A month of yellow and gold

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Somebody have the fluffy socks and blankets ready as tomorrow September begins.  And that means that this woman will be trying to make sure she is wearing something yellow or gold every day despite the fact the weather in Scotland is already a little bit nippy.

For those of you who haven’t been around my blog or instagram for long, the reason I do this is because September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

Childhood Cancer doesn’t get as much attention as other cancers. Very little funding goes towards research into new treatments. In the USA only 4% of all government funding for cancer research is spent on childhood cancers (and there’s a long list of them). And despite the fact you’ll probably see kids on many sponsored ads, TV ads and things like Stand Up To Cancer, not much of the big cancer charities give to childhood cancer research either. Because there are less children than there are adults, not as many people get childhood cancers, but when they do the side effects are far greater and the treatment protocols are decades older.

This past year, a young girl who was in school year with our young leaders passed away from osteosarcoma, and someone I know through work’s son has been battling a brain tumour. That little boy age 3 has lost 11kg from chemo, and has become so ill due to the toxic treatments over the last few weeks needing multiple blood and platelet transfusions that he’s not been able to get more chemo that he needs. His Mum talked on facebook about how she has discovered what I’ve sadly known for a while – how little research and funding goes into childhood cancers.

It’s why Love Oliver is one of the charities I’ve chosen to fundraise for this year.

So as I head off to search out my yellow tops and headbands (I’m also starting to pack as I’m moving this month too!) you are very welcome to join me, and you are of course welcome to donate to my fundraising page.

Though I’ve been sick over the last week, I’m hoping that I might be able to start doing Couch to 5k and take part in the Kiltwalk this month.

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Over the years my wearing unseasonal colours and often looking like a minion has led to opening of conversations with strangers, friends and family who often have no idea about the lack of funding for childhood cancer research.

Each day I’ll be aiming to take a selfie to post on instagram of yellow/gold of the day and tagging some fab charities who are in the fight to ensure that cancer dies instead of kids, and supporting kids who are living with cancer and its aftermath.

Summertime Reading…

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The Colours of all the Cattle by Alexander McCall Smith – early summer is always the time when the latest paperback edition of the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series comes out. If you are looking for a lighthearted read to bring you some joy and encouragement, I will always recommend these wonderful books. No one brings me more solace in literature than the quiet, thoughtful, assertive ‘traditionally built’, Mma Ramotswe. I love that we are seeing the growth of Charlie in this book, and a little more of Mr Polopetsi.

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The Lady in the Van by Alan Bennett – I bought this a few years ago as part of those ‘Buy One Get One Half Price’ deals at Waterstone’s. It’s small size make it the perfect book to have in your handbag just in case you get stuck waiting for a bus, train or friend that is running late. Essentially it’s a series of journal entries throughout the years recounting the author’s experiences of having a fairly eccentric but very characterful woman living in a van parked outside his house (and eventually in his garden). I have to say that it felt like quite a lazy printing of her story and although interesting, I would be rushing to recommend it as a ‘must-read’.

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Mother Ship by Francesca Segal – However, this is a must read. I heard about this book through the charity Bliss, as the author is going to be speaking at one of their conferences later in the year. Having had several friends experience life on a neonatal unit (not to mention a family member many years ago) and my university studies on maternity care, I found this a fascinating, heart wrenching read. It is written, honestly and beautifully.

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The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – Why this book wasn’t taught at school I don’t know. Did I miss that day in Higher English? I had bought copies years ago when it was the Our Shared Shelf book of the month, but never got round to reading it. There isn’t a plotline in this book that isn’t describing a parallel of real history or present day political landscapes. I think particularly with the USA taking away rights for LGBTQ+ and women’s reproductive health though, not to mention families who promote unqualified midwives and eating with disposable cutlery, and then this week our British PM doing some unconstitutional like politics… it’s a good time to read this book. And be inspired to take some action like Offred’s Mum and Moira advised.

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Mama’s Boy by Dustin Lance Black – There’s a reason why that man won an Oscar for scriptwriting. Lance’s memoir telling his Mum’s story of surviving and defying all odds after contracting polio as a toddler, domestic abuse and trying to deal with realising he was gay after being taught in the Mormon church that gay people were evil and going to hell is a must read. Not just for the inspiration of overcoming odds in his Mum’s story and his own journey but for how stories bring humanity into debates. One of my favourite passages in the book is him describing his Mum visiting him at his student apartment and meeting his diverse group of friends who did not realise his Mum held Conservative opinions and how their honesty and openness with her built a bridge. In a time where we spend time polarising people and writing off anyone who is flawed in their viewpoint rather than trying to find common ground, it’s an important read. I really hope it can be made into a film one day.

