Thursday, 14 February 2019

Fractured Dreams

Let’s pretend it is the end of 2018 for a few minutes. Life has been mind boggling lately meaning that I haven’t been in the right mood to write.

Last year was a mixed bag. An operation each for Calvin and I, lots of illnesses for me, the continued rehabilitation of my knee and three holidays to Paris, Amsterdam and Mallorca. Turning 30 was depressing, but I think I am over that one now. There were some constants with my relationship, job and volunteering at Brownies. I nearly moved house then thought better of it. Nothing amazing happened in 2018 and thankfully nothing too awful either.

Moving on to 2019. I thought this would be the year that I would be competing again. It has been 19 months since I fractured my knee warming up for a race. Rehabilitation was tough mentally and physically, but I was seeing progress. Last summer I moved from running on grass to the track and towards the end of the year I was even trying out blocks again. However, my knee has never been totally pain free and the flair ups started happening more often even when the intensity of training wasn’t increasing. I hit a brick wall. I was regularly getting sharp pains when I ran. At a loss with what to do next I decided to get referred back to a consultant and had an MRI scan a couple of weeks ago.

The results were heart-breaking. The fracture called an osteochondral hasn’t healed. Not only that I have now developed early-onset arthritis in that knee. The consultant told me that there comes a time in our lives where we have to make decisions. He told me to stop running.

It is no secret that athletics is my life. Since childhood I have been addicted to the sport. I have been nothing but dedicated when I decided to try and make it as a world class athlete. It has helped me massively to come to terms with my sight loss. Athletics has given me a purpose. I never expected to run forever, but I did expect to leave the sport on my own terms. I haven’t achieved everything I feel I am capable of yet. Prior to my injury I was running faster than I have ever done before. I still have dreams of going to a European Championships and breaking the 13 second barrier for 100m. Going blind was difficult and although some might not understand, the news that I may never run again is just as hard to take.

Unfortunately, my injury can’t be fixed. However, there is a possibility that my symptoms can be improved with surgery. I understand there are no guarantees and my consultant strongly believes even with surgery that I should no longer run.

Surgery is booked for 28 February and I will be on crutches for 3 weeks, which will be a challenge in itself. Then I need to go through the process of rehabilitation again. At the moment I haven’t given up on running. It could be argued that I am in denial. I am just not ready to give up on my dreams. I could switch sports, but athletics is my one true love.

Away from my knee, 2019 is going to be testing generally. I am a few weeks away from being on the Guide Dog waiting list for a year. Calvin’s retirement looms ever closer with his 11th birthday taking place next month. I am not liking not being in control of things lately. My future feels so uncertain.

I deeply hope that when I’m writing my review of 2019 that I will be feeling very smug. Fingers crossed that I can defy the odds and get back to sprinting relatively pain free and that Calvin will be happy with retirement.

We can’t always choose what happens to us, but we can choose how we respond…

Monday, 31 December 2018

A Decade of Words

This year my blog has been dominated by milestone posts. Calvin turning ten, me turning thirty and the NHS turning seventy. Before the year is out I thought I would squeeze in one more milestone. 2018 marks the tenth anniversary of my blog, this blog! When I started writing in 2008, who knew that I would still be writing today and that some people would make a career out of blogging!

I remember well the catalyst that led to the creation of Insight Out, although originally I named the blog Selina’s World. Oh how I wince at my younger self! Back in 2008 I used to be a very active member on a forum for the visually impaired, I have a feeling it was called Eyes Wide Shut. Anyway, another member shared that they had started a blog and I obviously thought, I want to do that too. Said blogger stopped writing last year after ten years of blogging, which was the right time for them. Remarkably that person still reads my blog and takes the time to leave me comments. I hope you know who you are. Thank you for supporting my blog from its inception and being my inspiration to start blogging. Keeping a blog has to be one of the best decisions I have made in life.

