Cervical Screenings and Embarrassment

A couple of weeks ago, I was on my way out of the front door with a rucksack on my back, all set for a weekend away. There was a letter addressed to me hanging out of the letterbox, so I ripped it open, expecting some boring, ignorable bumff (technical term) from the bank.

‘We are writing to invite you to make an appointment for NHS cervical screening.’

“Noooooo,” I groaned, very dramatically. “I’m old.”

This statement was met with (deserved) scorn from my boyfriend and I threw the letter aimlessly up the stairs. We headed off for our train and I didn’t waste another thought on the matter.

Until a couple of days later, in a quirk of weird incidental timing, I noticed various articles like this appearing online:

NHS: One in three women don’t attend cervical screening because of ‘embarrassment’

BBC: Embarrassment makes women avoid smear tests

The Pool: Body shame is dissuading women from attending cervical smear tests

And I had several thoughts:

Is this actually surprising?

I can remember the concept of smear tests being introduced to me, when I was around fifteen. And honestly, I don’t think I could have been more horrified if you’d told me that at the age of twenty-five the NHS mandatorily ripped your toenails off and replaced them with those gross, fungal-y nails I thought all old people had. But it was okay, I told myself, twenty five – the age at which cervical screening is first offered to women by the NHS – was eons away, and I would presumably have achieved true maturity, poise and the ability to cope with all sorts of terrible adult things by then.

And I’m sure many women have never felt this way about smear tests. Women more comfortable with their bodies, more conscious of the importance of their health, more familiar with the uncomfortable fact that sometimes you have to show a medical professional your bits.

But it seems entirely believable to me that one in three women does not feel that way. Up until a couple of years ago, the idea of a smear test would have been absolute anathema to me. The humiliation would have been unthinkable. What if my junk was weird, and I’d never noticed? What if there were like eighteen medical students in the room? What if the doctor / nurse / clinician laughed at how clearly awkward and uncomfortable I was? What if it hurt? What if, what if, what if…

Good for me!

This lead to the realisation that – actually – I had acquired the ability to cope with this particular terrible adult thing. Not the other stuff, and not most other adult things to be honest, but the letter offering me a dreaded cervical screening had not even ruffled my feathers.

But this was because three unexpected things had happened to me in the last ten years:

  1. I had become more comfortable with my body. I’m still not what you’d call Miss Self Esteem, but I’m doing alright. At fifteen, I was chubby, cripplingly self-conscious and hid my shape as much as I could. Now I’m still chubby, but I have an adult perspective on how big a deal that is (not). I’m still self-conscious, but mostly because I’m half a foot taller than most people. And I still hide my shape, but more because jumpers are comfy and push-up bras are not. My body hasn’t really changed, but my perception has – and that’s been only due to time and experience.
  2. I had become very conscious of the importance of health. That’s what a chronic disease diagnosis will do for ya. I take fourteen tablets a day, I go to the hospital every eight weeks for a drug infusion and I regularly take my blood pressure at home. That’s exactly the sort of shit that will make you compare the embarrassment of having someone poke around your cervix, to the consequences of what could happen if you don’t.
  3. I am way too familiar with this kind of embarrassment. I’ve had two colonoscopies in the last two years, and am destined for many more in my lifetime. Speculums are, like, a few inches long, right? Psssh, nae bother pet.

I should write a TOTM post about why you shouldn’t be one of those statistics.

Because whilst all these things happened to me before my twenty-fifth birthday, there are many women to whom they won’t. (For points 2 and 3, I actively hope they don’t.)

And it’s completely fine to be wincingly embarrassed by the thought of a cervical screening. It’s probably the only sensible reaction, to be honest.

But this is a stone cold fact: a ten-minute, slightly uncomfortable exam in which a health professional (who has probably already seen twelve vaginas today) can check that you are exactly as healthy as you should be – and act on any signs that you aren’t – is worth maxing out your humiliation metre.

