Darren Edwards 00:04
I knew that something wasn’t quite right. I knew that I couldn’t stand up, I knew that I couldn’t really sense or feel below my chest. But in that darkest of dark moments, I made the kind of promise to myself that whatever this is, and I remember phrasing it like that, because I didn’t quite appreciate the severity of my injury, whatever this is, don’t let it beat you. And don’t give up. And leave me it wasn’t an easy thing to remember every day. But every single day, I remembered that promise that I made to myself, and I was acutely aware that every single day that followed was a gift that might never have happened.
Kristin Taylor 00:55
Hello, and welcome to How I Made It Through. My name is Kristin Taylor, and I’m an executive coach. This podcast is based on the immortal words of Robert Frost who said, the best way out, is always through. Through this platform, I get the honor of sharing remarkable stories of courage in the face of challenge stories that encourage us to step into our lives, even in especially into the heart places, allowing whatever it is that we are facing to shape and transform us mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. My hope is that the people I introduce you to, will provide a much needed sense of inspiration, deepening your trust in yourself that whatever you’re facing, you too, will find your way through. May you see yourself in their stories, and may their wisdom help to light your way. Today’s guest is the very remarkable, Darren Edwards. Darren is a former mountaineer and Army Reservist who sustained a life changing injury in 2016. That forever changed him. The near fatal climbing accident would leave barren, permanently paralyzed from the chest down with determination, grit, and positivity. Darren has overcome adversity by becoming a disabled adventurer, expedition leader and motivational speaker, what you’re about to hear is a story of exceptional resilience. What you’re about to hear, will truly blow you away. Darren has refused to let the word disability define him. And he has committed his life to challenging the perception of what those with disability can, in fact achieve. And so without further ado, let’s get right to his story. You may even want to take notes. It’s that good. Hi, Darren, welcome to How I Made It Through.
Darren Edwards 02:59
Hi, Kristin, thank you so much for having me on. Really, really appreciate it.
Kristin Taylor 03:04
Yeah, I’m really looking forward to this conversation. There’s so many deep and important things that you have to share about your particular story. And what I’m really appreciating. So the audience is aware, Darren and I have already met to discuss how to share his story. It’s such an important and powerful one. And what I really appreciate Darren is the intentionality with which you approach this, that it’s not just let’s start with childhood, and then let’s get to the event. And then what happened then and what happened then that what you requested is that we focus on these six key fundamental building blocks that really shape your resilience. And I’ll go ahead and list them for the audience. And then we’ll just move through them as a way to share your story. And the reason that really resonates with me, is because it’s so aligns with the purpose of this show, How I Made It Through, that it’s not just about the incident, or the adversity, and although that matters tremendously. What we’re really focusing on is the how part. What did you learn what was revealed? What keeps you going, because that’s what I’m really hoping the audience takes away from this though. Those six key fundamental building blocks are perspective, gratitude, purpose, importance of writing your story, as you said, bit by bit positive action mindset, and controlling what you can control. So I’ll hand it over to you to start with, does it make sense perspective?
Darren Edwards 04:40
Yeah, for sure, for sure. So if I give a bit of context for the listeners as to kind of, you know, my story and I guess how I even arrived at kind of identifying these, these building blocks of resilience, because had life not taken a somewhat unexpected change of trajectory. I don’t think I’d ever would have appreciated or really understood what it what it means to be resilient and how to, you know, proactively practice that. Because resilience is something that we’re, you know innately born with. It’s it’s there it is hardwired into our DNA. But it’s also something that we can train is something that we can strengthen through practice strengthened through the actions that we take day to day, and resilience certainly, for you. And for everyone listening, we’ll all know that resilience isn’t easy. And but it also isn’t overly complicated. It’s kind of a way of life really. So for me, life is going in a very clear direction. And that direction was, I guess, defined by the two things I really love to do. The first was a genuine sort of love obsession with mountaineering. So climbing, whether that was here in the UK, or in the Alps of Europe, and everything was heading towards finally realizing my lifetime sort of dream and ambition of climbing Mount Everest. And in 2018, that was set as the year that the dream was going to come true, you know, going to have an attempt. There’s no guarantees there, obviously. And the other side of life was being going through the selection and training process for the Special Forces reserve over here in the UK. And then one day, life took, like I said, an unexpected turn, I was climbing with my best friend and my climbing partner, Matt, in Wales. So in Snowdonia, the the national park at a quite suitably titled, Worlds End, cliff face of a cliff face is actually called Worlds. And I probably should have seen what was coming coming. But the irony was perhaps lost on me that day. And it’s as we climb this 120 foot, vertical rock face that, as we near the top, a section of rock that I’m stood on, and all of my weight is on, breaks and gives away, and essentially throws me clean off the face of this cliff. And for me, I knew it, you know, life for the first time was completely out of my control. And I had no control over what was about to happen. And that was, in some ways, incredibly fortunate, because my best friend Matt caught me on this tiny ledge no more than six foot wide, a metre and a half wide. And he stopped me from falling another 90 foot, which would have ended in my, you know, undoubtably I’ve thought about this over and over again. But there is no way that we would be having this podcast today have Matt not reacted as quickly as he did. But for me, the the impacts, broke my back and instantly paralyzed from the chest down. And in that two to three hour window of waiting for the mountain rescue teams turn up waiting for the Coast Guard helicopter to get to this white precarious position and to wind someone down and to be taken off to safety, I’d made a very important promise to myself. And it was really hard to do, because in that, in those moments where the dust was settling, and in those minutes and hours that passed, a lot of thoughts ran through my head, because I knew I knew that something wasn’t quite right, I knew that I couldn’t stand up, I knew that I couldn’t really sense or feel below my chest. But in that darkest of dark moments, I made the kind of promise to myself that whatever this is, and I remember phrasing it like that, because I didn’t quite appreciate the severity of my injury, whatever this is, don’t let it beat you and don’t give up. And believe me, it wasn’t an easy thing to remember every day. But every single day, I remembered that promise that I made to myself, and I was acutely aware that every single day that followed was a gift that might never have happened. So the reason that I always say perspective is the first building block of resilience for me personally, is because in that darkest of moments in those initial hours and days that would follow going through intensive care going through surgery, being told that I would never walk again and that I was paralyzed from the chest down. It was having that sense of perspective that whilst I was unfortunate to have fallen or to have stood on this particular rock, I was so fortunate that Matt reacted as quickly as he did, that, I fell in where I fell and landed where I landed, because very easily, I might not have been here at all. So that sense of perspective and it’s sometimes hard, isn’t it to take a step back and look at your life through a different lens. But there are so many people that came to visit me in those those initial weeks that all they could see was a disaster, and all they could see was a tragedy. And I think people genuinely thought I was a little bit, I don’t know, delusional or maybe had a head injury because my response was always no, I feel really lucky. Because as I fell for those three to four seconds of falling, I was so aware of everything I was about to lose and the people that I loved so dearly that I may never see again. And despite nearly six years passing, just saying that to you now still brings back that raw emotion, heartbreak. So the fact I got to, regardless of the injury I sustained, see my partner again, see my mom again, see, my friends, again, was just such a gift. And perspective plays the biggest part of that, and we all do it don’t ever get caught up in our lives, we only see life through one lens, and that is our own.