When I first started out I was vaguely aware that people might read my posts, but I treated it very much like a personal diary. I find my candidness and direct references to people in the early days somewhat shocking now. As time has lapsed my writing voice has developed. I still write openly and honestly, just not so tactlessly!

Having a diary of the last decade of my life is great. People with vision can look back at photographs and reminisce about that moment in time. They say a picture can paint a thousand words. Thankfully I have written those thousand words, which allows me to look back and recreate memories in my mind’s eye.

I always have and always will primarily write for me. However, if someone finds my content mildly interesting or a little bit useful then it is a bonus. To my knowledge I don’t have a massive following and that is fine. I blog as and when I can and when I wish. I find it an enjoyable and therapeutic process. I read my blog back fairly regularly. This might sound arrogant to some, but I am my biggest inspiration. I look back at posts and admire my work. At times when I’m feeling down I turn to my blog and remember my achievements or marvel at how I have matured over the years. This blog makes me both laugh and cry. It fuels my determination to keep striding for my dreams. The words I write make me believe, believe I can be the best version of me.


Thursday, 15 November 2018

Vice Magazine

Once again I scorn myself for not blogging more. I will be back with some new material soon. In the meantime, I am linking to a piece from Vice magazine who asked me to contribute to their article about how blind people experience sexual attraction. It was an interesting topic to explore and you can read the article by clicking here


Friday, 19 October 2018

30

Age is just a number. Digits that increase by one every year. It shouldn’t define who we are. Yet it does. In July I turned thirty and I still can’t get my head around it. Thirty. I don’t feel thirty, but what is it meant to feel like to be a number that begins with three?

Our twenties are our first decade of adulthood. There are so many things that are expected from us post-childhood. Some people manage to excel at being a grown-up. Before they hit thirty they have a degree, career, home, marriage and children. All of the assets required in order to navigate successfully through life. Those of us who don’t tick all of the boxes can often experience a sense of regret, failure or inferiority.

I wish I didn’t have the desire to conform to society’s expectations. We are all individuals that progress through life at different rates, achieving different things, which should not be measured against one another. Perhaps it is the competitiveness within me or human nature ingrained within us all. We seem to fight to be the king of the castle, the leader of the pack or the best in show.

So what happened in my twenties? I got a Guide Dog that enhanced my independence and introduced me to the concept of unconditional love. I obtained a First Class English Language and Literature degree from The Open University. I represented England at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. I became a home owner and can’t wait to finish paying off my mortgage. I left two jobs and started a third. I exited two relationships and entered a third. I stepped out of my comfort zone and volunteer at my local Brownie pack. I had a few more eye operations and accepted my sight loss. I holidayed in numerous countries. I attended music concerts, theatre shows and sporting events. I maintained, lost and discovered friendships. I blogged about it all.

As I embark on this new decade of life, I find myself constantly pondering, day-dreaming about the future. I am so eager to get engaged and married. I have baby names all picked out. I feel in a hurry, left behind because friends have raced ahead of me. I can hear a clock tic-toc away in my head. Time is running out. At least my sub-conscious seems to think so. The rational side of me reminds me to take a breath, appreciate what I have achieved to date and assures me that things will happen in their own good time.

Ten years, one hundred and twenty months, around five hundred and twenty one weeks and about three thousand six hundred and fifty two days. A decade of time. Time that I hope will be filled with happiness.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

NHS 70

Apologies for the lack of blog posts recently. I have been struggling with chronic wrist and hand pain making typing difficult. I think it is some kind of repetitive strain injury although the doctor did say I had pulled a tendon, only I have no recollection of doing it. I have just finished a day at work and was reminded of a short piece I wrote for their website a couple of months ago for the NHS 70 celebrations. You can read all about how I represented them at Westminster Abbey by clicking here.


Monday, 13 August 2018

Operation Calvin

Guide Dogs. We all hear about how great and wonderful they are. Aren’t they clever, don’t they do an amazing job. Yes, they are life changers. They give blind and partially sighted people more confidence to get out and about. What people sometimes forget is that ultimately they are just dogs and not super heroes. They need feeding, spending, playtime, love and care. Whilst the owner is reliant on the dog when walking, at all other times the dog is dependent on the owner.

