I’m gonna talk about Stretch Marks

Here is Amy’s first of 2018. We hope you enjoy!

I remember the first time stretch marks appeared on my body. I was in the bath and I think I was around 10 years old, though it would make sense that I was a bit older. Either way, I couldn’t figure out what these red scars were on my thighs but I knew I hated them; I wish I could have rubbed them out.

Since that point, and up until I was in my 20s, my stretch marks kept popping up on my body, parts where I was reassured that most women had them (hips and thighs), then other parts that weren’t so common (arms and backs of legs).

My stretch marks became a barrier for me in many ways. One of the ways they held me back was in exposing myself in public and no, I didn’t have any ambitions to go streaking through a football ground. It was more like, you know, wearing skirts bare legged or going for a swim was no longer an option because exposing my legs, thighs and arms, literally filled me with dread.

The stretch marks also held me back when it came to physical intimacy. I had deep set insecurities about my body and the stretch marks simply confirmed my fears; I was fat and thus unattractive; could any man fancy this? They in a way became a visual representation of my insecurities. My Mum assured me that one day they would fade to white and become barely noticeable, but I felt like they would stay with me forever.

This is how I felt until I was around 21 years old. Whether it was living in Manchester or, as I have mentioned in previous blog posts, the weight I had lost post-PCOS diagnosis, it was not until this point that I thought any man would really find me attractive or should I say not be repulsed by my stretch marks. I actually remember having the conversation with my good friend where I came to this conclusion, and my year in Manchester became a testing ground for me as I started dating for the first time (do I hear cheers at the back?).

Although this is all very sad in many ways, I am actually very grateful for this mindsight that I had. It meant that I had to build my confidence away from the eyes of men, something which has now made me very strong and secure in my physical appearance. I mean, I still have my bad days, but if anything I never obsess over my appearance like I used to.

Through swimming and running in public, my confidence has grown even more. Today I had to run from Sheffield city centre to the train station with my sister. We were both dressed  in black as we were attending a funeral and couldn’t miss the train or we would have missed the service. A scene which many (including my former self) would have found cripplingly embarrassing, I found hilarious (my sister less so as she had only had 1 hours sleep…).

Having now been in intimate and physical relationships, you also realise that men also have stretch marks (who knew?). Having opened up to them about my own issues I also realise they too have insecurities with their bodies, something I was never as aware of until I reached this level of intimacy with someone.

Being “secure in my insecurities” was a true marker in my life, as Alicia Keys sings in “Girl Can’t Be Herself” which has inspired me to write this blog and which appears on her album HERE which I thoroughly recommend. I missed it in 2016 I was totally and utterly caught up in the magnificence of Beyonce’s Lemonade; in many ways Key’s HERE is like Lemonade’s older sister.

As I struggle with other parts of myself in this experience we call life, I have been thinking a lot about my younger self and the internal battles I have already had to undergo. Do I love my stretch marks? No, I am not sure I ever will. But I am comfortable with them. Its been a long journey and I sometimes I wish I could go back in time and learn to love myself from a younger age, but I got there and that’s the most important thing.

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Skinny Girl Diet Adventure: One woman reflects on her year so far to put weight back on.

This week we have another guest blogger. Thanks Bethan Mosley for sharing your dieting experience!

Never in my life did I think that I would go on a diet. After all, aren’t diets, except for those in sports or with certain medical conditions, meant to be for people wanting to lose weight?

In terms of my own weight, I have always been a slim person. Before my weight loss, I could fit comfortably in UK size 6 and 8 clothing. I weighed around 7st-7st5. It wasn’t until I got down to 6st 5 at the end of last year that I realised that I had a problem. I put the majority of the blame to my work life. I was, and still am, a door host at a restaurant located in a popular indoor shopping centre. It was December and I was working a lot of shifts, ranging from 4-9 hours a day, 5-6 days a week. I was constantly busy with seating people down, cleaning and re-laying tables and organising bookings. Whilst it doesn’t sound like much, when it is Christmas time and you have people doing their Christmas shopping, it is a lot of work. I was always walking around trying to get everything done as quickly as possible and, even if I didn’t always know it, I was stressed.

I’m lucky that the restaurant where I work provides us with free staff food. A lot of the food that we can have for free isn’t exactly healthy. Ok, at the time I was eating pretty much pizza or pasta, sometimes a side salad. Once Christmas had passed I thought I would put the weight back on easily. It had calmed down but nowhere near as much as I thought. Shoppers now had money and vouchers to spend, so it was still mayhem. Progressing onto mid-January, early February, it had now started to calm down. The shoppers were broke. Hallelujah! I had way fewer shifts, a majority of which I finished early or were cancelled. I could finally start having proper meals at home again and spend all day sitting on my lazy arse. Moving further on throughout the next few months, although I wasn’t as skinny, I still wasn’t what I should be.

Following a series of doctors’ appointments, in which I had to do a blood test and keep a food diary, I was asked if I would like to be referred to a dietician. Being referred felt like a step in the right direction to getting to a healthy weight again. At my first appointment with my dietician, back in May, I weighed 6st 10. I had put on some weight but nowhere near enough. As I did with my doctor, I explained to my dietician my weight history, how I was pre and post university life and with the situation at work. She asked me basic questions like what I ate, how many meals did I eat in a day etc and weighed me. After this discussion she worked with me to develop a plan to get me to my target weight. In terms of the plan itself, I wasn’t entirely sure what it would be like. Working with her I was glad to find I wasn’t going to be forced to eat what I didn’t like. Not to brag (totally to brag) I certainly didn’t expect to be telling people that I get to eat two desserts a day. I’ve definitely had more than one person tell me that they want my diet.

