Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Work woes

Since February, I have been working in a school as a teaching assistant (TA) for young people with special educational needs (SEN). I enjoy the job - I love working with the students, I find it interesting to go back into lessons and relearn stuff I had forgotten and experience new things for the first time, and it's given me a sense of purpose which I hadn't felt since doing my Masters degree a few years ago. It hasn't all been plain sailing though.
This is an old Thames sailing barge called the Thalatta. I sailed on it (her!) for a week when I was 10.
One problem is simply that it is very hard work for me. I'm on a reduced timetable because Occupational Health did not want me to work full-time. I go in four days a week instead of five, and on two of those days I leave at lunchtime. This still means that I need to get up at 6.45am four days a week and work solidly until I get home at 1.45 (on a half-day) or 3.45 (on a full day). Although there is one break each day and a lunch break on the two full days, I don't really stop working. Whenever you're around the children, you're on duty - there's always an argument needing a mediator, or a crisis needing a saviour, or just a young person who would like a chat. This isn't a problem - I'd far rather be busy - but it does mean that even a half-day at school is incredibly full-on. You quite simply never have any downtime. I never have time to check my phone, or look at emails, or browse the internet. I barely have time to go to the loo or grab a snack! The idea that people can do all of these things repeatedly throughout a day at work is alien to me and I'd like it to stay that way. I work hard for the money I earn but I hate being bored so I'm quite happy with the situation.
This is a 'bored at work' meme but it's kind of true for me anyway!
Inevitably, though, working this hard takes its toll. I often arrive at home exhausted. I often have a little nap in the afternoon so that I can go out and do fun things (mostly training, or sometimes choir) in the evenings. I often have a headache and feel sore and stiff all over from being in my chair all day. The mental concentration required to keep vulnerable children safe and to ensure that they are learning is also pretty intense, which takes a huge amount out of me energy-wise. After four days at work, I am definitely ready for a three-day weekend, and by Sunday evening I never really feel ready to go back to work. The longer the term goes on without a holiday, the harder I'm finding it. Working in education is an endurance game that requires you to be able to sprint long distances repeatedly. Being a teacher is certainly far worse than a mere TA - the amount of planning and marking and agonising that must be done away from lesson time easily doubles the hours spent on the job, with many teachers sacrificing evenings, weekends, and even the nights to get all the work done. Whilst I don't have to put that much time in (thank goodness!) there is also an associated expectation that we will work hard too. I want to work hard so that the children I support do well. I care about them individually and I love it when they succeed and when they feel great because of that. To get them to that stage, you have to work hard for every second of every minute of every hour of every day that you are in school with them. It's hard, hard work!
And, for me as for anyone, hard, hard work translates into lots of fatigue. I'm a great believer in naps, which is a good thing as I have to keep having them. If I miss school due to illness, it's almost certainly either fatigue or a migraine or a combination of the two. Given that migraines are often triggered (in me) by fatigue I suppose you could say that most of my absence is caused by fatigue. I try to manage fatigue the best I can and I'm much better at pacing now than I used to be, but sometimes it's just not possible to rest as much as I need to. If the balance tips over too much, I can't do anything. Usually, it only tips over a little. This isn't disastrous, but it does have a cumulative effect. As I get more and more tired, it gets closer and closer to that moment when it's all too much. Keeping on top of it feels like juggling about fifty balls all at once, knowing that when a single one falls the whole act is ruined!
Another aspect of work that is hard is access around the site. It is by no means the most accessible place. There are huge chunks of the school that I can't get into at all (in fact, the majority of it). I can't get into the staff room, so I have very limited options for where to go at break or lunch. There are lots of rooms that I can only get into if I go via other classrooms, which can be disruptive to classes already in there if I need to move about during lesson times for whatever reason. There is one lift in the school which is in the science block, and although I can borrow the key for that to get to the classes upstairs I have been told by the technicians that I shouldn't be up there because there is no way of getting me down safely in a fire (this concern has been dismissed by my immediate superiors...).
YES YES YES!
The school has a lot of steps all over the place, so I often have to take a very circuitous route to get anywhere. For example, the journey between the Office and a room where we often have a meeting is a simple affair of up a few steps and along about four yards of corridor for most people. For me, it's a much longer trip involving heading outside, making my way up a steep slope (with speed bumps that I can't work around), hopping up onto a pavement (which doesn't have a dropped kerb), going round a building, and trying to get in through a doorway which has two doors which both have to be opened because my chair is too wide to go through just one of them, but which are impossible to open simultaneously from a seated position because they are very heavy and unwieldy. The final stage is that where the door frame meets the building itself there is a metal lip that I have to pick my front wheels up and over - so getting through the doorway is really not a one-person job! Sometimes I think that the fact that I am pretty independent around the site isn't a good thing because people are inclined to forget that there are some aspects of it that I find really tough.
...except for when I need a tummy rub.
Another challenge to be faced in terms of accessibility is the layout of classrooms themselves. Far too many of them are crammed full of desks, chairs and other furniture which severely limit my ability to move around the room because it is all so cramped. This is particularly true in classrooms where it is perhaps a bit more important for me to be able to get around, such as science, cooking and art. In many of these rooms, I am completely unable to get round to most of the class, and I often need to get teachers to rearrange their seating plans so that I can actually be near the children I'm meant to be supporting. In many classes, I am meant to support more than one student but where the students do not sit together this is very difficult for me. Other TAs are able to stand up and move around the room easily, but this is tricky for me. Either I can't move around the classroom, or I need to be sitting on a high stool at a bench (every science lesson - and I have a lot of those!) which means that to get to another student I need to transfer into my chair to go over to them, then transfer out again onto a stool, before repeating the process to go back to the first student. Every transfer is tiring and is a potential opportunity for me to mess it up and embarrass myself in front of a class.
