I was away for a couple of days last week on a team building thing.
TEAM BUILDING. Now, there are two words to strike fear into the heart of any office worker. Luckily, we don't do this sort of thing very often and it really wasn't as bad as I feared.
Amongst all the usual fun (treasure hunts! presentations! a quiz!), we had one session on the first morning where we were split into teams and asked to spend some time thinking about our "values". To help us, we were given a sheet of paper containing a hundred words to help inspire us: joy, integrity, curiosity, intelligence, perseverance.... things like that (although I do wonder if anyone ever actually picks words like holiness or serenity from that list...).
I was slightly surprised when most people in my team started drawing out different lists for values for home and for work. I really don't make that distinction: my values are just my values. Then again, that might just be me. After all, I could never understand it back in the day when people said they hated the idea of a casual dress-code in the office (Ah, how The Gap loved those times). These people liked to make a clear distinction between their time at work and their time at home, and apparently this becomes a lot more difficult if you don't change clothes between the two. Um. If you say so. Although, is that really a good enough reason to wear a tie?
After some discussion, the teams came back together to discuss the values we'd chosen and to see if we had (m)any in common.
"Honesty...." began the spokesperson for one team
I jumped in. "...is such a lonely word?"
Everyone turned to look at me blankly and a confused hush fell across the room.
Well, here's what I learned at my team building event: if the people you work with aren't Billy Joel fans, then you're probably working with the wrong people.
One of the things they never tell you about growing up is that at no point in your life do you actually feel as though you've grown up. I wouldn't go back to being seventeen again for any money in the world, but at the same time, I still find it a little difficult to believe that I'm apparently now a forty-three year old man. When did that happen?
I'm not really sure what I wanted to be when I grew up. I suppose I still don't really know. At one point, as a very young child, I remember being dead-set on becoming a motorcycle policeman (which would have had to be over my father's dead body: as a doctor who attended more than his share of road traffic accidents, he naturally wasn't that keen to have any of his children on a motorbike. A few years later, I completed one of those career advisory questionnaire things and it suggested that I should give serious consideration to a career as a zoo keeper.
Frankly, I was as surprised and disappointed as anyone that I ended up in a career in IT.
Still, it does look like I've always quite liked hats and animals.
I think I'm really styling out that cowboy hat, to be honest. I'd totally wear that outfit again.
And yes, that guitar is upside-down and no, I wasn't some kind of lost, teenage troubadour. Yes, that comic is upside-down too. It must just be how I roll.
On the train on the way home from London last night, we were joined in our carriage at Leicester by a teenager, He took the opportunity of a sparsely populated train to park himself in first class to plug in his phone and make use of the free WiFi. Rather than be amazed at the fact that he was able to charge his phone and connect to the internet on a train at all, he was more concerned and irritated by the fact that the connection wasn't quite reliable enough for him to have a Facetime chat with his friends. Isn't it amazing how quickly things change and just as amazing how quickly they're taken for granted? The same youth also didn't seem to be able to afford a belt for his trousers. I appreciate that it's the entire purpose of fashion to confuse and anger the older generation.... but really?
Hey! Good news! I think I've worked out where my never-ending infection is coming from.
Quick recap: over the last few winters, a cold has turned into a lingering chest infection that seems to take months to shake off. This year was initially no different, and my GP was good enough to pretty much put me straight onto to antibiotics in an attempt to shorten the whole process. This was, she told me, likely to be my fate every winter as long as I was on immune-supressing drugs. Great.
That's the thing about the disease modifying drugs used to treat MS: they try to slow down the progression of the disease by weakening the ability of my immune system to attack my central nervous system. It seems to work, but a weakened immune system obviously leaves the door open to any and every passing infection. What a choice.
This year, the chest infection seemed to develop into something else, a swelling of the throat and tongue with little white nodules. I was treated for a fungal infection (three times), but it didn't seem to make any difference. I've been working pretty long hours for the last few months, so perhaps I'm just run down. A couple of weeks off with an 8 day break in the Maldives can't hurt.
It was a lovely break, but it didn't shake off my throat problem. I thought it had gone, but after my weekly injection, it came back before I even had a chance to think about the 30 degree drop in temperature waiting for me when I returned to the UK.
By this point, my GP is baffled. I am fit and healthy with a strong pulse and no obvious signs of infection. My throat and tongue were swabbed for a fungal infection and came back completely normal... and yet, here we are. This damn thing has been hanging around for months. It's affecting my voice, so I've had to stop going to choir. It's not especially debilitating and it's no longer in my lungs, but it is certainly BLOODY ANNOYING. Could it perhaps be something to do with the Avonex I've been injecting every week for the last 8 years?
Now that I thought about it, this confirmed a pattern for me: mouth and throat start to feel like they're getting better, then I inject and it comes back, getting better over the course of the week until I inject again and then the cycle repeats. I spoke to my MS Nurses - my gateway to the neurology team at the hospital - and they brushed me off, telling me to book a blood test and to wait and see (as if waiting and seeing since September wasn't quite enough waiting and seeing...)
I injected again on Monday night, and literally within an hour, my throat swelled and the white nodules were back all across the back of my mouth. This is surely not a coincidence. I spoke to the nurses again the next morning. It appears that 8 years is a long time to be injecting Avonex and my body might be developing some sort of a reaction to it. The told me to stop injecting immediately and we'll see where we are in a month and if things clear up.
I suppose this is progress. It's possible that my MS might strike in the period when I'm not covered.... but if it gives my body a chance to finally shake off this bloody infection or reaction or whatever it is, then that's got to be a risk worth taking, hasn't it?
This coming week will be the first time in eight years that I haven't injected myself. I've injected in a camper van in Australia and New Zealand, in a tent in Africa, in Cambodia, in Vietnam, in Canada... all over the world in all sorts of places. But next week, it stops.
What a palaver.
Meanwhile, as long as this has stayed out of my lungs.... marathon training has continued as normal. Because, you know...
2018 is a marathon year, with the London Marathon already looming large in the diary.... less than 110 days to go already....so apparently we’re now the kind of people who prioritise a good night’s sleep and a double parkrun in the morning over celebrating the arrival of the New Year.... which is exactly what we did on New Year's Eve, shooing our dinner guests out of the door before 11pm and making sure that I was all tucked up underneath my duvet less than fifteen minutes later.
A lot of people in my office are mystified as to why anyone would want to be up early doors to run one parkrun at 9am on New Year's Day, never mind two... but genuinely it was an enormous amount of fun with lots of our friends and a lovely, fun run atmosphere. It's probably not for everyone, but apparently it is for us. I loved it. My younger self is horrified that I prioritised my running over my drinking, but that's his problem.
Here are 9 pictures of things that made me happy in 2017. Thanks for being a part of it. Running features quite heavily, just as I imagine it will in 2018, with lots of races already booked and the marathon programme underway. My legs have been getting stiffer just recently, and I've just been prescribed a muscle relaxant to try to ease them off as I sleep. Rather than encouraging me to think about stopping running, actually this encourages me to keep going. I might not be as fast as I would like, but I rather think that it might be very difficult to start going again if ever do stop.... it might come to that, but we're not there yet and there's a few more miles left in me yet.
Thanks for all your love and support this year. 2017 was a pretty rubbish year, all things considered and I'm not sure that any of this would be possible without the support of our friends... whether they be near or far, online or in person.
May each day of 2018 be better than the last for you and for yours.
Let's try to keep on keepin’ on for another twelve months, eh? Why not?