A Question of Kindness…

An author I admire, Vironika Tugaleva, asked a question of her followers a while ago – the seemingly simple ‘What is the difference between being nice & being kind?’ I fired off a quick tweet in reply & promptly forgot about it – the transience of twitter!

My response, which was very off the cuff, was this – ‘I think being nice comes from conscious thought, whereas being kind is unconscious & authentic.’

You may understand the moment of sheer (if irrational) panic when she tweeted me back today, saying ‘That’s an interesting distinction. Do you think we need both?’

For a few seconds my brain just fizzled! “Why did I say that, I’ve never really thought about it, what did I actually mean, arghhh!” It was roughly the adult equivalent of sticking your hand up in class at school then realising you’d forgotten the question πŸ™ƒ

(This only lasted for an instant & I’m actually amused by my thinking. In some dim recess of my mind I’m still, like most of us, waiting for someone to stand up & shout “fraud!” whenever I put my thinking out for scrutiny. Do we ever lose that completely?).

Once I’d taken a breath & re-read my initial response, of course it made sense to me. I’d like to think at the grand but young age of 48 I’m consciously responsible for at least some of my thought process! So my response was thus:

“I’d say yes – for me I think being nice would be saying yes to giving someone a lift even while internally saying “damn that’s going out of my way”, while when being kind I would offer without any thought of inconvenience. Does that make sense?”

(Just realising that even then I’d ended on a plea for understanding, note to self, post with more confidence!)

For me I think both are equally important, especially in today’s hurly burly rush-rush world. I think when we’re on auto-pilot through the day it’s easy to forget to be kind. When you’re perhaps juggling the school run, breakfasts, & getting to work, & you’re already running behind the neighbour asking if you could drop her kids off too is an immediate irritant. It’s too easy to feel like saying ‘fgs can’t you see I’m busy’, & I think a societal expectation of nice or pleasant behavior kicks in & makes you say ‘yes of course, more the merrier’ instead of throwing your smoothie* at her children.

*please don’t try this at home!

On the other hand, when we’re able to slow down & breathe, when we’re living more mindfully, our internal priorities tend to be more aligned with our conscious behavior. And that’s when our innate kindness is to the fore, when we selflessly offer to help others without first weighing up costs to our time, our schedule or our own expectations of the day.

Because being kind is heartfelt & authentic behaviour, it makes us feel good too, because we’re sending a little seed of love & kindness out into the world where it can perhaps take root and grow. And that’s better for everyone.

Wishing you all a joyful week

Namaste πŸ™πŸ’™

Vironika’s latest book, The Art of Talking to Yourself, is a beautiful read, it’s currently sitting beside my bed & although I’ve not yet finished it I’d highly recommend you treat yourself to a copy – it’s food for the soul.

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Somewhere to Retreat…

Hi there, apologies it’s been so long, between one thing & another I’ve struggled to find find the motivation to blog recently, mostly energy & concentration levels low due to ME, plus RA hitting my hips – you know the drill. But…. I wanted to post something about my most favourite place to be (apart from my sofa), & a tweet certainly wasn’t going to cover it. I suddenly realised I had something I wanted to say, so back to my blog at last!

Where to start? The short version is that my lovely friend Ian (pictured below), the owner of my local bar – The Retreat– celebrated 30 years in business this weekend, which is frankly amazing in today’s economy, & mostly down to the fact that they’ve consistently provided us with excellent food & drink, amazing staff & service & so much fun. Exactly what you want from your local, which coincidentally is 250 years old this year! 😊

I turned eighteen in 1988 which was the year The Retreat opened, and yes, I’ve been using it fairly regularly ever since! I’m still slightly stunned thirty years have actually gone by & I’m not completely sure where they went! I’m still only 27, right? 😁

Anyways… Why I am writing this here? Because particularly since I became chronically ill this place has been a literal as well as metaphorical lifeline for me, and it’s a massively important part of my support network, I’d go stir crazy without it.

It’s somewhere I try & visit two or three times a week depending on how I’m feeling. It’s somewhere that as a lone female & a disabled person I feel completely safe. Better than that, I feel loved. I get table service & have my own personal cappuccino mug 😍

Most of my friend network is based from here, The Retreat has always attracted a wonderfully eclectic crowd of people as regulars & long may this continue. Ian also employs some truly fabulous staff & I love them all dearly, they’re family.

Whether I drop in early lunchtime or later afternoon there is never not someone I can chat to. Sometimes after two or three days in bed you just need human contact, and this place is it for me, it always lifts me.

Because of meds it’s very rare I have alcohol these days, I haven’t drunk “properly” for over three years, but I’m still made totally welcome for my coffees or soft drinks. My wonderful GP is well aware I use the place & often checks in with me on appointments that I’m still getting out at least a couple of times a week – we both know how important that is for my mental health, it’s way too easy to become isolated when disabled.

