Grief and survival


On Friday July 7th, 2017, at 22.05 I heard the house phone ring, and leaped up to answer it.

The voice on the other end confused me.  It sounded like my brother’s, but was too young.  For a while, I felt as if I was in a parallel universe, or had gone backwards in time.  I rather hesitantly asked who this was, feeling embarrassed and sure I should actually know.

The voice on the other end told me that this was my brother’s youngest son.  He told me he was ringing with sad news – that he had found my brother dead in his bed after being alerted by someone (my brother’s long term partner) who had been expecting him for the week-end.

What happened next was somewhat unreal.  I heard someone crying, and realised it was me.  I sort of felt my way to the sofa, aware that I was standing and my legs were giving out under me.  My husband quickly realised what had happened, and helped me to sit beside him, offering much needed physical contact. I had trouble taking in the news.  Even though I knew he had been ill, the shock hit me like an express train.  For a split second, I wondered if this was a joke (but my nephew would never be that cruel), or maybe I was dreaming (but no, this felt too shocking to be a dream).  I wanted time to adjust. Some kind of warning, as there was for both Mum and Dad, who were taken into hospital and died later.  It felt so final.  One day, my brother was alive, and the next he had gone to bed and never woken up.

I spent the next day in a daze, but I had things to do.  Most pressing was the fact that this was the week-end, and at 9 am on the Monday morning I was due to begin examining a PhD in another part of the country.  My husband and I quickly agreed that I could not let the candidate down; to have one’s viva cancelled at the last minute would be awful.  And so, I packed my bag for travel on Sunday.  I met the other examiner at breakfast on the Monday morning, and warned him I might not be at my best.  The viva went smoothly, but I was relieved when it was over and I could go and rest on a nearby beach (which just happens to be where my parents used to live when they were alive together).  I could not actually rest, however.  I wandered around, like a small boat adrift at sea at the mercy of the currents.

I had arranged to stay with friends that night after the viva, and travel home on the Tuesday.  On the Tuesday morning, I began sneezing and streaming, and put it down to hay fever.  By Wednesday evening, after a stint of grandchild sitting, I developed a sore throat and started to feel unwell.  Then followed a long period during which I tried to keep on doing things (I tried lying in bed but it just made my back ache), battling a feeling of being totally wiped out, headachy, hot and cold, a throat like the night of the long knives, and then the cough set in.  Two weeks on from the first symptoms, I still feel lousy but the cough is loosening up a bit.  I have a GP appointment booked for tomorrow.  The phrase ‘shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted’ comes to mind.

During this time, I have had two lots of people come to stay, which was all pre-planned.  I could have asked them not to come, but I didn’t.  It was lovely to see them, even if I did find it harder than usual.  I went to bed early, and got up late.  People understood, for which I am grateful.

However, what this period has reminded me of, quite apart from how grief hits the body and not just the tear ducts, is how some people some of the time get it right in how they deal with others’ grief, while some people some of the time seem to miss the mark.  Not that there is a right and wrong way.  We all do grief differently, whatever the textbooks tell us.  Some of us want to talk, others want to be alone or avoid talking about their grief.  Some want to be touched physically, while others recoil from it.  All of this is normal.  However, from my own perspective both as someone who has been through grief a few times now and who has worked as a therapist with people who are grieving, I can offer a few tentative pointers about how to respond to others’ grief.

First of all, do offer your condolences.  Some people find it very hard to know how to do this, but I have been touched by simple Facebook messages saying ‘I was so sorry to hear about your brother / so sorry for your loss, Bonnie,’ followed by something caring like ‘I do hope you are able to take care of yourself at this difficult time.’  Unless you know the person shares a particular spiritual or religious belief with you, resist reassurances like ‘He is now up in heaven with the angels,’ which frankly makes me want to puke as it is based on mere superstition and is thus not at all reassuring to me.

Next, when you meet the person – and this is the really difficult one, I know – don’t run away / cross the road / hurry off with some lame excuse.  You might feel really awkward and wonder what to say, but as with the condolences I personally have appreciated it when my husband (who is a complete star) asks me how I am feeling, without expecting me to be OK, and then listens rather than talks.  Asking if the person wants to be alone, or with people, in silence or talking can also be a good start.  Would the person appreciate a short walk with you?  If they want to talk, what do they want the conversation to be about?  Would they prefer to avoid the topic of the person they have lost?  Or maybe to talk about her or him?  You can reassure the bereaved person that they don’t have to be a particular way (some of us laugh, somewhat hysterically, or to take a break from active grieving).  Tell them they can ramble on, or be silent, talk about something very specific that is bothering them, or watch a romcom (or anything else, for that matter).  But don’t, whatever you do, try to fix anything.  That is not your job.  If they regret that row they had in the morning, just listen, show you care about how they are feeling, but don’t give false reassurances.  Or any reassurances.  Oh, and don’t use this as an excuse to tell the bereaved person all about your third cousin twice removed, who also lost their brother / sister / parent / lover.

