An accountability update

Since I so publically committed to shedding some of my inappropriately acquired flab, I thought it would be useful to provide a bit of an update. Accountability and all that…

Things I’m happy with

I’m less fat! In terms of shedding weight, I’ve gone from 68.8 to 66.6 kilos since I started the year. Not bad, seeing as we’re only two weeks in and I’m now back in the swing of business – and business travel. Which always makes eating well more of a challenge.

I’ve managed to keep up a vaguely healthy eating habit. (But…see below). More to the point, I’ve been happy with my willpower in turning down opportunities to gorge on cake, fries, beer etc.

I’ve not touched any booze, which is great on a number of levels, but also probably due to the fact that people don’t tend to party as much in the first two weeks of January! I’m going to keep it firmly in the ‘special occasions’ bucket. December really was the outlier when it comes to the last few years. Cocktails when on holidays, bubbles for birthdays. Tonic water at all other times.

For example, last night, I had an hour to kill in an airport lounge in Dublin. There was temptation all around me, but I stuck to a single Diet Coke and avoided the mountains of Tayto crisps. Actually, I’m extremely proud of this, as I usually can’t stop at a single pack and tend to eat three or four in one sitting.

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I also managed to avoid the delicious cakes on offer at the workshop I was facilitating in Dublin. I stuck to soup and had some coffee. And I did not go hungry. I just had to keep the cakes out of my direct line of sight!

And last time we went to Wagamama, I opted for the very delicious chicken chili ramen and avoided the Chicken Katsu curry which has about three times the calories.

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Again, I did not go hungry and really enjoyed every mouthful. It’s really about making good choices from what’s available, not necessarily depriving yourself.

I’ve maintained a healthy activity habit, combining runs with trips to our gym, where I watch ‘The Crown’ while on the cross-trainer. This allows me to watch something entertaining (I know I’m late to the party) while burning about 600 calories per visit. Fun and fit!

Things I’m less happy with

Well, since the last update with my neurologist, I’ve had to up my meds. In practice, this means taking anti-seizure medication every night and then a further, smaller dose first thing in the morning. I won’t go into all the side-effects, but it leaves me so very tired. And a bit dazed. So I’m not really a morning person anymore.

Not that I ever was.

This makes it harder than ever to sneak in a bit of exercise in the morning. Almost impossible. I just need to work around it.

This afternoon, after a nice long walk around the Isle of Dogs, we went to Shake Shack for lunch. It’s just opened here in Canary Wharf, so I was keen to try it out. This was a mixed experience, as I went for a double cheeseburger (boo!) but stopped myself ordering the usual fries (yay!) and had a diet coke instead.

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I’m glad I had the experience, but also a bit disappointed at the temporary failure in my willpower. I’m not saying I was dragged into the Shake Shack and had the burger forced into me and I’m not saying I walked in mindlessly and ‘accidentally’ ate 740 calories of oh-so-delicious cheeseburger.

I did it of my own volition, but now I have some regrets. It’s good to own this, to remember this and to use the memory next time I’m tempted to eat like this on a day I’m not going to the gym.

All in all?

All in all, I’m pleased. It hasn’t been too much of a chore and I haven’t ‘suffered’. Not a jot. It’s been a pleasure seeing the weighing scales give me good news for a while, but also enjoying exercise in the gym again.

I don’t want to do extremes. I want to do everything in moderation: exercise, eating, thinking about eating…

So what’s been a help?

