I had said that I wouldn’t write any more posts until after Christmas but this last three days have taught me so very much. I didn’t walk anywhere. I didn’t go for a run. I didn’t do any strength training. I didn’t go for a swim. I didn’t practice the organ. I didn’t get any of my growing ‘To Do’ list done. But I didn’t just do nothing. No, I just stopped. I stopped the vortex spinning and I write this post because the vortex was having such a strong pull on me and I can’t for a second believe that I am the only one that had been succumbing to the pull of the vortex. That I was the only one in danger of slipping down into the deep dark river of despair. So I hope that this post will help pull you away from the vortex and back into life.

Just because life changes, even if for the worst, it doesn’t mean that life has to end. Far from it. It just means that life is different, but within that sphere of a different life, there will be much meaning and lots to be savoured and enjoyed. But in order to find it you have to reach out and grab at life with both hands. Don’t sit back wallowing in your pool of self-pity waiting for life to end. Get that mattress off your back and dive in head first according to your abilities. Seize the day. Seize the moment: for life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It is about learning to dance in the rain.

The sphere to which I refer is like a massive spinning vortex which represents the magnitude of the changes in your life, and grows with the magnitude and multitude of the problems and changes that you face. The sphere encompasses all that is clouding your brain at the moment: All that is weighing heavy on your shoulders; all that seems to be sucking your very will to succeed, your energy and your will to keep going into that vortex.

I can almost visualise the vortex as it defies gravity in front of my very face. A massive spinning sphere of a shiny greeny/blue colour and translucent in nature. I can see inside it. I can see the mass of stuff that needs to be done, the mass of unfinished business, and the mass of concerns that I have. Everything is just whizzing around so fast that it feels almost impossible to seize hold of even one single item, or even keep a visual track of it. Everything appears to be just that little bit out of reach and a little too hard to even contemplate. The harder I look, the stronger I feel the pull towards the vortex, and the closer I get the more irresistible the pull of the vortex becomes. I become drawn into the vortex and before I know it I have lost sight of the wood for the trees and my brain just starts to spin. Spin faster and faster and faster and quickly I become dizzy while my legs buckle under the weight of the burden. I am literally seeing my whole life flashing in front of my eyes and getting lost in the enormity of it. Becoming tired, too tired as the fire safety curtain of tiredness drops with its unrelenting weight dragging me into sleep, almost as if some form of a safety mechanism in itself. My body telling me that I need to rest but I can’t rest because quickly I wake, dizzy from my spinning brain. At times I feel that I am losing the very will to succeed and any belief in myself. Any belief that I will actually accomplish anything in what’s left of my life. So the vortex whizzes around sucking me dry of energy. I have ground to a halt in this spinning sphere of life that has grown too enormous to even see clearly.

As a Captain I was given a job that was huge in stature yet Colonel Simon Levey reported on me as such:

‘Captain Douglas has had an outstanding time. His workload would daunt a capable Major yet he gets on with the job with a smile.’

Yet here I am, 12 years later after brain surgery, radiotherapy and 12 monthly cycles of chemotherapy, apparently unable to stop the sphere spinning. Unable to stop my brain spinning. I had a huge amount to fathom: The diagnosis and ongoing treatment; MRI scans, oncology clinics, epilepsy clinics and doctors’ appointments trying to unpick the damage to the rest of my body that the treatment had potentially done; the prognosis and ongoing uncertainties. Has the tumour gone or hasn’t it? Am I healed or am I not? Psychological appointments. Refurbishing the flat in Doune: a new kitchen, a new bathroom, a new loo, repainting it, laying the floors, putting in a shower, fixing a leaky window, paying for it all and putting the flat into trust for the children; Preparing and resourcing my end of life plan just in case: the long term care plan, the will, my finances to provide for the children and Allie on passing. Continuing with the fight with the beast of a brain tumour to keep it stable, well out of sight and preferably well out of mind because it has gone, physically gone thanks to the aggressive treatment my wonderful oncology team secured for me, and my continuing obsessive perseverance with physical exercise, good food, and the practising of my faith. Then there is the best bit of all: trying to improve the lives and life chances of so many more people through finding ways to spread my story further to inspire, encourage and provide hope to so many fighting their own beasts while improving the lives and life chances of so many more people through the raising of even greater amounts of sponsorship; finding the support I need to do just that: to make cookery programmes, physical exercise programmes, meditational programmes, audio visual readings of the posts, while writing a book to capture the journey for the future, while taking on activity like litter picking, learning to play the pipe organ, learning to play golf, learning to dance, and learning to juggle to retrain the brain in cognitive and motor coordination so that my tumour can never switch me off. And on top of all that, there is of course Christmas: finding presents, buying presents, wrapping presents, posting presents, buying cards, writing cards, addressing and posting cards et al.

Birthday Muffins!
Birthday Muffins!

