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 🙏💙

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Emotional Eating…

I’ve been thinking today as I sorted out my sewing box (how many buttons?!) and my stationery box (how many pens?!) about the how’s and why’s of my relationship with food, and what lies behind it.

I don’t know anyone, overweight or underweight, who doesn’t have problems with emotional eating, and in some ways I think it’s the hardest thing to step away from. Unlike with heroin or crack or alcohol where one just abstains from the substance to deal with the addiction with food we can’t, we all have to eat to survive.

And these are deeply ingrained behavior patterns melded into our psyche as children then carried through to adulthood where they become a subconscious belief – the belief that certain foods make us ‘feel better’.

What do we do with a crying baby? Feed it. How do we cheer a toddler out of a mood? Food. What do we reward children with when they clear their plates? Sweet food. (two lots of issues there – we are all trained not to ‘waste’ food from an early age so we stop noticing when we’re full). What do we have as treats on special days, holy days, birthdays? Food, food & more food.

It’s no big shocker that we associate food with comfort more than anything else. When we eat that bar of chocolate or packet of biscuits we are unconsciously reaching back through time to our first feeds, when food also meant being held close, safe & loved, with no worries or cares. That’s a really strong pull, and in essence it’s what we’re fighting.

I don’t know what makes the difference between people who have a healthy relationship with food and those who don’t. People who can have two chocolates and put the box away for another time. Maybe it’s nurture, maybe nature. I’m sure the answer would be worth millions!!

But I do know my eating issues started in my early twenties, and I’ve had them ever since. I can look back at times when I was really happy and the weight fell off, and then sometimes when I thought I was happy and the weight was piling back on anyway.

For years I’ve watched furtively as slim people ate chocolate bars or ice cream and thought “well they can have them, why should I go without”. Yes they. They (the slim people) are obviously a race of aliens with incredible willpower. Except no. They simply view food as fuel, enjoyable fuel but without the emotional baggage we attach to our eating.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know what it isn’t for me. Diets. Shakes. Low Carb/fat/protein. Intermittent fasting. Atkins. Weight watchers. Banning sugar. Spending three mornings a week at the gym. Yes, I’ve done all of these plus others over the past twenty eight years. And I’ve lost weight. And on it has gone again because I haven’t tackled the cause. My mind.

So for me the change I make now has to be permanent, and yes, if that means I calorie count for the next twenty years so be it. Because I can’t be trusted not to. Interestingly I’m not finding this hard. Difficult yes, but not hard.

I’m rediscovering a love for fruit and salad and veggies cooked well with flavour. I’ve found a wonderful organic granola that has no added sugar or fruit and its gorgeous. I’m remembering to reach for grapes or a carrot or a rice cake if I’m peckish. I’m actually planning meals on the days that I can cook, and enjoying preparing them.

Believe me when I say I could happily ditch this tomorrow, go back to eating mostly crap and put weight back on in a heartbeat. But you know what? I want this more. I don’t want to have to use an extender on plane seat belts. I don’t want to keep looking for the sturdier chairs. I don’t want to keep wearing shapeless tunics because they ‘cover the bumps’. And I don’t want doctors to be less concerned about my symptoms because they look at me & see fat. I want to remove that excuse from their arsenal.

But most of all I want… Leather trousers, 50th birthday 😎👖👢💛

As always comments & opinions are my own and not a substitute for speaking with a medical professional

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 🙏🕉️💙

Behind The Illness is Me…

Thanks to Emma, who is part of my twitter tribe and a fellow person with ME for tagging me in #behindtheillness – it’s a lovely reminder that all of us living #chroniclife are also very human! You can find her great blog at NotJustTired

So you can find below some interesting & totally not useful facts about me 😊

Four places I’ve lived:

1. Stroud, Gloucestershire (my actual & spiritual home).

2. Eastbourne, West Sussex

3. Clifford’s Mesne, Gloucestershire
4. Constantine Bay, Cornwall

Four places I’ve worked:

1. The Swan Inn – chef & barmaid extroidinnaire!
2. Stroud College – Lecturer in Floristry
3. JHP Training – teaching then management across the South West
4. Athena, Bournemouth – book retailer

Four favourite hobbies:

1. Reading
2. Knitting (very much a learner)
3. Writing – my blog, poetry & occasionally stories
4. Meditation

Four things I like to watch:

1. Criminal Minds

2. Game of Thrones
3. The Walking Dead
4. Movies, especially good thrillers

Four things I like to read:

1. Fantasy – swords & sorcery – Feist, Eddings, Hobbe, Douglass
2. Spiritual – Thich Naht Hanh, Ruby Wax, Russell Brand, John Kabat-Zinn
3. Thrillers – Koontz especially
4. Poetry – most recent discovery is the C14th Persian poet Hafiz – sheer beauty through words

Four places I have been:

1. Guardalavaca, Cuba
2. Marrakesh, Morocco
3. Vienna, Austria
4. Ghent, Belgium

Four things I love to eat:

1. Chocolate
2. Steak & roasted vegetables
3. Indian food
4. Lamb Tagine

Four favourite things to drink:

1. Coffee especially cappuccino!
2. Green Tea
3. Havana Club aged rum (very occasional treat)
4. Mango & Passionfruit Juice with soda and ice

Four places I want to visit:

1. Budapest
2. Iraq, Iran & Syria (ancient Persia, pictured below)
3. St Petersburg
4. Canadian Rockies

Four bloggers I’d like to tag:

1. The very lovely Wren at RheumablogWren
2. The wonderful disability advocate Shona at ShonaLouise
3. The fabulous & focused Sally at SallyJustME
4. The boldy tweeting and often amusing Elise at TheFragileBones

There are lots of other bloggers I’d love to tag, I’m just hoping I’m not duplicating the tag with my choices!