Kristin Taylor 10:38
Darren Edwards 10:39
But sometimes we need to take that step back, to appreciate the things that we have. So I’d lost a lot, obviously, for someone who prided themselves on their physical fitness and, you know, their ability to climb mountains, I could quite easily have focused on everything I’d lost. That’s right, and, you know, really kind of driven myself down a dark alleyway that would have made my recovery harder. But I think having that sense of perspective on the situation meant that I didn’t focus or fixate on those things, I focused and fixated on the things that I still had, which, in those early stages, were very much my family, my friends, my relationships.
Kristin Taylor 11:20
Yeah, that’s really that’s really beautiful. So it’s so interesting to me. So as you’re falling in those seconds, in those moments, you have that awareness. Like you remember that? Well, yeah, hearing that correctly.
Darren Edwards 11:35
You know, people have asked a frequent question I seem to get is, was it a life before, you know, life flashing before your eyes moment? And it wasn’t, but it was, it was it wasn’t, it wasn’t because I didn’t have this sense of, from birth childhood, teenage adolescence, through into adulthood. Yeah, life review. And, you know, this is your life Darren kind of thing. But what I did have was a crystal clear picture of exactly what I had to be grateful for in life. And it terrified me, genuinely terrified me, and they could almost, you know, bring me to tears six years later, thinking about that, because I knew, I knew exactly what I was going to essentially never see again, that I might just see black. And that would be me done. And it was scary to know that there was nothing I could do to avert whatever course life was about to take. And I was just so fortunate that things transpired the way they did.
Kristin Taylor 12:38
Yeah, you’d like your scene that you’re about to potentially lose the things that are most dear.
Darren Edwards 12:44
Why did he take? Why does it take that experience for me to realize those things?
Kristin Taylor 12:51
I do. So what that makes me think is Tell me a little bit about and I and I want to make sure that we’re getting to the the rest of this. But that’s such an interesting pause in this conversation. Why did it take that for, for me to realize this? So previous to this experience? Are you someone who held a mindset of perspective and gratitude?
Darren Edwards 13:15
No, probably not. I probably I more than likely took things for granted. The family I had around me the friendship groups I had around me, I think I was quite, I don’t know, and I still am quite sort of single minded in terms of I know what I want to achieve. And I moved towards it. I think, sometimes pre accident I did that at the expense of some of my relationships, you know, mainly with my family.
Kristin Taylor 13:40
Darren Edwards 13:43
And having gone through the experience, our family came out so much closer. And I think that’s a tacit outcome of, you know, trauma, isn’t it post traumatic growth, is that if you allow it, your relationships can become stronger, your your networks can become stronger than they went into the trauma you start with. And I think I said to you in that little conversation we had in the build up to coming on this podcast that I didn’t, my wife, she didn’t tell me straightaway, but my mum, when she got the call to say that she had to rush to the, to the hospital about an hour and a half away from where we lived, which was the major trauma unit that they couldn’t tell her what was wrong, but they had told her in essence that you know, her son was was badly injured and that she needed to come to hospital straightaway. So she admitted that she you know, for the first time in her life broke every speed limit going just to get to this hospital as quickly as possible. And she said in her head the only thing that was repeating itself was that she knew I was climbing that day so she you know, she’s not daft. She knows the risks, but she was scared that I would have injured my head and that I would no longer be Darren that she knew her little boy kind of thing.
Kristin Taylor 14:59
Darren Edwards 15:00
And she said that she remembers going into that intensive care ward, going up to my bed. And apparently I can’t remember this. I reached out my hand and said, I’m so sorry, ma’am. And she said that in that instant, she knew that I was still her little boy. I’m glad she didn’t tell me this at the time, because this would have brought me to tears when you bring me to tears. She told me she told me this a few months later, when I was further down my recovery journey. Because I said to her, how are you so strong? How have you How have you been so strong for this? And once again, it’s perspective, isn’t it?
Kristin Taylor 15:34
Darren Edwards 15:37
Kristin Taylor 15:37
So nice. Yeah. Yeah. And I’m, I hear that it’s this deeper relationship and many ways post trauma.
Darren Edwards 15:45
Kristin Taylor 15:45
Yeah. It’s really, it’s really beautiful. I’m so glad for your mom as a mom. Yeah, yeah. Well, there’s this moves. Segue so beautifully, to gratitude. share more about gratitude.
Darren Edwards 16:01
Yeah, I think the two are somewhat sort of intrinsically linked perspective and gratitude is that it’s probably two sides of the same coin. But once again, it’s something that I had to learn to practice on a daily basis, you know, those small things that I had to be grateful for. So the first, the first six weeks of, you know, post injury, I was on what’s known as bedrest, and it is essentially six weeks of lying flat on your back, allowing your back to your body to do what it does and to heal. And that’s it, there’s not really much that you can do is individual, which I found so frustrating. But in those six weeks, that were probably the toughest emotionally because you’re, you’re coming to terms with the life changing injury, you’re coming to terms with, for the next six weeks, I’m doing this kind of thing, you know, for next six weeks, this is what life is gonna look like. It became for me about recognizing the small things, and having a sort of a mindset of gratitude. And I was surrounded by enough people that were going through the same journey, but everybody dealt with it differently. And the ones that stood out stood out for me, were the ones that it sounds weird to say weren’t grateful, because when everybody’s on a spinal Ward, they’re there for a relatively dramatic reason. But you would see people turn away from those opportunities or not acknowledge those opportunities to be grateful for what they had, you know, people that would have loving partners by their bed every single day wouldn’t leave their side. And for me, you know, we’ll talk about it a bit later. But when my relationship broke up whilst I was in hospital, to see those people not grateful for what they had, you know, and to be opposite them no more than a room apart.
