However, this challenge is on a totally different level than any other I have done before.
It’s not particularly physically challenging, rather mentally challenging and reliant heavily on a sensitive touch. (A skill I am working on improving)
What is this challeng? I hear you ask….
It’s a puzzle, not as in I am teasing you all; but rather an actual puzzle. A jigsaw puzzle that is.
With my lack of sight, the actual picture on the puzzle is redundant. So, for this reason I have chosen one made up of butterflies, in varying colours and shades, to give a finished puzzle that is almost a rainbow.
I will be honest, it’s been hard work. There has been tears and just to get to this stage has taken many a late night.
It all started with finding the edge pieces. Then out came my magnifier; so that I could separate the pieces by their main colour, which is easier said then done as several of the pieces morph into the next colour.
As someone with sight loss, it can often be quite painful to look back.
This is because looking back is a time when there was more sight, less struggles.
However, in this instance I am looking back to actually be able to measure how far I have come.
This time five years ago I was in the midst of training with Fizz, my second guide dog.
Training with Fizz was different in many ways to when I trained with Vicky.
For starters, I didn’t have the nausea that I had had during training with Vicky (as I soon discovered I was actually pregnant with my son)
I also discovered very quickly, that although trained the same, personality played a big part in how a dog behaved and works…
Unlike Vicky, Fizz was not a licker; she was however a very tactile dog and loved to be close, preferably touching me at any opportunities.
I was also quick to learn that Vicky had actually worked on me and twisted me around her paw!
This became apparent as we trained within our local supermarket.
(With Vicky) If I had forgotten to pick something up in the aisle we would walk up-to the end of the aisle, around to the next and complete a loop to get back to the beginning. As she (Vicky) would never just turn around and go back on herself.
I just thought that this was the way this was how things were done….. How wrong I was !!!
When going to do this same move with Fizz in the supermarket my GDMI (guide dog mobility instructor) asked what I was doing, so I explained to be told in a firm (but fair) tone
You turn your dog around. Right where you are!
My GDMI referred to my previous guide dog as a ‘double diva retriever’ as she was both a flatcoat retriever and golden retriever. Which only became more clear as my training with Fizz progressed. As I worked backwards from some of the ‘habits’ Vicky had me doing to suit HER.
Fizz was also different in that she was walking at the pace I SHOULD be walking at; I say should because I hadn’t realised that as Vicky had slowed in her older age, I had simply adjusted to that too. When actually my preferred walking pace was considerably faster. However to begin with, this made it feel like I was running to keep pace. Just 10 days in to training I was already finding each day a little easier and enjoying the long walks more and more.
If I am honest, I found it much harder to train with Fizz than I did with Vicky, however my life was so different from when I started training with Vicky back in 2009.
And a massive chunk of that was actually down to Vicky; down to the freedom and independence she had given me.
I was no longer the woman who relied on others to take me places, if I wanted to do something or go somewhere, with Vicky beside me I was able to achieve this.
Home life had changed to, when I trained with Fizz I was no longer working, but instead I filled my time with volunteer roles, climbing, socialising, walking and of course caring for my children.
And now I also had the time to be able to spend time taking Vicky out each day for a (non working) walk and play at the park so that she could enjoy her retirement at home with me and the children as part of our family.
Which is where she stayed with us until she passed away at the very beginning of 2018.
Fizz picked up on my hearing loss sooner than I did; she stepped up and kept me safe when I missed the odd bike or electric car.
She has been my rock.
She has taken the independence Vicky gave me and enabled me to expand on it, we have had some amazing and sometimes crazy adventures.
It’s hard to believe that Fizz has been my leading lady for five years now, however on the other side it is also becoming clearer that at eight and a half years old, Fizz is starting to behave in ways that show me that she is starting to slow down, isn’t as keen on some situations.
And that maybe; just maybe. It may be time to think about her happiness above my own and if it’s time to look into her retirement plan.
This weekend was set to be AMAZING. When you have tickets to see the group Muse live you know it will be a show, unlike any other gig.
Following on from seeing them at the O2 in London back in April 2016 where they put together a pure theatre experience; … expectations for this tour were high.
This time it was hosted at London Stadium, home to the 2012 Olympics’ and a venue I have previously been to when I saw Guns’N’Roses in 2017. A very different venue from the O2, being that it is partly open air is probably the biggest challenge.
And that is just what the band had to deal with.
For me, knowing my sight and hearing were so much more progressive and had greater deteriorated from 2016 I was a little nervous to say the least.
Then came the biggest challenge ….. Weather reports set to see London temperatures reach in excess of 22 degrees for the weekend. In the city, 22 degrees feels more like 27-29 degrees and meant just one thing … Fizz my guiding girl; who loves London so much wouldn’t actually be coming.
