Thursday, 14 November 2019

Thank you and good night.

I have made the decision to bring A Much Expected Journey to an end. It is no longer the journey for me and I am not the same person I was when I started it.
I have started a new blog at for those of you who want to follow me further.
Thank you and good night!

Sunday, 28 April 2019

April Worst

April 2018:

I'll be honest with you, April was just the worst. Since September 2017 I have been training to become a Barrister within the legal system of England and Wales. Over the course of nine months I slaved (along with thousands of other Bar students) through thousands of pages of Criminal and Civil Litigation, Professional Ethics, Advocacy, Written skills, Conference skills and Judicial Review. This time last year I was due to be finishing my Bar exams. When I started things in my life were kind of just ticking along. Yes I had chronic migraines but they seemed under control and I was thrilled to be taking the next steps in my professional life. By February-March however, chronic migraines had taken over my life. I was permanently tired, in pain, stressed and anxious.

Chronic Migraines are defined as three or more migraines a week. I was routinely having five+ migraines a week. At the time of my bar exams I had had 21 migrainous days IN A ROW. None of the multiplicity of medications I had been prescribed by my various specialists had done anything. Actually, that's a lie. They HAD done something - a host of different side effects that meant that by the end of each course of medication not only were my migraines no better (in many occasions they were significantly worse) but I had gained an enormous amount of weight, had blood pressure so low that I frequently fainted just from standing up, was losing my hair and had crippling eczema (something I have never experienced) from head to toe. The weight gain brought on a serious depressive dip meaning that I spent most of my time in bed (whether from migraines or depression) which just helped to drop my mood lower and lower.

I want to just take a moment to express that it was not the weight itself that made my mood low, it was the loss of control over my life. Exercise and eating well had become my new normal, my comfort zones. Long gone were the days where I tucked in to a three pack of Krispy Kremes when I had had a bad day. I went for a walk/ run/ yoga/ ballet/ whatever, returned an hour or so later with a clear head and a fresh perspective. Gaining the weight back made exercise that much harder, the beta blockers I was on for my head made my exercise less effective and the associated low blood pressure problems meant that I was literally a ticking time bomb. I would leave each session with my PT Heather and would be sick, or have to sit in my car for half an hour at least to bring my blood pressure up enough to feel safe driving the seven minutes home. My migraines also meant that if I did ANY form of even remotely cardiovascular exercise my head would pound, I would have a migraine fog for 24-36 hours AFTER the proper migraine passed and during that time I was just useless. All of that meant that slowly, so slowly it was barely perceptible, I went from exercising in some form or another every day a week to being all but completely sedentary. The loss of control over my own life was terrifying.

Which brings us back to April and my Bar exams. Exam number 1, Drafting: I woke up in the morning, felt the now far too common pre-migraine, lay in my bed fearful of moving and wept. There was no way on the gods green earth that I was going to be able to do my exam. I tried getting up maybe an hour later, just to see if 'maybe if I eat something it'll go away?' Of course I knew it would not go away. Once it starts there is no stopping it and once I start thinking about how to get it to go away the more I worry and the more I fulfil the migrainous prophecy. I texted my mum (who was downstairs) saying that there was no way it was happening and I would have to apply for mitigating circumstances and defer until August. Neither of us were especially happy about this as we both knew that the sooner I got these high stress exams out of my way the sooner I could recover but we also knew that it was what had to happen. What followed over the next three weeks was a repetition of this morning, over and over. Some kind of unholy Groundhog's day. Let me tell you all, a migraine is no fun. A THREE WEEK migraine is enough to drive even the most well reasoned person to the verge of insanity.

I duly completed my forms, got the necessary medical support and waited for the confirmation. The wait was agonising - 'what if they don't grant my application?', 'what if it didn't arrive in time?!', 'what if I've fucked my chances of my chosen career?!?!' etcetera etcetera etcetera. When the confirmation emails arrived I cried with relief. I told myself I would be ready next time and I started planning my revision timetable anew, seeing a therapist, exploring different avenues and engaging in various homeopathic complementary therapies. Anything that might help. Hell I even got a specific part of my ear pierced in the hopes that it would help (more on this later).

As April ended I cried and railed against the world and hurt all over. I seriously questioned whether my life was worth living daily. This scared me. As a suicidal teenager I had told myself that the world would be better off without me. That I was a burden. That how I felt would never get better. As an adult who had come out on the other side I knew all of that not to be true. But being faced with chronic pain I had the same question go through my head time and again 'What if I am never free of pain again?' I wanted the world to stop. I wanted to be sedated so that maybe I'd have a moment's peace. I thought about ending my life not because I wanted to die but rather because I felt like I was no longer living. Even writing that feels pathetic. I know that there are countless individuals who do suffer and have suffered far far worse than I do but I have come to realise in the last year that suffering should not be a competition. I have found so much support from people who have suffered and have been able to be a support to others myself. In a perverse way, suffering is one of the things that brings people together. It is in the heart of suffering that we find our compassion.