Kristin Taylor 17:50
Darren Edwards 17:50
And, you know, sometimes you wanted to shake these people and kind of save so much to be grateful for. But they, they just don’t see it. So I think once again, it’s it’s, it’s perspective and gratitude are linked, aren’t they, it’s two very similar things. But for me, in terms of staying, being resilient and staying resilient, and a mindset of gratitude is is one of those, like core foundations that I don’t think you can remove. Because when we have a habit of gratitude, and when we kind of proactively think about what we have to be grateful for even those small things, those first six weeks, it was tiny little things I had to be grateful for, like, you know, a 20 minute, once a day, you would have a 20 minute physio session where they would come in and do some light kind of exercise with you. And I would look forward to that 20 minutes every single day. And I’d be grateful for that 20 minutes of, you know, bye bye my kind of like now measures not much, but it was still something to, to kind of, you know, look forward to to be grateful for. You know, visiting friends and friends and family coming and visiting you. The place where I worked, I was told that they had set up a spreadsheet so people could like log when they were going to come to see me so not everybody turned up all at once. So I had like a constant drip feed of people are always like, I feel so lucky. You know, it’s stuff like that, that you have to be grateful for that you have people that care if nothing else, you have people who care that around you.
Kristin Taylor 19:22
Yeah. So I’m curious. I’m imagining myself to the extent that I can, which I know is incredibly limited. But the you’ve just had this, this fall, you learn that you’re paralyzed from the chest down. You need to lie in one place for six weeks. And I hear the perspective gratitude. What were the emotions you are navigating as well as you are staying focused on perspective and gratitude?
Darren Edwards 19:51
Yeah, so wrote is Life is a roller coaster and this was a roller coaster because you’re going through that change curve of it. Don’t think I was ever a denial or anger as such, I don’t think I ventured into those territories. But there were days where things seemed, there were days where I naturally felt more positive, and felt more able to come to terms of what it was and more emotionally stable. And there were days where, whilst I wasn’t trying to fixate on those things, it was an acute awareness of that life was gonna look a hell of a lot different. Yeah, that life was, I would need to find new things. And I would, and that that was it. For me, I think, knowing what I’d lost, I was so adamant to find those things to replace it, I knew that mountaineering would be out. So what would be in what was that opportunity? What was the window opportunity for me? So I was scouring the internet scouring social media for role models for people that were perhaps a year, two years, five years down that line, doing the sort of things that I could potentially do. And they became my like ambassadors for how to live a limitless type life. So a lot of energy was put into finding these role models, looking at how they did it, finding strength in their strength, knowing that the journey I was about to start wasn’t just me, you know that I wasn’t alone in this journey, that there were people out there that had trod this path before. And were Trailblazers to show what was possible. So that was, that was huge, but love that. What was possible. That feels like a very, very poignant statement about your mindset. Yeah, that in as much as you were experiencing the loss of what was you very what I’m hearing is very deliberately, we’re looking at okay, well, then what’s next, I know myself to be someone who invest in pursuits and goals, and, you know, things that keep me passionate and engaged. So what is possible, you found the inspiration through the trailblazers? Yeah, for sure, for sure. And, you know, we’ll talk about it a bit later when it comes to expressing your story and telling your story. But for me, even in those first one to three months, the, my initial kind of mechanism for dealing with the trauma was to try it and not think about it. And to try and put it in a box and put it to the back of my mind and move forward, you know, almost kind of trying to discipline for as much distance emotionally between me and it as I could. And in those first two, three months, I stopped, crack started to appear. And I would struggle to look at the sky, if it was a lovely sunny, blue, blue sky day, and I was outside looking up just enjoying the warmth, I would then have to shut my eyes and cut away from that, because it would remind me of what I was looking at as I was falling. So we’ll talk about it a bit later with expressing your story and how to process those emotions. But in those early stages, there were already cracks that were starting to appear in, in the technique I was trying to, you know, employ to get through it, which was the classic, put it in a box and try not to think about it.
Kristin Taylor 23:16
I really appreciate that. I want to make sure we’re spending a lot of time there because it really normalizes this and I was actually sharing with Adam, our producer, I’ve recently read the Body Keeps the Score. Yeah, yeah. And it’s about the mind, the brain and the body, and post trauma, and how important it is not to keep things in a box. So I’m gonna be really intrigued to hear your firsthand experience of what it’s like and why that’s so important. So let’s transition if it makes sense, then to purpose. Yeah.
