“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.

Sickies and Sick Days

So last Saturday I went to a Writing Conference in Newcastle. It was interesting, and I enjoyed myself, but I noticed not long after arriving that I had that itchy, sinus-y feeling behind my nose that usually means hayfever is about to hit me with it’s puffy-faced rhythm stick. This developed into a few sneezes and sniffs over the course of the afternoon, and by the final panel had morphed into a snot-fest so impressive that total strangers in my vicinity were forcing me to take their tissues. But I already had evening plans, which I staggered through (albeit with far more snivelling and considerably less tolerance than usual) and eventually made it, gratefully, to my bed. Here is where it became apparent that this was not hayfever, but a cold. By 5.30am, when I was in the shower attempting to steam the bastard out having had no sleep whatsoever, it became apparent that this was an absolute bitch of a cold.

This pissed me off for several reasons. 1. Being ill sucks. 2. The one thing my body can be relied upon to do well and reliably is sleep, and the cold had taken even this away. 3. I have a chronic disease, which I feel should give me some sort of free pass for minor illnesses. 3. Being genuinely ill on a weekend feels like the universe is giving you the finger.

And it’s this last point I want to talk about today. That labyrinth of guilt, judgement and defiance that is The Sick Day. Now I find that people tend to fall into one of three camps when it comes to Sick Days:

  1. The person who calls in sick at least once a month for various nebulous reasons relating to headaches, dizziness and other intangible problems. Simultaneously resented and admired by colleagues, who sit around the office giving each other significant side-eye while saying things like, ‘it must have come on so sudden because Janet seemed fine yesterday…’ and wishing they’d made a bigger deal out of that sniffle they had last week.
  2. The person who will not call in sick even if they are literally dying, and feels the need to point this out at any given opportunity, whilst coughing into their tea round.
  3. The person who calls in sick only when they feel genuinely lousy, sits at home riddled with guilt all day and spends the next week apologising profusely to everyone they work with.

During school I did my damnedest to be a Type 1, and was usually thwarted by my mother’s cast-iron insistence that I should ‘see how [I] feel when [I] get there’. Real illnesses were few and far between, and padded with a gradual three-day build up to an Oscar-worthy performance of coughing and spluttering that would have put Meryl Streep to shame, but rarely convinced my mum.

These days, I’m ashamed to say, I’ve become a Type 3. Having been diagnosed with an actual disease, I’m constantly telling myself that I shouldn’t use the sick day now – because I might need it later this month. It’s a stupid attitude. The equivalent of saving your favourite part of a huge meal until the last mouthful, only to be so full you can’t actually eat it. Last year during a flare-up of my ulcerative colitis, I told work I only needed the mornings – when my colitis is at its worst – at home, and spent more than one afternoon trapped in the staff bathroom, pretty sure that getting that email sent out could have waited. But what if there had been a day where I really couldn’t leave the house – as opposed to just managing the 20 minute walk to work – and I’d already taken a sick day that week?

That smart attitude would be: well bloody take it anyway.

But it’s so hard to feel that way. During the year prior to my diagnosis, when my symptoms came and went in spectacularly unpredictable swings, I was working in a café and knew that my calling in sick would mean one of my colleagues’ day off was ruined by The Phone Call. So I didn’t do it. Even now I have an office job, and nobody directly bears the brunt of my sick day, the hangover of that guilt still plagues a Sick Day. Even the Sick Days when I’ve been unable to keep any food down, didn’t have the energy to walk to the corner shop and have to physically grit my teeth through the pain in my stomach, I felt guilty. How stupid is that?

So this week, on Monday morning, I called in sick. To be honest, I was feeling much better than I had on Sunday and probably could have staggered through the day if I’d needed to. But that’s not the point. Just because you can force yourself onwards, it doesn’t always mean you should. Sometimes, you need to power through the guilt, and take that bloody Sick Day. Sometimes you need it.

That said, I still felt guilty enough to do an extra day’s work later in the week, to make up for the heinous cheek of being ill. Baby steps.

(In a similar vein, this fantastic The Pool article sings the praises of occasionally having a skive – and I agree with every word of that, too.)

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

 

 

 

Trying to find balance

Written by Ros her previous blogs have been about anxietykeeping goingbeing ill and capableautism and the question ‘how are you?’, more of her art can be found here.

