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.

Why I love UCLA Gymnastics…

A lot of friends have been tagging me in videos of UCLA Senior, Katelyn Ohashi’s floor routine over the last two weeks. I love that they are doing that, not because I hadn’t seen the routine (I’d posted it the day after she debuted it at their first meet on 4th Jan), but because it meant that my friends are getting excited about gymnastics.

I’ve been a long time fan of UCLA Gymnastics. When I was a youth worker, a few young people asked me about this hoodie that I often wore while working at the youth drop-in nights. There’s a story behind it that really only Miss Val (Head Coach of UCLA) knows.

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In the USA collegiate sports is watched as much as football is in the UK, young people can earn scholarships to compete for university teams while earning their degree. Given the cost of university education in the USA, you can see why people do it. And for female gymnasts who often have to retire by the time they are as young as 20, it is a chance to find joy in the sport again. And that has certainly been Katelyn’s story.

The UCLA Head Coach was never a gymnast herself. She was a professional ballet dancer, and found her way into the sport playing the piano at a gymnastics club so young gymnasts could practise their floor routines. She then began helping choreograph their routines. And then found herself as an assistant coach at UCLA and worked her way up. Miss Val’s routines have always been iconic, and there are many well known routines remembered by UCLA fans.

So of course, just in case you’ve been hiding under a rock this week, I wanted you to see Katelyn’s routine. But I also want to give you the chance to see some of my favourite UCLA routines…

Angi Cipra’s ‘iPhone’ routine

Sophina DeJesus’ HipHop routine

Sadiqua Bynum performing an Onnie Willis legacy routine*

*Legacy routines are when a gymnast performs a routine originally created for and performed by an UCLA Gymnastics alum. They won’t be performed exactly the same, as there’ll always be small changes made to make the routine fit the style of the gymnast competing it.

Sydney Sawa’s ‘alien battle’ routine

Gracie Kramer’s Harley Quinn routine

…ok. There’s just so many great UCLA floor routines, that really only scratches the surface. Anyway, I hope you enjoy if you watch them!

New year, same me…

Today was the first church service of 2019. Our pastor spoke about new years resolutions, and how most likely when we come to the end of the year, we won’t have kept them.

According to something he looked up these are the most common resolutions…

  1. Diet or eat healthier
  2. exercise more
  3. Lose weight
  4. Save more and spend less
  5. Learn a new skill or hobby
  6. Quit smoking
  7. Read more
  8. Find another job
  9. Drink less alcohol
  10. Spend more time with family and friends

I’m willing to bet that you, like me, identify with one or two of them. I have to confess that it’s the academic year that often has me going ‘RIGHT! I’m going to…’ more than the start of the calendar year. But for sure I’ve come to January thinking ‘this will be the year that…’

I’m in a strange place this year. Life is generally good. Yes, I was at the doctor last week and for the last 2 weeks I’ve not been able to sleep because when I lie down the contents of my stomach roll back into my throat. And yes, I did have to take advantage of the sales because I’ve outgrown a lot of my wardrobe.

But I won’t be dieting.

I also realise that I need to think carefully about what is actually going to be achievable. I did decide this year I wanted to write again. Last year my laptop screen bust and it was going to cost £300-400 to fix. For some dumb reason Apple think everyone streams so stopped putting USB connections, SD card readers etc on their laptops. “You can get an adaptor”. Well sorry apple, but if you’ve travelled on LNER or Scotrail you’ll know there’s no room for extra bits and pieces. A laptop and maybe a small water bottle is all that’s really going to fly. Plus I don’t really want to have to carry around a squillion different gadgets with me just so I can upload and edit photos or switch a file from one place to another. Because here’s the other thing – not everywhere has wifi. My hotels rarely have wifi unless you pay extra. The trains don’t have wifi that actually works for more than 2 minutes. That conference centre? Also doesn’t have enough wifi to be able to get onto the cloud or a remote server.

And so I purchased my first ever desktop computer ever. It plugs into my printer. I can plug in both my personal and work phones to charge. I can pop in the SD card from my camera. Because you know what constantly loses connection? The wifi.

The only issue? After working from 9.30-5.30 at that desktop, I want to shut it off and get away from that desk.

So I stopped writing, and started watching Netflix on my tablet instead.

I realised at Christmas, the thing that would get me writing again was a laptop, so that after a day at my desk, I could retreat to a comfy pile of pillows and cushions and be in a different atmosphere. I sacrificed my holiday savings to pay for a laptop I don’t need, but knew would get me writing again.

It’s working so far.

