A Tale of Two Thursdays

Last Thursday, I woke up to two unwelcome sounds; my alarm (obvs) and the smugly gentle pitter-patter of rain on the window. I got up, made what turned out to be poor shoe choices and walked through the rain to the hospital, where I had a 10am appointment to start a new infusion treatment for my ulcerative colitis. There was some confusion when I arrived on the ward about whether I was supposed to be there, but when this was resolved I was set up on a chair next to one of those wheely, medication-hanger thingies (technical term). Considerably less welcome was the news that my boyfriend wasn’t going to be able to sit with me for what I’d been told would be a four-hour appointment, but instead was to be banished to a waiting room down the corridor (from which he could presumably have hollered reassurances if he’d been so inclined). So I spent two hours sitting alone with a needle in my arm, quietly hoping I wasn’t about to have a massive allergic reaction to the drug being pumped into my blood stream. Then another half hour getting ‘flushed’ (actually a technical term) with saline, and two more hours sitting around whilst the hospital staff confirmed that I definitely WASN’T going to have a massive allergic reaction. Thankfully Pete was able to sit with me for some of this but had to leave early due to bad Tesco delivery timing, thus scuppering the mental plans I’d been making literally all day for a conciliatory Subway lunch. Once I was finally freed, I had to go home and do all the flat-tidying I’d neglected for weeks, as the following day five friends were arriving at my flat for the weekend to attend a wedding. After a couple of hours of bed-making, kitchen-wiping, bath-scrubbing and ‘sod it, I can’t be arsed to hoover’-ing, I collapsed into bed.

THIS Thursday, I got up and had a non-rainy walk into work. I treated myself to a bacon sandwich and spent the day trickling through odd jobs and bits of stuff in the fairly quiet office. I went home and made a tasty dinner with Pete, watched a couple of episodes of an old favourite TV show, and scrolled through pointless crap on my phone until it was time for bed.

On one of these days I was cheerful and upbeat, making jokes to my friends on WhatsApp, laughing, chatting and generally feeling pretty good about myself. On the other I was riddled with unshakeable grumpiness, felt thoroughly victimised by the universe in general and so totally, unjustifiably sorry for myself that I’m sure I was nothing short of horrible to be around (sorry Pete).

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I’m sure you’ve guessed that the point of this blog post is that these days and these moods did not exactly align.

I spent a long time during the second – perfectly normal and also inexplicably horrible – Thursday wondering what the hell was wrong with me. Was it hormones? The Pill? A side effect of some of the other many and varied drugs I’m on? PMS? Am I just an unpleasantly moody person?

And why couldn’t I shake it off? I spent the whole day feeling as though my own head was a party I hadn’t wanted to go to, full of people who were being awful to me – and you can’t just get up and walk out of your own mind. The longer the Epic Bad Mood lasted, the more annoyed I was at my own inability to get rid of it, which put me in a worse mood, which made me more annoyed…

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Over the course of the last couple of years I’ve been told several times and by several different people that I seem to cope with my ulcerative colitis quite well. I’ve always been surprised by these comments, and usually respond by sort of smiling serenely (whilst remembering a time I hysterically threw a pill bottle full-force across the room because I couldn’t open the friggin child lock). But you know what? I do cope with my colitis pretty bloody well. Diagnosis, colonoscopies, medication changes, horrible side effects, lack of progress, false hope and enemas galore have all been met with relatively quiet acceptance, a few jokes, brushed-aside concerns and only the occasional meltdown in more private settings.

So why can’t I cope with what, essentially, amounts to getting up on the wrong side of bed? Why can I soldier on with minimal complaint with a dysfunctional bowel, and be reduced to a blibbering mess just because I feel a bit out of sync with the world today?

Well, I don’t really have an answer. Partly, I think it’s down to a hatred of the abstract. My IBD is a concrete, definable problem – whatever drama it throws up is quantifiable and solvable, one way or another. I understand what’s wrong, and even if I don’t know how to fix it myself I can call someone who does. But on a bad day, in a bad mood there’s no reason which means there’s no cure. I can’t solve a problem I don’t understand. There’s also the frustration of knowing I’m making a pathetic mountain out of a molehill; the anger at myself for being such a weiner. Whereas with IBD, I’ve often felt quietly proud of myself just for getting through this day, or that appointment, or managing to go through the half-hour medication rigmarole at bedtime even though I just could not be arsed.

