Matt and Gill's Arctic Challenge for BASE

Matt and Gill's Arctic Challenge for BASE

The owner and Chief Executive of Millwood Servicing, Matt Wood, is planning a sponsored walk in aid of BASE. Matt spoke at our 2019 conference and is a commited supporter of our aims. They were orginally planning to trek to the peak of Kilimanjaro but ill-health has forced a change to these plans. Matt will be accompanied by Gill Haran on an Arctic Survival challenge

This is part of Matt's self-funded 3 Mountains in three years - Challenge for 3 amazing charities and so every donation will be split equally three ways as each charity has a close connection with his family. 

  • The Pyrenees - Freedom Trail in 2020 for MIND
  • Arctic Challenge for BASE in 2022
  • Mont Blanc for Missing People in 2022

Matt is to be accompanied on this challenge by Gill Haran, a registered nurse from Durham. Here, Gill introduces herself:

"Hi I’m Gill I’m 47 and for the most of my adult life I’ve been battling Crohns Disease, major operations, post complications, other surgical operations that literally nearly finished me. The impact this has had on my life has been huge, and certainly prematurely ended my Nursing Career. 

"In May 2020 Matt Wood, selected me from a vast number of online applicants to accompany him to trek to Mount Kilimanjaro Sept 2021. This has recently had to change due to my doctors saying I can no longer travel to Africa as my health has deteriorated. With bucketfuls of grit and determination I want to put the training I have done so far to use and still raise money and awareness for the charities I’m both involved with.

"BASE charity and The WoodMor Foundation supports disabled and diverse groups of people people getting into employment. I have no doubt that with the help from Matt and Brian, the Personal Trainer, I'll prove that I’m still able to contribute helpfully to Society and have a goal in life to focus on.

"Obviously I’m no athlete, but enjoy fitness and achieving this challenge will create a much needed boost to my confidence. Proving to future companies that being ill/disabled/ or from a marginalised group, shouldn’t be a barrier to employment as we are a very determined, resourceful, peer group. 

"I look forward to the upcoming training and challenge and would very much appreciate any donations that you would like to add after reading this to support me. Thank you."

Gill is writing each month about her preparations for the challenge in the blog below. Her story is remarkable and she is facing many challenges in her battle for fitness.

Matt has secured kit sponsorship from Lowe Alpine and Rab Equipment. Gill has set up a fundraising page on Virgin Money Giving and donations are welcomed.

Make a donation using Virgin Money Giving

 

 

Gill's Blog

September 2021

Image of GillAs I’m getting used to fluid-only nutrition, with a smattering of scrambled eggs on the side, it’s been a bit hard fitting and maintaining the usual circuit training and long walks that I was doing. Not one to rest on my laurels, I was inspired by my cousin in law, Anisa, to start the couch to 5 km It’s an app that talks you through 9 weeks of runs gradually increasing intensity and duration, and I’ve loved it, I’ve hated it, I’ve struggled with it. I’ve stayed on week 6 for a month, and finally I’m on week 9. A mere 3 months struggling with jogging. I still don’t feel a natural at it but I’m slowly getting a bit of stamina. There’s one loophole though…30 minutes of jogging doesn’t get me to 5 km. That’s how slow I jog but I reckon I’ll just keep adding a couple of minutes each week until I do. My joints are coping so far - I’m doing lots of stretching to ease my hamstrings and calves. 

I’m not liking the change in season. I've been enjoying getting up early to warm sunshine for my jogs. I want to keep this routine so we will see if I do? I’m much more of a summer person for sure.

I had to have a review with the dietician as the Fortisip drinks weren’t agreeing with my tummy and were causing too much painful bloating, to the point my trousers wouldn’t fasten. I’m awaiting some dairy-free samples to try. My explanations of wanting to continue training and struggling with the high amount of carbohydrates is falling on her deaf ears.  As far as the NHS is concerned you have to put up with what’s on prescription.  I will not rest until I’m happy and able to train around this change in diet and health. I’m not ready to just give up. There’s got to be a happy medium. I don’t think the dietician picked up how upset I was, as it was a telephone review appointment. What I’d been taking to drink whilst awaiting the review appointment was too high in fibre (not sure I can mention the brand). Whilst I have been unsymptomatic of bowel obstruction since adhering to liquids I certainly don’t want to irritate my bowel and cause a Crohns flare up. It’s a delicate balance I guess. 

Other news that’s been happening… I’ve made it back to Walking Netball in Hartlepool, so good to see the ladies and try and remember what to do? The first week, I fell over, skinned my knee, then continued to throw the ball to the wrong team. Gillys back! I haven’t played since before the first lockdown in March 2020. I’d forgotten you have to think and move about and know who your team members are. I’m too used to hiking and zoning out to whatever I’m listening to on my iPhone. There was a player who had on a T-shirt the same colour as my team but she was on the opposite team. I just kept throwing the ball to her. They know I’m a calamity sometimes and they accept me for it. It just takes me a couple of weeks to find my feet again, but all this hiking I’ve done, and meditation, which has helped reducing my anxiety, it’s lessened my competitiveness. I’m too chilled out! I never thought that would be coming from me! 

I got into making Resin jewellery over the summer and also learning how to use polymer clay and make different patterns etc with it and I’m obsessed. It’s an expensive hobby but the rewards are so worth it, as I can spend a few hours listening to music, rolling out clay mixing colours, adding foils etc for earrings and rings. One of my friends has asked me to do a small demonstration of resin pouring at her shop. I felt very honoured to be asked and a little out of my depth. I confessed I was self-taught but she wasn’t deterred and claimed she was a self-taught furniture upcycle enthusiast. I have agreed to do it, hopefully in the next few weeks.

I have a November weekend down in Exeter which is preparation for the Arctic Challenge. We had a 2 hour zoom chat with Nigel who runs the challenge and he ran through what kit we need, what brands that stand the test of cold and wet weather. Luckily, most of what I had for the Kilimanjaro trek will suit. Otherwise, I’m sticking to my routine in between resting and trying to keep my health as stable as can be. 

