“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

 

 

 

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:

How a Swimming Challenge Helped Me Fall Back in Love with my Body

 

This week we are luck enough to have another blog by Evelyn. You can read her first blog here!

Hello again! If you read my last post, you may well be worried that I’m about to moan some more about the horrid realities of chronic back pain. Don’t fear, this is a positive post! You’re about to feel uplifted and inspired. Or, at the very least, not depressed?

This story begins with finding myself suddenly with three whole weeks of nothing to do while I rejoiced in leaving my old, stressful job, and waited for my shiny new job to begin. I found that the long hours and high pressure of my previous position had left me feeling quite drained, unfit, and frankly, helplessly not in control of my own life. I know it seems weird to say that a job can make you feel like you no longer have any say in what happens to you, but let me tell you, when you’re frazzled to the point where you feel you physically can’t do anything after work except eat a take away and watch Netflix while screening calls from your loved ones because you physically and emotionally cannot deal with expending any more energy whatsoever, it’s pretty damn debilitating.

Cue my brain (which fondly remembers when I was at university and had limitless time to swim and be fit) challenging my rather unloved body to swim every single day until I started my new job. I wanted to stop hating myself for never doing anything I enjoyed. I wanted to stop hating my body for only ever being in pain, and I wanted to stop feeling so helplessly unable to catalyse any positive change in my life. I also wanted an excuse to buy a cute AF swimming costume, which I did:

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Aformentioned cute swimming costume

So, I made up a fittingly lame hashtag (#Evelyns21DaySwimathon), and resolved to swim about 1000m per day for three weeks. And off I went, diligently marching off to my local pool, swimsuit in hand and waterproof Fitbit on wrist, ready to go straight back to my former glory days of smashing out a serious 45-minute pool workout like I was born to swim. *Record screeching against turntable noise* –Yeah.

It turns out that when you don’t exercise, you get really bad at it, even if you used to be awesome at it. I did 1000m in about 40 minutes, and I had to stop every ten lengths. I was exhausted, and to be honest, a little disappointed. I felt like my back was to blame for my shoddy performance, and I immediately assumed I would never improve..

EV 2

My first attempt at swimming 1000m

Nevertheless, I had posted about my challenge on social media, and the self-conscious part of me felt that all 342 of my followers would come after me with torches and pitchforks if I didn’t at least complete my challenge. So, persevere I did.

My first hurdle came when I missed a day. I thought “Oh crap, I’ve FAILED! I have missed a day, thus RUINING my 21 Day Challenge, and I have no option but to give up.” Shockingly, I did not give up. In a moment of uncharacteristic clarity, thought: “Maybe the reason I’ve rarely succeeded when faced with challenges in the past is that I’ve given up at the first wobble, or at the first sign the end result won’t be perfection”. So I didn’t give up. I posted honestly about missing days – I didn’t always need a reason, sometimes life just gets in the way- and I learned not to beat myself up about it. I just swam for longer the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that. In a very Dory-like fashion, I just kept swimming. I told others to do the same when they asked me how I swim for so long, so often. “Just keep swimming!” came my merry reply, “It’ll get easier!”. And it did.

EV 3

I  made this selfie black and white because I felt like a real baller for swimming 2km in one go

By the time I finished my challenge after 23 days, (sorry not sorry), I had swum over 21 kilometers. That is the equivalent of swimming the length of Big Ben 218 times, or the length of the Eiffel Tower 70 times, or two thirds of the English Channel (which I admit wouldn’t be very useful, but you get the jist). I had gone from not being able to swim more than ten consecutive lengths on my first day, to on my final day swimming thirty in a row with ease. I lost six pounds and gained back some muscle tone. I cut ten minutes off my 1000m time. I went on a seven mile walk through the countryside and didn’t end up in a painful heap, crying and lamenting my frail back.

EV 4

My happy face after my final swim!

I didn’t become a fitness model. I didn’t magically cure my pain. But what I did do was give myself a chance to be proud of what my body can achieve. For the first time in over two years, I was telling people about what my body CAN do, rather than what it can’t. I didn’t hate my body anymore; I didn’t see fat thighs or chubby arms, I saw beautiful strong limbs that obeyed me and carried me towards my goals. I didn’t hate myself anymore; I felt in charge of myself and my life again. I told myself to do something, and I bloody well did it.