Darren Edwards 23:52
So for me, you know, for everybody purpose, and a sense of purpose is what? What gets us out of bed in the morning, isn’t it? And it’s the kind of, you know, what drives us? What’s our why, what’s our passion? What’s our kind of burning flame of, of direction. And for me, I lost purpose. You know, I had lost this kind of sense of direction, I’d spent, what 26 years developing, which was kind of coming to fruition. And the purpose was to achieve these couple of like, lofty goals that I’d had for years. And now all of a sudden, I’m having to find new purpose and rediscover new meaning and to kind of blaze my own trail. You know, I need to find those things. And I knew that if I didn’t find purpose, I didn’t find this new sense of what life life’s purpose was that I would end up, stagnating, lingering. Maybe then starting to fixate on all of the negative things that were part of this journey. And to look back life has no reverse gear. That’s a that’s a fact is their life. How is what he’s got a couple of years, and they’re all forward. So for me, a failure to find new purpose would have been me essentially trying to put life into reverse gear. And forever fixating on that I would never be the man I was, I didn’t want to do that I wanted to, you know, I feel that life is a constant evolution, and we’re constantly evolving as, as individuals, and had to find new purpose to give me that drive to give me that, you know, burning kind of passion again. So, even in those very kind of early days of life postinjury, I was already working on it, I was already working on what new purpose would look like. And I was incredibly lucky that whilst I was in hospital, the Paralympics were on. And this feeds back to the whole role models thing as well. But then in there watching that, on this tiny little screen above my hospital bed, the worry that that light was starting to flicker again, that light of purpose was starting to be kind of ignited. And this was the oxygen that was building the fire, because I was watching it. And I kind of thought, why can I do this? Why, what is to say that in four years time at the next Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, I can’t be there. So from that very naive initial spark of imagination spark of, of something I then set about on the path of, well, how do I make this happen? How do I make this you know my reality. And, you know, we’re probably going to chop and change around timelines here a little bit to explain it. But one of the first things that I did, while still a patient was to buy a kayak, because whilst I’d never clicked in my life before, and all of the medical advice was that, Darren, don’t try it for someone like you probably safer to stick on land. It was me kind of saying a couple of things, it was me saying that I don’t want to stop being the adventurer that I was, I don’t want to stop living an adventurous lifestyle. But it was me saying, of all those sports, I watched on that tiny little TV screen. It was kayaking, that really captured my imagination. And that was taking that first, you know, one small step towards this new purpose. And I think what I realized then and there was that life isn’t about, you know, individual particular bits that define your purpose. So Everest or Special Forces reserved stuff here in the UK, and made the mistake of thinking that purpose had to be so, you know, defined, so kind of specific, specific, whereas in reality, purpose in life is more like a mission statement, isn’t it? So my mission statement, if I think about it, is that I want to live a life full of challenge adventure and laughter. You know, for me to get to 80 years old, or whatever I’m going to get to, and to look back fondly on my life, I need to know that I’ve fulfilled that mission statement. So maybe I didn’t climb Everest, or I didn’t do whatever I wanted to do with the military. Maybe I didn’t go to the Paralympics. But you know what, I challenged myself. I went on some bloomingood adventures, and there was an awful lot of laughter. And that is my mission statement of purpose. So I guess it’s kind of received to sit and reflect and think about what our mission statements of purpose are.
Kristin Taylor 28:29
That is so helpful. I mean, really, that’s really, really moving to think about, you get to 80, or however old we get to look back, and that it’s not specific to I will achieve this specific goal. But whatever adventure, it is that there is this challenge and laughter. That’s the important thing.
Darren Edwards 28:51
Yeah, that’s really beautiful. That’s really mean, it’s different for all of us, isn’t it? So for you, you know, being a mother is probably gonna be a big part of your mission statement, you know, and for me, I’m not a dad yet, I hope to be in the future. So and, and your purpose evolves as life evolve, your purpose will evolve, as you learn more about what, you know, what purpose really is.
Kristin Taylor 29:15
Ideally, ideally, but what I love about that mission statement that it is broad and nimble enough to whatever it is, whether it’s parenting, or career or, you know, philanthropic work, or whatever it is that you’re like, can I and how can I not, can I but how can I make sure that there’s challenge adventure?
Darren Edwards 29:33
Yeah, definitely. Definitely. And, like you said, if you if you can’t adapt, and you can’t evolve, then when you do fail to and this feeds into failure, doesn’t it? I guess, when you do fail to achieve that very particular thing that you wanted to achieve, which is, you know, might be climbing the tallest mountain in the world. When you don’t achieve it. You can’t move past it, because you fail to adjust you failed to adapt?
Kristin Taylor 30:08
So I want to really dive in if we may end to this importance of writing your story you shared with me when we last met about I think you said it was a doctor or nurse or physical therapist or someone who is part of your support team, she had a really big impact on this process. Can you unwrap that for us?
Darren Edwards 30:28
So she was the psychologist, or psychologist. Yeah. And she came out to see me in the courtyard one day, and just kind of said to, you know, how you doing? How are you dealing with it, and I gave her the, the old, put it in the box, that’s not think about it, like a response. And she just said, No, this is all good. And well, in the short term, Darren, but what I’ve seen is that in the long term, this is just going to come back when you least expect it. And it’s going to be like a steam train coming from behind and it will knock you off your tracks. So what you need to do is to find a way to express your story, find a way to process those emotions, whether it’s be it will be verbally, in written form, whatever it might be. And she said, when you ready, come in, come and see me, let’s have a chat. And it was probably a matter of weeks later that those cracks have started to appear. And I couldn’t really deny it, those cracks are there anymore. They were happening frequently enough that I knew it was becoming a problem. So I go into Syria. And I just say, I think we need to talk because my mind mechanism isn’t working. So she said, Right, well find the medium through which you’re most happy to express your your feelings. And for me, that was the written word. And she said, and just get that blank piece of paper out and get a pen out and write your story and start with the day of your accident. So I did. And it took me all in all about a month to write the story of that day. Because I would write two or three sentences, maybe paragraph, and then I’d stop. Because emotionally I wasn’t quite ready to process it. I wasn’t ready to say it out loud. And, you know, this process brought tears, it brought all of those emotions back because it was like I was reliving it. But once I’d finished and once there was a three piece three sides of a4 paper that had my story on it of that day, there was like a weight that was lifted off my shoulders. And I had no intention of ever showing it to anybody or being put up online. It was just a story for me. And then one of my friends who came to visit me saw it picks it up and was this then, you know, as friends do just intrusive. And he started to read it and he went, you know, bloody hell this is this is that day. And I kind of said, yeah, and he was like, Do you mind? So let him read it. And he said, Darren, you need to, you need to keep doing this need to put it online, you need, you know, because sometime down the line, there’ll be someone just like you going through something just like this. And they will read this and know that they’re not on their own that role models thing again. Yes. And from that very first, you know, three bits of a4 paper, I then started to write. And I continued the habit for the first two years, the first two years of life postinjury because I was still coming to terms with it. I was still dealing with those emotions. And yeah, but you know, every day had like these little challenges, I was going forward with the Paralympic kayaking side of things and going through that selection process, which was tough and hard work, and I loved it. But I was still, you know, emotionally quite raw. Things weren’t. You know, and then one day, about two years in, I just didn’t pick up that pen again. And you know what it was that day, that I realized that I was okay. I realized that I’d you know, I had found my even keel I’d found my balance. My emotional mental balance was where I was the day before my life changed. And I owe that emotional recovery to that one lady.
