It’s a year since I embarked on my 21 Daring Days, a challenge set by writer and storyteller Megan Macedo, founder of Be Yourself Marketing.

And I’m back: poised to do it all again, to create a piece of writing for 21 days using Megan’s daily prompt. Only this year she has tasked us to underpin our words with a theme.

So here it is, my theme for 2019…

I have not updated this blog for more than two months, and there’s a reason for that.

If you know me at all, in any context, you’ll know that I can be pretty driven — especially so when it comes to the sports I’m passionate about. I want to keep improving, setting new goals, not just being the best I can be, but better than that.

Or, rather, I did.

In early November I had an unexpected wake-up call that has taken a while to process and has led to something of a recalibration. Not — to be clear — a complete recalibration, but significant enough to drive me towards a lot of introspection and not a lot of sharing.

Here’s the context. I have a type of heart arrhythmia called lone paroxysmal atrial fibrillation. It is not in itself life-threatening and is not associated with any other health issues. Basically, the plumbing in my heart is all good; it’s the electrics that are a bit unpredictable.

The main symptom is an intermittent irregular heartbeat that is mostly stress-related but can also rock up for no discernible reason. It is not triggered by exercise and I can usually kick my heart back into normal sinus rhythm by taking some aerobic exercise.

And I admit I had become a bit blase about this: wake up with afib, go for a run, go for a swim, go for a paddle, get rid of it, crack on.

But then one morning in November it didn’t quite roll like that. I went for a swim wearing my neoprene vest, gloves, and bootees. The water was nippy but not properly cold, and as I swam my usual Bray Lake route I felt fine.

It was when I got out that it went slightly pear-shaped: the post-swim shivers seemed a bit more pronounced than usual, it took ages to get changed, and I did feel a bit shaky as I drank my tea and ate my porridge with my fellow open water swimmers. And I was acutely aware that the afib was still there — the swim, the bracing water, had not seen it off.

Now I happen — fortuitously — to swim with two frontline paramedics, and they were clearly more concerned about me than I was. Long story short, one of them got her kit from her car and wired me up. Oops. Blood pressure through the floor and heart rate all over the shop.

‘If you were a member of the public,’ she said, ‘I’d fast-track you to A&E.’ And she clearly wasn’t joking.

I didn’t go to A&E, but I did thank her profusely for this wake-up call. And then I spent five days researching my condition and exploring whether anything had changed since the last time I’d done this four years earlier.

And at the end of those five days, my GP confirmed that nothing has: there is still no single solution and the risks and side-effects associated with the various treatment options for afib are still not ones I’m ready to embrace. So I guess it’s business as usual.

Well, no. Not quite. This was a reality check, a salutary reminder that I am a great deal closer to the grave than anywhere else of significance: it’s time to accept that I am not invincible, to listen much more respectfully to my precious, increasingly fragile body, to accept limitations and downgrade some of my wilder expectations.

So the focus of the next 21 days will be — with apologies to Wordsworth — Intimations of Mortality, and I’ll be using Megan’s daily prompts to peel away some of the layers of delusion and disconnect that I suspect many of us have around embracing the inevitable passage of time.

I hope you’ll join me on this new voyage.


Image: Great Pond, Sunninghill Park, Berkshire