Saturday, 29 June 2013

Day 417 - BOtox ;)

For all the sadness of leaving Warwick on Wednesday, I was also very excited to get home - to see my family, my best London school-friend, Eileen...and to go to what was only my third live gig ever. I've said for a while now that I'd dedicate a few of these posts to some of my non-medical methods for stress-relief, relaxation and muscle spasm control, and music (either my own or others) offers all of these benefits, as well as providing a soundtrack for my physio sessions. I have quite eclectic tastes, ranging from Queen and The White Stripes to Handel and Mozart, as can be seen from this playlist I posted some months ago - but it takes a lot for me find current artists who I absolutely love. Bo Bruce is among this select few and, because her EP and album have carried me through the ups and downs of the road towards this crazy goal, I thought that now (following her gig at Bush Hall on Wednesday) was the right time to say thank you.

Hence the terrible pun in the title. You see, the impact of Bo's music on my physical progress began all the way back on 5th May 2012, when I had my first round of botox injections. As I was coming round from my anaesthetic, I had the first two lines of the chorus from one of the songs off her EP, Search the Night, in my head. The song was called 'Behind the Gates', and the couplet went as follows: 'Lead us back to the light/I can't see you in the dark night'. The aptness of the lyrics to my situation was uncanny, if a tad literal, so it seemed to me that I couldn't let this coincidence pass by - and I have since listened to that EP for motivation in the vast majority of my physio sessions, because it's been with me from the beginning.

Furthermore, unlike most of my exercise soundtrack, Search the Night managed to spill over into the realms of my general musical appreciation - because it has helped me through the bad times as well as the good. Whereas Katrina and The Waves' 'Walking on Sunshine' can seem mocking if it catches me on a spasmy day, Bo's 'Fighting Arizona' somehow acknowledges how difficult it is to be stuck in a hole, whilst simultaneously affirming that there is a way out. The same can be said of the tracks on her new album, Before I Sleep - perhaps even more so because, for the last couple of months (as I waited for my latest round of botox injections which would get me back on my feet), listening to them was the only way I could relax my legs enough to allow myself to sleep comfortably, or to write my last few essays and my dissertation. It helped me to 'turn the ruins into something beautiful' ('Speed the Fire'), to transform the spasms into a productive impetus for creative (and eventually physical) triumph - and, on a non-academic level, it brought me to the realisation that 'I miss you' is a perfectly reasonable thing to say to the friends who are no longer with me ('How We're Made').

All in all, her first tour was not one I was going to miss - and this leads me to another reason to be grateful. Very few intimate music venues have good accessibility, if it's possible to get in at all, so I've not been to many concerts. The Bush Hall exceeded all my expectations - we had a little section at the side of the stage, and a great view, even though everyone else was standing up. I felt very privileged to be so close, and as though the staff had really thought about what I would need.

The set was fab - both Bo and her support Boxes came out and gave it their all. I cried silently during 'Lightkeeper' and 'How We're Made', my two favourites, and found a new joy in Boxes' 'Can't Imagine'. It was magical - and that would've been enough. When we went out to buy a t-shirt and a copy of Boxes' EP, though, the magic went through the roof. Bo came over, said she had seen me from the side of the stage and wanted to talk. So I got to say thank you in person, and to tell her about my blog. I only hope she realises how much I meant it.

Thank you.

Still grinning!


Day 416 - Alas, poor Warwick!

Preface: I know this is three days late, for which I beg pardon, but time has been running away from me, what with packing up, the long car journey and evenings where I wasn't at my computer at all. In my defence, the events of the last few days merit posts all to themselves, so you're getting four updates today as compensation for my having skipped three.

Where do I even begin with a post like this, in which I attempt to encapsulate the nuances, idiosyncrasies and had-to-be-there moments of the last three years? Well, methinks I actually ought to commence this semblance of a narrative some six years ago, when I was still at my first secondary school. I haven't gone into my experiences at this school in too much detail before now because, aside from the friends I made, I didn't have the best time, as you will read in the story below...

