive ones. And especially large AND aggressive ones. This is not entirely irrational. Take swans, for example. When I was at secondary school in Shrewsbury I was in the rowing club. One year a swan that had a nest down by the English Bridge took to attacking our boat (a coxed four if you're interested) whenever we were down on that part of the river. It would fly at us, really aggressively, wings flapping, hissing and spitting. It was vicious and quite scary. It became notorious, to the extent that the reporter from the Shrewsbury Chronicle was dispatched to school to see what all the fuss was about. He interviewed my mate, Rob, The Captain of Boats, who explained what had been happening, while his photographer colleague went off in search of pictures of said swan. “What do you call the swan?”, asked the journalist. “We call it a fucking bastard,” replied Rob (this is true this!). Rob had a fine turn of phrase. Once on the way to a regatta in the school minibus he told the thirteen year old cox, Cholmondley, that "if you do that again I'm going to chop your goolies off and chuck them out of the window." That Friday we were on the front page of the Chronicle, the swan attacks being the most sensational thing that had happened in Shrewsbury since 1403 when Henry IV and Prince Hal had defeated Harry Hotspur and other rebels just to the north of the town. Actually, the thing that is so weird about that conflict is that the place where the battle took place was right by a village called Battlefield. How spooky a coincidence is that? Prince Hal got an arrow in the face on that day. Good job he survived, as he later became Henry V and gave the Frenchies what for twelve years later at a place called Azincourt, which is good gloating material when on holiday in Brittany and dealing with an arrogant, dismissive waiter. Anyway, we were front page news, and the article stated that “The swan, who the boys have christened Sidney,…”
Fake news, reader, fake news. That journalist had made the name up himself. Will they ever tell it as it is?
So I have a fear of swans based on experience. I admit that this doesn’t cause me too many problems. But recently it has. When at home in NE Wales I walk the dog around the fields near the house. It’s pretty flat and marshy in this area, near the border with north Shropshire and we get lots of water fowl. And a few weeks ago a lone swan decided to live in the field I use. He or she would be sitting in it every morning, just after dawn. Not being a complete scaredy cat I continued to walk in the field even after this swan kept looking at me in a menacing kind of way. But despite its beauty I wished it would go and find a mate and would fly away and make a nest elsewhere. Then a few mornings ago, as I walked into the field I saw a mass of white near the far hedge. As we made our circuit and got closer there she or he was, looking very dead. The lack of a head was a bit of a give away as to its condition. Mr Foxy, I assume, had been in the night. And over the next few days I watched, in fascinated horror, as the crows devoured what was left. Now all that remains are a few feathers and a single wing. And I wish she or he was still there.
|Poor thing... although Mr and Mrs Foxy do need to eat|
|And a few days later after the crows have eaten their fill|
So what’s this got to do with the TGO Challenge? Well I did know when I started writing this rambling post. The theme was going to be about trying to overcome fear and anxiety. “Feel the fear and do it anyway”, something I have not always been very good at. And how that relates to me entering the 2017 Challenge, and whether this will be the last time I ever attempt anything so daunting. My swansong d’amour, so to speak.
So I may return to these themes of living with fear and anxiety and OCD in a subsequent post. Self-indulgent? Possibly. But I also suspect that the admission of depression and mental health problems may resonate with some readers. They are things that we often hide away and, as a result, make worse.
And yes, for those of you old enough to remember, Swansong D’Amour is a pun based on the song, most famously covered by the Manhattan Transfer in their 1977 hit record.