Any good pub or bar is always a community hub, & The Retreat certainly fills that role beautifully, whether you need help with the crossword or to find a plumber this is definitely the place to be.

So, I absolutely wanted to be present as much as possible this weekend, and I managed both Saturday & Sunday afternoons. Evenings are unfortunately a bit beyond me. But I’ve spent time with some of my favourite people in my favourite place, & that’s what was important to me.

Have I come home and crashed? Horribly. Everything hurts, I’ve barely moved since I got home this afternoon & I’ll probably trade at least a few days for these two afternoons in a row. And you know what? It’s worth every bloody spoon I’ve used, pain included.

Because sometimes life has to be about more than illness & pacing & doctors & tests & meds. Friendships & love are so important, I treasure them & the joy they bring me.

I’ve said before this is my equivalent of the TV bar Cheers, “where everybody knows your name”. So I guess what I really want to say is not only Congratulations Ian, or “I bloody love this bar”, but mostly Thank you, for being my respite, my social life, my Retreat.

The Gift of Being Present

There’s a campaign which raises awareness for ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) called #millionsmissing. There will be events around the country next week on May 12th, with many sending in shoes which are laid out in public areas to represent those who are unable to attend. Others will post online, anything we can to raise the public (and sadly medical) awareness of just how devasting ME is. Details can be found at:

http://millionsmissing.meaction.net/

In essence there are millions of us across the world who feel we are missing from our lives. Many are bed bound, some for years. I often thank the stars my ME isn’t quite that severe, although there are many days I’m unable to walk around or get dressed, let alone leave the house. I’ve made a pact with myself that I will try to see other humans twice a week, even if just for coffee and a short natter, because I spend so many hours at home, alone.

I’m a natural introvert who has always enjoyed my own company, even as a child, so thankfully I don’t often feel the loneliness of many. But it is incredibly hard to maintain friendships when even a phone conversation can be exhausting, and sometimes the thought of replying to a message feels about as doable as climbing mountains. So I keep my pact with myself as best as I can, and will do for as long as I can, we all need human contact and shared laughter is a beautiful medicine of it’s own.

Over the past few years I’ve missed weddings, birthdays, lunches, and have completely lost my once active social life in the evenings. It’s difficult sometimes when you know your social group is all together having fun and you are yet again laying down quietly to conserve the precious little energy you have.

But…!! Today I wasn’t missing. Today I made it to a friends annual wedding anniversary barbecue (first time in three years I’ve been able to go) and it was so, so lovely. The sun was even out which is miraculous for a British May Bank Holiday! I managed to find myself a seat in a corner in the shade, I treated myself to a rare alcoholic drink and enjoyed a heavenly Mojito, surrounded by friends, dancing children, chatter and laughter.

I left when things were still in full swing but that’s okay, I know even on better days not to push too much and it was starting to get a little louder which I struggle with (background noise can be draining).

So I’m home now, windows open, sun shining, listening to the birds tweeting on a quiet Sunday evening. And I’m incredibly grateful for today, for these few hours of sunshine and laughter with people I love.

As always, Namaste πŸ™πŸ’™

Why I Don’t Do ‘Stuff’….

This may sound a little odd but I often forget the reason my pain levels stay manageable is because I’m very careful with what I do & don’t do. Today was one of of those rare days when my mind was awake, I had some energy and was in the mood to tackle a couple of little jobs at home.

Β We’re not talking plastering walls and laying brickwork here – but what in my old life would have been maybe an hour or two’s pottering after work! I painted my bathroom windowsill, put a couple of new screws in to fix and touched up the paint on my hall radiator cover, and painted a piece of wall approximately 7ft x 6ft using a step stool.
This wasn’t all at once, I know energy wise I have to be very careful because of the ME. I was sitting down for doing at least half of this, and I took long coffee breaks in between each task. This really wasn’t hard work – or at least it didn’t used to be.

However…

I’m now hurting everywhere. Fibro & RA are both flaring. My feet feel like they’ve been beaten with a hammer, both hips are shouting, my back, shoulders, elbow and neck are all complaining loudly and my hands are throbbing. Plus of course I’m now exhausted.

The really silly thing is I genuinely forget sometimes there’s a damn good reason I’ve slowed down – I have to, because if I don’t, ouch. I really must remember to actually tell my rheumy about this at our next meeting!

These days most of the time I get friends round or pay someone to do this stuff for me, which is obviously the sensible option as it keeps my pain down and protects my joints. But when it’s “just” little odd jobs (that in a previous life you’d have tackled on a Sunday morning in no time) not being able to to do them is really frustrating. Being able to rely on others is wonderful, but having to rely on others is not so great and you do worry goodwill will eventually run out! And of course paying professionals to do work for you is yet another part of the expense that is living with disability.