The things that have helped me so far are:

  1. Having a gym in my apartment building, where I can go to exercise in relative privacy. I can go there any evening and even during the day if I’m working from home. It takes me no time at all and I have everything I need. No barrier to exercise!
  2. I’m using My Fitness Pal to track what I’m eating and drinking. I’m not obsessing over calories – really, I’m not! – but I find that the act of writing in what I eat makes me both more mindful of what I’m consuming, but also more aware of how it makes me feel when I eat at different times of the day.
  3. Huel has also been a life-saver in terms of making quick meal replacement shakes easy and tasty. I don’t suffer from spikes in blood sugar or sudden urges to snack anymore. And the Huel bars really are brilliant for taking in your bag when out and about.
  4. My Apple Watch and the Apple Fitness and Health Apps keep me up to date on weight, exercise and general movement. I have exercise goals to meet every single day and the watch keeps me on track. Without that, I’d be using my memory and that’s about as reliable as a chocolate teapot these days.
  5. Doing all of this with @FrankDJS has been fantastic. We don’t have any ‘tempting treats’ in the apartment, having donated a ton of post-Christmas chocolate and other stuff to the concierge team in our apartment building. If it’s not here, it can’t be eaten.

What’s next?

More of the same, with a goal of getting my weight down to something a lot more reasonable before we go to Spain in April (no way of hiding love handles on the beach!) while also increasing my regular exercise. Hopefully, this will include some longer runs, once I get my shoulder sorted out.

I’m also going to build in a cheat day each week, where I’ll allow myself to have a meal that wold normally be verboten.

I won’t obsess, I’ll just enjoy every mouthful.

I’m good at that.

 

 

Detox bollocks

It’s the time of year when all the newspapers are advising their readers to engage in one form of detox or another. They spend all of November advising us which fattening food to eat to have the ‘perfect Christmas’ and then point out we’re fat and out of shape and ‘need’ to go on a ‘Detox’.

Here’s the thing: they don’t work. Your kidneys and your liver detox your body. That’s what they’re there for. That’s why you get so ill when either of them malfunction.

Magic salts or fruit cleanses don’t detoxify you. On the other hand, it’s also probably a good idea to give your body a break from the onslaught of 24/7 goose fat and mince pies! Hence the natural tendency for people to change their eating habits come the new year.

But the claims made by the papers and newly-published health books are ludicrous and normally evidence-free. Often fronted by a celebrity with zero medical or health training, they make huge promises and deliver nothing in return except a sense of disappointment when it doesn’t work for you.

I was thinking about detox methods in the sauna last night. “Hypocrite!”, I hear you cry. Hold on – put down your pitchforks. I wasn’t in the sauna to detox, inspired by a D-list celebrity’s book that came free with a tabloid newspaper. I don’t sit in the heat imagining that the copious sweat traveling down by face and dripping onto the floor is actually full of dangerous ‘toxins’ or the remnants of mince pies and Christmas pudding.

(Although a two-decade scientific study in Finland did indicate that regular sauna use is associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease – bonus!)

No. I take a sauna because I enjoy it. The detox I was thinking of was absence of electronics and noise. I was completely alone in there and it was silent, aside from the clicking and sighing of the sauna heater.

I was also gadget-free. The sauna is far too hot to wear my Apple Watch, even if it’s waterproof. I think it would either melt and/or burn my wrist. The iPhone was safely in my bag in the changing room next door for exactly the same reasons. All I had to hand was a copy of The New European and my thoughts.

And it was a very welcome break.

It was then that I realised why I enjoy the sauna so much. Aside from the physical pleasure of getting slowly cooked and then jumping into a freezing cold shower, I enjoy the absence of other people getting in touch with me and the lack of any gadgets to steal my attention. It’s a pleasant change to be alone with my thoughts and to focus completely on one story in the newspaper.

It’s the only reason I subscribe to a physical news paper at all. It’s published weekly and gives me just enough content to read while sitting back in the sauna. As it’s essentially disposable, I don’t worry about it getting wet or damaged by the heat.

When I’m not reading – and sometimes, the heat makes it difficult to concentrate or, frankly, the sweat in my eyes makes it impossible! – I just sit back and think, or if I’m feeling a bit stressed or tense, I practice mindfulness.

No religious connotations, just mindful focus on my breathing and my posture. Just a few minutes a day is really helpful to me and while I usually use Headspace as a guided meditation tool, that’s impossible in the sauna as it’s an app on my iPhone. So it’s been a great experience in practicing mindfulness meditation without external stimuli or guidance.