I've been there! And I have no desire to do it in front of the kids I work with.
Generally, the attitude of people in the school is good when it's something obvious. Most of the time, staff and students are great at holding doors open, or making sure that I have space to move around. They're good at accepting that there are certain things I cannot do (get my wheelchair up stairs, for example!). However, there are lots of smaller things that people don't really realise. I think it's probably because it hasn't occurred to them - not because they are deliberately wanting to make things hard for me. For example, I dread practicals in science and cooking because these are always performed with the kids standing up and working at the benches. I cannot stand up to see what is going on easily, and with them all moving around the classroom a lot I inevitably cause a blockage! I also feel that I struggle to help with these things, as actually using my own hands to do practical things doesn't tend to work with my useless, shaky and weak hands. If I'm given something to carry to a student, the only way I can do this is on my lap. I can't carry liquids or lit splints or anything breakable. Even a sheet of paper is difficult as it can just blow off my lap. One of my favourite 'face palm' moments came when a young student was using a wheelchair for a few weeks after an operation on his ankle. His English lessons were upstairs in the English block, so they swapped it with a downstairs lesson. The only problem was that the lesson they swapped it with was one in which I support a student - in other words, the only other lesson in the entire school that had someone in a wheelchair! This happened despite the ready availability of suitable rooms in that block and around the school, and on several occasions.
The Facepalm.
Simple things are often far from straightforward. I can't use the canteen because of not being able to carry my food, or even being able to see the options and how much they cost. The provision of disabled loos is pretty poor. There is one disabled loo in the English block (which can easily be opened from the outside by anyone passing by in the corridor), another one for which I now have my own copy of the key (which can also be opened from the outside by anyone else with the key), and a third in the science block, the door of which doesn't actually close. The English block loo and the one I have a key for are very close to each other, when ideally they'd be further apart so that if I am in, say, a history, cooking, or science lesson I can go to a loo without having to weave my way up a long and steep slope. The loo I usually use (with the key) is very infrequently cleaned. I know from how long it took to empty the bin of tissues that it went for nearly three months without being cleaned. Because it is in its own little block, it is always cold, a bit damp, and full of leaves and cobwebs! The floor is pretty dirty and unpleasant. Lovely...
May as well be this...
Getting through doors is another major struggle. So many have little slopes just before which put you off balance so you can't open the door at all, or have a step up as you go through the door. Most, fortunately, are wide enough that I only need to open one, but sometimes one isn't enough and opening two doors with two hands and then being able to propel yourself through the doorway is quite tricky, especially if there's a change of level. Another problem I have with many doors is that they have one window at the top, so that people walking along at a normal height can see if there is someone else on the other side of the door - but they can't see me! I've had a lot of doors opened into me...
Oh, and another thing - the Pets as Therapy dog only visits on the day I don't work!
The school is built on quite a large hill, so there are a lot of changes of levels. This means that I have to go up slopes - a lot. There is only one way for me to move from the upper level to the middle level (I can't get to the lower levels) and that is through a wiggly zig-zag slope which runs alongside a series of steps. There is a service road to the side which I could use, but the lack of a dropped kerb means that at the top of the road I still wouldn't actually be able to get into any of the buildings. Going up the slope is hard work, especially as I do it multiple times a day. In the rain, it's really depressing. Everyone else can duck inside the building at any entrance and then walk alongside, whereas I have to travel the length of the main building outside and then go backwards and forwards to get up to the right level, getting wetter and wetter as I do so! It's something I won't miss.
* not actually in the UK ;)
Probably the most depressing access woe I have is the way that I feel excluded from lots of things because of my wheelchair. It's taken me since February to decide if this is a reasonable response - at first I automatically assumed that I wouldn't be excluded from anything really, but as time has gone on I have realised that sadly this is not the case. These things might only seem little, but they actually make me feel pretty isolated. First, I cannot get into the staffroom. I don't even know where it is! All I know is that it's inaccessible for me. This means that I don't have the opportunity to have anything more than a passing relationship with the other members of staff (the exception to this being the music teachers, who I have managed to seek out quite successfully!). It also limits the number of people I do get to spend my time with - either I'm in the SEN office, or I'm in the music department, or I go to the resource centre. To be honest, I quite enjoy being on my own, so I'm not too fussed about going to the resource centre, but it would be nice to have the choice (this is especially the case after a recent conversation with some of my colleagues about disability which left me feeling patronised, frustrated and pretty angry). Being in the SEN office tends to work well at break - it's a shorter period of time and it's generally busier with students and staff popping in. At lunch, though, I often find that other SEN staff are in a separate office a bit further back from the main one. I am allowed in there, but I can't get in, as the gap between the two desks in the main office is too small. It's quite depressing to be the only one sitting in the main office, quietly eating my lunch by myself, whilst everyone else has crowded into the little office just a few feet away. Another option would be to head to the room that is used for SEN students at break and lunch, but whilst the exams are on (so for huge chunks of the year) the room that is used is - yep, not accessible in a wheelchair.
With thanks to Stiletto Wheels
I know it sounds silly, but I feel really left out when other people are grouped together in a room just a few yards away from me but which I cannot get into. I feel really excluded because I am by myself, because it is obvious that I am by myself, and because I don't need to be by myself, but I have no control over it. When there's something useful I can do in the Music Department I enjoy being there. They make me feel needed and appreciated, and I enjoy working with children with whom I wouldn't otherwise have much contact. I tend to head there now anyway. Today we didn't have the ensemble rehearsing but I did get to teach one of the music teachers how to play the saxophone - which was really fun!

