Mind how you go!

Mindfulness: It’s quite the buzzword these days and is touted by some as a cure for many ills. Is it worth the effort? I think so.

My first foray into guided meditation, sometime in 2011, is etched on my memory. Andy Puddicombe had the perfect analogy for what I thought of as my horribly ‘busy head’ … cars on a motorway.  There I was caught up in the maelstrom of the traffic, trying desperately to direct it and, at the same time, risking being mowed down.

Andy taught me that I can safely get off the motorway, that it’s possible to take a step back, that those cars can carry on speeding about but that I need not be in their midst.

Earlier ‘dabblings’ with relaxation ‘tapes’ (that long ago, yes) and CDs offering meditative exercises rather left me cold. I needed a guide to follow but found the voices grated and put me right off. Andy’s is a voice with the power not only to guide but to soothe, calm and assure me, all while sounding like he’s speaking only to me.

I’ve been a poor student, often distracted from my practise. Frequently I’ve resisted it for fear of having to face head on the horrors of grief, loneliness and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from which I was trying to distract myself to avoid being completely overwhelmed. I had lost of sight of the knowledge that mindfulness meditation can reduce rather than exacerbate my stress.

After a very long gap, I’ve tentatively begun to again make a habit of meditating daily. I’ve completed eight or so guided meditations, of either 10 or 15 minutes each, in the last two weeks. By the end of this afternoon I plan to have clocked up a consecutive run of four days. It’s early days! Meditation, and generally ‘being mindful’, do take practise. The more you do it, the more you benefit. It’s not difficult, not really. It takes some commitment and gentle effort.

I’m already reaping the rewards.

Meeting with my advocacy worker yesterday regarding the complaint we are submitting following my experience of the Intensive Home Treatment Team last year, I read my discharge letter for the first time. It contained such a catalogue of factual errors that it could have been written about somebody else. Memories of the mistreatment I received from some members of that team and new horror at the huge errors in the letter and the impact of them left me feeling very angry, sad and anxious.

I used a specific meditation for stress last night to help me to manage my feelings. Today I’m aware that my mind is regularly running away with thoughts, worries and memories of this distressing experience. It’s haunting me. I’m using mindfulness to help me to cope and to continue to function. Each time I notice that my mind has been distracted by this, I gently guide my attention back to what I want to focus on, such as writing this post, folding laundry, washing dishes, reading, watching a film or doing my physiotherapy exercises.

I’m using it in a similar way to help me to improve my posture and reduce some of my chronic pain. For example, each time I notice that I’m hunching my shoulders, I gently ease them back to where they belong. It helps me too in many more ways.

Mindfulness helps me to take one day at a time, to be present in the present moment, which after all is all any of us has; the past has passed and the future is not guaranteed.

What could it do for you?

I love Headspace. because it’s done exactly what it says on the tin; it’s given me some space in my head. (This is not a sponsored post, I receive no benefit, nor do I seek to, if you should check it out. I’m merely sharing what works for me.)

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Daily Log: 6th April, 2017

I slept well, extensively actually – fot around 12 hours – that’s been the way of things during this crisis. I either sleep a lot or I don’t sleep at all. 

I’ve changed my bedding today, showered, cleaned my teeth, dressed, aired the bedroom and dusted the bedroom furniture. I’ve folded some clean laundry, washed a few dishes and emptied the dishwasher. 

read for a while, and I’ve played a few games of Mahjong. I haven’t played any computer games for years, but when an ad for a free version popped up on my tablet, I remembered that I had once loved playing Mahjong on some device or other. Within days I’d whipped through the 40-odd levels, finding it an outlet for my natural drive. I’ll admit I was disappointed not to receive onscreen fireworks or some sort of fanfare to mark the achievement :D! I’m still hoping to beat previous times but mostly now play because I find it mindful and therefore calming.

I’ve just shot about a foot in the air at the sound of my buzzer, I have a ridiculously exaggerated startle response. I pressed the button to open the street door without speaking into the intercom assuming it to be the early arrival of supermarket delivery of groceries that I’m expecting between 9-10pm. Delivery charges range from £7-£1; this slot is the cheapest.I haven’t eaten today so I’m looking forward to it arriving and having some supper. I thought my wait was over but with no sign of the delivery person nearly 10 minutes later, it looks like wishful thinking. I’ve stopped hovering by the front door, peering at intervals through the spyhole for signs of my shopping being lugged up the two flights of stairs to my flat.  

The rest of the evening holds promise of further writing, making notes ahead of a planned meeting with my advocate tomorrow, and catching up with MasterChef before reading then sleep. 

Feeding Myself

Note: I  wrote most of this post on Sunday but became swamped by trauma symptoms and wasn’t able to finish it until today, Wednesday 5th. 

