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

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.

still making

yarn

Worry not . . .I’m not going anywhere.

I produced yesterday’s post because:
1) this is my space and its useful for me to have a record of such decisions
2) this is your space too, and I like to be honest with you
3) some of you may have been expecting to run into me at various events, and it is only fair to inform you of my absence

Really, I am OK — I am just someone whose health can be annoyingly variable and who, because of this, has limited resources. I have to use those resources in the best way possible, and pondering the imponderable question of whether or not I may let someone down because I may be unwell at a certain point three or four or six months down the line is simply not a good use of these resources. I have to cut myself some slack, and yesterday’s decision is simply the best way for me to do this. I know that all of you living with chronic conditions, or who have experienced the interminable frustrations of recovery from strokes and other brain injuries know exactly where I’m coming from (a big shout out here to Jen and Dancing Beastie with whom I feel tremendous solidarity).

heels

The thing is, that however rubbish I am feeling, I cannot stop making stuff. I might have felt totally crappy last week (you know things are bad when getting dressed marks the day’s first insurmountable hurdle) but I still turned out a sweater and this pair of socks. The experience of grafting the sock’s last stitch, or of putting the sweater in to block, probably represents accomplishment at its most basic, but I can tell you that such experiences have saved me from some very black places when I’ve been at my worst.

socks

So I want all of you, my virtual friends, to know that though you might not find me at a show or in a class, you will generally always find me here. Still making.

busy-ness

It has been an up-and-down sort of couple of weeks here. On the down side, I have not been feeling my best; there have been many more bad days than usual, and, most frustratingly, I’ve had to cancel several occasions to which I was really looking forward. I suppose some sort of energy-fallout was inevitable after the eventful and fun-packed few days of Shetland Wool Week, but still, there is nothing that dampens ones spirits more than weighing up activities in terms of their toll on ones reserves. On the up side — and it is a massive up — I appear to have almost made a book. Entering ‘Kate Davies Designs’ in the empty box that asked for ‘Publisher Name’ on several forms has made me foolishly excited, and I am really enjoying this stage of the process, which is involving some contextual writing, and the singular pleasure of seeing my patterns, photographs, and essays all laid out on the page. Some great people have been integral to this project, and every day I find myself more happy to have the opportunity to work with them, more and more amazed that this is what I actually DO. So, despite the fact that I have found myself cursing the stroke more than usual of late, really, its all good.

I’ve not been talking here much about what’s been involved in designing this new collection or in developing the book (I suppose part of me has been concerned – not unreasonably – that something was going to occur to scupper the process) but I think you’ll all soon find that I won’t be able to shut up about it. In the meantime, here are five images which give you a wee taster of each of the books five sections, each of which contains an exploratory essay, photographic lookbook, and a pair of Shetland-inspired designs.

MORE SOON!

In other news, having found myself in the singularly odd position of not currently working on one of my own patterns, I have signed up for Woolly Wormhead’s Mystery Hat Knitalong. Woolly’s designs are so innovative and stylish, and her patterns so well written that I know I will enjoy the process, and end up with something amazing to stick on my heid! The only issue is that, having successfully applied a rigorous ‘work-only’ policy to my stash for the past couple of years, I find myself without any suitable yarn. It might be time to treat myself to a tasty new skein . . .

well-being

A post for my own benefit, and for those of you who are interested in how I’m managing, health-wise.

