An update about my racing, and about me

In February this year I used my blog to talk about my racing and my current health situation, as I wanted to provide an update on why I wasn’t racing at the moment. At the time I explained that I hoped to be back racing in May. Since then I’ve used my Twitter and Facebook profiles to announce my withdrawal from various individual races and with May now nearly upon us I wanted to explain publicly the current situation and where I see things progressing this year.

Unfortunately further medical investigations have meant that treatment for the pain I’ve been experiencing to my cochlear implant site didn’t progress as quickly as had been anticipated by either myself or the medical professionals who were treating me at the time of my last blog post. At the time it was believed that the pain was caused by an infection around my implant site however it now appears that the cause is more complicated, and as a result the treatment will be too. Whilst I don’t have exact timescales I know with certainty that I can’t expect any progress until mid-May at the earliest, which is obviously devastating. Furthermore I’ve also had confirmed that some of the medication I’m on to control my pain can affect the medication that is controlling my lungs after the problems I had back in 2015, which completely eliminates any chance of even partaking in light training until this situation is fully resolved.

With this in mind I’ve had to think very carefully about the rest of my racing season. I have to be realistic about the lack of fitness that I’ll experience when I am allowed to train, and the fact that it will be a slow process working back up to full training. With all of that in mind I’ve taken the decision to pull out of all races I had lined up until the end of July this year, where my season was due to take a natural break anyway. My aim, as long as medical investigations and treatment progress how I hope in early summer, would be to race in this years Bury 10k in September – it’s a distance that gives me something sensible to work towards, and as a race I enjoyed winning last year it gives me a clear goal to focus upon. At this moment it’s unlikely that, even if I manage Bury, I’ll race the Great North Run, a half marathon I’ve wanted to complete for a long time, as I want to stick to races I know and am confident with the courses when I do return to racing, but this is a decision I’ll finalise nearer the time.

I know it will come as no shock to some of you that I’ve been struggling with my depression quite severely over the last few months, which is perhaps no surprise, and I want to be honest in saying this has played a significant part in the decisions I’ve made. I recognise that I’m in a fragile state of mind at the moment. Over the last year since I’ve been able to talk more openly about my own mental illness I’ve grown to understand some of the triggers of my depression and I know that to rush back into training if/when I get the OK from doctors later in the year, and compete before I’m really ready to, could make me feel much worse than I need to. This isn’t a risk I want to take.

Many of you will know that this year I teamed up with Right To Play until the end of 2017, to promote their work and raise funds for them. The reason this came about was plain and simply because I felt passionate about the work they do as a charity and I wanted to support them in any way I could. This hasn’t changed, and they are still a charity I care deeply about. When I return to racing I will work with them to continue this partnership for as long as is possible, and hope to continue to work to support them throughout 2018 when I hope to race a full competitive season. I’m delighted that I’ll also use some of my free time in July to support the fundraising Right To Play will be doing at the London Stadium as they have once again been chosen as the official charity partner of the Anniversary Games.

Finally, I wanted to talk not about my racing, but about me. The last few months have been some of the hardest of my life. Some of you who know me well will have picked up on this through my writing, but hopefully most of you are unaware because I hope I’ve hidden it well. After the difficulties of the last 18 months, and the emotional rollercoaster I’ve been on, I genuinely believed that 2017 would be ‘my year’. Everything seemed to be going right in training, and I was excited about the year ahead. Clearly things haven’t worked out the way I had hoped. The medical challenges I’ve faced, and watching more dreams come crashing down around me, have been one of the toughest things I’ve faced mentally.

I posted a short update on my social network profiles a few weeks ago talking about some of the attitudes I’ve experienced over the last few months which have made things tougher for me – having an illness that people can’t see seems to make some people feel they can pass judgement on how you cope with it, or how you deal with it. Dealing with being in intense pain on a daily basis and knowing that some people have the audacity to make their own judgements about the pain you’re in is one of the hardest things I’ve ever experienced and as I said at the time has regularly left me to break down in tears. I want to address this again one last time. The constant pain I’m in is leaving me not only incredibly uncomfortable but is leaving me physically exhausted. Unfortunately despite my best efforts some days that becomes evident in the way I act.

However when I’m in the middle of one of the hardest spells of my life it would be mentally detrimental to put my whole life on hold. Not being able to train is the hardest news I get, every time I get it, and things like football, and going to live music, are the things that keep me going, and give me the mental strength to continue day by day. That doesn’t mean I’m not in any less pain, it just means I’m dealing with everything that’s going on in the best way I can.

Over the next few months my priority is to get back to full physical health, as well as to improve my mental health as much as possible. I believe that being realistic about my return to racing will help both these aims, and I hope you’ll support me in that.

I’ve got a few things planned for the next couple of months that I’m really excited about and I want to share with you as a final thought. Many of you will have seen the blog I wrote last week about how I believe country music has helped my own mental health. I was overwhelmed with the response to that. I received a staggering number of messages from people who expressed their thanks for what I wrote, who said it had helped them, and much to my amazement I also received a message from one of the country artists whose music has helped me so much, encouraging me to keep writing. Over the next few weeks I hope to do just that. I want to get back into blogging about some of my favourite topics, and I’ll be using this platform for that.