In my final year at the school (Year 10) I had the honour of being chosen as Head Girl, one of two representatives for the student body, and knowing that my fellow pupils trusted me to be the voice of their concerns. Along with regular meetings with the Headteacher, the primary extracurricular aspect of the role required that both I and the Head Boy, Chris, attend any official events on behalf of the 130 or so other students. Since our school, Treloar's, was founded by its namesake, Lord Mayor Treloar, in 1908, the chief of these events has been the annual visit of whoever is the current Lord Mayor. Now, whatever issues I may have with the politics behind the position of Lord Mayor, I was very excited by the prospect of this visit, not least because I hoped it would provide me with the opportunity to smash some of the stereotypes surrounding the education of young people with disabilities. I was in the middle of my first year of GCSEs, and looking forward to discussing my aspirations with some of the members of this rather stuffy party. Over the dinner we shared I did just that, finding them to be surprisingly human, and engaging in a philosophical debate with a particularly lovely lady, whose name I now can't recall. Imagine my dismay, then, when, during post-dinner discussion, that same woman asked my fellow tour-guide, Ms. Huddart, 'whether someone like Jessi could go to university'. The question was fair enough, and it showed her interest in my scholarly future, so I didn't mind her asking. What bothered me was Ms. Huddart's response - 'Well, perhaps not at 18, but maybe at 25.'

This lengthy preamble will hopefully serve to illustrate my feeling of elation when I received my (overwhelming) results on Tuesday - because they are evidence that I not only went to university and got a degree, but that I did so by the age of 21. I feel I no longer have anything to prove, and that's amazing. The fact that this degree occurred in the company of many wonderful groups of people, doing many wonderful things, is something for which I will be forever grateful. From being in the chorus of, and assistant directing, operas, through shenanigans with Shakespeare and being lucky enough to call myself a member of 'The Fam' (possibly the best course cohort ever to grace Warwick University campus), it's impossible to distil the wonder that has been the last three years into a single ramble. Hence the title of this post - because, whilst I am a very happy bunny to be home and to have permission to relax, I can't quite fathom that it's over and I won't be going back in October.

So, in true literary (and academic) spirit, I'm going to filch someone else's (namely Charles Dickens') words to fashion a fitting epitaph for my degree:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. (A Tale of Two Cities, Vol. I,  ch. i)
 I hope my dear Warwicensis will accept this - at any rate, it's been grand, and I love you for it.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Day 415 - a day of firsts

I had hoped to write a coherent, readable post about this, and about the three years which have now come to the most amazing of ends. I want to do justice to the experiences I've shared with friends, and to express how lucky I feel to have been part of the wonderful 'Fam' that is and was the Warwick English and Theatre Studies Class of 2013. Tonight, however, it seems I am a) too hyper and b) too emotional to do so, and I shall therefore save any attempts until tomorrow morning, the dawn of my final day (ever!) in the dear old 'Bubble'.

In the meantime, I offer the picture below as evidence of my joy, and the t-shirt as an emblem of the essential circularity of things - because, in all sincerity, I wouldn't be here without Pride and Prejudice:

Yay for degrees and yay for Darcys!
I shall write more on the morrow; for now let me end with the hope that this picture will soon rest adjacently to one in which I am not only smiling but standing. Three weeks today - though I am already walking on sunshine!

Monday, 24 June 2013

Day 414 - an alternative form of alternative medicine

Although it was my intention to be humorous hen I titled yesterday's post 'medicinal hiatus', I was actually only half joking. Many people knowingly joke about the beneficial effects of the copious amounts of alcohol the consume in order to give themselves a licence for doing so - and indeed there are studies which show the good that a glass of wine or two can do for one's physical health. My object here is not, however, either to justify or to discredit the beliefs which surround the positive nature of booze. I merely wish to provide a slightly unusual perspective on such matters.

Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while, or who knows me personally, will be aware that I have spasms. They may also be aware that these spasms are provoked by fear. This fear is often associated with stress, but it goes deeper than that, stemming from a fundamental feeling of instability which is neurological as well as emotional. Furthermore, my cerebral palsy means that the information crossing my synapses is often incorrect, so I am left feeling unstable most of the time, however safe I might be in reality. This instability causes me to tighten up and spasm, which in turn causes yet more instability - and creates a situation which can be solved in two ways. The first of these is to treat the symptom, the spasms, which is what happens when I have botox. I receive injections that paralyse the offending muscles, and which then allow me to build up others with the aim of regaining stability. All well and good - except the botox wears off after three months, and I frequently find myself back at square one, not having passed go or collected £200, because all the physio I've done becomes impossible as soon as the spasms return. This notwithstanding (terrible pun!), the botox shows me what I can do and has taught me (and the many professionals with whom I work) one crucial lesson, confirming what we supposed - that when my body feels stable, I do not spasm.

