My Camino is over for now. I walked 255 km for ME/CFS

In January 2016, I committed to take my dog – Maya – on a really long walk and I committed to use the walk to raise money and awareness for more investment into the medical conditions: Myalgic Encephalitis, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and FibroMyalgia. My best friend and my daughter both suffer from forms of these conditions and they are poorly understood, poorly diagnosed and treated. There are no cures currently for these conditions.

In May 2016, I started and completed my 255km walk in Northern Spain – from San Sebastian in the Basque Country to Santander in Cantabria. This is part of the ancient pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela – the fabled resting place of Saint James. Each day of my walk was dedicated to the story of a sufferer of these conditions.

Big Lessons from My Camino

Whether you walk it alone, or you trek with a group – a great walk helps you connect with people, nature and yourself. And in this connection there is so much learning. I don’t know whether it is science or spiritual or simply what happens when you give yourself the time and space to be heard.

Going into this walk, I had a bunch of things to figure out  – primarily I wanted time and space to reconnect with myself.  I did reconnect with myself – reaffirming what makes me, me and what my focus in life is, who and what are important and more importantly, who and what aren’t. Unexpectedly I also reconnected with parts of humanity that I had silently drifted from and didn’t realise I needed to rediscover and I’m so glad I did.

I learned so many things about myself and people and life on this walk and wrestled with demons that I hadn’t previously made time to resolve. They say that in the woods, no one can hear you scream. There are lots of woods in the North of Spain and I had many opportunities to scream at my demons and them at me.

Then there are the lessons that necessity teaches.

Anyhow – here are some of the things I learned on my walk:

Maya is a Truly Amazing Dog

2016-05-03 15.59.06I consider myself to be a very practical dog owner. There is a power relationship in play between man and dog and whilst I know all the blah blah about trust and loyalty, I hadn’t fully  experienced it with any other dog I’ve had, until this walk. I know that Maya considers me her pack leader – who will ultimate protect her from any threat and provide for her.

As far as I know, Maya can’t read a map nor calculate the distance between places on a route. She doesn’t know to plan for a 30km walk with multiple ascents and descents.

This beautiful dog walked with me every step of the way and stayed by my side in the rain and through the mud. Through forests and towns and hard tarmac roads that must have been tough on her paws. She braved her fears – unfriendly dogs that barked terrifyingly at her approach – and she spread her joy by making friends with every person we met.

Whether it was 10km or 30, Maya just walked with me – trusting that I knew where we were going and seeking nothing but having a pine cone thrown in play every now and then.

Vaseline is magic

2016-06-03 13.18.54“Here’s some vaseline – put it anywhere that starts to catch or heat up or rub” – the wisest words a newbie long distance walker will ever hear. My friend Amancio said these to me when we first met and kindly offered me his own tube as a gift.

Long walks put huge strain on your feet, things rub, skin gets bruised and blisters form. All these on their own are bad enough – but when you have to walk every day, suddenly things get rather more complicated. In comes Vaseline.

Every morning of my walk started with a smattering of vaseline on my clean feet – not too much, just enough to rub into my feet and create a protective shield. This shield almost entirely eliminates the friction that causes blisters.

Then when the straps of my 9.5kg backpack started rubbing into my shoulder and my neck – Vaseline again to the rescue.

Fix problems that affect your ability to make progress as soon as they occur

Stop and fix problems when they occur. Lesson learned.
Stop and fix problems when they occur. Lesson learned.

On a walk and in life, there are things you must keep doing to move forward. In life, it seems like there are a multitude of things you need to maintain. You have to look after your health, eat well and exercise for example. Some say you have to keep learning, others say you need to keep an active social life.

On a walk, life is much simpler. The only thing you need to do to make progress is maintain your ability to put one foot in front of the other and walk. I learned that I needed to address any problem that affected that ability as soon as I felt them.

