Sunday, 25 January 2015

Wasted Years

So, understand
Don't waste your time always searching for
Those wasted years.
Face up, make your stand,
And realise your living in the golden years.

Iron Maiden - Wasted Years

We could call this a belated resolution for 2015, but it's going to take some explaining. You, my readers, seem to enjoy it when I have a bit of a rant - watch this space. It's going to be a rough crossing!

We as people are no stranger to the fact that, like it or not, we're bombarding by advertising. In the field of health and beauty, that advertising does only one thing: it reinforces the narrow societal standard of what health and beauty look like. There is no variation, it looks one way and one way only. If you don't look that way, well, you don't have a place in this society, peasant scum!

In my early twenties I not only became vastly more aware of the existence of this standard, but also became far more cognizent of the fact it is a huge problem unlikely to be solved any time soon. I then set about putting a lot of effort into rejecting it.

Firstly, I'm 5'3". No amount of exercise or wishful thinking will make me supermodel-tall. I'm also British and typically British-woman-shaped. Even if I carried not even an ounce of spare on my legs and backside, they'd still be the largest part of my body. My frame is built  that way, and years of horse riding, skiing, swimming and plenty of other activities have created a fair amount of thigh muscle that won't shift in a hurry. Since I booked my first lesson in returning to horse riding this weekend, I'm not exactly doing anything to disencourage maintaining that muscle.

Why am I telling you all this? Because recently I've noticed I'm back-sliding on all that work on rejecting the tsandard and being happy with me for me. I don't think I can pinpoint when this started, but it's been creeping up on me for some time now. It's finally reached the point where I can't really pretend it isn't there any more.

When in a reasonable mood, I can easily say this has been compounded by inability to really exercise for a couple of months post-surgery, a tendency not to eat properly for those couple of months because I was eating what was comfortable and easy to chew, and spent a fair amount of time swinging between no appetite at all and wanting to do this:

(Image from Original "X all the Y"meme from hyperboleandahalf)

In some part it stems from a time last year where I put a fair bit of weight on. Being me, it went to one place and one place only. In my no doubt slightly skewed view, my arse was well into the realms where it could consider applying to have its own solar system with a more than reasonable chance of success.

I appreciate to some people that would be no bad thing. I however have always been very bad at accpeting changes in my shape as they don't occur very often. So infrequently in fact that I have no idea what to do save fly into a state of mild panic.

Hey, if you're going to overreact you may as well commit.

Now, I've lost all that weight and I'm about back to normal. You'd assume everything would be fine, but it isn't. I'm definitely still in "not good enough" mode. Now there's nothing wrong with wanting to improve a particular area, but it's more than a little unhealthy when your expectations become inflated and unrealistic, which mine certainly are verging on.

In doing a quick bit of internet research for this post, it astounds me just how many aids there are in feeling unsatisfactory within easy reach of a few taps of a keyboard. Weight calculators which take no account of muscle to fat ratio or general frame before they brand you morbidly obese. "Shape" calculators which are frankly nothing short of insulting unless your measurements result in "hourglass" - which we all know is the only valid shape if you're a woman and want to take up space on the planet. I'm a person and not a piece of fruit, thank you very much (I get "pear" shaped as often as not).

I think the point I'm circling around here is really one of just how insidious this sort of thing is. There is absolutely no such thing as "perfect" but it's surprisingly easy to become overwhelmed with the expectation to achieve it nonetheless. And do you realise what we do each time we buy into the instantaneous flawless skin, effortless weight loss and general impossible "glow" we're sold?

Yes, that's right. We reinforce the standard, each and every time.

I'm not sure if the same can be said of men, but women in particular are expected and encouraged to compete with each other instead of hold one another up. It's often difficult to make an innocent compliment without it being analysed for agenda and hidden intent for this reason. Said expectation not only leads to a lot needless unhappiness, but also to the idea that only one shape or size - the opposite of said standard is "allowed" to feel inadequate. We struggle to accept that everyone has "fat" days, and most people have some part of their body they like less than another and would be willing to change. It's an entirely human thing, and despite what advertising may suggest we are indeed all human.

We would do well to realise that we're all in the same boat. We would do better still to recognise that with a not insignificant personal effort, we can choose to ignore it too.