Just 3 days ago my massive spinning vortex was hard if not impossible to stop spinning, and standing outside that vortex and looking in at the scramble of whirling inescapable jobs that must be done to achieve something, anything with my life, I would sometimes start to feel a strong urge to step in further in the hope that I might be able to grab at something but find instead my head spinning faster and faster as I become dizzier and dizzier until I collapse exhausted, lacking in energy and slowly slipping away down the deep dark river of despair, the water lapping at my face, dragging me under in the belief that what I desire to achieve just simply cannot be done. That it cannot be done in time. The pull into the vortex can be strong, very, very strong, and extremely hard to resist, and once in I inevitably start spinning, my brain starts spinning and I lose sight of the wood for the trees and perhaps can’t even see the nose in front of my face. I lose touch, I lose heart, I lose faith.

But this is where my 5th F of Family and Friends being an essential element of my strategy to Beat the Beast comes in. At times like this I need somebody to help stop that vortex spinning. To unwrap me from its pull and put things into perspective for me. To unravel me from the maelstrom and show me how, with little baby steps, focusing on the most important issues first, incredible things can be achieved in time. And this is where Allie guides me. She finds a way to get me to step out of that vortex and to grab at life with both hands and pull hard to drag me out of the vortex. She cannot pull me out because I would just be sucked straight back in. But she can encourage me to find the strength in myself to break free from the vortex. .To find a perspective and a balance in life. To rest and recharge the already tired mind and body. To realise that I can achieve all these things, but only one bite at a time.

So in the run up to this weekend I was getting pulled further and further into my vortex and, unable to see past my mounting tasks and concerns, I was starting to sink deeper into the deep dark river of despair. I was at risk of getting swept away. Instead I was taken away to St Andrews for a break. It was Allie’s birthday weekend and so there was to be no post writing or challenge activity. Just relaxing and recharging while also squeezing in the Strictly Come Dancing Final. I really didn’t want to go. The river had a hold of me and was trying to sweep me away in my despair but I knew through it all, that Allie deserved this break so I hauled myself out of the river and stepped out of the vortex. As we drove up to St Andrews the fire safety curtain fell and I struggled to stay awake, but the further that I managed to step away from the vortex the slower my brain span and we found moments of fun, moments of relaxation, moments of life. As we walked along the Chariots of Fire beach in our wellies kicking water up out of the surf on a cold and blustery Saturday afternoon so we turned that moment into dancing on the beach. We tried to remember the Ceroc moves I had been taught previously so danced and laughed on the beach. After Choral evensong in the beautiful St Andrews church we went for tea in the only shop that was still open on this cold December Sunday evening. A sandwich in Starbucks for Allie’s birthday tea seemed to me not to be enough. So I made an excuse about looking for the loo as I asked the staff if they had any candles. ‘No’ came the reply but Tesco just up the road does. Matches? I asked. ‘No’ came the reply but Tesco will. So I found myself mouthing some feeble excuse to Allie about flapjacks before sprinting up the road for candles and matches. A 4 and a 5 candle found I was back in Starbucks and selecting a blueberry and a cranberry, white chocolate and cheesecake muffin. I needed to say no more. The team understood my intent and as I took my seat back with Allie so came the muffin cake with 45 candles to blow out. I sang a muted happy birthday in this empty café as the lights of the Sunday evening traffic swept passed the café window. It was simple but it was fun and it was seizing life. I was no longer spinning. I was happy.

I had been praying so fervently for some time now and this weekend I was starting to realise just how well I was coming out of treatment, how the tumour appears to have disappeared and how the little niggles resultant from the treatment, such as the dry eyes and skin, the piles and the inflamed digestive system appear to be gently improving. So despite the vortex and my inability to stop it spinning, I was sure that my prayers were being answered but I wasn’t sure why until Allie showed me a quote from Tim Keller. ‘Decorous prayer has its place, but desperate prayer, from the heart, is something that God honours.’

As for the vortex? Allie reminded me of a poem by Rudyard Kipling that I printed off and pinned to the wall above James’ bed and talked through the meaning of with him every evening. Night after night after night as he grew and struggled to understand and manage his emotions as a young boy. It sank in and now it was time for me to heed my own advice from this wonderful poem:

‘If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!’

With Allie’s support and encouragement, as well as that of my family, friends and the children, I am quite sure that, baby step by baby step, I will be able to tackle the enormity of what lies before me one bite at a time while grabbing life with both hands. There are many exciting developments in the pipeline which will help enormously, so watch this space. The next post will be after Christmas or even the New Year, lots to do but lots of life to grab so you never know!! Perhaps I should apply for the next series of Strictly Come Dancing. After all that would be the most excellent cognitive and motor function coordination training! But for now I will continue to walk forward baby step by baby step and with dancing on a beach, muffins and candles, I will learn to dance in the rain.

Yours aye