milestone

dumplingview

I am extremely happy to tell you that I have passed my driving test! The process has not been easy and has never felt straightforward, but at last I’ve got there! The main issue is that my spacial awareness is somewhat skewy, and this makes things like road positioning and reverse manoeuvres rather tricky. I’ve failed two tests already (and on both occasions reverse manoeuvres were the issue). But John, my driving instructor, a man of genuine calmness and good humour, has lent me the confidence to stick at it. Meanwhile Mairi, my next door neighbour, has been enormously kind and incredibly encouraging. With the patience of Job, Mairi (who is a completely natural driver) has determinedly sought ways to make reversing make some sort of sense to my messed up brain. Well, we finally cracked it and I managed to get through the test yesterday.

I don’t need to tell you what a massive difference this will make to me. Driving is a really important milestone in my post-stroke return to independence, and just being able to get about on my own means such a lot. After the test yesterday, I got in my wagon, drove a few miles to Gartochan, and took Bruce for a walk up Duncryne (a hill known in these parts as “The Dumpling”). It felt pretty good to see this view.

ONWARD!

Islay snaps

sandbruce

1: Bruce loves the beach

portnahaven
machirbay
2, 3: Great photoshoots in my favourite locations

portcharlotte
4. tasty crabs claws at the Port Charlotte Hotel

billysbench
benchdetail
pimpernel
5, 6, 7: Discovering Billy’s Bench near Bowmore, and a Scarlet Pimpernel growing through the shingle at Portnahaven

skies

8. Fine weather for walking

crag

wazzstrider

9, 10: The first time in four and half years that, while away, I have not been bothered in one way or another by my health or my physical limitations. Am I really so much better? Or have I merely finally adapted to my “new normal”? Either way, it felt pretty good to climb up behind that crag, to see that view.

driving update

bunnet

Those of you who have been following my post-stroke progress may be interested to hear how my driving is going. Generally speaking, I have been for the past four years very dependent on others (specifically Tom) for basic travel, shopping, and all the other daily tasks for which a car is necessary, particularly in a rural location. It can be a wee bit frustrating at times. But today I passed a sort of independent-mobility-milestone and it feels pretty good. I have been learning to drive with a wonderful instructor (John) in a small car (an Aygo). I’ve been making reasonable progress, and have even been enjoying the process, though I do feel quite physically vulnerable at times. Our van is bigger and heavier, with poor visibility, and I am definitely much more aware driving it that my left arm remains quite weak. But with Tom I’ve driven in it to a few of the nearby villages, and am certainly improving.

lplate

Last weekend I placed a successful bid on a set of four dining chairs in the Glasgow Auction. Tom is away with work at the moment, so he could not pick up my spoils . . . I had to get there myself, and my next door neighbour, Niall, kindly agreed to accompany me. This morning I drove the van with Niall into Glasgow, retrieved my chairs, and drove back home again. WOOHOO! This may seem a small thing, but I can’t tell you how enormously exciting it feels to have got into the city under my own steam and to have accomplished this simple task (relatively) independently.

chair

This is the carver of the set, and it is really rather nice, as you can see. At £30 a pop I think I got a good deal: the seat pads need a bit of work, but nothing more serious than cleaning and re-stuffing the horse hair and embroidering new covers for a couple of the chairs – a project which I shall greatly enjoy. And perhaps when I sit on my chairs I can think about how good it felt to be driving again.

looking back

dumgoyne

2013 has been a very interesting year. For us, its main event was undoubtedly leaving Edinburgh, and moving out West!

home-1

It would perhaps seem to be a massive change, moving from a busy city to a sleepy steading just off the West Highland Way. But I immediately felt at home, and the fact that this change did not seem radical at all, suggests to me how well our new surroundings suit us. I am certainly wading through much more mud and cow shit on my daily walks, and I fear my appearance has grown a wee bit more raggedy and bumpkin-like, but otherwise things go on as usual. With more space. Which is nice.

hiya

2013 was a year of new contacts and collaborations.

26177
(Peerie Flooers on Ann Cleeves’ Shetland)

. . .with the BBC

wrap
(Nepal Wrap)

. . .with Rowan

theshepherd08
(Shepherd Hoody)

. . .with Juniper Moon Farm

racheldebbiekate

. . . and, perhaps most excitingly for me, with Gawthorpe Textiles.