This was what was best for her and as I was trailing and staying with a good friend who knew my issues I wasn’t overly concerned about spending a weekend with my (not so faithful or intelligent) cane. On the plus side, this meant that I could take full advantage of all the escalators on the tube network and within Stratford’s Westfields shopping centre.
Although in a funny twist this meant that I actually got lost at London Waterloo for the Jubilee line as I wasn’t sure which set of escalators it was! But once that was sorted, I made my friend laugh at my ‘childish giggle’ of being able to use the escalators…. She also got to watch first hand how people paid very little attention to my cane and often found themselves jumping out of my way.
The weather was hotter than expected, so I know that I made the right decision leaving Fizz home….. Even though I discovered that our seating within the stadium would have afforded her plenty of room to lay by my feet.
This time on visiting the stadium we took advantage of the accessible shuttle bus that ran from the end of The Jubilee Line station directly to Bridge Three at the stadium. That just so happened to be quite close to our actual seats.
This tour was called ‘Simulation Theory’ so I knew it would follow the similar robotic theme of the videos that had been released with the album, the colours were set with a mix of blues and pinks and the slight ‘stranger things’ theme that Muse had insinuated upon would all be included.
Our seats were to the right hand side of the stage, the stage this time was at the far end of the stadium, not in the middle as it had been with ‘Drones’.
But my friend that was with me said we had a good unrestricted view of the whole stage (or rather she did because with my sight I could only just about make out the large screen)
The support acts were good, but visually very minimal as I can only assume that was because it was being saved for the main event……
When Muse came on the natural light was beginning to fade and the screens were being used fully.
I took photos and even the odd video of my favourite songs. However, I left the gig feeling totally under-whelmed.
We met up with other friends who had been there too. They were sat further away, but directly face on to the stage. As it would happen, one of the party was actually my friend that had attended the 2016 Drones tour with me. He was in absolute awe of the gig, saying that they did not disappoint and they even improved upon the showmanship of the previous show. So I realised then I had clearly missed something….
And I realised that I had missed the most magical parts of the show, which left me feeling quite upset and frustrated with myself because this seemed to mean that my time of enjoying ‘a show’ for more than the music was over.
I watched the videos that I took, and was able to zoom in on the visuals that I had missed. Although this wasn’t quite the same….. I am still undecided as to how I am feeling by all of this.
Maybe I need to see among my friends if any of them took videos that I can watch?
Maybe Muse will release a film of Simulation Theory as they did with Drones? But then, that may be another 2 years to wait.
This is likely to be one of those posts that will be void of humour, but one I feel I wish to share with you. I have eluded to it in the past, but never been so upfront; however now I feel it is important to share.
As someone who is called ‘inspirational’ and ‘stubborn’ and wildly independent I am not the sort of person people would think could face isolation.
But I am.
Maybe it is because I am fiercely independent. Maybe it is because others see me as strong. And yes; I am both of these things, I am also many other things too.
Isolation doesn’t mean someone is alone. It doesn’t mean someone isn’t surrounded by others.
To me; isolation is what it is to be in my own mind because of my sight and hearing loss; and in a way because of how these affect my mental health.
Sight loss is such a complex condition and so very individual that you will rarely find anyone who experiences it in the same way. This also makes it tricky to explain to those who are sighted.
And for me, isolation is only something that I feel will increase as my disability changes. This in itself is a very fearful time for me as I learn to adjust to this and put in place coping strategies to minimise the impact to myself and those close to me.
I find myself thinking of how with my sight and hearing loss I will also loose my independence, the very same independence that I fight so hard to keep, for as long as I can.
However loosing my independence feels as if I would loose myself. The life I have built, the relationships I have created.
And that in itself is isolating !
I already hold certain limitations in my life because of my sight. Having never been able to drive I have always felt limited by not having the freedom to just get in a car to take myself to the beach…. If I wish to go to the beach I either have to wait for a friend to take me or go at a time when I can get there myself on public transport.
However the thought of more limitations being placed on me, as my independence dwindles is what fills me with this feeling of isolation.
I have thought and rethought (I have even over-thought) this post. However I needed to write it as much for myself than for anyone who is reading this.
Although maybe, just maybe one of you reading this will find it helpful to you too.
‘Over there’ is a world of myths and legends, often where ‘that way’ can be found. (Or so I am told)
It’s a place where as someone with a visual impairment upon asking for the location of something I have been directed to MANY times.
“It is a place I have never found !!”
Usually such explanation to a location comes with a wave of a hand or arm, but rarely any eye contact from the person giving the instruction.
Don’t get me wrong, there are times when such directions do come with eye contact, but due to other people or a counter my guide dog is often obscured.
I am more than happy to press the matter and ask for more detailed direction. And thankfully on most occasions it has been easily obtained.
But it reminds me of how we can all become so familiar with our environments that we forget that someone new (with or without sight-loss) may not find it so easy to navigate.
I know people get flustered giving directions; do they give it from their point of view or the person asking?