 

Plastic Free Periods…

…yes, if you’re not a fan of ‘TMI’ or embarrassed by menstruation, now is the time to skip this post. Seriously, I’m not going to apologise for being born with ovaries and a uterus because it’s one of those things that I didn’t get a choice in. Same as I didn’t get to choose how good my eyesight is or the fact that I got a nose that looks like it got broken (sadly, no good story to the ‘What happened to your nose?’ question I got asked more than once as a young adult. It’s genetics. I know. I’ve seen the same nose on other members of the clan).

So after months of being off depo provera, I’d honestly given up on awaiting my first period in a decade. A panicked trip to Boots the Chemist before I travelled to London for work (I was utterly convinced that it would happen while away from home) in JANUARY was in vain. But since that trip I’ve had a wee make up bag carrying the necessities – a spare pair of knickers, pain relief patches, pads and tampons. Given that the last periods I had were so horrendous doctors figured that the risk of osteoporosis outweighed the likelihood of a trip to A&E, I think a little anxiety was understandable.

Cue early June, when I realised one day that my breasts were aching. Like REALLY aching. I’ve had that before once in my life, and I was pretty certain the reason couldn’t be the same as this time. My bras stopped fitting. It went on for days and was getting so uncomfortable I actually started to be concerned that despite the lack of lumps maybe I should go see my GP to get checked.  Boob health is important folks! And then it went away almost as soon as I made the decision that I’d call the doctor the following day.

I was also finding myself overly emotional and teary. However life was busy and work a little bit stressful with a lot happening at once, so I put it down to that.

I am an idiot.

It was of course…my period.

So unused to menstruation, when it happened I actually freaked out in the toilet that I was bleeding before remembering that bleeding is in fact normal for women.

Part of it was that I felt absolutely no period pain, and this has NEVER happened to me (even my very first period when I was 12, I was doubled up in pain all day at school before I started).

However, what shocked me more is how much feminine hygiene products have changed in 10 years. Back in the ‘noughties’ I could get perfume free liners and pads, and tampons came with a cardboard/paper applicator. Now a lot of pads, liners and even tampons are perfumed (whhhy?!) and the tampon applicators all seem to be made out of plastic. I can’t imagine that this is good for me and I know it’s not good for the environment.

And so I decided that for the sake of the oceans, forests (and quite frankly my lady parts) I would investigate some alternatives.

I’ve been chatting with Cheeky Wipes – a company I know of for their amazing resuable baby wipes that my parenting friends use. They have a helpful questionnaire you can fill in and based on your answers you’ll get advice on what products you’d be best using. I’ve now sent off for some of their resuable sanitary pads to try. The reviews I’ve seen say that though a little bulkier than disposable pads, they find that they don’t leak and that everything can breathe a bit better and need changing a lot less than disposables. So I have high expectations.  I’ve also been recommended the mooncup and rubycup. As I like to do swimming, it’s likely I’m going to try that as an alternative to tampons.

If you’ve been trying out plastic free products for dealing with your menstrual cycle, I’d love to hear your recommendations. My main worry is going on holiday or being away from home and being able to still use these reusable products. What products have worked for you, what challenges have you faced in using sustainable products?

Springtime Reading

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Becoming by Michelle Obama – This book didn’t disappoint, and was an inspiring read. I hadn’t known that Michelle had been involved with Public Allies – a community organising non-profit that a couple of my fellow Comm Ed buddies had been part of when they lived in the USA. It felt real, authentic and how I would love to sit and chat over some cake with this woman to ask more questions and gain more wisdom. Needless to say my copy has now been passed onto friends at work who have been reading it too!

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The Descent of Man by Grayson Perry – It was fascinating to read this take on why the feminist movement is so important from a male perspective. I’ve seen Grayson Perry interviewed on TV a couple of times, and if I’m totally honest I judged him by his fashion and make up choices and I really shouldn’t have. What he has to say is clearly from a process of thought from listening, observing and great self awareness. Qualities which are lacking in our society as so many of us are too busy being adamant about our experience = everybody else’s.

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Welcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzo – I really enjoyed this book and my only complaint would be I would have liked to have found out more about how it all ended for these characters. The story was interestingly crafted bringing together a number of different characters from varying backgrounds into one story. Definitely recommend!

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Women of the Dunes by Sarah Maine – Holy crap – this book was amazing. Attracted at first by the beautifully wrapped copies, the teal cover and the mention of seas and beaches…I picked it up and finding out it’s connections to the Scottish folk tales I was immediately intrigued. It brings a folk tale, a tale from a great grandmother and her present day grown up great-grandaughter’s work together. I bought a copy, stayed in the bookshop cafe to have breakfast. When I got home I was angered by anyone entering into my space because I didn’t want to stop reading as desperately wanted to work out if my theories were correct as the stories unravelled.