For example – I had new walking boots and the inevitable pains of breaking them in all started to emerge from about the second day of the walk. First I got shooting pains in the sole of my left foot – but I ignored them, put a brave face on and kept walking. Then they got worse, the pain spread to the back of my left knee.

Had I stopped and stretched, applied some balm – as I did on subsequent days (with fewer painful consequences) – I’m sure those first 2-3 days would have been a less injury prone experience.

The cost of stopping and fixing the problem is much lower than the price of being laid out for a day or two.

So now I’m working on understanding what essential things I need in order to move forward joyfully in life and I’m learning to spot problems that will affect them.

I really don’t need very much to be happy

2016-05-03 15.59.00Something about living out of a backpack for 10 days is exceptionally liberating. I packed 4 dry wick tech shirts – they are extremely light and quick drying- 2 trousers that could convert to shorts and a few other items of clothing. But I realised actually I could have packed even half of those items and still been fine.

I was without my laptop, a TV – though I had my phone, I used it almost entirely for taking pictures and keeping in touch with my family via Whatsapp.

Aside from the physical things I didn’t have –  I also had much less responsibility. Basically it was to find food for myself and Maya.

Yet the walk was truly one of the happiest 2 weeks of my life.  I think as material things go – I’ve never been a hankerer for things – so not much improvement there. This walk has taught me to think about the responsibilities that I take on that I might not need to be happy, it also taught me that there are some things that I had closed myself to – that I now recognise make me feel happy – which I really need to try and get more of.

I never tend to do things because I seek gratitude in return or even an acknowledgement by anyone who might benefit from my doing them. I do things mostly because I want to do them or I see they need to be done. Yet I was completely unprepared for the effect of reading some of the short messages of gratitude and appreciation on Facebook and on my JustGiving page. Hundreds of messages of gratitude for walking for others. I blubbed almost every time I read.

Everyone has their own camino

Each person has their own camino
Each person has their own camino

I was joined at the start of my camino by my friends Helen and Horacio. We had such a wonderful time for the 3 days we were together. We laughed so hard, there were never any awkward silences.  There were times we walked in step and other times when each walked their own pace. It was easy.

Yet as much as we enjoyed walking the same route, we each were walking our own camino -both as a physical journey through each person’s limits and challenges and through each person’s mental baggage they needed to work through.

And this was the same for each person I met on the walk. Appreciating that we are not all walking for the same reasons or to the same schedule almost entirely eliminates judgement. There is no right way to walk nor a right way to start or a good time to complete a stage in.

As I apply this learning to life – I feel totally filled with empathy for the journey each person is on – even if they don’t realise they are on a distinct one from everyone else.

The Kindness of Strangers is Powerful Stuff

'Be a rainbow in someone's cloud' - Maya Angelou
‘Be a rainbow in someone’s cloud’ – Maya Angelou

There were a few times on this walk when I needed help. Especially when things got a little complicated with accommodation with Maya or finding food for her on days when things were closed or in places where nothing was open.

The warmth and the kindness of people who didn’t know me from Adam – people who could easily have said ‘No’ instead of ‘Yes’ – simply blows me away.

It turns out that over the last few years I have not needed the kindness of strangers – most of my endeavours have been very much in my control. Yet on this camino, I put myself in situations where I needed that help and there it was.

From Kepa who happily let Maya sleep in his courtyard – to Manolo in Pobeña who offered to drive me to the next town to buy dog food – I’m convinced these are the people who neutralise all the cynicism in the world by their small acts of random kindness.

Never sleep with a big dog in a small tent

2016-05-13 22.22.56However much you love your dog – and I love mine a whole lot (and a whole lot more after this Camino), there are lines to be drawn.

One such line is never again sharing a small tent with Maya. Aside from the paws digging into my side and the tail tickling my nose, the most unbearable thing were the farts.

Maya is lethal with her farts- though I think I gave as good as I got – and this is made more toxic because of the size of the tent. So if there is one piece of advice I can share – that I learned the hard way – it is never to share your small tent with a big dog.

