One of the aims in my role as ambassador to the charity Action4Diabetics is to lead by example and show how people with diabetes (and potentially the resulting complications) shouldn’t be afraid to get out and do adventurous things. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, or if you know me in real life, you’ll know that I like to push myself out of my comfort zone, occasionally with unfortunate consequences (like falling off mountain bikes, as I did (twice) last week on holiday). I feel very strongly that people shouldn’t feel limited by health problems, disabilities and other potential barriers to get out and do what they want to do, provided they’re sensible and take relevant precautions. However, I’m also the first to admit that it can be scary as hell, and if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll also know that I don’t shy away from talking about my own fears and insecurities. As a famous adventurer once told me: “It’s good to be scared when you’re out of your comfort zone. If you’re not scared about dangerous activities, you’re either a psychopath or you’ll make mistakes and die. Or both.”
I had a conversation recently on Twitter with someone who mentioned that there were lots of things that diabetes prevented them doing, because they felt it was too dangerous. Hiking and wild camping alone was one of them. I know other people who are too scared to travel alone or stay in a hotel room alone in case something happens. I feel quite sad when people feel limited in this way, especially when it’s about mental rather than physical limitations. There’s a world of difference between being physically unable to do something, and weighing up the pros and cons and making an active decision not to do something because you feel it’s too risky. Doing the latter is very sensible. But that doesn’t mean you should give up on anything risky. I don’t go mountain biking in the dark, because it would be ridiculously dangerous given my inability to see in the dark even with a powerful torch. I never went hiking up mountains in the dark either until very recently, because the danger felt too great for me, especially after a very scary experience on Kilimanjaro. But recently, I gave night hiking a go, after I found a very bright headtorch and in the company of people I trusted, and I survived without incident. I then tried night hiking on more difficult terrain, and it was scary, but I also survived without incident. Next time, I might feel brave enough to try it on my own. When I lost my sight, I sold my bikes because I thought I would never be able to cycle again. These things, and many others, have taken time for me to decide that they were worth having a go at and seeing if I could find a way to still do them. And mostly, I have found a way. It might be more dangerous for me than for other people, but I’ve weighed up the risks and decided that they’re worth taking.
As I wrote in my previous post about Sardinia, when I fell off my mountain bike last week I lost all confidence, and seriously considered giving up mountain biking. To be brutally honest, I didn’t really portray a very good impression of myself during that trip – I was scared and annoyed with myself for being negative, something which isn’t in my nature normally. I had too much time on my own thinking, as a result of being incapacitated for a couple of days, and I brooded instead of talking it through with someone who could understand. But since I’ve got back from the trip, I can see the funny side, and I can see the positive side. Nothing really bad happened, I learnt a lot, but I also made myself aware of my own vulnerability, something I try to avoid thinking about too much.
So back to the point of this post. There are lots of things in life that present obstacles. It’s always good to think things through logically and decide how to tackle them. Sometimes there are legitimate reasons for deciding that something is beyond your capabilities, or is too dangerous. Interestingly, I’ve met a lot of people on cycling trips who have some kind of physical disability, and they put me to shame because they’re almost always much fitter than I am, despite their problems. It’s important to know your limits, but it’s also important to remember that your personal limits don’t have to be fixed. You can push them forwards when you feel confident, but there’s no harm in sometimes resetting them back in your comfort zone while you regroup.
A week after I fell off my mountain bike, I’ve thought long and hard about whether mountain biking is sensible or not. Given that anyone who goes mountain biking falls off at some point, and often frequently, I don’t think I need to rule it out just yet as something that’s too dangerous for me to do, I just need to learn to get better at it! Meanwhile, I’m also going to get a road bike again.