Last month we introduced the first of a series of guest blogs from Robert Munns. Robert is involved with the Oceans of Hope Challenge, which is an adventure like no other for people affected by multiple sclerosis. In this series, Robert will take us on a journey right from his own diagnosis of MS, through to now, when he is sailing and supporting others. So, time for the next instalment…
So following my first blog for MS-UK, I want to continue from where I left off really.
I’d been given the opportunity, quite soon after diagnosis to go back to work for an old employer. An employer who was sympathetic to my one sided battle. The battle where MS had won round one. This battle that appeared suddenly from nowhere and hit me in the prime of my life. It scared the living day lights out of me and genuinely locked all doors and sealed all the windows from a normal life that I was very much used to.
This job was as a skipper on board a small motor yacht called ‘Big Smile’. I’d been doing this since 2005 for the same owners. I felt safe and secure with them and they with me. I was confident and happy in living a truly blissful existence, floating around on some of the most beautiful waters in the Mediterranean.
As discussed in my previous blog, it came as a heaven sent coincidence to be asked back in 2009. And for whatever my reasons, I jumped at the chance at this normality again.
I arrived very early in the season, to get the boat ready from the winter layover. This was in a place called Gocek in Turkey (a place that is still very much dear to my heart). I felt slightly out of practice and daunted by the prospect of the challenge of clearing up all the previous skippers mess that he had left.
What helped me was that I was in such a magical country.
I arrived in this small town very late in the evening. It was very warm and the call to prayer that was being broadcast across the town made me feel that I was definitely in another continent, let alone another country.
Being so far away from home and all of a sudden on my own was both difficult and freeing at the same time.
I sat on the boat with mixed feelings of inadequacy, dread and a little excitement. I did not sleep that night, thoughts would creep up on me and fill my mind with questions such as “what are you doing here?” or “can you REALLY do this anymore?” and “what happens when you have another attack?”
The next day, not through logic, but just by putting my fears to one side, I just got on with it. I could do the work physically, I felt that I didn’t have the mental strength to complete such a large task.
Getting a boat out of winter storage involves a lot of different types of work. Some of it requires engineers, outside help and a lot of perseverance on my part. Cleaning the boat from top to toe, inside and out. Finding things that do or don’t work, finding the problem and somehow getting it fixed.
It had been three seasons since I’d done this, but knowing that I was trusted to do this and I had enough time to do it all really helped my ability to just plod on and do it.
At this stage however, every hour and every day the fear and uncertainty kept reminding me of what could happen. Like a big black dog sitting in the corner, casting a shadow over the room and my thoughts.
With all this hanging over me, I still could not discount the hugely positive chance that I had. Taking a great boat to some beautiful places and experiencing some amazing sunrises and sunsets.
The physical activity of course helped a great deal. Having the best swimming pool on your doorstep every morning helped a great deal. Maybe running through some magnificent scenery did a lot to fend off negativity. Eating healthily and heartedly gave me some energy that was sadly lacking.
Having the sunshine and warmth with me all the time helped. Sometimes it was too hot for the black dog who would go down inside and hide from me. I started to realise when this happened and how it affected me. Sometimes I didn’t manage the highs very well, but it was great to experience comfort, a smile without worry or just enjoying the fact that you just laughed uncontrollably. To realise that I could still laugh was very reassuring.
After such a positive experience. A summer of certainty and exploration, I’ve been battling the black dog that sits with me.
Looking back on it, I did not yet realise fully how much of an influence it was on me. It still had too much of a hold over my everyday life. Retrospectively it still had to be tamed.
Next time, I’ll be looking back at how much it needed to be tamed.