At what point should I start to charge for a cervix viewing?

Here is Megan’s second blog for us, you can catch up with her first here!

I managed not to get too worked up about my colposcopy before it actually happened. It was nearing the end of term so the work was piling up so that was the prime focus. Even in the waiting room I was busy squirrelling away at my work.

Eventually my name was called and the nurse lead me through, I should mention here that in an attempt to make me feel better about the wait she told me that the reason was that they’d had a ‘couple of people faint this morning’ – which FYI is in no way comforting when I am yet to have the procedure!

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I was questioned about allergies and disabilities and when we were through with that she left me in another waiting room.

It was the first time I had stopped to think about what it would be like. I’d read the leaflets but not associated them with me and now, sat in a waiting room awaiting a stranger getting up close and personal with my cervix and I started to get nervous, not much time to get worked up though as the doctor then called me – Name, D.O.B, address and then an explanation of why I was here and what the procedure entails.

It was this point that she told me that my extended period probably had nothing to do with a polyp or ectropian, leaving me to wonder why the hell I had taken the time out of work to not find out why I was bleeding?!

After the explanation and ‘any questions?’ moment, I was lead to strip my bottom half and adorn one of those super-attractive-arse-out gowns. The room was not what I had imagined, but they never are. Just so that you all know, almost all procedures (minus an initial viewing) are not done in private-probably-only-one-other-person-could-fit-in-here type rooms, no no they’re in a you-could-almost-throw-a-party-in-here-theres-so-much-space size rooms, and sometimes it feels like they are. There were 2 nurses and a consultant in there as I began to shimmy into the stirrups, moments later and vag out and another nurse opened the door and walked in.

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The consultant was lovely, trying to distract me with the help of all the nurses ‘What course do you do?’ ‘Ooo what kind of engineering?’ ‘I really like your nails, did you do them yourself?’  But nothing can distract you when you know everyone in the room can see your vulva. It’s at this point I had the obvious thought ‘Should I have shaved for this? Or at least trimmed?’ but then I’m sure these guys have seen worse than lazy pubic hair choices.

The bed was raised up till I was vag to eye with the consultant and we were away, speculum in and opened wide. To highlight the ‘abnormal’ cells they wipe your cervix with vinegar which is not as bad as it sounds and at that point I got to have a look too!

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This was the point my day went from oh bummer I’m gonna miss some working time, straight to pre-cancer. There was no polyp, as my GP had thought, however there were some abnormal cells which can be pre-cancerous. Pre-Cancer? I’m not sure if there is ever a good moment to tell someone you think they may have pre-cancer, however, I am fairly certain that a point at which they don’t know what that means and have no way of googling because they’re flat on their back vag out for at least the next half an hour in varying degrees of pain is not remotely near a good moment.

A nurse brought over the screen and pointed out the irregularities, a ring of white cells on an otherwise pink, healthy cervix. Now, seeing as I had abnormal cells it was now biopsy time, hurrah! The doctor had already gone through what this would entail but she went through it again as she knew that everything she’d said had left my mind. At this point, what I really want to say is ‘the biopsy was fine! you all have nothing to worry about if this happens to you!’

Instead I will say this, my experience was not great but I would do it again for the sake of my health.

The doctor told me the plan while she collected her biopsy tool (aka. Cervix scissors). The nurse then repeated it, ‘I will count to three and on three cough as hard as you can!’. I’ve got this right, nothing hard about coughing.

One
Two
Three
*Cough* – PAIN, something has grabbed my cervix and hasn’t let go! Is it not over yet?
Consultant ‘Could you repeat the counting’

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One
Two
Three
*Cough* – More pain, it’s still there’
Consultant ‘Does that hurt much?’
Very high pitched me – ‘Yeah, hurts quite a bit’

Consultant ‘Almost there, and again’
One
Two
Three
*Cough* – Still there?! The deal was one cough!

Consultant ‘And once more’
One
Two
Three
*Cough* – She’s out, the cervix scissors are out, I might cry.

