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

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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.

 

 

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

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.

 

 

 

Why I’m doing the Kiltwalk this year…

It’s totally mad to believe, but I first started getting involved in youth work when I was 16 years old and became a volunteer trainee leader at a Guide unit in sunny Leith. I have now spent more years doing youth work than I have not doing youth work.

To put another way, MORE THAN HALF my life has been spent involved in youth work in some way or another.

Last year I got a dream job as a Young Women’s Worker at a youth project in a town where there is basically no services. It was shocking how many referrals we got simply because there was so much need and so little provision in the local authority area. One of my friends who is a GP not far from where I worked has spoken to me about the huge need in the area. My friend who is a social worker spoke of staff off sick with stress due to the strain on their services and massive budget cuts.

I had to give up the job in April, and it was heartbreaking. I really didn’t want to leave. The day I found out that I’d likely be leaving I took 13 young people on a residential weekend and it was amazing. It was one of those real breakthrough moments, except it was a weekend full of them. After helping my colleague resolve a flood in the project because the toilet cistern broke, I drove my car that was caked in mud home. When I parked at my home I sobbed knowing that soon I’d likely be leaving. I still follow what they are doing through the project’s social media and not long after I left I convinced 4 staff members to join me in doing the Edinburgh Kiltwalk. We are aiming to raise £2000 of much needed funding for the youth project, and so far I’ve only raised £35. 😦

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You can help me help the young people and give me incentive to actually go through with this crazy idea of walking for miles on concrete (last time I did this I walked less miles, I was 10 years younger, my knees worked and I couldn’t walk for 2 days after) by sponsoring me. Even if it’s just £1 it would still give us huge encouragement…!

You can click to reach my fundraising page here. The amazing thing is that whatever money we raise, a trust called The Hunter Foundation will match fund our total by 40%.

Please, please, please give if you can. And if you’d prefer to give me money in person I do have a good old fashioned sponsorship form!

Things that help keep me mentally healthy…

I want to stress that this post is just my own experiences, and the tips here are not a cure for mental illness. There have been times in my life that I needed professional help and treatments. However, I was at one time a student at University of Aberdeen’s Department of Public Health and I truly believe in being proactive to reduce risks of illness and disease. Everyone is going to be different because you are unique, but I know that I’ve discovered things that have helped me by trying out things that friends and lovely bloggers have shared about.

I also want to be cautious about adding things that cost money. I’ve been reading a few blogs and books recently talking about lifestyle and emotional health. I follow a lot of lovely folks on instagram. And I know that loads of things they promote are simply not affordable options to the majority of the population.

Going for a walk outdoors
This is hugely important – not only because often it will wake me up, help me sleep better and clear my head. Though I will caveat this one with if I’m really down I need company to get me out the house and also because for reasons written about in previous posts, going for walks by myself when my mental state is not good can be unhelpful.

Letting it all out
A few years ago a uni friend reminded me of the time she and a friend were struggling so I took them out to a beach in the middle of the night, and we climbed to a top of a sand dune to shout, yell and scream. It was something I did a few times when I was overwhelmed. Sometimes I know a good cry is what I need so I have been known to watch stuff I know will make me cry (usually acceptance speeches or certain TV shows) to get the tears flowing. Afterwards there always seems to be a bit more clarity.

Going for a drive with the tunes blaring
Like the ‘letting it all out’ I always feel most at peace when I’m driving in my car down country roads or motorways. It’s just me and the tunes I love. I can sing. I can talk out loud to God*. I can even talk and give myself a good ol’ lecture. Now obviously in the name of the environment, if you can limit your drives to just making use of already necessary journeys that’s great. And also I realise that having a car is a huge privilege (one that I do not take for granted after many years of not being able to afford to own a car).

*and if I’m honest, sometimes I yell and scream in anger at God. He can take it.

Volunteering
My friend Holly wrote a piece a while ago about being empowered by volunteering. I’ve said many times that Girlguiding probably saved my life in the last few years – there were times that I was so depressed I couldn’t get out of bed all day, but the idea of letting down the girls got me out. It gave me purpose and a chance to keep my skills up when I wasn’t working.

Eating and Sleeping regularly
You can guarantee that my mental state will become poor extemely quickly when I start skipping meals or not getting sleep. I literally do not function and I’ll stop being able to string sentences together. I’ll start getting over emotional and over-react to everything. I know it’s often easier to drink and eat junk food, but oh goodness the difference when I’m drinking water, eating fruit and veg (and let’s be truthful chocolate and bread because I ain’t giving up carbs).

Consuming Art
Food, work, shelter they are requirements for survival. Art is a reason for living. It inspires and gives us hope and makes us look outside our own situations. It’s lovely to go to music gigs, the theatre, the cinema but if your financial situation doesn’t allow that there are art galleries and museums with free entry. Reading books, if you can’t afford to buy, public libraries give you them to borrow for free. And libraries don’t just have books, but also films and music too.

Feeling Fresh
I put this bit in cautiously because in no way do I want to promote vanity or an idea that looks are what’s important. But I can’t deny that at times when I’ve been feeling really rubbish – whether that’s from physical illness or mental illness – having a shower, bath, taking time to do my nails or shaving my legs so they feel all smooth helps me feel better. And actually as I’m basically a reptile and live in Scotland when I paint my toenails a cheerful colour or shave my legs the only person that sees is me! It’s too flippin’ cold to have go around with bare legs and flip flops most of the time here.