Bethan diet plan

I remember not long after that appointment I went browsing round the clothes shops. I didn’t really want to be buying clothes when I was planning to put on weight but at the same time, I wanted some clothes that actually fitted me properly. My intentions were size 6 clothes. I was quite shocked to find out that when I went to Primark that their size 6 clothes weren’t the best fit. I had to go a size below. I was now a size 4. I fit into the equivalent of a US size 0. Even now that still shocks me. Growing up I loved fashion. Subjecting myself a lot to it, I must confess that a part of me did wonder what it would be like to be that size. I can now say that it is not good.

Writing this now my progress is steady. I have had a 6 week check up appointment with my dietician in which I managed to put on 4 pounds, taking me up to exactly 7st. On average, I was putting on half a pound a week. My next appointment is in about 3 week’s time. Weighing myself last weekend, I am up to 7st 2. From that, I want to put on just over a stone. In terms of my BMI, if I was to weigh 8st 3, my ideal weight, I would be in the healthy range for someone of my age and height. I can gladly say that my size 4 jeans are starting to get a little tight. The jeans I actually now have on I have ripped one of the belt loops from using them to help pull them up because of how tight they are. Oopsie! I am not quite there yet, but size 6 and size 8 clothes are starting to fit me properly again.

Now, when I look in the mirror, I have a better shape. Do I even dare I say that I’m developing some curves? My bones don’t stick out as much either. Allow me to tell you that being told you’re all ‘skin and bone’ is not intended to be a compliment. After I reach my target weight, I’ll be visiting my dietician to work on a plan to keep my weight healthy. I’m aiming to be at my target by the end of the year. Before my diet I didn’t really pay too much attention to what or how much I ate or even partake in any exercise. Now that I have seen what can happen to my body I’m learning that I need to keep a better lookout. I expect that it will take time for me to truly learn what is best for my body but I’m ok with that.

Hello Depression My Old Friend

This week we have guest blogger Abigail sharing her experience with depression. We hope you enjoy and you can check out more of her work via her blog found at  the bottom of this blog!

When I finished the hell that was masters degree back in December, I expected to be bouncing off the walls with my newfound freedom.  I booked a one-way ticket to New Zealand for a year-long adventure.  It was supposed to be a year packed with nothing but mountains, star-gazing, and Lord of the Rings references.  But it turns out that there’s a catch.

I have depression.  And somehow missed the memo on this!  You see, my brain and I have been deep in denial about this for years.  Yes, it’s come around before, but I’ve always gotten past it one way or another.  Depression is different for everyone, and I appear to be on the high-functioning end of the spectrum.  Essentially, I can still function, go about my job, be a good student, and get all the chores done.  On the surface, it seemed like there couldn’t possibly be anything wrong.

But recently, I’ve found myself wishing I could stop in the middle of whatever I’m doing to just curl up on the floor, cry my eyes out and hope the linoleum sucks me up.  Somehow…this didn’t seem right.  Also…this didn’t seem socially acceptable when I was supposed to be cleaning the hostel kitchen.

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Nope by Gemma Correll

So it seems that the demon has returned. For years, I honestly believed that I just didn’t have depression anymore. I went to therapy years ago, I worked myself out of it, I was fine! Except now I’m not. Well today I am…but tomorrow who knows.

To me, depression seemed like this thing I could beat. And I did for a good long while! But as much as I love the adventure of traveling, solo travel gives you a lot of time in your own head. You begin to question things and become in tune with yourself. So when your heart is jamming out to My Chemical Romance…well…you notice.

I was blindsided the first time I was really aware that it had come back. Where had it come from? There was nothing going on to make me so upset! I was in the land of hobbits for Pete’s sake! And then I remembered that depression isn’t about that. Still, acknowledging that the beast was back didn’t bring me much comfort. Once I knew there was a problem, I kept waiting for it. Each day I would wake up wondering, “When is it going to hit?”.

The other problem was that I was already aware that I suffer from PMS. There are some times that I find myself being really down…and then surprise! I get my period two days later! And amazingly this seems to happen every month! Thank you, uterus!

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Uterus by Sarah Anderson

So my depression must only be related to PMS right? WRONG! This time my depressive episodes were happening at random. Hmm…So it looks like depression has made itself comfortable on the couch that is my brain. Rude!

It’s even harder being so far away from home. I feel like my brain specifically prefers to go into breakdown mode when no one at home is awake. At some point, I had a friend go on a trip abroad, meaning I finally had a conscious friend to call on during one of my episodes. Guess who got a phone call the minute she woke up? After all, nothing says “wake up sleepy head!” like “HELP! I CAN’T STOP CRYING AND EVERYTHING IS AWFUL AND I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO!”

Now I have friends in Kiwi-country that are helping me cope. Things are improving. There are still days when I find it hard not to just curl up on the floor. But on these days, there are at least a few things that help:

1. Watching a familiar movie, preferably Spirited Away or Pride and Prejudice.
2. Crying. A lot. Sometimes, I can get it out of my system. Sometimes I can’t. Either way it does seem to bring temporary relief.
3. Taking my damn vitamins! Vitamin B6, Calcium, and Magnesium can do wonders for reducing my PMS symptoms. So maybe, just maybe I can at least keep the hormones at bay.
4. Telling a friend. The more people I talk to about depression, the more I realize that I’m not alone. Sometimes even just telling someone that I am the exact OPPOSITE of okay is enough to keep me in balance.
5. Going outside. Even if I don’t want to move, just lying in the sun can help. Given…it’s winter here in the Southern Hemisphere, but I can still try!

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Tropical Depression by Gemma Correll

6. Eating healthy food. I do this at home, but on the road, it’s much harder to find the motivation to cook myself a decent meal. Often, I resort to just sticking a spoon in a jar of peanut butter and thinking, “Welp…close enough!”. I feel worlds better when I actually cook up a vegetable or two.
7. Going for a walk. I am very lucky right now because the hostel I work at has a Border Collie that I can borrow almost any time. If I’m riding the struggle bus, I grab the leash, steal the dog, and walk until I can at least partially function around other people again.