Be honest about your availability.  When someone is bereaved, typically the family swarms round them, not wanting them to be alone for a minute.  But families can’t usually keep that up.  By all means, stay the first night if your loved one isn’t ready to be alone.  But make it clear that you are offering this for the first night.  Oh, and do ask.  They might not want it.  Don’t tire yourself out so that you feel resentful and then start getting snappy.  That simply is not worth it, to anyone.  But when you can, offer practical help.  Is there anything that feels too much right now, that you can reasonably take off the bereaved person’s ‘to do’ list?

We have yet to have the funeral for my brother – another hurdle to face.  His ashes will be committed at sea (he was a naval man), but I don’t need a place to go in order to feel close to him.  As with my parents, I find myself saying and doing things that are like him, and I have a little chuckle to myself when that happens (usually followed by tears, but that is normal).  In addition to the sea he loved a particular part of Yorkshire, where he worked voluntarily on a railway.  I might go there some time.  My brother loved trains.  The last time I saw him, he was waving me good-bye on the station as my train pulled out.  That is how I wish to remember him.  Waving to me as I pull out of a station.


Good enough

view from my study

Today, I have been mostly grateful for just being good enough.

Now, that is not a statement I could have made a few years ago.  You see, I am – no, I used to be – one of life’s perfectionists.  Let me tell you two things that happened this week.

I have to go back a bit. In January, I started two things.  I joined a choir, and I gave up alcohol.  I wasn’t sure how long I wanted to give up alcohol for, but I joined Dry January to begin with.  I had done it before, but this time I had a different mind-set from the start.  I had been reading more about how there is no safe level of alcohol, now that the World Health Organisation has acknowledged it is a carcinogen (cancer-forming). For anyone who wants to read up about this, there is a recent article here:  True, people usually under-report their drinking, making most of the epidemiological research flawed, but I was uneasy about taking that risk.  Then, I was aware that by drinking (and I only drank at week-ends mostly, but then I went over the ‘recommended’ limit), I was peeing out calcium and other nutrients, which is not good for my osteoporosis.

During Dry January, which is supported in the UK by the charity Alcohol Concern, I realised I would like to go on further this year. By chance, I saw a posting in the DJ Facebook group that mentioned another group called One Year No Beer.  And so, in February, I joined that, started their 90 day challenge, and have not looked back.  They have a Facebook group (, and run challenges for which a charge is made but other resources are available to assist you in making the change.

I was, frankly, amazed at what changed for me.  I could list everything, and certainly while my health has steadily improved in ways I could not envisage, I think the most surprising changes have been in me, and in my relationships.  My husband says I am much nicer to him, for a start!

As I said, the other thing I did in January was to join a choir; the Hallé Choral Academy.  The Hallé choir is a highly respected amateur choir (, but that was not the one I was singing with!  As a rusty older woman, I joined the Academy, which ran for the first time this year from January to June, culminating in a performance at the amazing Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, which was a week ago today (June 23rd, 2017).  It was the most amazing feeling, to be standing up singing in the choir stalls, behind the orchestra, to about a thousand people; an experience I would not have dreamed was possible until I heard of the Academy and joined it.

Which leads me on to this week.  Or rather, first of all this month.  As part of On Year No Beer, a wonderful participant called Sally Wilkinson, who runs her own juicing and fitness business (, very generously took those of us who committed to do so through an amazing process, building up to a five minute ‘plank’ over the whole month.  I completed that today, with much huffing and puffing and going to my knees and what-not, but I did it.  One might say, I did it my way!

The other thing I did this week was to audition for the Hallé choir.  Some might say I was mad, and I might have been, given that I don’t have to put myself through stressful auditions at my time of life, but I realised that if I did not have a go I might always wonder if I could have done it.  To cut a long story short, my nerves got the better of me, and I was turned down.  It felt like a blow to my ego, but my lovely hubby was proud of me for trying, and he was right.  I had a go.

What both of these experiences reinforce for me, is that whilst I do not actually believe the rubbish spouted about anything being possible (we all have limitations), I do know that if you do nothing, nothing happens – or rather, what happens is not within your control.  I had a go.  I didn’t get into the choir, but that means I am not over-filling my time even more than I already do.  And I probably will never again do a five minute plank, but at least now I know I can do a minute.  I couldn’t have done that before.

And I’m still not drinking.  And do you know what?  I don’t miss it.  I am living life, with bells and whistles.  And I am not peeing out my calcium.

Light in the darkness


I have been troubled of late.  Recently, there have been terrorist attacks in my home city of Manchester (on May 22nd 2017), and then when I was in London recently there was another one on June 3rd – in an area where I had been walking only the day before, and through which I had travelled by train just earlier that day.  Both were horrific attacks, condemned by all decent people.  Both cities responded with strength, love and determination to overcome the trauma that had hit them, but the attacks have left their scars.

I also have been troubled for much longer however, by what I see as a creeping move towards an ‘I’m alright Jack, pull up the ladder’ kind of mentality.  Interestingly, this is in contrast to the outpourings of love I have seen in Manchester since the attack.  But I can’t ignore it, and I can’t ignore the creeping racism that comes after each such attack.  It seems that we can only love each other if we hate someone else.