And hey, just remind yourself continually that it’s not several feet of metal camera, and it’s not going up your arse.

That’s what I’ll be thinking.

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I’m gonna talk about Stretch Marks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What the f**k are you doing?: A love letter

This week Rosalind wrote a letter to herself as you do find more of her posts here and to see more of her artwork click here.

I’ve been watching for a while now and you’re beautiful, interesting and engaging and I have to ask, what the f**k are you doing?

Look after your body a little better it’s beautiful and sometimes you abuse it. You know will feel the benefits, even if you don’t notice them. I know that your tired and it’s cold but your physio is helpful and you have an electric heater. Play some music remind yourself of the times you end up crippled by pain that will not let up, it feels far away now but it’s really f***ing unpleasant and its preventable. Being physical is important dance, you love to dance, don’t use the no space excuse you can dance anywhere.

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On that note your stomach and gut are sensitive and you need to take the time to figure out why, it will change things for the better, the stress will be worth it. I’m impressed by the three weeks you managed Gluten Free I appreciate that was challenging, but it was the first step, you know that, it’s going to be hard but I will be here. Feeling sick and uncomfortable is deeply unpleasant, it’s happening far too much and it stops you doing things.

Looking after your body also means looking after your mind, anxious is not a part of your personality you know that, you are a calm resilient person, stress management is a constant journey. Mental health takes work and sometimes that work is done lying down and relaxing but if you are just as anxious when you stand up something isn’t working. You have strategies to help use them, it will help you physically as well.

Be mindful pay attention to the ground beneath your feet and the sounds around you, pay attention to your senses close your eyes and just feel your body. Pay attention to what your doing, you don’t need to engage constantly in lots of things.

Miro

You know that creative practice helps your mind stay steady and yes you go to the studio once a week but you need to embed it more outside of a Monday. You have projects in your brain, work on them it doesn’t take a lot, set aside time and force yourself sit at your desk/on the street/in a cafe and make something, write something. The things you create connect things in your head, they calm the rush of thoughts and almost feelings. Creativity helps you engage with the world and see things in different ways.

When was the last time you found new music, it’s all very well putting on the same stuff to keep you calm, get you up but you know the effect music can have from hearing it in films, tv, at friends. I know it feels difficult but it’s worth the effort there are things you can do to help, look up film soundtracks you like also you have friends who like music you can use it to connect, you can even go out to find music which could involve dancing and company, three birds one bloody stone.

On that note, I see that your job is challenging, putting on a customer service face and constantly engaging is exhausting but remember you don’t have to put that on with other people. You may have the intelligence to figure out what someone is thinking/asking eventually but you don’t need to, you can ask or live not knowing. You don’t need to phrase things right or put a positive spin on everything, it’s okay to just be. You have your spreadsheet of the 25 people you love most, use it, you know you can spend time in their company even just for a moment and be you (even if your brain tells you otherwise).

just us two

Also it’s okay not to do group socialising, there are times you have the energy to go to that stuff but if you are feeling anxious you will likely dissociate which will make you feel worse. If you do go look after yourself, take breaks away from the noise, and lights remember you don’t have to be the life and soul of the party. Only drink for the taste, if you don’t want to be their alcohol will only make it worse, you are allowed to leave.

You don’t need to have it all figured out now, it takes work and a lot of wandering round not knowing what the hell is going on but use the things you know to make it not so hard. I know you can write proper reasonable to do lists use that skill. You’ll figure out the job thing eventually or you’ll have an interesting time not figuring it out, don’t put so much pressure on yourself.

internal weather

When you notice your thoughts becoming darker, when your skin starts to itch remember the things that soothe you. Scratching feels good in the moment, filling your head with darkness can be comforting but it’s not a permanent solution and it just makes it harder. Breath and feel the itch let it be uncomfortable, sit with the thoughts and let them wash through your head (or use some other shitty metaphor). Living in extremes is not sustainable however glorious it may feel. Let intense feelings run their course and no more. The beautiful complexity requires regular maintenance and that has its own beauty.