What reads have you enjoyed so far in 2019?  Leave your recommendations in the comments!

When napping isn’t a choice…

This week is ME Awareness week. It’s an illness that I’ve lived with on and off for over a decade. In recent months I’ve had a bit of a flare up of the illness that has been a struggle (which I talked about in my last post). But I wanted to write a bit more about my journey with this illness. Some of this is taken from previous posts I’ve written in the past.

ME is the better known initials for Myalgic Encephalomyelitisand is more commonly known as Post-Viral or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).

I’ll be honest, I had my doubts that this disease even existed, until suddenly, at age 19 I realised I couldn’t push through it anymore. Why was I so tired? Why did I permanently feel like I was coming down with cold/flu? Why did I wake up unable to bend my joints because of the pain? Why the sudden weakness in my muscles?

All that happened was that in April 2003, I got a cold. It lasted for a little bit longer than usual. But no big deal. It’s just a cold. It wasn’t like the previous year when I was sick with glandular fever.

But as I’m tried to study I was falling asleep on my books. I was getting enough sleep but  still tired. And the morning I woke up not able to move I just burst into tears. I was freakin’ terrified.

I carried on anyway (because that’s what I’d always done in life) and eventually I fainted from exhaustion after one of my exams. So I went to the doctor. Mainly because now my friends were moving from ‘slightly concerned’ to ‘a wee bit terrified’. There was no way I could hide my symptoms to the people who saw me day to day.

You have post-viral fatigue syndrome said the doctor. She said there’s was nothing she could do, I just needed to rest and wait it out for now.

Lucky it was summer, and I had no other plans until university started back up in September.

And so I had to learn to rest. I had to learn to let people help me. I had to cope with needles as they took blood test after blood test.

Because I wasn’t getting better.

And then I had to realise that the church looks at people who have post-viral fatigue syndrome as unreliable and not a good role model. It was true – my body was unreliable. It was failing me. At times my mind was failing me. But what really hurt was people questioning my character.

So I made myself much worse trying to prove that I wasn’t unreliable. Finding it very difficult to cope with feeling better, thinking I was finally recovering, having several good days, maybe even a couple of weeks… only to walk into a lecture sit down and realise I was so exhausted and aching that there was no point of me being there because I couldn’t take anything in. I would be in pain. I would be in tears with the sudden tiredness that hadn’t been there 30 minutes before.

A strange blessing was that I’d put on 1/2 a stone during my second year at uni. Thank God. Because while I was ‘recovering’ and been told by the doctors suggested had a million and one other things (depression, stress, asthma, PMS, arthritis…) and I went back to uni to start a new degree I lost more than a stone. Credit to my high school friends, they didn’t say a word about how scarily thin I looked when I came home that next summer until much, much later when I started to put it back on. I also went to try and give blood for the first time. Thank God I did. They weighed me, and I discovered just how much weight I’d lost – I only weighed about 7st 6lb (104 lb) which was NOT good.

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A very underweight koala starting to get a bit better (temporarily at least!)

I also ended up in A&E when I fainted in my car – I’d thankfully pulled over because I was feeling weird and shaky. The doctors thought I was pregnant but nope, my body had ‘a virus’ in it. I had no fever, no sniffles… I just slept for a week.

I don’t think I would have got a university degree had it not been for the set up of the Health Sciences programme. It worked really well for me. Every day we had classes until lunchtime that started at 9.30 am (which meant that I was never walking to university in darkness – this helped a lot because I also suffer from S.A.D.). That 30 minute difference from 9 am to 9.30 am was massive. We had afternoons off, which I could use to study and do my coursework. Everything was generally in the same place so there wasn’t the exhaustion of going to and from lectures and tutorials back and forth across a large campus.  I also had a day off in the middle of the week which I could either use to do coursework or recover if I was having a difficult week health wise. I didn’t do any uni work on Sundays (ever – not even the day before an exam) and Saturdays were a day to chill and maybe do some chores that I had no energy to do throughout the week. It was all about managing my time and having regular rest slots.

My mantra was – there’s no point in getting a good degree if it comes at the cost of my health. I do my best, I live my life….and if that’s not good enough, I have to accept that.

I didn’t pull a single all-nighter during honours year. Not even for my dissertation. I knew that if I even tried it would likely set me back for weeks.

I did have setbacks, and some other health issues that popped up (not least catching mumps – ugh!) but the course was small and the department were amazingly supportive and kind. I always felt they had my back and I think that in itself helped immensely. Rather than being ready to mark a red pen for being off sick, instead when I crawled my way to uni they would say Are you sure you’re ok to be here?