Another thing that annoys me a bit about the school isn't so much about me and disability, but about how much I do to help. Sometimes, we have students who aren't getting the support they need. There can be a variety of reasons for this, but there is one particular student who I worry about a lot. I work with them in several lessons and have spoken to several teachers about them. Some of those teachers share my concerns and desperately want more help, but although the powers-that-be in the school have been informed, it seems that the need for help for this student simply is not recognised. It's infuriating, because I work with them closely and I know how much help they need, but our concerns are always being ignored - and sometimes quite forcefully. I suppose I find it annoying because I want them to take my opinion seriously, but mostly I find it frustrating because I am not the only person saying this, and I am quite certain that we are trying to do what is best for this student. I am extremely worried that this student will suffer a lot if changes aren't made for them. I won't be there to try and help, and I from what I can see there isn't much that they do in lessons when I'm not there. Usually, they can write the title and date, but it's not unusual for there to be no other work written down in their book. This is a child who urgently needs more assistance but whose needs are being ignored for reasons that I simply cannot even imagine, let alone understand. In one breath, we are urged to report children who we feel are struggling, and in the next we are told that this particular student is fine. It's maddening.
Work isn't all bad. It's very, very tough for me to access work in the disability sense of the word 'access'. It's tiring and unremitting; the site is wholly unsuitable for a wheelchair user; and the attitudes of some (by no means all) people makes life unnecessarily tricky. The problem is that although the job is hard and also - at the moment - making me feel pretty miserable, the work is enjoyable. For me, the distinction between these two is that the work is what I do with the young people, whilst the job is everything else which is imposed by adults. The young people - even and perhaps especially the difficult ones - are great. I love spending time with them and helping them to learn new things. With most teachers, lessons are a joy and absolutely whizz by. I love the fact that the work is challenging but is also something I feel I'm good at. I love the fact that I make a difference to multiple people every single day. I love the fact that I'm never bored and that there's always something going on. I don't love the fact that the school is hard to move around, or that I feel excluded from a lot of the 'staff life', or that I have frustrations about how some aspects of the school are run. I don't love how it makes me feel rubbish at the end of each day because, despite the satisfaction of helping SEN children to learn, I feel that I am isolated, undervalued, ignored and exhausted.
My contract finishes at the end of this term. If I could pick and choose the bits I loved and bin all the other parts, I would definitely want to stay on. The problem is, though, that your occupation is not just your work. The job that you do is far more than just the work you do - it also comes down to how comfortable you feel at work, how valued you feel your opinion is, and how able you feel to commit to each day with the energy you feel it requires. The work is great. The job is not. Although I do genuinely enjoy the work, the job is making me feel sick when I think about it. I feel sick when I wake up and sick when I get to school. I feel sick and completely exhausted when I get home. The work isn't doing that - the job is. The same work in a different setting might be great again, and - who knows? - maybe the job would be too. For now, I'm thinking about alternatives. I've looked at jobs. There aren't many on offer! I'm thinking about lots of things and weighing up all my options. Some other time, I might write about them here... but for now, I have about four weeks of term left. I can do this.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