We have the WoodMor Foundation 1 year anniversary launch this month too. I’ve been doing lots of video diaries for the team throughout the summer and a Q&A session recorded on Zoom, with Becca and Maria. I will report back with some good pictures of the event. 

That’s it for this month I think. It’s been a busy summer. As always and with a little change. My giving page link has changed as Virgin Justgiving is closing its site down. So, here’s the link to my new page https://woodmorfoundation.enthuse.com/cp/52dd8/fundraiser#!/

As always IG #gillygetschilly

 

August 2021

If not for the global pandemic my current challenge to trek Mount Kilimanjaro would’ve been complete by now. Matt and I have had to change the date twice because of travel restrictions. I have been so very grateful to all of you who have been very keen to champion and support me so thank you. 

Throughout my 12-month extended training program my doctors and GP have been saying, yes, I can do the trek. Recently, however, I have been told that it would be a great risk to my health to go to Africa, let alone climb the mountain. My doctor said that I am no longer suitable to do this challenge. This has been something that I have been fearing, and living with chronic ill health it's inevitable that my health will deteriorate. I was hoping to get the challenge done before further deterioration occurred.  Hence, it is with great reluctance that I will not be able to trek to Mount Kilimanjaro.

After having more hospital tests, scans, scopes again! Phrases such as ‘your insides are a mess’, ‘you’re inoperable’ and that I have a ‘Hostile Abdomen’, have inevitably led me to be placed on a ‘liquid diet only’. It’s one of the hardest conversations I’ve had with this Consultant. He hugged me, as I saw 12 months of hard work and preparation being thrown out of the window after a 10 minute chat.

I am trying to process this and not panic. Guilt is still the one I feel most. I feel blame at my health even though it’s not something I can control.  Guilt about all you fabulous people, friends and family sponsoring me for a challenge I cannot complete now. Both Matt and Brian, my PT, had said that I was fitness ready before I had this appointment, which I think made it harder to accept. So, the baton has been passed to someone else to accompany Matt to Mount Kilimanjaro. If anyone who has sponsored me wants a refund, please get in touch with me.

I may have given our Social Media manager the worst phone call ever, and furthermore after not much sleep I sat at 5 am and emailed Matt to explain. I didn’t want to be too emotional, although very much wanted to convey how upset and gutted I was. In the back of my mind I couldn’t help but feel I had let everyone down, yet again I was unreliable Gill. Having been told in a previous job that my colleagues dreaded being on duty with me because of my sickness absences I couldn’t help go through those emotions again. How could I reframe? How can I still bring good from this? I didn’t have an answer and some bits of information were very much still up in the air at the time. All I could do was say I still want to put the fitness I have gained towards a challenge, I’m just not sure what I will be able to do, just make it somewhere there’s adequate healthcare in the country.

I felt a bit like an adult, practical Gill, think outside the box Gill, common sense Gill. Matt read my email, absorbed the news and got back to me, we spoke on the phone and with his countless contacts of being in the Forces and business, he set about finding a new challenge, some options for me to peruse. Promising me he would find a way. That’s right, he was concerned that he didn’t have those options for me straight away. He didn’t want me to feel that The WoodMor Foundation were dropping me like a hot potato. This was a new situation; one I hadn’t come across very often when I was nursing. It took the edge off my worries but I still had a lot to get used to. 

Another challenge has been chosen, Arctic Survival for 1 week, in Sweden Feb 2022 all being well. I’m still raising money for BASE and The WoodMor Foundation, and their support has been unwavering.

There will be a group of us. For 3 days and nights we will keep attendance of the campfire, build our shelter, dig our ice cave, survive on rations (obvs it will be whatever form of nutritionally complete drink, I’m tolerating. I think I will be used to having stricter rations than most of the group) all in below freezing conditions. Where we are situated there’s the lodge we stay in 300 meters away from the camp. The other 3 acclimating days are spent Husky sledding, Cross country Skiing, and Snowmobile driving… here is the link to the page, there’s a video of the week summary. It looks pretty cool… get it?

https://intrepid-expeditions.co.uk/product/arctic-style-survival-challenge-2021-dated-tbc-2/

I think I can definitely say Matt has pulled it out of the bag, again. It’s not Africa and I am so so gutted, that phrase doesn’t even touch the sides of how devastated I feel. All my training and kit that has been given to me and funds raised for kit are all going to be used, I hope you can all be behind me and support me as I remain training and start hanging out near the freezer sections of my local supermarkets to prepare #gillygetschilly I’m going to the Arctic Circle baby!

Now I’m off to find my hot water bottle and thermal long johns…..

 

July 2021 Statement

As with all great journeys, they’re not complete without a few of life’s plot twists! This month’s update is a shocker of a ‘plot twist’…

After an urgent review with my Gastroenterologist in Newcastle, it has been decided by him that it’s no longer an option to safely trek and travel. My bowel has deteriorated so badly that I’ve been unable to get back to even a semi-solid diet since April. After a tough discussion I’m now looking towards life without solid food indefinitely. Damn those bowel adhesions!  How soon intravenous nutrition is introduced is somewhat up in the air until I have the appointment and discuss these times scales with the Nutrition Doctors. All four of my Consultants (plus my GP) have been championing me getting more physically active with the training and none could’ve really predicted this happening now.

The past 12 months training will not be wasted as I continue to be supported by Matt and The WoodMor Foundation. I’m determined to put the training to use, to complete a “to be decided” challenge. 

I hope all the donations that everybody has given (monetary or other) that I’ve received can still be gifted. You’ve maybe guessed from my monthly updates that I’m not someone who takes “No” lightly. For a short time, everybody supporting me and my feeling like I was back in control of making life decisions was pretty awesome. If I can help somebody be inspired to take up a “WoodMor“ challenge and feel as good as my best days then it’s been absolutely worth it. It really has given me purpose and focus, to get behind something which resonates with me. 