So, I actually have my own little detox cough bollocks cough from the world at large every time I step in there. Actually, I’m going to stop using the word ‘detox’ as it’s so meaningless and potentially harmful.

The sauna is what it is: taking a break from the world outside and having a good old think. Something that can be tough for many of us these days. And given my epilepsy is exacerbate by stress and sleep disturbance, the sauna is an ideal way to knock both of these on the head – especially if I meditate while I’m in there.

It’s a habit I’ll definitely continue in to 2017.

Three cheers for the NHS

I’ve written before about how amazing I think the NHS is. Think about it – a free-to-all health service. What an amazing concept. 

Unfortunately, it’s seen better days and is sorely lacking in investment. Jeremy Hunt seems to be doing his best to alienate every clinician in the country. But it’s still fantastic and I for one never want to see it go. 

A quick story, from my own experience. And it’s not an Epilepsy story, you’ll be glad to hear!

I damaged my shoulder running the Royal Parks Half-marathon back in early October. Like an over-competitive idiot, I decided to sprint the final 500m, and as I crossed the line, I felt a mixture of joy (that I’d beaten my previous time) and dread (that my left shoulder was making a strange grating noise and was suddenly very, very painful). 

Within thirty minutes, I basically couldn’t move my left arm. I couldn’t put my hoodie on, I couldn’t lift the arm to take a drink from a bottle of water and even walking (limping, if I’m honest – I’d just run a half-marathon) began to make it hurt. 

A few days later, the pain had all but disappeared. But after a few weeks of no running, my first post-race run was marked my breath-taking pain in my left shoulder. Not as bad as immediately after the race, but enough to slow me down. A lot. 

Rinse and repeat through November and the boredom of the pain was getting me down. And it was getting worse. Even walking briskly resulted in pain. A pain that came and went like a ninja. Appearing without warning as I’d put on a shirt or roll over in bed. So I eventually arrived at the adult decision to consult a professional. 

Thanks to our NHS, I was able to:

  • Book an appointment with a local GP, at a time of my choosing, using an app on my iPhone. 
  • See that GP within 48 hours and get a sympathetic hearing and some practical next steps.
  • Receive a referral for an MRI.

This was on the 23rd of December, just as the UK was descending into the madness of Christmas. 

I received a text message on December 28th, inviting me to choose an MRI appointment. I called them back on the 29th and was able to pick an appointment for January 3rd. Tuesday morning, I got the train up to North London and was in and out of the clinic in 30 minutes. Everyone I came into contact with was friendly and helpful. 

Long story short, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. And I know this experience isn’t shared by everyone who comes into contact with the NHS. It can be slow, it can be bureaucratic. I’ve been there. But it can also be amazing. And we should remember that. Especially now, as it’s under more of a threat than ever before. 

Epilepsy-related postscript…

I thought about leaving this out, but couldn’t! I received a call from my neurologist this afternoon. He was responding to an email I’d sent just before Christmas, to discuss some test results and changes to my meds. I got thirty very helpful and friendly minutes of his time and a referral to another specialist.

This was all on the NHS. Free at point of delivery. And really, really helpful. Yes, I know my taxes are paying for this. And I pay them with pleasure. And I’d be happy to pay more for a ring-fenced save-the-NHS fund. If any politicians had the balls to bring it forward…

Dear Epilepsy, fuck you very much

I normally try to keep quite upbeat when it comes to living with epilepsy. I reflect on how I basically have it very good, how epilepsy doesn’t impact my life too much and how things could be so much worse.

But today…

Today made it very hard to think positively or optimistically about epilepsy in any way.

This morning, while in London City Airport, between (very approximately) 0900 and 1030, I had five (for me) severe seizures. They started with my usual inability to read what was in front of me – in this case, the departures board I was reading, trying to work out just how long my flight to Dublin was delayed.

This spread to the laptop screen in front of me, as I attempted to decipher a client email, which suddenly appeared to be a string of cities. The same cities that had appeared on the departures board. I know I’m having a seizure when the text from one source appears everywhere else I look, like a freaky ghost image.