I have had a tough time with Calvin over the last couple of months. In June I discovered a lump on the inside of one of his back legs. I was sure it must be a fatty lump as he has hundreds even though this one was sturdier to the touch. I took him to the vets to get it aspirated and was pleased when they confirmed that it was indeed most likely a fatty lump and therefore pretty much harmless. When the vet suggested removing it because of its position and its possibility to affect Calvin’s mobility if it grew I was a little taken aback. Since Guide Dogs pay for Calvin’s treatment I contacted them for advice and was pretty certain that they would say just to leave it. I was then surprised when they agreed it should be removed in order to avoid a bigger operation in the future if the lump enlarged.

I was reluctant to agree to the surgery. However, after weighing up the pros and cons I booked Calvin in. Ironically, on the morning of the operation a tiny lump appeared on the inside of his other back leg so I requested that they removed that too. The operation was a success and they sewed him up with dissolvable stitches. It was necessary for him to wear a cone on his head for ten days to prevent him from licking the wound.

The cone. The dreaded cone. Calvin is not a small dog and has a sizeable head. Hence the plastic cone he was fitted with was enormous. For those who aren’t familiar the cone is also known as a buster collar or Elizabethan collar. Considering Calvin is a Guide Dog his sense of spatial awareness was shocking and so bulldozed around the house. It was somewhat amusing despite the situation being far from it.

Calvin was understandably sulky after his operation. I feared this might last for the entire time he had to wear the cone, but by the following morning he was chirpier, I think mostly down to the fact that he worked out that he could wear the cone and still hold a toy in his mouth. Mealtimes were a little bit challenging at first, but I put his bowl on a shoe box, which made it easier for him to reach. Climbing the stairs was a tricky one, he wouldn’t lift his head high enough so kept catching the cone on the upcoming step and came tumbling back down to the bottom. Toys solve everything and I learnt that if he had a toy in his mouth then it forced him to hold his head up and he could make it safely to the top.

We had a few night time sprints to the garden in the initial days post-surgery as his tummy was poorly after the anaesthetic. Thankfully Calvin and I have an established relationship and him panting in my face means he really needs to go. Obviously when Calvin was wearing the cone it meant I was unable to work him. Having your independence snatched away is not brilliant and I missed our walks together, but it wasn’t like I was completely housebound as I had an army of people to take me out as and when needed. When I left Calvin for short periods by himself when I knew his stomach was settled I locked him in the living-room as I had images of him trying to get up the stairs without a toy and injuring himself. Calvin doesn’t know I know, but he always sleeps on my bed when left alone in the house for a prolonged period. He would never dream of climbing on my bed with me present.

Calvin had a check-up at the vets and they were happy with the wounds and said I could remove the collar after the ten days were up. I thought Calvin would be ecstatic to get it removed and braced myself for crazy running and toy grabbing. Instead he had a good shake, calmly picked up a toy and promptly curled up and went to sleep. I guess he hadn’t had great shut eye with the cone on.

Two weeks post-surgery I was allowed to work him again and it was a relief. The weather was lovely, which always lifts my mood. At the beginning of July Calvin started licking his wound in the night. Now I don’t know if he started licking the wound and it opened up or if the scab cracked which caused it to open. I believe it was the latter since he didn’t bother with the wound before that. Either way it got infected. He was given anti-biotics and the cone had to go back on for another week. Again this meant no work.

The week passed and the vet peeled off the scab, I assume to check that the infection had gone. It had. However, she said one of the stitches was sticking out of the skin. So she opened the wound up once more to get the stitch out. The cone had to go back on for a third time. By this point I was a stress head. Calvin was allowed to have the cone off whilst being supervised after the infection, but if he so much as had his tongue out I made sure the cone went back on as I was so worried about the wound getting infected again.