I’m not saying any of these things are a cure-all. I’ve accepted that now…I think. But they’re helping me cope. Heck, even having a list of coping tools is an improvement right now. It turns out that there’s no guidebook to dealing with depression. When the unwelcome tenant in my brain returned yet again, I had no clue how to cope. If I hadn’t asked one of my friends for advice, I would still be struggling a lot more than I am now. She helped me begin to sort out my triggers and list the things that help me stop feeling like I’m at the bottom of a well with no way out.

Some days, I am the happy-go-lucky person I always thought I was, being so cheerful it would probably make unicorns cringe. Some days, despite the beautiful shining sun in the sky, I just want to hide in a nest of blankets. Nothing is perfect. But I’m functioning as well as I can. And throughout this whole process I’m learning more about myself. I’m trying to accept the beautiful, messy brain in my head because, despite all the ups and downs, we’ve accomplished some great things together.

While I know that a blog post won’t cure anyone else’s depression any more than it’s cured mine, I hope it helps. Sometimes it’s so easy to get in your own head and think you’re going nuts or that you’re an idiot. Well for the record, you’re not. If you’re reading this and you can relate, I’m sorry that you’re going through this as well. But you’re not alone. You are beautiful. And we’re all going to pull through on this crazy rollercoaster called life. As my favourite fish once sang: “Just keep swimming”.

 

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Octopus by Liz Climo

 

Social Media: So I won’t be posting this on my blog just yet (I may do a sister article more focused on traveling), but my blog is wanderponderwonderland.wordpress.com if you don’t mind including the link. It’s a travel blog focused on some of the less glamorous aspects of traveling abroad. Thanks!!

Chub Rub

After a couple of weeks break, this Friday we have Amy discussing the “Chub Rub” phenomenon, particularly relevant after the hottest June temps on record here in the U.K. Enjoy!

Growing up as an overweight teen, summer time was dreaded. Summer time was meant for a certain shape of woman who felt comfortable exposing their body to the masses. My pasty, white, wobbly thighs did not want to be on view. Saying this being overweight my whole life, I have grown accustomed to how to dress my shape and have sought comfort in the clothes I wear. I have always had my own style, knowing that with the right outfit my body can look good. It’s a confidence I have endeavoured to instil in other women in my roles in retail and just as a friend really. But in summer this confidence was thrown off kilter, and not just because of my outward insecurities. Not just the fact I obsessed over the stretch marks on the backs of my knees, or the very paleness of my skin, but the fact that my chunky thighs rubbed together so badly they burned. This phenomenon is what I call chub rub, although it is commonly knowing as chafing.

Building my confidence through university and learning how to laugh at myself, I started to talk to other girls about chub rub, in particular on one interailing trip round Europe. I guess in many ways before this time chub rub to me was a fat girl problem and because I was so insecure about my weight, I didn’t want to admit to anyone that my body was telling me I was fat (I hope that makes some sense). But what I realised was, most girls suffer with chub rub. Most girls are rallying against the beloved thigh gap every day of their lives, congregating around the baked goods in supermarkets, we gently smile at each other and express our love of Beyonce. But in all seriousness, chub rub is an issue and one that in the summer really can have an impact on our outfit decisions: “I really wanna wear this dress bare legged because I am actually melting but I am worried about the chub rub burn so I will have to fashion some tights.”

Through the years I have sought many remedies for chub rub:
The tights that become shorts: On frequent occasions I have cut tights to create shorts for under dresses to try and overcome the chafing. There have been several problems with this though. Firstly, the tights have a habit of rolling up, so you end up with a pair of glorified tight-knickers overheating the whole crotch area. Not only does this not prevent the chub rub, but they’re really bloody hot and therefore contradicting the whole reason why you want to wear a nice, cooling dress in the first place.
Vaseline: On said interailing trip, where we lived out of one rucksack each for 4 weeks, we tried to come up with many remedies to solve the discussed chub rub problem. One of these ideas was Vaseline, which made for an extremely awkward situation in an Italian pharmacy where we were trying to act out why we needed the Vaseline, rubbing our inner thighs with our hands, to which they responded “I see, for bedroom” and we broke into hysterics. We discovered that the Vaseline worked, but only for a short period of time.
Walking like a penguin: Yes, simply walking like a penguin is of course an instinctive reaction to chub rub, actively separating your thighs. This of course, is not really practical in day to day life and you do look like a bit of a tit.

After attempting all these solutions, I have only found one remedy which has helped. After reading a blog about chub rub written by an American girl a few years ago (seriously they are well ahead on all this stuff than we are) I bought Monistat “chafing relief powder-gel” from ebay. It was around a tenner and, as my friend pointed out, has the consistency of a primer. Really it acts to matte the whole area down. Although not a complete cure, especially in the boiling heat, a small amount of this goodness has saved me for several summers now. I would say it lasts nearly the whole day, but I pop it in my bag just in case I need topping up in the later afternoon.

I also happened to have a conversation with a colleague about this very problem as we melted away at work on Monday. After discussing her “top tips” to a) bring a spare pair of pants to work and b) to put your knickers in the fridge before wearing them, she then followed up the conversation by introducing me to “bandelettes”. I am yet to purchase any so I can’t pass comment, only that I am glad they exist and I will be treating myself when I get paid.

So there you have it ladies (and gentlemen who also experience chub rub I have come to find out), I hope this blog has given you some peace of mind about the inner thigh burn. Like most health matters, you are not alone, and it is really nothing to be ashamed of. I will see you near the baked goods soon.

“Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all”- Whitney Houston

Here is a wonderful and uplifting post from our guest blogger Jenny! We hope you enjoy 🙂

“Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all”. If Whitney Houston said it, it must be true, right? Yeah, but she also said it was “easy to achieve”. I have found it anything but.