Recently, I decided that I need to get up earlier, in order to develop a morning routine for myself that allows for me to engage in my spiritual practice, as well as some morning exercise and some chance to get some writing done (I am writing a novel as well as this blog).  The first day did not go well.  I was dizzy all day, and seriously wondered if I was doing the right thing.  But it was great to be able to meditate early in the day, for twenty full minutes.  Today is day four of my new routine, and in my meditation this morning I found as usual that my mind wandered.  Today, it is hard not to be pre-occupied as Britain goes to the polls.  I found myself feeling uneasy.  Being interested in the mind-body connection I decided to follow the feeling that had developed in my stomach, to see what it was telling me.  I quickly recognised the familiar feeling of not getting it ‘right’, not being good enough, and wanting so much to be good enough.  Sigh.  I often say that one of the benefits of getting older is that I no longer feel the need to please and impress – but this is only partially true.  I am much, much better at being honest about my own needs than I used to, but I have a long way to go.  For example, yesterday when I was in a Nordic walking group for the first time (they had all been doing it for years) I was at great pains to do it properly, to keep up, and not to complain about my hip hurting.

Once I recognised this old familiar pattern today in my meditation, I could let it go.  Immediately, I felt easier, and the tension in my stomach disappeared.  I found myself smiling serenely as I went deeper into my meditation.  I was just enjoying the bliss when two things happened:  my husband called up urgently, reminding me that we needed to vote before I went off to my clinical supervision; and the phone went very soon after this, offering me a place in today’s beginners’ Pilates class.  And so, I only got 15 minutes in, instead of 20.  But 15 minutes well spent.

Perhaps I will eventually learn to be more loving and kind to myself.  I know full well that I need it.  Someone recently wondered aloud on Facebook how to foster resilience in the face of these terror attacks.  I responded from what I know, as a Quaker:  Be open to the Light, in both yourself and others.  So what does this mean?  Well for me, if I take this intention seriously I have to look for what is good in life, and welcome it with gratitude – not ignoring the pain and suffering of others, but doing what I can and not getting caught up in suffering along with everyone. That is hard for me.  I tend to feel others’ pain, perhaps a bit too much.  But if I don’t heal my own spirit, how can I be there for others?  And how can I bear witness to the Light within each and every person I meet?  That Light might seem pretty small and distant in some people who are intent on hate, but I do believe it is there somewhere, if only as a potential.  Some people have been so badly hurt that they find it hard to reconnect with the place in themselves that was once there as a baby, when they first learned to smile at a smiling face – the place of recognition that can blossom into love.  We all had that innocence once.

And so, I will stay connected, if falteringly, to the Light within, the Light around us, the Light in others I meet – the Light that connects and binds us to each other, in love.  And I will keep on working on not needing to please.  There has to be some advantage to getting older, right?

Worker bees


I was feeling a bit miserable when I woke up this morning.  Today I have been missing one very important thing about my former work life; that wonderful feeling of being involved in the transformation of lives.  I felt proud of each student as they left around this time of year.  They were all, without exception, very different from when they started their courses three years previously.  I was a part of their transformative learning for thirteen years, and it is a hard thing to let go of.

I became curious about why I didn’t feel like this last year.  Well, last year retirement was still new and I was still finding out what it meant, I guess.  We had not long got back from our ‘big trip’, and I was delighting in having time to pursue all kinds of hobbies, including creative writing; I was just finishing off a completely free futurelearn course this time last year (If anyone fancies following that one up you can find it here:  I was all fired up, after that.

So, I had a buffer last year.  This year, I miss my students.  Funnily enough, I am meeting one of them later this week, which is nice, but I miss that sense of purpose I had – a reason to get up and get dressed each day.

Of course, another reason I might be feeling a bit low is that it has also been a pretty hard time recently for those of us who live in Manchester.  On May 22nd a suicide bomber killed 22 people at Manchester Arena, at an Ariana Grande concert.  Some of them were parents collecting their kids, and the youngest victim was eight years old.  Manchester folk won’t be defeated, and there have been many wonderful examples of random acts of kindness following this awful event.  The worker bee (above), the symbol of Manchester for many years, has become a symbol of hope after hate. But the atrocity has shaken many of us.

Well, I never promised you that every post would be positive, did I?  I don’t think I am depressed, but I know I have to get a grip so that I don’t become it!

Anyway, I decided today to get on my bike.  I haven’t ridden it for about a year, since my diagnosis of osteoarthritis in my right hip.  I had read or heard that cycling was not a good idea, but recently I have seen a physio for my left shoulder impingement, and I asked him for advice about my hip.  He kindly gave me several booklets from arthritis research ( In them, I learned that cycling is actually encouraged, which perked me up no end.

I thought I had better take it easy, so I pushed it up the hill from our house, before getting on and peddling.  I had forgotten how to use the gears, added to which the chain was rusty (note to self:  keep oiling!), so it took a bit of getting used to (I pulled on the break instead of changing gear at one point – luckily did not go over the handlebars!).

I went past an old lady, who was sitting on a bench.  She had a dog, who was sniffing and wagging nearby, as they do.  I said a cheery hello as I cycled past, and then I decided to turn round and have a chat.

