18 things I learned in 2018

I saw someone else do a blog like this so thought that I would try it as well. This time of year often leads to self- reflection and introspection and for that reason I’m not a big fan of new year. In many ways I could consider 2018 a pretty rubbish year for me but, with a step back and a bit of perspective, I need to count my blessings again and realise that things have been ok and anything that has gone wrong can be turned into a positive. So, with that said, here are 18 things I learned in 2018.

  • Get regular eye checkups. Kirsty had been getting onto me for a couple of years about getting to the optician to get my eyes checked. Part of me always thought my vision was alright so there was no need for me to go. Another part of me was too scared to go in case they looked in the back of my eyes and found something wrong with me, pretty stupid, I know. Had I gone for a checkup earlier they may have noticed something was going wrong with my eye and I could have done something to stop it going wrong, then I wouldn’t be left with quite badly impaired vision in my right eye and the need for an eyeball injection every month. So yeah, get your eyes checked, you are entitled to a free one every 2 years if you are over 40 or in some other cases, check here for more information on this in the UK.
  • Don’t be scared of the doctor. Gee I was scared of the doctor. I’ve always suffered with a bit of health anxiety so when my eye problems kicked off and the consultant at the hospital told me to make an emergency doctor appointment that had me scared! I distinctly remember sitting terrified in the waiting room with Kirsty and then not even being able to speak properly to the doctor. I needn’t have worried though as he was great, reassuring, calm and kind. My only issue was a sky high blood pressure, in part explained by how worried I was feeling but easily enough fixed. I’m now in and out of the doctor more often for prescriptions etc and it holds a lot less fear for me now, doctors are there to help us and make us better, not to give us a hard time and shout at us, again, this is obvious for most people, not for me though!
  • Do not get your hopes up when it comes to Greenock Morton. I learn this every year but need to keep re-learning it every year as well. Summer was quite an exciting time to be a Morton fan. We had signed a few good players and got a semi-competent manager in Ray McKinnon. I even badgered Kirsty to get me a season ticket and stuck a bet on us to win the league. Fast forward to the end of August and our manager had left us for Falkirk. Fast forward to December and we have had thrashings off Ayr, Ross County and Alloa and the season ticket is feeling more and more like a punishment.
  • Drinking water is important! I was never a big water drinker until this year. It’s really good for you though and helps you to lose weight, something to do with the flush effect or something. In my new place of work there is a water cooler right outside my room, and a toilet as well, so I’ve no excuse for not drinking the water. Barrs’ decision to mess with the recipe of Irn Bru has also helped wean me off soft drinks and onto water, something I will definitely make an effort to continue with next year.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s all small stuff. I think this could be my most important lesson of the year. As I’ve alluded to in other blogs such as this one here , I was/am a massive worrier. Anxiety levels are always high and I know this can have a negative effect on my blood pressure etc. so I’m needing to make a big effort to try and rationalise my worries and look at them in context. Here I am, living in a developed country, with access to clean water, a roof over my head, plentiful food, a job and a healthcare system free at the point of delivery. Comparing the problems I was worrying about to others that people around the world have and that people around me are dealing with makes me realise that things aren’t so bad for me and worrying about things won’t change them at all.
  • I’m still not much of a hugger. When did hugging people become so popular? Hi, how are you? Here’s a hug. See you later, bye, here’s another one. Congratulations, commiserations, have a hug. Ha, I like the sentiment behind it and I appreciate it but don’t be offended if I offer an elbow or handshake back 😀 https://youtu.be/hN8CKwdosjE although watching that it’s hard to argue against hugs being a force for good!
  • Ask for help when you need it. This is something that I’m always saying to my pupils in work but it’s a piece of advice that, as adults, we don’t often follow ourselves. Whether it be problems at work, problems at home or problems our health, there is always someone who can help. Don’t worry about admitting to mistakes or vulnerabilities, learn from them and use them to help you grow and improve. Particularly men! We hate admitting weakness and vulnerability but we need to do it, help is only one phone call, text or conversation away.
  • It’s important to help each other and look after each other. There were a good few people that reached out and helped me this year and it made such a difference to me and, to kinda pay it back, I’m trying my best to offer assistance to anyone I think maybe struggling or whatever. It’s a pretty rewarding feeling, you should try it. Imagine how good a world we would live in if we kept checking up on each other and looked out for each other. This reads like the People’s Friend or a Hallmark card or something, but that’s ok, it’s true enough!  So, if anyone ever wants to go for a run or needs a hand with something or just have someone to moan at, then give me a try!
  • Do things, don’t plan to do them. I will need to take my own advice here because I’m an awful procrastinator but getting things done is the only way to be. This year I entered the London Marathon, in previous years I had only thought about it. I could launch into a “life is short, do things while you can” bit here but it’s been said a million times before by people wiser than me!  I prefer the whole “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today, that way if you like it, you can do it again” way of looking at this.
  • Being grateful can totally change your mindset. There I was back in May feeling awfully sorry for myself and my lack of right eye vision when I decided to instead be grateful that I could see well out my left eye and lots of people would love to be in my situation, that transformed the way I felt about myself and is something I’m going to try and keep doing in 2019.
  • Cyprus is awesome. I knew this in 2017 but had it reconfirmed in 2018 in July.
  • Don’t take things for granted. Yeah, things like your eyesight and health, look after them.
  • Wash the bottom of the dishes too! Thought i better put this in to show Kirsty that I’m trying to learn! Also, related to this, check the washing is properly dry before I put it away and when I am asked to clean the toilet, that doesn’t just mean the toilet itself but also the bath, shower, sink, floor, mirror and little units in there as well.
  • I work with a lot of amazing people. I was lucky enough this year to work with a whole lot of new people and they have all been great. I could name a few people who have been brilliant for me this year but I’m scared of missing someone out but rest assured I’m thankful for all the help and support and laughs I get at my work, what a difference it makes.  Linked to this, I also have a lot of great friends who are full of kind words and encouragement and support.
  • You will get through this. Every person reading this has been through challenging times in their lives and they are still here, proving that whatever you are facing, you will get through it.
  • Breathe. When I was obsessing over my blood pressure and measuring it 8 or 9 times a day I noticed that a couple of deep breaths would take my blood pressure down by quite a lot.  It’s such an easy form of relaxation that I am annoyed I haven’t incorporated it into my daily life until now!  I need to watch though as too many deep breaths can make me feel light headed when I stand up!
  • Laughter is a great medicine.  I have had the good fortune to attend a number of comedy gigs this year.  Jason Manford in the few weeks after my eye went wrong.  Jason Manford is one of life’s good guys and had some really poignant words about mental health at the end of his really funny set.  We also went to see Jon Richardson and I went to see Rob Brydon with my brother.  Rob Brydon was the big surprise here, what a funny and engaging person, he was near enough the perfect gig.
  • People are good.  Yeah, most people are good, accept this and trust people and you will rarely be let down. If they do let you down that says more about their character than your’s.

Right, that’s the 18 but I have a few more bonus things that I learned.

  • De-clutter.  I always feel better after chucking out a load of things I no longer need.
  • A kind word can transform someone’s day, as can a nasty one.  This has been a big lesson to me this year.  I can totally over-react to negative things people say to me but, then again, maybe others could be hurt by things I say to them, even though I may mean no malice so I am going to try my best to choose my words really carefully this next year.  Also, when someone says something nice and positive, no matter how small, it makes me feel a million dollars! So, again, I will be making the effort to be as positive as I can with people this next year.
  • East, West, home is best.  This year the good people of Dunoon have helped me out as always.  In the summer it’s a great time for a visit when it’s sunny.  In the winter in a big storm it’s a great place to visit as well.  The people from Dunoon are great as well and loads of old friends have offered me loads of help with my marathon training and fundraising. The very fact that I had stones from the West Bay on the tables at my wedding to mark where people should be sitting shows the loyalty I have to my hometown.
  • Turn negatives into positives.  Hopefully people can see from this blog that a theme of my whole year has been turning negatives into positives.  Had it not been for my dodgy eye I probably wouldn’t be running the London Marathon and I would probably still be struggling at times without letting people help me out.  But that event back in April has radically altered the way I look at things.  Right now I feel fitter than I have since my teenage years and I am able to wear shirts without an “X” in their size again (well, maybe not just now after the Christmas excesses).

Anyway, that’s it,  I will maybe write another one of these tomorrow with 19 targets for 2019.  In the meantime, remember you can sponsor me for the RNIB doing the London Marathon at this link here.

Does running make you feel good?

A nice sign my wife made me

First of all let me say thanks for all the feedback on my Dunoon sporting blog!  I forgot to mention my unreasonably successful basketball exploits and some of the names that helped out at the sporting clubs, I may go back to that later.  Also thanks to everyone who has shared my blog, donated money or even sent a message to me.  All of these things are really important to me and keep my motivation up.

I made a good bit of progress today – I wasn’t having the greatest day in the world and my initial thought was “I can’t wait to get out a run tonight”.  For me, that is progress!  In the past I would have thought “I can’t wait to get to McDonalds for a Large Signature BBQ burger meal with chilli cheese bites and a strawberry milkshake” or “I can’t wait to go to KFC for a large Fillet Burger Box meal with a small popcorn chicken (with beans and a Pepsi) or “I can’t wait to go to Burger King for a large Whopper meal and 2 chicken strips”.  Ha, reading back there I see I think about that too much 🙂 Then, if Kirsty was working, I would get home, go to bed about 6, waken up around 9 and feel awful!  But today, today I decided to go for a run instead.

I can pretty much pinpoint the exact moment I knew I was a “bit of a worrier”.  In Primary 2 David Mitchell (who was in Primary 3, I was in a composite class) brought in a Dundee United pennant to school.  At the end of the day I held it aloft as if I were celebrating a win – but it broke.  I went home that night worried sick that I was going to get into trouble for breaking this pennant but the next day nothing was said about it.  I felt a little relief but then I realised I had forgotten my library book so I started to worry about that.  Then, and I remember this as clear as yesterday, I thought to myself “Hey, I am always worried about something” – for a 6 year old that is a pretty weird thought!

Fast forward 36 years and I still hold the same thought.  I know myself I need to make a real effort to calm myself down and to stop worrying but it isn’t as easy because, I will always find something else to occupy my mind negatively.  It could be a health thing, a work thing or something as trivial as someone not saying hello to me when they pass me, I will immediately go to the worst case scenario and let it play over and over.  These feelings get worse at times of high stress in my life, for example when my Mum wasn’t well.  It could also have played a part in what happened to my eye so I am trying lots of different things to help me out and prevent it happening again.  At a visit to the doctor I was told my blood pressure was too high and the thing that brought it down the best was relaxing (as well as losing weight, cutting down on the salt and the blood pressure pills!).  I wouldn’t say I suffered from anxiety, I have seen people have an awful time with that, I am definitely an anxious person though.  One aspect I am really lucky with and which helps me out a lot are my family, friends and colleagues, a more supportive bunch of people I couldn’t hope for.

1 thing that helps my state of mind most though is getting out a run.  I have a few ideas about why this may be, here they are:

  • Breathing – people say deep breathing helps you relax – when you are running you do a lot of deep breathing (too much if you are like me and not the fittest!)
  • Short term, measurable, achievable, realistic and timed goals.  Ha, it’s like a job interview here…On a treadmill you are constantly looking for when the kilometre is over, when the mile has passed, how long you have left etc.  When you meet each of these milestones you get a wee boost.  One wee 5k run sees you aim for the 1k, 2k, 3k, 4k, 5k, 1 mile, 2 mile, 3 mile, quarter way, third way, halfway, 2 thirds way and 3 quarters way – that’s 13 mini targets in the space of about 26 minutes, one feeling of success every 2 minutes – you don’t get that success rate in too many places.  Your mind is also fixed on these goals, on your breathing and on putting one foot in front of the other, you don’t have time to think about anything else really.
  • You are listening to something you enjoy.  I have a few good podcasts that really make me laugh that I love to listen to – this in itself will put you at ease, never mind the fact that you are running about.
  • Endorphins – I don’t know too much about these but apparently they are things that make you feel good and are released when you exercise.  The so-called “runner’s high” can leave you feeling amazing after a run
  • The social aspect of running – this is something I really like.  When you are out running other runners will say hello to you!  It doesn’t seem much but everyone from the fastest Callum Hawkins to the slowest Stuart Taylor will give you  nod or a smile as they pass you by and that wee bit of sociability isn’t too present in many other areas of life nowadays – don’t get me started on the self-service scanners at the supermarket.
  • Being able to chart improvement – who doesn’t like getting better at things?  The more you run, the better you get.  That’s one of the things I love about parkrun, being able to chart your progress over the months – again, a feeling of satisfaction.
  • Increase in self-esteem and confidence – for many reasons running can boost confidence.  It may be that you can lose weight and fit into a jacket you haven’t been able to in a while or you may feel fitter when you don’t get out of puff going up the stairs – it all combines to boost the old self-image.
  • Being able to enter races like the London Marathon give you a target, something to look forward to, something to aim for and the chance to help a great charity like the RNIB.
  • Spending quality time with the wife!  Kirsty and I often head to the gym together, it’s something different than sitting on the couch watching Netflix.

Hopefully this blog is ok.  I know there is still a bit of a stigma talking about things like this but I reckon it is important.  I know I am very lucky and have a really good support system around me but other people aren’t so lucky.  I also know that some people may be reading this and thinking they need a lot more than just going out a run to help them and for those people, I really hope they get the help that they need, mental health services in the UK are brutally underfunded – although real progress is being made in this regard.

You can visit my justgiving page here if you would like to help me raise money for the RNIB or you can do the following:

Text SMTR76 £1 to 70070 to donate £1

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