I’m also super excited to have a number of great gigs lined up that give me something to focus on and look forward to, including getting to see Sheryl Crow live for the first time – one of the two artists who I attribute as responsible for my love of country music thanks to her music being regularly played when I was young!

Finally, if you follow me on Twitter you’ll know I’ve been playing about with my own music again recently, regularly using my guitar and keyboard, along with the wonders of iPhone apps, to play my own music. It’s a really helpful outlet for my emotions, and further reinforces the deep emotions in many of my favourite country songs, so I’m looking forward to spending a bit more time developing that.

So whilst it’s not been the most eloquent piece of writing I’ve ever done, I hope this blog gives you a bit of an update on where I’m at right now. I hope that you’ll understand why I continue not to race, and what’s going on in my mind right now. I hope it will serve to answer any questions about what’s going on medically, and hopefully explain to those who think they know better why I’m not curled up in my bed every evening getting angry about my situation, even though there’s days when that’s truly all I want to do. And I hope also you’ll see that I’m desperate to get better, both physically and mentally, and everything I’m doing right now is a part of that process.

Thanks as ever for your support

Chris x

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Dealing with my depression (a blog I can finally write thanks to The Shires)

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of my country music. In fact it’s such a poorly kept secret that this weekend comedian Mark Watson (who evidently had been Twitter-stalking me just before he came on stage!) remarked on stage after establishing I was in the audience ‘bloody hell, you’re really into your country music!’ 

I really am into my country music, and there are 2 reasons for that. The first is the brilliant musicians you get in the genre. As a child I really  wanted to learn guitar and had regular lessons. Even now my Fender semi-acoustic is one of my most prized possessions, with me regularly sitting with it working out the chord patterns to some of my favourite songs (although the strong musical gene that my brothers appear to have been blessed with certainly doesn’t extend to me)! One of the things that draws me to country music is being able to pick out and hear the phenomenal musical talent that comes through on so many tracks. The genre has so many great guitarists and I love to listen to that.

The second reason I love country music is the way it tells stories. Not just fictional novels but real life stories. Things real people can relate to. Brad Paisley perhaps explains this best in his song This Is Country Music where he writes:

You’re not supposed to say the word “cancer”, in a song. And telling folks that Jesus is the answer, can rub ’em wrong. It ain’t hip to sing about tractors, trucks, Little towns, or mama, yeah that might be true. But this is country music and we do. This is real, this is your life in a song. Yeah this is country music

It’s this raw, emotional story telling that has drawn me to country music. There are so many moments in my life which I can name the song that went with that moment: those moments of happiness where I’ve had the same song on repeat for hours; those tough moments where a certain song has got me through; even those moments of despair where music has been my solace – with a song simply summarising my emotions and helping me know I’m not alone.

That’s the reason I find myself writing this blog in the depths of the night when once again I can’t sleep because of the pain I’m currently in as a result of ongoing medical problems. Because where I’ve tried to write a blog for weeks summarising a few thoughts, I’ve finally heard the song that has helped me to write what I’ve been trying to say, that expresses perfectly how I feel. This Sunday I’m heading to see British country act The Shires in Bournemouth. I’m a big fan and in preparation for their gig, as I do before any gig, I’ve currently been reacquainting myself with their back catalogue as it helps me cope better with being at a live music event with my cochlear implant when I’m familiar with what I’ll be listening to. As I’ve been listening there’s one song I’ve put on repeat multiple times, a song that I remember falling in love with when the album first came out, and that’s ‘Save Me’.

I should say at this point that I have no idea what the inspiration behind this song was for The Shires, but both when I first listened to it, and again over the last few days, I’ve found this song to be the perfect summary of how depression affects me.

This time last year I wrote a long blog about my depression. It took all the strength I had to admit to some of the struggles I’ve had, and if you’d like to know more about that you can read more here. But that isn’t why I wrote this, and I don’t want that to be what you take away from this post, because I didn’t write this blog about me specifically – I’m writing in the hopes that this blog might bring clarity to someone in the way that songs bring clarity to me.

Since I wrote my blog a year ago a lot has changed in my life. I guess the headline is that over the past few months I’ve experienced some major health problems that have stolen ambitions and left me feeling an emotional wreck. But that’s not the whole story – I have to remind myself of that. The flip side is that before those problems plagued me I got a massive personal best in the wheelchair race at last years Yorkshire Marathon with a 2nd place finish, alongside two 1st place finishes in 10k races in the months prior to that. (If you’re interested the songs that have soundtracked those moments were Brad Paisley’s ‘Today’ which reminds me to hold on to those positives from last year, and his older song ‘One of those Lives’ which just gives everything a sense of perspective…)

As things have gone uphill and downhill more times than a rollercoaster I’ve found myself struggling with my mental health. I’ve found myself in the depths of depression again and again and unable to explain why. I’ve had people ask why I don’t snap out of it, people ask when I’m going to get over it. And sometimes I wonder why too…this is something I have to adjust to right – something that I just need to get used to? I’ve known about these latest health problems for nearly 3 months now and I know things aren’t going to improve any time soon, so why do I let them affect me? Why is it that sometimes I just don’t want to get out of bed in the mornings, I don’t want to talk to people, I can’t explain my mood? Like I say, sometimes I question and blame myself, and those are the days when my depression really has a hold over me.