My belly is full of wholemeal toast, eggs scrambled with spring onions and cheddar, seasoned with a dash of sea salt and lashings of black pepper.
I’m not a food writer nor do I aspire to be one, but I am inspired by at least two of them. My favourites, Jack Monroe and Ella Risbridger started out as bloggers, before books and the world of traditional publishing beckoned.

Until I reached ‘middle-age’ I had no real cooking confidence. I blogged about that and how that changed, here.

I have a difficult relationship with food. I have an eating disorder. There, I’ve said it, that wasn’t all that difficult was it? Actually, you know what, it really was; it’s difficult for me to be open about it.
I’ve probably had a tendency to struggle with food for most of my life, but there have been two periods where that struggle became a full blown eating disorder.The reason it’s so difficult for me to discuss isn’t because I feel ashamed about it in myself. I recognise it as an illness and accept that the trauma and abuse that I’ve experienced lie at the root of it. However, I am aware of the stigma that it carries.

Many people, including some medical professionals, scoff (I know, I couldn’t resist the ironic pun) at the very idea that binge-eating disorder is described as an eating ‘disorder’ at all. I’m just fat and greedy, right? If you don’t agree with that last statement, you might be surprised by how many people would.

Beat, the UK’s leading charity providing support for, and campaigning about, eating disorders, has this to say: “Binge eating disorder (BED) is a serious mental illness where people experience a loss of control and overeat on a regular basis.”  You can read more on the Beat web site, here.

In recent years ‘fat-shaming’ has become ‘a thing’ and some have fought back against those who seek to mock, deride or in any way bully someone who is overweight. An element of ‘fat pride’ has emerged, with a rise in plus-size bloggers and models.

I’d like to be fat and proud. That’s not because I’m happy being so overweight, I’m not in the least, and that’s entirely because of the impact that it has on my health and fitness. I’d like to have that ‘fat-pride’ while I remain this size because I do not want to feel shamed or otherwise negatively regarded because of my size.

I’m never going to be without curves, that’s the way I’m built. I’m a pear-shaped woman with an ample bosom. I’ll gladly celebrate those curves, in the way that I’d encourage anyone to be body confident; body positive.

I want to beat my eating disorder and lose weight. I want to regain, and revel in, my fitness because of the positive impact that is has on my life. I did beat the disorder the first time around. I did it without help, not because I was trying to go it alone but because I wasn’t offered any. After regaining some control over my eating patterns, it was some years before I was able to lose the weight I’d gained as result of the disorder. I did it between 2011 and 2012, losing five stone.

I was inspired by the ‘Hairy Dieters’ television programmes, they focus on that old chestnut, a low calorie diet and increased exercise. The hairy ones aim to make low calorie options that taste good and satisfy. It takes effort to lose weight and every bit of incentive you can muster really helps.

After leaving my husband, I took up running in early 2014. In reality I took to walking on my treadmill and slowly built up to being able to run a mile a day, but ‘I took up ‘treadmilling” doesn’t have the same ring to it. (Click on ‘treadmill’ in the tag cloud on my blog homepage, if you’re interested in reading about my route to running.) I’ve NEVER been ‘sporty’ but I really grew to love running, or more likely the endorphins that the activity released, that and the vast improvement in my fitness and my body confidence.

I’m probably not quite back at my heaviest ever weight, I can’t be sure because my scales have broken and I can’t afford to replace them, but as a result of this relapse into an eating disorder, and so months spent in the grip of compulsive eating, I’ve gained at least six stones in weight over a period of around 18 months.

Last year I asked for help via my GP surgery and the Intensive Home Treatment Team (mental healrh out patient crisis service) many times, and with increasing desperation. I knew that this time I needed help to beat it. Despite my massive weight gain in a short space of time and a new diagnosis of very high cholesterol levels, I’ve been offered no help ar all.

My trauma therapist said we could do some work around my eating issues, but given we already have so many other high priorities stacked up, that’s not practical. The Intensive Home Treatment Team psychiatrist promised to speak to the local eating disorders service about the possibility of support for me there. She told me that she’d get back to me. I chased it up when she didn’t and was rudely told that I’d already been told “NO”. I wasn’t in a position to argue and didn’t receive any fuller explanation.

At least my GP’s urgent referral for trauma therapy had got me onto a two year waiting list … I love the NHS but have long found its mental health services to be chronically underfunded and often poorly staffed, and it’s trauma services (that’s the psychological version not A&E) rarer than hens’ teeth. Again and again I’ve turned to the voluntary (charity) sector, itself often cash-strapped with services oversubscribed. As a result, services often receive scant advertising.Many hours of research can be required to uncover what might be available, and then often complicated application processes follow. Recently I bagged a place on a waiting list for a ‘trauma support worker’ – essentially, someone to meet once or twice a month who can provide moral support, guidance and practical help as you work to rebuild your life. I’m due to reach the top of that list in early 2019.