As I close off this post I just want to send a message to anyone experiencing any kind of chronic or hidden illness. I see you. We see you. Your pain, your suffering, is acknowledged. I know how frustrating it is having people say 'oh but you look fine to me'. I know what it is to feel like you're an imposter for saying 'I'm not well' or to feel like you're taking up your doctor's time with a 'fake' illness because perhaps there's physiologically nothing wrong with you or the medical community is still unsure as to whether certain illnesses are 'real'. You know your body better than anyone else. Never let someone convince you otherwise. If something feels wrong you have to advocate for what your body needs whether by doing your research or asking for second or third opinions or simply exploring an alternative. The process of being heard is rarely fun; it can take a lot of time and energy, but when you find someone who DOES believe you and tries to find a workable solution, all that stress will have been worth it if for no other reason than someone else trusts what your body is telling you. Finally, it is vital that you do all you can to care for your mental health as well. There's no point pushing yourself to the breaking point trying to treat your physical health when that is detrimental to your mental health. I can't say that looking after my mental health sooner would have meant that I would have felt physically better sooner or at all, but caring for your mental health is a goal in and of itself and carries its own rewards.

Saturday, 27 April 2019

525,600 minutes

Hi guys,

So, as you may have noticed, it has been over a year since I have last posted. I started and stopped writing at least a dozen times. Upon logging in today I saw five different notifications from Uncle Google telling me about EU regulations that have become established in the year since I last posted as well as a reminder of the many draft posts that I began only to abandon, just because.

I think before I actually start writing about anything in particular again I need to just lay out what has been happening in my life. For some of you (even my nearest and dearest) some of this will come as a surprise. If the information in the following posts does come to you as brand new information please understand, I didn't neglect to tell you because I don't love or trust you, I did it because some of this has felt like failure after failure and the embarrassment of even admitting it has been too much to bear.

I started writing these posts on the day I finished my Bar exams, a whole year to the day after I SHOULD have completed them. The reasons why it took an extra year and the associated feelings, stressors and anxieties will be made clear as I examine the last year in chronological order. Leaving my final exam I knew I should be feeling nothing but absolute relief, after all these exams have been plaguing me for over a year! However, what I really felt was confusion. I have lived with the stress and the pain and the anxiety for so long that I genuinely had no clue how to feel, what to be stressed about and just what to do with myself. It's a sorry state of my existence that even when the stressor was gone I couldn't just relax.

The good thing about leaving that exam is that in the weeks leading up to it I had started to see more of my life. Everything had become tunnel vision. My future was exactly this: exam, pupillage, career. The peripheral elements of life (where I'm going next weekend, the wedding I'm attending, holidays, hobbies etc.) had just stopped coming to mind. I could see only that very narrow, very stressful, tunnel. I take comfort in the fact that I decided I wanted to get back to writing and take back control in my life BEFORE the exams were over. As you will see, this is an enormous step for me. I want to use this space now as I regain my enjoyment of the things that used to make me me and try new things on the road to better overall wellness. But first, I have to catch everyone up.

So, if you will allow me, what follows over the next few posts is the last year in my life.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

A is for Activity

As promised, the completed couple for the letter A.

Much to the surprise of my teenage self, I actually love being active. That is probably the most positive aspect of this whole journey. My weight has gone up and down and up and down but learning to love activity is something that I think stays with you when all is said and done. Thinking about it like this, this is just one of the problems with diet culture. You are not taught to love something tangible. The ONLY thing to love with the diet itself is the dropping of numbers on a scale. But when that's gone it's ALL gone. Learning to LOVE something never leaves you. When you love something or become passionate about something it becomes part of who you are.

There are times that I forget that I love activity. Usually this is as a result of injury or periods of inactivity. At the start of both of these things (i.e. the week AFTER an injury/ illness/ need for rest) I still remember that I love to be active. The longer the inactivity lasts the more the memory of enjoying activity fades until you get to the point when you're ready to get back to activity. And then. The HORROR. Everything bloody hurts. When I was younger and happier to be inactive, that would've been the end of me. The hurt, the ache, the moments of terror as you're attempting to place butt cheek to toilet seat the day or two after leg day would have chased me back to inactivity. But now, the love of being active has become part and parcel of who I am. I'm not always perfect, but I ALWAYS come back and I just wanted to address a few things.
Decadance #2K16

1) First and foremost, to get joy from activity you MUST find the thing(s) you love to do.