In The Shires song Save Me they sing:

Here he goes again, Keeping me up all night, He knows every weakness, Just where to stick the knife, I’m fighting, I’m bleeding but yeah I’m still breathing, Oh it hurts like hell, Oh God I need somebody please, To save me from myself

What has this got to do with anything? Over the last few weeks there has been an increased amount of press about mental health, with the BBC hosting a series of special TV shows, many of which are worth looking out for over the next few days. Reading many of these articles helped me to understand that the symptoms I continue to feel are not just my own – they are real struggles that many other people experience too. And here’s the killer…sometimes there’s no logical reason for it. See, people can try to rationalise depression or mental health issues. They can try to explain it away, and tell you why you shouldn’t feel that way (it’s been too long, it’s nothing really, you just need to get on with it).

But that’s not how mental illness works. For starters, it’s just that – an illness. It shouldn’t just be ignored or trivialised. I find that those lyrics in Save Me perhaps sum up how depression is for many people. Because the thing about depression is that you’re fighting your own worst enemy. Your mind and body understand exactly what makes you struggle, what makes you feel worse, what is going to make your day more difficult. Every weakness is under attack, and it really is a constant fight. There are days when that fight gets too much. Where all you can do is give in for the day, accept you’re still breathing, and not seek more accomplishment than that in the day.

I share this in the hopes that if you know someone with mental health issues this will help you interact with them. See too many times people tell me how I should be dealing with it. Why I’m getting it wrong. Why I shouldn’t be upset that my ambitions once again have fallen by the wayside. And I’m sure sometimes, some of those people think they’re helping. But in many cases these messages seek to reinforce feelings of helplessness or inadequacy that already exist. It is, like those lyrics suggest, sticking the knife in exactly the right place, at exactly the wrong time.

And so, on so many occasions, people with the best of intentions cause harm when they don’t mean it. So often people think they’re being helpful by encouraging you to get on with things when it can only make you feel worse. What then is the answer? Later on in ‘Save Me’ it says

But you, You love me for who I am, All the darkness, the doubt and the fear disappears, When you take my hand, You know my heart, and nobody else can save me from myself

I honestly believe if there was more of this attitude in the world then people like me, even if they didn’t ‘conquer’ their depression, anxiety or other illness, would find it a lot easier to live with, or to manage on a daily basis. Too often I think other people think they need to find a ‘cure’, to suggest a way of helping, or simply to encourage someone to snap out of it. The reality is that not all illness can be cured. Not all illness gets better in time. Many people like myself living with chronic disabilities, and many far worse off than me, are living proof of this. Sometimes what people really need is someone who will walk beside them on the journey, who will take their hand when things get tough, and who will accept them as they are.

The reality is that many people like myself who have mental health illnesses are already speaking to people who are there to help. Many people are ready to ask for help if they need it. And often what they really need is to know there are people around who won’t judge them when they’re having a bad day. People who won’t try to explain it away (‘another bad appointment?’) when there may actually be no real trigger. People who won’t expect you to cheer up and get out of that mood (‘how can you be like that when you’re going on holiday tomorrow?’). People like that, the people who will just walk alongside you in silence on a bad day, but will still walk with you, are the people you come to trust. The people who you know you can talk to when you do need to. The people you feel comfortable around in those darkest moments. Why? Because they don’t make you question yourself. They don’t make you think you’re doing it wrong. In essence, they really do save you from yourself.

On a personal note this isn’t meant to criticise, or hurt, or upset anyone who’s ever tried to help me in any way. As I’ve mentioned in this post many people often try to help. In fact I firmly believe that the majority of people want to help those with mental illnesses and truly aren’t sure how to. My hope is that this post might prove a useful starting point for many people who have friends and family struggling with similar illnesses to understand things and relate. It’s not always easy for people with such illnesses to explain their thoughts – I know it’s something I’ve tried many times myself, and it’s only through re-listening to Save Me that I finally realised exactly what I wanted to say! I guess selfishly I do also hope my own friends and family will read this too and that it will help them to understand too, why a year after talking about this I seem no better off. Why I still struggle to come to terms with the endless barrage of problems I face. And why it’s really not helpful when you tell me to cheer up!

Crucially, I hope that this may be a help to you if you’re struggling with similar illness yourself. I know that both last year when I first felt able to talk about my own depression, and again recently, one of the most comforting things was knowing that I wasn’t alone. Reading other people’s stories proves so valuable to me. So often they provide no answers, no magic wands, but they do remind me that I’m not the only one that feels like this. They make me realise that that feeling of desperation, loneliness or isolation isn’t just something that is made up – that it’s a real illness that others struggle with too. Doctors can tell you this but personally I’ve found hearing it from other people can make a real difference. Can make you feel OK on a bad day. Can counteract some of those moments where you’ve been told to ‘get a grip’ or ‘get on with it’. Perhaps you may even find yourself sharing this with your own friends and family to help them understand how you’re feeling. If it helps you put into words what I’ve struggled to explain for so long then please go ahead.

And finally, I’d like to share a few more songs that are regularly playing on my iPhone right now. They might mean nothing to you, songs are a personal thing. But if it helps you to discover a song that helps you then great. Before that list I guess I’d give a special mention to my ‘power song’ right now. The song that I relate to more than any other, and which is getting overplayed by me. A song that reminds me that whatever I’m going through it helps make me who I am.