I am writing this the day it’s supposed to be posted… well to be completely honest a week after it was supposed to be posted (luckily Meg saved the day last week with her excellent post).

If you know me you’re probably thinking that’s normal because I’m a bit of a disorganised mess. I am terrible at responding to messages, committing to plans, I am often doing things last minute, things that should be simple can take me weeks to get round to etc.

I think scatty or eccentric would definitely be words used to describe me, however there is a lot of time and energy that goes into being this disorganised so today I’m going to break some of that down for you with a glimpse into the world of my Autistic brain.

Behind the chaos:

  • Most of my blog posts are very well thought through, re-written multiple times (and in ideal circumstances proof-read at least once).
  • I have a system for how I rank texts and the importance of replying to them; there are multiple variables here and even those on my priority reply to list often get ignored.
  • I attempt to rank ‘daily’ tasks by importance, time and energy.
  • When I make plans there are many factors I consider, I often run them through with another person and my reply will have been thought through (even if its ‘I’ll have to think about it’).
  • Activities I have done before/places I have been have their own score, which intersects with my physical/mental state; I also have a system for judging new things and places based on this.
  • On that note I also have complex social systems which has people in my life placed based on my assessment of our relationship and multiple other factors (this influences my interactions with this person in relation to my current state).

I have often thought about drawing these out but it feels vaguely sociopathic to have physical representations of some of these concepts.

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I use these systems to attempt to organise myself; I have to-do lists dotted around, which try to take these into account. My to-do lists never look that complex and how effective they are is dependent on my mental state but I’m getting better, they can contain things like ‘shower’ (I put my towels on to wash today, if you have an estimate for the last time I washed them you can probably double it and you would still be wrong).

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One of the reasons I need these lists (and also why they fail sometimes) is because often I am at the mercy of my own body/brain. I have come to realise that the greatest of intentions do not mean something will happen; I mean I can’t even clean my teeth twice a day and I keep a toothbrush by my bed.

I have come to see my physical form as a delicate eco structure as unpredictable and irritating as it is beautiful. One moment I can be buzzing with energy, practically bouncing of the walls; another I cannot muster the energy to get up and go to the loo, pick up the glass of water from the bedside table or even adjust to a more comfortable position.

The same is true of my brain, I can have brilliant ideas, be thoroughly engaged and interested in the world, then everything can disappear into nothingness suddenly I find it hard to access simple knowledge or care about engaging with anything/anyone.

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There are many shades of these states and they can interact in the strangest ways (being full of energy yet mentally aware that nothing matters and having no motivation to do anything, is a strange conundrum).

This is what I have to be aware of in the general scope of my life and it’s difficult; understanding my own emotions is not something I am highly skilled at, my concept of time is extremely fucked up and my processing speed can match that of an old school computer.

You may be thinking the number of systems I have is overkill, but this is how I maintain a life that is not predictable.

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Without these systems I get to new places and I shut down, think of the worst pain you have ever been in, that brain fog that overwhelms everything, that’s kind of my experience. Or maybe a better description is that moment when you can’t think of a word it’s on the tip of your tongue, you can feel it in your brain but it just won’t let you access it. Now imagine things like how to start/continue a conversation, how to walk into a room (how to leave to got to the loo) are just on the tip of your tongue, it’s not great.

More to the point, without these I may not even get involved in half the interesting things/people that I do manage to engage with.

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While I don’t always pay attention to these lists and systems having them in place is useful and I update them the more I learn (as most of them are internal). I am constantly trying to figure out a balance, but often (even with my systems) this is like trying to control a see-saw when the other side is an over-excited child.

The more I think about this metaphor the better it gets: I mean as an adult you can sink down and stop the see-saw but what you’ll get is a child in the air in tears or jumping off: the inevitable injury. But also as soon as you push off you are at risk of the child pushing with the whole force of their body leaving your knees at severe risk. Sometimes you get off/fall off the seesaw and you take some time away but eventually you get back on and try and figure out this whole balance thing over again.

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I’m not sure if this made any sense or was even that accurate but I gave it a good shot and I still just about managed to post it on the Friday (just about).

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.

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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!