If like me, you have been inactive for a good deal of your life, this may well take some trial and error.  Things I know: I LOVE horse riding, I LOVE rock climbing, I LIVE to dance, I LOVE LOVE LOVE yoga. Even through ALL the injuries, I LOVE to run. There is nothing more freeing than lacing your running shoes, putting your headphones in and just going where your feet take you.
Things I also know: I HATE pilates (don't @ me with the similarities to yoga, I just don't like it), I HATE spinning (I'm sorry Heather, I tried), I HATE anything labelled legs, bums and tums.
And that is absolutely okay! If everyone LOVED everything or the same one thing, there would be no world records, there would be no phenoms it would just be everyone doing the same thing and it would lose its specialness.

2) Secondly, consistency is key.
Now, I know I am a pot calling the kettle black here. I spend my life falling on and off bandwagons. But in many ways this is why I know this is true. I feel (painfully) the impact of not having gone to the gym in a few weeks or disappearing from yoga for months at a time. I know exactly what it is to be an all or nothing kind of person and I am really trying to change that. For example, I was doing a yoga thirty day challenge at Sweat Studios. This would have been the fourth time I have completed it. But life, and weather, got in the way. My challenge isn't due to end for another 5 days. However, in those 5 days I would need to do 3.5 classes a day in order to finish the challenge on time. With my health the way it is at the moment, three and a half classes a day would finish me off. What is the point in doing something JUST for the sake of doing it if it'll a) kill me and b) truthfully set me back in the routine I am trying to establish. No.

3) Thirdly, it is NOT a competition.
There are people who thrive off competition. I honestly consider myself to be one of those people. However, as mentioned in my last blog post I am learning how to deal with my anxiety in a productive way. The anxiety I place on competition, not just with others but with myself also, is seriously damaging. I look at pictures of myself at my fittest or flit over progress charts and beat myself up. Sometimes it's gently- 'remember how amazing you felt'- more often it's scathing- 'ugh, you're so fat and useless sort your f*****g life out for f**** sake'- ALL of it is rooted in the past. I don't live there anymore, therefore all of that is unhelpful at least and damaging at worst.

 "I understand Tough Mudder is not a race, but a challenge. I put teamwork and camaraderie before my course time. I DO NOT WHINE- Kids whine. I help my fellow mudders complete the course. I overcome ALL fears." 
4) Fourth, and finally, be active for activity's sake.
We live in a world where EVERYTHING is an equation. Whether that is 'if I go to bed RIGHT NOW I will get 6 hours and 42 mins sleep' or 'if I walk to work I can have that donut I've been day dreaming about all my life'. We are stuck in cycles built of guilt and when activity comes into these equations we stop having fun. If everything is simply a part of the equation, is there really any joy? I am trying to eat mindfully, but honestly whilst I'm sorting my mental health out I simply cannot entertain equations of food and exercise. I have to eat to fuel my body so that it functions properly, not deprive it because of some deeply ingrained guilt as to my weight. I have to exercise because I am doing something I truly enjoy which also has the benefit of being incredibly good for me.

But most of all, be grateful for this opportunity
to be active. In one of my very first blog posts I wrote about running my second Race for Life. I ran for everyone who could not run themselves.

I ran for the people sitting through their third round of chemo wishing for the days when their body wasn't attacking itself. I ran for the service men and women who have lost limbs or have suffered hidden traumas that prevents life from going on as it once did. Most importantly I ran for my mum, every race I have ever ran has been for my mum, because she wishes she could run herself. My body isn't perfect, there are a LOT of things wrong with it, but whilst I have air in my lungs and power in my muscles I'm going to use it and be grateful for this body every single step of the way.

***** Update: I started writing this on 05/04/2018 and since then I have inspired myself in to doing another race for life. This is predominantly to get myself out of the negative mindset telling me I CAN'T do it. I bloody can. I have. ^^^ see photographic evidence of the finish line above^^^ I've got about ten weeks and whether I run, jog, walk or skip my way around the 5K course I am going to remember just how capable I really am. If you would like to help with Cancer Research UK's fundraising please see my fundraising page HERE. I'll update everyone of my progress between now and then. Good vibes only*****

Thursday, 5 April 2018

A is for Anxiety

To quote Maria Von Trapp 'let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start'.