Bailey Bryan performed at C2C this year and I got to watch her twice, as well as briefly meet her. I wish I’d known then how much her music would carry me through this spell so I could have told her. The song that keeps me going right now is Scars

They say when you’re broken, the light gets in, Hoping that’s where the healing begins…I’m broken, but I’m healing, I am who I am. We wouldn’t be who we are, Without our scars.

What other music is keeping me going right now? I think I’d highlight:

The rest of Bailey Bryan’s EP

Music is Healing by Florida Georgia Line

Rae Lynn’s album Wildhorse

Little Big Town’s album The Breaker

American Young’s album AY

I really do believe music is powerful – its helped me to write this when I couldn’t have otherwise, and I know many, many others who could share similar stories. If you’ve got songs which have helped carry you through key moments why not share them with your friends, or even on this blog, or on Facebook or Twitter?

And if this blog has helped you in any way please do feel free to share it. I really hope that in some small way it helps people like me who are struggling, and that it helps their friends and family.

An extra little note to Ben Earle, Crissie Rhodes, Brad Paisley and Bailey Bryan, on the off chance they ever read this

I realise I’ve used your song lyrics on here without any permission, and without any knowledge of how you intended the songs to be understood. The way I’ve interpreted them has shaped my life, which I believe is the power of music, but I apologise if I’ve misheard, or mistyped any lyrics, misinterpreted them, or misused them. I hope however that I’ve used your lyrics in a way you’d be really happy with.

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A note about my racing…

I’m disappointed to have to write that for the second year in succession I’ll be delaying the start of my season for health reasons. It’s a decision that I didn’t want to make, and have put off for as long as possible, but I know categorically that it will be the right decision long-term.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been experiencing significant pain to the site of my cochlear implant site. Whilst the exact cause of this pain is still a mystery I’ve been backwards and forwards to hospital both trying to get a clear diagnosis, and getting more medication whilst the pain has got worse and my health has deteriorated for the last few weeks. Clearly this has stopped me from training, and continues to do so at the time of writing this.

I’d been putting off making a decision, hopeful that I could get back into training soon, but I now know that however soon that could be if things improve, it won’t be soon enough for the start of my season. With my first race only 2 weeks away, I’m on medication for at least the next week which would stop me from training even if things improved, and so the decision has forced itself.

I can’t explain how disappointed I am and how hard it’s been to make this decision. After a difficult start to 2016, my season ended in an amazing way, and I remember sitting on the finish of the Yorkshire Marathon discussing what a good 2017 I could have if I had a solid winter training. Winter training has gone exactly as I hoped it would, and for the last couple of months I’d been telling everybody that I felt the fittest I had in a long time. I’ve been genuinely excited about the start of this season and honestly felt that I could break my course PB at the Silverstone Half in 2 weeks time.

I’m also disappointed to say that I’m going to have put on hold a dream that I set myself last year. Many of you know that I’d set myself the aim of completing a marathon abroad this year. For the last 6 months I’ve been working towards completing the Paris marathon, an ambition that I was ridiculously excited for and have spent all winter pushing myself to be fit for. It was to be my flagship fundraiser this year for Right To Play. That race is now only 6 weeks away, and with the break I’ve already had from training, and with me knowing how fatigued my body feels right now, I know it’s the right thing to make a clear decision now then put it off longer. I’m absolutely gutted, but again I know it’s the right decision. Anyone who knows me knows how competitive I am, and how much pressure I put on myself, and to do my first marathon abroad when I’ve not trained as much as I’d like, and won’t get as good a time as I’d want, would only frustrate me further.

For as long as it takes my focus needs to be on getting back to full health, and hopefully if I do that I’ll be back in training within weeks. I certainly hope that I’ll be back in time to race in the Great Bristol 10k at the beginning of May, but ultimately that will be a decision I’ll have to make in a few weeks, by which time hopefully these latest health problems will be well behind me.

I wouldn’t normally be so honest and clear about my decisions in public, but I’ve written this blog for one clear reason. Hopefully you will all be aware by now that I’ve partnered this season with an excellent charity called Right To Play. Right To Play work with over a million children each week in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, using sport and play to develop new skills, educate and transform the lives of disadvantaged children. They believe that through the power of play children can receive a high quality education, overcome obstacles and see their lives turn around. They train local people to lead these programmes, creating a long-term and sustainable solution for communities facing poverty, disease and conflict. Paris was due to be my flagship fundraising event for them this year, and it’s that fact that has made this such a difficult decision. Putting my own ambitions on hold is something I’ve got used to when health problems arise, and have grown to accept, but to have to let down a charity I believe in so passionately has been absolutely devastating. I wanted to explain my reasons for having to do this clearly and openly. I feel like I’m letting down a group of people whose work I believe in so much, and it’s made this a horrible decision to make.

As I’ve mentioned, I hope to be racing again in May and will do so with the Right To Play logo proudly displayed on my kit as had been planned for this season. Once I know I’m fit again I’ll also be looking for further opportunities to promote and fundraise for Right To Play this year.

In the meantime I’ll finish this by pointing you to my fundraising page again. If you haven’t yet taken the time to read about why this charity is so important then I’d love you do so, and if you would like to donate then your contribution would be valued so much.

