I’m baaaaack!

Apologies to any regular readers who have noticed my absence from the blogging world recently. Time has literally flown by, and I have only realised now that it has been almost 3 months since my last post. I was extremely busy when I was back out in China, and I honestly didn’t have much to write about. And then I started to question whether I should just stop writing my blog altogether, but after a few people mentioned to me that they missed it, I thought I would start writing again. I have always enjoyed blogging as my own form of therapy, and have said that even if there is only one person that enjoys reading it then it is worthwhile to keep it going. So I’m back again for now 🙂

Sooo a quick summary of the last few months is in order then I guess. I’ll pick up where I left off and start with China. I flew back out after two of my sisters got married over the summer, and I had an end goal in sight of mid-October. It would be a final three months on the Kunming Walking Programme, and would make my adventure out there a year long in total (minus the couple of trips back to the UK). I really struggled being back out there to start with. I couldn’t motivate myself, and I knew that my progress was never going to result in ‘useful’ walking function; that is, I would never be able to walk instead of using the wheelchair. I can, and still do, use walking as a form of exercise as it is a really good weight bearing cardiovascular workout for me. But until science has progressed a bit further with a ‘cure’, I will not be able to make any more progress.

I don’t think this was much of a revelation for me while I was in China, and I definitely didn’t find it affected my motivation, but it has been something that has been on my mind for a while and I can finally say out loud. I used to be ashamed of myself that I couldn’t heal myself, as I hate to settle for anything less that perfect. I am always striving to be the best and am very competitive with myself. I saw being paralysed as a bit of a failure on my part, but I can clearly see now that it is quite difficult to beat science and medicine sometimes. Yes there are miracle stories out there, but mine isn’t one of them, and that isn’t my fault.

Anyway, back to China… I shifted my focus quite dramatically in August, and started to focus a lot more on what I’ve been studying for a while now, and that has been my main motivation since then. After meeting Ali in China when I first went out in 2013, I was very impressed that she is a successful financial trader, and was happy to guide me down a similar route. Trading is something that I have always been interested in, as my dad does it, and I have always been a numbers kind of person. Ali, her father and my whole family have been incredibly supportive of my studies, and I am very excited about what this opportunity may bring me. It feels amazing to be using my brain again and to have a potential career.

So along with wanting to spend more time studying and having a shoulder injury in China, I started doing half days in the gym. I went to the gym in the mornings, but then went home for lunch, and spent the rest of the day and evening studying. This worked out perfectly for me, and allowed me to be much happier about being in China for my last few months. The time went by pretty fast, and suddenly it was time to come home and say goodbye to an incredible year across the other side of the world.

Leaving Kunming was hard, mainly because I met some incredible people out there. There are many things I won’t miss, but I made some amazing friends, and felt extremely cared for by the staff in the gym. My personal physio out there became like a second mum to me when I was on my own, and is by far, one of the most generous and caring people I have ever met in my life. It was so difficult saying goodbye to her, and I really hope that I will see her again some time. I also really miss my three girls, Ali, Jenny and Emma. I never would have made it through the year without them and cannot wait until I see them again.

Me, Jenny and Ali

Me, Jenny and Ali

I left China feeling positive, healthy and for the first time since my accident, excited about the future. I’ve been back home for a few weeks now, and on the whole I feel I have implemented the positive changes that I wanted to in my life. I am currently trying to find a good balance between trading and working out, while still socialising and having fun. I think I’m starting to get there now… but it is much harder being in England where there are so many distractions compared to China. But one thing I definitely notice is that I am much more relaxed about the little things that used to bother me. No one is perfect, and no one has the perfect life. I appreciate small things so much more now than I used to, and I really value spending time with my friends and family having been away from them for a year.

I have a lot to look forward to in the near future…the main thing being…..

Two beautiful bumps

Two beautiful bumps

…. my sister (on the left), and my personal trainer and very good friend Jo (on the right) have synchronised their pregnancies perfectly. They are due three days apart (right around Christmas Day), and I am SOOOO excited about the new arrivals.