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has been supporting me and for believing I could take on this challenge. You have been flipping fabulous! It’s been incredibly disappointing coming to terms of not doing the trek, let alone beginning to process how my quality of life will be changing in the near future. I hope that I can remain as active as possible and am grateful for the opportunities that still come each day. 

Ms Gilly Duffy Haran (WoodMor Ambassador)

 

When Gill emailed me personally to give me this devastating news, I was lost for words, and those who know me well know all too well that being lost for words is as rare for me as finding hen’s teeth! Taking on a ‘challenge’ is just that – it’s a ‘challenge’ and not only physically, but mentally, spiritually and a test of determination, strength & guile. Gill might not be climbing this particular mountain in 2022 but she will be conquering her very own Mountain of life’s test of her over the new years and through our program at WoodMor we will help her achieve many more goals to come.

We wish Gill all the very best in her continued journey of self-discovery and enlightenment, hoping at all times that she continues to Do More. Be More & Achieve More.

Matt Wood (Co-Founder of the WoodMor Foundation CIC & Co-Owner at Millwood Servicing Ltd)

 

June 2021 update

The month of June always feels very busy for me, not only being my birthday month but many friends and family birthdays as well (I haven’t forgotten Father’s Day too). I’m hoping the weather has finally decided to give us a break, and let us enjoy more outdoor pursuits. I’ve managed to get a few pictures of the signets with their parents, as well as getting lots of bruises (don’t ask, it’s a long story) when I aided them to scramble over the canal barrier.

I’ve started to organise my kit and I’m looking at how to store my medical stuff to keep it safe in the duffle bag. It’s time to haul out toiletry bags and what not that I’ve used over the years and check if anything is light enough but sturdy. Slowly I’m getting there. Slowly because it’s not my favourite task if I’m honest, folding clothes and packing. I know I will whinge about anything if you let me. First world problems.  One thing I know is wear your hiking boots whilst travelling, they’re too heavy to pack. Have my sliders in my hand luggage, remove my boots when I’m on the plane, slip on my sliders!

I’m not sure if I dare say this. Matt and I are finally booked in for our first assessment at the Altitude Centre this month (cancelled from last October) and finally a first face-to-face meeting ever! It’s been over a year since I first spoke to him on the phone to find out I had been picked out of the hat for the trek. Numerous video calls, voice messages, emails, and online Zoom meetings,  but we get to say hello in person. 

We get to see how my hard training is paying off. We’ll see what else can be done after I’m assessed under altitude conditions. The scientist part of me is very intrigued as to how I will fare. Yes, also a bit panicked as well but that’s the part of me that is having lots of work (from life coaching etc) to help me keep focus and prevent old habits and reactions. The slower we hike on the mountain the easier the transition of altitude – that’s what the trekking company tell us. 

This is all happening the day before my birthday. I couldn’t be more pleased to be doing something as interesting as this. My birthday will definitely be a day of pamper and self-care as I won’t get home until late, but it will certainly make it memorable.

I’ve had another gastroscope this week, at a different hospital, and being honest it went a lot easier. I needed it as symptoms occurred that needed checking out. It’s all okay and no plan B is required. Still struggling with eating solid food - anything more than scrambled egg is causing pain and partial bowel blockage. The pain’s lasted since April and I’m averaging partial blockage weekly, pain daily. I’ve struggled and I know Matt has been worried, but I keep adapting my exercises, kept closer to home on my walks, rested more. I’ve kept to my complan shakes mostly. I managed toast yesterday with no pain for the first time. When you have acute pain daily (on top of chronic pain) you forget how relaxed your body is when pain free. 

On top of the obvious dietary changes, I’ve been doing guided meditation, heat therapy (hot water bottle), also box breathing (four square breathing) - absolutely recommend this. I’m also trying to listen to more podcasts about self-awareness, life goals and intentions. The home work from my life coach has carried on from our session on Life Values. What values do I hold dear that are most important? Well, I could only think of two, I said. By the end I was struggling to narrow down 8 from 20. The long list of values and knowing what’s most important to me, I can now apply to other areas of my life, and do you know what? I’m going to. If not now, when?

I find the topic of self-improvement very interesting, and now I know what values I do hold dear, I intend to live by them more consciously. I do recognise that none of us are perfect as humans. I really need to work on patience. I feel it’s gotten worse of late and I know it’s very much attached to feeling very anxious, hence the calming breathing techniques. I’m not the only person walking around with a head full of worry. 

I’m truly feeling very lucky to have this as part of my experience preparing for the trek. I know not everyone can afford this luxury. Personally, I think if you’re not open to even contemplating self-improvement you’re doing yourself a disservice.

I’ve also been using a new app to help with the video diaries I’m doing for Matt. It’s been a revelation writing my script, then being able to record and read off my iPad screen, makes videoing easier, less “err” as I try to think of the next section to speak about! As long as I don’t stumble over the words. I did about eight takes for the first one! I wouldn’t make a very good News Presenter that’s for sure!

 

May 2021 update

I’ve always admired my dad and how brave I thought he was for doing the Survival Training to be able to work on the Oil Rigs whilst I was growing up. He used to describe being dunked into a swimming pool that would have the wave machine going. He would be inside a blacked-out helicopter simulator which would then be turned upside down. Then he and other men had to find their way out , trying not to panic! There were safety measures in place men in scuba kit on scene in case of any struggles. They also used to do breathing apparatus kit for fire simulations, having to find their way out in a smoke filled dark room, feeling their way along a wall to the doorway. It sounded terrifying and difficult to me as a young girl. 

Dad always explained about how you had to remain calm and slow your breathing – it was always important, wise words. I never thought that when he was telling me his stories or jokes that I would be here preparing for something as monumental as a trek to Africa to summit one of the ‘Seven Summits’. I maybe somewhere hoped I could be as daring. But bullying and not doing brilliant in school had chipped away at my confidence so that any high hopes or fancy dreams of what I would like to have as a career went out of the window. I thought it best to get a “normal” job / career. How utterly disappointing. 