County Champs Round 2

June's St Ives athletics meet saw round 2 of the wheelchair County Championships. Last month, we raced the 100m for fun and the 800m as part of the champs; this month it was reversed and the 100m was the medal race whilst the 800m was 'for fun' (!). Last time, I felt really, really tired, so this time I planned to have the most relaxing afternoon possible. I still had to get up early and have a fairly stressful morning at work, but I was able to get home at lunchtime, have a decent lunch, then sit back and watch some iPlayer before having a little nap.
Nap time :)
I had John with me this time as a bit of moral support. We arrived in good time and he set off to collect numbers whilst MJ and I faffed with our chairs a bit and chatted to our friends from the St John Ambulance!
Tighetning steering
Once my numbers were attached to my chair I took myself off to the back straight to do a bit of warming up. There wasn't a huge amount of time but I managed to fit in some single arm pushes, fast hands and 'front crawl' pushing before getting called to the start line.
Sitting at the start - just me and MJ this time.
The 100m race went OK. I didn't settle into a good strong rhythm but rather just kept pushing a bit frantically - it felt as if there wasn't space to justify a longer stroke with a steadier rhythm. I think this is something I need to work on for future races - I want to be able to keep the same sort of cadence but with a much longer stroke. This will mean I need to get stronger, more technical, and quicker through the drive. It sounds tough but I'm happy to make incremental progress with it.
My time for the 100m County Champs was 23.67 which was slower than last month (23.49) but still faster than anything I managed last year, when my times ranged from 23.99 towards the end of the season and 29.2 in my first ever race.
After the 100m we had quite a long gap until the 800m, so John and MJ had a go at improving the steering mechanism on MJ's chair. One good thing of the night was that, unlike last time, MJ's wheels stayed inflated throughout the evening, which made life a lot less difficult for him and really gave him the opportunity to prove what he can do when the equipment is backing him up as much as possible.
Team engineer John making himself useful.
The 800m was OK - I started in lane 3 with MJ in lane 5, and with us both breaking to the inside at the green line on the track around 100m in.
Coach Nigel on starting duty
Since this was the arrangement last time too I had practised racing this line at home on the track in Cambridge. When you can take the line you want without having to worry about other racers around you, it makes sense to take the shortest line from the green line in lane 3 to the start of the second bend in lane 1. Chairs aren't really designed to do diagonal lines - they do curves or straights - so when you change your compensator from going around a curve to going straight is quite tricky. As far as I have learned so far, the easiest way is to put it straight quite quickly and just do a little hop to get the front wheel pointing towards that top corner. That way, you should only have to travel the hypotenuse between the green line and the bend. I didn't get it perfect (I hit the inside lane a couple of metres early) but it wasn't dreadful either. Press on.
Back straight: The green line is the break line; the black line is the straight, and the two blue lines are two options for the hypotenuse depending on which lane you start in. You want to hit the corner at the start of the bend - with the way the chairs move, there is no advantage in trying any more advanced geometry!
This time, I tried to settle a little earlier. I still felt tired - more tired than last weekend, when I did a 2:54 in training as the first part of a long pyramids session - but I think the pace was more consistent than at last month's event. One of our fabulous C&C runners was volunteering as a time keeper, and I'd told her before the race that I was aiming for something in between 2:54 and 2:59 (last month's result and a big new PB for me). I didn't know how achievable that was - it was a really muggy evening which just saps your strength - but it was nice to hear her and John both cheering me on!
I didn't look at the clock as I thought it would just distract me, but as they rang the bell for the second lap I heard someone mutter a split time which, with a quick bit of mental arithmetic, told me that if I kept working hard I might get another new PB. 
Pre-race contemplative face (aka wanting a PB).
I crossed the line knackered and spotted MJ a good way into his second lap. I like to have a cool down lap anyway and MJ and I have a sort of agreement that, if humanly possible, I catch up with him and 'cox' him home. This time it took me until only 200m left to go before I caught him - the nice plump wheels were finally exhibiting how much training he has done! MJ was still having some steering issues but was not letting that stop him, and in the final straight he did a brilliant sprint finish for another huge PB!
MJ's finish
My final time over 800m was 2:56.98: an improvement on last time, and so a new PB, and in the rough time frame that I would have expected. It didn't feel like a perfect race. I don't think I raced as cleverly or tactically as I could; I wasn't as strong as I could be; it didn't really flow as well as it should have. This is all good news. It means there's still plenty more to come.
One from the start.
I am very heartened by the fact that I got a better time in training when I had it in the back of my head that I still needed to do a big session, and when I was holding back a little bit because of that. I probably won't have an opportunity to race the 800m for a while now (perhaps not until next May) so hopefully I will have improved a lot then too.
Me and MJ with our 100m County Champs medals.
Since last year, I've taken off 35 seconds from my 800m time. With the speed I currently have, I'm already faster than some (not many!!) on the world rankings lists in the classification for the least impaired racers (obviously I would be higher up the other lists but they are more disabled than me so it's not a fair comparison). Considering I have a job which does not allow me much time or energy to train, I'm pleased with that. Onwards and upwards!