If it is a shop or business and you are the employee being asked for directions the easiest way to direct someone is to walk them there.
Asking if the person would like to take your arm, explaining to them when you are turning left or right and most importantly when you are walking through a doorway, even if the door is open.
I am thankful that Fizz will fall in behind someone guiding us and simply ‘follow’ but for me I like to have the verbal directions as it means that should the need arise I can find my own way if there is a next time.
With my faithful-guide dog Fizz by my side (and guide-gal Vicky before her) I am able to travel to and around London with ease, the London Underground network is vast and with audio announcements and fantastic friendly staff (TfL) along with the odd app or 3 I have found I can stay largely independent in a network that often confuses those without additional needs.
I was first made aware of ‘The Tube Challenge’ in September 2018. The challenge is to visit all 270 stations on the London Underground Tube network (not including dlr or overground) in the fastest time possible.
The current Guinness world record is held by Andi James, who completes the challenge in the fasted recorded time of 15 hours 45 minutes 38 seconds.
So when I asked if the challenge could be done with a disability, he took it onboard and now we are here.
On Friday 11th January 2019, along with Andi James as my sighted guide I will be aiming to complete The Tube Challenge.
Given the nature of the challenge, the endurance aspect and the travel, the public and the timings. This is one day of tube travel where I will not have my guide dog with me. Fizz will be enjoying the rest with her paws up, while I achieve my goal.
This in itself adds additional elements to completing the challenge with my cane and sighted guide.
We shall be starting early on the Friday morning, traveling through rush hour, navigating the tube network, swapping between lines that will see us travel above ground in addition to under it, traveling around some of the networks busiest station, heading through evening rush hour and the weekend get-away to achieve this. All parts of which will hold its own challenges.
The gauntlet has been laid down, the planning has begun. And now is where I ask for your support.
In addition to achieving this I wish to raise awareness of the freedom my guide dogs have given me. It is in memory of my first guide dog Vicky that I wish to do this. She sadly passed over the rainbow bridge on 2nd January 2018; having hung up her harness on 19th January 2015 when Fizz stepped into her paws.
And in raising awareness, I wish to raise money to name a guide dog puppy, a name that will mark the occasion. A few names have been put forward once they are agreed I shall update this page accordingly.
This year has been fairly quiet for my climbing. However I have not been doing nothing with my time. I have in fact been in training.
Training for a different kind of challenge. This challenge is to run. Something I have not done since completing The GSR five years ago.
The reason I haven’t run for so long is that I discovered just after I started to notice my hearing loss that when running at the gym I suffered with motion sickness.
But I have (in secret) been completing my own variation of ‘couch to 5k’ I have even been taking off my Apple Watch as to not alert my friends who I share my activity with aware of my training.
My training has been on a set flat path at the far side of a local leisure centre parkland.
I have not quite manaeged a full 5k to date, but I have discovered that on a flat concrete path I do not suffer with the motion sickness I had suffered on each occasion (I tried several times at different times etc) of a treadmill run.
So, why am I letting you all know my secret?
Well, this Sunday I am attending a race. A flat course where I will have a guide runner and my children.
This Sunday we will undertake The Poppy Run.
This run is organised to raise money for The Royal British Legion.
Those who have followed me for some time will know how much I love the poppy. I love what it represents and I am forever grateful to those who have stood up protected our country.
So, along with my children, my guide dog Fizz (who isn’t running in harness, rather joining the other dogs who are welcome to join in the days events) and my friend and guide runner Vicky on Sunday 4th November at 11am we shall stand in silence for 2 minutes before setting off on the 5km course around Southampton Common.
I am doing this for other reasons.
4th November 2018 marks 10 years since I received the news that I would loose all sight and was registered severely sight impaired (blind)
This day is one I wish to celebrate and what better way could I do that then support a fantastic charity and face a personal challenge?
Well, maybe it’s because the girl in me enjoys a bit of bling and I can’t wait to complete the run to receive my poppy medal.
So, dear readers I ask for your support. As I am sure you are aware this year marks 100 years since the end of the First World War, a war where so many have their lives to enable us to keep our future.
As a family with multiple different surnames we have set up our just giving page as ‘Madhouse Family Poppy Run’ We would love to smash our £100 target.
I am talking about events and celbratitions about my first leading lady, the ‘original guiding girl’ Vicky.
On 15th October 2009 I met her for the very first time, she came with my GDMI Caroline to see if she could be the dog for me. And it wasn’t known to me at the time, but today 16th October is her birthday; or rather WAS her birthday.
And as such today is the first time since she came into my life that she hasn’t been with me to celebrate this day.
Good Olde Facebook has reminded me of today with lots of photographs and happy memories.
And it is some of those I feel I would share with you in this post.
Vicky gave me so much and it is about remembering her today; not being sad that she is no longer here, rather be grateful that she came into my life.