Kristin Taylor 34:21
Yes, yes. Well, she knew I mean, she’d seen so many people who’ve gone through trauma and she understood that you are not only healing from the physical aspect of it, but this idea of compartmentalizing is something that so many of us do and have done and it keeps all of that pain and all those unprocessed emotions so locked in and they just grow bigger and they will not be ignored. So I love and I’m fascinated by the fact that you call them the cracks say more about those cracks. But what are the cracks?
Darren Edwards 34:56
The cracks where I guess chinks in the armor of the not thinking about that box, which were flashbacks, which were? Yeah, just just the sensors have been taken back to those three to four seconds of helplessness. And that was powerful. It was, you know, really vivid stuff that subconsciously was was being thrown at me. And it was being triggered by the smallest of things that might resemble something that marked that day. And that came down to even the sky being blue. Yes. And, you know, I couldn’t live the rest of my life not looking at the sky. I knew that there were I knew there, there were problems kind of thing. So yeah, those cracks came in the form of quite powerful, kind of, you know, emotional experiences.
Kristin Taylor 35:50
Yeah, flashbacks. And there’s just so much neuroscience behind this. You know, your your brain has been forever altered by a trauma and not revisiting and I, there’s so many ways I’m learning that people can begin to process they’re storing those emotions, so that they can start to rewire their brain so that the flashbacks don’t just grow bigger and bigger, and, like life smaller and smaller. So I think that’s really incredibly wise, in such an important part of your story. Yeah, so for sure model. Mm hmm. We have positive action mindset and controlling what you can control. And I have to say, I’m so curious to hear about the kayaking, so I’m hoping that’s part of
Darren Edwards 36:36
if we start with the positive action mindset stuff, this is something that I sort of practice on a on a daily, not maybe not on a daily basis, but on the basis of whenever I need to step up to the plate. I remember the positive action approach. And this is another gym. That initiative that originally kind of came about, while I was at the end of my rehabilitation just about to be discharged. And my partner, my long term partner, who, you know, for anybody that listened, I was always telling people, you know, I’m going to propose this girl, she’s the one for me. She came in about two weeks before my discharge date. And he said, Darren, I can’t do this anymore. And I remember being so taken aback by that, that I, I said, Sorry, what’s this. And she pointed to me, pointed back to herself and said us. And she said, I’m so sorry. And she turned around and walked out. And with no exaggeration, I never saw her again. And that was the end of a three and a half year relationship, who, the person I lived with the person, I’d kind of bet everything on, you know that in terms of my port forward forecasting of what my life is gonna look like she was in it 100%. And in those two weeks, through three weeks that followed, I essentially threw the toys out of the pram, I didn’t go to rehabilitation didn’t go to physio didn’t go to this didn’t go to that. And it wasn’t until one of my physios, a lady called Kate, incredibly wise lady came up to me and said, Darren, I know that me telling you to be positive right now is not going to wash, it’s not going to get anything from you. But what I want you to think, is this, at the moment, you’re letting your feelings and your emotions rule your behavior. So your feelings and your emotions are dictating your actions that you’re taking, which in this instance, means that you’re not doing anything, you’re, you know, you’re not coming to the session, you need to you’re pushing your own Discharge Day back. And because of that, you’re fundamentally changing the guy, you’re gonna be in a year’s time in five years time. So what I want you to do is flip it on its head. And think, first and foremost, who is the man that I want to be who is the guy I’m chasing? You know, who’s the man you want to be in a year’s time in five years time goes far forward or as, as close as you need to in terms of your vision for yourself. Think about how he acts on a daily basis. Think about how he responded right now, right here to this most frequent this most recent bout of adversity. And she said, I promise me, I promise you if you do those two things, think about the man you want to be. Think about how he acts, acts like that, that your emotions and your feelings will over time improve. I’m not promising the click your fingers. And you’re going to feel better, but I promise you that you’ll be moving in the right direction. And I had enough respect for K to do to do that. I thought right? Yeah, well, who’s the guy I want to be in a year’s time five years time. Maybe life does look a little bit different now because my vision of life did originally have my partner in it, and now it wouldn’t but does that mean that I’m going to be defined by this adversity? Hell no. So I fought forecasted. That was you know, the Paralympics are still very much at the center of that. And it was Tate’s bit of advice that spurred me to buy the kayak, you know, still a patient that was me gambling on myself betting on myself saying, I’m going to chase the man I want to be. And I revisit this whenever I need to in life. So if we fast forward three and a half years, I’ve been working, grinding with grit and determination to learn to kayak initially, which was incredibly difficult. And then to be part of Britain’s sort of Paralympic hiking setup. And to get closer and closer and closer to where I needed to be for racing, and in order to go to the Paralympics, it has been number one in your category in your country. And I went from, you know, so far off the pace that finishing a race was a huge achievement without falling in to fifth to fourth, to third to second. And with grit and determination, I got closer and closer to that number one spot. And then two weeks before the big race that would kind of, you know, decide who would go forward, I throw my shoulder out. And after all of that hard work and determination, and watch that race happen on YouTube Live from, you know, from my bed in my home, and, you know, I can barely use my shoulder, let alone get in a car wreck and race. And I knew in that instance, what I needed to do, you either fixate on the failure, and all of those emotions that failure can conjure up more, I revisit good old positive action mindset. And kind of say, right, well, this is the state of play. But let’s think forward here. How does the version of me in five years time respond to this? You know, how did he act in this kind of, you know, period of uncertainty and frustration, perhaps because of, you know, how hard I’d worked for something. And then I kind of said, You know what, I’m not gonna worry about my emotions, my feelings, because I know that if I adopt this mindset again, I’ll, I’ll be okay. So the Paralympics, we’re going to be the next summer. So the qualification races were 12 months prior. And I said, Well, you know what, the guy that I’m chasing, the better version of me, isn’t going to sit at home and watch those and feel sorry for himself in a year’s time, he’s going to do something that takes that purpose mission statement, the challenge, the adventure, the laughter. So I called up for my friends that are all ex military that had life changing injuries. And I said, Guys, I’ve got an idea. And, you know, I wonder if you would want to do this with me. And the idea was quite simple, but also incredibly challenging. And that was to become the first people to kayak from one end of Britain to the other, from Land’s End to John O’Groats. 