I get the, ‘ooo are you okay?’ ‘Does that still hurt’ ‘You’re doing a really good job’ from all angles and I try not to cry while asking ‘Is that it now?’
Nope need to take one more, they do check if I’m okay with it but I suppose when we’ve got this far….

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At this point my legs are shaking and I just want them to get it over with so I can leave but this feels like it’s taking forever. The openness of my vagina is making me feel deeply uncomfortable and the whole situation is starting to make me feel a little sick.

Consultant ‘Right could you count for me again’
One – don’t cry
Two – don’t cry
Three – don’t cry
*Cough* and it’s done, she’s out, one cough this time as expected thank goodness!

The pain is distracting my mind as they tell me how well I did and how I was being impressively stoic as the first biopsy was quite tricky, then she’s telling me what good strong vagina muscles I have – not the weirdest compliment I’ve ever had.

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Before you leave, if they have biopsied, they apply ‘silver nitrate’ which cauterises the wound (aka. stops you bleeding). This felt like the longest bit as I sat there shaking in pain, holding back tears, noticing how cold my cervix was getting. The silver nitrate comes with its own type of discomfort but this was a more familiar cramping that I could deal with.

Finally, the procedure was over but before I had time to run into my changing room and cry, she talked to me about the ‘what’s up’ of pre-cancer. It is in no way cancer, just like a mole or lump that can either clear up on their own or just need removing before becoming cancer. That’s good news I guess. At upsetting appointments like these it is almost critical that you write down what it is that they tell you they find, or take a friend or family member to listen for you. Luckily at this one she gave me a leaflet so my memory could take some time off.

I spent the rest of the day in pain, the kind of period cramps where you really don’t want to get out of bed pain but mixed with an acidic feeling. I also had ‘pre-cancer’ repeating itself in my head. I went to this appointment hoping for nothing and I got a very clear not-nothing. I moped through to my afternoon work appointments went home and took to bed like Mrs Bennet. I have been here ever since (mind it’s only a few hours later it’s not like I’ve been here for days).

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1 in 20 women get an abnormal result at the cervical screening test.
Of those 6 in 10 have abnormal cells.

Of the remainder, less than 1 in 1000 women who have a colposcopy have cervical cancer that requires immediate treatment. As much as I’m trying to ignore it and think positive, I sit there in 2016 and had to recognise that anything could happen.

So far in 2016:
Odds of Brexit – 3/1
Odds of Trump winning the election – 5/1
Odds of Leicester city winning the premier league – 5000/1
…Considering all of these happened my 1000/1 weren’t looking too good!

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Since I wrote this I have had a great deal of time to google pre-cancer (aka. CIN) and find out all about it. I have also had my results…… There are 4 different grades, most common, and the one I have is CIN 1. It’s the best kind to have from the looks of things, usually clears up on its own after a couple of years, so may not have even been found if I had waited till 25 to have my first smear. It is hugely demoralising to be diagnosed with anything, especially when you have no way of curing it.

Problem is, there is no big story here, nobody cares if you have pre-cancer and rightly so! Bar the repeat colposcopy it will probably have very little effect on my life. This is all good news and yet I am struck with a familiar feeling. If nobody that I know has gone through this, then how will they ever be able to empathise that this procedure and diagnosis have crushed me. Yet again I am having to emotionally come to terms with something that from the outside doesn’t look so bad. I feel like shouting into a void, but then, I suppose that’s what blogging is for!

Why I’m running again

Round-up, here is Amy’s 5th post!

Today I woke up and I felt spring. From the frayed hole in my curtain I smiled at the crack of light and something warmed in me. I laughed, I think it was hope.

I’d got myself into a rut; 2016 had tossed me around like a rag doll. Two months of happiness sandwiched between the cold harsh reality of being an “adult” and everything it could bring: countless rejections, disappointment, financial hardship, my first heartbreak and the all-encompassing doom of the Tories in/Brexit/Donald Trump becoming President. I spent more months crying last year than I ever have in my life.

Although there was never a point where I thought I couldn’t get through it, predominantly down to my well weaved support network, the love of my job in the arts and the overriding excitement of a whole world of music yet to be discovered, it was tough. And although I had gained a lot of experience, I feel I lost some of myself along the way. Perhaps that was inevitable.