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Struggling to stay awake at work

In a strange way ‘recovery’ has been the hardest part. You think you are better, you start doing more…and then you pay for it and you are right back to square 1 (or worse). When I first moved back to Edinburgh I would catch everything and be ill for weeks. Now I find that my immune system is slightly better and am more ‘fighting it off’ for ages before I finally succumb and get better a bit more quickly. I even managed not to catch a few bugs going around the youth project last year that everyone else got.

Perhaps that why this more recent relapse has felt like a side swipe.

I have to be careful about getting sleep – if I miss sleep I have to catch up with it quickly otherwise it is game over within 24 hours. I’ll get a cold, the brain fog comes (I’ll not know what day it is, struggle to string sentences together and just not be able to concentrate), I will feel nauseous and sometimes dizzy.

I also have to be careful about busy days. If I feel great, the temptation is to try and get lots done. MISTAKE. I’ll get so far and then totally crash. Just because my calendar is free doesn’t mean that my energy levels are. Sometimes an exhausting day is going to happen – like I deliberate took a day off after my sister’s wedding because I knew I would be exhausted. If I’m doing something with Girlguiding on a Saturday afternoon, I probably won’t have ability to be somewhere in the evening.

It’s also important to have understanding, supportive people around you. I’m very lucky to have that at work and especially amongst some of my close friends. I would have gone completely insane without them. They encourage me, reassure me, give me hope when I’m feeling hopeless…but most importantly they accept me exactly the way I am.

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The life and soul of a holiday with friends in Cornwall…

What I most love about the friends who have stuck by me, is that 11+ years of knowing me with this illness they get my humour about it. That’s my coping mechanism. When I’ve forgotten what day it is we have a giggle together. They will sympathise and laugh with you when you tell them how you dropped your phone on your face because your hand didn’t have the strength to hold it. They try to smile when I’m laughing about walking like an old lady/John Wayne. They send me pictures of things I like or a simple emoji when I’m stuck in bed. We talk about pyjamas like some chat about designer shoes. As an extravert I love being around people, and this illness really isolates me. So when I have friends that know how much I love being in their presence despite not really being able to participate and they allow space for that – it’s incredible.

To the friends that haven’t. I don’t blame them for not wanting to be friends anymore. It’s tough having a friend whose body can’t be relied upon. People have their own problems and worries and burdens. I really do get that.

I hope that one day we find some actual treatments for this illness. That would be lovely. But until then…we will keep on keeping on as best we can.

And if you are a fellow spoonie, remember that you aren’t alone. There’s people who do ‘get it’. Your experience is likely different from mine. You’ll experience different symptoms. Some of you had to give up university degrees. Some of you can’t walk. Some of you still can’t get out of bed. Some of you are better than you were. Some of you are worse than before. Some of you like me thought you were better and are experiencing a relapse.

No matter who you are or what your experience is…know that your story has value and it matters.

Thank you for being you.

Much love,

BK

Living with CFS…

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Living with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is pretty rubbish. I haven’t talked about it much on my blog for a while, because in all honestly I was over it. As long as I managed my time well and avoided germs – we were all good. There’s always moments when I’ve been fighting off a bug where I get caught off guard, but probably since December when I began to have some issues with reflux, the symptoms of CFS have been slowly creeping back.

Last month I had planned to go down to Dunbar to watch a friend from Christian Surfers perform at a gig with Harbottle & Jonas. I had my tickets weeks before, was all ready to go down, my friend even invited me round for tea before the gig. But as the afternoon wore on I got more and more fatigued, to the point where my joints seized up and I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I ended up having to bail, knowing that it wouldn’t be safe for me to drive and just had to give in to sleep.

I was so grateful last weekend that my friends understood when I said I didn’t want to celebrate my birthday. They gave me the best gift ever – a place to come and chill. We had dinner, chatted, had a (for me) early night, a lazy breakfast, did a beach clean in the rain and wind, came back and all of us ended up taking turns to have showers, got into pyjamas, watched the telly (something I rarely do now!) and I ended up staying for a second night after getting pinned down by their dog who discovered that my long nails make for excellent doggy back scratches. It was such a relief to just ‘be’ and not feel like I needed to do anything or my friends feel like they had to either.

And I have to say I’ve missed their dog all week, especially this weekend as I’ve struggled. I wish I could find to words to describe what it’s like.

There are things that exist in life now that didn’t when I first got diagnosed – a horrible summer where I used to crawl to the kitchen to get food (anything cooked had to be in the oven, as I couldn’t stand at a hob), lie on the floor until it was ready and then crawl back to bed after.