Photography
When I’m depressed I often struggle to write, but what I can do is find something beautiful or intriguing to take a photograph of. It also helps me feel more comfortable walking on my own because if I’m walking alone I get anxious that everyone who sees me thinks I’m sad person with no friends. Trying to get a different focus or angle somehow reminds me to keep trying to see the world from new perspectives. You don’t have to have the world’s best camera either, though I definitely don’t regret the two years of saving to buy my ‘fancy camera’.

Organising to meet up with friends
This is really tough if I’m in a bad place. And if the plans are woolly – forget it. My anxiety will get the best of me. Give me a time, place, details of what’s going to happen and I have a chance of getting there.

What are things that you find that help you to say physically and mentally healthy? Would love to hear what helps you, as it might just help someone else too! Please share in the comments…

The adventures of Gromit…

This time of year always brings back some memories thanks to Timehop and Facebooks ‘On this day’ algorithm. One of those was the photo below. It’s funny because I’d actually forgotten about Gromit until I saw him in May for the first time since this particular day in 2014. He lives with my friend Ruth (a fellow Wallace and Gromit fan). And it reminded me of how important good friends are that have your back.

Gromit

I’d just been made redundant from a job I’d held for over 7 years. It was a pretty yucky time and to this day I’ve never opened the cards my volunteers gave me on the last day. They are still in the bag I took them home in. It was just too painful. The weekend after I found out I was home alone, and I started going into a depressive state. One of my school friends skyped me from her home in Spain, and demanded that I get out the house and go for a walk. She knew it would help me, and I knew she was right. So I reluctantly left the house and walked into the main ‘village’ where I live. In one of the charity shops I passed Gromit was in the window. I saw him, went in and bought him with the plan of posting him to Ruth because I thought she’d find it funny. The next day was our Soul Surfers community beach day – we used to do them on the first Sunday of every month. I took Gromit to get silly pictures of him doing stuff at the beach. What I didn’t expect was the dognapping that happened. A 4 year old Mini Kahuna did not want to let Gromit go, as shown by his protective hugging…

MK and Gromit

My friends’ son didn’t want to let him go, and my friends were like “You have to give him back”. But I ended up making a deal instead. I knew my friends were headed to the Christians Surfers UK gathering a couple of weeks later, and attending would be a couple of folks from Ruth’s church. So why not let their kids take Gromit on a few adventures first? I told them Gromit was far more likely to have fun with them, than with me as I set to close up the charity I’d given so much of my time to for the past 7 years.

Their daughter took on the mission admirably. Gromit went to watch her fellow Brownies make their promise, went to a birthday tea, the dentist, walks in the rain before he went down to Cornwall where he was passed onto one of the CS UK staff who took him home to Ruth. The pictures I got sent made me smile!

It was something so simple, but I’m so glad on that Saturday that my friend checked in with me, and didn’t give up. She knew that I needed the push and accountability to get out the house because the more I stayed in, the more miserable I was becoming.

On a week where we have had two more famous people leave this earth because of suicide, what a reminder to just check in with friends.

I am in a much better place now than I was this time last year, but still have days where anxiety and depression overwhelm me. I’m grateful for the friends that have continued to be understanding and stuck with me even when depression makes me a really crappy friend.

 

Searching for doors that are open…

First of all, thank you to everyone who read my blog post – especially anyone who shared/commented/messaged me. Writing is definitely easier with feedback, because you can only know if you’ve communicated something well or worth sharing if people communicate back. Definitely twitter, instagram and the rest have killed that key part of blogging community in the last decade.

I feel strongly about getting more disciplined in writing more and finding ways to improve my writing.

This past week marked an anniversary of the day I got offered two dream jobs in one day. You might think ‘lucky you!’ and you’d be right. I know exactly how lucky I am. There had been a lot of applying and rejection for many years before that. A lot of envy. A lot of friendships lost because it was no fun being friends with me.

The last year has had a lot of change. It’s been positive mostly, but any change requires adjusting your life accordingly. It wasn’t an easy ride. Worth it? Yes. Easy? No.

However, summer is here, I’m now able to focus on one job. For the first time in my life I’m working 9-5. I still go away or work the occasional weekend (ok, at the moment because it’s marathon and sponsored walk season…there’s a lot of weekend work!) but I’m no longer working lots of evenings.

It’s a new era in the life of brunette koala, and I’m trying to navigate how to use this time. It would be very easy to sign up to do lots of things I’m being asked to do by church and Girlguiding. Some of them I will do. Some of them I won’t.

Is it selfish or is it what God wants to also use this time to pursue things I’ve always wanted to do? Like creative writing, dancing, surfing, photography and learning languages?

Last year, a few days after I got the phone call to invite me for an interview with the organisation I now work for, I snapped the above picture in Pressmennan Woods. A door that said ‘Open Me’. I saw it and felt the need to capture it, hoping with all my being that the door I had knocked on that seemed to be opening a crack would open fully this time. Rather than slamming it back in my face as so many doors I’d knocked had in the previous 3 years.

There are many more doors out there.

And I feel now is the time to search for them…and open them to see what’s on the other side.