With the drudgery that had come before, when I did eventually get full-time work, I started to save a small, manageable amount every month. And when this job went part-time, I went back to mania of retail at Christmas, my main goal having enough money that I could go and visit one of my best friends in Hong Kong.

After an infuriating January, whilst in Hong Kong I basked in the glory of being away from my life for the first time all year, soaking up a completely different culture. Having spent most of my childhood holidays in Whitby or Lancaster University Campus (yes, you read that right) and having never been out of Europe, this was very much a new experience for me. The physical space allowed mental space and I had time to reflect. As I took long bus journey’s to visit the Big Buddha, with a stranger’s head lulling against my shoulder, it came to me; part of pulling myself together again is going to be running.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and I’m back on very familiar and yet uneasy ground. As I let my feet do the walking for me, I found myself on a special piece of land.

We call it The Heath, my friend and I, and it’s a field just behind our secondary school where we both studied and fought through the ups and downs that teenage hood can bring. During university, when we both started to like each other, this piece of land became a place of comfort when we went home. As we viewed the school grounds that trapped us and the town we both couldn’t wait to escape, I think the distant but close positioning of it best symbolised our encompassed state. With a bottle usually in hand, we’d seen off many celebrations on that field and danced through the technicolour of emotion with Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights. 

The Heath also, ironically, was the place where our school used to make us do cross country, something I genuinely hated and dreaded whenever it arose its ugly, muddy head. Like most P.E lessons, I would do anything to get out of it, which adds another twist to my running tale. 

Downloading the Couch 25k programme I thought to myself would I have to go back to square one? I took a risk and plunged for Week 4 (3 minutes or running- 1 min break- 5 minutes of running). I thought I could handle this as I had been keeping active at the gym. And I did. There I was breathing through the music, trying not to slip on the mud, hoping the surrounding dogs were not going to bound towards me and knock me off course, waiting for that all powerful: “Ding, now start walking.”

For the all-important playlist I opted for a Spotify special “Gym & Hip Hop” which had me smiling and between runs, dancing my way through (I find this helps). And there I was for half an hour, with one simple objective- getting from run to run and not giving up. Through the process I felt an inner peace return. Running helped heal me last time, it will help heal me again. 

If you wanna track my original running blog of last year, you can do here. If you wanna catch up with my previous TOTM posts you can do here, here, here, here.

Things I’d like my friends and family to know about my hypermobility

This week’s guest post is written by Eleanor, Becky’s cousin and fabulous friend – enjoy! 

There are a lot of posts out there that say ‘I wish people knew this about my health condition’, usually wanting to raise awareness. This isn’t one of those (not that I’m slamming them). I don’t expect you to know this stuff if I’ve not told you. But having recently started composing such a list in my head, I realise my previous explanations haven’t always been helpful, so this is what I’d like you to know.

I have joint hypermobility, or loose joints. This means my tendons are too elastic. Often this means people are very flexible or double jointed. Many ballet dancers, gymnasts, clowns are hypermobile, and benefit from it. However, it can also cause pain and stiffness in joints and muscles, clicking joints, joints that dislocate or partially dislocate easily, fatigue, recurrent injuries, digestive problems. Oh hi, *waves* I’m Eleanor.  The first doctor who identified it told me and my mum that it’s very common in teenagers, (I was 17) often caused by growing too fast (we know about that in our family, don’t we Bex?) [Editor’s note: both Becky and El were 5’9”+ aged 14…] and my joints should have stiffened up naturally by my mid-twenties. I’ll be 25 next week. Hmph.

‘But El,’ I hear you thinking. ‘You’re ridiculously inflexible. You’re always moaning that you’re feeling stiff and dragging your feet along the floor, and then moaning that your shoes get scuffed toes. You can barely even touch your toes with your feet flat on the floor. How can you be hypermobile?’ Well observed, most astute reader!