However, I chose nursing. luckily, I found a niche where I could gain the qualification and excitement and frequent adrenalin rush working mainly around cardiac and Coronary Care Units. The units I mainly worked on were smaller than normal wards so you could focus on individual patient care which was also satisfactory. Making a small impact in people’s lives whether it be if they had a Cardiac Arrest, using my Advanced Life Saving skills, or with cardiac rehab to reassure them they could enjoy an active life post discharge home. It’s only now that I think back and reflect about previous patients and how maybe their lives were after hospital. 

So, this brings me to this month’s blog. I try to balance my posts on social media to be realistic, honest and from the heart. Sometimes I show the not so glamorous side of lifelong illness but that’s not going to inspire people and, whilst it might look like I must be throwing myself around the place with physically training, I’m really not. It would finish me off, injure me and stop all hope of me getting to the trek. It’s a balance shall we say. My story must be resonating with friends, family of friends, colleagues as I’ve had some hefty donations of late. As I’m moving forward with planning training, collating equipment, ensuring my mindset is in a good positive “can do” attitude etc, I’ve been developing ideas to raise donations as this is about the biggest physical challenge I will undertake. So, let’s raise as much as possible.

I sent some emails to local newspapers and online news outlets telling them what Matt and I were doing, and also that my local netball team were fundraising for me. I figured surely a bit of good news is required particularly after the last year. I really wasn’t expecting to hear back - who would be interested really? I love being proven wrong. Emails came back, and an appointment for a telephone interview with a reporter - gulp! “What have I done?”  I started to overthink. “Am I ready to have such focus on me?”  “Will they get details wrong and not represent the information I want in the public forum in the correct way?”

I spoke with Matt, Maria and Becca who all offered advice and gave me some notes to refer to whilst I was on the telephone. All prepped. The reporter was really friendly and asked some excellent questions a little bit like a job interview. For example, “Why did you want to be a Nurse?” “Do you go camping regularly when there isn’t a national lockdown?” She asked questions about my illness and why I’d applied to Matt to do the trek? An hour later it was done, I just had to wait. 

In total Teesside Live, printed the article with the information I gave them, and the Hartlepool Mail featured me online and then in a printed newspaper Friday edition (my home town, I was very proud of that) .

My job after that was to share the articles via my social media. It all felt a bit overkill but I guess all publicity is good publicity as the saying goes. Somebody unbeknownst to me had shared my articles on a closed group and there were some negative comments but I understood their frustration that it might look like I’m fit and healthy with Crohn’s disease but I’m not. I didn’t argue back as I feel they have a right to vent. After that I didn’t read anymore comments. I didn’t read if any comments had been posted on the actual news online. I can make up enough negativity in my head without any help! 

I’ve done a lot of self-development and emotional maturing to get rid of this. It would be fruitless to open that door again and undo the work I’ve strived for.  There’s always someone who will take the information you’ve released and twist it or make assumptions. Being of an older generation maybe I’m more chilled out about not being concerned whether a stranger approves of me; let alone any negative comments - I’ve most likely heard them all before. So it’s my energy I’m not going to waste. I can use that energy in more positive ways and be blissfully unaware.  

So back to the point. The publicity has worked its magic and I’ve added approximately £1500 to the total on my giving page making it just over £3000 in total, inspiring me even more to train , prepare, take care of myself and make sure I’m trek ready! 

Since this has occurred Matt and I have discussed the travel situation in regards to the pandemic and the current restrictions, and have had to make the tough decision of delaying the date of the trek to January 2022. That said all I can say is I can keep training and feel more prepared for the trek and summit! I say it like this as I went to Saltburn recently. I thought I would climb the steps from the beach up to the main town - 13 flights my Fitbit told me. My body got a fright! Huffing and puffing - there were people behind me so I couldn’t go slow. I felt pressured so couldn’t stop. 

Get me to some bigger hills and longer walks. I need more of everything - squats, cardio, bigger thigh muscles! 13 flights of stairs! There’s a few more on Mt Kilimanjaro with my name on them. I no longer take the lift in my apartment block! And luckily, I now have more prep time. Phew!

 

April 2021 update

Kindness of strangers….. 

I’ll admit I don’t like asking for help whether it’s donations, sponsorship or help for myself personally. You get the picture - I’m independent. I’m typically English in not wanting to impose on anyone, or overstep the mark. So, I received my trek pack from the company organising it - lovely little booklet with lots of handy advice, what type of exercise you should be doing in preparation, kit list…… errr whilst I’ve gladly had my trek boots, trousers and jacket to wear over winter to break in, see how I need to layer my clothing, it seems there’s some other items I require. Since sponsorship was pulled and I’m not exactly rolling in cash I was starting to fret over how I would amass these items. I’ve bought a couple of things off eBay, or Facebook groups that resell outdoor clothing. I’m now definitely a good size smaller and my original workout gear is getting baggy. My winter training base layers aren’t ‘200’ merino wool. These are specified and quite pricey even from the lower range shops. Like I say, after paying bills etc there’s not a lot of spare funds.

All shops are shut, even the charity shops right now so let’s leave them as Plan C for when lockdown eases. I wonder if some people might feel generous enough to donate items unsold on the FaceBook groups I’m in??? Dare I ask? I feel very rude asking. Will they understand I just genuinely don’t have that spare cash? I messaged the admin of the ladies clothing group explaining my situation and would she mind? She got back to me pronto… of course put a post up no problem, as it’s outdoor clothing there’s a wealth of knowledge and understanding of hiking and the kit requirements in these groups. I have sent out a lot of emails to most major brands and discount stores and supermarkets who usually don’t give to individuals, or already have their chosen charities they commit to. I put the post up the following morning, silently hoping nobody called me a fraud for asking when I shouldn’t. I got approximately 12 replies all offering different items I had listed. I couldn’t believe how generous these ladies were; some offering advice having done the trek on Mt Kilimanjaro themselves, and some of kit that would double as a water bottle and a hot water bottle on the cold evenings - I needed this advice so much because I have cold fingers all the time.