1400 kilometers across some of Europe’s most challenging coastal water, huge, huge undertaking for the five guys that were completely illiquid, equipped for the challenge. And I have guys that have gone through their own, you know, struggles just to get to the start line, whether that was spinal cord injury, stroke being shot numerous times, whatever it was standing on an IED and Luke’s case. And oh my god, that version of me that I was chasing, in a year’s, you know, fast forward a year, the time at the Paralympics wrong, we’re midway through our journey, you know, 550 miles in 13 days into battling the waves, the wind, I guarantee that Britain can throw some some weather at you. And it was such a sweet moment, halfway through this expedition, that would be a world first world record, whatever, you know, we didn’t really care about that. What we cared about was that we were pushing the limits of our disability, we were trying to inspire others. And for me, it felt so great to know that that positive action mindset was the reason that I was doing what I was doing. And little did I know, but you know, that fork in the road, you know, not going to the Paralympics, but in the end, yeah. You know, doing a 26 day 1400 Kilometer expedition from the very bottom to the very top of Great Britain by sea into little, you know, kayaks would be a defining moment in my life because that little fork in the road would, you know, become what I do now for a living so I have not gone back to being an athlete. I’ve become somehow a full time disabled adventurer, expedition leader, who has done the kayaking expedition. road across the channel. The English channel separates England and France a month ago. And for me, when we talk about revisiting positive action on the way a Christian I think I told you before that my my dad passed away in September last year, he’d struggled with mental health. We’ve had some really bad lockdowns in the UK with COVID and he took his own life. And it completely floored, you know, me and my family because one day you see someone who, for all intensive purposes looks okay. And then the next time you don’t see them again. And for me revisiting that, even even though it’s so hard to, I think you need to revisit it as quickly as possible that that positive action mindset because it’s when those emotions are at their most raw and at their most powerful, that it’s that it’s so important to think about that that better version of yourself or that, not that necessarily always the better version of yourself, but that strong version of yourself, how did the strong version of yourself deal with the passing of your the unexpected passing of your father and for me, I knew once again, life has no reverse gear, I’m not ever going to be able to go back and save my dad. But God, I can make sure that others like him get the help they need. And that’s why we will I came up with the idea of putting a team together to row across the English Channel to raise money for suicide prevention charities here in the UK. And I knew that the dog was gonna bark at some point, I can totally understand that’s gonna be everybody. And yeah, it was revisiting that that kind of that mindset that, you know, the five and a half hour crossing, you know, busy shipping lane in the world. It was as we were going through it, I was processing those emotions as well. Well, that’s what I wanted to talk about as remembering Yeah.
Kristin Taylor 46:31
That’s what I want to ask. And first of all, I think Murphy was like, applauding what you just said, as needed. So that’s my, that’s my take on that. That’s exactly what I wanted to ask. So it’s the positive mindset, attitude. And going back to the psychologist, you talked about, you can’t put things in a box, you need to need to feel these things. Because even back to the neuroscience of it, it’s so important when we go through difficult things, you know, you need to feel to heal. So how did you balance feeling to healing and positive mindset? Attitude?
Darren Edwards 47:06
Yeah, for sure. I, I think one thing I didn’t want to do was to not talk about it. Because it’s such a, I guess it is over there in the States, but in the UK, there’s a culture of, it’s getting better, but of not talking about this kind of issue. You know, men, I can say it firsthand, we, you know, we don’t always like to express our emotions, and it’s perhaps not always our first thing to do. So for me, for my own emotional healing, I think I needed to express and to verbalize what had happened, to begin to acknowledge what happened as well and to accept what happened in terms of the the nature of his passing. But really, yeah, the positive action mindset stuff was my way of, I guess, trying to help others. And at the same time, verbalizing how I was feeling and those five and a half hour, the five and a half hour crossing itself, the five and a half hour challenge, whilst I didn’t talk about it out loud to the rest of the crew that are all, you know, digging in working hard trying to get from A to B, I, I quite genuinely spent the five and a half hours thinking about him thinking about my emotions of the of what had happened, how I felt about it, six months after the event. So it was processing time, it was healing time. It was emotional contemplation, time and reflection time, I think as well. And just before, you know, just to say it in case I forget to say it when we talk about perspective and gratitude, and we go back to those two things. I didn’t know it at the time. But when I saw my dad for the very final time before, before what happened happened. Me and him whenever the I Love You types, we will never if he didn’t need to tell me for me to know. And I always hope hope vice versa. He didn’t need to hear it to know. But something told me that day when I was saying goodbye to him just to say, Dad, you know, I love you, right? And he paused and said, I love you too. And that was the last thing we ever said to each other. So whilst I was obviously heartbroken and those emotions are really raw, I was still so grateful that one of the last things someone ever said to him was that he was loved.
Kristin Taylor 49:34
Yes, I can see why that matters so much and continues to matter so much. And what a reminder to all of us, you know, we never know when it will be the last goodbye to show up in in love and kindness. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Well, man, everything that you’ve been talking about, from you having the shoulder injury that derail the plan, and then just really making this such a contribution to others that it’s no, it’s so interesting. So my most recent interview was with a young woman by the name of Samantha J. And what she talks about in terms of authenticity, is really learning to choose yourself. And the, what comes up for me as I listened to, you know, this woman that you thought you were gonna live the rest of your life with. In that moment, I’m hearing what that looks like, and sounds like an action, choosing yourself. Who do you want to be? Who is the man in the future? And how will he act and believe and be, and that’s demonstration to me of choosing yourself, doesn’t mean that the loss doesn’t hurt, but it’s a very powerful way to move through the world. I am so curious to hear about the training, and I know we’re still going to get to controlling what you can control. But with the paralysis, can you share a little bit about what is involved in the training to learn how to kayak and not just kayak, but the English Channel with this British wind coming at you?