In December, I cancelled my gym membership. I never went. The gym wasn’t friendly, I missed the TVs at the council gyms which made me stay on exercise bikes for longer because I could watch something while pedalling away to make the whole thing less boring. It wasn’t close enough to nip down before work or at lunchtime.

If I join a gym this new year, it will be one that is closer to home and seems more appealing.

I’m not going to read more. 2 books a month is probably all I really have time for, so trying to set myself a goal of one a week would just be silly. I’d likely get so depressed that I’d failed I might stop reading altogether. I achieved my aim of 24 books last year, and I’ve set the same challenge for 2019.

Spending more time with family and friends. This is something that gets tougher as you get older. Your close friends get married, have kids, get divorced, become single parents, they move away, you move away… where one time you lived no more than a 20 minute walk from everyone that changes as life happens. In my head when I got a full-time job and the accompanying financial stability I was going to see my friends more. I had visions of spending every weekend like a social butterfly. The reality is that by Saturday my laundry basket is overflowing, my body and brain are exhausted, my fridge is empty and I’ve probably been living on junk or not enough food for two days because there’s no fruit and veg that isn’t turning to mush or growing fur. Spending a weekend being a social butterfly means I’m going into Monday with an unstocked food cupboard and in danger of waking up drooling on my keyboard, unless I book a day of annual leave or cut it down to just one social engagement instead of trying to fit in three.

Perhaps you’re already doing good. Maybe you’re like Mary Poppins and practically perfect in every way. 

But if you are going into 2019 feeling pressure to begin afresh a journey of self improvement, I would urge you to be honest with yourself and set some goals that are achievable rather than a lofty illusion that your life and personality is going to change as day turns to night.

Be the best you that you can be. But don’t try to be the best someone else you see from afar.

with love,

BK

A year in review: 2018

This is something I do every year, and always answer the same questions. I might come up with different ones for next year. My year in review…

What, for you, was the high point of 2018? Were there any other highlights?

This year there weren’t really huge highs and lows – which is unusual for the life of Brunette Koala. I was given a full time permanent contract with one of my jobs, which was a huge highlight, but bittersweet because it meant leaving a job I also loved. I got to see Dorset for the first time and celebrate my youngest godson’s birthday with him for the first time (I hope I’ll get to do that in future years too!). Surf camp this year was an incredible week. Every camp has been a highlight, but this year seemed particularly special for some reason.

What, for you, was the low point of 2018?

A lot of my friends have gone through horrible things this year. And I hate seeing my friends going through pain and knowing that I’m helpless to halt that pain from happening.

Tell me some things you learned this year.

To try and have a little more confidence in my own abilities.

 Who would be your “person of 2018″? It could be someone you know or a famous person who’s inspired you.

Rachael Denhollander – and many other courageous women who made sure that victims of a certain US Olympic Team Doctor were heard. Rachael and her husband, Jacob have also not limited it to the gymnastics community but continue to speak out about other sexual abuse cover ups in the church, athletics and beyond.

What was the best film you saw this year?

Bohemian Rhapsody

Someone give Rami Malek an Oscar please! (And I hope the cast win the SAG Cast award, because they were all excellent).

And what was the worst?

Christopher Robin.

I really wanted to love it, and there was some great acting. However it simply lacked story.

What was the best book you read?

I read some amazing books this year. I think my favourite was The Little Breton Bistro by Nina George. Though Trevor Noah’s autobiography Born A Crime and Maggie O’Farrell’s memoir, I Am I Am I Am were also ones I feasted on and completely ignored tasks because I couldn’t put them down!

What was the best thing you saw on TV?

This Is Us.

Annoyingly the Season 2 boxset is not out yet in the UK. WHAT THE FRICK?!

Jane The Virgin and One Day At A Time I have watched over and over while I’m waiting for the next seasons to appear on Netflix. I’m also liking The Good Place.

What, for you, was the sporting highlight of 2018?

UCLA Bruins winning the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships. I’m so sad that Miss Val will be leaving after this season. Their team videographer, Deanna Hong (do check out her work on YouTube) is leaving too and not sure what I’ll do without her videos to keep up with everything on this side of the Atlantic.

What was the best album or song you heard in 2018? What song did you play most?

The Greatest Showman soundtrack has been there all year. This Is Me is my fave song.

What are you looking forward to in 2019?

Seeing what the year brings. I’m hoping to go visit my friend in March, but actually have no plans for next year yet.

What I read this summer…

I’ve realised that I’ve been reading but not writing in the last month. Needless to say that while on holiday I managed to buy 5 books in 10 days, sooooo….maybe need to find space for another bookcase this Autumn.

Here’s what I’ve been reading this summer!