I initially thought this would be a quick five minutes, then started thinking, reminiscing….. It’s been good fun.

Namaste 💙

Please watch #Unrest

Some of you may know I have Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, or ME/CFS. Many of you will have no idea of what that actually means beyond “being tired” which is so far from the truth. For too long the medical profession & the media have treated ME/CFS as a joke, a mental illness, or fakery. It is none of the above, and the mindset is insulting to every single one of us.

It affects waking & sleeping. It affects cognitive thinking and speech, memory, writing and listening. It causes seizures and myoclonic jerks. Clumsiness. Bowel problems. Joint pain. Muscle pain. Exercise intolerance and PEM (Post Exertional Malaise) which can last for weeks or months. Flu like symptoms. It affects every minute of waking life every single day.

In the face of ignorance and incompetence from those with whom she sought help, Jen did what many of us do. She went online and found a tribe. Somewhere where we are heard, seen and understood. Where we are validated.

She then went much further, eventually creating and filming Unrest. This is her story, but it’s also our story. Thankfully I’ve never been as severe as Jen, I pray I never am.

But I have periods of days when I am invisible, when no-one sees me. I don’t get dressed or leave the house. When I wake from an 18 hour sleep then have a three hour nap. When holding a conversation is impossible. When simply sitting up is just too hard, let alone leaving the bed or sofa. I am too often one of the #millionsmissing

Please watch #Unrest – it’s now on Netflix. The link to the trailer is below. Yes it’s hard viewing. But it will open your eyes to the reality of the lives of millions with ME.

NYE 2017 – Reflections

I was trying to find a theme or quote that represented what 2017 has meant for me to use as a starting point, but nothing seemed quite the right thing. I know New Years Eve tends to bring us bloggers out of the woodwork, I think it’s the creative urge to somehow capture where we’ve been, and perhaps plot where we want to go. Combined with the creative muse that won’t let us know what the next sentence is until we write it.

My year has above all been a catalyst for change, and wending through it has been a series of lessons I hope I’ve learned from. I think I’m a better person than I was twelve months ago, and I hope in twelve months time I can say the same again and mean it as fully as I do now. There’s a lovely aboriginal proverb that says “”We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through. Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love… And then we return home.”

I have, with the support of some wonderful people, finally discovered the real Joy of Now. Not the superficial trimmings of mindfulness that is pushed by mainstream media, but the real living in the moment stuff. It’s mind altering. Life changing. And it’s so amazing! But I wouldn’t have been ready for this had it happened earlier in my life, I firmly believe that we have to become open and ready to welcome in the new and let go of the old, and do this with with self love and self compassion. Even when it’s as challenging as f*ck. Which it often is.

So how did I get here? I am forever grateful to Demi Schneider my wonderful therapist, who helped me become ready to open these doors almost two years ago now by teaching me how to love myself fully. To Ruby Wax whose fabulous book “A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled” gave my logical brain the understanding it needed of what was going on in my head and how to start rewiring those neural pathways. To the wonderful Calm app which helped me start meditating and sleeping again. To the beautiful Essia for leading me to The Now Project. And to Adrian from the Now Project who held my hand (literally & metaphorically) through one of the darkest hours of my life. And to the whole Now Project Team for just being here.

Does that give you a glimpse of how it all fits? How what seems random and disparate is beautifully interconnected. The Universe guides us to where we need to be even when we have no clue what we need. We can’t rush it, things will happen when they are supposed to. All we need do is live, right now.

For those that don’t know I was diagnosed with a serious lung condition in June, which at the time was believed to be terminal. It wasn’t a shock to me as I’d been expecting it for months, but even so it was definitely one of life’s “oh shit” moments. Thankfully I already had mindfulness and meditation in my life, without either I know I would have spiralled back into severe depression.

And here’s where synchronicity comes in. I attended my first retreat with the Now Project the day after I had this news. (See, I did have a point!) That evening during our informal meet and greet we were asked what we hoped to get from this weekend. As I listened to the others share a voice in my head (mine, of course) suddenly shouted “Nothing, I’m going to die, you can’t help me” In that moment everyone and everything else seemed trivial. Knowing I was about to either sob or scream I quietly left the room.

I went outside and sat under a beautiful willow, looking over the fields in front of the house. And I sobbed my heart out. Until gradually I realised I was watching the midges dance in the twilight. Above them Swifts circled and dove, catching their evening supper. And I found a measure of peace, my feet bare against the grass, grounded in nature.

Of course when someone came to see if I was okay I melted again. And Adrian, a complete stranger to me, sat with me for nearly an hour. Holding my hands. Bringing me back to my breath continually. And that is when I finally understood that we only ever have Now. None of us are guaranteed tomorrow. Nothing else is real. Catalyst.

I’m incredibly grateful to say that further testing has (at least for now) ruled out any significant impact on my life expectancy. I have Interstitial Lung Disease caused by RA, which in turn causes a lot of breathing issues, but they are manageable by moving slowly. I’ve also been formally diagnosed with ME this year, so fatigue impacts my pace too. And that helps me continue to live in the moment.

So in simple terms facing my own mortality brought me deep joy. I know I’m not the first or last to say this. And others will walk different paths. The one thing we’ll have in common is that realisation of just how essential it is to live Now. Not today or next week or next year – they don’t exist. When we combine that with real love for ourselves exactly as we are we become invincible. Even death holds no fear because it’s just another step towards enlightenment.

It’s quarter to midnight on New Years Eve 2017, the moon is bright and full. I have candles burning gently and the enchanting music of Deva Prema playing in the background. All is well right Now.

Wishing you all a blessed 2018.
Dee 💙