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, bracing myself for the inevitable experience to follow. And my brain didn’t let me down.

A feeling of inexplicable dread, rushing thoughts and intense, intense focus on the table in front of me. And then, as if someone flipped a reset button on the back of my head. Nothing. No idea of where I was, why I was sitting there or who the people were around me. I was traveling alone, so to be fair, they were all strangers.

Reality slowly dawned and my memories and awareness returned over the next few minutes. I weighed up my options. I was supposed to be flying to Dublin for two days of client meetings and some coaching sessions. If this was a single seizure, I’d snooze on the plane and then work through the inevitable headache until I could get into bed. I probably have to cancel the client dinner, but no harm done.

Sadly, just as soon as I was able to think clearly – marked by me as being able to read the logos on the planes just outside my window – I had another, stronger seizure. I had to squint through the confusion and gripped onto the table as I started to feel like I was falling. Except I wasn’t. Temporal lobe epilepsy messes with your reality and as my seizures are now limited to the complex-partial type, I don’t fall to the ground and exhibit ‘typical’ symptoms.

In fact, I’ve been around people previously who had no idea I’d even had a seizure. It mostly goes on in my head, with very little difference externally, unless I’m speaking to you. Or you’re speaking to me and I don’t respond. Or I burst into song while trying to speak. That only happened the once, but it was to an audience of about 25 people. So it’s memorable.

I sat there and waited for it to pass. Which it did, eventually. I think it took about 15 minutes before I felt anywhere normal. I then had another, not as strong, but enough that I couldn’t move from my seat. I was now in a lot of pain due to the headache and wanted nothing more than to curl up in a soft, warm bed. I had to abandon the Dublin trip and find my way out of the airport.

In my state of mind, that was harder than you’d expect. I looked distinctly ill – a trip to the bathroom confirmed just how pale and ‘shaky’ I appeared. I had to queue at the information desk to find out just how I could leave the airport. I’d already gone through the utter hell of security and was in the departures area. I’ve never walked away from a flight before, so I’d no idea what to do.

I very quickly explained my situation and a very kind British Airways team member escorted me down to the baggage arrival area via several back doors and stairways. I was then on automatic pilot, making my way home via DLR and tube. Yes, a taxi would have been quicker, but the very thought of getting into a car then made me feel nauseous. I kept my shit together until I got home, but then had yet another seizure in the foyer of my apartment building. I had no idea where I was and had to text @FrankDJS to come down and escort me upstairs.

I then spent about four hours in bed, alternating between sleep and panic, waking up thinking I’d missed my flight. I still have a killer headache and no painkiller ever touches these, so I don’t bother. I’ve sipped tea and water and tried to keep still.

So it’s been a bad day on the epilepsy front. But this time, it’s impacted my work too. There was absolutely no way I could have worked in Dublin today, so mature me knows this and understands I did the best in a bad situation. But I’ve let people down and, despite all their friendly and supportive messages, I feel like I’ve failed.

Fuck you, epilepsy.

Working for yourself is hard enough without you getting in the way and taking me out of action. But… tomorrow is another day. I’ve managed to rearrange my flights – @FrankDJS did this for me while I dozed – and can go to Dublin tomorrow instead.

I should feel like a new man by then, but for now I’m exhausted, disappointed, in pain and in need of even more sleep.

Royal Parks half-marathon 2016

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I live! I didn’t just survive this year’s Royal Parks half-marathon, I enjoyed every minute of it! It was, as ever, a well organised and very picturesque race. But the addition of some unexpected sunshine was simply an added bonus.

My pacing was a little off due to navigating early crowds and needing to stop for an emergency toilet break about a kilometre in. Nerves! But the remainder of the race was a joy. I kept up with the pace-setters aiming for a 2:00 finish. Bear in mind that while my personal best on this course is 1:42, I didn’t think that was realistic. Instead, I aimed for an injury-free sub-2:00 run.