On a routine visit to my GP yesterday, she pointed out that it was the first time I’d been to see her since May. Given the regularity of my visits to her surgery over the past two and a half years, this is an unusual but entirely happy state of affairs. So, it occurred to me yesterday that I am, in general, doing much better of late. This does not mean that I am recovered or anything: I still get hit with the occasional horrible, crushing bout of post-stroke fatigue; I still find ‘noisy’ public situations difficult and tiring; I still suffer from sharp, intrusive headaches and have weird moments of vertigo; I still limp about with a tiresomely unreliable left leg and have to sleep ten hours a night to have any hope of managing the next day — but I am certainly managing. Tom puts it this way: the bad days are still as bad, but there seem to be less of them. Reflecting on how I’ve handled the past (extremely busy) few months, I genuinely feel that I have turned some sort of a corner. The key difference, or perhaps shift, is this: I don’t have to always think about how I am feeling. Because my energy levels were so low, I was constantly having to weigh up each day’s activities in terms of their inevitable toll. An afternoon would often turn on an impossible equation (you can cook a meal or take Bruce for a walk, but not both ) and there was no space around these (incredibly basic) getting-by activities for anything that would, in my new world, count as work (reading, designing, thinking, writing, responding to email, a trip to the post office). As well as being physically debilitating, suffering from any sort of chronic health condition takes up an awful lot of mind space. If you are thinking about how much energy you have left, or how much pain you are in, you really don’t have the resources to think about much else. I suppose all that I am saying is that I feel that I have more of those resources.

On reflection, I think this recent feeling – of being a bit more capable – probably combines two factors: first, the actual incremental improvements in my condition that I continue to observe, and second, my adjustment to the realities of my post-stroke ‘normal’ — by which I mean that I am much better, and much more rigorous, at making sure I have the right amount of sleep (this really is the key for me), at eating regularly to maintain my energy, at limiting the number of things that I say ‘yes’ to, and at just fitting the right amount of stuff into each day. Put simply, I take care of myself so that I can manage to do the things that are important to me. I suppose, really, this is a basic rule of well-being, that anyone, not just someone who has had a stroke, might adhere to.

catching up

I have had a “bad” few days full of headaches and fatigue. Looking at it, I suppose it is inevitable after a weekend full of (for me) strenuous physical activity, followed by a rather grueling set of medical procedures on my return home (all is well, so no worries there). In a way, the more generally well I get, the worse I become at dealing with these awful, crashing lows in which my brain and body just decide to stop working. I just want to get on with things! It made it all the harder that, on Friday, I was supposed to be attending an event in which I was really interested. . . it is so bloody frustrating! Still, even if I should perhaps, as the physios and OTs say, have “paced myself” better while we were away, I would not have missed my Hebridean swimming and cycling for the world. Personally, I would rather push myself to do the exhilarating things I really enjoy – the annoyance of a subsequently ‘lost’ five days is probably better than regret about a lost opportunity. It is important to say this here, 28 months into my recovery, so I can come back and remind myself of it later.

In the meantime, we have not, like much of the rest of the country, been celebrating our constitutional serfdom, but Tom did take part in the Perth kilt run – coming in at an impressive 12th place! If you’d like to see him, he zips by looking very serious at 1 minute 50 seconds into this video of the event.

Also, yesterday, my knitting comrades helped me to begin to put my kits together for Woolfest.

This is very exciting. I’ll be launching two new designs at Woolfest and will be able to tell you more about them very soon.

And the fabulous image at the top of this post is a silk scarf depicting an A to Z of rare sheep breeds. It was designed by US illustrator Caleb Luke Lin – I love his work!

A Jura triathlon

We spent last Friday and Saturday on the wonderful island of Jura — one of our very favourite places. The island was as beautiful and warmly-welcoming as ever (though we were very sad to note the closure of the beautiful gardens at Ardfin after their recent purchase by an absentee hedge fund manager). Our pricipal reason for visiting at this time of year is that Tom likes to run the Jura Fell Race (you can read earlier accounts of this race here and here)

To those of you who aren’t hill runners, this event will probably seem pretty bonkers. It involves seven hills, eight thousand feet of ascent, and sixteen miles over some really challenging terrain – bog, boulder fields and rough quartzite scree. But if you have been to Jura, you’ll see why Tom and so many other runners return year after year: the Paps are truly fabulous hills – the sort that demand you to get out and about in them (I climbed them once myself 6 or 7 years ago, but they would definitely be too much for me in my present circumstances). They dominate the landscape of this part of the Hebrides to the extent that it is hard to take a photograph without them looming large and pap-like somewhere on the horizon.

Here they are from Port Charlotte:

From Finlaggan

And from below on the Sound of Jura, where you can really get a sense of how these giant quartzite cones seem to rise spontaneously out of the water.