I said in my last blog post that I wanted to examine the things I want to improve in my life or simply, things I want to be more aware of to protect myself when things don't go quite to plan. I wanted to do this alphabetically, with each letter having a theme and my examining that theme and its impact on my life. Whilst in the car today I realised that the themes I'd already pinpointed were likely to get VERY negative VERY quickly. As I have always believed that positive change can ONLY come from a positive mental attitude, posting particularly negative blog posts doesn't seem like a great idea. Which is why I have decided to do each letter in couples; the first post being about the thing I struggle with or want to change and the second post being about something I LOVE so that, at the end of each couple, I'm left with the positive rather than the negative.

So, without much further ado...

A is for Anxiety
Image result for the letter A
Brought to you by the letter...A
For several years I have described myself (at least in my head) as someone who has high functioning anxiety. I have worn this as a badge of honour. My type A perfectionist personality (I literally thought this was the epitome of personality types when we did the test in an early Psychology A-Level lesson). My drive for organisation, structure and routine. My high functioning anxiety has driven many of the positive aspects of my life. It has got me through exams, assessments, party planning, acting as part of committees and has had a knock on effect in just about every aspect of my life.

All well and good, until the anxiety part of the equation does what it is good at and brings you to your knees. For me, it signals a complete lack of control in the areas of my life where I most need control. My ordinarily tidy space is rendered a confused mass of stuff: boxes, laundry (both clean and dirty), shoes I didn't know I owned, the world's lost socks all appear en masse and turn my control into chaos. I always think of my mess as a metaphor for the inside of my head. When my head is a mess, so too is everything else. I don't sleep well. I don't eat well. I hide IN my mess (which only makes the feeling AND the mess worse). I get migraine after migraine and turn into my most pathetic snivelling self.

You would think, considering I KNOW which factors in my day to day life are attached to anxiety, that I'd see it coming. But often I am not aware of my crippling anxiety until I reach my breaking point. I have had two such anxiety attacks in the last three months and one had me quite literally rocking back and forth huddled against the Paperchase store in London Euston station balling my eyes out. {Thinking about this now, the irony of attaching myself to a stationers (my literal happy place) is not lost on me}. I had very nearly missed the last train home and in that moment I heard every criticism I throw at myself, every worry my parents would have if I had to call them and explain, the separation anxiety I'd be causing my cat, the fact that I didn't have my migraine medication and therefore was DESTINED for a migraine by morning, the commotion I would cause if I had to throw myself on the mercy of either my best friend or my brother and sister-in-law (not that either party would have made me feel unwanted; but that's the insidious nature of anxiety. It's your OWN worst fears, not necessarily the realisation of it). My train was called, I brushed myself up enough to get to a seat, turned my face into the window and cried my eyes out the entire time it took to get home.

I am not much of a crier, crying in general (and ESPECIALLY in front of other people) makes me feel uncomfortable - physically. I was abused so terribly by an ex-boyfriend for my depression and crying in particular, that I now get a head splitting headache every time I cry somewhere where I might be seen or heard by other people. Crying, to me, is the epitome of lost control and I have built myself up in such a way that control is what I do to keep my guard up. I NEED it to maintain my sanity. Unfortunately, my obsessive need for control is also the one thing that most often pushes me to the verge of insanity. I just started working with a new therapist and within five minutes of our first consultation she had picked out that need for control- I told her, after arriving two minutes late (thirty seconds late is enough to cause palpitations) that I had begun to rehearse my apology when I realised I was going to be late, some 15 minutes earlier. So it is very much a work in progress. For now it's just a daily effort not to abuse myself for all of the things I do which I think will let people down and realise that for most of the people in my life, the added trappings of my perfectionism is unimportant. Being well and appreciating the things that DO go right is what matters.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Strictly alphabetical

So. You may have noticed that I haven't been here in...a year? The truth is, I haven't really 'been' for a year. My life had become a constant stream of stress, depression, migraines, injuries, medication and anxiety. So, I want to take this blog in a slightly different direction. This is STILL about my weight, sort of. I realised that I'd been looking at my weight in a vacuum. My weight was a solitary being that had things happen to it rather than it being actively related to my life in general. I feel like, every time I've talked about the psychology of losing weight, of overeating or of under-eating I have been lying to you. All of that stuff is true. But the gods' honest truth about the matter is that I don't think I have ever yet applied them to my life. It's one of those things where you KNOW all the answers - so if someone asks you for your advice you're there with ALL the knowledge, ALL the goods. But when you have to implement that in your OWN life...nope.