To say I was a child who refused to wear clothes until I was about 5 or 6 years old, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t deeply conscious, if not ashamed of my body. I’ve always been a larger lady, I have never experienced a thigh gap, my stomach has always stuck out, and the idea of ever buying a bra in Topshop is absolutely laughable. And in itself, this is all absolutely fine! I have friends of all shapes and sizes and they are all astoundingly beautiful, if anyone spoke about them the way that I spoke about myself I’d have them on the ground (probably crushed between my POWERFUL THIGHS until they apologised). The idea of “if I lose that weight…” or “when I’m a couple of sizes smaller…” has followed me for years, and has it happened? Has it heck. And yet, for the first time in my adult life I think I’m pretty chuffed with me.
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Let’s look back at 2014/15 me. I was deeply unhappy, with a lot of things and not just the way I looked. I was, I’d say, at my least fit. My stress eating was at a high, I had just moved to a whole new city where I didn’t really know many people, with a partner who would make whale noises and less than kind comments about my weight regularly, my blood pressure was less than ideal (thanks, contraceptive pill) and I couldn’t seem to find any comfort in myself. Whitney would have been very disappointed.

Towards the end of 2015 though, my life got pretty switched up and I realised what I had been putting myself through. I moved back to Sheffield in 2016 and got to spend more time with my little sister. She’s 11, and has more confidence in herself than I ever have or will have, she is nonstop on Instagram and even has a YouTube channel. Talking to her made me realise that the way I look at and treat myself doesn’t just affect me, it seeps out into society and that’s how people with different bodies are made to feel the way I felt my whole life. What kind of world would I be building for my sister if I kept living by these standards? I’d told myself for long enough that me being happy was tied up in fitting into a certain mould, that if I just got down to a size 12 it would probably all be fine. Utter bollocks. Things had to change, and by things I mean my attitude.

Your body is your partner for life, and unless we perfect those head jars from Futurama, you can’t get away from it, why tell your body that it doesn’t matter? Even when it lets us down, and it so often does, it’s still there and hating it only makes you feel sadder about yourself. So here is how I started changing things up.

Before I moved back, I started trying to make small changes. Instead of avoiding full length mirrors where possible, going “Urghhhhhhhh” as I prod my belly and try to shoe horn it into that pair of jeans which I swear fit last week, when I would hop out the shower I would look in the mirror and say one nice thing about my body, and not the same thing as the day before. Like: “the way my hips curve is ace”; “My belly is really soft”; “I could probably crush a man’s head with my thighs”.

 

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Picture from @Mayakern “fat”

 

Soon after this, I started to really work on letting myself take up space too. I had an epiphany while talking with some of my lady performer friends about how we position ourselves, consciously or subconsciously, to take up as little space as possible and not just on public transport. No matter what room I’m in I will worry that I’m taking up too much space. How can you be happy with your body when you’re so focussed on keeping it as small and unobtrusive as possible? Letting my body have the space it needs has been immensely freeing, doing things like wearing clothes that actually fit me regardless of the size they say they are (the numbers never match anyway, why squeeze myself into a 14 when a 16 is comfier and looks better?).

I recently started doing yoga too, as something which would benefit my body and mind by giving me some quality time with myself. It’s great because it isn’t about denying your body, it’s not like running (which I am working hard to try and not hate) because it’s about connecting with your body as it is, not trying to change it. You can really just take the time to breathe and focus on how your body feels, giving it all the space and stretch it needs and just feeling it as it is. Yeah I know this sounds pretty wanky* (*which, coincidentally is also a real good activity for “me time”, but maybe a li’l TMI at the mo yeah?) Plus it confuses my cat no end, so that’s always a laugh.

One of the biggest things I did though was start to surround myself with a positive environment. I have friends who are all wonderful and supportive and always say positive things if something about the way I look comes up, and getting a new significant person in my life who loves my body and says nice things about it like, all the time, certainly hasn’t hindered things either.

This last year I got pretty obsessed with podcasts too, and my God is that a different environment to places like Cosmo and Glamour. Podcasts like The Guilty Feminist, Girls Girls, and My Favourite Murder (yeah I know how that one sounds) are all astoundingly positive feminine spaces full of support and love and self care, and what a difference that makes. Being made to feel like I’m not alone has changed so much about my life, even if some of the communities I’ve joined are well across the pond. Thanks to one Facebook group I’ve become a part of, which celebrates women of all shapes and sizes, I took my sister swimming the other day and didn’t even worry about how I looked! I hadn’t really realised how long I had felt I was lacking a positive space until I suddenly found them again, and even though I want to be able to form my own body image without being influenced by others opinions, it’s good to know someone, somewhere will have your back (and have nice things to say about it).

It has not been as easy as Whitney promised, but I think the greatest love of all might finally be happening to me, and it was worth the wait.

5 things for a fiver that have helped my overall well-being

Here is Amy with a blog about some cheap things you can do to help you in trials and tribulations of everyday life.

Since graduating from my MA on average I have lived on around £50 a week. This excludes the rent/board I have been given my sister to keep a roof over my head and times when I have been able to save a bit (mainly for a trip to Hong Kong I had in February). But in general I have learnt to live on not a lot of money at all. But I hear you say, what the hell has this got to do with health?

Well, the instability of my life for the last year and a half has had an impact on my mental health. It is reflective of many of my friends who have gone through (and are going through) a similar experience. But instead of banging on about it because I do appreciate things could be a lot worse, I am going to talk about some coping mechanisms I have come with which help me along the way. Please bear in mind with this, that I do live in Sheffield and I am quite quirky.

So here you go *drum roll* “5 things you can do for a fiver which help your mental wellbeing”:

1. Plants: I have always liked plants. When I lived in Manchester I bought a lavender plant when I was having a bad day and decided mentally that if I could make the plant blossom, my life was going to be ok. A year later after dragging it a long with a car load of all my possessions over the Pennines, it died and I thought I was destined to failure. Post Hong Kong where I spent many evenings wondering around the wonderful Bangkok Flower Market with my friend Oliver, I came back completely inspired and since, I have managed to grow some magnificent flowers in the flat. For a couple of quid you can get a vase or (I like) a clear bowl, and for a similar amount you can buy a plant. There is something about nurturing another living thing I find quite therapeutic.