I have been exploring texture much more in my design work this year, and have really enjoyed using simple garment shapes to explore the potential of cables and lace.

catkin21
Catkin

braidhill3
Braid Hills

portoleith8
Port o’ Leith

cramond
Firth o’Forth

But, as Autumn turned, I was bitten by the colourwork bug again, and now find myself once more on something of a colour kick.

lawersbanner1
Tea Jenny

sox-1
First Footing

threeinarow1
Toatie Hottie

And perhaps most importantly on a personal post-stroke level, during the latter part of this year, I can say that I have finally begun to feel reasonably “well” on a pretty-much consistent basis. There have been far fewer bouts of debilitating fatigue, and no weird neurological incidents. I spent 6 weeks engaged in the demanding physical task of redecorating our new home with no ill effects, and I can now plan on working a full day, walking Bruce, and performing any necessary household chores: a level of “normal” activity which was completely unimaginable in the years immediately following my stroke. Part of this sensation of wellness is perhaps that I have finally adapted to my post-stroke self, and have a much better awareness of my limits (for example, I still need 10 hours sleep to function normally), but it is also important to point out that, almost four years after the event, I am still seeing significant improvements in my gait and strength on my weak side, as demonstrated in this recent swants leap.

sweeksarego

Thankyou all so much for stopping by, for reading and commenting, and for supporting my work in 2013.

Here’s to a grand new year for us all! Slainte and Happy Knitting!

wazznbruce

Meall nan Tarmachan

Yesterday was a grand day to be out and about.

The hills were in their best Autumn colours

highlandbirches

. . . and Loch Tay was looking stunning.

sunlight

We had popped over to Loch Tay so that Tom could run the Meall nan Tarmachan hill race – part of a fantastic weekend’s running that’s organised by the Outdoor Centre in Killin. This is part of the world we’ve spent a lot of time in walking and camping – I’ve been up on the Ptarmigan ridge a few times (here I am, working on a sock up there five years ago), and Beinn Ghlas was the first Munro I managed to get up after my stroke. I remember that climb very clearly, and have to say that it was very nice to be back, and to go for a wee walk not feeling quite so disabled!

teajennylawers2

Tom and the other runners could not believe their luck with the weather.

off

From our view below we could see them snaking up the mountainside . . .

runners

. . . and Bruce and I spent a happy peripatetic hour enjoying the scenery around the lower slopes.

meallnantarmachan

lochtay2

Tom really enjoyed the race and the folk at Killin were fabulously hospitable, looking after the runners with lashings of tea and scones in the Town Hall. Tom ran the Great Scottish Run in Glasgow last weekend, and the contrast between the faceless corporate organisation of such big events and these lovely local occasions could really not be more apparent. We all had a grand day out in the hills.

celebration

And after several months of preparing to move, moving, decorating, and generally settling in, it feels very nice to be out and about doing normal weekend things again!

manfiredogbeer

Slainte!

swings and roundabouts

jesus

Jesus is back. He was discovered at a neighbour’s, lured away by the promise of full Scottish breakfasts, oodles of milk, and a general lack of workmen and disruption. He is looking a bit scraggy, but certainly no thinner . . . We are keeping the wee man inside for a few days and the neighbours have been politely asked to stop feeding him fried eggs and sausages.

But my hopes of a nice, quiet few days were dashed when an idiot joyrider drove a car straight into the side of our campervan, which was parked outside our flat. Happily, no-one was injured, so I can show you what happens when a speeding car hits a stationary campervan.

van

As well as crushing the chassis on the driver’s side of the van, the force of the impact pushed it backwards into a parked car behind. The damage is significant. After some back-and-forth with our insurers, they are coming to take it away to look at it this morning and I fear that will be the last we ever see of it.