So I think my point (and I sort of lost it myself there…) is that with many things – but especially with health – the scale of a problem will not necessarily measure up to the scale of your reaction. And I think (hope) that’s just human nature. So I’m going to try not to beat myself up about it next time – because even though I found myself throwing a half-hour tantrum because the cinema screening I wanted to go to was full, I have also had several feet of metal camera shoved up my bum, and not cried. I reckon that balances out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bethan diet plan

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

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

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

Hello Depression My Old Friend

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

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

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

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

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Nope by Gemma Correll

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

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

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

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

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Uterus by Sarah Anderson

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

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

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

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

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Tropical Depression by Gemma Correll

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

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

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

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

 

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Octopus by Liz Climo

 

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

Back on the Merry-Go-Round

It feels like it’s been ages since I last wrote about my actual disease, so this is going to be an ulcerative colitis post! Yaaayyy…

It’s not going to be particularly upbeat though, I’m afraid, because I am bloody fed up with the bastard. For the thousandth time, I am a bit not very well.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that my colitis kept flaring up last year, meaning I was on and off steroids so often that every IBD professional who looks at my folder actually winces. At the beginning of the year, my lovely IBD nurse told me that we should aim to keep me off steroids for the whole of 2017 as a result. At the time this gave me a not-inconsiderable swirl of anxiety, but on the outside I was all:

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But then, things were okay for a couple of months. Then they started to get a bit crappy (ha), so I was put on some mild, non-steroid extra medications, and it cleared up. All was well for a while, then it started to get worse. I was given a colonoscopy (fab) and some more mini-fixes, and it once again sorted itself out. Here came a blissful period of about two months in which I was pretty consistently fine, could go about my life without worrying and sang daily in the shower. Then about a month ago, my colitis sensed a fun-packed fortnight on the horizon (comprising of having friends to stay, a party, my birthday and a holiday) and evidently thought:

let's do this

This time it took a lot of extra medication to beat the fucker back down, but I have a very serious takes-no-shit (ha) policy for my birthday and wasn’t giving up easily. Now, whether my colitis had taken this defeat personally, or whether it took me on my word when I pleaded for just a couple of good weeks, it’s back. Literally the day after I had successfully weaned myself off the extra meds it was all churning, aching, stuck-in-the-bathroom fun again.

And it’s not that I (by which I mean my wonderful nurse) don’t have any more tricks up my sleeve to get it back under control, it’s just that I am so friggin tired of this merry-go-round. Going from living my life like every other person, to analysing all my plans for the next fortnight to see how much of a risk they’re going to pose to my health/mortification levels. To being asked for drinks with work, and trying to find a subtle way of saying ‘no’ that’s not ‘if I drink anything right now I’ll spend the whole of the next morning on the toilet’. To spending the day after my boyfriend receives really good news literally willing myself to feel less ill, to be enthusiastic, to eat this celebratory food, not worry about that glass of champagne and not have to curl into an exhausted, bowel-bludgeoned ball at the end of the day when I can’t power through anymore. To knowing that a two-hour car trip to and from my brother’s hour-long graduation ceremony won’t be risky enough to stop me from going at all.

It’s exhausting, and has me a bit:

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And I’ll be okay. I’ve now officially caved in to the preparation for being put on another long-term drug which will (PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE) finally get me off the merry-go-round, I’ve got more temporary-fixes on the way and I’ve got lots of lovely people around me who are very understanding of the (really, quite spectacularly) volatile mood swings that come along with this frustration. In my outside-health life I’ve had lots of good things happen in the last week, which helps an inordinate amount, and I know I’ll be okay in the end.

But to the merry-go-round, I say:

bugger off

What is being mentally healthy?

This weeks long awaited post is by Rosalind, if you are interested in her other posts you can find her last one here and follow the links there to access more. If you enjoyed the art in the piece you can find more here.

I find it interesting that we throw around the phrase mental illness in so many situations – clinically, socially, professionally – but you don’t often hear of people being mentally healthy. Mental Health is a term only used when there is a big problem.