I think I’ve blabbed on enough for now.. don’t want you all to get bored already! I am making a point of going to new places and trying new things, so I will hopefully have lots to write about. Any suggestions for activities or adventures will be much appreciated 🙂

Last week in China (for now)

The last couple of weeks have been a bit of a struggle for me, and so I am very happy that I am about to start my final week out here before flying back to England for a month.

The main reason why I have been struggling is that I have been suffering from pretty bad headaches and dizziness/light headedness, which really makes a full day of exercise challenging. I have no idea why this has suddenly occurred, and I have had all sorts of blood tests and blood pressure/heart rate monitoring, all of which have proved inconclusive. The doctors at the hospital seem keen to come up with some kind of diagnosis for me, but I honestly believe it is just exhaustion and my body telling me to chill out for a bit. I have extremely sore back and neck muscles, which I definitely think contribute to the headaches, and I think the dizziness may be a result of the very hot weather that we have here again.

So I try my hardest to workout as much as possible, but unfortunately standing and walking seem to make me feel worse, so I have been cutting the afternoon sessions short to come home and lie down. But not putting in a full day at the gym makes me feel lazy and guilty, so I have this internal battle where I can’t decide whether to really push myself to breaking point, or to ease off a bit until I feel better.

My mum arrived here last week, which makes my decisions easier as she will insist I rest when I start to look pale and spaced out! She has also taken over with the cooking and domestic chores, which gives me even more time to relax (but again it makes me feel lazy and guilty!) It is so nice to have her back here for a bit, and to have some company… although it is very strange as I am so used to being on my own in my apartment.

Anyway, we will fly back home in a week, and a few days later my sister is getting married. And then at the end of June my other sister is getting married, and then after that I will return to China for another few months. I am so excited about seeing all of my family and friends, and I cannot wait to sleep in my own bed! Chinese mattresses are not very comfy.. they need to embrace memory foam out here!

I will also be able to continue my strict exercise regime in England, as I definitely do not want to undo all my hard work over the last few months. When I was back in January, I had a walking frame built that is an exact replica of the Chinese walking frames. A few times a week I was able to walk with the help of my mum, dad and personal trainer Jo. It was great, but I would have liked to have done it more. This time when I go back, I will hopefully only need one person to help me, so I will be able to practise much more often. Over the next few days in the gym, my mum is going to pay close attention to the assistance I am given with the walking, and will practice under the guidance of my physio so that she knows exactly what to do when we are in England.

A couple of weeks ago I made a ‘montage’ video of my time in China so far. There is an annual charity golf day held in my honour, which as I couldn’t attend this year, I decided to send this video instead. The funds they raised last year all went towards the Kunming Walking Programme, so I thought it would be appropriate to show everyone what their money is going towards. But I also want everyone else that has supported me to see this amazing opportunity that I have been given… and I am not just talking about those that have contributed money. All of the emails, comments, and well wishes are so so important to me to keep me positive. I can’t tell you how much they all mean, and how much I appreciate them all.

Here is the video…and hopefully I will be seeing lots of you over the summer when I am home.

 

 

Still plodding along…

I thought that being in China would give me much more interesting things to write about on my blog… but as I wrote in my previous post, I have such a set routine here and I rarely do anything else! Even at the weekends I don’t often do much. I always have so much catching up to do… emailing, skyping, sleeping… that the time flies by and Monday morning always comes around so quickly again. I think this is probably a good thing though as if I have too much free time to think about things then I start thinking too much about everything!

I have tried to change my attitude in the gym over the last couple of weeks… and think I am finally starting to show some progress here! About two weeks ago it started to get really hot, and for the same reason why it gets very cold in the gym in winter, it gets very hot during the summer. A large part of the gym has a glass roof, so it sort of becomes like a greenhouse when the sun is out, and it gets very stuffy and was making the afternoons extremely unpleasant. I really let it bother me and was getting so frustrated every afternoon as I would start to feel quite light headed and dizzy when I was trying to walk. The more frustrated I would get, the worse my walking would be, and I would get even more angry.