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I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death by Maggie O’Farrell – This incredible memoir by Maggie O’Farrell (who wrote a book I loved called After You’d Gone) talks about 16 moments in her life where she came close to death and one where her daughter almost died. It’s written in a way where you are right there with her, feeling every moment and I utterly recommend it. For me, it brought back some memories of my own life and encouraged me to pause and reflect on them.

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The House of Unexpected Sisters by Alexander McCall Smith – This is the latest paperback in the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency Series. I’m always tempted by the hardbacks because it’s so tough to wait another year for the next installment but then they wouldn’t all be perfectly lined up on my bookshelf. This story is my favourite for a while, as Mma Ramotswe makes an accidental discovery that changes life forever. It’s also incredible how these books touch on subjects with only hints and not directly talking about them due to the nature of the way the characters think and talk to one another.

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Maggie and Me by Damian Barr – After going to a workshop that was led by Damian on writing biography (which turned out to be all about memoir – maybe I’ll make Learning From Sophie into a book after all 😉 ) it seemed only right that I should read his own memoir. Damian is not too much older than me, and a lot of the talk and settings of his memoir was familiar. It was a difficult read as a youth worker – there were multiple encounters with the church, a Christian organisation I’ve volunteered with in the past, high school teachers and it really made me look back at every young person I’ve worked with worrying what I may have missed. Again, it was well written and honest.

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Undivided by Vicky Beeching – When I first started playing guitar and leading worship Vicky’s songs were the ones I went to because (praise God) they were written in a key I could sing in. She was a friend of one of my friends from Aberdeen, so have had a number of interactions with her on social media over the years. I was incredibly saddened to the reaction of so many when she came out publicly a few years ago. I had the privilege of hearing her speak at Greenbelt while on holiday, and immediately started reading her book. It’s stemmed a lot of discussion I’d already been having with friends over the years about homophobia in the church, the power of leaders to spiritually abuse others, and the way we do prayer ministry at youth events. Vicky’s story highlights exactly why I have had concerns for a long time, and I also admire the graciousness she has shown in writing. It also touches on theology and church history. My only concern is  a story she shares involving rape threats which she blames on not being able to be ‘out’ hurting a guy who wants to date her – which actually I think is more to with a wider issue of misogyny and toxic masculinity. An important story that needs t be read by many in the church (along with watching Season 2 Episode 1 of Queer Eye so you can listen to the wisdom of Mama Tammye). Especially as many LGBTQ+ Christians were there at Greenbelt, some of them courageously sharing their own stories of experiencing hate and homophobia.

What have you been reading this summer? Let me know in the comments!

 

Lessons learned from holidays…

I’ve just got back from my first holiday in 6 years. I actually feel like I need another holiday because what I discovered was that I’m not very good at having a holiday. I feel like I need to make sure I DON’T MISS ANYTHING.

I’m aware of my privilege. 3 years of jobs where you weren’t sure if you’d have enough money to feed and clothe yourself never mind do something frivilous like go to the cinema, the pub never mind go on a holiday and no annual leave to take a holiday anyway leaves a mark. I felt hugely guilty about taking annual leave, and it required encouragement from my line manager and my wonderful colleagues who have learned how incredibly anxious I get to reassure me that taking a holiday was something I could and should do.

The first lesson I learned was that you need to take time to organise your holiday so you don’t end up in such a state by the time the day comes you’re getting so stressed out you end up in bed with a migraine.

The second lesson I learned was that years of having no money meant that I felt that if I was spending all this money on accommodation and petrol I needed to see AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. In hindsight, I should really have taken time to not feel guilty about just spending my half my day in ONE place and just enjoyed doing not much at all. My anxious and fidgety tendencies meant that any time I got somewhere I immediately felt like I needed to move on to the next place.

The third lesson is research where you are going, and make sure there’s food you can eat. I stupidly assumed that staying in the UK meant this wouldn’t be an issue. Cue a close to tears increasingly emotional and hangry woman driving manically through Dorset trying to find town that would serve something other than pub food (which is generally not the koala friendliest).

The fourth lesson is that I stumbled across the most gorgeous, comfortable and friendliest bed and breakfast. If you are ever going to West Dorset (sans children) book a stay in Halsons B&B near Bridport. It is truly beautiful and in a historical moment I slept through the night in their comfortable bed on my first night there. That’s never happened anywhere before!

The fifth lesson I learned is that if you have a camera around your neck, people assume you are American.

The sixth lesson is I can’t poo in a portaloo.

And the final lesson? When you get woken before dawn by owls, can’t get back to sleep in the uncomfortable bed at B&B number 2… get up, put on your clothes, grab a fleecey blanket and go watch the sunrise from a clifftop.

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And then go back later to the next cove to watch the sunset.