I said yes to lots saying I would pay postage - all but one refused postage. One lady actually ran an unofficial camping, clothing and equipment seconds donation box for her local scouts’ group. She got in touch to say she would see what she had in my size etc. The relief was amazing - I’d solved my problem more or less. A few items that were promised never arrived unfortunately but the arrangement was only if they didn’t sell their items so I presumed they might’ve sold them on.

In the same week I was on my Saturday morning zoom chat with the Walking Netball Ladies zoom catch up (It’s been over a year since I last saw them all in person) so I mentioned what I’d been up to in the week. They have all been very patient listening to me going on about my training or the trek. I got a message from Val Nicholson later that day. Gill, I’ve made up an Easter basket and I’m going to raffle it so we can raise some money so you can buy your own duffle bag or whatever else you need. This time my fabulous Hartlepool Allstars Netball ladies were willing to raise funds for me; definitely no going back - I have to do the trek now! Val Nicholson, one of the walking netballers, and Vicky Riley, our coach, got busy selling tickets and three weeks later they drew the winning ticket after amazingly 2 full books of raffle tickets were sold. Here you go, they announced, £350 now get your kit bought. I can’t find adequate words to express how kind and generous they’ve all been. Thank you doesn’t seem enough, I babbled, but thank them I did.

I’ve been able to get some bargains in the sale and also use the 15% discount code for an outdoor clothing and equipment shop to fulfil most of the equipment list and I’m now on Matt’s advice to practice packing.

You may think I’m being too organised but, after the disclosure of whenever I go travelling on holiday, I pack the kitchen sink. The stark order came to start piling up what is on the list and then pack it to see where there is room for manoeuvre or not. I also have my medical supplies to include. However, the rule with those is to carry them in my hand luggage so I know they won’t get lost. I must be ruthless as this is certainly not a leisurely holiday - sun cream SPF50+ yes, sundress nope! 

Must remember room for favourite snacks, just in case I hit the wall metaphorically speaking. The trek company insist we need goodies: Haribo, trail mix (not with my tummy), Marshmallows – yes, maybe some ritz crackers too. This bland stuff I can usually eat if my adhesions are active and I’m in pain or indeed having a very high output day. I’ve still got time. I feel this is when I put my duffle bag on the scales at the airport and Matt glares at me as the numbers reel over the allotted allowance.  Okay, I will get some luggage scales. It’s going to be totally justified expenditure and Wilkos here I come.  Here a couple of pics of what I’ve managed to buy from the raffle money and what the FB group sent. Now where’s my t-shirt folder I need to “Marie Kondo“ this pile of clothing, and YouTube how one must pack a duffle bag? Always learning.

 

March 2021 update

Confession is good for the soul so they say! I am guilty of falling into that dreadful overthinking. I don’t do it on purpose - sometimes it’s subconscious and then I’m down the proverbial rabbit hole before I can utilise the coping strategies that I use to stop it. I have to regularly work on these strategies. It’s not something that gets a cure-all unfortunately. It can be jolly exhausting mentally living in fight or flight which is part of it too, for me anyway. I thought it was from burnout from Nursing but I’m learning it’s been from an early age. I think we all need to be able to switch off from life and our problems so we can keep our strength to face another day.

Image of zentangleWhilst on Instagram I saw an advertisement from a charity website for ‘Zentangles’. What the heck! I no longer register with being down with the kids and I don’t know what music is in the top ten either (sad to say). Anyway, it promised 90 minutes tutorial on a Friday afternoon to learn Zentangle - count me in. Wow, seriously proactiveness in motion! I’m starting to impress myself. It’s got Zen in the title; how bad can it be? I did a quick google search and thought it looked great. I was a bit perturbed it was freehand drawing. So, you know I failed GCSE Art grade D. My creative mind doesn’t quite translate when it comes to free hand drawing or colouring. In fact, safe to say it’s very wobbly and made worse by arthritic achy joints in hands, knuckles etc. How tiring can doodling be? I’m doing this - no excuses.

Friday afternoon, I sat with pen, pencil, plain paper and cotton buds (for shading) and was led through the tutorial by a calm and encouraging lovely lady. “Not to worry if it doesn’t look exactly like mine” she pipes, thank goodness. I fumed whilst trying to get my wobbly lines and curves to make the patterns. I know why I don’t draw. However, I persevered. “In zentangle there are no errors” she just kept up the encouragement. I was lacking sleep this week so my eyes were quite sore but I noted towards the end of the session, “hang on, what’s happened to me mulling over packing my kit for the trek. How will I cope going to the toilet in the middle of the night on a mountain?” The small issues you see. This session was magic. Never have I switched off like this before or not in a very long time. My zentangle looked nothing like the tutor’s but I was proud of the concentrated effort it had taken. Yes, I will show you a picture of it, and yes it may look like someone much younger has done. I know some of you will be thinking - who’s got time to sit for 90 minutes, I’ve got the kids tea to get done etc etc. Well, mums and their lil uns were also joining in on the zoom tutorial and it sounded like they were loving it.

I will continue to advocate that this arty crafty stuff actually works. Whatever floats your boat - get to it, take it up, return to it. As Brenè Brown says ‘unused creativity isn’t benign’. It ends up feeding into negativity and other negative moods etc. What’s this got to do with your trek training, Gilly?

As part of this journey, I’ve accepted the most epic physical challenge for me. I’m chipping away at the physical training but I can’t leave psychological improvement, part of self-development, out of the equation. I can continue to let anxiety and depression be the ruin of me or I can choose to work hard to manage it. On the mountain, at altitude when I’m trekking, there’s going to be tough times where I might start to think I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. I need to develop coping strategies, ways to switch off those kinds of worries so I can summit. Of course, I will have Matt by my side championing me on and I hope I can do the same if he has a low spot. No one will escape a case of the willies at different times I hear.