Side Effects Include…

Currently, I am on a lot of medication. Five different kinds, actually, totalling fifteen tablets a day. These medications are obviously all very important and all do various different jobs, but they also – as I’m sure you can imagine – come with a thrilling array of side effects. So here is a list of all (well, most) of the different meds I’ve been on over the last eighteen months, and their motley collection of side effects.

For my Ulcerative Colitis:

  • Prednisolone: so this is a steroid, which, for lack of a higher word count, is an anti-inflammatory. It’s prescribed during flare-ups to calm your insides right down, and for me at least is the only thing discovered so far that can do a thorough job – which is frustrating, because it’s not something you should be on long-term. This is because of its many, MANY listed side effects, the big one is that it affects your bone strength and – if taken for long enough – can lead to osteoporosis. I am not currently on steroids, as I spent most of 2016 downing several tablets a day with a token glass of milk, and this makes my nurse extremely frowny. In the shorter term, steroids also lead to a huge increase in appetite (seriously, it’s unreal – basically if something isn’t moving, you’ll eat it) and the no-seriously-this-is-actually-what-doctors-call-it ‘moonface’ chub. I’ve actually been weirdly fortunate with a lack of moonface, though on my highest dose did also get very dry skin and some quite spectacular mood swings.
  • Balsalazide: this is my highest dose of tablets (a whopping 9 per day), and I actually haven’t noticed any side effects at all. To be honest, I haven’t noticed any effects, either. This is supposed to keep my bowels chill after the steroids have done the hard part, but as previously mentioned this has not gone super well so far.
  • Azathioprine: Ulcerative colitis is actually an autoimmune disease – your own immune system attacks healthy tissue in your bowels, thinking it’s helping. (It’s not.) So azathioprine is an immunosuppressant, designed to lower your immune system and hopefully stop it beating on your (my) organs. This isn’t actually as scary as it sounds: it hasn’t meant I get ill more often, just that getting ill can be worse. Though so far I’ve only really noticed it taking me longer to get over a cold than it used to. That said, before I was put on azathioprine I was tested for all sorts of antibodies, and it turns out I’ve never had glandular fever (which, according to my doctor, is something most people in their twenties have actually had in some form, whether it was the didn’t-notice-it-just-seemed-like-a-bad-cold variety, or the literally-felt-like-I-was-dying-for-six-months kind). This probably means that there is a seriously sucky year in my future somewhere, but for right now just means that you’ll have to excuse me if I promptly leave any room containing a person who has glandular fever.

For my blood pressure:

  • Amlodopine: the newest addition to my medication roster, and actually the prompt for this whole blog post. Not because it has the worst side effects, but because they’re just so friggin irritating. Whilst it does seem to have brought my blood pressure down, and I would rather take these than beta-blockers (which were the alternative), amlodopine gives me old lady ankles. Now this may not sound like a big deal, but it is pretty damn disheartening to walk home from work and have the apparently extraordinary strenuousness of this activity lead to your ankles getting so hot, swollen and itchy as you try and stand in the kitchen to make tea, that you have to go and sit upside-down on the sofa with your legs in the air. It is annoying as hell to have freezing cold feet simultaneously with burning hot ankles that itch like you wouldn’t believe, and it is embarrassing to have the kind of fat, skin-stretched shiny ankles you have only ever seen on your grandma. I never even acknowledged that chubby ankles were a thing until I had them.

Generally:

  • The mini-pill: without getting into a contraception rant, I was put on this as a replacement for the combined pill (on which I’d never had any problems) when my blood pressure sky-rocketed, and it fucking sucks. Many women, I have been told, have a fabulous, meadow-frolicking, puppy-cuddling, sunshine-laden time on this pill. I, however, have been on my period for four months out of the last six. This one is going.
  • Vitamin tablets: hahahahaha LIKE THIS IS ACTUAL MEDICATION. No, to be fair, I take these every day in a dubious effort to try and make up for the nutrition my body isn’t always getting from food (see: buggered bowels). I particularly enjoy the expensive ones my mum gets from Holland and Barratt that taste like fossilised jelly babies, or those chewy ones that taste like regular jelly babies, but I’m poor so it’s Tesco’s best. If these have side effects, how could I possibly have noticed them in the (not literal) shitstorm caused by all of the above?

So there you are – one of the most depressing lists a 23 year old can write! But to be completely fair, I’ve generally done surprisingly well out of side effects. I’ve always been warned of the most prominent suspects before being put on the medication that causes it, and up until the ankles actually got away without many of them – or very mild versions. And, of course, many other people in the world experience many worse side effects at the cost of trying to make themselves ultimately better.