The truth of this supposition was reinforced whilst I recovered from one of my earlier rounds of botox, and the sedation (I didn't have anaesthetic in those days) had not quite worn off. I felt well enough to get back into my chair, and Mama sat me up on the edge of the bed in order to help me do so. Then, with a little support from her as she stood in front of me, I got up and stepped over to my chair before swivelling around to perch on the edge, as though this was completely normal. I hadn't stepped (even with help) for some years, and the fluidity of my body amazed us both - but what became clear was that, with the lingering sedation clouding my habitual neurological responses, I wasn't hindered by my usual anxiety and could therefore access the relaxation I had before I developed my spasms as a teenager, along with the subsequent physical ability.

This brings me to the second possible solution - removing the cause, namely my fear. Unfortunately, there is yet to be a form of medication which has such powers...but this is where the alcohol comes in. I drink rarely, and when I do I stick to a little whisky (or 'whiskey', if it's bourbon). The thing is, I notice the same effect. I feel stable after a drink, so I don't spasm. This makes sense, because alcohol reacts chemically in our brain to alter the neurological responses to our environment - it just is slightly more helpful for me that it does so.

I'm working to find a sober equivalent, because I don't want to have alcohol as my only recourse. Twice a month is enough tipsiness for me, having kicked my other 'drugs', like baclofen. I like my mental faculties in tact. For now, though, I'm grateful for the effect it has - it gives me an excuse to be a student!   

Day 413 - medicinal hiatus

Tonight there isn't a post as such, but I didn't want to skip a day (though it is after midnight), so I thought I'd offer this image as explanation:

Having far too much fun with friends - normal service will resume shortly. Good night (or, rather, good morning)!

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Day 412 - chair surfing

I mentioned in my post about my new found furry friend that I view his entrance into my life as a blessing for a number of reasons. The first of these is the companionable bond that we have already begun to develop, even in the single, short visit I've had with him. So far, so typical, since who doesn't know the ancient adage 'a dog is a [wo]man's best friend'? The second, too, is rather obvious - I hope we can provide each other with mutual comfort, and offer consolation when times are rough as well as good. The third, however, may not be so easily discernible, although I did touch on it briefly; it is that I see my dear Darcy as an incentive which will compel me towards further physical improvement, post-graduation, because he deserves to have the best kind of walks.

It is perfectly possible, of course, to walk a dog when one uses a wheelchair - many of my friends do so, whether or not they have trained their pet to be an assistant - and that will be my method at the beginning. After all, I can't give other people piggybacks, but I've found an alternative which is almost as good, I think. Friends (and frequently PAs) stand on the back of my chair, and we zoom along, sometimes pausing to re-enact a certain scene from Titanic. In this way, the trust we share becomes reciprocal - because just as I would hope that I'm safe enough, for instance, not to be dropped when they help me out of my chair, so too must they hope that I won't tip them off the curb when we're going round a corner. It's brilliant fun - mostly because it makes people stare for entirely different reasons that they usually do!

Nevertheless, in the same way that my friends and helpers would love the novelty and thrill of 'chair surfing', as we call it, I would equally love to experience the simple joy of leaves and twigs crackling under feet as I amble along a woodland path - so, whilst Darcy seemed to enjoy burrowing into the gap between my seat and my armrest, and I would quite happily leave him there, I'm going to try and use him as an extension of my therapy programme, and take my excerise when he takes his. It'll take a while, and it'll be a boggy ramble, but I'm going to need something to keep me going past the big day - and the end of this blog!

I won't be fussy about where we cuddle, though, and I'm also hoping that he'll adapt to me as much as I'll adapt to him. True friends take each other as they are and, in being a true friend, he might just teach me to take myself as I am. Perhaps I'm not the only one who needs training, however grateful I am for the experiences my disability has given me, and despite my understanding that I wouldn't be the person that I am today without it. Maybe he can help me to further that understanding, as well as to reach future walking-related goals - and, in return, I can always teach him to do this:

Friday, 21 June 2013

Day 411 - some summer solstice schmaltz...