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Land training

For rowers, land training means any training that you do outside the boat - such as ergs, weights, circuits, stretching, running, and so on. Obviously in wheelchair racing and horse riding you are on land the whole time and not on water (unless things are going wrong!) but old habits die hard and I still think of the extra stuff as land training, even though cross-training would be a better term really. In a sense riding can be thought of as air-training so I suppose it kind of makes sense!
Four feet off the ground = flying!
We recently had half-term, which meant that I had a week in which to please myself, other than go along to certain things I had to do like choir and hospital stuff. I wanted to fit lots of exercise in but I was so tired that that didn't really work out. I managed to go riding and vaulting once each, and I had a good wheeling session. I also got to go to the gym which was really useful because I've been wanting to get back into weights training, and for me the weights machines are by far the easiest and most effective ways of doing this.
or else lots of helpers.
I went by myself once and then went with John once, so that I could try some more complicated things that I needed help to set up, and so that he could take some pictures. These proved really useful - I wanted to see that I was keeping good form during the weights. Because my proprioception is so poor I really struggle to know if I'm doing something right and it's only when I look at photos or film that I think, 'oh, that looks awful!'
The gym I went to was really rather nice. It has views over a nice green area of Cambridge and it has pretty good equipment too. Even better, it offers a discount for anyone who receives PIP/DLA so I get to go a bit more cheaply too! I started off warming up on the erg, then had a go on this machine.

I don't know what you would call it. You can pedal with just your feet or, in theory, just your arms, but when I tried just using my arms I discovered that the pedals still turn round and whack you in the legs so I ended up having my feet strapped in anyway and having the novel experience of letting them spin round and round very fast with no leg effort! Although this was a different kind of pushing to the sort we do in wheelchair racing, it was still a good way to get my shoulders going and should hopefully build some new muscle if I do it regularly. It was also possible to vary the resistance like on a normal exercise bike, which would be good for building up more strength.
especially once I know what I'm doing!
After spending 20 minutes warming up on the erg and the hand-bike thing I started doing some weights. I'm not at all fussed about trying to strengthen my legs at the moment so I just used upper body weights (although at some point I should try and do some stuff to strengthen my hip adductors - it would be useful for riding). I did shoulder press...
...butterfly...
...a bit more shoulder press...
...butterfly the other way round...
...pull down...
...and some more pull down!
This one is a bit difficult for my dodgy left shoulder, but with my hand strapped on (useful grip that eradicates the need to have any grip in your hand) it wasn't as if I had to put effort in to lift the arm!