Again, this is a decision that I’ve struggled to make, but hopefully it will be the right one to ensure I get back to full health as soon as possible.

Chris

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/chrisrighttoplay

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2016: a reflection

As we approach the end of 2016 it feels like time to look back on the year I’ve had and to reflect on what has been an emotionally draining year, with some big physical and emotional challenges. At the end of 2015 I wrote on my blog

The only thing I know with certainty is that in 2016 I will have to adopt the same attitude I’ve had this year. I will be strong when I don’t feel like it. I will push myself when I don’t think I can go any further. I will prove to myself that I am someone who can achieve what I set my mind to.

At the time I had an inkling of some of what was to come this year, but other aspects could never have even been considered. And so this year I want to approach my end of year blog in a different way, with a chronological review of just some of the key moments of my year before pulling out three emotions that have defined my year, and hopefully providing some reflection for anybody reading.

2016

2016 started in challenging conditions.  Last autumn I was temporarily housebound by problems with my lungs, and as the year began investigations into the cause of this were ongoing, meaning they weren’t under control. Whilst I got the go-ahead to do little bits of exercise it would be March, a full 5 months after the problems began, before I got the go-ahead from my doctor to start working towards a full training schedule again. This time was frustrating in so many ways – not knowing what conclusions would be made by doctors, not knowing if I’d ever get back to racing like I had been, and feeling a bit lost by it all – like something else I valued in my life had been taken away.

At the same time I was determined to draw positives in every way I could, knowing that life can only be as good as you make it! I used the free time I suddenly had to spend more time with friends, and spent a lot of time travelling to shows and other time away which was really great. I’m so grateful to everybody who came alongside me in that 5 months and helped me to see the positives in a tough situation.

In March I took one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever taken and decided to use this blog to publicly talk about my own struggles with depression publicly for the first time. After years of struggles I was tired of pretending to be OK and exhausted by putting up a front when I was struggling. The reaction and fallout, which I’ll talk about a bit later, was one of the most emotionally draining experiences I’ve ever had, but I’m so glad I took the decision to do this.

In April I got my new racing chair Excalibur and got back to training. Over the next few months my focus became about working as hard as possible to try and get some fitness back and see whether I could get back to racing. I raced a few races in May and June trying to judge how my recovery was going and was encouraged by the times I was putting in, even if these were sandwiched with times that got me really despondent.

In July it all came together! I travelled up to Leeds to race in the Leeds 10k and crossed the line in a new PB. Crossing the finish line and realising what I’d achieved will stick with me for life. This would be followed up by PB’s in all my distances before the end of the year – 5k in Yeovil, a half marathon PB in the Great Bristol Half Marathon and a marathon PB in Yorkshire – another moment I’ll never forget.

Alongside this my training plan had been revised to try and help my lungs cope better, and the extra free time has helped me to keep up some of the things I was enjoying during my time out, allowing me to get in a whole bunch more gigs. It’s been great to meet a group of people who share the same great taste in music, and meeting up with the ‘Country Family’ at gigs has been a real positive for me.

Throughout the year I don’t mind admitting that I have continued to struggle with my depression, but having been able to be honest has been such a relief. I feel like I don’t have to pretend to be OK and I’ve been relieved that those people who are worth knowing will understand and support you when you’re struggling.

Determination

One of the absolute highlights of my year was crossing the finish line of the Leeds 10k in July and realising that after all the struggles I’d had since last year, I’d recorded a new PB. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the feeling when I crossed the line, feeling both ecstatic and emotionally drained all in one go, knowing that all the hard work I’d put in had been worth it. I remember looking around desperately for my parents in the crowd at the finish line, wanting to share the moment with the 2 people who invest more than anyone in helping me to achieve my crazy dreams.

Rewind a few months to all the problems I was having with my lungs and it will put this moment in perspective. I spent 5 months in and out of hospital trying to get answers, and throughout all of those visits my number one question was ‘when do you think I’ll be able to start training again?’ Throughout this time everyone was pushing me to be realistic, to accept I might not race like I did before. In fact this time last year I wrote on my blog that:

I have no idea what impact these problems will have on my training, and I know that I have to be realistic about this, and set myself realistic and achievable targets.

In many ways I accepted this, I knew my life may be very different. And yet those who know me hopefully know that I wasn’t going to throw the towel in without a fight. I was determined that I would give getting back to my previous fitness the best shot possible, and I was determined to work as hard as possible to achieve new goals. As soon as I was given the OK to work towards training properly again I worked hard to train harder but smarter than ever before, I changed my diet to help, and I set my mind to some very specific goals, becoming determined to be on the start line at specific races, figuring that at least getting to the start line would be an achievement.

Fast forward to October this year and the other moment that showed me the hard work was worth it. Early on when I knew I could train again I set myself the target of competing in this years Yorkshire Marathon. For me finishing that race, in any time, would be the ultimate test of my stamina, and a sign of how hard I’d worked during the year. Throughout the summer it became the focus of my training, and increasingly became a battle of mind as well as body – as I began to see how well my training was going I knew that not finishing the race would break me emotionally, and I began to worry if I’d bitten off more than I could chew. Come race day those worries were unfounded. 6 months of hard work had paid off and I set a massive PB getting both a time and position I wasn’t even dreaming of on the start line. Again the feeling on the finish line was one I’ll never forget. I remember sitting in the finish zone talking to a fellow racer and friend, and only then did it really begin to sink in what I’d achieved this year. By the time I found my parents I was again completely drained, but equally so proud. I felt like what I’d achieved justified all the hard work I’d put in, and hope it went some way to saying thank you to them for all the time they’d put in this year to support me when they could just as easily have said my amibitions were stupid or unrealistic.