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2. Meditation: This is relatively new to me, but I have always enjoyed the meditating I have done in the past. After a recent high blood pressure reading, I took a leaf out of Becky’s book and went to a meditation drop in last week. It was simply wonderful and so relaxing I really took a lot from the experience. For £4.50 it was worth every penny and hopefully will have a positive impact on my health!

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Big Buddha in Hong Kong

3. Coffee and cake with a friend: Not sure if any of you have felt the same, but there is a lot of guilt when you’re poor. Because money is tight, you always feel bad for spending money of things that lack real “significance”. Putting aside the assurance that I have applied and continue to apply for full time/stable work, I have realised with time how important it is to have friends you can meet up with and have a rant to. A coffee and cake helps as well and there are a handful of lovely spots in Sheffield where you can get a coffee and a cake for a fiver or less. I find this really important to keeping me balanced.

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4. Exercise: I have blogged a lot about this is in the past, but I find exercise possibly one of the most important hobbies in my life at the moment and a lot of this has to do with my mental health. My advice is to find an exercise you enjoy, some people are more individualistic (like me) who prefer running on their own than taking a directions from someone else; some people enjoy the camaraderie you get from a class. Either way, exercise is so important to maintaining a healthy body and a healthy mind (sorry, I wish I could word that differently to sound less of a pretentious twat). Putting aside the trainers/leggings/sports bra you might need to initially buy, running and other forms of exercise are very cheap, if not free (and you can look like this below…)

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Currently training for 10k. This is a picture of me after a run and says it all.

5. Buying fresh food: One of my favourite weekly activities is going out of my way to walk for 25 minutes to buy my fruit and veg from Ozmens on London Road (well I did tell you I was quirky…) I currently work from home two days a week, and I find that a break in the afternoon does me a lot of good. I have always loved cooking and am a proud foodie, so the excitement I get from food shopping in a lovely international food centre is mega. I manage to get quite a lot for a fiver too!

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I realise at the end of this list that there a number of other coping mechanisms I have as well, such as buying a monthly album, drawing/being generally crafty, live music, Ru Paul’s Drag Race, a good book, writing these blogs. I suppose this realisation is a warming ending to this rather strange blog post…

Am I losing my spine or am I losing my mind?

This week Amy is in conversation with her sister Elle, talking about the back problems she has been suffering with over the last few months.

It all really started at the end of January. That’s when I first started having lower back pain, but it wasn’t severe at this point. It was on the 23rd of January, on a Friday, that I woke up and thought “this has got a lot more serious.” I was particularly concerned because the pain was in my lower back, not in the shoulders/neck area which is where I usually suffer with tension.

I decided to check my urine (I am a nurse bear in mind) to check for any signs of infection, it was completely clear…

What are the signs of a urine infection? (well this is a health blog after alll…)

Nitrates in your urine. Leucocytes in your urine. Protein in your urine. Mine was completely clear (and I did two samples because this is the sort of person I am…)

So let’s get back to it…

Yeah so anyway I continued to go back to work, but mentioned to the staff that my back was hurting. By the end of the shift I was in severe pain. The only way I can describe it was that my whole back was like a brick, and that there was a fist wrapped around my spine at the bottom.

My partner Adam, who has suffered with back problems himself, was looking worried when I got back to the flat. We decided to go to the walk in centre but there was a 4 hour wait and in panic, I rang 111. They basically said you know “just go home and rest it off.”

The pain got really bad that night. I mean I couldn’t sit down or lie down, I just had to stand all the time. I rang 111 again and they got me an appointment with the GP collaborative. The GP I saw said that they suspected I had a muscular strain and prescribed me some high strength cocodemol. I was also signed off work for two weeks.

So how did you feel after the two weeks off?

I continued to be in pain.

What was the pain like, can you describe it?

For the first week it was just very very tight, like I was sat in a corset that was being tightened. I just was never not in pain. The cocodomal wasn’t really working either, so then I was put on diazepam.

After a while, my pain started to ease off in the mornings, but grew worse in the afternoon. I was in a cycle of taking my medication and ringing 111 for support.

Mentally it was difficult too. I felt like I had lost control of my body. You know, I couldn’t do the things that I could always do. I was very scared, I was very worried that it was going to be like that forever. I had known of people slipping discs and having to take months off work and I was worried it was going to affect my career. I don’t like being sat in my own thoughts in my own flat.

After the first couple of weeks, I started to go back to work which was on reflection a mistake, but I was taking a GPs advice. I did one shift, came back and I couldn’t walk like normal. I had to be guided to bed by Adam.

After this came the spasms. They felt like I was being electrocuted down my entire body, from my back down to my legs. The combination of these and the palpitations was horrific. It felt like a prickly porcupine was wriggling up my back. I couldn’t sleep properly and I was exhausted. I was ringing my GP every couple of days for more help, but they just said to continue to take the medication for now.

I was struggling to cope at this point, I was panicking; I felt I was locked in a room and I couldn’t get out. All I wanted was to be back to normal, you know I couldn’t get in the bath on my own, I couldn’t dress myself, I couldn’t pick anything off the floor, I couldn’t do any house work.

Not that you did much anyway…

Haha I know. But for that to happen to me, as someone who has always been independent and powered through difficult situations, was very difficult.

 

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A relaxing foot mask

 

Do you think that the mental effects of being ill had an impact on the physical symptoms?

I do I think it made the pain worse in a way. I was constantly having dark thoughts and being out of my routine of work did not help. I had really irrational thoughts as well like, what if I am paralysed? Am I going to be like this for the rest of my life? Crying for no reason, you know just crying!

