to the windmill

A few days after the stroke, the physio who came to work with me on Ward 31 discussed setting some goals. She suggested that it would help my focus and motivation if I gave myself mobility targets to aim for. I decided that, by mid April, my goal would be to walk the four miles along the Fylde coast that separate the pier at St Annes from the Lytham Windmill. At that point my left leg was completely dead, and I was getting about in a wheelchair, so it seemed quite an ambitious target. I’ve been thinking about this walk every day since then, and have been working hard on my leg and foot function with it in mind. It is a walk I know well: Tom’s family home is in St Annes, and it has become a sort of ritual with me to walk to Lytham each time we visit. Readers of this blog will have noticed the Fylde coastline popping up in my photographs at regular intervals over the past few years:

The walk I’d planned is a familiar one in a landscape I am very fond of. That bit of Lancashire faces South and West and in all seasons, the light along the coastline is amazing. I love the spooky endless sands; the sea birds; the empty dunes. And with its novelty cafes, its boating lakes, its miniature train and golf course, the walk also has a feel of the civic English seaside which I particularly enjoy . The length of promenade connecting Lytham and St Annes has been well-maintained since the late nineteenth century. There is some fine iron work, as well as some interesting architecture featuring the large pebbles which were once used to supplement the lack of locally available quarried stone.

Anyway, I had decided to attempt my walk on Saturday, joined by my Dad and Tom. I confess I felt incredibly anxious when we set off: I’d been working towards this for many weeks; four miles seemed a very long way; and my leg and I are not really very strong. I’d agreed that if I was feeling weird or exhausted I would stop and try not to feel that I’d let myself down. Tom had parked the car about two miles in near Fairhaven Lake, and was ready to run up to retrieve it. Here we are after leaving the St Annes promenade, passing the trees which you may remember from this post. I began to tire near the lake, but revived myself with a rest and the 35 grams of sugar that I discovered one can of coke contains.

Then it was back to the promenade for another two miles. Under normal circumstances, this walk would be an easy and a pleasant one for me. I would ramble up and down the promenade or along the beach, enjoying the familiar landmarks, pausing often for photographs, people or bird watching, and general taking-in-of-the-view. But on Saturday the walk was the antithesis of leisurely. By this point, I was only thinking about whether or not my muscles and my brain were going to be able to carry me to Lytham.

I have climbed in Glencoe, North Harris, and the Cuillin. I’ve walked hundreds of miles up and down the country, across bog and rock and bracken, braving tricky terrain in terrible weather. I’ve done a fair few difficult walks and climbs, but I would say that those last couple of miles between Fairhaven Lake and Lytham were the hardest that I have ever covered on foot. It was very good to round the corner after Granny’s Bay, and to finally see the windmill in the distance

(you can just see the windmill here to my Dad’s left across the green)

This windmill is a symbolic site for me for many reasons, and is a place associated with many good memories. On Saturday I added to its store of happy personal associations. I hope you will allow me a moment of hubris to say that I’m as proud of making it all the way to that windmill as of anything I’ve ever done.

The last nine weeks have not been easy. I have often felt removed from my life and detached from myself. I am someone who is used to being very busy, and now I have neither a working day, or any leisure time. My hours are filled up with grueling exercise, necessary rest, and the tricky activities associated with just getting through the day. The stroke in itself gave me a lot to deal with, and I’ve also found out about some heart problems and an autoimmune condition I had no idea I had. The long term implications of these things are uncertain: I have felt fearful, and found some things very hard to deal with, but Tom is always there to help me stay focused on the only really pressing business, which is getting well. This singularity of focus; the pay-off I see in small improvements; and the enormous pleasure I feel in getting small things done at all has meant that I’ve stayed largely positive and motivated. I know what depression looks like, and it is interesting to me that I haven’t seen a flicker of it over the past few weeks, even when things have been at their most weird and difficult. Through compromised mobility, I’ve begun to think about my own body, it’s behaviour, and it’s capabilities, very differently. I never thought I would find sickness or injury intriguing, but I have done, and continue to do so. It has been a horrible, insane upheaval, but I have not been alone: I have been moved and encouraged by so many people’s love, friendship and support, particularly that which you have shown through your comments and your correspondence. In fact, over the past few weeks, I have been heartened and reassured by many, many more things than I have been troubled by. I didn’t know I possessed the resolve or resources to get through all this, but I do. I would rather not have been weighed in the balance in this manner, of course, but I am very determined not to be found wanting.

I fear I may be beginning to sound like some sorta motivational speaker, or (worse!) one of Tom’s marathon training manuals, so I shall now stop talking in this vein. Suffice to say, it meant an awful lot for me to make it to that windmill, and it was a moment full of joy when I finally got there. I was physically fine, you’ll be glad to hear, but more than ready for the deluxe ice cream which Tom ran across the green to bring me, olympic torch style. I shall spare you the grim pictures of him racing in brown the following day. . .