It always costs one way or another.

Β Despite all this… I’m feeling a rare sense of achievement! Three things that have been bugging me for months are finally off my to-do list forever. Will I do it again? You betchya – probably in around three months when I’ve forgotten again 😊

Dear Newly Diagnosed…

You obviously feel in need of support.
I do remember that feeling – that you are really struggling with the whole idea of having RA – of becoming chronically ill.

So you’ve joined a support group, seen a few posts about surgeries and disability and people trying their third biologic, now you’ve gone from slightly concerned to terrified!

It’s important I think that newbies to #chroniclife are made aware that it tends to be those with more severe symptoms who gravitate towards support groups or twitter, and stick around. It’s important we acknowledge that around 40-60% of those diagnosed with RA and treated early will likely achieve controlled remission with medication. That’s actually pretty good odds. And those people often never feel the need to look for support groups online or to stay around if they do.

So our tribe tends to be those who’ve been a bit battered, often suffering with mental as well as physical issues that ergo cause emotional as well as physical pain. It means sometimes posts and tweets can seem dark or bleak, but it also means we have a fabulous empathy with each other and are able to give outpourings of love and support and prayers whenever they are needed – we’ve been there, and many of us have come out stronger for it.

And that’s a really important thing to know – we do come out the other side. My first year with RA was dreadful, I lost my job, I was made homeless. My depression spiralled. It was a dark time, perhaps not dissimilar to where you may find yourself now, and without my online tribe (not forgetting my wonderful IRL family & friends!) I’d have collapsed. These fabulous, generous strangers kept me putting one foot in front of the other when I couldn’t see the way forward. They held up a light.

It was hard and it was sad and it was painful, I won’t pretend otherwise. Antidepressants helped, my GP helped, psychotherapy helped, group therapy helped, and very gradually my feet found new, firmer ground. On balance now I can honestly say chronic illness has brought more good into my life than bad.

The worst happened and the sun still rose and set. That’s life changing right there. Survival. Some great therapy led me to mindfulness which lead me to meditation and gratitude. Despite being ridiculously ill and in constant pain I am genuinely happier with myself than I’ve ever been in my life.

RA was the brute force needed to make me stop & smell the coffee. I know it touched me for a reason. I live more spiritually and much more slowly, I treasure my friendships, I’m more sympathetic, more patient & more kind. I’m grateful for the smallest things, a warm bed, hot coffee, a good book. I’m no longer impressed by the material, but hearing a bird sing or watching the clouds move can and frequently does fill me with with joy. My path has been irreconcilably altered by RA and I’m the better for it.

Yes I still have dark days. I’m very ill, with RA, ME, Fibro & other conditions. So I have constant pain and take a lot of meds. I’m still on antidepressants and fully expect to be for life, they boost chemicals I need to be me and I’m more than fine with that. But my darker days are just that now – days. In the past they would have been weeks or months, my coping strategies developed and yours will too.

I wanted to share this with you not because you’ll do the same or feel the same – we all walk our own path through this life. But to hopefully reassure you a little that you absolutely will find your way. Chronic illness is not an end but a shift to a new beginning, an altered life does not have to be a lesser one.

My newcomer tips?

  • Get enough rest.
  • Listen to your body, if it hurts, stop.
  • Build your pain toolkit – meds, gels, ice, heat, tens, marijuana, movies, whatever works for you.
  • Let go of worry about what others may think – it really doesn’t matter.
  • Look after you – baths, chocolate, candles, pamper yourself.
  • And always, always remember to be as kind to yourself as you would to others – we are way too hard on ourselves.
  • Practice #selfcare daily

Sending blessings, Namaste πŸ™πŸ•‰οΈπŸ’™

Friendship & Chronic LifeΒ 

Previously published through Creaky Joints 

I was mentally restored by spending a few hours with two close friends last night. I’d had a stressful few days health wise which was exacerbated by an “unhelpful” medical appointment, leaving me spinning. I was off kilter, out of sorts, upset, angry, anxious, emotional and irrational. Yes, all in a couple of days! 

By the time I came home from a glass of wine, a lovely meal and most importantly the company of S&S I was feeling calm, centred, strong, rational and buzzing with ideas to resolve my problem. I feel this is the most beautiful thing good friends provide, they love you and fill you with energy. 

To me friendships are the most important and honest relationships we ever have. Family is wonderful when it works, but we all know that you can’t choose your relations! For want of a better word ‘mates’ or companions are fabulous and great for an afternoon of chat but not necessarily for baring your soul. Marriage has its own complications!