Sometimes all this feels pointless I know, life is nothing if not bloody hard sometimes but even when you forget all these things and end up walking round in a state of derealisation I still love you, to the bottom of the feet we share. I still feel comforted by the touch of your hand on my arm, even when you dig your nails into my skin to check I’m still here. You are and will always be the love of my life, I could spend everyday alone with you exploring different realities but there are things the world can give you I cannot. I can’t tell you life will be kind to you, or that it will be easy but just think of some of the fantastic moments we have had, you, me and the universe.

Love from,

You/me

fucking up

Xmas post

This collective blog marks the start of a re-launch of TOTM in 2018. Here is a a quick round-up from all three editors, we hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and please get in touch if you would like to write for us in the New Year.

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BEX circle

Becky, SO LONG 2017

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BECKY’S 2017 TALLY

  • Months spent healthy: Roughly 8
  • Months spent ill: Collectively, about 4 (*embarrassingly long pause while I check this adds up to 12*)
  • New medications started: 2
  • Old medications dropped: 0
  • Hours spent in hospitals: I reckon about 29. Which is something considering I was never actually admitted.
  • Number of doctor’s appointments: 19 (and that’s not including infusion appointments)
  • Mind-explodingly embarrassing medical procedures: 1
  • Events missed due to flare-ups: 1 significant, many more casual
  • Colitis-related tantrums thrown: Oh, thousands.

HOPES FOR 2018

  • Healthy months: Hey, I’m ambitious. Let’s say 11-12
  • Ill months: 0-1 (pleeeeeeeeeeeeease)
  • New medications: 0
  • Doctor’s appointments: Less than 15. Which should be so doable.
  • Missing events due to illness: I’m calling it now – ZERO.
  • Colitis-related tantrums: I think three per flare-up is a sensible estimate, so let’s tentatively say 0-3. Yeah?

I have many other professional and personal goals and hopes for 2018, but if all of these come true it will make striving for the others SO MUCH EASIER. So here’s wishing a healthy 2018 on me, you, and every TOTM contributor and reader! Merry Christmas x

Amy circle

 

Amy, 6 months

 

In May you appeared out of the dark corner of my mind

The same where Michael Stipe lost his religion

Perhaps I always carried you with me

Its hard to know

I to and fro

 

Because at the same time you feel familiar

The fear you cause I have never known

This would not have affected me before

Until my bubble was burst

And I splattered on the floor

 

I had to piece myself again

Some days I tried to run you out

Others I soothed you with old tricks

Yoga and meditation

The only times I really breathed

 

You pulled me out the present

And sank me in the past

And in this chaos life kept changing

I fell in love with him

But out of love with my own mind

 

A mind that was trained to dream

A mind that was trained to over-think

And analyse every single thought until it made sense

But you never made sense

You will never make sense to me

 

So I have learnt to try and accept you

The days when you whizz around my head

Or the days you growl in the corner

I stop myself walking that path

The path which lets you win.

 

desert 

Ros, Dont Panic

 

“He felt that his whole life was some kind of dream and he sometimes wondered whose it was and whether they were enjoying it.” -Douglas Adams

So this year lost it’s shit in all sorts of ways, I dove in to lots of new things and started chasing life more. This meant my body and brain frequently jumped into fight or flight mode. Running off adrenaline destroyed me over and over again which was a real learning curve and I’ve realised that my coping strategies would benefit from a software update. My notebook reads like an meandering existential crisis at best, but on the other hand I’ve written some brilliant poetry and created some beautiful art (see below and find more here).

The most important thing I have learnt this year is that everything is easy when I accept the way my brain works and work with it (which sometimes is confusing for me and others).  Next year I’ll keep going figuring out life, the universe and everything, hopefully some of that will make it into blog posts.

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Thanks for sticking with us and we’ll see you next year.

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).

grumpy

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…

etc

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.

fairenough

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:

rage im fine

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.