  1. Wifi – I didn’t have internet at home until my final year at university, and even after graduating, I didn’t have it in some of the places I lived because it was a luxury I chose not to have to save money. Now, I’m so thankful for it, as I can work from a bed or comfy sofa on days when I’m struggling a bit.
  2. Online shopping & supermarket delivery – Though I much prefer as a single person to go to supermarket myself (because my share of the freezer space is limited to one shelf, and I need to get decent dates on things so I’m wasting less) on the weeks my joints are screaming at me and I can’t keep my eyes open, the supermarket bringing your weekly shop to your doorstep is worth that £1-3.
  3. Netflix – Has genuinely been such a comfort. Not only does it switch itself off if you fall asleep while watching, being able easily find show you’ve watched a squillion times before is lovely company when you’re stuck in bed. Often I can’t focus on a ‘new’ show or film as my brain gets foggy.
  4. Twitter and Instagram – This can be a blessing and curse. It can bring community to you, or it show how you’re being left out of community (I believe the kids call it FOMO). But overall, I’m glad they are there.

And things that did exist that I didn’t used to have…

  1. Good pyjama bottoms – Back in the day it was the David & Goliath pyjamas that kept me smiling on crummy health days. But then they went polyester (whhhyyy?) and all was lost for a while. Now I’ve discovered Fat Face pyjamas. They aren’t as ‘fun’ but they are super comfy.
  2. Pillows – I discovered these kind of foam pillows that give much better support than the ones I used to have. It makes so much difference.
  3. Blankets – Duvets have two settings – on or off – but blankets you can layer much more easily.
  4. Fairy lights – There’s something cheering about fairy lights. I now have fairy lights around my bed, on all my bookcases…
  5. Diffuser – My diffuser is something I think I’d struggle to live without now. Every night before bed I put my calming blend in. I have an energising one for when I’m working too. Electrical ones are great as they can be switched on and off easily. Mine you can set to switch itself off after 1 or 3 hours.

But something that has always been there and still remains are key friends who are incredibly understanding. I’ve lost many friends along the way due to them not getting this illness. I get it – I’m flaky and you can’t count on me to be there, so I really do understand why. It is the thing I hate the most. But there have been friends who have just simply been there without drama. The ones who text to check in. The ones who offer to shop for you. The ones who come and help you wash your hair when you can’t lift your arms to do it. The ones who come sit on a sofa and simply ‘be’ with you. The ones who drop baked goods at your front door to cheer you up. The ones who know when you have to cancel at the last minute and don’t get offended. I am so grateful for their unconditional love and kindness.

Those friends are worth more than their weight in gold.

You know who you are…and thank you x

Getting closer to Club 4-0…

Soon I will be 35 years old.

I don’t mind ageing, and get a bit irritated when people get funny about turning a year older. I get that ageing isn’t always fun. I know myself that my body is not the same as it was when I turned 21, and it can be hard to accept that there’s things you physically cannot do anymore than you used to be able to.

One of my friends never made it to 30. Several children I know never made it to high school or university. A lot of long time bloggers will remember Eva, who would have been 35 this week, had she not died while waiting for a second lung transplant. A transplant she needed because of lungs destroyed by Cystic Fibrosis.

Tomorrow is not promised.

Turning 35 is a privilege some don’t get.

But this birthday has brought a sting to old wounds.

The thoughts of a child being the same age as I was this year. The realisation that I’m now the age that I knew would be my ‘cut off’ point to start having children. Having studied maternity care and done midwifery research I have too much knowledge of high risk pregnancy that comes post-35. So I always had in mind if I couldn’t start a family before I was 35, that would be it. But also I know now that I even if life had been different, it wouldn’t likely have enabled me to have a child anyway – unless I’d done it before 23.

Life has not gone the way I planned (does it life ever go the way you ‘plan’?) but I know I am privileged. Privileged to have some incredible friends who have become more like family in some cases. Privileged to have been able to go to university and get an education. Privileged to have a job I love doing and don’t dread going to. Privileged to work with the best team. Privileged to have financial wealth that enables me to feed myself, clothe myself, buy books and even own a wee car.

Despite the body that isn’t really functioning like a woman’s body ‘should’, along with the aches and pains that come with trying to do things I could easily do when I was younger, I feel like it’s important to knowledge what it CAN do.

It can drive a car. It can walk (granted not far without pain, but it can walk nonetheless!). It can use a pen and write. It can read (with the assistance of glasses). It can move and shake to the rhythm of music. It can give a hug to a friend needing comfort or encouragement. It can swim a few lengths of a pool. It can eat cake, and bake more. It can still grow nails super long. It can talk (and talk and talk and talk). It can imagine and jump to silly thoughts. It can pick up smells like a bloodhound.

I can let it age and be sad, or I can push it to see if I can train it to do more.

So this year, I decided it is time to bring back the spacehoppers. To try and swim like I could when I was little and a member of a swimming club. To see if I can focus long enough to train for a 5k. I might even try and climb a mountain.