Darren Edwards 51:11
Yeah. So it was a, I think there’s, there’s probably a lesson point here around failure, because the start of learning Skype was dogged with failure. It was, you know, everybody said to me, Darren, for for someone who can’t control two thirds of their body. Kayaking is kind of fundamentally good if you can use your legs and use your core. And that journey started off in a very modest setting of a local swimming pool, where I spent two hours, well, basically falling in every two seconds. But with you know, perseverance and determination that that kind of two seconds might become three seconds might become four seconds. And before I knew I could get out to the middle of the pool without falling in, and it was just, I think, breaking it down into these small like incremental, little goals. Because it would have been pretty easy to have got frustrated and given up knowing that the ultimate goal that I had, was to go to the Paralympics and to kayak outside and kayak on lakes and rivers and go on adventures with with you know, my friends that had rallied round. So it was really always remembering these little like incremental goals, incremental goals, that bit by bit, you know, there was no overnight transformation, the certainly certainly wasn’t, but with practice may progress, so from a swimming pool to a local Canal, which is you know, a very kind of like, isolated contain bit of water with no wind, no waves, nothing to a river, so a bit more flowing water to a lake. So experiencing waves for the first time. And every time, you’d have to take stock and maybe revisit because it was a bit uncomfortable or a bit nerve wracking. So you had to kind of with gradual exposure, you got a little bit more competent. And then I saw a leaflet for the British Paralympic hiking team, we’re having like a trial day. So I went along and got put into this really race thing, racing kayak that was doubly as unstable as my one that I bought from the shop and spend, once again, the whole day falling in being dug out, putting back in falling into gap pulling back and falling in. But I was so unwilling to give up. So unwilling to kind of accept that I couldn’t do it, and I knew that with with practice, I would get these little incremental gains. So they certainly didn’t see kayaking ability, or natural talent. God knows they didn’t, I think what they saw was someone that was willing to put in the hard work to fail over and over and over again, and to use the failure is essentially learning haha. And then, you know, once again, bit by bit I get, it’s a 200 meter 200 meter sprint was the event that I was in. And to start with, oh, couldn’t even handle 200 meters that falling in. So it was kind of you have to deal with those early frustrations. And don’t get bogged down by that and give up easily. And I’ve done I’ve never given up easily in my life. I don’t think I can hear this. You saying it. And then, you know, coming up with the idea of paddling, kayaking, from one end to Britain to the other was a whole new ballgame once again, because instead of a 200 meter sprint on a lake, you were going to for the first time battling real wind real waves. And you know, we gave ourselves 12 months to make it happen to plan it to prepare for it to train for it. But nothing could prepare you for the first day because you knew that that first day was the first day potentially 35 to come, which is what we thought it was going to be. And in the first 10 minutes, you know, we’re off the line. The water is still the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Cornwall, huge, you know, 100 200 foot jagged cliffs off the right hand side. It’s emotionally quite daunting. And I feel the pain pressure of being kind of, you know, Expedition leaders is my idea that guys are here because of me. It certainly looks risky and feels it. And within 10 minutes I fall in. And for me, in some ways, the hardest point of the expedition was that 10 minute capsize because it was a real test of faith. It was a real eye, I’d spent the first 10 minutes battling to stay the right way up and thinking, Oh, dear, this could be a very long, long month. And then when I fell in, I felt stupid, humiliated, embarrassed, I felt like I should have done better should have known better somehow been more competent, that in that moment, pulling in and then having the temptation, in part to say, maybe this is too much for me, all those people that said it would never happen, because someone with your injury, Darren shouldn’t be doing what you’re doing. And that was something I heard relatively frequently. So all of that was in the back of my head. But from that cold water, we flipped the kayak up the right way. We did something that we’d never done before we remounted in the in the waves. And I was dragged myself like a beach seal back on top of the kayak, got my, my bottle into the seat somehow. So impressed with that still. I was about to pick up the paddle out of the water and another wave came and knocked straight back in. Now, this happened three times. And it was on the fourth time at the limit of that kind of just sheer determination to mean well do it that I picked up that paddle and we carried on. And I committed to myself then in there that didn’t matter if I fell in every 10 minutes, the next month I was going to live in do this. So even though, you know the next three days were a real, like, emotional physical challenge. I just got through the hardest bit. Because yeah, so to answer your question, there was no way, the only way you could train for doing what we were about to do was to do what we were about to do. Yeah, and the transformation, the guy that, you know, arrived off the Scottish coast 25 days later, was completely transformed to the guy that set off day one. Euros, kind of just more confident, calm, battling these waves with less ferocity and more composure. And dealing with stuff that on day one would have flipped me in within milliseconds. And by day 25 It was like a casual little flick of the paddle, and I would stay the right way up. Wow. So you don’t make this into a movie. There’s something seriously wrong with the world. I would watch this a million times over and what a powerful, powerful story. That’s life, isn’t it?
Kristin Taylor 57:45
Well, it’s it’s your life. I mean, it truly it is life in the term in terms of like a metaphor of you know, the resilience and the grit and the fortitude to just get up, get up, get up every time why throws a wave your direction. Yeah, but not everyone does. And I think the story is just so incredibly phenomenal. And such a testament to your strength of will and determination. Just so much, just so much. So it’s really, really compelling. Now, we have one more left this controlling what you can control. I mean, I’m sure it goes into so much of what you’ve already shared. But if you could give voice to that.