Yet making friends is quite a random process really, we meet someone, perhaps initially think they are interesting or kind or share a common ground, and from that somehow evolve into this incredibly trusting symbiosis. 

We aren’t consciously aware of doing so, but we must make a lot of tiny judgements about people who become our friends in the early days of knowing them. The dictionary defines a friend as ‘a person with whom one has a bond of mutual affection’ but I feel the word symbiosis comes closer – ‘a mutually beneficial relationship between different people’.

Initially that sounds a little formal, but add in the ‘mutual affection’ of friends and you have a beautiful symbiotic relationship. Yes, it’s about give and take, but of the intangible kind. You don’t look at a stranger and think they’ll be supportive at 3am when the dog is sick, or decide they’d be a great hospital visitor. You can’t tell at first that this person will be the one to make you laugh until you cry when you miss the train or forgot your in laws are coming for dinner. 

Keeping friendships going when you have a chronic condition can be tough, and making new friends can be harder, especially for those of us with a chronic illness but in my book it’s well worth the investment of spoons.
I’m blessed and I know it. I have a few close girlfriends who I adore. I’ve collected them over the years from various places, and they all have one thing in common. 

They didn’t run. They didn’t decide I was too sick or too needy or too boring or unreliable once I became ill. They don’t complain when I cancel last minute, they just reschedule. They post chocolates through my door at random times. They answer messages at night when I haven’t got the energy to chat but need to sense check my thinking about how ill I’m feeling or if I’m a little low. They’ve even cancelled work to sit with me on bad days.  They arrange a lunch with me for their birthday because they know I won’t make it out at night for drinks. 

They are also incredibly honest, and will happily tell me I’m being a muppet if needed! But most of all they lift me. They help me be the best version of who I can be. Their faith in me reflects my faith in them. I honestly don’t know what I’d do without these beautiful strong, intelligent women in my life, and I’m blessed that I don’t need to find out. 

I sadly all to often see people, chronically ill people, those with RA and Fibromyalgia and ME and MS saying just how lonely and  isolated they’ve become, particularly for those who’ve had to give up working. They’ve almost lost contact with the outside world, friends have drifted away following repeat cancellations, people stop asking them out because they can’t guarantee being there. 

Or they’ve fallen out with friends over well meaning but ill-thought advice. It’s difficult to remember people are only being kind, especially when you’re in a lot of pain and then you don’t feel friends understand so sadly all too often it creates a space between them that neither knows how to fill. 

So what have I done differently? I’m not sure I have a magic solution. I’ve perhaps just been lucky enough to make friends with some amazing ladies. I’ve always been open and honest with them, especially about my illness and how I feel. I think in some ways my blog has helped, they can read what I’m going through without it needing to be the topic of every conversation. 

I also think it’s important to remember that friendship, just like any other relationship takes work. I realised in January I hadn’t seen two friends in far too long, so I messaged them both and said OK, lunch when? Saw one last week, will see the other next week. Make that call, keep in touch. 

I don’t mean it should feel unnatural or be an effort, but that it’s important we put in as much love and energy as we get out. It would be horrid to think after recharging me last night that my friends went home drained, but it’s a reciprocal process, we chat, we laugh, we vent, we eat and we somehow make sure we each share what we need. It’s exactly the same with my other friends. You have to really be there and you have to actively listen (call it mindful friendship time!) to nsure they know they are special and they are loved. 

The payback is priceless, you feel special and loved too πŸ’™

Ask & you will receive?!

I may have mentioned before I’m ridiculously independent, sometimes almost stubbornly so.  It would suprise those who don’t know me very well to know that I’m am introvert, because I am perfectly capable of mixing with people I know and enjoying it.

However it has to be balanced with time on my own.  Quite a lot of it.  Even as a child I would distance myself,  finding a quiet corner with a book for cover and taking time to just be.  I’m genuinely happy with my own company, and I feel sympathy for people who aren’t, I can’t imagine always feeling a need to be surrounded by others. 

However this does not mean I don’t enjoy company, and I’m lucky to have a very special and varied group of close girlfriends, and a wider but just as lovely group of social friends. 

I have found myself in the position very recently of starting to need to ask for help, and boy does that grate! But I simply cannot pretend any longer to myself that I can do stuff – I can’t!

To my immense delight and true gratitude I have found when I ask people come through.  They really do. 

A call out on Facebook this week resulted in an old friend I hadn’t seen in 7 or 8 years dropping round within 2 hours to shift a load of boxes for me.  I paid him with a hug.  Seriously, how simply amazing is that?

I have also had boxes dropped off and meals brought round, and I know when I move house in four weeks the help I need will be there.  If there’s one thing RA has done for me in the last few weeks it’s made me truly appreciate the people around me, my support network, my friends.

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