I found out her name is Selina, and she is 89.  I asked her if she knew what the internet is.  She said yes, though she hasn’t used it.  I explained the concept of blogging, and she gave me permission to use her picture and tell her story.  Selina is a twin.  Her sister’s name is Florence, and they live together, not far from me (their mother was called Selina Florence).  About ten years ago, she fell and broke her hip, and was in hospital for about ten weeks.  Her daughter, who is in her fifties right now, took the dog in, and when her mother came out of hospital she suggested they share the care of the dog.  The daughter used to be a dresser at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-Upon-Avon, but moved to be near her mother and auntie so that she could care for them.  She had hoped for a job in a Manchester theatre, but it never worked out.

Selina’s daughter is typical of so many women in the prime of their lives, and often much older, caring for even older relatives.  A recent newspaper article ( reports research by the University of London which suggests that there is a significant negative effect on women’s health when they care for others in this way.  Some women in that age-group find themselves sandwiched between caring for their parents and caring for their grandchildren, as people live longer and child care costs become a strain on young families.

Selina is lucky, not only in that she has a daughter to care for her.  I don’t want to suggest that all caring is negative; I am sure Selina’s daughter is happy to do care for her mum.  Selina also lives with her sister, which further protects her against the loneliness that comes often with old age.  Loneliness in oder age is, according to one study, twice as likely to kill you as obestity ( But then, poverty is an even bigger killer …

So, to end this cheery blog post: women like Selina are role models in more than one way.  She sits on her bench and waves a cheery hello to anyone and everyone.  She keeps as active as she can, despite having broken her hip some years ago.  She sees her daughter regularly, and feels cared for.  And she lives with her sister – a very precious gift.  Incidentally, her sister smokes and drinks, which Selina does not.  Both are still alive at 89.  Which kind of underlines the importance of positive human contact in older age.  I just wish that the improvement in Selina’s chances of living healthily into older age could be mirrored in her daughter’s.  That daughter, whatever she gains from her role as carer, has given up a lot, including the job she obviously loved.  I do hope she also feels cared for, by someone.

You rock


I have been thinking lately, about how we are all potential role models.  No.  We ARE all role models.  That is a huge leap for me.  It means I have to accept responsibility for the way I am, knowing that I might just be shining a light for someone else, or if I am not careful leading someone in the wrong direction.

On January 1st 2017, I gave up alcohol.  Initially, I did so for a month – Dry January has become a thing that many people do, and I knew from experience that it would be difficult but rewarding.  I have, or had, several health conditions that I knew to be exacerbated by alcohol, and I had become increasingly concerned about the news that it is also a carcinogen.  In fact, in 2015 (the most recently released figures), there were 8,758 deaths associated with alcohol in the UK; that is 14.2 deaths per 100,000 adults.  While the rate is higher for men than women, the highest rates are in the 55-64 age bracket (  I am 64.

During Dry January, I became increasingly aware that I wanted to take it further this time, but I was concerned about needing support.  I came across One Year No Beer (, on recommendation from another DJ-er.  The support I found there, and the extra support I gained from paying the small one-off fee for extra support, was transformational. I have genuinely found that the longer I stay Alcohol Free (AF), the more my life rocks.  And the more I rock you rock, and the world rocks.

Which leads me on to my responsibility.  I am beginning to share in this blog what I have learned and am learning, in the hope that it can shine some light in someone else’s darkness, or maybe just make it easier to see that needle and thread.

One of the things I have been thinking about lately, is that when we get rid of something addictive, we miss the dopamine rush we get in our brains when we indulge in that addiction.  Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, released when we experience something pleasurable.  When something makes us release it, we want to go back for more – which is why it is so hard to give up something like alcohol!  In addition, we develop a myriad associations with drinking, which become triggers for the craving.  We drink because we want to celebrate, because we are sad, because we are angry, because we want to be sociable, because the sun comes out, or because we are on holiday or it is the end of a long working week.  Undoing each and every one of those associations is like untangling the wires you find behind your computer desk, then rewiring each plug.  Only a lot more difficult.

So how can we begin this rewiring?  Well, the answer I feel lies in the dopamine.  Lots of people I have made virtual friends with on this journey engage in 5 k runs and other hard core exercise.  I do love a bit of exercise-induced endorphins, but sometimes I just want to have fun!  So, I am seeking more and more of the fun stuff in life, to get it into my brain (literally!) that there is more to life than alcohol.  In fact, and I often repeat this to myself, alcohol never made anything better!  But walking in the sunshine and looking at the view from the top of the hill – well, that is magic!  As is dancing my socks off.  Sitting and having a cuppa with a friend.  Reading a good book.  I could go on.

So, my challenge to you, dear reader, is twofold:

  1. Find something that rocks your world. Find that (healthy) dopamine rush.  Comment below on what that might be.
  2. And remember: you are a role model.  You rock. What are you going to do with that knowledge?


Medicine Man


I have had a good week.

I have been on two walks, each about 6.5 miles.  One of these was absolutely stunning, and both were from outside our own front door.  We are very lucky to live in the Pennine foothills.

In addition to the walks, I have had time with all four of the UK based grandchildren, been involved in a Hallé Choir Academy rehearsal in Manchester, participated in a very good yoga class at my nearby municipal leisure centre, coloured my hair a fetching bright copper colour, been to a comedy night at the pub down the road, and attended three excellent classical music concerts in Manchester, two of which were free.  I have also done a bit of work (seen a supervisee and two clients).  And, I have seen my GP.