But back to the impact of the eating disorder, I think that I’m now the most unfit that I’ve ever been, and that does not feel good AT ALL. In fact, it’s really rather frightening, the detrimental impact on my health is evident.

I am beginning to cultivate a more positive connection to food, and the beginnings of this new relationship were nurtured by those food bloggers, Jack and Ella.

Jack’s engaging blog began when poverty forced Jack to feed themself and their toddler son (Jack identifies as non-binary and so prefers the gender neutral pronoun ‘their’) for £10 a week. Jack’s no-nonsense style and inventive recipes are budget-conscious and also an excellent resource for.anyone seeking the confidence to cook from scratch.

Ella’s writing is more lyrical, hers is the poetry of food writing. Sometimes high-falutin’ ingredients could be off-putting if you’re a beginner or more especially if you’re low on funds. I’ve yet to try an Ella recipe, but still I savour her blog. I’m along for the ride, vicariously living her altogether nourishing relationship with food and cooking, and learning from it.

What both Jack and Ella have in common is that they have both introduced me to the idea that preparing nutritious food for myself can be a healing endeavour. The process of preparing and cooking food, chopping, stirring, whisking, can, and should be, a mindful, meditative experience, allowing for calm concentration and a break from a traumatised, troubled, or simply busy mind. You savour the process as much as the end result. There’s also achievement and satisfaction in both admiring and eating your creation, however small or simple! Cooking for oneself can be a nourishing experience, not just for the body, but also for the mind.

I particularly enjoy making Jack’s easy peasy Coconut Milk Soda Bread. Jack’s description of rocking a warm, snuggly bundle is my idea of a great twist on ‘comfort food’!

This weekend I’ve discovered the joy of baked eggs all kinds of ways.

Baked Eggs: Mushroom and vegetarian-style ‘Pepperoni’ and Spring Onion and Cheddar, perhaps not the prettiest dishes but certainly very tasty!

I also tried a Sainsbury’s recipe for a healthy snack – roasted chickpeas – simply a can of chickpeas drained, patted dry and mixed with a teaspoon of smoked paprika, a teaspoon of chilli powder and a quarter teaspoon of  both cumin and ground coriander, then roasted in the oven  I really fancied these savoury nuggets but was disappointed with the results. I’d been expecting the promised crunchy snack but in reality felt I could’ve been eating cardboard!

Chickpeas: drained, dried and spiced
then roasted to look great … and taste like cardboard

Put chickpeas to better use and make your own houmous, it’s a gazillion times more healthy than shop-bought versions and tastes great. The easy recipe in the Healthy Living Yearbook is another favourite of mine.

Homemade houmous

I may have Complex Trauma but I’m not a complex cook; I’m a ‘spoonie’! Unfortunately, cooking often falls off the bottom off my to do list when ‘spoons’-  a.k.a energy and the capacity to function – run out.Quick and easy recipes are my way to go.

I’ll discuss my efforts to again overcome an eating disorder together with my hopes for and also my reservations about seeking support via Overeaters Anonymous, in a later post.

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A footnote on mindfulness … or ‘being in the moment’

How many of us don’t at some point feel worried about the future or dwell on some element of our past?

And yet the past, while it may influence our present, is utterly unalterable. Our actions in the present may yield future favour, but we cannot predict the future.

All any of us has is the present … to be lived, as far as possible, moment by moment.

I’m finding that difficult right now, because I don’t know how I’m going to pay the rent this month, but let’s face it … worry isn’t going to pay it! I could get hit by the proverbial bus tomorrow. It could be curtains. I may never need to make that rent payment.

I don’t have a death wish right now so let’s work on the premise that I will see the end of the month. I can’t magically erase my money problems but I can boost my ability to deal with them. 

Mindfulness can help. Some find it easy to ‘live in the moment’, others find it more difficult to achieve. It takes practice. Even, as I discovered when I first tried it, just 10 minutes a day can make a difference … lowering stress levels … calming a busy mind … providing much needed breathing space. 

Mindfulness is not a panacea for trauma nor even a cure-all for everyday ills, but, for me at least, the benefits on offer are worth the effort I must put in to my practice. It’s worth noting that it is an effort but not a strain, and that there is a difference. 

And with that, I think I’ve just got myself a mantra of the moment, something to help me to curb the hyper-drive tendency and make peace of mind rather more tangible than nebulous. 

Effort Not Strain