All I’m saying is please – look down, right now, and take a moment to appreciate your beautifully slender, normal-temperature ankles. You would miss them if they were gone.

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:

“You look about twelve.”

This week we have another guest blogger, the wonderful Holly. Enjoy! 

If you haven’t gathered from the title, I am 24, I look young for my age and I HATE it.

Before I explain anything further I would like to rip off the metaphorical plaster, and address the fact that this will probably come across as nothing more than a long rant about something that is of no real relevance. And I also know that this insecurity of mine is no worse to live with than anyone else’s. We all have something we don’t like about ourselves, or a particular ‘feature’ that attracts comments from strangers or acquaintances. For some it’s comments about resting bitch face; for others it’s their uncovered tattoos or height. For me, it is how young I look. (I can hear you quietly sobbing already, before you ask, no there isn’t a crowdfunder you can donate to help my cause). For the most part, I do appreciate it is a good thing, and as countless cashiers, bus drivers and bouncers like to remind me, it is something I will probably be grateful for when I am older. But as a teen, the attention that came with looking younger than others my age was unbearable, and now as a twenty something year old, it’s just fucking annoying.

You may wonder why I am writing / complaining about my appearance on a women’s health blog with a backlog of interesting and well thought out posts about real health issues. And I have thought about that myself pretty much constantly through the drafting process. But I have stuck this out to the bitter end because, no matter how superficial an issue it may seem, how I look and how I perceive others to see me, has had a long lasting impact on my mental health and body image.

To give you an idea of what we’re dealing with here, I am 24 years old, 100 pounds and five foot and half an inch to be exact. I have brown, kind of blonde hair, pale skin and all of this hasn’t really changed since I was about 15 years old.

When I was younger my appearance never really bothered me. I’m lucky enough to have lived through a childhood where I didn’t worry about my looks, probably too busy playing with action men and sporting a bowl cut to care. But then again this was the only time in my life looking young wasn’t an issue, mainly because we all looked young and the vast majority of us had bowl cuts.

It wasn’t until puberty that I began to realise I looked a little different. Mostly because people didn’t mind telling me. From 15 onwards I have been told I look ‘like a baby’, I look ‘about 3’, ‘like 12’, ‘about 14’ (basically everything but in utero).  At school one well meaning friend genuinely turned to me in class and said, ’so…are all of your family like you?’ For the most part I take inconsiderate comments about my appearance as word vomit from people who mean no harm.

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But sometimes I find it hard to imagine how comments like these couldn’t be unkind. I have always gone by the rule of ‘if it’s not a compliment don’t say it’. Probably because I know myself that breaking past that invisible barrier can be dangerous.

At the age of 16, I began to really internalise all this, and dealt with it in the best way I knew how. I began to control my diet and restricting my calorie intake, by 17 I was in the full, not so glorious, throes of bulimia. I starved myself, I relied on coffee to function and when that didn’t work I binged and threw it all back up. I remember standing in mirrors for hours trying to make sense of what I saw. All I wanted was to disappear. Looking back now, it’s obvious that a huge part of all this was caused by comments like the ones I mentioned above. And while I maintain healthier eating habits now, I still find it hard to look at myself in the mirror and know  what I am looking at. It sounds so strange, but all of the times I have been told how I look  mean I can no longer really see what I actually look like – which can be a really scary at times.

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I have grown to accept myself overall. When I look in the mirror, I see myself at least, the 24 year old, cat enthusiast, red wine loving, Ru Paul super fan, Holly. The adult who cohabits with her boyfriend, pays bills and suffers from lower back pain and chronic anxiety (another time, for another post if I can muster the courage).

I feel like a 24 year old..because I am one. And while most of the time I live my life confident in my abilities, and perfectly happy with my life, all this can be shattered with an offhand comment. It’s then that I realise that everything I see in myself, is pretty much invisible to those people who aren’t aware of my age. Being an adult is fucking hard. And it can feel a lot harder when you are reminded that no one quite believes you are one.

And while this post got a little darker than I thought it would (sorry about that), counselling has helped me try and see some of the positives to my situation. Who knows, maybe I will appreciate it when I’m older.