I first went to see the GP a few weeks ago.  My daughter and her brood went back to New Zealand (again) on 27th March, 2017, shortly after our youngest son moved out (again) on March 21st.  And so, in early April, my husband and I were busy re-organising, cleaning and shifting furniture in the three bedrooms they had all occupied.  I noticed myself becoming a bit dizzy, as I often do on exertion these days.  I have always had a tendency to postural hypotension (my blood pressure suddenly drops when I stand up quickly, and I feel a bit dizzy), but I have never actually fainted with it.  I have noticed that it has got a bit worse of late, especially when I am charging around like a two year old.  On this occasion, I had to suddenly lie down in the middle of the landing, because if I had not, I would have fainted.  And so, I saw the doc.

He duly ordered a baseline ECG, and some blood tests.  I mentioned that I was also thinking about asking for a referral to the local osteoporosis clinic, since I was diagnosed in 2010 and have so far resisted medication.  In truth, I thought it might be a way to get them to do another bone density scan, because I had been refused any more of those by one of the other GPs after my last scan results.  His view was, I have the diagnosis and I should therefore take the treatment.  The trouble is, that our mum was stuck on the usual treatment (alendronic acid) and forgotten about.  It made her vomit every morning, and did nothing to stop her suffering repeated spinal fractures, which left her bent every which way.  I am very, very wary of the stuff.  So instead, I had deliberately been requesting the scans every two years or so, plotting the results on a graph, and doing everything I could to self-manage.  This includes weight bearing exercise, eating prunes (for the Boron), and taking an expensive supplement that contains easily digestible calcium, vitamins D3 and K2, and magnesium.  My bone density in 2015 was no worse in my spine than in 2011, and actually better in my hips.  My hips have never been osteoporotic, and in fact were better in 2015 than in 2008.  I put this down to all the walking I do. I confess I felt pretty pleased with myself, but when I was told I could have no more scans it worried me.  How would I know when and if my self-management was no longer working?

My GP and I agreed it was not worth me being referred, until we knew what was going on with my dizzy spells.  And so, here I was on Friday of this week (yesterday, in fact), seeing the doc for my results.

Well, surprise, surprise, all the bloods were fine, and so was my ECG.  I thought that might be the case, actually.  I am just getting older!  And still pounding the hills.  And so, I brought up the issue of my osteoporosis, and a possible referral.  My GP looked at me, and asked: ‘If they give you alendronic acid, what will you do?’ I think he is getting to know me by now.  I had to admit, that I would probably refuse.  However, I did say that my personal cut-off point is a T score of -3.  In other words, if my bone density gets so bad that my bone density is three standard deviations below that of a 30 year old, I will take the dreaded drugs.  A score of -2.5 constitutes osteoporosis.

And so, much to my surprise, my GP suggested that the best thing to do would be to send me for another scan – and then when the results come back, we will look at them together.  And so, that is what is going to happen.  I confess, I was amazed.  He is such a lovely chap, and very respectful.  I don’t want to do him a disservice.  He is a very kind man, and probably would be this lovely with any patient.  I can’t help wondering, though, what would happen if I did not have such a lovely GP?  What if I were not white, middle class, well-educated and articulate?  How often, I wonder, do women of my age get put on these drugs and forgotten about, just as my mother was? And if I had dementia, would anyone be able to advocate for me?  It doesn’t bear thinking about. That day might come, but in the meantime, I will continue to do what I can, to protect my bones and enjoy life to the full.

I am always interested to hear about others’ experience with the issues I am writing about.  Please do feel free to comment, on this or any other blog posts you see here.

Women blazing a trail

me and phil in shadow_29.4.17 on marsden moorToday, I was out walking with my hubby in the hills near where we live.  For those that know Northern England, this was the Pennine hills.  We parked at Greenfield, walked along the canal to Diggle, then over the tops to Marsden, from where we got a train back to Greenfield – 6.6 miles in all.

Much to my delight, as we began to rise out of Diggle we came across some runners.  They were running back towards Diggle, and we learned that this was what is known as the cake race: It works out as just shy of 10 miles, which is quite a run over the hills.  According to the Manchester Evening News (, some of the runners also bake cakes, which are judged while they are running, and which entitles them to run for free.

I don’t run these days, not that I was ever a fell runner.  I used to run for the train when I worked for the University of Leeds, because I always left the office too late and so it became a necessity.  It was when still working in Leeds that I started noticing the pain in my right hip as I charged along towards the station.  At first, it felt as if my right buttock was going into spasm.  It wasn’t until much later that I realised it was all part and parcel of the start of arthritis.

These days, I walk with two poles, which makes me very trendy.  Almost Nordic, you might say.  It is recommended for arthritic hips, as it helps to take some of the strain off the joint – though I have to say, that when mucking about and taking all my weight on my poles last august, I managed to injure my shoulder, just before going off to New Zealand to support my daughter who was having twins and needed help with her two-year-old.  D’oh!

walking on marsden moor 29.4.17Anyway, back to today. I have to admit that most of the runners were men, and in a certain age group – but I was delighted to see a few women among them.  I made a point of congratulating each one as she passed.  I do hope I did not sound patronising in my feeble attempts at solidarity.