Camino Photos

Now, remember I went to walk. But I did manage to take some pictures too. I’ll add more of my photos as well as some from Helen, Horacio and James when they share them.

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Huge Thanks

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I’m deeply grateful to so many people for the support and concern during this camino. Huge thanks to my wife – Katharine – for making it possible for me to even have the time to be away from home for 12 days.

Thanks to these 58 amazing people who backed my JustGiving campaign. We exceeded the target and this money will make a difference to the lives of so many people suffering with ME/CFS/FM. We need research into these conditions and whilst £3000 may not sound like a lot for research, it will fund the activism and advocacy that is critical to agitate for more investment.

The Next Steps

As my friend and Camino consultant – Amancio – says “You’re hooked on the Camino”. I am pretty hooked now on the idea of the camino as a quest, a time to reconnect and as a physical and mental challenge. So now what?

Well, in September/October, Maya and I will  be walking for 25 days to complete the remainder of the Camino del Norte from Santander to Santiago. About 600 km. It will be a more informed adventure and, for sure,  a lighter packed one.

I’ll post more about it and I know now that I will continue to raise money and awareness for ME/CFS/FM and also to raise awareness and funds for MOAS – the Migrant Offshore Aid Station –  who are doing an incredible job saving lives in the Mediterranean Sea by rescuing migrants from capsized boats.

If you would like to join me for part of this longer walk – stay tuned to my blog for news of the plan and the schedule.

Thanks for reading this far 🙂

 

Tales from my travels: 50 Bucks!

I’ve met some of the most interesting personalities on planes. Or at airports.

There is something about the transience of travel that seems to bring out a form of casual honesty.

One such encounter was on a flight from Spain to Boston. As we boarded my connecting fight to Boston from JFK, I took my seat by the window and like everyone else seated, waited on others to take theirs.

It’s My Seat

Seated next to me were a Chinese couple – young and obviously very into each other. As we all waited for the rest of the passengers to make their way to their seats, stow their stuff and belt up, this couple canoodled right next to me – all good.

Then a dude comes up to our seat row and begins a most bizarre conversation with the couple -mostly with the lady. It went almost exactly like this:

Dude:  – ‘I think you are in my seat’
Lady  – with the embarrassed smile of someone about to ask a favor of a stranger –  ‘Yes I know, I have a window seat couple of rows up – would you mind swapping so that I can sit with my boyfriend?’
Dude: “Sure no problem – 50 bucks!”
Lady – astounded and confused – “Pardon me?”
Dude – face as straight as laces — “If you want us to swap seats – I’ll need 50 bucks!”

In the meantime, they are holding up the boarding and the usual announcements are interrupting the conversation – but the pressure is on to conclude whatever transaction is emerging. During this time, the couple are speaking to each other rather quickly and in hushed tones in Chinese.

Then the exchange continues.

Dude – “So lady, what do you wanna do – I need to take my seat”
Lady – “Ok  – I’ll pay you $40”

Deal or No Deal

More boarding interruptions and announcements – giving the couple a chance to continue their negotiations – the man is pretty adamant he doesn’t want them to pay.

Lady – “Ok, this is ridiculous. We’re not paying you to swap seats”
Dude – “No problem, please can you get out of my seat so I can sit down”.

At this point the lady gets up, gets her stuff and goes off to take her assigned seat – which was still empty and waiting for her.

This is a lovely spot to end the story. Plenty here to be astounded and ponder over.

The dude sat between me and the man from the Chinese couple whose canoodling was cut short and was clearly not feeling too great about that.
But that is another story.


Photo by MattHurst

What I learnt from learning to manage depression.

A few years ago I had cause to seek help to address chronic depression.

I met with my GP and he offered referrals to either an NHS psychiatrist or a new service that was being run out from their surgery –  a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist.

Knowing that I didn’t really favour a route that involved medication for any prolonged period, I tried the CBT route.

And I learned something fundamental –  the journey through something is greater than the reaching a destination.