...and an abundance of alliteration. Now, Midsummer Night (since today marks the middle of astronomical summer, although meterologically it is the beginning) is perhaps not the festival one would most readily associate with schmaltz. That role is one which tends to fall to the celebrations designated as public holidays, such as Christmas and New Year. After all, you don't get Wham! lamenting the giving (and losing) of hearts at Stonehenge, do you? This notwithstanding, as well as being a fan of Shakespeare's eponymous comedy, I am rather fascinated by the histories of 'pagan' ritual, and consequently mark my year according to these older 'holy-days' alongside their slightly more modern counterparts, of both the religious and secular varieties.

That's not to say I've ever participated in any kind of revels on this day, though I might've liked to. One of the items on my 'Before Thirty' list is a visit to Wiltshire to join in the festivities. I think, however, that is possible to note the significance of a moment within oneself, in however small a manner. In deference to the day, therefore, I took the opportunity to reassess where I find myself, and to look both forward and back.

This was aided by two events, both comparably small in the grander scheme of things, but significant nevertheless. The first of these was the Warwick Open Day, unusually held in term-time, which allowed prospective students and their families to investigate the facilities on offer here. Not only did I realise that these potential Freshers would not be starting until the autumn of 2014, and are thereby four academic years behind me, but one of them was Emily, younger sister to my friend Lauren, about whom I have posted before. Cue a flying visit and much nostalgia. I can't quite believe how quickly uni has flown by, and that brings me to the second event - the joy of eventually procuring a much-sought-after measuring tape with which to ascertain the size of my head for my mortar board. Graduation is swift in its approach!

So, here is the schmaltz - on this solstice day I have been reminded of the speed at which time passes, as well as the compression effect which seems to occur when you glance back, watching other people do the things that you have done, because it feels like just yesterday that you did them yourself. With this in mind, I'm going to try and savour each and every day (nay, hour, minute, second) of the next three years, before I find myself sitting looking back on them and wondering where they disappeared to.

You now have my permission to cringe.

Happy solstice!   

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Day 410 - my very own Darcy

Whilst I may not have given the nuances of my course much space on this blog (prior to yesterday's post) I have certainly illustrated the passion I feel for my subjects - as well as the impact that both literature and theatre have had on my journey towards this goal. I could even argue that it is thanks to the arts that Walking by 2013 even exists because, without my love of books, my relationship with Starlight might never have begun - and I've certainly talked a lot about that, with more than a little help from Jane Austen. However, contrary to the implications of the title, this post will not consist of yet another diatribe on the brilliance of Pride and Prejudice - nor will it be a soppy homage to a newfound love interest who I think is the greatest being ever to tread the earth.

At least, not quite. Have no fear, Gramma (and Mama), I'm still single, so you've not missed anything over there in South Africa. In fact, you're among the select few to have seen photographic evidence of my post's topic. For, although I won't be welcoming a human companion into my life in the near future, I will soon be blessed with one of the canine variety - and, since he's male, I'm sure my dear readers will have little trouble guessing his name, if they don't know it already.

I'm not getting him until the end of July, so he's not directly related to this mission, but I can assure you that my efforts in the ambulatory sphere will not cease after graduation. Far from it - I even hope that some day we'll be able to stride over Hampstead Heath together and he'll be the one struggling to keep up with my exuberant pace. For now, though, I thought it was about time I uploaded pictures - and, because I'd rather keep his Facebook presence to a minimum until he's actually home with me, this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

So, blogsphere, meet my beloved Darcy:

With his breeder, Jan, after a flanneling down!
Having been to visit him once with his brothers and sisters, I can say he's gentle, quiet and reserved, so methinks I chose the right name! Hopefully you'll love him as much as I do!