And I succeeded! I came in at 1:56. Hot. Sweaty. Exhausted. But elated.

I had enough in the tank for a final sprint, but I somehow managed to hurt my left should doing so. I know – only I cold hurt my shoulder while running. A few painkillers and a snooze on the couch later and it’s a lot better. I’m guessing it was due to some overly-vigorous arm-pumping over the final 400m.

And now for some photos of the morning, courtesy of @FrankDJS who gallantly accompanied me to the race, held my valuables and snapped me as I ran around in the sunshine.

The best news was that as I passed over the finishing line, I got an alert on my watch letting me know of another sponsorship pledge, taking me over the £500 mark. All raised for Epilepsy Action. If you’d like to add a pound, euro or dollar to this, you can do so via this link.

Royal Parks Half – here we go!

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I’m sitting in my kitchen, sipping a coffee and preparing to get dressed. At 0900, I’ll start the Royal Parks half-marathon and run 13 miles / 21km around London’s stunning parks.

All in aid of Epilepsy Action.

Training has gone well and I’ve been very pleased with my longer runs, both in terms of pace and energy. Today’s the day it’s all been leading up to and I have to admit I’m slightly nervous. And excited! I’ve genuinely enjoyed my last few long runs and hope today is as fun.

I’m aiming to finish, injury-free. And I’m aiming to beat my last race time of 2:02. I don’t anticipate smashing my personal best of 1:42, but let’s see how the morning goes!

If you’d like to support my fundraising, you can donate a pound, euro, dollar or any other currency via this link. It all goes towards Epilepsy Action’s great work in education and advocacy for those living this with most common of neurological conditions.

See you on the other side!

Hey brain: why you no work?

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It’s Saturday afternoon and I’ve had three (that I’m aware of) epileptic seizures this week. Maybe more on the horizon. My overwhelming reaction is one of disappointment. Quickly followed by boredom.

I had a couple of nighttime seizures earlier in the week, which left me feeling like I had the mother of all hangovers each following morning. The kind where you can’t bend over to tie your show-laces without searing head-pain and the feeling that your brain is about to pour itself out of your skull via your nostrils. The kind that leaves me fumbling for words and feeling quite spaced out for hours afterwards.

I then had a night of only four hours sleep Thursday night, due to a crappy hotel in Dublin and its proximity to some particularly shady nightclubs. (Top tip: never stay in Harrington Hall on Harcourt Street, unless you like to listen to screams, fights and club music all night).

So, this morning’s absence seizure wasn’t entirely unexpected. I’ve had a busy week and have missed a lot of sleep. The perfect formula for unwanted brain-spasms.

Still, unexpected is one thing. Unwelcome is something else. I slept for about 10 hours last night, but still woke up feeling hollowed out inside. Managed to get as far as Starbucks and back today before I had a passing absence seizure in the hallway of our apartment and took myself off to bed for an hour.

And that was after cancelling my training run this morning. Only a few weeks until the Royal Parks Half-marathon, so I should really be out there, pounding the pavements.

But not today.

(And no, the irony isn’t lost on me – I’m training to run a race to raise money for Epilepsy Action, while my own epilepsy prevents me from training…)

I’m feeling better, but still not myself. I’d actually like to sleep now, but I’m afraid that if I do, I won’t sleep tonight and we’ll be back to square one.

We’re due to go to the cinema this evening and I’m really going to have to see how I feel after dinner before committing. Unless my brain tidies itself up by then, I’m not sure how it’ll cope with a couple of hours of ‘The Magnificent Seven’.

In summary, epilepsy sucks donkey balls. But then we knew that already, right? So I’m really only writing this to make myself feel better about the whole thing, put it into context and move on. I think my epilepsy tends to make me more introspective. Hopefully not self-pitying though. This is where getting the terminology right is key: I live with epilepsy, I don’t suffer from epilepsy.

So, as ever, tomorrow is another day. I’ll chalk this one up to experience, rest up and recharge my batteries. But if epilepsy was my flat-mate, I’d be leaving them a post-it note on the fridge right now.