After trying to walk in different parts of the hospital but finding that either they were just as hot or the floor was too slippery, I finally just accepted that the weather isn’t going to change any time soon, and I may as well just try and stay calm so that I can get some decent walking time in the afternoons. So this week I managed the whole week without crying or getting angry. And I am pretty happy with that because I am often at the point of physical exhaustion, a time where my emotions are on the edge anyway!

With regard to my walking progress… well I think it’s still progressing in the right direction although I often wonder what the next stage is for me, or whether I will ever reach a stage where my progress becomes useful in everyday life. This is why I mentioned earlier that I don’t like to have too much time to sit and think about everything. I have finally stopped asking my physio constant questions about progress and expectations and the future… and I am just putting everything into this programme and seeing what I can gain from it. I have realised that this is the most sensible option because otherwise I drive myself mad.

The concept of ‘progress’ for spinal injuries is always so difficult to measure anyway…Changes can be so minute and quite often do not result in useful function anyway. And because my injury level is around waist height, it is always hard for me to know if I have improved my core and back muscles because they are all sort of joined together. Obviously from looking at the videos of my walking since December it looks like I have made progress, but I find it so hard to judge that because I only focus on the negatives! I look at my current walking videos (I will upload a new one tomorrow) and see all the things that I still can’t do as opposed to the things that I can do. I did say I was trying to work on my attitude… I obviously still have a little more work to do!

Last week I also embraced some Traditional Chinese Medicine and had some Cupping Therapy on my back. The idea is that it releases toxins from you body. They use little cup things that suction the skin and burst the blood vessels on the surface of the skin for the toxins to leave the body. It was sort of painful at the time, but I quite liked it and am definitely going to keep having it done… The picture makes it look a lot more dramatic than it was!

cuppingAnyway, I have a some things happening over the next few weeks outside of the gym that will keep me motivated and energised. Next weekend it’s my birthday so I’m going to the InterContinental Hotel for lunch, which will be awesome. I will have to take lots of pictures to share as the hotel really is spectacular!

My Kunming Family

I am now at the half way stage of my time in Kunming, as I will be flying back at the end of May because my other two sisters are getting married this summer. I had my return date booked when I flew out here in February and so always knew that I had 14 weeks of hard work. Having that in my mind has made it much easier to stay focused and work towards my goal of 26th May. I am almost certain that I will return to Kunming in July after the weddings, but I am currently just trying to take each week as it comes and not think too much about the long run.

So the last couple of weeks have been hard.. in particular this last week, which has probably been the most physically and mentally challenging week to date. I am trying to change the way that I walk, as I believe that my technique before was going to quickly  plateau and I would never progress further. I asked my physio and reluctantly she agreed to help me modify my technique… she was only reluctant because out here they seem to wait for the patients to naturally progress from one thing to the next. I, however, don’t like to wait around, and if I think something needs to be changed then I will change it.

As a result, I am asking a lot from my muscles, in particular my very weak lower back muscles. Also this week I was learning to push the walking frame myself so that I do not have to rely on the person pulling it for me. This is SO difficult, as a lot of my momentum to swing my leg through comes from using my arm strength to pull against the walker. Basically I have been trying to achieve a lot in these last couple of weeks, and have perhaps pushed myself a little too hard.

I was doing very well learning to push the walking frame myself, and was really starting to get the hang of it when fatigue began to set in on Thursday. I haven’t been sleeping well either, so my walking wasn’t up to standard in my eyes.. I am extremely critical of everything I do in the gym, and I get so frustrated if it isn’t going well. I was just so exhausted and annoyed that I was exhausted… and anyway it resulted in a bit of a breakdown on Friday morning.

Now it is Sunday and I have had some time to rest and recover, and I am feeling much better. I am taking a three day weekend as I think I really need the extra day to just chill out. I have had such an intense 7 weeks, and I need to listen to my body when it tells me to take it easy for a few days.