And to keep myself accountable, I’m going to try and raise money for 4 fab charities really close to my heart while I do so.

Love Oliver, Bliss, Endometriosis UK and Girlguiding.

This year, I don’t want to add stuff to pile up. But I do want to make some memories and know I’ll have left something better behind when my time comes to leave this earth – whether that’s today, years or decades from now.

You can donate to my fundraising page here: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/LauraAnneMackay

Or donate to a childhood cancer charity, neonatal care charity, endometriosis charity or WAGGGS organisation in the country you live in.

Then eat some cake. 🙂

 

I have a confession, and it’s not about cookies…

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Possibly my most liked photo on instagram of 2019 so far is the one above where I showed off my new leggings. The new leggings I fell in love with when one of our charity runners told me about her love of Tikiboo. To buy or not to buy? They were not cheap and there wasn’t a sale on. I was chatting to my friend about it, and told her how much they would be if I got them.

La,” she said “Stop feeling guilty and get the cookie monster leggings“.

It’s been a conversation I’ve had with a couple of close friends as I confessed to them my secret. Friends that earned my trust long ago as people I can count on to be honest with me. Friends that will not love me any less when I’m crummy, and give me that pep talk when I need to be better. Friends that help me keep perspective. Friends that believe in me even when I’m not believing in myself.

What was my secret?

I joined a fancy, schmancy gym.

How fancy?

It has tennis courts, a heated outdoor pool, a jacuzzi and a sauna.

You see, I went for so long without earning a living wage. Every penny was counted for. I would save up for the occasional treat or live on toast for a week so I could something ridiculous like buy tickets to see Hamilton. Clothes were purchased in sales only, and I’ve never stayed in a hotel for more than two nights as an adult. The Premier Inn is fancy, people!

Last year, I began working from home full time. It’s scary to see how few steps I do per day according to my fitbit because I sit at a desk all day. I’m no longer commuting to work. I’m no longer chasing after teenagers or lugging boxes of things to made into stuffed animals. I don’t have many friends that live in Edinburgh anymore, and I get too anxious to go out on my own so I can literally go for a whole week without leaving the house. Feel sorry for the person at Sainsbury’s who then gets a week of conversation, or my poor colleagues who have to call me and then get extravert L.A. in desperate need of social interaction!

My friend convinced me to join a gym last year. It was one of those cheap 24hr places. We went together, and going in I was fairly confident. I used to go to the local authority run gyms with my friend in high school. I knew how to use the machines and all that. But this gym’s machines were complicated and had no TV screen to keep me focused. I needed long pincodes to enter the building. I couldn’t find the machine to get a padlock that worked on their lockers. We went to a class and people wouldn’t share equipment with us. No one even said hello. It was horrible. And after one day going in and just feeling so miserable and anxious I walked back out. So I was relieved when my friend told me how much she hated it and was going to join a different gym with her husband. She was relieved that I wanted to cancel my membership too.

But I still needed a place to go and do some exercise. And to be honest, I needed somewhere to be around people every so often so I wasn’t sitting in a room alone all day every day.

I contacted local gyms, and only one got back to me. The most expensive one of course. I went along thinking there was no way I would join. But they won me over with how friendly the staff were. Every single person smiled and said hello. I did a week’s trial – sure that it wouldn’t last. Nope. The staff continued to smile and greet me everywhere. All the members smiled and chatted in the changing rooms. You can’t walk through to the locker rooms without people holding open the door for you. They gave me a padlock so I’ve never gone in worrying about how to secure my things. The personal trainer person didn’t make me feel like an idiot when he taught me how to use machines nor did he put pressure on to have to make a programme when I had my ‘induction’.  He gave me advice for how I could use the gym equipment to help my knee, and encouraged me just to come in and try a little bit on my own even though I planned only really to use the swimming pool. I did go in, a week later feeling super self conscious. He saw me on a treadmill, and gave me an encouraging smile.

He asked me what my goals were ‘I just need to be able to get myself here and do something‘. He seemed surprised, but didn’t judge. When I told him I didn’t want to learn how to use the machine that calculates your weight and body fat, he just said ok and moved right along.  I guess most people say they are there to lose weight, or to train for a marathon.

Nope. My goal is that at least half the week I’ll have more than a few hundred steps on my fitbit and to get out my house.

There’s a comfy lounge and the wifi connection is better than the one in my house. So at least a few times a week I’ll have lunch, pack my bag and head to the gym. I’ll spend 30 minutes in the gym or in the pool/sauna, shower and work until teatime on my laptop.

And the amazing thing is it’s been two months and I’m still going.

Am I super fit? Nope.

Have I lost weight? I don’t think so.

But have I now bought a proper gym bag, and some cookie monster leggings and a second swimming costume? Yes.