During my CB therapy I learnt techniques to help me tackle many kinds of thoughts and behaviours and I developed an inner voice that is my objective and more rational counsel when I feel overwhelmed. If I had gone down the psychiatry route, I fear I would have never developed this super power. I overcame my depression but didn’t cure it and I now have awesome tools to prevent and manage it when it happens again.

When I look at the world around I see achievements are hugely celebrated – from winning gold at the Olympics to selling a startup for a few billion dollars. What is hardly ever mentioned is how you are changed by the journey to the achievement. How the athlete has been changed  – both physically and otherwise – by what she had to endure to win the gold. Changes that make it more likely that she will win another gold and changes that mean that if she never won another gold – she would have developed the qualities to be OK with that.

Those are changes that come from the journey, not the destination.

You can reach the same place from different roads but not all teach the same things.

I always dreamed of winning the lottery. Of waking one morning to find that my ticket was the 100 Million Jackpot winner. So I would arrive at wealth but without the qualities to create wealth, nor the humility to appreciate it. What is more valuable in the end?

As I ponder life, sitting on my Spanish terrace dealing with the hopes, fears and dreams of now, I wonder less about my destination and more about what journey I am on, what journey I should be on. Perhaps there is a way to choose the journey by choosing the destination. Perhaps by saying that I shall have acquired certain qualities  and experiences, I would auto select the journeys.

What do you feel when you read this?

What journeys are you on?

What qualities are you learning from them?

I’d love to hear and share. Please consider sharing this, leaving a comment or tweeting to @mhsutton


Featured Image By: Jon RawlinsonCC BY 2.0

#MH370 – Are we believing our own hype?

By: Forest and Kim StarrCC BY 2.0

As the painstaking search for MH370 continues and as families wait desperately for news – any news – of the fate of their loved ones, I can’t help but think we are in a dangerous mindset as a global community – that we are believing the hype of what we can and cannot do as a global civilisation.

Fact has merged with fiction – science fiction especially – and we now think that we have capabilities that will fix any and every thing.

What we believe we have is not what we have

Ongoing revelations of the capabilities of Intelligence agencies to spy on and store everything from everyone all the time add to the illusion that all information about everything is known or even knowable. It serves Big Brother well for us to think this – it curtails what we say and to whom. Fighting this is the core of the privacy movement.

From Hollywood we get the continual onslaught of militaristic salvation – any threat from anywhere will be defeated by our armies and our brave warriors – even if those are super heroes from comic books. We can carpet bomb, annihilate with nuclear devastation. We can even explore distant planets and keep in constant touch with our robotic vehicles on them.

Advances in medicine are offering promising defences against our micro-predators – we may soon even defeat aging. Technology is giving us exponentially faster, more ‘intelligence’ gadgets that give us more control on our architected environments and our man-made infrastructure.

All this unavoidably seeds the thought that, as a civilisation, are invincible – even if those capabilities are not actually universally available or applied. But nevertheless, there is a sense that when something truly tragic happens, we can harness our global capabilities to save lives and triumph in the adversity. But sadly, we can’t. The best we can do is pick up the pieces of disaster.

In reality – whilst we are not in the Dark Ages, we are still a small player in this big world. We are as nothing to the whims of weather. In the battle for planet Earth, she will always win, even if that means we become extinct. When we raise alarm about climate change, global warming and rising sea levels, it is not because we fear for the planet. We fear for ourselves and life as we know it.

Once upon a time, we knew our place in the system

Hundreds of years ago, when science was still in its infancy and knowledge was in the hands of relatively few people and the distribution network was basic at best, humans accepted – more easily- that tragedy happens and there is nothing we could do about it.

Ships would go out into the treacherous open oceans and may never return – the ocean bed is littered with unheard cries for rescue and salvation. As desperate as it sounds, humans had a more realistic understand of what they were capable of.

We knew our place within the system. Our place has not really changed – we have no more real responsibility than we ever had, we instead have increased our ability to meet the responsibility we have always had. Neither has the consequence of disrupting the balance of the our natural systems changed. Earth will whip our collective asses in the same ways – only the effects on us will be more devastating.