The thing is, in my experience I don’t think it’s that simple. I know people with mental illnesses who are getting on a lot better than people without, mainly because they think about their Mental Health.

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The brain is a funny creature and Mental Health and the culture, or even the social circle, we are in also influences the way we see it.

Friday last week I woke up and it felt like a part of my brain had turned off and I was no longer able to access emotions. This is not the first time this has happened. It lasted two days; the first I kept it low key and tried to accomplish a couple of tasks I needed to do, the second I went to work.

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Without emotion, being motivated to do anything was difficult; being social was challenging and not doing inappropriate things was a struggle. I was using my rational brain to keep things on track using past experiences and the knowledge that I would care in the future to keep going.

I get intrusive thoughts. This is something I have only come to recognise recently after I explored the entire back catalogue of the great Maria Bamford, and they are harder to keep in check when you have no emotion (mine are reasonably mild and I wouldn’t consider it OCD territory).

Here are some examples of things I have thought about: smashing a bottle/ mug / anything smash-able and stabbing myself, slamming my head in a door, saying/doing inappropriate things the list goes on. Now these are not things I want to do, they appear as very non-aggressive suggestions in the same way you might think ‘hmm I could have some chocolate’. Just because I have these thoughts doesn’t mean I want to do these things, this is the bit that’s harder to wrap my head around, but it’s true and there is a difference, it just isn’t always clear cut.

It’s interesting when I have talked about my experience of losing my emotions to friends; the initial reaction is ‘that is awful’, which is in a part true, but on the other side it doesn’t feel awful because there is no feeling. There is knowledge that it’s not a good state, but no feeling behind that.

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Part of the reason I want to write about this is because recognising that something happens helps me and knowing that it’s not just me makes things better. On the other side of this, I want there to be more awareness for things like this because I benefit so much from having really supportive people in my life so these things do not cause me large problems, but a lot of people don’t have that same support.

On my way back from work on Saturday my emotions slowly started to return. It’s funny how much you don’t notice your emotional experience until it’s gone. Sunday I was in work and it was a completely different day and for the next few days I noticed my emotional experience a lot more and was able to relish moments that would normally pass me by.

On both days I ate very nice chocolate and the difference in that experience was something I can’t even describe.

In the past I have had real difficulty coming to terms with the variance in my brain’s ability to function. I have tried to fight with my brain and it has failed miserably, often ending up with more difficulties and complications. I’ve got to a point where I have accepted my brain is complicated and fragile and that’s ok, I like it that way (even though sometimes it is hard to deal with…). I also feel very mentally healthy probably the most mentally healthy I have ever felt.

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One of the most important things I’ve learnt is that sometimes the most important self care is not harming yourself or those around you and if you don’t manage to eat, shower or leave the house for a few days, that’s ok.

To those that haven’t experienced things like this, if someone in your life who you know experiences mental health difficulties and is being a bit of a tosser, examine your perspective for a moment. Are they actively seeking to hurt you? Does what they’re doing line up with what you know about them? Are they fighting a battle with their brain that you can’t see?

There are mental health services you can point them towards, it is also not your responsibility to fix them, but knowing someone is there for you makes such a difference. Imagine you are walking beside someone carrying a really heavy bag. They may fall over, they may pant and swear, they may even blame you for not carrying it because fuck it’s so heavy, but it’s not personal; if you weren’t their they would swear at the air and blame gravity. Knowing that you are there can distract a little from the burden.

It also means that I have a lot more patience and empathy. I mean if I can have empathy for myself when I have felt a very strong urge to physically maim/mental scar a stranger/myself/someone I love then it’s much easier to accept the frustrating things other people do.

I genuinely do not know what kind of person I would be without the love and support I have received in my life so far, so when I see people doing awful things I take a moment to see how they got there. It’s very easy to take what you have for granted and to say ‘it’s not an excuse’ but then try and excuse your own bad behaviour because you were a bit tired or you weren’t really paying attention.

What if they don’t know? I have days where I don’t know what emotions feel like. If I didn’t have a structure in place to help me remember what is important to me when I am not in that state I could commit genocide without batting an eyelid.

Black and white is just a filter, there are more perspectives than you can ever realise.

 

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Above is a little book I created about one way I see my brain, to see more of my art click here.

Chub Rub

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Picture from @Mayakern “fat”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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