And now you sound like me!

Hahaha I know! But really it was like my body was saying you have to cry, you are in too much pain not to be crying.

My symptoms changed after this point. I got more syatic pain; numbness, pins and needles, tingling down both legs and a numbness down below. It was very on and off. I had started to go to physio which was helping.

Do you think that part of the fact you were getting better at this point was that someone had taken more concern over your problem?

I think part of it was that and I think part of it was the fact he (the physio) had, through deep massage, literally got the spasm out. You know, for a while during and after physio my muscles were really relaxed.

To be honest the following few weeks were like a rollercoaster. One good day where I could walk a lot and be active was met by another terrible day where I couldn’t do anything. And there was conflicting advice; some people said to keep active, others said don’t do too much. I was in a  whirlwind of contradictions to be honest and was the whole way through this experience. Every professional I met, the physios and the GPs, told me different things. I was lost. In the end I just listened to my gut and did what I felt made me feel better at the time.

 

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Soaking my feet really made me feel better

 

After about two months, I felt I was getting somewhere and I went back to work. Unfortunately after about two weeks at work I had a flare up, which involved biolateral leg pain in both legs, feet and my bum. I also had arm pain and was starting to have spasms again. I thought I was back to square one.

After weeks of not contacting them, I rang 111 again, in desperation really. I’d never had leg pain in both legs. The numbness down below was getting more and more intense; I felt like I was needing to wee all the time. The pain in my legs was excruciating. I couldn’t sit for more than 10 minutes. After a few days I was referred to a muscular specialist who then referred me for an MRI scan, mainly due to my caudaequina symptoms, normally highlighting a more severe problem.

At this point I was off work again. There was one night where, I am sure you remember Amy, we ended up in A&E because I was so scared of what I was feeling.

It must have been about a week later that I got my MRI scan. I just couldn’t believe the results. I had no abnormalities, with either my neck or my spine. I burst into tears on my doctor, I just couldn’t believe it.

The GP explained how complex the back was, and she felt it was most likely a muscular problem. She told me that muscular pain can be just as bad and that if it had occurred in a certain area of my body, that it can push on the syiatic nerve.

So reflecting on these quite surprising results have you any thoughts?

I explained to my physio, who was very surprised by my results, that I have suffered with severe anxiety and part of my condition is overthinking things. I have had help with this for many years, but obviously this experience you know, was completely knew and different to anything I had gone through before. I do believe that the stress and anxiety that I was under, worrying about my career, my life, having to have surgery all these things which had become very real and apparent just exacerbated the symptoms.  I think part of this was also because I wasn’t on the right medication.

So to conclude I think you should delve into your coping mechanisms throughout this experience…

Well apart from the support network that I had, I turned to Art. Through being creative I felt like I was doing something productive and I didn’t have to move much to do it which helped! Walking and generally going out when I could, helped. I had regular baths and magnesium flakes really worked well for me as well. Also heat patches.

Oh my God the heat patches…

Yeah, the heat patches that I wasn’t meant to put directly onto my skin which I didn’t realise until last week or something! But yes, the help of my boyfriend Adam, the exercises I was told to do like palates on the swiss ball. Because of my low mood as well, nothing really interested me but sweet foods- muffins, cream cakes, chocolate éclairs- so in many ways I comfort ate.

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What I will say to end it is that you have to go with your gut instinct and I am now taking amatriptoline which is helping me tremendously with the nerve pain.

 

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Some great exercises to help strength your core and back

 

 

 

Part 3. of horrible things to happen to my cervix – coil edition!

This is our third guest blog by Megan you can find the first here and the second here.

This is a weird one, as it is a personal choice to inflict this pain on myself. I have been struggling for a while now to find a method of contraception that works for me.

tenor

The combined pill worked well, I don’t really have much of a problem remembering to take a pill everyday, but I have been recommended against it due to a couple of dodgy blood pressure readings.

I moved on to the Progesterone only pill which caused a lot of problems; I was left with a fairly constant light period for months on end (which to be fair worked quite well as a contraceptive in itself).

Then the depo injection, which worked brilliantly but is not supposed to be used as a long-term method.

Finally, I tried the implant which worked!… until it didn’t. After just over a year I was back on a constant period which led to part.1 and part.2 you may also have read about.

This left my GP recommending me the coil and after all my problems with hormonal contraceptives I decided a nice mechanical method that works for 10+ years sounded brilliant!

The coil (aka. IUD or mirena the hormonal version) is a small T shaped device that sits in your uterus and stops conception. Just to clarify for those who, like my father think ‘it won’t hurt to have it put in, there are no nerve endings in your cervix’, I would like you to first have a cervix and then have someone stick a tube through it and then, and ONLY then, can you decide whether it will hurt.

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Having the coil fitted was probably the least traumatic though! But then saying this, I am also fairly experienced in having my legs up in stirrups by this point. The process of getting the coil was fairly straight forward, I called my GP’s office and asked ‘can I book a coil fitting?’ The receptionist told me I needed a consultation with the Doctor who would insert it first.

This seemed reasonable and was a fairly useful appointment. I asked all my questions about the different coils and my medication, I was told to take paracetamol before my appointment and that although it may hurt a bit most women ‘could tolerate it’.

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Bearing in mind the things women ‘tolerate’ I wasn’t much comforted by this. However, I left well informed and booked to get it inserted.

Now we fast forward to insertion day and I am sat nervously in the waiting room trying not to think about how many people have told me it hurts. Is this a good idea? Is it really necessary? Maybe I could just cancel the appointment and go home and just live with the constant slight period that my implant has caused!

Alas! My name has been called – there is no going back now!

‘So Mirena or Copper?’ – The two different types of coil, one uses a small dose of progesterone hormone, one seemingly uses black magic to do with copper. I opt for the copper version purely because of my previous experiences with hormonal contraception, I am not going through getting a coil fitted just to find out that it causes the same response as the implant!

