I am sitting writing this at 2:00am on Monday December 20th. My sleeping pattern is a bit unusual these days as I frequently feel tired (or just generally bad) throughout the day, so I spend a lot of time resting at unorthodox hours.
I’ve received so many amazing comments on the blog so far and I feel so much gratitude for everyone who is taking the time to read it. “A problem shared is a problem halved,” I said to my friend Finch on Saturday; admittedly, I was talking about him coming over at the same time as our other friend Benedict who was also planning on visiting me. But the saying is very applicable to the blog and knowing that people are finding themselves invested in the journey makes me feel so supported and happy.
It is going to come with some growing pains, and I am still establishing exactly what I want to do with the blog overall. The posts so far have been very cancer heavy, which is to be expected. It is my life right now, and it takes a lot of my time and energy to stay on top of the battle. But cancer isn’t my life, and I like to think there is more that I can write about that is worth the interest of you, my dear readers. All these thoughts have led me to contemplate a lot of things about myself, and the unusual hours I find myself awake and active gives me plenty of time to do just that. So, I am challenging myself to write a single article a week where I am not allowed to use the ‘C’ word or discuss the ‘C’ word. This is my first attempt at doing so, and this paragraph is the only place that you will find the naughty word mentioned.
I’ve always found myself to be a person that spends a lot of time reflecting on the past. A ‘worrier’ is probably the not-so-technical term. It is something about myself that I have always found very frustrating, as historically it has led to me obsessively criticising myself and how I’ve behaved in the past, with no beneficial light to shed on the situation. When people use phrases like ‘know yourself’, it can feel like quite a vapid thing to say. In my experience though, it is extremely important to spend time trying to know yourself and what drives you in life, as it constantly seems to change and at a pace that can be hard to keep up with.
I am only realising this recently, and it is making me appreciate the time I spend reflecting on the past more. It allows me to discover things about myself and better identify some of my drivers, whilst trying to learn things from past situations. If you can learn something from what you perceive to be a bad situation, it makes that negative mean something to you. That gives it a value that it may not have otherwise had, and it should help change the way you cope with a similar situation in the future. I can think of a particular example from my experience that I hope demonstrates my point well.
When I was a teenager, I used to have a bad habit of binge drinking. Of course, this isn’t an unusual or undocumented part of British culture. I always knew that I didn’t like it about myself though. I would frequently drink to the point that I would completely blackout, I’d spend a lot of money that I didn’t have and then I’d feel sick and anxious for days afterwards. Despite this, I continued doing it for years, from about 16 until I was probably around 25, although it was less frequent as I got a full-time job after university. I guess it’s called being a ‘weekender’ really, and I’m sure many people genuinely enjoy this lifestyle in a way that I didn’t. For me, I always felt like I did it because I just did. What else was there to do on the weekend? How else would I remain relevant in my friendship group? It was this final point that bothered me the more I reflected on it.
Over time, I realised that getting absolutely blind drunk had become my main character attribute in my mind. I think now that it was a deep insecurity of mine manifesting itself from when I was young. I’m the guy that is always willing to get ridiculously drunk and make an idiot of himself, what else do I have to offer a group of people? Wasn’t that the only reason I had friends? I always felt a bit confused why people liked me when I was younger, and I’d regularly think people were talking about me or plotting against me for some reason. Every time I agreed to go on a night out at short notice or was one of the last people to go to bed, it felt like a tick in my social book. But I had a real personal interest in fitness by the time I was in my 20s and my favourite time of day was the morning, both aren’t compatible with a lifestyle revolving around heavy drinking. I was also getting much more anxious during hangovers after university, and the whole thing was starting to feel like a form of self-abuse.
Eventually I challenged myself to have more confidence in what my company offered people. If I lost friends because I left the pub after having 2 pints, then I decided that they weren’t the type of friends I wanted anyway. For a while I had to adopt various strategies for managing the problem. I would only drink shandy if I was drinking beer, or I’d suggest going for coffee instead of a pub when someone asked me if I wanted to meet up. The most effective strategy for me though, was finally committing myself to running. I always enjoyed running, but it would take a backseat in my priorities because I didn’t want to miss social events. I saw the 2 things as mutually exclusive because when I went out, I had to drink a lot and make sure I was keeping up my role in the group, the drunken buffoon.
By starting to enter marathons and ultra-marathons, I was starting to commit myself to a lifestyle that was the antithesis of the one I was trying to move on from. It gave me a motive to change that negative behaviour which had far more meaning and which communicated with the values and behaviours I wanted to see in myself. When I finished my first marathon in 2019, I knew I was really changing myself for the better. I had done it; I’d committed to training for something and made it all the way to the end. That same year, me and my brother Greg completed our first 100km ultra race together in the Peak District. I needed more.
In 2020 Greg and I were due to attempt our first 100-mile ultra-marathon – the GB Ultra Scotland. The event was cancelled days before it was due to take place. We had our accommodation booked and had trained ruthlessly all year. Instead of letting our fitness go to waste, we travelled up with our parents in support of us and set out to do the first 100km of the route; we decided it was too dangerous to attempt a 100-mile race unaided, around a course that we had never set foot on. It was an extremely challenging day. It took us 13 hours, 29 minutes and 44 seconds, and we climbed a total of 9754 ft (the equivalent of climbing Snowdon just under 3 times).
I was surprised at how much more confident I was feeling in myself. I’d have the occasional night where I’d get a bit carried away, but they were few and far between, and I didn’t feel like I was doing it for the same negative reasons that I had historically. I was just having fun and didn’t feel like stopping early that night. For the first time in my life, I felt that I understood my relationship with alcohol and wasn’t so reliant on it. It made my connections with my friends better, and they felt more genuine to me. It did also alienate me from other friends, but that was part of the challenge to myself. The point of all this is that by spending some time getting to know myself better, I made a change in my life that has made me so much happier. Try to learn something about yourself and see what challenges you can overcome. It pays dividends when it works.