So, this is my late resolution. I'm going to kick this unhealthy line of thought and work hard at self-acceptance instead. I've managed it before, so I suppose I get the added bonus of having proof it's possible. I'm sure plenty of us have wasted years and years in pointless self-flagellation on this topic.

How about we be a bit kinder to ourselves? You might not always appreciate it, but there's nobody else in the world looks exactly like you - no matter what size, shape or weight you might be right now, because those three things will be fluid throughout your life.

We should maybe remember that this in itself is something worth celebrating.

(One this note, a new motto: "I have a Bridgeburners top, therefore I am by default mind-blowingly fabulous"
That should work.)

Don't mind me, I'm going back to swearing at Ebay in my attempts to find a new dress for Valentine's Day. Why I do this to myself I'll never know - I HATE shopping.

Anybody have any thoughts on this topic? I'd love to hear them. Did you make any similar resolutions?

Wishing you all many spoons xxx

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

"Don't read this or you'll go blind"

(For any Erikson fans who haven't tried these yet, I recommend you do. They're hilarious.)
The title above is the “warning to lifestyle fascists everywhere” which opens Steven Erikson ‘s novella The Healthy Dead, one of the Tales of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach. So, if you don’t like what you’re about to read and this results in loss of vision (whether temporary or permanent), I accept no responsibility whatsoever. I told you not to read it.
The Healthy Dead parodies modern society’s obsession with health and fitness and “what is good for you” with gleeful aplomb, hence I’m echoing the warning to start this post. There’s a reason for this.
I’m sick of being bombarded by what is (in someone else’s approximation) “good for me”. Aren’t you?
This week is my first week back at work post-surgery, and I’m virtually singing from the treetops in rapture. The novelty of being at home recovering had more than worn off.
Anyway, I set myself up for something of a fall in picking up the magazine left on the seat next to me on the train home one evening. I think it was Glamour, but in all honesty I can’t remember. You may not believe me, but faced with a choice between the denizens of the 17:52 to York or burying your head in any reading material to hand so they don’t talk to you, you’d read Glamour too.
One thing that should probably always be borne in mind with magazines like this is that whatever you’re doing is not enough. However fit you are, there’s always an extra spinning class you could take (I still don’t know what spinning is), and however happy you are there’s always another yoga session to be completed. I think I mentioned buying a yoga DVD some time ago. It’s still at the bottom of one of the moving boxes, probably breeding weird yoga-doing dust bunnies by now. In short, you should always bear in mind that YOU ARE NOT GOOD ENOUGH.
So, don’t read those sorts of things and that solves the problem. Right? Right...?
Sadly not, because in my experience you never have to go far to find someone who has taken this ideal to heart and now thinks it’s their life’s mission to fix everyone else. By fix, I mean make sure they do things their way. Deviation is not tolerated and individual thought is most certainly not required.
On a basic level, we all know eating well and exercising are good things. I’m not here to argue with that. However, I am endlessly irritated by the idea that only one person’s preferred form of exercise is valid, or that their lifestyle is eminently superior. I can’t quite decide whether I think these one-size-fits-all people are just excessively narrow-minded or in actual fact not that bright – because you don’t have to apply many brain cells at all to realise the idea is utterly ludicrous.
For a personal example, the next person who comments to me about my lifestyle in relation to chronic illness is going to regret it instantaneously. Hell hath no fury like a small lady whose had enough of your nonsense.
If I want your opinion, I will ask for it. Otherwise, the likelihood is you don’t know nearly enough to make what you’re about to say remotely informed. So here’s a refreshing new idea for you: just shut up.
I know what my body can cope with given that it has Petunia in tow, and I also know that it can cope with far more now, three years on, than it could when I was diagnosed. I’m probably as fit as I’ve ever been right now – despite the fact I’m not exercising every day or attending a gym.

