Something has been on my mind for a while; and I thought I ought to come clean. Here goes (I do ramble, so please be patient)...
Whenever I am asked why I decided to do The Row, my standard reply is, "because (apart from raising money for the brilliant RNLI and raising awareness about the devastating issues of marine plastic pollution) I want to see if I can." This isn't quite true.
I've been working hard to prepare for the row since September 2015; and with only sixteen weeks to go, the expedition is becoming all-consuming. I'm well past the point of pushing boulders up hill to get stuff organised. It's become a question of belting downhill after the boulder as it careers towards the start line. The adrenalin is kicking in.
I'm doing the best I can to get fit and am being given lots of help on that score - thank you everyone... I am trying!. And I'm doing the best to raise the money I need to pay for my seat on the boat - it's coming, Angus, I promise! The next few weeks are going to be mad as I push for more money, spend more time on the rowing machine and at the gym, fit in as many training days on the water as poss, collect my kit together, finish as many paintings as I can, get to know the people I'll be rowing with, buy my bucket (!) ... and a million other bits. It will all come together, I'm sure. But I just had a moment's reflection...
By deciding to do this row, I jumped into a totally new world. A lot of the preparation work is stuff I've never done before, and it is incredibly challenging. I've never chased corporate sponsorship before or promoted myself in the way that this project has demanded I must. The row, itself, is going to be a real test of fitness, doggedness and mindfulness, way beyond what I've previously experienced. I have felt uncomfortable and out of my depth daily, if not several times a day - for months.
I have no idea how I am perceived by the outside world. To those who know me, I probably seem typically whacky... or at least vaguely curious. To those who don't know me, I probably am just another person doing another extreme thing. Nothing remarkable, because lost of people do that sort of stuff. But I doubt anyone really understands just how much I am paddling under the surface (except for Mark, my husband, who is supporting me 150%). There's story I've not much talked about before.
My early childhood was fairly standard, but from the age of 8 it became a bit of a nightmare. My father died after a three-year gruelling battle with lung cancer, and my mother became an alcoholic; which in essence meant that the mother I knew and loved died along with my father. My brother, eight years my senior, had left home by this stage. I was 11, alone amidst the chaos and had to grow up overnight. I built some extremely strong defences and coping mechanisms: They were very, very strong and very effective - nobody was allowed in. I had to keep myself safe. I became hyper-vigilant.
It was a nightmare and it lasted until I was 24, when I finally found help at the Hazelden Foundation in Minnesota. I'm not being overly dramatic when I say they saved my life. I left Hazelden, at last able to function as a "normal" adult. But the scars that remained were deep and I had to concentrate on maintaining the focus on developing my mental health in order to cope with life. To the outside world I probably appear relatively normal; but even at the grand age of 60, I am still on constant alert. Whenever confronted with an unusual situation, I have to fight hard to respond in an appropriate healthy-adult way and not resort to the deeply ingrained (tried and tested but inappropriate) reactions of a scared 11 or 15 or 18-year-old. There are new tools in my toolbox, but I still reach for the old ones, the familiar ones. Mostly things go well. Whilst preparing for the row I have been confronted by many unusual situations, and there are going to be plenty more. This is going to be a real test.
Choosing a cause to support felt easy: I automatically veered towards the passions of my life: the natural world and conserving it. But more and more I have found myself moved by other ocean rowers raising money for charities connected to mental health issues. One story has touched me deeply - Row for James - a crew of chaps who came a brilliant second place in the 2016 Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. I don't know the boys, personally, (though I'd love to meet them) but have friends who do. They dedicated their row to the memory of James - the brother of one of the rowers - who took his own life in 2006. The story took me back to when I was James' age and to what might have been... if I hadn't had the good luck to be badgered into going to Hazelden by some wonderful friends. I hated the interference so much at the time. But now all I want to say to them is: "thank you, thank you, thank you - because of you I have a husband, a daughter, two mad terriers, some wonderful friends, a lovely home in the countryside, the time to paint, some great stories... and a life."
Not everyone is as lucky as I am. Lots of people endure great suffering and don't get helped. They successfully hide the issues from their friends, family and acquaintances - and bear their impossible burdens alone.
So, when I'm next asked why I want to do the row, my reply won't be, "Because I want to see if I can", it'll be...
"Because I am very, very lucky, and I can".