Maybe at times they were, I know I don’t do things by half, but I believe that what I’ve achieved this year has shown what can be achieved with hard work and determination. I genuinely believe that life is what you make of it. Setting goals doesn’t mean you’ll achieve them – my parents will be the first to tell you that I’ve had plenty of moments this year where I’ve been frustrated that I haven’t achieved what I felt I could have, but setting those goals gave me the determination to work hard and achieve something, as opposed to sitting at home not trying.

Thankfulness

I really hope that ‘thankfulness’ is a word(!) because it sums up the second emotion of my year. In the midst of a really difficult year, rather than focussing on some of the really difficult stuff that’s happened, my second point is to explore some of those real chinks of light that have kept me going. Firstly, I’m so grateful to those people who supported me earlier this year during my decision to talk publicly about my battle with depression. I was overwhelmed with the love shown from friends, family, and even people who I rarely talk to, and by people who have been there for me not just then, but stood by my side and walked the journey with me now they know how I can feel from day to day. Those little comments that I know mean people understand – ‘I know you don’t want to talk but I’m here if you need it’, ‘Bad day?’. To the person saying it they probably just think it’s nothing but to me it’s the sign of someone who understands, and a sign that it’s OK to be myself. The relief that fills me with can’t even be put in to words.

I was also incredibly thankful to meet a new group of friends in London this year whilst travelling to gigs. One of the things I struggle with most with my disability is the perception others have of you without actually getting to know you. I’ve got fed up of knowing that people have already decided what I can’t do before knowing what I can do, of judging me based simply on the fact I’m in a wheelchair. It has been refreshing to meet a group of people who encouraged me onto the dance floor when I was sat at the side of a gig thinking I didn’t want people to feel I was in the way, and that moment made such a difference to me. Since then it’s been great to spend more time with these friends at gigs, and to feel welcomed by them regardless of my disability.

On a completely different note, this year I got the opportunity to show how thankful I am for some of the really amazing things that have happened to me. I won’t repeat what I’ve already written here, but in July this year I spent some time with the team from a charity called Right To Play. Right To Play work with over a million children each week in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, using sport and play to develop new skills, educate and transform the lives of disadvantaged children. They believe that through the power of play children can receive a high quality education, overcome obstacles and see their lives turn around. For a while I’d been thinking about how I could use my racing to ‘give something back’ and show how grateful I am for the opportunities it’s given me, and the more time I spent with them the more I felt that they were the perfect fit for me. I was delighted to be able to announce in August my partnership with them that will see me try to raise as much money for them as possible over the next year, and raise as much awareness as possible, including proudly displaying their logo on my Viper 10 kit next season. If you’d like to support their work I’d love it if you could donate here.

I feel like this year I’ve had a greater appreciation for those people who support me and encourage me in so many different ways. There are many times this year where I have only been carried through by the love and support of family and friends, even when they’ve not been aware, and hopefully you all know how grateful I am. I only hope that in some way my partnership with Right To Play will help make a difference to other people’s lives in some small way.

The struggles

I’ll keep this bit shorter, but I wanted to finish by exploring one more emotion that I’ve experienced this year. I’m not sure what one word would describe it – exhaustion, frustration, distraught would all go some way, but they’re not quite right. Numerous times this year I’ve got halfway through blogging about this and thought better of it, but as the year draws to a close it seems like I can’t ignore it amongst everything that happens.

It revolves round another memory that sticks out from my year, and unfortunately this one is less positive. It’s a memory of sitting in a cafe in The O2 with a friend shortly after writing my blog about my depression, in tears, having read through some of the messages I received in response. It’s not appropriate to go into detail about who wrote what, but I was astonished, and devastated, that people who I interact with on a daily basis had the audacity to use private messaging tools to tell me their negative opinions of my depression. I was astonished that people felt it was OK to tell me why they thought I was depressed, or to tell me how I could ‘fix’ my depression. I’m certain these people would never feel able to say that to my face (they didn’t) and so what makes it OK for people to say this stuff online?

In a similar vein I was astonished later in the year that someone I’d barely met felt it appropriate to make a comment to me that I was actually ‘quite independent’ for someone in my ‘condition’. Whilst I mentioned earlier that I recognise unfortunately this is still the way some people think, I was taken aback that someone I barely knew would feel it acceptable to say something like this, and it really did affect me, knocking my confidence hugely at the time.

The reason I share these stories is that just like the events I’ve already discussed, these moments have helped to shape me this year. Seeing how much I’ve been hurt by other people’s words in a year where I’ve felt more vulnerable than ever has helped to shape my own behaviours. I’ve become more conscious of what I say, and hope that I’ll never be as insensitive to anybody. There’s the saying that if you’ve not got anything good to say don’t say anything at all, and this year I’ve really seen the truth in that.