I am terribly upset. For me, that van – which we refer to as the wazzwagon – is so much more than just a vehicle. It has played a crucial part in my recovery and gave me hope at a very bad time. It has enabled me to enjoy the landscapes that I love, and has taken us all over Scotland. It may be that it can be repaired, but I very much fear the insurance company are going to want to write it off. Poor wazzwagon.

van-1

box

boo

wazzwagon

vansky

wazzwagonsky

Please keep your fingers crossed for it.

different shoes

shoes

It is almost three and a half years since my stroke. Conventional wisdom about post-stroke recovery suggests that the first neurological adjustments and improvements after a brain injury are very rapid, and then tend to plateau off after the first six months. The importance of this “six month window” was often repeated to me by various medical practitioners, and I remember very clearly that one of my biggest fears in the weeks following my stroke was that, some point in the future, I was going to feel retrospectively guilty about not having done enough to maximise my recovery during that time. But every stroke is different, and looking back now, it seems to me that these arbitrary post-stroke “recovery windows” are really of most use to those involved in making ethical / financial decisions about resources and the provision of care. Telling someone who has just had a stroke that they have six months in which to complete the difficult work of neurological recovery to the best of their abilities is frankly not that helpful and can, as it did in me, heighten the general terror and desperation of what is already a pretty desperate time. Very little research exists into long-term post-stroke improvement, and, after the OTs and physios have done what they can, one is pretty much left to one’s own devices. But from my own entirely partial perspective I would say that, though the pace of recovery is certainly much slower long-term, one can still notice improvements two and even three years down the line. Though I am resigned to the fact that my damaged left leg is never going to enjoy running, and that my balance issues will probably always make riding a two-wheeled bicycle impossible, I still occasionally discover that I can do something now that I couldn’t say, six months or a year ago.

Footwear is incredibly important if you have a neurologically damaged leg and foot, and I have found that a really effective way of making improvements in my mobility is simply by changing shoes. A different pair of shoes can initially impede one’s mobility — the gait alters, the foot drags, the limb refuses to make the routine movements that it made just yesterday. But, although effectively heightening one’s own disabilites in this way can be both uncomfortable and annoying, walking in different shoes forces the damaged limb to adapt to different billateral rhythms and movements. The good limb also shows the bad how it has to deal with the minute alterations in weight and pressure forced upon it by its new environment. The good limb helps the bad one on its way.

I tend to walk around 4 miles a day, and until very recently, my choice of footwear was limited to sturdy boots with a lot of ankle support. I could certainly walk a little in flat shoes (with orthotics) but found it difficult and tiring. Often, after a mile or so in flats, my left leg would simply give up and revert to its dead, dropped state while the right one carried it hesitantly and judderingly along. Then, in February this year, I decided to try an experiment. I would alternate my footwear daily, completing my normal walking routes in several different pairs of shoes and boots, including flats. This wasn’t particularly easy, but I noticed that after just a couple of weeks that my left foot was adapting to the changes forced upon it more rapidly, and that I could walk further without problems in shoes I was unable to before. I also found that these continual changes and adaptations helped with other, non-walking activities, such as pointing my toes in order to put on a pair of socks or pants (a gesture I have found frustratingly impossible for the past three and a half years). Then I discovered that I was able to hop (albeit briefly and inelegantly) on my left leg for the first time since my stroke. I continued with the footwear changes: things continued to improve.

In March, I bought the pair of sandals that you see above (shamelessly copying Jen, who had recently acquired a pair). They are a great fit and very comfortable but when I first stuck my orthotics in and started to walk, my left foot flapped about, clown like, and after a mile or so I’d be limping and dragging the foot quite badly. But I gradually forced the unruly foot to adapt by including the sandals in my alternating-different-shoe routine. By April, they had become my go-to shoe, and since then, I’ve walked over 350 miles in them. Last week I encountered one of my good dog-walking buddies, an elderly gent, who I first met three years ago when I was still getting about with a leg brace. As we were passing the time of day, he remarked on how very much my walking seemed to have improved of late. I was aware of this, but it was nice to hear it. “I’ve just been wearing different shoes,” I said.

I am repeating this experience for those with brain injuries or other neurological impairments who have been told that their recovery period has a window, or that it is somehow at an end. I honestly don’t think that the work of neurological recovery or adaptation will ever be over for me. I will certainly keep forcing the parts of my body and brain that were damaged by the stroke to make whatever small improvements they can. I’ll keep on wearing different shoes.

Because I know you will ask, the sandals are made by Red or Dead, and are a style called “Jade”. The socks are a pair I knitted from Rowan Fine Art sock yarn, and are holding up remarkably well to their daily mileage.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 6,577 other followers