Then we played with this silly machine. Two arms in front...
...right arm only...
I love the 'Body odour may offend' sign - tough!
...left arm only (much harder! Left arm co-ordination is definitely not my strong point)...
...and more as if I were in Buster.
Taking a sneaky peek at that left arm!
After that I had a cool down on the erg/handbike thing and then did some nice stretching in the studio.
My back was really sore so I clicked that out by over-arching it (this always makes something go 'ping' in my back in a really lovely way that then leads to not being able to feel it at all for some time afterwards. I always think of it as being a bit like a factory reset!).

Then I collapsed for a bit!
More 'land training' another time. :)

Monday, 13 June 2016

Nocturnal angst

< I wrote this last night, late. I'd been trying to get to sleep for some time but I couldn't stop crying - and I didn't really know why. I left the bedroom and limped to our main living room, where I sat looking out of the window for a bit before deciding to write down how I was feeling as best I could. Towards the end, I began to feel really sick and decided to get to the bathroom and then try again to get some sleep. I didn't come back to post it, but I've pondered it all day and I think I probably should. It stops abruptly because that's when I was sick. I'm not going to change it. It pretty much says what it needs to say.

This is unseen - I don't think anyone sees me like this. The only people who potentially would are John and my mum, and they weren't around. It scares me when bipolar leaps at me like this. It affects me enormously - all day today I've been exhausted, to the point that after just one hour in school I had to head home. I slept for about three hours when I got home, then forced some lunch down (although trying to chew was incredibly fatiguing), rested all afternoon, then headed out briefly with John to pick up my prescription. Today is only the second time that I have missed wheelchair racing training for any reason other than being in hospital or being in a different country. The last time this happened was one year ago, for the same reason. I dropped into a huge black pit and I didn't know the way out. 

I don't think it's quite so bad this year. I have enough things to keep me grounded; enough things to need to be around for. It's still tough though. All day I've felt as if I've been hit by a truck. I'm so, so tired and so fed up that I don't know why this is happening or what I could do to stop it. I don't feel as completely desolate as this time last year. I know I have fun things to do and people that I love. I'm just so confused about how this situation has arisen again, and why it has happened at exactly the same time as last year. I'm scared of it happening again, and I'm scared of it getting worse. I don't know how this will pan out. Hopefully I'll have a better night's sleep tonight and tomorrow I'll feel a bit more able to attack the day, however emotionally wrung-out I feel. Anyway, here's what I came up with in the middle of the night. >

Sometimes, for reasons I cannot begin to understand or explain, I go a bit mad. This is one of those times. I don't mean mad as in 'doing a forward roll on a horse' mad or 'attempting a ridiculously tough race'. I mean clinically mad.

What's odd at the moment is that I'm aware that I'm mad. I'm sort of in a mixed state, I think. I know things aren't right and I still have a handle on reality - but something in my head isn't right. Why else have I lain in bed, silently crying for an hour, and come through to a different room, where the only thing I can think of doing to stop myself doing something silly is to type this?

It's 1am and I am alive, but I wish I weren't - I think. I don't know. I feel as if this is the real me. People who know me think that cheerful Lizzie is the real one, but cheerful Lizzie isn't around all the time whereas this one is - so this must be the real one, right?

At the moment I don't exactly want to harm myself. I've considered it, certainly, but that doesn't feel right. I'm sitting by the window in a second floor flat and I've looked outside and decided that letting myself fall would probably be a bit traumatic for whoever finds me. Angry, confused and depressed me cares far more about other people than it does about me. The thought of my body smashing as it hits the ground is grimly appealing, but the thought of someone having to find me isn't. It's not that I'm concerned people will be upset about me per se - this is depression; I have no self-worth so I can't believe they would be upset to lose me - but I do believe that it would be distressing for whoever came across my body.