So on to 2017

2016 has been a hard year for me, but hopefully in this blog I’ve pulled out some of the real positives. For me this reflection has helped to show me what can be achieved even when it seems things aren’t going to work out, and I hope that as 2017 approaches you’ll take some hope from that too.

I hope that by sharing some of the lessons I’ve learned throughout this year it might help you to draw strength as you approach 2017. When I look back on what I wanted to achieve this year just a few words stick out “I will be strong when I don’t feel like it”. I genuinely feel like this attitude has got me through this year – from helping me to push myself in training to achieve the unthinkable, through to holding on to those people supporting me when others were seemingly trying to pull me down further.

And so as I approach 2017 what do I want to achieve? I learnt a long time ago that setting physical targets for the year is unhelpful for me – ‘unmet achievements’ can send me into a spiral of depressive thoughts. But I know I hope I’ll take these lessons into next year – that I will show determination throughout whatever 2017 throws at me. I hope I’ll continue to show my thankfulness to all my friends and family and that my achievements will make those who know me and support me proud at a time when I really feel like I’m making something of my life. And I hope that I’ll treat others the way I’d like to be treated. I could go on, but instead I’d like to finish by sharing a song that is far more articulate than I could ever be. If the way I’d like to be in 2017 could be summed up in one song it’s that of Lori McKenna’s 2016 CMA Song of the Year, performed by Tim McGraw, ‘Humble and Kind’.

Posted in Depression, Disability, General, mental health | Leave a comment

Why I’ve quit Labour

When I joined the Labour Party I joined not only because I agree with the principles of the party, but because I believed there had never been a more important time for there to be a credible and effective opposition in the UK.
 
Unfortunately over the last few months it has been proved that Labour is in no position to provide that effective opposition with Jeremy Corbyn at the helm. Mr Corbyn continues to lack public support from the Parliamentary Labour Party and without this support it is impossible to maintain credibility within the House of Commons, never mind convincing the electorate that he is a realistic future prime minister.
 
It is my strong belief that a general election with Mr Corbyn leading the Labour Party would be a disaster for the party and could trigger an even greater majority for the Conservative party at a time in politics when it is more important than ever that there is a strong opposition challenging the governments decisions. The disastrous leave results in the European election in many Labour heartlands demonstrated that Mr Corbyn is not capturing the imagination of the electorate and recent by-election results further support this.
 
It is my hope that this situation will change and Labour will once again build itself into a credible opposition, as well as being a party which can succeed at the next general election, however whilst Mr Corbyn is leading the party this seems impossible and I am unwilling to publicly support a parliamentary party in disarray with such a weak and ineffectual leader.
Posted in News, Politics | Leave a comment

Proud to be part of Team Right To Play

righttoplay

I am really pleased to be posting this blog entry to announce some big news about my wheelchair racing! I’m really excited to be able to share that from now until the end of 2017 I’m going to be supporting the charity Right To Play. I’ll be using this partnership to help promote a superb cause as well as to fundraise for them.
Over the last few years I’ve been so lucky to have some phenomenal opportunities with my wheelchair racing, and have got so much from the sport – both in physical terms with some huge achievements I am really proud of, as well as on a personal level, with my racing being the motivation to keep going since I became a permanent wheelchair user.

Having got so much out the sport I want to help others benefit from sport too, and am keen to use my racing to help others less fortunate than me.

This July Right to Play UK were chosen as the official partner charity for the Muller Anniversary Games and through volunteering with them over that period I got to learn much more about their ethos as a charity, as well as meeting members of their staff team. During this time I quickly realised that this was a charity I would love to be able to support more.

Right To Play work with over a million children each week in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, using sport and play to develop new skills, educate and transform the lives of disadvantaged children. They believe that through the power of play children can receive a high quality education, overcome obstacles and see their lives turn around. They train local people to lead these programmes, creating a long-term and sustainable solution for communities facing poverty, disease and conflict.

It’s this ethos which has drawn me to support Right To Play, as it’s something I know to be true. I know that play and sport can transform lives, because I, in my own way, have seen that first hand. Since I became wheelchair bound sport has not only transformed my life but become my main focus, as I found that I could achieve and enjoy myself even with a disability. This same feeling is one that I hope children will benefit from as a result of my support of Right To Play – that through sport and play you can have fun, achieve and give life a purpose.

Over the next year there are a series of exciting plans to promote the work of Right To Play, and that begins today as I announce a big fundraising effort to coincide with some of my last races in 2016. Over the course of 21 days in September and October I’ll be racing all 3 of my favourite distances – 10km, half marathon and marathon. It all begins on Sunday 18th September when I return ‘home’ to Bury to race in the first ever Bury 10k. Just a week later on 25th September I’ll be heading to Bristol for another first ever – this time the first ever Great Bristol Half Marathon. Then on 9th October I’ll be off up to Yorkshire for what will be my 4th Yorkshire Marathon, having competed in the event every year since it began!

To launch my partnership with Right to Play I’d love it if you would consider sponsoring this huge effort! Sponsorship donations can be made at: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/chrisrighttoplay which will remain the online base for my partnership with Right to Play over the next year. Any donation you can give would be greatly appreciated, and the sponsorship would mean so much to me as I work towards this huge challenge. On the fundraising page you can see exactly how your money will help Right To Play, and if you’d like to read more about their work you can do so at www.rightoplay.org.uk

Thanks so much in advance for all your support, and I look forward to sharing more with you as a part of Team Right To Play!