According to the physiotherapist I also unconsciously (and increasingly involuntarily) tense my muscles a lot, because of the hypermobility. Mostly to just try and hold things in the correct place – total muscle relaxation now puts quite a lot of strain on my joints if not properly supported, as they will just relax a bit too far out of the joint – which is uncomfortable  to say the least. The result of this is that my muscles are pretty strong, but also very tight, hence the inflexibility. So habitual is this tension that muscle relaxation is not something I can always achieve on command (to the frustration of my very lovely osteopath). As some muscles groups (like my arms) are tensed a lot, other muscle groups have to do the work (like my hands) and so are easily exhausted, as they’re always over working. Sometimes to sleep I need extra supports under my elbows, neck or back to let the muscles relax enough for me to nod off. Hence getting out of bed I always sounds like a a piksie dancing on a typewriter as each one of my joints pops properly back in place. Inactivity, injury, unusual stress, overexertion, stretching or straining can cause involuntary tension, muscle spasms, cramp.

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TL;DR? Struggling to get your head round how that works? Fear not! I have a glorious analogy for your enlightenment! You know those wooden mannequins artists use to draw people? The really good ones can be pushed into any position the human body is capable of, but none that it can’t. I’m like one of those where the elastic has gone, and suddenly, all the joints just go a little bit further. Not totally falling apart, but the joints won’t quite stay in place either, so if you’re putting it in any mildy radical position, you’re constantly pushing the joints back in properly as they slip. Exercise winds up the bad elastic, and stops the joints going every which way at the slightest touch, but the moment you stop winding, it runs slack. And my muscles are as stiff and unhelpful as that little wooden dolls, so ouchy tightness and inflexibility. Yeah. That. That help at all?

Having said all that -my hypermobility is relatively mild. I have friends with Ehlos-Danlos who have it much worse than me. Their joints are literally disintegrating and they often can’t walk without the help of crutches. I am forever grateful that I don’t experience the pain and discomfort that they do. Most of the time, you won’t notice I have it. Exercise makes it better, but not too much exercise, or I hurt/break myself. But not doing any exercise is probably one of the worst things I can do. However, sometimes exercise just seems to break me inexplicably. Just can’t win sometimes. Often the warmth makes muscles and joints looser and less painful (or just makes my fingers swell, you know, depending) and the cold means I can feel every joint acutely and my fingers feel swollen and stiff.

So, stuff I want you to know:

  • I know many of you are grossed out by the sound of joints clicking. I get that. I’m sorry. Try and remember that most of the time, I really can’t help it, I probably don’t even notice it anymore, but if I’m doing it deliberately, it’s to relieve significant pain or discomfort.
  • I am usually in some kind of pain. Don’t worry about this, most of the time I don’t notice anymore and I only realise that I was in pain when experiencing pain relief. But if I get overexcited about washing up or a bath, it’s because I am contemplating a few gloriously pain-free moments, where I’ll feel as invincible as Iron Man.
  • If I am moaning, feel free to tell me to shut up and get on with it. We all need to hear that sometimes, and I’m no exception. But if I am just sad or tired, hugs are better.
  • The most obvious thing you’ll notice is that when getting out of a chair/off the floor I move like someone four times my age. I’m not clumsy or arthritic (yet) or even dramatic -I just only need to be sitting down for 20 minutes to be as stiff as a plank of wood from neck to toe, which hurts. And planks of wood are not graceful. The longer I’m sitting, the stiffer I am, the more things hurt. Bear with my slow creakiness, and try not to make a witty comment about alcohol if I stumble or lose my balance. Do however, feel free to laugh if it was funny. It’s often hilarious if I fail to get out the chair first time, or struggle to maintain my balance once standing, and I’ll be giggling.
  • Because of inactivity fast causing stiffness and pain, I tend to wriggle a lot in my seat. Please excuse me. You should probably know that if you invite me somewhere where constant wriggling is socially unacceptable, like a wedding or a conference, it’s quite a big thing. I’ll come, enjoy it immensely, and I’ll be good and not wriggle but I might get a bit quiet towards the end of the day as the pain overtakes me a bit. If this is obviously happening, please send me home early, with chocolate.
  • Sometimes, ‘cause of hip, knee or ankle rebellion against the mothership, I’ll walk quite slowly. Match the pace, don’t bat an eyelid, and I’ll love you forever!
  • I discovered I was hypermobile through issues with my hands. They are ok when warm and not doing too much repetitive activity. But if it’s winter, or I’m typing lots, they will be stiff, painful, and the involuntary tension in my arms and neck will go haywire. That’s why I live in fingerless gloves October through to April, (I know you always wondered) and type with the help of those floaty clamp things you’re all jealous of. So if it’s cold, and I look like I’m struggling to hold a phone, use a kitchen utensil, type a text, open packaging, pick up crockery, open a door, a bottle, or jar, turn a page, or use cutlery – *breathe* – offer to help if you can, or just bear with me. Tell me no one cares if I eat with my fingers, and bring me a mug of something hot to cradle in my claws.
  • I know that these aren’t perhaps the most logical links to process, but for me, injury = stopping exercising for more than 48h = bad pain episode = extreme fatigue. Whatever I’ve done to myself that stops me exercising may seem very local, or minor, or downright invisible and not something you’d expect to be debilitating. But the ramifications are huge. And the pain wipes me out. Please be patient with me as my capacity drops, I get behind on a few things, I zone out of conversations, ask you to repeat yourself again, and sit there yawning and blinking when I got twice as much sleep as you did last night. I’m sorry if it seems insensitive when you’re dog-tired from sickness or teething toddlers. I’m interested. I care. You’re not boring. I hate it, and I’ll be trying to get out of it as fast as I can.
  • The fitter I am the better I’ll cope with periods of non-exercise, and the less affected I’ll be. So if you invite me to a film after I’ve been sitting behind a desk all week, don’t be surprised if I pop a couple of painkillers with my popcorn. On the other hand, if I’ve been cycling or walking a lot, try not to die of shock if I bounce around or just seem much more… fluid than normal.
  • There is a lot I can do, but high impact or repetitive activities are hard and/or bad decisions. I probably won’t ever be able to knit, or run a marathon. I probably can’t play the piano or rock climb anymore. But don’t say my no’s for me. Ask – I’ll think about whether it’s feasible/wise, and get back to you. I am determined that I shall one day hill walk again!
  • I don’t need wrapping in cotton wool. The majority of the time – thanks be to God – I’m fine, and I cope. I can lift the heavy box, run for the bus, ride a bike, use a fountain pen, open a tupperware, play the sport, hold a phone, eat my dinner competently with cutlery (as much as I’ve ever been able to). But sometimes I can’t. And I will tell you, and not do those things, or let you know if I’m unsure and going to find it hard. But mostly -just let me get on with doing the thing.
  • Don’t offer me cake. I love cake. I think your cake looks scrumptious and beautiful, I could never have made it because I’m a terrible baker, and I’m so impressed. I really want some. But the best thing I can do for my joints is to lose as much weight as is healthily possible. (I know I don’t look that overweight, but I am.) It will make a difference. I’ve struggled with weight management since starting university. And it’s caused me injuries. So ask me if I’m allowed a treat today before offering me the cake. Hopefully, I’ll be able to say yes to both!

I don’t expect you to remember this. I’m still figuring it out myself. So ask if you want to know, don’t bother if you don’t care, and please just bear with me. ‘Cause I care when it affects you.

 

Stuck in the middle – and I’m wondering what the hell I should do

This week we have another excellent post by guest blogger Martha – you can read her previous post here

Yesterday I had a really good clinic appointment, my team are fantastic but I would never normally describe a hospital visit as great. I am in and out, nothing ever really changes because I am not really that ill. Yesterday was different, I’m going through a tough time and they spent hours with me. My doctor explained things that have never been explained to me before. We looked at my chest x-ray together, he pointed out patches of damage (all I could really concentrate on was the outline of my lopsided breasts).

‘If you were to see these lungs out of context would you be able to tell they were ill?’ I asked. I am of course aware that he is a specialist but he humoured me.

‘Yes and no. I would be able to see there was something not right. But in context [he meant compared to other people in his clinic] they are not bad.’ (Lungs not lopsided boobs, I presumed.)

That’s me summed up really. I live a life of comparison, I am properly sick compared to some and not at all sick compared to others.