Has my hair been destroyed by chlorine? Yes.

My mental health is not fixed, but I’m definitely doing better. Today my manager called me up, and after 10 minutes of conversation picked up on my low mood asked if I’d been out the house today. She sent me to go exercise.

I really like my gym and I’m actually enjoying doing exercise again. I have the cheapest membership so I can’t access all the classes just now, but as I like it more, I think maybe it’s worth the extra money just to feel a ton better! And maybe, just maybe I’ll up my goals. Certainly I’ve fallen in love with more leggings (there’s purple ones, and my brother wants me to get the ones that have Oscar the Grouch on them as that’s his favourite Sesame Street character) so I need the excuse to buy another pair. Or two. or three.

Oh dear.

And hopefully at some point I’ll feel less weird and get used to having wage that I can live on. Granted, it’s not enough to rent a place of my own in this ridiculously expensive city, so while I can’t have my own plates or put pictures on the walls or be free of the cigarette smoke (yeucch), I will escape to the fancy, shmancy gym.

Wearing the comfiest leggings that bring me joy.

And think of cookies.

 

 

What I read last Autumn

You know that thing where you dream and do something in your head…but actually you haven’t done it in real life? It happened to me last week. I came home from a Girlguiding meeting. It was -5 degrees out so I was freezing when I got in, and just jumped fully clothed into my bed and wrapped myself in blankets to warm up. Only problem is I fell asleep…and I dreamed that I got out of my bed, took off my uniform, put on my pyjamas and climbed back into bed. At 2 a.m. I woke up…and slowly realised that I wasn’t in my pyjamas. I was still wearing my Girlguiding uniform.

Anyway, I thought I’d written this post MONTHS ago. Turns out…I hadn’t. I had uploaded the pictures of the books and that was all I had done. Forgive me blog readers…for now I’ve got to remember the content of these books 2-5 months later. Doh!

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Ask Me His Name by Elle Wright – I’ve followed Elle’s blog for a while after a few friends starting tagging me in her instagram posts. I think because I work to find help for families whose babies are born needing neonatal care like Teddy was, coupled with the fact that Elle’s favourite place is Constantine Bay (also my favourite place in Cornwall) my friends thought I would be interested in what she was posting. They were right! Before I worked for the charity I work with now, I worked in a pregnancy centre that did a lot of work with women and men who were struggling after pregnancy loss. Historically how we dealt with baby loss was to pretend it never happened, and I think we are still dealing with the legacy of that. Elle’s honest account of trying to get pregnant, experiencing pregnancy, giving birth, being a neonatal parent and then a bereaved parent is something I hope lots of people read. If only to know that saying something is better than avoiding or saying nothing. I can’t tell you how many times I have had parents tell me how much it has hurt them when friends and family have cut them out of their lives because they are not sure what to say when their baby has died.  Everyone will be different, but I think Elle’s book will help so many people support bereaved parents better. And remember that just because their child isn’t with them, does not make them less of a parent.

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Auggie & Me by R.J. Palacio – This summer, I based a lot of my ‘thought for the day’ breakfast moments at surf camp on R.J. Palacio’s book, Wonder. Wonder tells the story of Auggie Pullman’s first year in a school from a few characters’ perspectives (including Auggie’s). This book tells stories from 3 more characters in the book to give a bigger insight to why they acted the way they did. It’s a wonderfully accurate portrayal of the life of those ‘tween years’ in terms of the friendship politics of school. It also gives nuance to characters you may automatically have just hated in the original book and helped you to empathise better.

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In The Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende – I saw this book on the buy one get one half price section of Waterstone’s and had a memory of someone telling me how amazing Isabel Allende is as a writer. I really feel that growing up in Scotland, we are not suscepted to enough writers of colour, so it has been something I’m actively trying to rectify! I began reading this book one rainy day and immediately got caught up in the characters and the story. I utterly loved it.

It wasn’t until one night I was re-watching an episode of Jane The Virgin on netflix that I realised the person who had been telling me about Isabel Allende was Jane Villanueva. Who is Jane Villanueva? The main character on Jane The Virgin. Isabel Allende even has a cameo on one of the Season 4 episodes.

Jane Villanueva has great taste it turns out. Thanks Jane The Virgin writers!

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Life’s Too Short, Don’t Wait To Dance by Valorie Kondos Field – Ever since Miss Val started her blog, I’d hope she would write a book. Then she told us that’s exactly what she was doing. I had to wait a few weeks for it to be published in the UK, but one day I went down to get some lunch to hear a satisfying THUNK as a parcel got pushed through the door. It was publication day, and my pre-ordered copy had arrived. You don’t need to be a gymnastics fan to get something out this book. I think it’s a fantastic tale of mentoring and making good choices to find the joy in life. Even if I don’t agree with Miss Val on every single little thing, I find her hugely inspiring and a fantastic role model for women. She talks about her journey to becoming the head coach of UCLA, her experiences of coaching student athletes as they try to find who they are as people and her experience of being diagnosed and going through treatment for breast cancer. So many of her mantra’s are ones I share with people and try to live by. Read it (I’ll even lend you my copy!)