(Yes, but I've developed an unreasonable dislike for turning right, so sod you.)
“Never get anywhere with that attitude”, will I? Just watch me.
Something that commenters of this ilk seem to wilfully forget is that Fibromyalgia (or indeed any chronic illness) is not a bad habit. It’s not a singular health-impacting issue like for example drinking too much or not eating enough. It’s an illness, and it’s here to stay. Therefore, I can’t stop drinking, eat more, start running or take up any other one-step solutions and expect the problem to be solved.
You know, I might even brand that on to the next offending individual’s forehead. This is going to require a very small typeface indeed.  
Since I started with the fitness point, I may as well tell you what I get up to on this front. I do Pilates several times a week (I’ve a couple of DVD routines memorised now, which is nice), and I do basic things like squats and sit-ups just about every day. I’m planning to try a jive class and return to horse riding as mentioned previously. I also really need to crack the dancersize DVDs out again, but since we moved to the Upside Down house it’s a case of needing to rearrange the furniture each time I want to do so and that makes me lazy.
There, I said it, the diabolical L word. I’m inside right now but I can’t see any fire raining down. Lightning has yet to strike the building in response to my presumption, and the lynch mob have yet to appear to confirm what a terrible person I am.
If being lazy is indeed such a terrible thing, then after my three and a bit weeks of recovery from my operation I have definitely become firmly entrenched in the ranks of the hopeless. I did very little, mostly because I had a sewn-up hole in my head which protested if I did anything more. Joffrey was horrible, but the surgical site that was Not-Joffrey-Anymore certainly made up for it in being grumpy about any sort of activity at all. However, I also did very little because I could.
For a short time, it was glorious. I soon grew bored of it, but that short period of total “laziness” (otherwise called relaxation and recovery in this case) was very good for me. I wasn’t doing any of the usual things that were “good for me” (including eating properly, but neither would you if you could feel the stitches pull with every bite) but, oddly, it didn’t kill me. Rumours of my resulting demise have been greatly exaggerated.
I appreciate it’s the time of year when the lifestyle change idea is firmly set at fever pitch, but what you really should be thinking about is what *you* want to change for *you*. One size does not, despite rumours to the contrary, fit all. If you want to get fit, find an exercise you enjoy which suits you, no matter anybody else’s sneering or know-better attitude. You won’t continue with something unless you enjoy it, so that should be your foremost criteria of selection.
If you want to make changes to your lifestyle, be guided by what makes you feel good. If it isn’t yoga, for instance, then I promise you that’s absolutely fine. I realise I keep bashing yoga, but while I’m certainly not against retrieving my DVD from the mutant dust bunnies and giving it a try at some point, it’s probably the “fix-it” suggestion I grow most weary of hearing. 
In short, in fitness as with all things in life, do what suits you and makes you happy. Sod everyone else.
If the lifestyle fascists don’t like it, stick copies of The Healthy Dead everywhere in eye line. As Mr Erikson was good enough to warn them, they might indeed go blind.  

Settling down with more Tales of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach, and wishing you all many spoons xxx

Thursday, 1 January 2015

My kingdom for a hoverboard


As we start 2015 TRB is nearly two, and rather a lot has happened in the last year! 

Recently I've been writing about something other than Fibromyalgia and Interstitial Cystitis, which was a bit of a surprise and not something I ever expected. Sitting down with a purpose for this blog when I set it up, I never thought to have to deal with (and thereby write about) health concerns which didn't touch on either of those conditions. Fate, as Bernard Cornwell's Merlin was wont to say in The Warlord Chronicles, is inexorable. 

It's the first of January, and I'm now two weeks post-surgery. I'm healing up surprisingly quickly (mad skills, clearly) and I'm looking at the week after next to hopefully return to work. This gives me another week to get over the lingering tiredness - I'm still sleeping a lot and I'm easily wiped out, although improving every day. 

I've been off the painkillers for a whole three days now too! That isn't to say the scar isn't still aching and painful, but it's at a level where I feel able to cope with it by myself. I wasn't expecting to get here so quickly if I'm honest, but I'm certainly not complaining. 

It's traditional to make resolutions at the turn of the new year to focus on in the coming months. These are usually concerned with self-improvement in one fashion or another. 

I don't usually make them, but then my late November and December don't usually involve close brushes with "life's too short" either, so my outlook is somewhat different this year. For a week and a half before Christmas I (and everyone around me) thought I had cancer. Looking back now with a benign diagnosis, it's difficult to put into words what an earth shattering concept that is to wrap the brain around. There's nothing to prepare you, and no getting away from it. I was very lucky indeed that, thanks to Joffrey being highly unusual (unique in fact), this turned out to not be so.  

So, this year I'm going to try and do more - including hopefully a welcome return to a former love. 