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Day 409 - all for the love of literature (and theatre)

Two days ago I posted about CSC, a group of people who have contributed their efforts to my fundraising but had, until then, not been mentioned here. Today I'd like to do the same for the Department at Warwick whose ongoing support has been the constant undercurrent of my writings on this journey, but has yet to have a dedicated post - the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies. For you see, although I have often written of my love for my course (a joint-honours in English and Theatre), I don't think I have been clear enough along the way about the fact that I wouldn't be on this mission to walk to collect my degree (or even have a degree to collect) if it were not for the ongoing support of my department and the lovely people who work within it.

Due to the nature of my disability, I am at times (sans botox) in quite a deal of pain. This arises principally from spasms, and gives rise, in turn, to a need for extensions on assessed work, as well as modifications to examined situations - however begrudgingly I might admit it. Such measures would have not been possible without the support of the wonderful Academic Office staff (Caroline Griffin, Heather Pilbin and Sarah Box) or the feats performed by the brilliant Exams Secretary (Tracie Williams). Nor would they have been actioned without the blessing of the Head of Department (Catherine Bates) or the many forms signed by the various Directors of Undergraduate Studies (Liz Barry, Christiania Whitehead and Daniel Katz) with whom I have had the pleasure of dealing over the past three years. Then, of course, there are the tutors who have taught my seminars and given my lectures, sadly too numerous to mention individually, being spread across two faculties - but all of whom have been inspiring, inclusive and incredibly understanding. My gratitude knows no bounds, and I have learnt so very much. My primary ports of call, of course, have been my Personal Tutor (Carol Rutter, and Tess Grant in her stead for second year) and the other stalwart of our theatrical niche, Tony Howard - I truly do not think I would have survived without all three of you, and I want you to be aware of the extent of my thanks.

Having been so wonderfully supported, I really could not ask for anything more - and yet now I am compelled to let my gratitude spill out of the cup of intellectual enquiry and run over into the realms of personal, social interaction. For, as though the lengths to which the entire department have gone to provide me with academic assistance weren't enough, members of the faculty have also been responsible for a huge share of the fundraising which has allowed me to reach (and to exceed) my target amount, as of today. I am so incredibly thankful - and, since it was the course they teach which provided me with the inspiration to begin this quest, it feels rather apt.

Starlight got me to English and Theatre at Warwick, and now English and Theatre at Warwick has got back to Starlight. I will never forget either of those things.         

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Day 408 - stand before you walk, walk before you run

Today's post is a short one, but here it is, because I don't like reneging on promises.

This blog mainly concerns itself with documenting the progress I make in walking. It is, after all, called Walking by 2013. Nevertheless such a title, and the subjects I have covered here thus far, belie both the depth and breadth of what I have to do to prepare for the big day. My desired goal is indeed to walk and, specifically, to walk to collect my degree - but, in order to walk, I need to be able to stand, to balance. Equally, in order to stand, I need to have strong leg muscles and tendons - particularly quadriceps and hamstrings. My point, here, is that (although I am not at home, and consequently not walking) it doesn't follow that I am not continuing with my training. Far from it - because when I am in my chair, seemingly stationary, my body is in fact constantly moving. So I have learnt to harness this aspect of my disability and use it to my advantage.

A couple of leg jiggles, for instance, actually constitues a pretty good quads workout - as does an increase in the pressure of my foot on its footplate. If I feel my hip-flexors need a bit of a stretch, I lean forward as far as I can go, and then make myself work hard to sit back. These are kind of vertical sit ups or, at least, that's the closest approximation that I can give. I also do the horizontal variety before I sleep.

Of course, none of this is the same as a sustained effort at walking, but it provides a stop-gap - and it makes me feel as though I'm not slacking off, just like these daily blog posts bridge the chasm between now and the videos I'll put up from home. I only hope they're enough to satisfy my readers - but, when coupled with the notion that I expend roughly twice the normal amount of energy on any activity, thanks to my spasticity, I believe they will suffice.

Thanks for sticking around, in any case.    

Monday, 17 June 2013

Day 407 - the magic of the interweb

Welcome to the first of the every day posts I promised. Yes, it's late at night, but it's still the day after yesterday. I was determined to keep my word even if it meant staying up until 23.59, and I've made it, however quickly the day has flown by. It's amazing what one can find to while away the time when one has nothing to do, especially with the prevalence of the internet in our contemporary society - and that's what I'm writing about tonight.