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Here we go again! Pants off and legs up in stirrups. Surprisingly, in this appointment it’s only me, the doctor and one nurse (who while I’m sure doing a whole host of very important things, seems to be there purely to comfort and distract me).

The one thing that really got me this time was that I didn’t take my socks off. It didn’t occur to me due to the cold floor but the moment I put my legs up in the air and said I was ready I was completely overcome with the thought that I should have taken off my socks. How bizarre to be fully nude from the waist down and yet still sporting my glittery space themed socks. Feet warm and yet breezy in the downstairs. Do you think people usually take their socks off? I wonder if when I’m nervous my feet sweat like my hands do, because if so it’s gonna be real grim putting my shoes back on! Do you think I have time to stop them and take my socks off before they start? Or will drawing attention to the socks make the fact that I left them on look even more weird? Its official, I had missed the sock gap…

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Luckily the nurse and I start chatting straight off and my brain stops focusing on my socks. I love the nurses and doctors who are good at small talk!

‘What did you get up to this weekend?’

‘What would you be doing today if not this?’

‘What have you got on for the rest of the week?’

If there is one thing that helps keep my brain off pain it’s rambling incessantly about stuff that doesn’t really matter!

Me and the nurse talked Netflix and Yoga while the doctor popped in a speculum and had a look around. She also had a bit of a feel around at one point which was a more awkward look away and pretend it’s not happening moment. Once she was back in with the speculum stuff started to get pretty uncomfortable and crampy, but I kept nattering away about my weeks plans. When she stopped I sighed a breath of relief.

‘Not too bad… is that it then?’

No no, that was just my cervix being measured. The insertion was where the real fun was at! I was mid talking about the work I had to do that week and then came along a new kind of pain, an ‘ooo that would be in my cervix then!’ kind of pain.

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Then in almost no time she was done, the lovely nurse helped me shuffle up the bed a little so I could have a little lie down and a breather. When I was ready I tried out a sitting up position, then when that was alright I donned my clothes again (noticing that I was right, I should have taken my socks off after all because my feet had nervously sweated).

I was again given a bunch of leaflets (I have a nice hefty disorganised pile and folder full of these darn leaflets) about the coil and a questionnaire to fill in after a couple of weeks.

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I left breathing heavily, there was a lot of pain, when I made it home I set up shop with mildly entertaining TV and a heated pad and sat and groaned ‘till well into the evening. In reality, it was probably not far off the crampy-ist part of my period.

After that day things got good, pretty quick. I had minimal to no pain the next day. I did bleed for 3 weeks, although, I think I deserve it after shoving something into my uterus. Fingers crossed a long-lasting method of contraception that is going to work for me. Nothing works for everyone, that I can certainly attest to! The coil certainly won’t! But for those who are interested, it isn’t as bad as you think it will be and the pain is temporary!

Injection

We have a real good’un for this weeks’ TOTM. Here is guest blogger Alex Rivers delving into the contraceptive injection!

When my first boyfriend ‘Dave the Builder’ told me I should go on the injection, I listened. After all, I was new to all this, where as Dave was clearly a very well practiced man in the bedroom, and therefore, clearly, he was an expert when it came to contraception…

“It stops your periods, too”, he said, as if this was simply the biggest blessing I could possibly be offered as a woman. Being somewhat young and naïve, I looked upon the injection as an escape from the monthly ritual of feeling rubbish and spending five days feeling sorry for myself in bed, as well as being an escape from having to deal with condoms every time I had sex. I didn’t think about the dangers of STIs, as I had never had any proper sex education lessons, and what I didn’t appreciate was that for all of the bonuses this option seemed to offer me, I was actually escaping womanhood. Given the chance to go back and make this decision again, knowing what I know now, I would have looked for other options!

I went to the doctor and got my first injection. I don’t remember any questions being asked about either my sex life, or what my knowledge of the injection actually was. More worryingly, I don’t remember the doctor telling me anything other than not to be alarmed if my periods stop, as that is a typical side effect for many women. I was not told that prolonged use of the injection can cause problems with bone density. I was not told that a common side effect of the injection was weight gain. I was not told anything about the hormone I was being injected with. I was not told about the dangers of hormone imbalance. I was not told that a small proportion of women on the injection still get pregnant, and that I should be taking pregnancy tests every three months to check.

I was simply injected with a hormone I knew nothing about, and sent merrily on my way.

Having had no adequate sex education at school, and no prior knowledge of what I was doing, I thought that my whole experience with the doctor must be completely normal. I continued to get my top-up injections every 12 weeks, and it was always the same scenario. I would be in and out of the doctor’s surgery within the space of five minutes. Sometimes the nurse or doctor would take my blood pressure, or weigh me, but never commented on the results – and thus I never considered that there might be anything I should be doing differently.

It was only when I moved to Manchester and started going to a sexual health clinic for my injection that I was alerted to some possible dangers: by this time, I had been on the injection for over seven years.

For the first time in all the years I had been having this form of contraception, the nurse administering the injection asked me some questions. She asked me about my weight, which I admitted had shot up by over five stone since leaving school. She asked me about my mood, to which I responded by telling her that I had been referred to doctors several times with some worries about the state of my mental health. While never actually being officially diagnosed, words like ‘depression’, ‘bipolar’, ‘mania’, and ‘psychosis’ had been thrown around, which had been incredibly scary for me… and finally the nurse asked me how long I had been receiving the injection as a form of contraception.

It was at this point that she refused to administer the hormone. She explained that weight gain was often a side effect of the injection, and went on to explain all of the other side effects, many of which I had been experiencing, but hadn’t even considered that they might have been down to my contraception. She also went on to tell me that my extreme mood swings were very likely a product of an incredibly severe hormone imbalance which had been built up from my unusually long use of the injection: usually woman only used the injection for two or three years before swapping to something different. The doses of hormone are so big that if used over a prolonged period of time they can cause some catastrophic side effects.