Darren Edwards 58:28
Yeah, it’s a, an Element that runs straight through the story, I think. Because in those early days, controlling why control, you know, from that hospital bed where I couldn’t do anything for myself for six weeks, there were a few small things that I could control. And I took those with gratitude as things I could do to proactively make my situation better. So one of them was a spirometer, which is like a little three chambered chute. Game, I think I would call it but it’s a way of testing your lung capacity. So as I landed, I collapsed, partially collapsed my lung. So in the weeks to follow my my lungs were incredibly weak. And I remember being given this little device that you had a tube and you like inhaled as much as you could. And to start with the three balls and the first ball to me, are you now I can do this thing. And just say inhale as strong as you can and you’d lift all three balls. CPM? Yes, yeah, me and that first instance, I couldn’t wobble the first ball. Yeah. And I was gonna be frustrated by that. And I like a challenge. So one of the things I could control was at its heart, you know, we’re not defined by adversity, we were defined by our actions that we take. So for me, this little spirometer game became one of the small list of things I could control. You know, a lot of the stuff for me bodily functions, and all of that kind of stuff was being done for me. IE, and this spirometer, this little three balls tube game became something that I did religiously to strengthen my lungs. And it then it became, you know, that little bit of accountability that I could take for improving my situation bit by bit by bit. So whilst there was so much out of my control 99% About my control, I focused on the 1% that I could, yeah, yeah, it’s so important to have a sense of agency. Yeah, sure. Exactly. And even if it’s something that other people might take for granted, you to have that focus, I can see why that was so incredibly important. Yeah. And I think, you know, running through the story, controlling the controllables. To me, an element of that was having closure on the guy that I used to be so acknowledging that there were things I wouldn’t be able to do anymore. So mountaineering, you know, climbing cliffs, whatever it might be, that was something in the past. And that was out of my control, you know, once again, no reverse gear. And I remember going up to Snowdonia, going up to the first mountain I ever hiked up at 16 years of age, and just sitting below it, to get that sense of closure. And just to say, I’m going to focus on what I can do, and I’m going to explore all these new opportunities, I’m not going to try and replicate or recreate the greatest hits of, you know, Darren, age zero to 26, I’m going to focus on what I can control what’s in my control. And I do that, you know, every day, going back to the example of the kayak expedition and falling in intendment, you know, within 10 minutes, what I could control was, in that instance, getting back into that kayak and not giving up, yeah, you know, taking that breath, relaxing, calming. Because we all do we all do it, don’t worry your life and get on top of us things and get on top of us. We worry about the things that we can’t control the you know, the as an example, the Ukraine conflicts just infuriated me. I don’t you know, and my partner, she bless her, she was I think, getting a little bit tired of me, every time she got home from work, or whenever we were messaging, I’d be sending her articles being like, Oh, I can’t believe what Houston is doing. It’s so wrong. And she just said to me, Darren, you always talk about controlling what you can control. So you can’t control Putin’s doing but you can control what you’re going to do to do something about it. With that single bit of advice. I spoke to a few people. And before we know it, we were flying out to the Romanian border with Ukraine, just on the mission to turn up and to help in any way we could to buy whatever we could with a small amount of money that we had. Or just to speak to these people that are going through this life changing event. Yeah. So controlling what I can control. So in the extreme instance, you can fly to or close by to a war zone just to help out in some small way because it’s within your within your control. And I tell you what, I felt so much better for having done something. Yeah. And something. Yeah, even in some small way, giving a blanket to someone who’s cold cuz it was plumbing freeze, and it was really cold.
Kristin Taylor 1:03:20
Yeah, yeah. So it matters so much. It matters so much. And I feel like I was talking with someone she said, I feel like so much of us. So many of us, excuse me have moved into learned helplessness. Yes. You know, when one thing after another after another after another, whether it’s children in cages, you know, another mass shooting climate, Ukraine, Putin, like there’s so many things where it’s just, we feel like incapacitated. And I think that’s really important, you know, your partner to be able to remind you and to remind all of us, I mean, it’s not just you, you’re actually doing it, and it’s just incredibly inspirational. And to help us recognize that each of us have a sense of agency, however small it may be handing someone a blanket is a really big ol deal. You know, that shared humanity, you’re cold, and I care and I see you, and here I am. I could talk to you and listen to you for hours. I want to be cognizant of the time. And I also want to excuse me, I want to ask what you are doing now you have an incredibly important story and message. How are you reaching people and how can people reach you and no more?
Darren Edwards 1:04:34
Yeah so recently had a career change. So I’m recently trying to build a career as someone who shares this story who talks about resilience, mental health, overcoming adversity, living with no limits type sort of mindset. And it’s been a big risk because I left a you know, a solid job with good job security with a monthly paycheck. We knew exactly what you’re going to get, but coming off that expedition, I decided that the first thing I was going to do was hand hand my notes in and leave and just gamble once again on myself. And so at the moment, trying to build a career as a speaker, so in the UK, but obviously open to the US as well. And my website, if anybody would like to read a bit more about my story, if they’ve not already had enough at this point is www.darrenedwards.org.uk need to obviously work on getting an American version of that, but and then on social media, DarrenEdwards_Adventurer. And like you say, there’s, there’s, there’s lots to come, there’s a big opportunity to do something pretty challenging later this year. And much more to come, hopefully.
Kristin Taylor 1:05:53
Okay, well, I’m sure I am sure you are phenomenal speaker. I mean, I you just, it’s not only him phenomenal story, but your ability to speak it with such such passion and elegance. I just think more people need to hear your story. I needed to hear your story. So I just thank you from the bottom of my heart, really.
Darren Edwards 1:06:14
Absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for having me on. I really do appreciate it.
Kristin Taylor 1:06:17
My pleasure. And my onor. Thank you, Darren. It is my honor to have been able to meet Darren and listen to his story. And what an honor knowing that others are listening to you represents so much of what I love most about humanity when we are at our best kindness, grit, determination, resilience, just to name a few. It reminds us to never give up, while also staying adaptable to our core mission. Should the tides of life have other plans in store for us? For him? That core mission revolves around challenge, adventure, and laughter. So maybe the exact nature of the goal or vision changes, but the mission can remain the same. So when life is really tough, when you feel especially tested, who is the person you want to be? Who is the person you are chasing after in the future? Who was that better version of yourself? Our theme song and sound engineering was provided by Shane Suffriti. You can listen to more of Shane’s music at www.shanesuffriti.com. If you have a story about making it through something that forever changed you or want to tell us what you think about our podcast, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you enjoyed today’s episode, we humbly ask that you share it with others. Thank you for listening. We’ll see you next time on How I Made It Through.
EIQ Media, LLC 1:07:59
How I Made It Through is produced and distributed by EIQ Media LLC. Elevate your emotional IQ with podcasts and content focused on overcoming adversity, leadership, mental health, entrepreneurship, spiritually transformative experiences and more.