Being kinder to myself, forgiving my body for being chronically ill, accepting some limits and knowing when I can push through.

 

February 2021 update

So with us finally getting out of January and I’m hoping for spring to arrive soon. That’s when snow and icy cold weather occurs. What better weather than for me to do some cold weather training, testing my kit out to see what combinations work and what doesn’t. Layering clothing is key I’m told - Base layers, Mid layers, Merino wool or not, Soft shell Goretex jackets, 1000 mile socks, liner socks -  the list goes on. As the trek starts in hot weather and then we summit the mountain in icy glacial surroundings I’d best get myself out there. 

Yesterday was -3°C, slight NNE breeze and I set out only for an almost blizzard to set in for the next 20 minutes or so. I kept dry and apart from hands and feet (they’re always cold) I was pretty toasty. I won’t bore you with a minute by minute account but needless to say a pair of socks were removed by the end of the walk, and my padded jacket under my waterproof jacket was damp from sweat. I should’ve opened the vents perhaps. 

Again, not enough snacks to eat and I drink way less in the cold (need to work on that). What surprised me was the energy depletion towards the way home. I’ve done this circular route before. I even decided to cut a couple of miles off as my feet were aching, wanting to pace my energy out for the rest of the week. The penny dropped that whilst I was feeling pretty warm in my clothing my body is still working overtime to keep warm being out in these temperatures. Walking in my trek boots slows me as you kind of stomp around as there’s no flex in the sole. 

Walking on snow and ice is hard work, like walking on sand. It’s working more muscles with an uneven slippy surface. I know I sound like it’s the first time I’ve done it, but I don’t have a car and this is the first time since childhood I’m willing to spend more than 5-10 minutes out in inclement weather. I’m normally wrapped up indoors, avoiding icy paths as I’ve previously fallen (arthritic joints and a kneecap that subluxates easily) a number of times and fractured my hand or wrist. I don’t need the inconvenience of a plaster cast for 8-12 weeks. 

I will have hiking poles to aid my balance whilst on the trek, so hopefully then I’m just battling fatigue and cold. Oh, and that little challenge of altitude. Easy eh? I’m sure the pace of our trek will be slower than I walk when I’m out so that’s the bonus. And apparently the slower the pace the less the altitude sickness will make impact. Matt and I do have altitude training planned for when lockdown is lifted so I will get to experience it before making the trip. 

On the nutrition side of things, I’ve fallen into bad habits since Christmas - cake and crisps mainly - so Nikkie Windsor @thejunglegoddess is helping me get back on track with this. However, my bowel is totally complaining when I try to eat what small amounts of vegetables I’ve been able to get away with previously. So, currently, I’m dairy free as dairy stops me absorbing iron. I can get away with eating mushy peas with no pain and small amounts of mashed potato. So mainly I view my meals as fuel rather than tasty dishes I used to be able to eat. Fuel being predominantly protein and vitamins and minerals and ensuring less sugary snacks. For example, I ate stir-fried turkey with BBQ seasoning, and mushy peas after my walk yesterday. Yes, it’s a weird combination but it was actually okay. I had some recovery protein powder before bed mixed up with water, but I’m just using the last bits up as it’s dairy based. It has magnesium and zinc added and is supposed to aid sleep also. I will revert to collagen powder as this is dairy free.

I will touch on sleep and rest as it’s an important part of my training. I average approximately 3-4 hours sleep but this is broken up by frequent bathroom visits to empty my ostomy. Once in a blue moon I will sleep right through the night but I can count on one hand the amount of times it’s happened in 16 years. Some nights are better than others but I always find it hard to get back off to sleep. I use meditation, music, soothing nature sounds, limit caffeine, don’t have a tv in my bedroom. I have a pre-sleep routine and I’m still battling being able to fall asleep and stay asleep. This is quite a common problem having an Ileostomy but even before my first operation I was having less sleep due to my Crohn’s disease flare up symptoms.  I don’t normally allow during the day naps, as I found they made night time worse. However, if I do nod off after I’ve been active I’m allowing it. My body needs to get the rest so it can to recover. Most times it’s just a heavy shut eye. I can still hear my surroundings, road traffic etc but if I’m feeling relaxed. I’ll take it.

Just know that in between the blogs and training I’m having my fair share of up and down days and I hope everybody is keeping safe and well and warm during this lockdown.

Apart from mums lockdown Birthday that’s been end of Jan/ February so far…..

 

December 2020 update

The power of saying No! ( to my pushy inner voice)

I had a brilliant idea to do my next blog on why I had chosen to be nominated for the draw to do this trek challenge, and ¾ of the way through I had to take time out of training, not completely down time but a blood test and a chat with Gastro hospital team via email, as well as my GP via a telephone appointment. It seems the lessening strength during training has all been down to iron deficiency anaemia (again!). My blood results show not just iron deficiency but that I might have inflammation causing slight bleeding aka Crohn’s flare? I haven’t noted any fresh blood via my ileostomy. My diet can’t tolerate the big iron veggies like cabbage, spinach due to my adhesions. I’ve been trying to eat iron rich meat (turkey instead of chicken, beef) I’m already on B12 injections every 12 weeks as that was identified in 2016 to be low and since then I’ve had a few more bits of small bowel removed. 

It’s agreed that I don’t absorb nutrients and medications very well. I’m not under weight! Thankfully. Cut a long history short another iron infusion was required….. I went on Friday morning - 9 attempts to cannulate a vein failed by 2 doctors, 1 nurse and 2 HCA’s. I didn’t mind them trying. I felt desperate for the iron infusion as my symptoms have been quite troublesome. After 4 hours we gave in and I returned after the weekend, Monday morning second attempt success! And infusion all complete, it takes a few weeks at a cellular level for my iron stores to replenish so not instant effects, less palpitations though today anyways. All the dizziness, lightheadedness, feeling cold, headaches, weakness, afternoon naps which I don’t usually allow hopefully will diminish. My instant thought when these symptoms arise especially the first time was that my anxiety was worsening as they all could be symptoms of anxiety for me.

Each week I have a weekly online zoom meeting with Matt, Maria and Becca we all congregate to update on my progress as Ambassador for the WoodMor Foundation charity. I explained feeling very under pressure as I knew my physical progress wasn’t matching the effort put in. The other three all said I was being too hard on myself, and putting unnecessary pressure on myself and my job for the following week would be to work on being less hard on myself! I’m so used to being a ‘YES’ man! Yes, I can do that no problem! How often do you say this at work…. I used to say it all the time. I didn’t want to be letting the ball drop on my watch- ridiculous! I was replaceable and the place ran well when I wasn’t there, I just felt guilt for the times I was off sick and was constantly trying to make up for it (all pressured from me and my mind). 

Luckily the weather was not so great, I popped over to the shop. I needed chocolate to help ruminate how to slow down in lockdown, “C’mon Gill you’ve got this” and with a bag of Revels, and a new subscription to Netflix, I didn’t want to be laid on my bed for hours as I had previously done going through a depressive period. I instantly feel guilty, especially when I think about everybody else who works, but I have to remember all the times I had to ring in sick being acutely unwell, letting my colleagues down, I don’t want to go back to that ever. A few box sets later, some Christmas orders done online, I’ve done some reading online within the mental health communities and every time I feel guilt I change the internal monologue to a voice that speaks as though I’m talking to my best friend. It’s a lot nicer and supportive. Rest and recovery is equally as important to my training schedule.

It’s not easy changing bad habits of a lifetime. Trust me, I’m a work in progress. To prove to myself I wasn’t slipping back into depression I messaged my Personal Trainer, Brian, and explained everything and he sent back an incredibly supportive email that made me shed a tear. Only a couple though. So I joined in circuit training that week but did 40 minutes of very very low impact, not quite keeping up, and mostly sitting on my mat when the dizziness was too much to stand back up, and I felt actually quite good for joining in. In my head it was giving me thoughts of “what’s the point if you can’t do it all?”, and “ you will feel so bad for putting the effort in and then getting upset when you can’t do it”. Also “you might end up crying throughout the session” which happened one week when my ileostomy bag was leaking and being very overactive. Critical inner voice is horrendous to listen to it and when you lose control of it. 

Nightly gratitude whether you write it in a journal or practice it mentally, helps so much. It doesn’t have to be a major gratitude… mine lately is “I’m so grateful for a quiet living space and a comfy bed”. I’ve been in both that didn’t feel comfortable or safe. Reminding myself of the small things that make my life easier when I’m struggling is a better mindset to try and start going to sleep.

So the upshot of a challenging situation is now me feeling less under pressure, finding my love of Revels again, almost finishing Christmas shopping ( I usually make a list and buy it all in December) and realising that ‘stepping back’ from a frustrating situation and doing something completely different sometimes helps clear the mind, and to find solutions to problems that are puzzling or indeed overwhelming me. 

I did a “Twelve days of Crohnsmas” for my Instagram account @gillianu_dh. Most are short videos on the different effect of Crohn’s on my life or a picture. It certainly was a weird run up to a different Christmas this year but luckily mum and I had a quiet enjoyable day.  I hope you all could celebrate however big or small this year. 

 

November 2020 update:

#gilliclimbskili

Who else is struggling through the daylight saving time change? Dark mornings ugh! Bring the sunshine back, it wasn’t too hot and humid at all! Although it’s making the workout/ exercise temperatures easier, the numb hands and feet on my cycle ride last week was a bit much.I do hope everyone is adjusting to the new season well. I know it’s been a bit of a struggle but with most things I eventually find a way around it, usually adjusting timings of exercise or meals etc - all things which are easier to do as I don’t work. 

As I was still really socially isolating and haven’t been able to return to any normal meet ups with my walking netball gang, this second lockdown that we’ve entered hasn’t really impacted as much as the first one did for all of us. I don’t usually say this but roll on December! I know for most people this is incredibly frustrating and too isolating. So how have I and do I cope with the isolation of no work normally…..  since retiring from nursing I’ve had a couple of hobbies that have provided much needed distraction, but even that’s a bust as the two I did most (sewing night class and attending a choir) would still be out of bounds. I’m lucky that I live in an apartment block and although the residents don’t socialise as much now , we have a communal caretaker and landlord on site making sure more vulnerable tenants are looked after. Saying that it’s always hiya at 2 meters mainly at the car park as we come and go and the smokers have their cigarettes in the car park.They’ve all noticed that I’m being more active and probably looking more tired than usual… they know I’ve got health matters that are ongoing, whilst taking on this challenge. I heard a knock on my door and 2 cream cakes delivered this afternoon. They’re certain I'm in need of the calories and I’m being too healthy. I was very touched by the gesture as most things in moderation is my motto, and there’s fruit on the strawberry tart - yummy!

Other things get me through the day when I’m not blogging or journaling or researching health related issues. I get certain magazines with crossword/word search competitions and enter them. I listen to music lots, the one band that I think helped direct me away from the anger of retiring from my much loved career is Thirty Seconds to Mars. I’ve been very lucky to make a few awesome friends through the band on social media, met up at concerts with them and still in touch with one who lives in The Netherlands, a few in USA, Australia, Ireland and the U.K.   As hard as life gets or indeed can seem bleak, their message is to continue your path as a dreamer and have faith. Sometimes harder to do when you can’t foresee or think of purpose in your life and I have been there many times. Thankfully this trek has provided ample focus.

Ultimately we’ve had to put back the plan of first Altitude training session due to lockdown which is a shame as I was really looking forward to meeting Matt in real life. However there's plenty of time to rearrange and certainly make use of the facilities and training aspects they provide. 

I thought I would take the kit that’s been provided to me for it’s first proper test last month. I  hiked from Nunthorpe to Roseberry Topping and then went to the top of Roseberry Topping. I didn’t think it would take me 2 hours to walk to the actual car park lol but this is all about building my self confidence and getting out and about off concrete paths and on moorland and uneven surfaces and, more importantly, inclines. It was tiring but I loved it and really look forward to doing more walks after lockdown. 

How to  incline train in lockdown I hear you say? Find a moderate hill that’s on your walkabout ( in local nature park) then, with hiking poles, traverse and descend said hill repeatedly , I did ten repeats. Slow pace, we certainly won’t be rushing it on Kilimanjaro. It certainly gave my feet something to complain about so now I know what part of a day on Kili will be like – brutal! There’s time to toughen up I whisper to myself under my breath, praying I’m not the slowest on the trek. I also saw some awesome dogs and their owners so I got to fuss a still puppy springer spaniel, and a golden retriever which are my new favourites as they so freaking friendly and loveable, I think I need photographic documents of the friendly dogs I meet, obviously with owners agreement. Watch this space.

I had excruciatingly sore skin around my stoma still, and managed to complete the hill walk whilst my stoma bag leaked underneath the sticky baseplate and on the sore skin. I can only describe this as an itch that goes to a burning acidic hot pain. I managed to get home and deal with it. Sore skin but no messy clothes. 

To know me is to know my daily health quirks as it does cause some cussing and grimacing at times. Time for a cuppa and cream cake I think! 

 

 

October 2020 update:

After a busy week having an MRI scan, Pre procedure Covid swab test, then a Gastroscope at the end of the week, I have to say that week pretty much took it out of me, physically and emotionally.  MRI scans  for bowel involves drinking a litre of fluid that tastes disgusting….luckily they’ve fed back this information to the companies, and now it just tastes of sugar water the relief was immense. I was nervous for the scope it’s not the first one I’ve had I didn’t think I would get as upset as I did! It’s all over now but the happy place I can usually resort to and keep calm had completely disappeared. 

I also had a visit from my Community Stoma Nurse who is going to help me with a change of bag system as I’ve been struggling over the summer with more leaks, and having to change my bag more frequently during the day and skin excoriation. I’m assured this can improve with the right system, I just need to get samples and try them out, which is where the nurse comes in to organise. I’m intrigued, finally after 15 years of sleepless nights of multiple visits to empty my stoma bag, there’s a new system  that allows you to drain the contents rather than keep getting up! This is awesome news for me, I don’t have the easiest Ileostomy it’s always been high output, and I’ve never been aware of developments for this until 2 years ago. 

Usually people get there stoma and get set up on a system of bags and luckily they move on with there life and get back to some kind of routine. After my first 2 operations I had this granted that was 5 years of almost normality with a Crohn’s flare up.

Why do I struggle? My Ileostomy retracted post operatively so it’s harder to keep the seal around it in contact with the skin so it leaks easier. There’s no point panicking , trust me I used to when I first had to start looking after my stoma. If I feel the all too familiar itching when it starts leaking I don’t ignore it, I  change the bag STAT!, hopefully avoiding spoilt clothes etc. Tricky at night if I have dozed off.  I would still rather have my bag than how I was trying to cope before my first surgery! It was that bad. 

This will be something I’m going to utilise on the trek as we are in humid hot weather, drinking approx 4-5 litres/day , that’s a lot even for me, I will need to be on top of replacing my electrolytes, but the overnight drainage will stop me getting up so many times so my body can rest. This is such a relief! I was worried about this, I can easily conceal the tubing and bag. The things you have to think of are a bit mad sometimes when dealing with chronic ill health but I’m lucky such products have been developed. Anything that doesn’t flush away, I will be double wrapping and carrying in a separate dry sack, my environmentally friendly conscience wouldn’t let me entertain leaving any stoma bags or supplies on such a beautiful mountain. Everything can be drained and rinsed (sterilising tablets) so it’s clean but not sterile.

As this had interrupted my training somewhat I decided not to focus on the loss of exercise sessions and just get through the best I could then start back up and listen to my body. I’m having to ease up on abdominal work as it could cause an hernia where my Ileostomy is located, I wear a support belt to prevent this happening, but some twinges around my stoma lately have made me think I need to see what the MRI is showing in terms of inflammation or bowel loops near the stoma entrance. I had been told a enlarged lymph gland was what had blocked the stoma entrance and caused my bowel blockage after the CT scan a few weeks back, wether this is still complicating things I don’t know? Safe to say my insides are a mess, and my doctors agree it’s all higgledy piggledy in there with all the bowel scar tissue! 

I’ve found a new app that helps you plan hiking / walking routes so I’m getting ready to do a short hike but a hilly one, since my knee is getting stronger and with the assistance of my hiking poles I’ve had my eye on Roseberry Topping near Pinchenthorpe, so in the next couple of weeks I will complete that. Now I have some very decent hiking gear provided by a generous sponsor, In case of any inclement weather up here in the North East – never! Being originally from Hartlepool I’m used to the North Sea bitter cold gale force breezes. If lockdown doesn’t progress further , I won’t hold my breath, hopefully I can visit my cousin in Yorkshire and go for a hike or two with him. 

A couple of other things are happening in the background, slowly building self confidence with Nikki Windsors help with positive affirmations that I’m currently working on improving, I’ve started basic yoga, and listening to some meditation podcasts and my Fitbit app has included them now so trying to fit it all in. I think I need a weekly wall planner, my calendar in the kitchen doesn’t have enough room to fit in all my activities. My memory is rubbish, brain fog! I need to have things written down or I forget or quite often skip a week ahead of myself. 

It was World Ostomy Day 3rd October so I bravely posted on Instagram a picture of me and my ostomy bag. I don’t do it often it’s just not how I am, even though it helps raise awareness I guess my scar down the middle of my tummy does make me feel rather self conscious at times. I’m not perfect, but I’m happier feeling fitter than I have before and that’s what counts. 

All this time spent working on me feels very self indulgent, I’m not used to positive focus, maybe all my ill health had me in just a very reactionary place in life as at times there were multiple things going wrong. It’s no way to live yet lots of people do. I really hope I can be part of something to help change this.