When I was 17 I gave up horse riding after ten years to learn to drive - money simply wouldn't stretch to everything. Just as I was getting ready to look into going back to it I started with the Fibromyalgia symptoms and therefore wrote it off as a bad job. 

However, in the last few months since moving into the Upside Down house, my health has been significantly better (Joffrey notwithstanding). Despite it being winter, the usual joint pain and stiffness has been noticeably less limiting than in previous years. It would appear (touch wood) that things are improving. With that in mind, I think it's time to give horse riding another go. I've found a nearby centre which looks very promising and have arranged to go for a visit tomorrow to see the horses and talk about the set up they have. I'm picky on several fronts with riding schools, and won't go just anywhere for the sake of price or convenience. 

Yes, there's the risk of falling and jarring my aforementioned grumpy joints, but here's where my sort-of resolution comes in. I think it's time I was more willing to attempt things, rather than holding back and going "Oh, but x, y and z might happen!" and therefore giving up before I've begun. 

(It's winter in the UK. That's excuse enough for me for a picture of a stunning horse running through snow. Image from

It was only when I went nosying on the website of the centre I'm visiting that I realised just how much I missed it. I love horses, they're unique and wonderful animals and spending time with them is incredibly rewarding. Also, if you'll permit me to blow my own trumpet for a moment, I was pretty good. I'd been at it for years and I worked hard to improve. It was a genuine skill, and I miss the comfort of the knowledge that there was a challenging sport I excelled in. As much as I'll be rusty at first, I'd love to get back to that level.

So, watch this space!

Continuing in this vein, I've agreed to let a friend take me to jive classes to try it out. This is likely to be hilarious for everyone except me. I've always liked the idea of being able to dance, but have been too shy to give dance classes a go up to press as I never had the typical classes as a little girl and see myself as largely uncoordinated and clumsy. However, in the spirit of "life's too short" I shall put myself to the hazard and risk some giggling for the sake of trying something new. 

Something far more subtle seems to have already begun before the new year, but I hope to keep it going and see where it takes me. There's been something of a shift in the way I look at myself and my body. 

As much as I can declaim at length about the fact our society is far too concerned with the concepts of beauty and perfection, I'm just as prone as everyone else to succumb from time to time in terms of fretting about this blemish or that weight gain or loss. I know it's silly, but bad days occur nonetheless. 

Since the surgery though, I've really felt a profound shift into thinking about the amazing things my body can do. We'll call Joffrey and Petunia blips - we all have those, right? - but blips aside, my body is incredible. I had invasive facial surgery two weeks ago, and I'm already up and about, the scar is healing incredibly neatly, I'm regaining the weight lost through stress and inability to eat properly and the severely damaged nerve controlling the right side of my lower lip is showing small signs of recovery already.

Think about that for a moment. That nerve was rather battered and bruised during the operation as it was wrapped around the tumour, so had to be peeled away. In my surgeon's words it looked "extremely sorry for itself" when they'd finished. Full recovery was considered unlikely, but my team were hopeful for some improvement over the next few months. In two weeks, it's already taking baby steps towards getting better! I'm guilty of a little bias since it's my nerve, but that surely deserves full marks for effort? The swift healing process thus far really has left me taken aback at what a brilliant machine the human body is. 

To further highlight how silly the preoccupation with how things look is, I've had several negative reactions from people whilst out and about when I've tied my hair up to get it out of the way, and thus revealed the scar on my neck. Initially I was incensed with this, but given how well the scar is healing it just further illustrates the lack of perspective involved. Rather than it being considered something ugly or disfiguring, to me with the knowledge of just how quickly and tidily it has healed it's something really impressive. It's a battle scar, and I'm proud of it. I'm proud of what my body has achieved in such a short space of time. 

Also, I smiled almost normally for the first time today. It appears this tired the nerve out completely as it's not really responded much since, but if that isn't evidence of how hard my body is working I don't know what is. 

(Me. Nearly there!)

So, a very Happy New Year to you all. I hope 2015 brings plenty of health and happiness. 

Oh, the title? That's not a resolution, more of a request. 

It's 2015. Where's my hoverboard? 

Do you have any New Year's resolutions concerning your health or anything else? I'd love to hear about them!

Wishing you all many spoons xxx