What I actually want to do is run away - not literally, running of course - but just get out and away from here. Drive somewhere; wheel somewhere; whatever. I've thought about camping out for the night somewhere which isn't anywhere near where I should be. I've thought about finding a secluded space and just lying down, letting the cool air lull me into a stupor. I don't think it's cold enough to freeze to death, but it's cold enough out there to get ill, and maybe I'd die after that. I would just slip away - slip out of the flat, slip away from the city, and slip away from life. It would be glorious.

So why am I still here? I desperately don't want to be, but responsible me is saying, 'no, you need to be at work tomorrow.' Is that a good enough reason to stay alive? They'd understand if I weren't there, surely? I mean, being dead or nearly dead is a pretty good excuse. So what else is keeping me here? To be honest, I think that the only thing keeping me here right now is medication.

If I weren't on medication, and I were feeling this down, I would do something.

I would end it.

Medication has given me that sense of proportion which is otherwise lost in bipolar disorder.

Medication is a lifeline.

And I really hate it for that.

Medication ruins everything.

Medication has side-effects. It makes you lose track of what you want and why. It robs you of decision-making powers - because even making a 'bad' decision is still a right that humans should have, but in this situation I do not. Medication strips you of power; it lies to you; it holds you captive under false pretences; it offers hope to the foolish and the ignorant but fashions the experienced as cynics. Medication is keeping me here against my will. It locks me into a body I despise and has ensnared my self - my soul - so completely that I no longer know what I want, who I am, or even what my name is. I respond to 'Lizzie' but, right now, that is not my name. I look at it and I say it out loud and it feels unfamiliar; it is foreign to me and I don't even know if I am pronouncing it properly. Who am I? Who was I? Where am I?

The problem is, of course, that this is the middle of the night. How will I feel in the morning? All these feelings will still be there. How well will I be able to conceal them? What will I do?