Next!

Royal Parks half-marathon: just a little bit further

I had a fab run yesterday morning. I’d planned to go a little it further than last time and cast my mind back to my training runs for last year’s London Marathon. (Oh, the painful memories!)

Anyway, I wanted to have a challenging, long run an not simply go round in a loop. My most enjoyable runs last year were when I headed out with an Oyster Card, planning to get the tube home after going as far as I could in one direction.

So yesterday morning, I left Canary Wharf, headed through Shadwell, up to Old Street, then up to Angel, King’s Cross, Baker Street, Edgware Road and then down to Green Park. There, I popped into Starbucks and ordered a venti coffee, took a breather and hopped on the Jubilee Line home.

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All in all, it was 17km and I enjoyed almost every step of the way. Obviously, as soon as I got to Old Street, the heavens opened and I was caught in a downpour. 🙄 I got soaked through and did start to worry about blisters – whenever my trainers get wet when out running, I always seems to end up with epic blisters.

Thankfully, that never happened, though I didn’t dry off until I got to Baker Street, once the sun was out for a while. The only injury I experienced was some pretty intense chafing in the nipple region (too much information?) as a result of my wet running top. I can live with that, as I’ve not a jot of leg or foot pain (or even stiffness) this morning. And it’s partly my fault for forgetting to apply a liberal measure of Vasoline to the usual nooks and crannies. (Yes, too much information…)

I won’t forget it on race day, that’s for sure.

I was really pleased with how the run went, including the fact I kept a reasonable pace through and was only slowed down by either pedestrians or road traffic. Average pace was 5:23, which I can definitely improve in the coming weeks. I’ll do this long run again, but will continue past Green Park tube and head down over the river to Waterloo. I think eventually, I’ll end up back at Tower Bridge or nearby.

My challenge in the next couple of weeks (if you can call it that) is that I have two business trips coming up. This makes training harder, but not impossible. I’m in Sitges and Barcelona next weekend and then in Jersey the following Friday. I’ll bring my gear to both, but will have to take it slightly easier in the heat of Sitges.

Anyway, in case you’ve missed the whole reason I’m training for the Royal Parks half-marathon, it’s epilepsy. I’m living with it, have done for 15 years and want to raise some money for the people behind a great resource: Epilepsy Action.

You can sponsor my run via this link. As of this morning, I’m at 78% of my fundraising target, so every single pound/euro/dollar could help me get there. Huge thanks to everyone who has donated so far.

 

On the run…again

We’re roughly two months out from his year’s Royal Park’s Half-marathon and I’m back into training with gusto. I ran almost every morning when in South Beach last month and, while it was far too hot and humid, it was great to get a few kms under my belt. Also a great way to take in South Beach’s spectacular ocean views, so it wasn’t all misery 😉

I completed my longest run in a while this morning: 14km around the city. Left Canary Wharf, headed through Limehouse, across Cable Street, up past Spitalfields, round Old Street roundabout, through Moorgate, down to Bank and across Cable Street and home again.

I had to avoid Wapping and the Highway due to today’s London Triathlon. Barriers and crowds galore!

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It was really enjoyable and I ended up running further than planned due to a combination of the sunshine and the unaccountable spring in my step. Strange, given yesterday’s overindulgences!

Anyway, I’m putting together a training plan to cover the next eight weeks – one that hopefully won’t result in peaking too soon or injuring myself. I have a couple of trips in the calendar between now and then – one to Sitges and one to Jersey. I’m looking forward to getting some runs in on both visits. But I know I need to get the kms in on London’s streets too.

As ever, I’m running to raise money for Epilepsy Action. I live with epilepsy and this charity does great work to dispel myths, provide support to those living with the condition, as well as their families and carers. Every run I complete, I do in the knowledge that so many others with epilepsy just couldn’t.

I’m lucky – I really am.

If you’d like to add to my sponsorship fund, just click here – thanks in advance for every single pound. It’s much appreciated!