Now, as is evidenced by the paucity of publications to this blog, I'm not a major techno-fundi (a South African term, sorry Brits!). I'm hardly ever on Facebook, I have a flip-phone with no internet access, which isn't even manufactured anymore, and my Twitter account was kept fiercely private until it became my main platform for this mission. In fact, I'd quite happily be utterly uncontactable except by letter, so do not by any means consider this post as a homage to the likes of Google...*cough* tax-dodgers *cough*. I am also extremely aware of the threats and dangers posed by our current level of (social)media saturation, such as the increased amounts of cyberbullying and trolling.

All this notwithstanding, my aim tonight is to highlight some of the positive potential of this technological expansion and growth, and the speed at which it is occurring. The thing is, however much of a neo-luddite I might profess myself to be, I owe an awful lot to the presence of technology within my life. If not for sophisticated computers, I couldn't even get around independently, because that's essentially what my wheelchair is driven by. Slightly less fundamentally (though not really, since I've just finished an English and Theatre degree) the online availabilty of academic journals has allowed me to circumvent the fact that I physically can't fit between the shelves of the Warwick library without fear of getting trapped. Perhaps most pertinent to this mission, the internet has allowed me to write this blog, without which I would have been unable to share my story, to raise awareness for Starlight, and to raise funds on my JustGiving page. The latter point brings me back to the end of my last post, where I stated that the updates over the next month would consist partly of gratitude towards those I have yet to mention - because all this focus on technology has been a preamble to just that.

It is possible to leave comments on blogposts, a feature I have come to appreciate immensely, because it has not only provided me with tangible evidence of the support of my readers, but has allowed me to forge new relationships. Some months back I received a comment from an IT consultant named Jonathan Cordwell, who works for a technological business solutions company called CSC. He expressed interest in my story, and it soon transpired that they were looking for a Warwickshire-based charity to support, as a team from the company would be competing in the UK Corporate Games this July - the events of which are to be held at Warwick. So he wanted to collaborate with me on fundraising, and add their efforts to mine!

I was amazed at the generosity of his idea and, consequently, the powers of the internet. We have never met, the company knows nothing more of me than what I post here, but they still wish to donate and support me - a kindness which I am sure I will never truly repay. The games are on 6th July, by which time I will have been kicked out of campus accommodation, and I won't be there in person to express my thanks. So, whilst I have been working with Starlight to create a few little surprises for the team (some of which they may already have received), I wanted to use one of these, my posts in the final month, and offer it as yet another token of my gratitude - to team CSC as a whole, but to Jonathan in particular for getting in touch, those many months ago. I really can't thank you enough - I only wish I could do so face to face but, since the internet brought us together, perhaps it is apt that this is how I now send you my support, and cheer you on at the upcoming games.

Go Team CSC!       

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Day 406 - the final countdown (one month to go!)

Eleven days ago I finished my degree. Usually, I don't like odd numbers, so it might have made more sense for me to post yesterday, when it would've been ten days. Today's date, however, marks a very important milestone - so I had to get over my obsession with neatness and write an update. As you can tell from the parentheses in the title, the 'very important milestone' is that which marks today, June 16th, as the beginning of the final month of this mission. To put it more simply: exactly a month from this date, if everything continues to go the way it has been, I will be walking across the stage in the Butterworth Hall to collect my degree.

My primary response to that realisation is wonderment; for once I do believe I might be lost for words. One should never, of course, trust those kind of statements - look at Shakespeare's characters, who say they can't speak and then summarily proceed to waffle on for half a page of blank verse - but, as a theatre student, I think it's my prerogative to take some artistic liberties. Words, after all, are my medium, either as an actress or as an author...but I shall endeavour to put these to good use.

What exactly does 'one month to go' mean? Well, principally, it means that I'm going to try and post an update every day, instead of in the shamefully sporadic manner of which I have recently been guilty - and these updates will consist of a variety of things. As I had a round of botox injections on Friday, my body is noticeably relaxed, which means that I can quite literally step up my training. So, during the part of the month for which I am at home (from the 26th June onwards), I will post video evidence of progress - evidence which has been sadly lacking for some time, as I raced towards other, academic deadlines.