I went on holiday in mid-July for my birthday and left Calvin with a friend. I was a little nervous about leaving him, as I threated that the wound would get infected again. He went with his cone to wear at night and he came back absolutely fine.

After my holiday I began to relax and convinced myself that the wounds were beyond the possibility of infection. Then the weather turned rainy and Calvin started licking his front legs. Hyper-alert to any licking I noticed that it seemed to be increasing and realised his arthritis must be playing up. Calvin has had arthritis for a few years and at the end of last year his front paws began to misshapen due to it but up until now it has never really bothered him. He has been taking You Move supplements and they seemed to be doing the job. I guess with the operation followed by the infection, Calvin’s body has been through the wars and might explain why the arthritis flared up.

We took another trip to the vets and they agreed that it was arthritis troubling him. They have now armed me with anti-inflammatories to give him as and when needed. The licking stopped after a few days but I medicated him for seven days as recommended. On the fifth day I took him for a free run, something I hadn’t done since his operation. I declared him cured as I witnessed him bound around the woods like a puppy. My heart swelled as he zoomed around with not a care in the world. There was a time where I felt he was never going to get better. I am truly grateful to have him back to his playful self. Although whilst I have been writing this his insistence for me to keep throwing his toy has spoilt my flow a little!

Poorly pups are no fun for dog or owner. Somehow it is already five months since I have been on the waiting list for a new Guide Dog. The last couple of months have really brought it home to me how much I don’t want a dog with health problems. I don’t want the vets knowing who I am before I have even mentioned my name over the phone. Who knows how many more months Calvin and I have together as a partnership. I am just glad that we can get back to striding the streets.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Amsterdam

When you think of Amsterdam, the first things that come to mind are sex and drugs. The legalisation of prostitution and cannabis makes the capital city a popular destination for those who have a freer outlook on life. For someone who religiously goes to bed at 9pm, doesn’t drink or smoke and certainly doesn’t condone prostitution it is a wonder why I was on board when my friends suggested a trip to the city in order to celebrate all of us turning thirty. Perhaps a surprise to some, but Amsterdam is a place that actually oozes culture and well worth a visit for those who prefer a more subdued existence.

Nine of us travelled to Amsterdam at the end of May and I was the only visually impaired member of the group. Whilst I am well-travelled, I have mainly holidayed in beach locations and didn’t anticipate the physical and mental exhaustion that comes with getting around a busy and unfamiliar environment. Bicycles, trams, cars and people surround you at every turn and although I was always being guided I felt we were constantly crossing roads and dodging moving objects. Then there are the stairs. I learnt that Amsterdam has a lot of very old tall buildings and our hotel was no exception. The staircases in these buildings are not only steep, but spiral and have uneven steps. The struggle was real.

The difficulty with travelling in such a large group is that not everyone wants to do the same activities. Personally, I was keen to squeeze in as much site-seeing as possible and felt I experienced everything I wanted to. Below you will find my account of all the tourist attractions I visited and how I found them as someone with a visual impairment.

Anne Frank House ` `
A note to anyone planning on visiting this attraction, at present it is only possible to do so by purchasing an online ticket in advance. Tickets go on sale two months in advance and sell-out super-fast. We missed out on these tickets and had to purchase introductory programme tickets that are a bit more expensive, which go on sale two weeks before. These also sell-out on the morning they are released. I was unable to purchase tickets with my Supernova screen reader despite the website appearing fairly accessible at a glance. Thankfully the boyfriend was on hand to purchase our tickets. There was no option to buy a discounted disabled ticket.

The pre-talk that was included with the introductory programme ticket was quite interesting and useful especially if you are not completely familiar with the Anne Frank story. After the talk we were able to explore the Anne Frank House and were given audio guides. These were pretty accessible as once you are in a room you just need to wave it around a bit until you hear a beep, which triggers the information to start playing. Obviously it is useful if you can see where the trigger points are, but I was able to activate the audio guide myself in some of the rooms.