Anyway, I seem to have gone completely off topic from the original point of this post…I wanted to introduce the people that have been so amazing to me ever since I arrived. I have mentioned a few times already Ali and her family, and David and his family, but I haven’t introduced the Chinese people who I spend pretty much all day every day with…

EmmaThis is Emma (Chinese name Feng Xiaoqing), who is the hospital’s translator. She is an absolute legend and I guarantee I wouldn’t have survived so far without her! She is so great at helping to cheer me up if I am feeling homesick or frustrated, and I don’t know how she manages to make me smile again. As she is one of the few people that speak Chinese and English, she is often the messenger between me and the physio when I am being told what to do and how to improve. She does such a great job at that, and I really don’t know how she is so patient with me.

Emma

Next is Xu Zhexi, who is known as Xu Laoshi, meaning Teacher Xu. She is the main physio that has pretty much been assigned to me. I think she is extremely talented and caring and I am so glad that I get to work with her everyday. She has a lot of experience and really knows what she is talking about. Her English is pretty good so we can chat and have a laugh together as well…She takes such good care of me, especially since my mum left; she even offered to do my washing for me one day!

Xu Laoshi

Xu Laoshi

And then there is my student girl that is just fantastic as well. There are a number of students that are in the gym everyday, sort of on a placement I guess. The majority of them don’t make much effort and spend most of the day playing on their phones, but there are a couple that aren’t like that, and are actually really good at their job. The one that I like in particular is May (Chinese name Ruan Hongmei) so I get to work with her a lot. She comes to collect me from my apartment with her boyfriend every morning, and she walks me home at the end of the day. She speaks very good English and is teaching me Chinese… she gives me new words every day and makes me say them over and over again when I’m  walking my laps in the gym.

May

May

The students are all due to go back to school in a week’s time unless the hospital decide to hire any of them. I am really hoping that they decide to hire May as she is so sweet and makes the days so much more fun.

Xu and May

And I have to give a special mention to Jenny (Wenjun Liao), who is the translator for Ali’s family. She has been absolutely fantastic since the very start and is always helping out with shopping and any problems that I have. Her and Emma are very close friends, so they are like a dream team! They are so efficient and nothing is ever too much trouble for them. I really couldn’t cope without them and am so grateful for everything they do.

Jenny and Emma

All of these people are the reason I am still out here and am able to keep going when I think it is all too much. I know that in the future when I look back on this whole experience, they will be the thing that makes me smile and have happy memories of Kunming.

Blood, Sweat and Tears

So there hasn’t actually been any blood, but plenty of sweat and tears involved in the Kunming Walking Programme! I can, without a doubt, say that any progress that patients make on this programme is through sheer determination and hard work.. nothing comes without trying and we are all busting our asses in the gym all day every day.

My mum left last week, so I have been finding a way to cope without her here. The first few days were extremely tough. I felt so overwhelmed and exhausted and kept randomly bursting into tears in the gym. It was all just becoming too much for me and I hadn’t realised just how much I had been relying on my mum for emotional support as well as taking care of all the domestic chores. Getting back from a long day in the gym and finding that I needed to cook, clean and sort things out before I could relax and sleep was taking its toll. I really began to question being out here… is this what I really want and why the hell would I put myself through all of this?!

Then I came to my senses.. I had some sound advice from the people over here as well as my family back home, and I realised that of course I want to be here. I need to take full advantage of this opportunity, and I have worked so hard to get where I am that I would be crazy to just give up now. The physical exhaustion was clouding my judgement and so I took the whole weekend off to just relax and catch up on sleep. I felt refreshed going back into the gym on Monday and this week has been great so far.

On a more practical note, I have also hired a housekeeper who will come everyday to clean the apartment, do my washing, go to the market to buy food and chop all the vegetables up. It is extremely surprising just how time consuming chopping vegetables is!! She will make my life so much easier, and I can get back to focusing solely on the gym.

My progress in the gym is still continuing in the right direction. During my low point last week I was starting to feel like I wasn’t progressing at all. At times the language barrier can become extremely frustrating.. I can only get limited feedback from the physios, and I need Emma (the hospital translator) to walk alongside me and translate what I’m doing well and what I need to work on.

And then yesterday I was completely thrown when half way through my walk, my physio announced that it was time to take the other rope off that helps to lock out my knees. She had removed the rope from my left leg a couple of weeks ago, but she now thought it would be time to take off the other one. She also now thinks I’m stable enough to be left to stand on my own most of the time… she of course stays nearby, but it always terrifies me when she takes a step back!

2014-03-18 15.02.23So all in all it has been quite an up and down couple of weeks.. but I think I’m through the worst of it! I am definitely hoping there will be no more tears for a while. The poor Chinese student physios must think I am crazy with all of my emotions in the last week! Hopefully there will be no blood either… I have had a few impressive bruises on my feet from kicking the front of the walker when I take a step. So that just leaves sweat.. I am pushing myself probably harder than I ever have in my life, so there’s bound to be some sweat involved in that (also, it is boooiling in the gym in the afternoons!)

I have uploaded my latest walking video here, so check it out.

 

Progress Videos

This is only a very quick post, it’s 8.45pm on Friday evening and I am getting up early (5.30am) tomorrow to get in a few hours at the gym before I take the rest of the weekend off to relax.

I have just joined the world of YouTube and have created my own channel with my progress videos on. I have realised that this is by far the easiest way for people to keep up to date with how I’m doing out in Kunming. So check them out and subscribe to my channel if you fancy it! Don’t expect to see any miracles in these videos though… progress is very slow and I still have a very very long way to go!! The link is below…

My YouTube Channel

First week back on the job

I have been back in Kunming for a week now and it has been a crazy up and down week… I’m absolutely exhausted but it is so nice to be back.

Not really too sure where to begin… I guess I should rewind to the journey, which was extremely long and very dull! We flew with Cathay Pacific this time, which is the first time I have flown with them. They were actually pretty good, although they didn’t let me board the plane before everyone else so I had to face the humiliation of the aisle wheelchair on a full plane. The aisle wheelchair is so narrow and flimsy, and it barely fits down the aisle so I was constantly being knocked into people in their seats on either side of me. Other than that it all went quite smoothly. We had to wait in Hong Kong airport for a few hours before our connecting flight to Kunming. Neither my mum or I had any sleep so we were getting quite exhausted, and I had a bit of a suspicion that I was starting to get a UTI.

We arrived on Monday afternoon, and had such a lovely welcome to the apartment. Uschi (Ali’s mum) had all sorts of treats waiting for us, including a delicious cake, which was seriously amazing!!

Arrival

I discovered on Monday evening that I had been right about getting a UTI as I spent most of the night awake with a savage headache and feeling really rough. I spent the next day in bed, and I also discovered that I had a small mark on my butt. Pressure sores are just another thing on the list for people with a SCI. They can be extremely serious, but I had thankfully noticed my red mark early enough so that it hadn’t developed into a pressure sore. I was in bed for two days recovering from the worst of my UTI and turning on my side every couple of hours so that my skin could heal.

During these couple of days it was very very cold outside, and we even woke up one morning to a light dusting of snow…yes, snow! It turns out that when we left Kunming just before Christmas, the weather then turned very mild and there was almost continuous sunshine for 6 weeks. And then the day after we arrive, it snows again… bloody typical!!

However, things started to look up on Thursday. Clear blue skies and very warm sunshine motivated me to go back to the gym and start some gentle exercise. I was thrown back in the deep end however and was straight back into my old exercise routine.. picking up where I left off.

My walking was pretty rusty even though I had been practising when I was back home in England. The physios and doctors took this opportunity to remind me constantly that I shouldn’t have gone back to England and that I would be doing much better by now if I had stayed. Although this slightly upsets me, it also motivates me more to prove to them that I can do this. So I am showing a great deal of patience and am taking it one step at a time (literally!) Yesterday I was told that I have improved a lot since I’ve been back so that has shut them up for a while!!

Here is a little clip of my walking today…not particularly elegant but never mind!