Chris


Jake Sawer from Right To Play added:

“Everyone at Right To Play UK is really excited to welcome Chris to the growing group of people who support us by doing amazing challenges, our Team Right To Play. I personally look forward to working with him over the next year and supporting his efforts to fulfill this incredible challenge. Chris is a great role-model to represent the charity and support the work we do.”

Posted in General, Sports | Leave a comment

American Sniper – a lesson for us all

Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that I love reading, and I also love to post a brief review when I finish a book I’ve enjoyed. Those reviews however never exceed 140 characters. Having just finished American Sniper, I knew that 140 characters wasn’t enough, so here’s my take on 2 themes from the book (more a brief lesson than a review if you like!)

I’ll start by being honest. I had massive preconceptions before I came to this book, even though I knew very little. I must be one of the few people who hasn’t seen the movie yet (I’ll be watching it this week) as it had been placed firmly onto my ‘I’m reading the book first’ list. That said I’d heard plenty about it from other people, and it wasn’t all great. Many people had shared with me their negative opinions of Chris Kyle, and I came to the book with these in mind (overwhelmingly believing that I was about to read a book in which the author came over as arrogant).

Why did I want to read it then? Who isn’t drawn in by the  thought of reading about America’s most deadly sniper ever? I figured that this would be an interesting read, even if not one I could wholeheartedly agree with at the end.

I’ve never read that much about the military, but my athletics has meant that I’ve been fortunate (if that’s the right word) to meet numerous ex-servicemen and women, however for the wrong reasons – I’ve come across them when I’ve been participating in disabled sport, due to their war injuries. I’ve had nothing but total respect for them and the sacrifices they’ve made for us, and yet I don’t feel like I understood a whole lot about war.

And so having now read American Sniper, I want to tell you that my preconceptions were misconceptions, and that if you haven’t read it you should make it your next read. It’s an  immensely powerful book, and I honestly don’t remember having cried so much when reading a book (embarrassingly I even found tears rolling down my cheeks on the train last week so maybe don’t read it in public!) I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been on the phone to my best friend and said “you need to hear this” and I pretty much ended up reading the last section of the book out loud to them in full!

I don’t want to ruin the book for you, it’s a journey I encourage you to make on your own, but let me pull out 2 quick points that for me, make this a book worth reading.

  1. It will help you to understand the full cost of war, and how brave our military are
    As I mentioned previously, before reading this book my understanding of war was pretty limited. I’ve seen the physical cost of war on people I know – injuries and disabilities that will be with them for life, however I guess I was guilty of not thinking beyond that. With the help of additional material from Taya Kyle (Chris’ widow) the book explores the horrendous mental cost that war can have. Chris and Taya discuss the strain that war put on their marriage – the struggles that Taya faced alone as she fought to bring up their children essentially a single mother, through to the internal war Chris faced as he struggled with the betrayal he might feel leaving the war and where that meant his priorities lay. Chris also talks in great length about something else I’d never really considered – guilt. He talks in enormous detail about the loss of 2 of his colleagues and close friends and the mental struggles that followed as he was racked with guilt that he couldn’t save their lives.

    When you read a book where the overwhelming message is that the author doesn’t care about the number of people that he shot – he’s more interested in the number of people he saved – it makes you realise the passion and compassion of our military heroes.

    It makes you realise what these men and women go though as they fight for what they believe in, are separated from the ones they love for unbearably long periods of time, and struggle with all they see.

  2. You must read the memorial edition
    So the copy I’d picked up on my kindle app was the recently released memorial edition. It’s not a spoiler to tell you that tragically, after the completion of the American Sniper book, Chris Kyle was murdered whilst doing what he loved – supporting veterans. In this edition of the book the last section is devoted to a series of beautiful tributes from friends and family, including his wife Taya and handwritten notes from his young children (who he never named in the book as he didn’t want them to be exposed to media pressure). When you read these tributes you can’t help to be moved. See to many people Chris Kyle is simply the deadliest sniper in US history. A proportion of those will then have a bit more of an opinion – their views on the war will colour their opinion of him (he’s either a hero regardless what he did, or something much worse for being involved in the war efforts).
    When you read the tributes to Chris Kyle at the end of this book it’s hard to think that way anymore. It made me realise something about the people we send into war. They’re not the ones who make the political decisions. They’re not the ones who even got us into the war. They’re ordinary folk who have signed up because they want to protect me and you. Because they want to do what they believe is right. They’re often filled with love, faith, humility and all those virtues that society values in people. And they’re putting their lives on the line everyday. In concluding I can honestly say that if people can say stuff half as nice about me when I die, I’d be happy.

So with those 2 points I encourage you to pick up a copy of American Sniper. Try and approach it with an open mind, but even if you don’t, I challenge you to not have come to these same conclusions by the end of the book.

I’d like to finish this post by pointing you to a song I came across whilst reading this book which was worked on by a friend of Chris Kyle, after conversations with him. I won’t say any more than that, because I think the lyrics speak for themselves. It’s called ‘Valor’ by the Scooter Brown Band and you can find it on Apple music here

Posted in General, mental health, News, Politics, Religion, War | Leave a comment