For the next ten days (whilst I am still at uni) there won't be videos, but I have something to offer in their stead. I have repeatedly emphasised how aware I am of the fact that this journey has not been undertaken alone. Far from it - there have been many people, both individuals and groups, who have helped me along the way - and I want to take the opportunity and time that I now have to do proper justice to the impact of those I have not mentioned before. Some of them know, some will be completely unaware - but they all deserve acknowledgement, and I hope to give it to them.

In this vein, I shall also be posting about some of the strategies which have helped me through difficult patches, particularly my stress during exam time. I hope to illustrate in these posts that the lack of activity on this blog did not equate to a deviation from my mission but, on the contrary, that the time I did not spend writing was necessary for other forms of ground work.

Finally, amidst the training videos, the gratitude and the coping mechanisms, there lies a reminder that this project is not all about me and my personal goal. Rather, it is about the potential impact that the achievement of that goal could have on the lives of others. This impact will hopefully be more than just material, in the way that a Starlight wish is more than just what happens on the day, more than the toy or holiday a child receives. If I might be presumptuous, I would hope to show through my mission that, no matter what you're going through, it is possible to make your dreams come true, if only for a flickering moment of joy, like the brightness of the star in the Starlight logo.

The wishes that the charity grant epitomise that sense of possibility, and create precious memories for entire families to cherish - and I am aiming to impact upon that too - which brings me back to the material. Over the last year and a bit, this blog (and all the people who have supported it) has managed to raise £1,755 - 87% of my target amount, £2013. I can't quite believe we've got that far, but we have, a fact for which I will be forever grateful. This means that we have only £258 more to raise to reach that target - and, whilst that still feels like a scarily huge amount, if we've come this far, I think we can do it - just as I think I can walk across the stage. At some point over the next month, like 'The Little Engine That Could', my refrain will morph into 'I know I can' but, for now, the repetition of 'I think I can' is good enough to keep me going - because thoughts are powerful.

So, at the end of this post which marks the beginning of the final countdown, I have a few things to say:

I think I can walk across the stage. I think we can raise the money. I think we can do it together.

Bring on month thirteen of Walkingby2013.

Thank you. 

Monday, 10 June 2013

Day 400 - breathing deep and running free

Five days ago I finished my degree - it hasn't quite sunk in yet, so you'll have to wait a bit for that post - but that's why I've been absent for so long, mired in final exams. Anyway, tonight I have something else on my mind.

A year ago yesterday, I wrote this post for my friend Lauren, when she would have turned twenty - something I wanted to repeat this year. As you will have noticed, though, there wasn't a post yesterday. This wasn't because I didn't have time to write one, despite being busy - I did. It was simply that the coming of her 21st hit me harder than I expected it to, and I couldn't quite see through the tears to write a coherent piece which I felt would do her, and the day, justice. At first I wasn't sure quite why I was so affected but, as I thought about it overnight, I came to comprehend my sadness.

I think, however aware we both might have been about the slim odds that it would be so, we still managed to believe that we could see our future selves celebrating our 21sts together. After all, when you're thirteen and fourteen, twenty one is half your life again. It's dreamland - and dreaming is what you do when reality is too scary to face. So we dreamt...and I guess that, yesterday, the understanding that the reality had finally caught up with me was a little too much to least in writing.

This post isn't about grief, though. As is my custom, I lit a candle - and, whilst I was watching the flame grow, I had a thought. A thought which has come to me many times before, and which I try to remember, but of which I don't think I've ever fully caught hold. Lauren wouldn't want me to be sad. It sounds so vapid, and looks terribly trite written down, but I think it's true. She'd want me to have fun instead - after all, it was from her that I got my love for Cyndi Lauper, however difficult it is for me to listen to that classic song now that she's not here to hear it with me.

More than that, I like to think she celebrated her day, wherever her very particular bundle of molecules has ended up - and I like to believe that she's kept her promise and is watching each and every step I take along the road towards this rather outlandish goal of mine. Her dad said, all those years ago now, that he hoped she was 'breathing deep and running free' - and I hope, too, that I can remember her saying that the most important thing was 'to be happy' - because it's in Lauren's memory that I'm keeping going, and working towards 'running free' myself.

I hope you're proud, best pal, and I love you. Happy birthday.

A candle for your 21st