And then, my heroine appeared.  I have no idea what she is called, but she gave me permission to take her pic and use it in my blog.  OK, she was fairly near the back, but what an inspiration!

older runner marsden moor 29.4.17

As it happens, I was recently listening to BBC radio 4 (we are so blessed to have intelligent radio in the UK!), and I learned something staggering about women and long distance running, so I followed it up with my own research.  According to one seemingly reliable source ( it was not until the 1980s that women’s long distance races were included in the olympics – a fact I find staggering!  Prior to that, the longest women’s race was the 1500 metres, and that was only introduced in 1972!  Women were deemed too fragile and weak to run very far.  Sadly, it seems that women are still rare in the longer and more arduous races, despite the fact that we now thankfully know they are not too weak to run.

Whether or not we choose to enter long distance running races, exercise is so important as you get older, and never more so than when you have some of the conditions we associate with ageing as a woman, like osteoarthritis and osteoporosis.  I didn’t want to hold up this wonderful woman by interviewing her, and so I don’t know her motivation for running.

What I do know, is that number 51 is blazing a trail, whether she realises it or not.  All I can do is walk in her shadow, and feel pleased with my average of 2.5 miles an hour, over a total of 6.6 miles.

About time


I am not sure what has been happening lately, but time and I seem to have fallen out.

The first thing that happened, was that when my hubby and I went to the cinema recently to watch a live streamed RSC Julius Caesar (wonderful, by the way!), I was sure that the advertising I had read said that it started promptly at 7 and ran for two hours straight, finishing at 9.  So, we parked in a car park which allowed for three hours for free.  On the way in, we clocked that it had read our number plate and helpfully told us we must be out of there by 9.35.  Bags of time.

However, when act 3 started at 8.50, we started to wonder if I had got it wrong.  We had a quick chat about it, as there was an interval between acts 2 and 3 (surprise!), and we decided we would just have to hope.  When we got out of the cinema, it was well gone 10 pm.  My hubby read the rules that were clearly up in the car park.  A fine of £70 for outstaying one’s welcome.  Oh dear.

The next time we were due to go out, which was last night, we both felt the need for an afternoon snooze as neither of us had had a wonderfully long sleep the night before, and we were due to be out late.  We had agreed we would leave at 5.30 pm, to go to some new music at the Royal Northern College of Music (once again, absolutely wonderful!  And free!). I reassured hubby that I had set the alarm (which sits on my side of the bed) for 5 pm, and we both drifted off into a contented sleep (me after him, because I am such a fidget bottom).

At 5.20 pm, I opened my eyes.  I had set the alarm for 5 am, not pm.  Oh dear again.

Today, I was seeing one of my clients for counselling / psychotherapy.  As I was ending the session I noticed that she glanced meaningfully at the clock.  And then I realised.  I had given her an hour, whereas our sessions are usually 50 minutes.  Oh dear oh dear oh dear.

So, what is it about me and time right now?  I have been wracking my brains, but I cannot understand it.  If I was going to be all psychodynamic about it, I would wonder whether I am trying to ignore time, because I am concerned about its passage.  I suppose that is possible, but I doubt it somehow.

I did a quick search for ‘why do I lose track of time’ on one of the major search engines, and it came up with some pretty alarming stuff.  Apparently, I am losing track of my life.  Or, I could have dissociative amnesia.  But then, that seems to be associated with Dissociative Identity Disorder and the kind of amnesia some of my clients have demonstrated, about abuse experienced as children.  No, that is not me.  Ah, but wait a minute.  I could be depressed.  Maybe that’s it.  I know that you can be depressed without knowing it.  I was, once.  Just felt rubbish, like a very bad hangover.  But I feel fine.  So, no, I am not depressed.

Of course, my greatest fear is that this heralds the onset of the dreaded dementia.  So, like a dog with a bone I decided to search ‘losing track of time and dementia’.  I immediately found a publication put out by the Mental Health Foundation called Losing track of time, but it turned out to be about the ageing prison population.

I eventually gave up.  The losing track of time associated with dementia is all about thinking that things that happened a long time ago were far more recent.  I am not there, yet.  So I guess it is back to the drawing board.  I will just have to concentrate more, when setting the alarm or checking when things finish, or watching the clock for the end of a very interesting therapy session with a lovely client.

But then again, maybe I just need to forgive myself.  After all, I am getting older.  Sometimes, the things I could do perfectly easily even a year ago, seem more of a challenge these days.  A serene self-acceptance is called for.  I must work on that!

At least I can still go walking in them thar hills.  Which reminds me.  I must get out for a walk tomorrow.  That will make me feel a whole lot better, I feel sure.  I must remember to take my watch.  But no.  The battery is going in that.  Oh, well.  Time is just a human construct, anyway.

Dem bones


It was 2007.  I was on my way to teach Dance Movement Therapy in Warsaw, and I needed to park my car in some budget airport car parking.  I decided, before following the nice man to where I was meant to park it, to go to the loo inside their portacabin.  When I emerged, I saw that others were also waiting to be directed, and I was holding them up.  In my haste, I tripped on the way down the steps. I heard a snap, and felt intense pain.  I knew that I had broken my foot, but all I could think of was that I would be letting everyone down if I did not go to Warsaw.  Knowing my husband would question my decision to go if I rang him, I simply asked the kind men in the portacabin if they could organise a tubigrip for me.  One of them parked my car for me, and we agreed my son would come for it during the week.  It was not until I had gone through security that I rang my contact in Warsaw, told him I had hurt my foot, and asked him if he could arrange to take me to hospital at the other end.  Only then did I ring my husband.


I had broken my fifth metatarsal – a classic footballer’s injury, as it turns out.  Being a clumsy oaf (you would never know I am a dancer!), I had had several fractures before, but I knew enough about osteoporosis to know I should ask for a DEXA scan when I returned.  I did.  It never came.  I asked again.  The results were delayed.  Finally, some time in 2008, I discovered I had osteopenia (which is basically like osteoporosis, but not so bad, ie the bones have started to lose density and so might be more inclined to break).  And so, two years later, I asked for a repeat scan, and then I learned I now had osteoporosis in my spine.  Progress of the disease had been quite rapid.  I was 58 years old.

I reacted by feeling frightened, and very sorry for myself.  My mother had osteoporosis, but her first fracture was at age 67 (she was not diagnosed until years later).  Here I was, having fractured at 56 years old, and diagnosed with osteoporosis at the age of 58.  My mother, who by now was in her 90s and bent double and contorted after repeated spinal compression fractures, had been given the most common drug for osteoporosis some years previously, then simply left to take it for the rest of her life.  There were no repeat scans, and no medication reviews.  When, after her death in 2011, I looked into the drug that I knew I would be offered if I asked for it (the one she had been on), I realised that the daily vomiting after breakfast that she had experienced for years was almost certainly due to this drug.  There was no way I was going to go on the same treatment, despite being terrified of ending up contorted and in constant pain, like her.  The drug had not prevented her spinal fractures, and in fact recent research suggests it might actually increase the risk of fractures if taken for too long!  I felt caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.

It took me some time to get my head round how to help myself, but eventually I found support on Facebook and through the National Osteoporosis Society (NOS, According to NOS, one in two women and one in five men over the age of 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis.  I am not alone, though I felt it until I found these sources of support.

Through my research, I discovered that diet and exercise can do a lot to help.  In fact, I already knew some of this, because I am interested in both.  Having studied nutrition as part of my BSc hons in physiology and biochemistry in the 1970s, I had told Mum’s GP years previously that she needed to prescribe vitamin D with the calcium (calcium alone has since been shown to predispose to heart attacks).  And, my work and research as a dance movement therapist had led me to read up about weight-bearing exercise and bone density. And so, gradually, I began to weave some self-help strategies into my daily life, reassuring myself that if my T score got as bad as -3 I would reluctantly go on the medication.  What happened, was that although by 2013 my spinal score was dangerously close to that value, by 2015 (with a few more tweaks to my self-care) it has begun to reverse ever so slightly, to the extent that it was no worse than the 2011 values.  I felt very pleased with myself, no longer as scared and out of control.

But then, my GP dropped a bombshell.  I was to be allowed no more DEXA scans, and was urged simply to go on the medication, since I had been shown to have osteoporosis and this was the recommended treatment.  I ignored him.  And so, still tweaking my diet and supplements, and with more yoga than ever in my week, I cross my fingers.  But how long, I wonder, before I get one of those spinal fractures?

And then, there is the other bony problem.  Mum had lots of osteoarthritis, which along with the multiple fractures and the stroke, disabled her and meant she was in constant pain.

Last year, at the beginning of 2016, I went on a post-retirement trip with my gorgeous husband.  We went to India (where I had a conference, taught a Dance Movement Therapy workshop, and then we travelled around southern India), then to Melbourne, to stay with my oldest friend who I have known since I was four and a half, then to New Zealand. New Zealand was the jewel in the grand tour, since we were going to see my daughter, her partner, and their toddler.  Our youngest son was also in NZ, having a kind of gap year.  After NZ, we visited my niece and her family, in Perth, before returning home to the UK.

We had an amazing time, and were away for just over two months.  During that time, we did some serious walking, particularly in NZ.  This included climbing a mountain (Ben Lomond), and walking part of the Abel Tasman Trail, not to mention more than one trek up my beloved Queenstown Hill.  The first picture shows me relaxing inside the Basket of Dreams, which is an art work positioned on top of QT hill. The second shows a view from the top of Ben Lomond.   Finally, part of the Abel Tasman Trail, which is probably one of the top two walks I have done in my life.




While I was away for those two months, I noticed that the occasional pain I got in my right hip had become a daily occurrence, and I resolved to speak with my GP on my return.  For some months prior to my retirement, I had also noticed a pain in my right buttock when rushing for the train at the end of the day, and wondered why I was getting what I assumed were spasms in the muscle.  I hadn’t thought much of it, and certainly had not related it to the pain I got in my groin.  That association came much later.

I did indeed eventually speak with my GP, and by now the pain had worsened a bit.  He sent me for an x-ray, which I had a couple of weeks before going on yet another walking holiday, this time to the Pembrokeshire Coast Path.


This one rates in my top two walks ever, along with Abel Tasman, but my enjoyment was marred by the pain in my hip, which by now was bordering on agony.  We aimed for about eight miles a day – nothing too long for someone as fit as me, but with a lot of ups and downs.  I took painkillers each day with my lunch, but they didn’t really touch me.  One day, somewhere near my 64th birthday in June of 2016, the walk turned into an eleven miler, and I was in tears before the end of it.  It was that day that I rang the surgery, to discover that the diagnosis was osteoarthritis.  Another of my mother’s conditions, which caused her almost unbearable pain.

Once again, I was consumed by images of my aged mother, and again I realised my diagnosis had come much earlier than hers.  If she was in the agonising pain she was in before she died, on morphine derivatives for years, then what was my destiny?

I got a referral to the local musculo-skeletal service, which led to an MRI scan, which confirmed the diagnosis, and eventually I saw an orthopaedic surgeon.  It took until very recently, in March 2017, for him to inject my hip with steroids (partly due to my own deliberate procrastination).  Content that this had given me some degree of temporary relief, he discharged me this week.

The truth is, though, that by the time I had got to see him, I had managed to develop a state of relative ease, once again using a range of self-help approaches. I continued with some modifications with my yoga and dance (including a contemporary dance performance with a community dance group to which I belong), and started doing acquasise classes.  I reluctantly reduced the length of my walks to five miles (I recently did seven, and was pretty chuffed with myself until the pain kicked in when I tried to sleep at night).  In terms of diet, I decided to follow the Mediterranean diet, cut out red meat first, then stopped drinking alcohol on January 1st, and finally I recently became pescatarian.  I have never again had the kind of pain I experienced last summer, though I am not complacent.  I have a degenerative condition. One day, I might find my mobility is severely impaired, but I am ready with my argument; if you don’t give me a hip replacement, I will find I cannot exercise as much as I normally do.  Would the NHS prefer to give me a hip, or for me to develop one of the many diseases associated with a sedentary lifestyle?  Of course, that is if we still have an NHS by then …

This has been a long blog, and not a particularly happy one.  Am I angry that I have these conditions?  Well, no, actually.  Despite being at times terrified of what the future might hold, I am not one to ask the ‘why me’ question.  The fact is, that we all get various conditions as we get older.  If we did not slow down, who would our grandchildren have, to walk at their pace?  We would still be rushing past all the flowers and trees and wonders of this world in which we live.  And I would probably not have given up alcohol.  Which is another story.

Drop dead gorgeous

Now that I am 64, nearly 65, I think I am pretty good looking.  I regularly congratulate myself (privately of course, because I do not wish to come over as arrogant) on the accident of genes that means my face, despite having been assaulted by a few too many UV rays in its time, has fewer lines than one might expect, for a woman of my age.


The picture above was taken in a photoshoot I bought for my daughter and me, when she was visiting in September 2014.  I was 62.  I didn’t realise at the time, that I was showing quite so much of my cleavage.  However, when I saw the photo I confess I quite liked it.  I still do.

So why am I telling you all of this, and risking the accusation that I might just be a little conceited, or still worse deluded?  Well, it is this.  As a young woman I, like so many of the young women I see in my practice as a psychotherapist and dance movement psychotherapist, did not like the way I looked.  How about that for irony?  When I was truly gorgeous, I did not know it.  I spent hours looking in the mirror, not to congratulate myself but to literally pick at bits of my head face, whether to pluck brows, assault spots, apply blemish concealer, or swear at my hair.  It was too fine, too straight, too … well, you get the picture!  And, of course, I did not stop at my face.  My thighs were too fat, you could see rolls of fat on my back (I became an expert contortionist, in order to appraise this), my belly was never as flat as it should be – you know, with the hip bones poking up above it as you lay down.  And, as for my lady bits – Eeuuuwwwwww!  How could anyone ever think they were appealing?  It was all so embarrassing!

solo bridesmaid photo at jackie's wedding (2)

They say that youth is wasted on the young.  Well no, it isn’t, but if I could meet my seventeen-year-old self (above) and make her listen, I would tell her how gorgeous she really was.  Not because I think I was any better than any of my friends, but because I was convinced at the time that they were all pretty, and I was not.

I feel so much for those many young women who are suffering right now just as I did, for decades.  When I look at the photo of myself in my sixties, alongside the one of me at 17, I see such a difference.  At seventeen, I was tight in my body, constricted with the embarrassment of being photographed, whereas in my sixties my whole body seems to be saying ‘I am comfortable in my skin, now, thank you very much.’

One of the turning points for me came in my forties.  I had my youngest son at 42, and when he was about five, idly playing with the flappy skin on the underside of my upper arm, he thoughtfully remarked:  ‘I wish I had skin like yours, Mummy.  Yours is nice and loose.  I think my skin is too tight for me.’  He sounded genuinely concerned about his own fate, bless him, but I am not sure how good a job I did to console him, because I was too gobsmacked at the realisation that we can see beauty in anything we choose to!  He was not socialised, yet, to think that women have to look a certain way, or to think that age is something to be feared and resisted, like King Canute with the tides.  He loved his mama, and to him she was the most beautiful person in the whole wide world.  That illusion didn’t last, of course, but in that moment he spoke a kind of truth.  My young son challenged my own illusions about beauty, and about age.