So here's the truth. I am unwell. I am at odds with my brain, with my hormones, with everything. I always referred to myself as someone who had 'recovered' from depression. I have become SO GOOD at hiding my anxiety, my stress that the only way I KNOW I'm stressed is when I start exhibiting certain behaviours. I buy too much, specifically - cosmetics. I eat too much, specifically - pick n mix. I sleep too much. I do too little. But I am never AWARE that I'm stressed until finally I reach absolute breaking point. And there I am, having a panic attack on a crowded train home or hiding in my bathroom with the shower running because no one can hear me cry. I hide my stress until my body is at absolute breaking point and my health (both physical and mental) hit a dangerous low.

And I've had this idea in the last few weeks, of reigniting this blog. Not just about weight. In fact, the weight is inferior to the countless other lifestyle changes I need to bring about. When I think about the weight I have put on in the last two years, it is never because I wore X or I looked Y. It is 'I could do ANYTHING', 'I was so fit and well', 'I'd never HAD a migraine', 'I was unstoppable' and most upsetting of all 'I wasn't desperately unhappy'. The weight is secondary to all of that and many other things. So, this is now about more than weight. It's about my health (mental and physical), it's about my happiness, it's about my ability to take on any challenge and succeed.

What I propose to do, is think about things alphabetically. Each letter to have a theme and to REALLY think and be REALLY HONEST about how those themes relate to me. I have hidden and ignored things for so long and I've gotten so low in my spirits and in my overall health as a result. Truthfully, I just cannot afford to do that any more.
So, let's just see how that goes shall we?


Tuesday, 17 January 2017

What if?

This is a few days late...I've been struggling with migraines and computer screens are not my friend right now.

Anyhoo. I had the idea for this blog post about two weeks ago whilst I was washing my face. It suddenly occurred to me 'I wonder what would happen if I actually kept up this routine all year rather than forgetting a month in?' And that simple thought expanded into 'I wonder what would happen if I built a healthy lifestyle and stuck to it?' Suddenly my lifestyle change became so much more than simply 'drop pounds, lift heavy things, run faster' and became an experiment of what my life would actually be like. This got me thinking about how I'd thought about these things before and I realised that, overwhelmingly, my thought process has been retrospective rather than forward thinking. And honestly, I've DONE the past. I don't want to waste today thinking about yesterday when I can be working towards tomorrow.

I know this might seem painfully obvious but I can honestly say this is the first time that this kind of thought process has occurred in terms of lifestyle change. I've never been particularly positive when it comes to my what ifs. Usually it's 'what if I hadn't done X? I might be so much further along', 'what if I'd kept up with ballet as a child? I could be a prima ballerina by now' or just 'what if I hadn't been too embarrassed by my weight, body or just had believed in myself more? I might have gone to that party or told that guy how I felt or...' And when I realised this, I was struck by how disappointing this was and ultimately how negative my world view has been well...forever.
Motivational things! (
In rediscovering the idea of the 'positive what if' I felt like I'd (re)discovered that quasi-childlike wonderment. What happens when I get to the top of that tree, I wonder if I can do a cartwheel or what happens if I mix the yellow and the purple play-doh (don't, it turns shit brown). And actually that really excited me. Because humans, whether we like to admit it or not, are curious animals. It's the reason that our ancestors spread out from Africa and came to live in just about every part of the globe (whether it's strictly habitable or not). It's the reason that one of our ancestors went 'I wonder what happens if I squeeze that cow's udders to collect milk?' (That literally makes my mind boggle, someone decided to milk a cow). Every scientific discovery has come from a simple question of 'what if?'

Now, I'm not suggesting that my 'what ifs' are particularly profound but in a world where we are bombarded with negative media, negative marketing and attitudes and approaches that are purely here to exploit our lack of confidence and human weaknesses; we have to cling on to anything that presents itself in a positive way. For me, this is especially important when I'm losing weight, upping my fitness or simply just trying to create a more balanced lifestyle. I do not do well with negativity. Being made to feel inferior, whether by my own mind or by others, is a sure fire route to failure. Of course, there might be SOME successes along the way- I know that I have had some exceptional weight losses when I feel awful about myself because I am at my most restrictive and most punishing in terms of calorie counting and activity- but it is certainly not sustainable and you end up far worse off than you may have started. For me, it presents as a significant drop in weight followed by a plateau which frustrates me into a) overeating b) purging or c) excessive exercise to the point of injury and illness. As if those three things weren't bad enough, you're left with the negativity meaning that absolutely nothing good has come from it. No. Thank. You.

I really just wanted to share this particular thought process because I know that there are people who will have thought about change the same way I was. I.e. thinking about it in terms of what has already happened (something we no longer have control over) instead of what could happen. Too often we live in the past at the risk of missing the present. I, for one, intend to make a change in my thinking by simply asking 'what if' more often.
Erin Hanson. Courtesy of pinterest...woohoo motivational quotes!