I have Cystic Fibrosis. My story with it is strange as I was diagnosed in adulthood while most cases are picked up in very early childhood – I’m talking three weeks old – nowadays. CF is the most common rare disease in the UK. So inside an already rare condition I also have a rare gene mutation, one that is bizarrely more common in Albania (but it is still rare there). Are you getting the gist? I am pretty damn unique.

I nearly started this post with statistics, Cystic Fibrosis is a disease of statistics. One in 25 carry a recessive faulty gene and there are more than 1,700 variations of this faulty gene. I had a whole list of other facts and figures but it was getting beyond complicated, and as I said above some of this is stuff I have only known for 24 hours and I have the fucking thing.

Fact is I am one of the nearly 11,000 people in the UK who live with the disease that causes a build up of mucus on the lungs and pancreas, causing chronic infections and a faulty digestive system. Put basically, there is no basically. No one person is affected the same way as another. At its worst someone will need to spend hours every day doing physiotherapy and take 20 tablets with each meal to aid digestion. At its worst people die.

I was diagnosed with CF just after I finished university, I was in my grubby flat cooking pasta when I got the call. Obviously I had always had the disease. It’s in my DNA and always has been. How did it take them so long to figure out I had this life threatening illness? Well it wasn’t their fault. I have such a rare gene combination that the disease presents itself in an odd way. I was a big kid who was in sports teams; I wasn’t obviously suffering from a chronic lung disease and was far from malnourished. I was actually quite pleased when I got the diagnosis as I finally had a label. I had vague memories of a Blue Peter appeal when I was in primary school where a VT showed children being strapped to tables and essentially beaten up so they could breathe. I couldn’t remember whether they needed stamps or milk bottle tops for that one though.

My partner sees me as ill, but he’s a worrier. My doctor sees me as ill, but he’s paid to. My sister doesn’t see me as ill, unless I am in hospital. Our childhood together wasn’t affected by long stints apart while I was hooked up to IV drips or entering clinical trials. I’m not sure what I see myself as. I think most of the time I forget or go into denial and push myself to do too much then am surprised when I feel rubbish.

My life with the illness at the moment is 6 or 7 tablets daily, as much physio and exercise as I can muster, regular check ups at the hospital, and coughing up about 2 egg cups of gak (not the medical term) a day. My future holds more drugs in store but they aren’t needed yet. They will either be the kind I inhale to make the mucous (the medical term) less sticky, so easier to clear. Or they will be the kind that are currently only in trials – the kind that try and fix the faulty gene in the first place.

I know this is a blog for women’s health and my illness is non-discriminatory when it comes to gender but I do sometimes wonder if it might be harder for girls to deal with, especially younger women. We grow up being told that we are made of sugar and spice and all things nice so how are we expected to cope when all manner of phlegm, shit, and blood start bubbling out of us? No disease is particularly sexy but CF is particularly disgusting, and the only people you might feel comfortable sharing your stories with is another sufferer – only we aren’t allowed to mix for risk of cross contamination. It is an isolating disease.

For me I am isolated from feeling like I can really moan about it because I know compared to 10,000 other sufferers I can’t moan. Only 7 tablets? Pah! Strong enough to go through a pregnancy? Pah! Your lungs have actually improved this year? Pah! Will live to a ripe old age? Fuck off! Who am I to say I have an illness? The NHS roll out red carpets for me and I am treated with the same care as anyone on the lung transplant list while I feel I really should be giving this emergency appointment to the guy who needs last night’s Brown pumped from his stomach.

But speak to a person sans chronic condition… 7 tablets? A day? Poor you! You coughed up blood during pregnancy? How awful! Your lungs were worse than they are now? God have mercy on you! You’ll live to a ripe old age? Well that’s my plan too!

Being in the middle isn’t so bad it is just I am very marmite about everything. Why dislike it when you can hate it? Why like it when there is love in the world? Why be apathetic when you can shout loudly? I don’t sit on the fence for anything (maybe apart from my views on series three of The Affair – I’m just not loving it!) so it feels strange to be caught up in a sort of no man’s land. It’s better than it could be and a whole lot worse than it might have been. How much clearer can I be than that?