Be kind to the people who are doing their best

Against the backdrop of this misplaced belief that we can find anything are the people who are actually looking. They are discovering first hand that what they thought they had doesn’t really cut it. Hundreds of people using truely sophisticated technology – some so secret, we can only guess – are discovering that all this tech isn’t yielding any more than speculation.

The Malaysian government – as politically dysfunctional as any – are trying to do the best they can. But they are clueless – not because of a lack of competence – but because there really aren’t that many clues and even fewer promising ones. If everyone is grasping at straws, perhaps it is because there are only straws.

So let’s  be kinder to them and everyone involved in both addressing the tragedy and breaking the news to us that we are believing our own delusions of invincibility. Perhaps we would be better engaged in trying to understand what we think we can do versus what we actually can do.

Will we ever find MH370 – I don’t know, I sincerely hope we do.  Finding this plane – in whatever state it is in will ease the pain of not knowing for the desperate families of the passengers and crew.

Hope is what fuels us through adversity. We must be hopeful that we can be better and do better, but it mustn’t blind us to the false hope in capabilities we do not yet possess, because life and nature will call our bluff over and over again.

Early lessons from my ’30 days of free #remote #agile #coaching’ experiment

By: Shardayyy - CC BY 2.0
By: Shardayyy – CC BY 2.0

In late December, I announced a really juicy offer of free remote agile coaching for 30 days for organisations willing to help me learn how remote coaching might work and how effective it could be.

It is now late January and I finally got my 5 lucky volunteers from a total set of 11 respondents. I fully intend to share the names of the lucky 5 once they agree that I can do so and also as part of a series of case studies.

Here are some early lessons that I would like to share about offering something that otherwise would be hugely expensive for no financial cost:

Cost is a barrier

Almost all the respondents said that cost was a barrier to them getting help  – let alone ongoing help. Trying to justify the cost made having the conversation with their management and other parts of the organisation harder!

Just because it is free doesn’t mean it is attractive

One respondent was pretty keen and was really geared up, but when they brought the offer to their management – they weren’t so supportive. ‘We are hiring an agile coach next month, why do we need a free one?’. The value of an objective expert who can help call out ineffective behaviour and help focus everyone’s attention on finding more effective behaviour is understated until people try it and see transformational results.

Free does not mean fast

I believe that agile businesses are inherently fast responders. Their ability to sense opportunity and to respond – even if that response is a placeholder for a future conversation – is essential. This  – in my opinion – is one of the observable behaviours of an agile person/team/business.

My lesson is a little skewered by Christmas and New Year – but not so much that I could not discern that all but two of my respondents was really fast off the bat. From an early conversation to explore the nitty gritty of the offer to connecting with their CxOs to schedule a go-ahead conversation took all of a week. On the other hand – most others were taking a week or two to even just respond to my reply!

I’m sure they all have great reasons,  but assuming that your free offer  – however good it might be – will spark immediate response is perhaps ill-advised.

If I was to do this again, I would not pick the holiday season and I would set an offer period – for no other reason than communicate my sense of urgency.

The newbies are fresh enough to care

Almost all 11 respondents to my offer had been in their roles for less than 1 year. This invites me to explore why these particular people chose to act.

Perhaps they are still fearless and optimistic about their organisations’ journey of continuous improvement.

Perhaps they  still enjoy the support of their management in their drive to help their organisations become better.

In my experience of over 100 teams and over a thousand people, the new people in the organisation hold huge unsullied hope and their employers and colleagues best learn how to make the best of that temporary state of non-corruption.

Ask a question, share a thought

If you have any questions about my offer and how it is working out – please drop me a comment below, contact me on Twitter or email me. I’d love to learn and share.

At this point I really want to say a massive thank you to all those who shared my tweets and the link to the original post to their networks. I can’t thank you all enough. If you are ever in Spain… beers!!