The nurse then took the time to talk me through exactly how lots of different methods of contraception actually work – something that I had been virtually oblivious to previously. She explained to me how I should now swap to a pill which contained the same hormone as my injections had, but in much smaller, daily doses. This would gradually reduce my hormone imbalance and should stop some of the side effects. She also explained to me how different pills work differently for different women – and walked me through all of the possible side effects I could expect, and other contraception methods I could try. I have now been off the injection for several years and can happily report that my mental health is better than ever before, and I finally feel in control of my body. I have found a new method of contraception which suits me, and I am fully aware of the hormone it uses, and the side effects it can cause.

While my hormone imbalance was effectively brought about by my own naivety, and failure to research the contraception I was being given, I partially blame the controversy and stigma in today’s society associated with talking openly about contraception. While this is something that is certainly being tackled head on today by many organisations in the UK, I can’t help but feel that sex education in schools is failing hundreds of thousands of young people (especially young women). If I had had lessons about contraception, then I honestly believe I wouldn’t have found myself with a horrific hormone imbalance, and extreme mood swings that I had to deal with for many years.

You can keep up with Alex’s slimming world journey on her Instagram @operationweddingdress_sw

The pill linked with depression? No shit Sherlock.

And here’s another one from Amy, can it really be blog number 6?! You can see her other blogs at the bottom of the page 🙂

If you remember a while ago I wrote a blog on the pill and how being taken off it during one of the worst periods of my life, was a very bad experience?

Since I wrote that blog I have seen numerous articles about the pill and how, through research conducted at the University of Copenhagen, it has now been proven that the contraceptive pill has been linked to depression. Although these findings are of course shocking and desperately need to be discussed, I couldn’t help but think to myself “no shit Sherlock.”

This breakthrough in research got me wondering about the countless conversations I have had with people regarding contraception, especially since starting TOTM. At work, at university, at networking events, at the pub, at bus stops; the clear majority women I have spoken to have had some sort of problem with the pill, or other hormonal contraception.

When I was first put on the oral contraceptive, I was never really told what I was taking. In my head it made sense post-PCOS diagnosis because it would regulate my periods and at that point, although not “sexually active”, the thought of actually knowing when my periods were going to happen was enough of a reason for me to start taking the pill.

With time, as I learnt more about PCOS, I realised the other implications. I was digesting hormones, and in fact two of them, progestogen and oestrogen. From the personal research I have undertaken since being diagnosed with PCOS, my understanding of it is that a lot of my condition comes down the fact that I have, naturally, a hormone imbalance. It is acknowledged that depression can be a symptom of PCOS and in my non-scientific mind I think a lot of it will come down to this hormone disparity, and of course the other side effects of the condition having an overall negative influence on a girls self-esteem (weight issues, excessive hair growth, skin tags etc.)

As mentioned in my previous blog post, to me the only way I can describe being on the pill is feeling just more balanced. My overall mood is better and I feel I am more productive, which contrasts the sluggishness I feel when I am depressed. And please don’t get me wrong, I still have my ups and downs, but having gone through the experience of being taken off my pill, I can tell you personally I feel my overall mood is a lot better when I am on it. But I am fully aware that my condition might make me an exception to the rule! Most women don’t need their hormones tampered with.

Up until recently I didn’t realise that there were many different types of “the pill” with different levels of hormones in them. Through some online research I found that the one I was on “Rigevidon” was not actually considered the best for women with PCOS. I discussed it with my GP and she informed me about the different pills (a very refreshing conversation) and trailed “Yasmin” which had higher levels of oestrogen and could be better for controlling the unwanted hair growth.  The change in pill had a negative affect overall (mainly headaches and weight gain), so after three months I went back on Rigevidon and no longer have issues.

After having the clarification from the GP about the different types of pill, I started to realise that what the medical profession need to understand is that many of us do need and want more of an explanation. Yes, money in the NHS is tight and yes every box comes with a folded-up sheet of information that lists the side effects of taking the pill, but a lot of the time a 2-minute explanation from a medical professional would help a tremendous amount, even if it sparks more a what I call “thorough google” when I got home.

I know friends who have been on the wrong contraception for too long and on visiting the doctors have not even been pulled up on it, their huge mood swings and weight gain not  even considered a by-product of taking a hormonal contraceptive (please read next weeks blog for more on this!). I know others who have been forced to swap contraception and left with having a period for months on end, something I also experienced when taken off the pill, not only is it physically draining, but also emotionally so. Even mentioning the implant to some women unearths a deep, uneasy sound of months of distress (or as one friend put it, “I went mad”).

I don’t feel it’s too bold to suggest that a lot of these problems have been ignored because they can’t be physically seen and moreover, that they affect women. This was cemented for me when it was reported that production of the male pill has been halted because it made some male participants depressed. 

And in the great words of Holly Grigg-Spall who wrote this wonderful piece for the Guardian: “Considering that women are fertile just six days per menstrual cycle and men are fertile every single day, that the burden of avoiding unwanted pregnancy falls to us, regardless of the burden that might have on our health and wellbeing, is nothing short of sexism.”

The point I want to make in this blog is, and sorry in advance if it comes across preachy, women need to be made aware of what they are taking when taking the contraceptive pill or indeed any other form of hormonal contraception. For some women, the change in hormone levels will be barely noticeable; for others, it may leave them with drastic mood swings and bouts of depression. And as patients we need to be bolder in our discussions with the GP.

I can only speak for myself but I have at times bowed to the suggestions of my GP because they are in my mind the peak of authority figures and rightly so; they’ve spent years studying this shit. However, similarly to how I feel when visiting the hairdressers, nobody knows my body (or hair) like I do, and this is what I cling onto when I have my visits.

And if you’ve not had enough of me, you can have a gander at my other blogs here: