On strength and loss: an unfinished story

A friend told me yesterday that I am influential; that I walk into a room and can light it up, and that people want that for themselves. The converse is true, that it is noticeable when I don’t have light to share. My fear is that without it, those people will walk away.

I currently feel like an atom that has been knocked sideways in an MRI and is spinning around off kilter, trying to find its track. I could see it coming, but somehow willed myself to believe that by sheer focus and core strength I could hold the line.  Good things were happening and I had purpose. Unfortunately, several of the most enjoyable parts of my life had echoes of past times entwined about them.


Over the past 5 months I have got back into climbing, and have been enjoying the sense of achievement and strength that it gives me, the way it combines with running to make my body strong and supple, and provides a counterpoint to work and city life. While making plans to go and climb ‘properly’ I told a friend that rope climbing was linked into some difficult memories for me and that I may get upset, but please not to worry, I definitely wanted to go. In the event it all went well and I was absolutely delighted, convinced that by being aware that it might be difficult, I had headed sadness off at the pass. I had this!

I was actively looking forward to mornings at the wall, running there through the winter darkness, waking up before 0500 excited to get out and start the day off well. We rapidly progressed, and each time we achieved something harder, we moved the goalposts. My bag smelt of chalk and I had little smiley face deodorisers in my stickies. My home coffee consumption dropped off rapidly as I was always out. This all proved to be excellent training for the Cruce Columbia, a 100km race across the Patagonian Andes (that is definitely owed its own blog post, to follow shortly, but events overtook me in the initial writing). I loved running in the mountains, filled with sun and mud and Spanish, dipping into mountain lakes, steadfastly wearing shorts and not slowing down on the uphills or downhills. Each day I placed in the top 5, but somehow couldn’t see that as an achievement. I flew, but was too close to the sun.

Memories linked to all five senses wrapped themselves around me and combined with other feelings. They were not the same, in fact, they were mostly better in the present tense,  but they held traces of those in the past: That sweet scent of chalk hovering in the air; the buckle of my harness as I checked my knot before climbing; the Andes, those beautiful mountains holding light and darkness rising up around me as I ran along their trails with Spanish echoing in my ears; pasta with pesto shared with laughter, followed by chocolate and stupid jokes while muscles ache; trust built in another person; happiness when their smile is meant for me and when they tease me with a twinkle in their eye.

When I came back I could sense an uneasiness in me. I was struggling to focus and felt a little numb, but I put it down to tiredness and jetlag after the big trip. Then, a conversation, a throw-away comment that formed just one tiny part of it, and I was transported into the past by more than 9 years. I was that atom, spinning off my axis, but not coming back into place. When I run-commuted I had to stop along the riverside as I couldn’t breathe, panic washed over me and tears ran down my face in the dark. It’s London in winter at 0530, so no-one noticed, but I desperately needed someone to ask if I needed any help. I was waking up at night remembering my son, reliving moments and emotions that I had steadfastly ‘dealt with’ by getting up and continuing with my life, ignoring the fact that my heart had been cut out and I was moving forwards by sheer force of will. Now I had stopped, and didn’t know what to do.

Someone did notice. They pulled me aside and told me that people care about me, that I always look out for everyone else and that they would be really upset to think that they couldn’t in turn look out for me. They didn’t pry into reasons, but suggested actions. I’m now taking action, and trying to face up to these things, but I have to say, it is a lot harder than ultra running and I am feeling tired.

I’m truly hoping that the centre will hold, and doing everything I can to make sure that it does, while facing up to what is making it fall apart. I managed to do another race (another blog to come!) and am lining up some microadventures. It may take some time, but it has already been nine years so it has to be done.


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