Like many other places in the UK, the Hebrides have recently been enjoying some glorious weather. At 9am on race day, it was already extremely warm. Warnings about dehydration and heatstroke were added to the usual comforting remarks about the dangers of the race.

And then they were OFF!

While Tom was away facing the Paps, I had my own (small) challenge to complete. For the past month or so, I have been practising my tricycling with the aim of being strong (and safe) enough to pootle on the road up to Three-Arch Bridge to see Tom come down from the hills toward the end of the race, and then cycle back with him to the finish line at Craighouse. This is a round trip of six and a half miles on three wheels – nothing in comparison to the task Tom was engaged upon, but certainly an undertaking for someone whose wonky left side is still suffering the after-effects of a stroke and hemiplegia.

I practised my ride the day before the race and reckoned I’d be fine.

On race day, I timed my tricycling to Tom’s predicted finishing time, and happily made it to the bridge just a few minutes before he appeared off the last hill. You’ll have to take my word for it that the tiny dot in the centre of the picture is Tom (the slightly larger figure to the left is a race marshall).

And here he is coming over the stile just before the bridge.

Obviously there are no pictures of our joint journey back into Craighouse, as we were both otherwise engaged (he on foot, me on wheels). The race was really tough in the heat, but Tom completed it in 4 hours 28 minutes – his best time yet! I was also very happy to complete my own mini-challenge, and happily without attendant bog-water, blood, and bruises.

The third element of our Jura triathlon was, of course . . . swimming! It is not often that one gets a chance to do this in the sea off the Hebrides, and for me it was an opportunity not to be missed, even without a proper costume.

This was the first time I’d swum in the sea since my stroke.

And it was my first time ever swimming with a dog.

The water was clean and clear and cold and full of fish. It was really pretty amazing.

To anyone who has survived a stroke, can I say: though we may never be able to undertake a feat of endurance anything like the Jura Fell Race, small physical goals that make our wonky bodies work just a little bit harder are just as important and certainly as satisfying. Try riding a trike! Swim in the sea! I know that I feel a joy at being able to complete these physical challenges that is more intense than any sense of accomplishment I felt before my stroke. These small things — like being able to take to the water, or accompany one’s partner in the final stage of an epic race — remind me just how grateful I am to still be alive.

b r b

Just popping in to say hello. I have been under the weather for the past week, and am now really rather unwell, and a bit grumpy to boot. I think I was getting used to my “normal” being a wee bit better than this . . . now, suddenly, I am back to feeling too tired to dress myself and it is really frustrating! There are things to be done!

At least there are some things which don’t require too much physical effort. Like playing around with this soft, Springtime palette, for example. . .

I often find myself feeling grateful for the solace-giving, restorative powers of sheepy wool and needles. When one is feeling ropey, knitting really comes into its own, I think.

machine

For one reason or another, I am currently unable to drive. I am also unable to ride a bike because, like many folk who have had a stroke, my balance is appalling. It is more than two years since my stroke, 26 months since I have gone anywhere under my own steam. . .

until today . . .

If I look like a terrified toddler on its first machine, then that is really how this felt. In fact, in a way, it was my first time on wheels – - at least for the neurologically re-wired left side of my body. Having never done this before, my left arm and leg had no idea what they were doing. I have exercised on Tom’s stationary turbo trainer, but a stationary bike is very, very different to a moving tricycle.

The trike is extremely stable and sturdy – exactly what I need. The whole of my left side is much weaker than my right, and, because my left foot is so wonky and unstable it simply refuses to stay in one place. Tom tethered my left boot to the pedal with a firm clip, so I was safe to let my right side start things off. Once my right leg had picked up some steam, the left one figured out what to do.

None of this was easy – because my left arm is much weaker than my right, my steering was (ahem) a bit erratic. And the physical and mental effort needed to get my left leg to push down is quite immense – I tried and failed to get up a small hill.

But, despite all these difficulties, I was having FUN.

Moving at speed on a machine after pootling about unsteadily and very slowly for two years feels quite amazing.

I think it will be a while until I’m able to ride about on my own – but then there will be no stopping me!

Hope you all have a lovely weekend however you are spending it!

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