Saturday, 4 June 2016

County Champs Round 1

This year, for the first time, wheelchair racers in Cambridgeshire can take part in the County Championships. We do it a bit differently to the AB athletes though - they all go to Peterborough for one day of competition, whereas we have three events spread out over three separate evenings, one in each of May, June and July. The format is basically the same for us as it was at last year's 'Development Evenings' (which are the main host of the wheelchair events), held in St Ives. At each of the May and June events, we can race two different distances: the 100m and the 800m. In July, we race over 1 mile. The distances are the same as last year's but now there is the added incentive of medals!
Everyone loves a medal...right?
For May, the 100m was a 'fun' race and the 800m was the medal event; in June that will be swapped round and in July the mile will be the medal event. The first event has already been and gone and went quite well for me, although it didn't feel especially great at the time. It was towards the end of the first half-term at school and I was really tired. I'd been at work earlier in the day and had already had to do nearly two hours of driving to get to and from work and then back to the track. I hadn't been able to eat as well as I wanted to because I'd had a hearing test in the afternoon at which they'd messed about measuring the pressures my ear drum could deal with, which had made me feel sick and made my left ear really painful. I don't tend to be in the best of moods when I'm hungry and tired so added to the general feeling of not being able to hear properly, being a bit queasy and wobbly and having pretty bad earache, I wasn't really on top form, in terms of health and mood! Fortunately it did me good to go racing.
Me in purple.
I arrived in good time despite a small unintentional diversion. I was really glad to see that MJ was already there - he'd been having quite a lot of problems with his race chair but fortunately he was there with a chair which had three wheels attached which were at least vaguely pumped up! We headed round to the track so that we could sign in and collect numbers before finding out how long we had before our first race (the 100m). One of the things that is a bit of a pain about these races is the numbers we get. When I enter road races I tend to have my number sent through in advance, which means I have all the time in the world to pin it on (or to get someone else to do it...). At these track events, though, you turn up and then have to try to attach one number to the back of your chair with pins and another to the frame with tape. I have such shaky hands that this is always really difficult, and when I have the added bit of adrenaline of an imminent race it becomes very much more so!
Shaky hands :)
Anyway I managed to get my number on and slotted myself into Buster to have a bit of a warm-up. There isn't a huge amount of space at St Ives but they run a series of races up to 100m in distance before running the wheelchair race, which means that we can use the back straight to warm up in. There wasn't much time so I concentrated on doing some drills: one-arm drills, high hands, fast hands and finally some practice starts. I find that the 100m (for me at least) is more about technique than anything else. It isn't really long enough to start worrying about working aerobically (although obviously you still need to be fit). When I go into a longer race, I like to know that my heart and lungs have started working hard, but for shorter races like this one it's more important for me to feel that my arms and hands have really been moving freely and quickly. Doing plenty of practice starts and fast-hands drills to remind myself physically and mentally of the hand speed required is enough warm-up when warm-up is restricted.
Running through some drills earlier this year.
Just before our 100m race there was a minute's silence to commemorate Barry Wallman, the President of the Cambridgeshire Athletics Association, who died of a heart attack earlier that day. I didn't really know him, but by all accounts he was a wonderful chap who did a lot for the sport, for C&C as a club, and for all sorts of other people through his voluntary work. There is an obituary on the England Athletics page which you can read here.
Barry Wallman (centre) with one of our coaches, Neil (right)
Anyway, the 100m was OK. There weren't many of us there this time - just me, MJ and Claire - which in a way was probably a good thing for me as it meant I could just relax and focus on having a good race. It didn't feel especially quick, but it was a lot faster than Chelmsford and I got a new PB of 23.49. This still seems too slow to me but at least I'm heading in the right direction. Sprints are not my favourite and probably won't ever be!
I don't have any photos from the racing this year, so here's one from last year's 100m.
After the 100m it was apparent that MJ's new 'fixed' tyres weren't as fixed as we'd hoped. We popped back to his car quickly to get them pumped up with the electric pump - a slightly risky move as there wasn't much time until the 800m, but as they were running 10 minutes late when we started the 100m, we felt perfectly happy when we returned with 7 minutes still to go to the official start time. This gave us plenty of time to get back in the race chairs and to move all of about four metres to the start line for the 800m - one of the advantages of the St Ives track is that we can camp out in the corner near the finish which means we're nice and close to officials and to the start of the 800, which can be very convenient at the finish too!
Me and MJ camping out last year.
For this one, we were in lanes for the first bend and then were allowed to move to the inside after just over 100m. At Chelmsford, they did it differently for the races in which you move out of your lane (anything over 400m) - we all started on a curve and whoever got away fastest had the main claim to the inside track. Starting in lanes is a bit less frantic but it isn't great when the lane you start in isn't lane 1. For wheelchairs, we need to set up a compensator on the steering in order to go round the bendy bits and straight on the straight bits. The compensator can only really be set up for one lane at a time, and in an 800 - which has four bends in total - it makes sense to set it up for the inside lane, which accounts for three of those four bends. Basically, setting your compensator for whatever lane you start in is always a bit of guess work if you don't have lots and lots of time to try it out on the track first (which we didn't, because of pesky runners getting in the way and having their own races). There's also nothing to stop the steering from shifting if you hit the chair awkwardly.
If I took a dog in my chair...
All the same, I was pretty pleased with where my compensator was for lane 4, which was my starting lane. I didn't need to adjust the steering at all in the first 100m, which is unusual even when I've spent ages setting up the compensator! After I'd crossed the green breakline I moved over to the inside and then promptly forgot to settle into a sustainable race rhythm. I had a pretty good split time through the first 400 but slowed down quite a bit after that! In the last 300m of the race I really began to feel the tiredness pulling me back - it felt almost impossible to lift my arms up in the air, and although putting them to the pushrim meant that at least they were going down and I didn't have to hold them up, I didn't really have the energy to keep pushing hard. Fortunately, I managed to grit my teeth to the last bend, at which point there started to be people standing around watching who were cheering me on. I've said this before and I'll say it again: whenever you have someone shout encouragement and motivation it always gives you a lift! I stormed across the line then had a cool down lap following MJ and giving him the same encouragement that I had had from the crowd. He was right up against it with equipment which wasn't really co-operating (those tyres...grrrrr!) but was valiant as ever and crossed the line with a huge PB.
Me and MJ with our golds.
My own time in the 800m was also a PB, which it should have been really because I haven't done an 800m race since last June (another St Ives meeting). However, it was quite a big PB - 3:26.92 down to 2:59.59 - so that was satisfying, as was sneaking in under three minutes! Getting presented with a gold medal for the 800m was also rather nice, and MJ and I took the opportunity to get a few photos (he won the men's gold medal).
Obligatory but unintentionally blue selfie
Next time it's the 100m. I don't really like the 100m. Let's see how it goes...