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Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald by J.K. Rowling (screenplay) – After a lot of overtime working on a fundraising event, I treated myself to a copy of this book and going to see this film the day after it was all over. I won’t lie, the main thing I LOVE about this book is simply gorgeous cover. The details in the illustrations that tie in with the story, the teal, the gold…oh, I how I love a good book cover. I thoroughly enjoyed the next episode in this film series, even if elements were very upsetting. My friend’s 8 year old and I had A LOT to talk about after the film and since about our theories of how the story will continue (and what the unknown backstories could be).

A TMI warning comes with this post…

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10 years ago I summoned the courage to go on an international flight again (and 2 domestic ones) to travel to Durban, South Africa to visit, learn from and help out with a project being organised by the incredible community centre Seed of Hope.

However, 10 years ago I was also regularly struggling with the pain of what a doctor suspected was endometriosis. The downside of living in a country where you only get healthcare that is absolutely needed is that because I was single, not planning on having children in the near future or at death’s door it was decided that surgery to confirm this would not be done, and instead they would treat the symptoms with medication and not confirm the cause. Doctors had prescribed many things over the years from painkillers that made my nosebleed, painkillers that made me sick to vitamin tablets to various hormone pills that were meant to regulate and lessen but rather made me suicidal, depressed, enraged and in one case brought on an onset of dyspraxia. My friend may still remember the night I called her crying because I could no longer had the coordination to pick up, hold or peel a banana. To her credit, she responded by coming round to my flat, asking if I still wanted a banana, taking the bananas off me and peeling it for me. Then she watched as I – the one who friends had made a mission to find a film that would make me cry (nope, not even The Notebook worked) – sobbed at an episode of Friends because Chandler was talking to his bunny slippers.

Other friends witnessed the effects of Laurie on that particular drug and bless them, only after I came off it did they inform me how scary it was to watch how it changed me. We all agreed I should never take it ever again. And it was why when a GP handed me a prescription a year later with a brand that seemed suspiciously similar that I questioned him on it ‘Is this xxxx?’ and he categorically told me it was not, that the mistrusting part of me went to my Junior Doctor friend’s flat and asked to look through her copy of the BNF to check. I was right. He was either ignorant or blatantly lied to his patient because he thought he knew better and didn’t want to discuss with me why he thought I was wrong to ask never to be given that drug again.

I wish I’d made a complaint, but instead chose to ask the receptionist not to give me appointments with that particular doctor.

Part of the problem is that women’s health is under researched, under resourced and people aren’t very knowledgable about it. Not even doctors who deal with it on a daily basis.

Over the years, I’ve relied on online community for advice and my own gut instincts to refuse treatments or ask for others. I’ve also like many women, given up on advocating myself until I’ve got to a point where friends and family have begged me to try again because they can’t bear to watch me in pain any longer. It takes a lot of emotional energy to keep fighting your corner, and when most of your life is trying to continue as normal and pretend you’re fine your energy tank gets depleted pretty quickly.

So for 10 years I got injections. Injections that in the last 2 years I began to question getting. That my nurses thought it was strange I was still getting without any doctor follow up. They just churned out prescriptions without even seeing me in person. Eventually because I was concerned about some changes in my body, plus the return of the pain on a more regular basis, I asked to an appointment with my GP. The end result was them saying to keep getting those injections until I turned 40. Then we would scan my bones to see if there was any long-term damage.

As the months went on, I just had that niggling discomfort with what the GP had said. The things my body has been doing I’m sure aren’t normal for a 34 year old. And I felt they had just been glossed over.

And so this Christmas I made a decision. A scary one. I wouldn’t go back to the nurse for another injection.

It means at some point, my body should bleed again. And I’m willing to take that risk of suffering all that used to come with that. Pain. Anaemia. Because the hair loss, the weight gain, the pain in my joints, he twisting and stabbing in my lower abdomen bothers me. It is surely not normal for hair loss to begin at 26.

There is a part of me hoping that the weight gained will be lost, the hair lost will start to grow back and that perhaps all the depression and anxiety will level out because perhaps the major wobbles I’ve had in the last few years are actually due to hormone imbalance caused by these injections like the pills they gave me before.

Or maybe I’ll discover that life on injections is preferable than one without them.

Who knows. All I know is that even though I’m nervous as I wait to see what my body will do, I’m glad for it to be MY choice.