It was towards closing time when we visited The House so it wasn’t too crowded although there were bottle necks at times as people navigated the tricky staircases. There weren’t too many objects you could touch, but just being inside the building gave a good feel for the living conditions.

Sex Museum and Red Light District
Ok so it is kind of impossible to go to Amsterdam and not be a tad curious about their openness to sex. The sex museum is fairly visual and so I strongly recommend that if you are visually impaired that you go with someone who isn’t embarrassed to describe some of the exhibits. There are a few interactive features of the museum, I will leave your over active imaginations to guess what they might be. It is a place to go for a bit of a laugh and whilst it claims to guide you through the history of sex, I can’t say that that appears to be its main focus.

I have to admit that I was totally disappointed by The Red Light District. I think I was expecting throngs of sex hungry men to be pressed up against the windows deciding on which woman they wished to purchase. Instead I didn’t even realise I was walking through the district, it could have been a regular street. What I mean to say is there was no atmosphere about the place for somewhere that is so iconic.

Canal Cruise
Amsterdam is famous for its many canals and their canal cruises are popular with tourists. You have to be prepared to do a little queuing even after you have bought your ticket, but they do try to continuously load the boats. Everyone is given an individual audio guide and then the captain also offers additional information. Maybe due to fatigue, but I found the tour somewhat dull. I suspect the city has some beautiful views, I just couldn’t appreciate them and the audio guide didn’t offer much in terms of detailed descriptions.

Van Gogh Museum
The artist is famous for cutting off his ear and his depiction of sunflowers. I have a vivid memory of one of his sunflower paintings as I recall my primary school having a copy on the wall. I also thought I remembered what he looked like, but was stunned to discover that he was ginger. This makes me question how accurate my visual memory is.

The attraction is another that requires you to purchase tickets online in advance, which I didn’t realise until one of my friend’s notified me on the morning we planned to visit. Luckily, I had a quick look at the website after breakfast and discovered that they offered disabled visitors a free companion ticket that could not be purchased online. They allow disabled visitors to just turn up, buy a ticket on the door (note they only accept card payments) and enter through an access entrance that saves queuing. So it all worked out perfectly.

However, I was disappointed to learn that despite paying eighteen euros to get in an audio guide was an additional fee of five euros. I am not entirely sure if they are free as standard for those with a visual impairment, but they did give me one for free when we explained I was blind. Since I was the only one with an audio guide, there was some waiting around for me whilst I listened to the information. The audio guide was not accessible and I required someone to punch in the necessary numbers on my behalf.

The museum is extremely large and set over several floors. Possibly because of this we didn’t come across the 3D replica of one of the sunflower paintings, which I hoped to feel.

Floating Flower Market
In my mind’s eye this appears as a real spectacle as I imagine thousands of flowers in vibrant colours floating on the canal water in lots of pots. In fact it is basically a market that happens to be by the canal. The online description promises that you can smell the sweet and musky aromas. I did sneeze, but failed to smell anything. It is a good place to pick up souvenirs and I did get to see some traditional Dutch clogs.

Ice Bar
This attraction is cool! On arrival you are given three tokens, one can be used in the main warm bar and two in the actual ice bar. The tokens entitle you to free drinks. Prior to entering the ice bar you are given a coat and glove. I brought my own hat and gloves for further insulation. It is a great sensory experience as you can of course feel the minus temperatures, the glasses you get your drinks in are made out of actual ice and there is a polar bear ice sculpture that you can touch. Yet again this is another place where you need to pre-book your tickets in advance online.

Horse and Carriage Ride
Some of the landmarks that we passed on this tour were the same as the canal cruise tour, nevertheless I felt it was a more exciting way to view the city. I fantasised that I had gone back in time as our horse who was called Patrick trotted through the cobbled streets. The tour guide allowed us to give Patrick a fuss at the end, which was a calming activity to conclude a jam-packed few days in Amsterdam.